Our 39 foot long catamaran looked pretty small floating at the base of the 2300 foot high walls in Daniel’s Bay. The walls were wavy with green and black horizontal bands, dotted with white birds drifting on air currents. We were entering the bay from the ocean, and it kept its secrets hidden. We could see only a green corner straight ahead and big walls all around us. The place where we would anchor our boat wasn’t visible yet in the right lobe of the heart shaped bay. As more of the bay came into view we were delighted to see a small, wild beach full of palm trees and crashing waves. Thousand foot high waterfalls punctuated the dark folds in the cliffs far beyond the beach. They looked like tiny white ribbons. It was a scene out of a tropical fairytale.

The other lobe of the bay was calm and surrounded by rolling green hills and small, pointy peaks. This would be a good place to anchor and there were already two more small boats here. We made sure we had a good view of the waterfalls and then dropped our hook in the most beautiful place we’ve ever taken Magic. We moved to the trampoline to properly appreciate the scene, with wine and sugar apples in hand.

The next day we would hike to the base of Vaipo Falls, a 1300 foot tall waterfall. We got up early and went to the wavy lobe of the bay to begin our hike. Even on the beach we found hints of the abundance of fruit here. A half dozen rotting, yellow pamplemousse were nestled in the tan sand along with coconuts in varying stages of decay.

We wandered through a small village of about a dozen people. Horses, dogs, pigs and chickens darted in and out of the lush forest. It looked like a peaceful life and the people living there were very friendly. They spoke a tiny bit of English and I spoke a tiny bit of French. Their English was better. We chatted for a few minutes.

We continued down the road and found clusters of trees laden with pamplemousse, lime, papaya, banana and mango. We paid our $10 entrance fee to Paul, a friendly man who lives at the end of the road and watches over the trail. He offered to give us fruit when we returned.

We enjoyed a powdery blue sky as we left the village behind. It was a nice break from all the rain in the Marquesas. There’s a reason everything is so green here.

The trail was wide and grassy at first, and it took us through an open valley of palm and fruit trees. The valley became deeper, and then we were in a dark jungle splashing through puddles and mud. The trail was hard to find at times. Luckily we were wearing sturdy sandals which could accommodate this wet jungle hike and we enjoyed the terrain immensely.

The trail was littered with fruit. Sometimes we would find a mango and look all over for the tree it came from, only to find that the mango trees were very tall along the path. I bent down to pick up one mango which was perfectly ripe, soft and bright yellow, but my heart sank as I turned it over and found a gash teeming with tiny ants. I examined it. Wanted it. We hadn’t found a mango in edible condition yet. I carefully peeled away the skin from the ant-free half and quickly snuck a bite before the insects claimed it. The juicy, slimy flesh was sweet and delightful, the most delicious mango I had ever tasted. I regretted having to leave the rest behind but felt highly motivated to find more mangos.

We got our first glimpse of Vaipo Falls after about a mile. Our spirits soared and we started hiking faster.

It was still over an hour to the falls, and when we reached the deep gorge near the waterfall the sky began to darken. A storm was building. We hiked up the river to reach the base of the falls, sometimes crossing it to find the trail on the other side.

“Look, there’s a snake!” I squealed as a fat, brown, serpentine creature squirmed down a small rapid in the swift flow of the river.

I waited at the side of the river and watched it pass a few feet away from me, but this wasn’t a snake. It had gills and looked like an eel. Who knows what it was doing here, or how many other little critters we were hiking with in the murky river.

We reached a pool near the base of the falls but before we could see the waterfall we had some obstacles to overcome. We swam across a brown pool, probably full of eels, and then scrambled past a short jumble of rocks.

After the rocks came the most exhilarating part. A deep plunge pool with rounded walls guarded the base of the falls, and had a strong, pushy downstream current. We swam against the current in the turbulent pool with curtains of mist filling the air. I swam with my face toward the mist at first, but soon a heavy wave of water droplets hit my face and partially filled my mouth. I began gasping, choking, and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought back to the times I’ve rappelled waterfalls and turned around so my back was to the mist. Now I could swim against it, no problem. I made my way across the pool and reached the base of the falls.

It seemed to be the base of a lower cascade, where the falls broke up into big curtains of mist instead of a huge, thundering firehose that must be hitting further upstream. I floated, gazed around in wonder for a couple seconds, and then got the heck out of there. Floating at the base of the falls meant lingering under an overhanging, crumbling wall with a risk of rock fall.

Soaked and smiling, we returned to our packs and prepared to hike back. It was right at that moment the rain began suddenly and it felt warm and heavy. We were already wet from the swim so it didn’t matter. We walked through the jungle, dripping, united with all the plants around us, also dripping.

It was sunny on the way in and now this felt like a whole new hike. Instead of sweating and guzzling water in the steamy jungle we enjoyed warm rain which kept us at the perfect temperature. We saw spires shrouded in mist. The waterfalls were gone, hidden behind curtains of white clouds.

We hiked back to the village and did not see Paul or the fruit he offered to leave for us. We didn’t care. We were tired, wet and satisfied. It had been a great day. The best part was enjoying the trail in complete solitude after we left the village. It was just us and the eels out there.

As we left the beach to go back to Magic, Paul ran after us to let us know he’d have a big bunch of bananas for us in a couple hours. We thanked him, and planned to return and enjoy some surfing after the sun dipped down below the tall walls of the gorge.

Later on we surfed small waves in brown water thick with runoff. Paul returned as promised with a beautiful 20 pound bunch of bananas. Brian balanced the bunch on his paddleboard and stoically headed into the surf zone while I watched with bated breath. Our precious bananas made the passage through the breaking waves and were safely deposited in our anchored dinghy. Soon they would be hanging in Magic’s cockpit, a yellow pop of color to remind us of our time at Daniel’s Bay and of Paul’s generosity. We snacked on them for a week and were able to eat or give away almost all of them, no small feat.

This was our first hike in the South Pacific, and we were surprised by the solitude and beauty. We love it here.


Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

3 Responses to Bananas, Mangos and Waterfalls – A Hike to Vaipo Falls

  1. Lyneita.Swanson@gmail.com says:

    What a remarkable adventure, Lisa! Your writing is so lush I could imagine myself there. You and Brian are inspiring us to follow in your wake next year. I love the photos and videos you post and look forward to the next installments. Big hugs!

    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Thank you, Lyneita! You and Doug will love this hike, and I am excited for you to experience this part of the world. The friendly people here do remind me of Mexico a bit. They are fun loving and open. Our first day on land we were walking around in a euphoric and celebratory state, and a couple Marquesans were singing a simple song as they hung around outside a building. I started waving my arms in a little dance as we walked by, and the whole group of them began to sing loudly in response, and we felt so connected in that small moment. I love it when those things happen. It’s really fun here. Hugs, zumba sister! Lisa

  2. Lyneita.Swanson says:

    What a remarkable adventure, Lisa! Your writing is so lush I could imagine myself there. You and Brian are inspiring us to follow in your wake next year. I love the photos and videos you post and look forward to the next installments. Big hugs!

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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