We had the most adventurous day!! In lieu of a birthday dinner, we decided we’d rather spend the money on gas to go see the infamous tikis on Hiva Oa. Sounds like a more memorable “present,” right?? They sell all day tours to the tikis for about $50 per person, plus you have to buy a $25 lunch. Since we carry a 100 horsepower motorcycle on our catamaran, we figured we could do it ourselves. What could go wrong??
Hiva Oa is the second largest of the Marquesas Islands, which is a French territory in the South Pacific. ‘Large’ means 320 square kilometres (124 square miles), so it’s not huge. The anchorage is on one side of the island, the tikis on the other. So, we headed out at about 9 in the morning, we left our teenager with the younger kids, brought a couple granola bars and drinks. We’d be back for a late lunch, so may as well pack light. Along the way, there were many mango trees on the side of the road with mangos on the ground. We stopped and gathered some up that looked nice.
We went a ways and found the small airport, which offers daily flights to Tahiti. Shortly after that the road turned into dirt. We were aware that this would happen, so there were no big surprises. The views were spectacular. We ended up in an alpine type forest up in the mountains. It was an amazing transformation from the rainforest we’d been in. The road became somewhat steep and we considered turning around. We went up and down again, checking the brakes, etc, but it seemed to hold and I’d been pretty excited to see the tikis after being told about it by a couple of other boats. So we pushed on. We came up to a nice view site where we could see the island we’d previously visited, the point we’d navigated around, the bay where we caught the fish coming in, and the end of the bay where the boat was anchored.
After a little while, our motorcycle stalled. It’s not unusual, it’s done that in the past. We aren’t sure why that happens, but it seems to recover from it pretty quickly. So, we waited it out and got going again.
We hit a couple more paved areas for the steep up and downs, intermixed with dirt roads. Then it began to rain some. We tried to hide out, but it wasn’t going to do us any good. Then, it opened up and began to dump rain!! As is Murphy’s law, we were going down a muddy road when the rain really poured. We slipped and sort of laid it down. I jumped off and Courage was able to hold it from the ground. I helped stand it back up. I got off while he took it down the slick hill. I walked and took a video.
Shortly after I got off, a deluge of rain opened up!! There were rivers going down the muddy road. At this point we also considered turning around, but decided we’d come a long way and don’t want to go up that road while it’s still muddy and raining. It may be better on the way back.
Then we came out on the other side of the island! The views were spectacular! Very rocky/cliffy coastline with tropical growth above it and occasional scattered houses. We were still in the fog and some rain, but feeling good having reached the other side of the island. The motorcycle continued to give us grief and stall periodically.
We have yet to understand if it’s when we push it too hard, when we are too gentle with it, if we run it too fast or too slow, or what the stalling issue is. We took it twice to the dealer and they found nothing wrong with it both times. It was happening in Panama shortly after we bought it too. So we’d pull over and wait it out. Sometimes I’d walk the hill so that it was easier on the bike when we got it going again. Thus my title – motor-hiking, rather than motor-biking.
We came out onto a cliffy hillside, then saw some incredible switchbacks. I could look down from our ledge and see 4 roads cutting back and forth below us. This was not looking good for the two of us on a 2 stroke, 100 horsepower motorcycle that keeps stalling out. It was hard to slow it down and make those 180 degree turns without sliding out on the dirt and rocks.
After we made it down the hill again, we went around the ends of 3 bays, the first two had towns in them. These towns were small, poor, old fishing villages, but they houses were well maintained, though simple, the yards were manicured, and there was no garbage laying around. They were beautiful little towns. We didn’t stop. It struck me as funny that there was a phone booth in the middle of downtown on one of the little towns. As we went through the second town, a herd of goats when running across.
And the motorcycle continued to stall, we continued to wait, I continued to climb hills. It was a gorgeous place for a hike though, we go out of our way to get to hike in such beautiful places, mildly warm weather, gentle breeze, not a sound to be heard other than the occasional rooster or falling coconut. So, we didn’t mind it much. Actually, it was getting funny.
We stopped a passing truck and asked how much farther to the tikis. He chuckled and laughed. All we understood was “la rouge maison” (the red house). Then he asked if we were Americans, we said yes, and he continued to
laugh and drive off. I think he may have known what we’d been through?? I imagine he’d never seen anything quite like us – a wimpy little motorcycle carrying two full sized adults on these steep, muddy, and windy back roads. Strangely, every other vehicle we passed on the road was a 4WD. Hmmm. But his laughter was awesome, even if he was pretty much just laughing at us!
We rounded the corner to leave the coast and head inland. We were really getting close now. The road continued to be muddy, rocky, and a little bit steep. The hill in front of us was beautiful. Very steep and jagged. Evident of it’s volcanic past.
Finally we reached Puama’u, the town with the tikis. We found a little store and had hoped to grab a baguette or something, but it’s closed from noon to 3:30 pm. We had no idea what time it was, but decided it was most likely in that time frame. We ate our granola bars, drinks, and a mango for lunch.
The closed shop had a sign to pay “Therese” 300 francs to go to the tiki. We were walking around looking for her when we met a man who indicated that she wasn’t at her little snack shack and we could just go. He didn’t need to say that twice. We headed to the tikis, go straight, then turn right. So, at the end of the road we turned. No signs at all. I had thought there would be signs and directions, but I was wrong again. As we went, we saw a house with a red roof, so figured we were doing well. Then, we found them!!!
It was wonderful! It was such a beautiful setting, so calm and still. There was an educational sign about the tikis and the site. This site is where the chief had lived. He would host guests on a patio type site made of rocks. The tikis represented himself and his daughter. There was even a little flying one, Maki’i Taua Pepe, which was quite unusual.
We have no idea at this point what it means. It has a horizontal position rather than the normal vertical stance. It has been speculated to be a woman giving birth. But she would be laying on her abdomen which would be very odd indeed. They did keep dogs, even back then, so some people believe it represents a dog?? But it looks nothing like a dog. There is an inscription on the base, but no one knows what it says or means.
There was a stack of rocks where they had their fires to read smoke signals and get visions of the futures. There are 95 known tikis in the Marquesas and this site contains 18 of them.
The statue above is Tiki Takai’i. It is the second largest stone statue in all of Polynesia, only smaller than the maoi on Easter Island. It stands approximately 2.43 meters. He was the chief and warrior, now the guardian of the valley. His wife is a stone statue behind him in more of a sitting position.
Me’ae Iipona is the largest cult site in the Marquesas. A me’ae is an ancient cultural site where they performed rituals and ceremonies. A wide variety of these were performed, probably most importantly being the funerary rites, which often required human sacrifice. There are bones of both humans and pigs found at the site. These sites were tapu and not to be visited or seen by many people, so they were built outside of the villages. You can tell the me’ae from the house foundations because they had a banyan tree planted in the middle. Typically human remains are found at the base. They are mostly decomposed, but sometimes skulls are still found among the roots. And there was supposed to be two rocks with a petroglyphs, but we didn’t see any markings, so we aren’t quite sure where that was.
Legend has it that the Naiki tribe used to inhabit the area. They captured the chief of the neighboring village, sacrificed him and ate. In revenge, the neighboring tribe ran them off, either killing them or they escaped to Easter Island. This site is the where the chief of the Naiki tribe had lived.
It was really a great visit and a special place to see. We asked someone when we were leaving, it was 2 pm. We had to be in before dark and knew it wasn’t going to be easy going, so we left.
When we stalled, I just started walking up the hills. The tire spun out once while we were on a cliff side, but we didn’t lay it down fortunately. It kept stalling for longer and longer periods. We celebrated each victory of getting over another hill. The muddy road we laid out on wasn’t too wet and we rode up it without issue! We lost the motor well before the airport. We walked some, then sat on it and rolled down the hills. We rolled a very long way from the airport down, but alas the road flattened out again. We still couldn’t get it started. We hadn’t seen a car almost our entire trip home. Finally a car passed us going our direction. We knew we were getting close to the anchorage and I needed to get home to the kids, get dinner made, etc. We had not planned on being gone nearly this long. So, I hopped in the back of the pick up and left Courage walking the motorcycle home. They graciously dropped me at the marina. Courage came in not so long after I did. He tinkered with the carborator some and finally got it to start. With the load of only one person and only going downhill, he was able to ride it home. Whew! We got in at 5 pm. The kids were a bit stir crazy. We eat at 5 pm and they were hungry. So were we. I made the quickest dinner ever and we sat down and ate. I hiked many hills today and put on many walking miles, which was great, but I was beat!
I believe that:
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” ― Charles R. Swindoll
It rained on us, the motorcycle stalled multiple times, I walked a LOT (and had cut my leg the day before, so had fresh stitches), we had minimal food, it took way longer than we anticipated, we crashed in the mud and were covered in mud, but we had an excellent time and made memories that we will remember for a long time!! The day after this adventure, you could not have talked me into going again, but even a week later, I think I would have done it!! The steep, lush, volcanic mountains of the Marquesas are unparalleled the world over. The history is fascinating, the people are fun, and the variety of coastline to jungle to forest was spectacular. I would definitely recommend the tour or a rental truck (4WD it turns out), if not for the tikis, for the experience of seeing the island.