Nuku Hiva – Pig roasts, mythical cultures, and rich history in the Marquesas.

Nuku Hiva has always been the most magical and mythical of the Polynesian Marquesas islands, attracting Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson to its idyllic shores over a hundred years ago. Today you can still find much of the magic tucked away in its dramatic coastline, or through its misty plateau called To’ovi’i, which is covered in a pine forest, giving it much the appearance of the lower Alps in Germany rather than a paradise island of the Pacific.

Nuku Hiva’s history is rich, dating back at least 2000 years when the first people came to colonize the island. It has been a magnet for many cultures including Tahiti, Hawaii’i, the Cook Island and even New Zealand, and this melting pot has created a robust living and truly unique culture on Nuku Hiva. Dancing, woodworking, and a fantastic cuisine are all the product of having these many people bring their cultures to this largest island of the Marquesas.

One of the more controversial historic points is that Cannibalism was practiced on the island by the first inhabitants, more out of necessity then for ritual purposes. Since there is no written history but just accounts and verbal history to take in account, many have chosen not to include it in modern studies of the island and its inhabitants. True or not, the current locals of the islands are perhaps some of the most lovely and welcoming in the world, and obviously do not practice cannibalism in any form today. Rather, they have amazing feasts!

Pig roasts, or Umu, are a ceremony in Nuku Hiva, and no one does it better then Yvonnes in Nuku Hiva. Whole beasts are put in a wire cage, with breadfruit, taro and other veritable delights, covered with banana leaves, and placed under hot coals. There they are slow roasted for hours, before being unearthed, prepared, and served. Pisson cru (raw tuna with coconut milk), various raw fish, crabs, shrimp, taro, manioc, breadfruit, umara (sweet potato), several types of bananas, and tons of sauces and mashed stuff. It’s a total taste bud overload. And then there is fafaru, which you should just read about here because it’s a bit hard to describe.

The darling down of Taioha’e is to be relished, with it’s colonial and indigenous mix of architecture and culture blending together in an island setting. There you will find the Notre Dame Cathedral, a strong reminder of the far reaching Catholic influence even here in the middle of the Pacific ocean. This beautiful structure is covered in some of the most lovely wood carvings you have ever seen, with cartoonish poses in religious settings. Regardless of your belief or feelings about religion, it is worth a visit just for the craftsmanship.

Before Catholicism was injected into the culture, Nuku Hiva’s original inhabitants had a very strong and complex religious and cultural beliefs. Indigenous religion was strongly dualistic, postulating a living world of light ( ao ) and a world of ghosts, deities, darkness, and night (po). The presence of deities ( etua ) in this world was believed to be vital for making work efficacious and for securing life and prosperity. There was an extensive hierarchy of deities, ranging from the founding originators of the cosmos to their particular expressions in the gods of occupations and places, and there also were apotheosized shamans and chiefs, often linked with local temples ( me’ae). The aggrieved ghosts of major shamans were often propitiated to relieve famine, and many lesser figures were associated with illness and other misfortunes. Since the late nineteenth century, more than 90 percent of Marquesans have become Catholics, most of the remainder being Protestants descended from Hawaiian mission teachers. Modern Marquesan religion has not been adequately investigated, but syncretic elements appear to persist, including belief in a range of evil spirits, such as ghosts of women who have died in childbirth. Archeological sites are all over the island, and it is common to be able to find and explore Marae, which are Polynesian temples. Nuku Hiva has some of the most preserved temples in Polynesia, some next to ancient sacred trees that really impress upon you the power of this place.

Overall no trip to the Marquesas is really complete without visiting Nuku Hiva, which has intrigued visitors from around the world for centuries. Herman Melville wrote Typee there in 1846 and  Robert Louis Stevenson‘s first landfall on his voyage on the Casco was at Hatihe’u, on the north side of the island, in 1888. Since then many an intrepid traveller has ventured across the Pacific to witness the gentle marvel that is Nuku Hiva, and I was just so happy that the Aranui was able to bring me there in comfort and style to enjoy it’s boundless beauty, and fascinating culture.

 

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tropical island. drones. beautiful.

This year I had the pleasure of going to Thailand on a film shoot (The Buffalo Rider – watch for it in theaters) and on the tail end of the shoot hit up the wee island of Koh Phi Phi for a little R&R and sun worship.

Of course it took me about 6 minutes before I broke out the drones.

So here is a little vacation film of Outrigger Resort on the island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. It truly is paradise…

 

kho pi pi is for me!

In my twenty’s my ma gave me a little book by a one Alex Garland. The book was “The Beach”. It has never left my mind. I was about to re-enact a fantasy, and was very excited.

Kho Pi Pi is a perfect jewel of an island in the gulf of Thailand. It is as close to paradise as you’re going to get. In Chon Buri, when telling the locals I was going to “Pi Pi” (trying not to laugh every time like a 10-year-old) they all said the same thing, “oohahhahahaaaa – ohhhhhhh!” and made a wide-eyed face like they were slow motion riding a large Narwhal in a hot fudge sea (that’s what it was like, fuck you). Eventually I found out what this unique expression would come to mean; Pi Pi is Cray Zee.

To get to Pi Pi we would have to take a Fer Ree (I’ll stop now. Promise.). To get there, we had to drive to port, which I only mention because it was the beginning of Songkran, or Thai New Year a.k.a. country-wide water fight.

Songkran, originated with children showing respect to their elders by gently pouring a small amount of jasmine fragrant water into their hands, as a sign of a blessing. Over the centuries the ritual has been, well, “pumped up” a bit. Now the whole country takes place in a water fight. What do you expect from a country that invented Red Bull?

When I say “the whole country” that’s exactly what I mean. People in outer-buroughs line the street, or fill up the back of a pickup truck with a 10 gallon barrels of water and as many Thai’s you can cram in armed with water cannons and take to the streets “blessing” the shit out of anyone they come across. I’ve seen a lot of things, many I wish I could forget. This is something I suggest EVERYONE go experience. It’s nothing less than lovely. While we didn’t stop to play, er, I mean bless anyone, I did not despair… there will be plenty of Songkranin’ in Bangkok in a few days, and for now, I was island bound. Next stop Kho Pi Pi.

The island is like some dystopian future project set on a sandy beach very far from anything that resembles civilization. To get there you must take a 2 hour ferry. The comedy starts on the ferry, which costs about 10 USD to jump on. From there you can pay an additional 5 USD to go to “Elite class” (their words not mine) which is like … the front of the boat. You get windows. Huzzah. From there, there is another option for high rollers wishing to pay an additional 5 USD, for “Premium Class”  which was the top-level on the boat. From there you were allowed to yell “I’m on a boat” with your shirt open.

Im on a boat!
Im on a boat!

Sitting in “steerage” we met a cool young couple from Australia (go figure). He was a commercial airline pilot, she, a teacher, both living in Hong Kong and doing a bit of travelling, like good Aussies tend to do. They were going to Pi Pi and we discussed the island. I found out the island is split into two basically; one side for transient, bohemian backpackers, the other, the well to do, “I want my food cooked”, Farang people. They were heading to the cool side, “The Beach” side. I was jealous for sure.

At this point we threw down 20 New York dollars and went to the top deck. They had free cookies and water. ALL YOU COULD EAT. I took 4 on a little paper napkin and went back down to our new friends, back in steerage.

“Here you go. I figured you might be hungry. Sorry, I can’t stay; they’re starting the caviar course up in Premium Class in 5 minutes. Ciao.” and went back upstairs. Rolling deep ya’ll.

like a BAUWCE
like a BAUWCE. (thats about 8 dollars.)

 

Arriving at the main town in Pi Pi is a little like Catalina Island, or any other touristy port of call. It’s colorful, crowded, and can’t help but look like a movie set. Capitalizing on the fact that you have nowhere to go, they immediately charge you 5 bucks for stepping on the island, apparently to keep it “clean”. I always think things are legitimate when you are forced to put money into a water cooler jug. At least it had an “island concervashon” sign taped to it. Legit.

 

From there we hopped a long tail boat to our resort. Long tail boats are what happens when Mad Max and the Brazilian Yanomami tribe go in together and start making boats together. It’s like a diesel truck engine slapped on the back of a dopey canoe. You steer by rotating the two ton engine. It’s nothing short then epic.

On the long tail we met another nice couple, this time from Germany. Herby, Karolina, Miranda and I bounced down the lovely gulf water lovingly gazing at the paradise around us. They were excited to get to our resort, as we were. It was a long sea journey, and with all this aquamarine sea around all we wanted to do is float in it. The ride to the resort was another good hour it seemed, which made me wonder where the hell this place we were going was.

Finally, the boat started to move to the coast. However…. it would seem like we were out of sea….

um... tides?

The tides here, it would seem, are biblical. Biblical, like, Moses could have led his people from Egypt to the reception hall here. I’ve never seen anything like it. Until I saw a tractor driving in the water to come pick us up. Then I said I never saw anything like it.

From the boat I took a grainy pick of a woman rolling her luggage across the great expanse of tidal sandy shore. fully dressed, and in my head she was wearing heels, I laughed seeing the in vivo Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone. “The Joan Wilder?!”. In the flesh folks.

city slicker

Well, Ferry to Long Tail boat to tractor, we made it in. They gave us a frothy sweet drink and sat us down, and brought all the paperwork to us. Miranda was lovely enough to falsely mention to the hotel that it was our Honeymoon, a common trick of shrewd New Yorker’s who don’t get enough vacation time, so they make the time they get fucking count. What I don’t think she expected was that there would be a band, a special room, and them to write out in flowers on the bed “Happy Honeymoon”. We drew tattooed wedding bands on our hands and hoped for the best.

happy honeymoon

The Outrigger resort was lovely. A little too lovely to be honest. I had dreams of “The Beach”. I mean, I had bought bespoke handmade backpacks that came with built-in hammocks, and Goddamn’t I was gonna use them. This place already had hammocks up, and the nice ones, with pillows. There were air-conditioned huts, a minibar full of Toblerone, Coke, and a fine Rose, and better cable television then I got in the states. I guess what really put me over was that there was a luau. We were in Maui not Pi Pi.

Regardless, it’s hard to be upset with paradise. Impossible actually. I mean hammocks with pillows? C’mon. We got really nice messages, considered playing tennis, and enjoyed the perfect beach and pool, getting ready for our next stop, the dragon’s belly itself, Bangkok.