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A Walk in the Rain

June 1, 2011

Rain is the most persistent feature of the landscape, a pulsing, squally rain. Mountainous cloud cells roll in from the ocean, collide with Hiva Oa’s  mountainous south coast, ricochet up and release. Day after day wave after wave of rain cloud imitates in slow mime its denser, frenetic cousins that pound the tide-line.

The rain can be torrential, rocks drumming the cabin top. Sometimes it’s a soaking mist. Usually it’s just plain heavy. And always it comes in squalls whose brief spells of dry between may allow a moment of sun. The jungle steams; insects fill the cabin. And then more rain knocks everything down.

Murre is entirely wet–decks are as awash as when we were at sea, wrapped sails, coiled line, flags droop as if in mourning, and I am perpetually bailing the dingy. Murre lacks any kind of cover over the cockpit or companionway hatch, so water enters the cabin any time I do or when I finally open a port for fresh air. My clothes are wet, and hung in the cabin they do not dry even though the thermometer hovers near 80 degrees. Towels used to wipe up the floor and counters near the hatches are soaked through. Bedding feels damp as do all the sitting cushions. Already mildew spots grow on the ceiling.

The dominant odor in the cabin is wet, unwashed dog. My most worn clothes and shoes smell of wet, unwashed dog six days dead. Except that it’s so very exotic, it’s kind of miserable.

Finally a break in the weather allows a row over to talk to Gail on boat Ri Ri, who I’ve come to learn is the hiker (a rarity) in this impromptu community of ocean crossing yachts. I ask for trails and she points out two, one leads to ancient petroglyphs and another rides up and over the northern mountain to the island‘s other village. This day looks like it might be less wet if not exactly dry, so at ten o’clock I row ashore for my first serious walk in a month.

Wet horse blocks streaming road to petroglyphs

As soon as I’ve secured the dingy, cloud covers the bay like a lead blanket and dumps. But by now its sneak attack fails to surprise and my attire–nothing more than shorts, sandals, and a bandana–anticipates the inevitable. The rain is cool on bare skin and the release from any hope of staying dry excites me into a run.

The trail is a dirt road announced by a canopied wooden sign-board, Site Historique de Tehueto Petroglyphes, and its track runs with cocoa colored water or is simply unadulterated mud. Entrance into dense, wet jungle is immediate, and even under dark skies, the intensity of color–all a gloss of green in various shades–is blinding.

Gail has mentioned a selection of unsigned turns needed to access the carved rock, but I have forgotten the sequence, so at the first intersection I pass to the right as I do at the second. Rain is heavy and constant and I frequently towel off my face with the bandana.

Path becoming dense with nettles

Over the next two hours the trail climbs into the narrow valley and becomes more and more chocked with weed. Foot prints disappear as do tire tracks and soon I’m wading through a continuous stand of soft, shoulder-high nettles, the only indication of road being the boarder of taller jungle on either side. Puddles are covered in mosquito larvae, and each time I stop to consider my way, a swarm of mosquitoes descends, but the insects rarely land or bite and they stay behind when I move off. A small, white butterfly frequents the smaller flowering plants. Striped skinks slide out of the way. Unknown bird song from behind unknown leaf cover. Among the myriad of domestic tropical plants, a pepper bush with very spicy fruit.

Then suddenly the invasion of jungle is complete and the road and the nettles are gone. After some searching I find two rock cairns leading into a tangle of high trees and a ravine, which I follow, but though it is early afternoon, under the canopy it is late evening, and I can barely see to place my feet. Here all is the brown of rotting vegetation. I reach for the support of tree limbs and they collapse. There are no more cairns to mark the way, no indication of a trail at all, and I turn back in half an hour.

Back at the second intersection I turn left and within fifteen minutes am greeted by a hand painted sign, Propriete Privee–Suiven le Bolinage, which the sign translates to “Private Garden–stay on the path”. Here the path is marked to excess. Rock cairns, red and white ribbons and small, blue wooden arrows, usually bunched together as if intended for different audiences, lead through thick forest to a tiny clearing and a lone, lichen covered boulder the size of a truck.

Petroglyph Rock

On three sides and at waist and shoulder height the boulder is decorated with figures usually in the shape of insects resembling water skimmers and ticks. Only one carving has a human likeness, and several are so fanciful as to have no mundane reference at all. All of the figures are oriented horizontally, are moving right or left. Even the humanoid is not erect, and a projection between his legs suggests a rocket engine and flight or an insect‘s abdomen. Though rudimentary, the carvings are graceful and dreamy, but their placement is haphazard.  The boulder seems a selection of snapshots rather than a story.

Why here? Why this boulder? And why those particular images? Who? When? The answers are easy enough to find. Relais Moehau, the lone upscale restaurant in town where, next day, I order a salad of curly lettuces topped with local bacon and a steak smothered in Roquefort brings to my table a large picture book on the petroglyphs of the Marquesas. I spend a long lunch examining the text, but find it in French throughout.

Water skimmer

I imagine this is one thing I have in common with the visits of Captain Cook to these islands in the 18th century–the isolation of information due to lack of a common tongue. Granted there are a few differences: one being that even in monoglot America I have no good excuse for my ignorance of French whereas Cook had no access whatever to Marquesan, and another–

the Royal Academy of Sciences in London is not known to be eagerly awaiting access to my journals.

Here you will find more photos related to this article.

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