This is the story about how we ended up hiking a mountain in our Sunday best church clothes.
Today we’re meeting up with 4 other boats to go hear the Marquesan Church music at 10am. Supposedly all Marquesans can sing like birds and their choir music is some of the most uniquely beautiful in all the islands. I make a pot of coffee (sweet, life-giving nectar of the gods, how I’ve missed you!) and put on my Sunday best, which consists of a white blouse, skirt, and bonafide shoes. This will be the first time I’ve worn real shoes – not flip-flops – in six months. We were told that the women all wear white to church, so if we want to fit in, wear white.
We meet up with our friends (from Dilligaf, Britannia, Whatcha Gonna Do, and Ceilydh) at the dinghy dock and as a group with purpose, we 10 adults and 3 children set off to find the church. As we walk, we start to see people dressed in white heading the opposite direction of the church.
“Um, I think we missed church service”, says Diane. Doh! Judging from the funny looks we are getting from the locals, I think she might be right. Given we are a motley crew of agnostics, atheists, Christians and Jews, maybe we should have seen it coming. But we refuse to be all dressed up with no place to go, so onward we march until we reach the church. Indeed, we have missed it. The locals are outside sitting and chatting as a cool breeze blows upon the area. We walk into the small courtyard and become surrounded by the masterfully carved Marquesan Christian wooden doors and statues. The building is made of stones with a technique of masonry I have never seen before. The stones are various shapes with hues of grays and tans. I run my hand along one of the larger stones and it feels smooth like a rock weathered by centuries of river wash.
We leave the church and decide to make it a day of exploration. Barb, from Whatcha Gonna Do, tells us that there are ruins up the mountain and we all agree that we want to go see it – in dresses and Sunday clothing no less. We leave the main road and start hiking up a side road. I hear a clip-clop-clip-clop behind us and turn around to see a native in full tribal tattoo riding a horse up the road. Now, I know you would like to see what he looks like, but I can’t bring myself to take a picture of him. I feel like I can’t be in the moment of acknowledging each other with respect if I have a camera in front of my nose. He passes us and smiles. We hike on.
Let me stop here and paint a small picture for you. Here we are, walking up a road that is nothing less than full vegetation – mango trees, breadfruit trees and farm animals galore. We are walking past homes of local families and farm animals that are as plentiful as pigeons are back home. We see many horses, cattle, pigs and chickens. Tons of chickens. So many that they are essentially wild; in fact the chickens have got to be the largest population of bird on the island! So, we are walking through a jungle-farmland road and the locals are home doing what they do on Sunday, the day of rest (remember they are Christian) and they look out their window and see 13 foreigners in dresses/dress shirts hiking up the dirt road!
“Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm”. I hear a vehicle hum getting louder. “Truck coming, kids. Out of the road.” Barb says. The three children leisurely stroll to the side – no hurry, right? An extended cab, short-bed truck drives up (by the way, 99% of vehicles on this island are this make and model) and stops.
A Marquesan man pokes his head out of the window and gives us a smile laced with bewilderment. “Where do you go like that?” he asks in English. Ha! No doubt we look funny.
“Archaeological dig”, we say. Simple and to the point. And yes, we Americans and Canadians do all of our mountain hiking in church clothes. Nothing strange going on here.
“Ahhh” He nods and tells us that it is 100 meters further up the road on the right. We thank him and keep hiking. We reach 100 meters and see nothing but what looks like the local dump on the right. Hmm, it has to be close. At this point we are ¾ the way up the mountain and decide to just keep going. I feel sharp pain on the insides of my feet. I lift the strap of my shoes and reveal a ripe blister on each foot. My wonderful MacGyver-esque boyfriend tears up one of our boat cards so that I can put them against the strap to keep it from rubbing against the raw skin. Apparently my feet have “spread out” from not wearing shoes, and these shoes are suddenly too small for me. I suck it up though and keep marching, readjusting the cards every 100 or so steps.
We reach the top of the small mountain and are arrested by the vibrant view of the entire bay. Totally worth hiking, even if we missed the ruins. The light breeze picks up and I inhale the smell of soil and the sea air. The clouds fly low here and the mountain peaks are all dusted in a cloudy haze. I see three small white dove-like birds flying up and down along the curves of the landscape – they look so small against the backdrop.
We turn back the way we came and head back down the road. Barb takes out her guidebook and realizes that the ruins aren’t right on road, but rather on a side road that we missed. I see a man on a horse coming our way. Maybe we can ask him?
He stops and says something in Marquesan. After 13 blank stares, he repeats his inquiry in French and I think he asks us where we are going. Barb knows some French and is able to communicate with him that we are looking for the ruins.
“Oui”, he says and points us towards the side road by the “dump”. He says something else in a mix of Marquesan and French that I can’t understand. They I realize he wants us to follow him. He is going to lead us there! He leads us up the winding dirt road another ½ mile.
“Maybe he’s taking us to lunch”, someone says.
“Maybe we are the lunch”, says Michael. “This was the last island to give up cannibalism.”
We are all sweaty, huffing and puffing trying to keep up with this man on his horse. The sun is beating down on my neck and I’m sure I haven’t sweated this much since I don’t know when. And also, where is that breeze we had? It sure did not follow us into this dirt road.
This area that we are in is the most diversely lush tropical terrain I have ever been in. There’s bamboo, banana trees, more breadfruit trees and a canopy of towering jungle trees whose names I have yet to learn. We continue up the winding path and I can hear the whooshing of a river nearby. We come to a large clearing and it is evident that we have reached our destination – ruins at last! The Marquesan gets off his horse and motions for us to give him a pen and paper and writes his name for us, which is Roo. He says something else in Marquesan and holds up eight fingers. I think he is trying to tell us the story of the ruins. Is he saying 8 centuries ago? He then puffs up his chest, makes a gorilla stance, and shouts “Ughh, Oooh, Ooh”. I think he is imitating a chief. Or a gorilla. I’m going with chief. Barb confirms via Guidebook that this place was an old chief’s home and a place where the natives would congregate.
We thank Roo as he says goodbye and we walk into clearing, which is sheltered by massive banyan trees. There are stone platforms and tikis scattered amongst the clearing and we all take off in different directions to explore the area. I walk into an area and come across 5+ banana trees. Jackpot! I look to see if there are any ripe ones, but alas there are not. Ugh. Who am I kidding though? I’m 5’3” and my short self would need to be Shaquille O’Neal to be able to reach them anyway. I love bananas but I am denied bananas. You see, my incredibly logical, reasonable boyfriend abandons all this when it comes to one silly superstition: No bananas on the boat. “They’re bad luck”, he likes to say. Of course I think it is silly and I always reply with “Well it’s supposed to be bad luck to have a woman on board, and you don’t seem to have any problem with that!” To which he always retorts, “Yes but that is a risk I am willing to take!” And it is at this point that I can do nothing but huff.
“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” I hear the all too familiar buzz of my arch nemesis – the mosquito. Don’t tread on me, you annoying bitey disease-ridden air-pigeon! I feel a bite on my foot and look down to see four mosquitoes chomping away at my skin. Smack. I missed them all – they will live to suck another day, no doubt at my ankles in about 5 minutes.
We all decide to head back as we are getting eaten alive out here. We find a star fruit tree and pick some fresh fruit to remedy the need for food we are all feeling. We pick the ripe fruits from the tree and eat them right there. I’ve had star fruit before, but nothing compares to the sweet, tangy goodness of this juicy star fruit. We keep walking and run into Roo. He is picking pamplemousse (a type of grapefruit that tastes like the blessed marriage of a grapefruit and a lime – yum) from a tree and cutting it up.
“Bonjour!” we say, happy to greet our new friend. As we get closer, he starts handing us pieces of fruit to eat. This guy is awesome! For the next ten minutes, we all stand around Roo as he feeds us this fresh citrus fruit. When we are all done, he reaches into his burlap saddle bag and pulls out a huge stalk of green bananas. There must be 30 bananas on this stalk and he is giving them to us. We part ways and promptly cut up the huge stalk so that no one person has to carry all 40 pounds of it.
Maia holds some bananas up to Lauren B and me. “Bananas?” she asks. I look at Lauren with my best longing sad puppy-dog eyes and he takes the stalk from her. He looks at me and says, “You carry them!” Fair enough. I’m so excited – we’re taking bananas on the boat!
After 6 hours of walking and hiking, we end our adventure back near the dinghy dock. I look down at my clothes to assess the damage. Not bad, only one star fruit juice stain on my white shirt. A small price to pay, wouldn’t you agree?