[090523, 0036 UTC, Hana Tefau, Ile Tahuata, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia; 09°57.97'S / 139°07.15'W]
Cape Te Hope Ote Keho, on the south end of "Fire Spirit" island (Ile Tahuata), is dramatic and ominous, backed by mountains with names like Pierced Mountain and North and South Needle. As Carina slipped past the cape, which was illuminated by the early morning sun, our favorable NNE winds quickly shut down and we were buffeted by williwaw-type gusterlies on the bow or no wind at all. Luckily it was a short motorboat ride to Hana Te Fau and we had our hook down early enough to still enjoy breakfast as we looked through an aquarium with over 50 feet of clarity.
The following morning we had the dink in the water early and puttered the considerable distance to the town pier in Hana Hapatoni to our south. The quay was alive with activity due to the earlier arrival of a monstrous supply ship from Tahiti complete with its own landing craft and crane. Kids, being kids, were making a racket jostling each other for our line while parents lounged in the shade, awaiting the first offload. Stacks of canvas bags of copra sat nearby ready to be shipped out. Our dink was secured alongside a local boat in the corner of the tiny "harbor" and we made off towards town, about 100 yards away.
Immediately we were struck by the beauty of the place. Hapatoni is like an arboretum with a one-kilometer, ancient stone-lined raised road, shaded by enormous temanu trees, running along the stone and coral seashore. The edges of the road feature carefully manicured grass and floral plantings, raked daily by the local women and kept like a fine park.
Before we had wandered far, we encountered Rose and her daughter Millie, who were pushing wheelbarrows of coral and shells. They stopped to engage us, even with our halting French. We understood - after a bit of struggling - that the town was preparing for the feast of the Ascension. Rose and Millie's treasures were bound for an elaborate woven palm shrine under construction nearby. Another, similar shrine further up the road housed the treasured (but obviously previously shattered) statue of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by candles and adorned by a lei of plumeria. (We learned the following day from Alan and Lydie of the French boat Paradoxe that there would be four such shrines and that the statue of Mary would be moved four times during the month of celebrations.)
We had learned from another cruiser of Ronald, a master wood and bone carver, and Rose and Millie took us to his carving shed and showed us some of the exquisite carvings he'd made. From a cardboard box of newsprint they carefully unwrapped treasures of wood, bone, pig tusks, and fins and bills of fish that had come from the surrounding waters. We ended up selecting and purchasing a tiki of a woman, executed in rosewood and joined to a dagger-like tip of carved marlin bill, the joint wrapped in twine made of braided coconut fibers. The following day, when a handful of tourists arrived from the main village of Vaitahu, all the town's artisans were displaying their works in an open air artisana and we were again struck by the extraordinary skill of these Marquesans. We understand that much of this amazing artwork is sold to galleries in Papeete at a mark-up of roughly 500%.
Continuing up the cool shaded waterfront road we passed a large area of raised ancient stone paepae ("pie-pie"), the largest petroglyph we've seen so far and an open home of traditional palm construction. Further along we passed a tiny cemetery, a lovely historic stone church, a one-room school and the town's diesel-powered electricity powerhouse, before climbing through the jungle to a overview point where (according to our guidebook) ancient tabu religious rites were performed.
A few days later while passing through town coming back from a hike towards the neighboring village (more like a "death march" in the heat and humidity), we encountered a party of women, sitting in seawater at the pirogue launch ramp making coconut fiber twine by pounding coconuts shells onto the concrete with heavy pieces of wood. Gleeful children were swimming around them. Suddenly, kids started yelling in unison a Marquesan word we couldn't quite get, got out of the water, ran around and picked up rocks and started throwing them into the harbor and pointing. It took us a few minutes to see that a school of seven spotted eagle rays, the largest being about four feet across, were cruising through the shallow harbor. The children were clearly frightened; the rays were not.
Ascension Day was Thursday May 21 this year and, seeing the elaborate preparations, we planned to stay long enough in Hapatoni to attend the early morning mass in the tiny church. However, overnight Wednesday we got a pretty good soaking rain and woke to a swarm of flying tiny ants which lost their wings upon impact and were crawling all over Carina. We didn't get to mass; Philip spent the next hour and a half using our small shop-vac to collect the little beasts before they decided to nest inside of Carina. We are still finding a few stragglers.
We are now in a tiny bay called Hana IvaIva of which there are a Nui (big) and an Iti (little) lobe. The bay is near the Bordelais channel separating Hiva Oa and Tahuata but the accelerated winds and swell seem to pass it by. Last night at sunset we caught a silhouette view of Ua Pou's unmistakable pinnacles, almost seventy miles away. The bay's bottom is bright white sand, its water a clear bright green-blue and there are contrasting dark black cliffs close by. Behind the beach is an abandoned small farm with orchards of coconuts, lime, noni and pamplemousse (yummmm). A horse and free range pigs wander the beach; the pigs are clean, quite animated and are fairly bold, nuzzling our dink when we were sitting quite close by while cutting each other's hair. Yesterday, for the holiday, boatloads of Marquesean picnickers arrived on the beach and we could hear their singing above the waves' susurruses.
Vos amis du bateau Carina,
Philip, Leslie et le beau chat, Jake