Nancy Lewis, September 13, 2003

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nancy Lewis
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
September 15 – 27, 2003

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)/TRITON
Geographical Area: Western Pacific
Date: September 13, 2003

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Despite my intention to catch up some sleep,  I woke up for the stunning sunrise across  the bay.  Because of some dense tropical foliage obscuring my view from the lanai, it was not until I walked over to breakfast that I could see that the NOAA Ship KA’IMIMOANA had arrived and was anchored peacefully in the bay.  My colleague, Tom Nolan, a scientist from NASA,  had gone to meet the ship, so I took advantage of this opportunity to steal back to my bungalow and read.  I had brought with me a copy of Herman Melville’s Typee, which is the semi-biographical account of how he jumped ship on this very island of Nuku Hiva, and escaped over into the next valley to live for a period of time with the notorious Typee natives. I mused on his descriptions of tyrannical sea captains, and inhumane treatment aboard his ship, and dreamed myself of stealing over to Taipivai Valley to visit the very place of his mild imprisonment with the “fierce Typees”.

My reveries were soon broken by the arrival of the party from the ship, and soon I was sitting and conversing with Tetsuro Isono, the scientist from Japan who was on board for the first leg of the KA’s mission from Honolulu.  I also met Diane Bernstein, from the University of South Florida, who is working on calibrating an instrument designed to analyze CO2 dissolved in the water. It was great to meet these people and all of the other folks who make up the crew of the KA’IMIMOANA.

The day ended for all of us in a very special way.  After dinner, a local dance troupe came and entertained the party with traditional Marquesan dancing and drumming.  The young men and girls were decked out in hand made costumes of feathers, beads, and raffia, and they brought out huge homemade drums.  The performance was a spirited dance that had the bare, painted chests of the young men glistening with sweat.  The only complaint was that the dancing didn’t go on all night.  I thought again about Melville’s time that he spent here on Nuku Hiva.  His story helped to fuel the romantic ideas associated with the remote South Sea Islands.  I walked back to my bungalow with the scent of tiares wafting down the path, and the moonlight reflecting off the waters of the bay.

Nancy Lewis, September 12, 2003

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nancy Lewis
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
September 15 – 27, 2003

Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)/TRITON
Geographical Area: Western Pacific
Date: September 12, 2003

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Personal Log 

I arrived in Nuku Hiva on Friday, September  12, 2003  after flying from Honolulu to Los Angeles, and from there to Tahiti.  I spent one night in Papeete, Tahiti, then boarded another flight for Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands,  3 hours by air from Tahiti.  From the air I could see many of the other islands and coral atolls that make up French Polynesia, and which are strung out over one thousand miles of ocean.  The Marquesas Islands are one of 5 island groups comprising French Polynesia.  The other island groups are the Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotus.

Lewis 9-12-03 Nuku Hiva

A map of the island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

The plane landed on the southern end of Nuku Hiva, its landing strip right beside the ocean, as the island rises sharply into craggy peaks affording little flat, coastal ground. I was greeted by Jean Claude, who asked me if I spoke French, as he informed me, in English, that he would be my driver to the village of Taiohae, on the other side of the island.

We soon departed in Jean Pierre’s Land Rover, and  it was to be a two hour  ride over a very rough, unpaved road, definitely a four-wheel drive track.  The road wound its way up into the mountains of the interior, and the views were spectacular.  One particularly deep valley, almost at the summit, is called the Grand Canyon, and it aptly deserves that name.  We bounced over the deeply rutted, twisting dirt road, and I was very glad that the rainy season was past, as I could tell that the road would have been absolutely treacherous under wet conditions.  In many places, we were right on the edge of steep precipices, with no protection, but Jean Pierre was an excellent driver.

Along the way I was observing the plants and trees, and saw many that were the same or similar to what we have in Hawaii.  We began to descend out of the steep crests of the interior mountains, and passed pastures with cows and horses grazing.  All at once we came to a paved road, and Jean Pierre joked that we had reached the “freeway”.  A young Marquesan waved to us from his horse. A freeway indeed!

Soon the village of Taiohae was laid out below us, nestled around the horseshoe-shaped bay, truly a delightful scene of tropical tranquility.  We descended into the village and came to The Pearl Lodge, my accommodations while in Nuku Hiva.  The grounds of The Pearl are a botanical garden, carefully tended by Rose Corser, an American woman who started the lodge with her late husband, Frank.  The bungalows are built in the Tahitian style, faced with split bamboo, and most tastefully decorated.  My lanai faced the bay, and at last,  I could have a rest from my long journey, and drink in the serene beauty of Nuku Hiva.

In the afternoon, needing some exercise after two days of being on an airplane,  I rode a bicycle from the lodge to the far end of the village,  and stopped at the quay at the end of the harbor.  Young men were just coming in on outrigger canoes and there were a number of people from the village there.  On my way back to the lodge,  I was hailed by some girls from the school, who said “stop” and indicated they wanted to talk to me.  They soon brought their teacher over to talk to me in English, as my French is not very good. It was wonderful to meet these young people and to explain why I was on their island.

I had dinner that evening with Rose and Tom Nolan,  a scientist representing NASA from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and who would also be joining the NOAA Ship KA’IMIMOANA. Tom endeavored to coax Rose into telling some stories from her adventurous past, as evidently she had sailed around the world and certainly had a wealth of tales to tell.

My first day on Nuku Hiva closed with the moon shining brightly over the bay, back-lighting the peaks of the mountains cradling the bay, and with the soft whisper of the surf  a lullaby of the island.