The Right Stuff

We climbed the highest peak on Hiva Oa today.

Mo-ie picked us up and she brought her son, Tefa along. Tefa is eight. His birthday and Hunter's are two weeks apart. When Mo-ie went to Tefa's teacher to tell him he would not be in school, because he was climbing to the summit of Temetiu (Teh-meh-teh-u) with two children from Canada, his teacher said this was impossible; The summit is too difficult. No local eight year-old has ever climbed Teh-meh-teh-o never mind white kids.  The night before , at the party, there had been much discussion among the Men about whether or not a Child could climb the mountain. "YES" said Mo-ie. She knew the mountain. "Maybe a MARQUESAN child...." agreed some of the men. "Hang on a minute.." said we, in our bad French. (with warm smiles and open hearts) "We come from an island too, you know... our Forests are deep and our Mountains are high... and our Children are also brave. They sailed across the sea, for many weeks... through waves and storms and lightning. We are strong, like Marquesans... We would like to climb your beautiful mountain, and see Hiva Oa as you do." Mo-ie nodded and the men agreed. The children could go. Two of Mo-ie's strong young cousins came to act as guides Teiki, 15 and Vire, 17. Vire, is a respected hunter on the island. He spends a great deal of time in the mountains with his dog and his knives- all that he uses, to hunt the giant wild boars that live there. The day was more than an adventure, It was a sacred event. A right of passage, an honor to the mountain. Teh-me-teh-o is a force, an entity alive, with waterfalls and swirling clouds, thousands of flowering trees and plants, forests of mangoes, coconuts, bananas, wild cherries, passionfruit, guava, starfruit, (all of which we picked and ate as we climbed). Wild orchids and ferns cling to moss covered pinnacles and it is the source from where the water comes. Close to the summit, we drank from a tiny crystal pool, and gathered the energy of the ancient kings. We climbed in silence or we laughed and joked, in broken French an our baby-Marqusean. The boys and Mo-ie stopped at every new type of tree and picked flowers Maquesan men and women both wear flowers, A symbol of love for the tree... and everyone smells beautiful. The whole walk, the Marquesans would pick leaves and crush and roll them in their hands, telling us to rub the pulp on our skin. By the end of the hike, we were dirty as hogs, but we smelled of sandalwood and ylang-ylang. There was no charge,, no tourist fee... we were guests , lovers of nature, kindred spirits out to do the brave and the challenging... Friends. And this goes over well with Marquesans. Together, we climbed. And climbed and climbed and climbed.... and little Hunter and littler Tefa held pace together, with small shy smiles of encouragement. Kai kept up with the big boys the whole way. No one moaned or whined or chickened-out when the trail narrowed overhangs that plunged away to 2000 feet. Even when poor Hunter was stung (twice!), by giant wasps...she never shed a tear. "We are like Marquesan children" she said. 'We are brave" and we were proud. The Marquesans hike in dime store, jelly-shoes. Mo-ie had to buy three pairs at the shop beofer heading up the mountain, because only one of them even had shoes- Tieki had a pair of half-broken flip flops. On the steepest part of the climb, we were suddenly, surrounded by clouds, shooting past, they raced each other to the top, scaling the mountain in a fluid swirl , until they reached the summit, just above our heads. Exhausted, they curled around the jagged peak and caught their breath. An hour later, just as we reached the top, they took off again and raced out to sea... off to play on some other green isle, I imagine. At the top we had a picnic, fresh baguettes, pate, jars of beans and potted meat. We spread it on palm fronds and ate out of leaves. The kids painted their faces with Nutella, while i took photos of the view. Everyone was happy. The way down was harder. The long day seemed to stretch with every step, the bottom hid in one jungle after another. We paused to pay homage to a tiny ancient Tiki who stood facing the valley. When the Tiki saw who had come, the Mountain gave the little ones their test. Hunter and Tefa had to dig deep within, to reach their little warrior-souls. They limped along with grim, determined faces, It broke our hearts to see it, but it would also making them strong. They pressed on, through grasses taller than their heads, vines as thick as my arm, rock slides and mud, Kai and the other boys lent them a hand but they took no help. ( except for Hunter, who had a five minute piggyback after the second wasp sting...just until the swelling went down) Kai earned the respect of the big boys, who kept forgetting how old he was. His toes were black and blue by the end but he kept at the front of the pack the whole day. Nine hours , 4000 vertical feet later we reached Mo-ie's beat up little Suzuki, parked on the rock ruins of an ancient village. Tefa and Hunter solemnly shook each other's hands and said congratulations. We drove back to Mo-ie's house, where her husband Joseph had been eagerly watching the mountain for the past three hours... He was stoic about his pride in the children but later admitted, he could not breath deeply, until he saw us on the switchbacks near the base and knew that we were all down safely. We agreed to return the next night for a celebration to honor the children's climb. Mo-ie would make her specialty of wild boar in red wine sauce and someone else was bringing fish, we would make a key lime pie. It was pitch black by the time we got back to the peir. Our exhausted, filthy, jelly-legged crew, stood under the outdoor shower by the dingy dock and washed with all of our filthy clothes on-one does not have a washing machine when one lives aboard Pure Vida. We climbed, literally shaking with muscle spasms, into the dingy, looking forward to a quick dinner of Ramen and then bed. Just then, a car drove up. It was Marie-Joe's husband. "Hello!" he called... "You are coming for dinner now, non?" OMG!!!!!! There was some miscommunication- I had thought it was Sunday ( after my tattoo appointment )! 'Oui, oui" we said, all smiles and embarrassment. "Give us ten minutes?" Back to the boat, put on a dress, brush out the tangles, treat the minor scrapes and bruises. Two shots of tequila, grab some hospitality gifts ( necklaces, inscence, brightly colored nail polish) and back in the dingy, good as new and shiny as ever. (Just don't look at my black and blue feet) 15 minutes later, we were in another Marquesan home, with another Marquesan family... eating an incredible feast of poisson cru and chicken curry with boiled plantains. Whew. Historically, people feared the the Marquesan islands and avoided it at all costs because it was supposedly chock-o-block with bloodthirsty cannibals... I think, the real danger here, is you could actually be LOVED to death.


  1. Kai and Hunter .... Since I am a master at reading facial expressions I could see you had earned the Tiki's respect. Wow. What a day! Well done! I love you.

  2. Suki, Jon....absolutely amazing and special. So wish we were there on the hike through the clouds with you.
    I've been lost without communication and so it's a treat today, on this the first "me" time I've had in months
    to sit here for an hour and look at your blog.....Wow. Love it and love your words and all the pictures...just a
    treat. If we don't leave tomorrow (from Gulfito, Costa Rica) for Panama I'm going to insist on more "me" time
    to come see some more posts. They are amazing. Like the 4 of you. I'm charmed. I miss you.....xox -N