[090519, 1834 UTC, Hana Tefau, Ile Tahuata, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia; 09°57.97'S / 139°07.15'W]
This means "we have reached the state of being pleased"! Perhaps we should say...Ua Havai'i - which we THINK means "it is heaven", but our Marquesan is a bit rusty.
Due to very light winds, we had to motor the last 18 hours of our trip before reaching Hiva Oa. Around 0200 hours UTC a three-quarter moon peeked out from behind black clouds to the west (our heading) and threw a golden spotlight on the ocean's deserted shimmering stage, giving us a welcoming, moon-lit path to follow to our island landfall.
At Hiva Oa, and after a full night's sleep after our 28 day passage, we launched our dinghy in Baie Taahuku and rowed towards the pier. We had been warned that the pier's overhanging cement structure, and the ever-present swell, destroyed dinghies tied to it, so we rigged up Bacio's folding grapnel anchor and let it fly aft about twenty feet from shore. Leslie´s toss was poor, so she began in earnest to pull it up - NOT! After much cussing and straining trying to retrieve it from the completely opaque, mucky harbor water, we tied it to the pier and rowed around to the pirogue (outrigger canoe) launch ramp and hauled our dinghy up on the rocks, where, it should be noted, Philip had wanted to go all along! Finally ashore and by this time glowing in the hot sun, we took off walking up the bay's perimeter road and after 45 minutes and much more glowing later, arrived in downtown Atuona. (Later, Philip - "this is NOT a 'pink' job, it's a 'blue' job" - dove down into the murk and retrieved the anchor when the surge was low and there were no other dinghies tied alongside to create a re-surfacing hazard.)
Arriving 2 minutes late at the gendarmerie, we ignored our tiny-bit-tardy arrival time and began in earnest to pull our ship´s papers and our Ecuadorian zarpe from our backpack. A pleasant young gendarme (policeman) gave us a form (ignored our zarpe, our papers, and our (French) crew list) and asked for a bond - a refundable payment of roughly $1,000 each, made to the government to ensure repatriation if necessary. We showed him our letters from Latitude 38 and Haut-Commissariat de la Republique en Polynesie Française, saying essentially that we were the honored guests of Monsieur Michel Alcon, the Director of the Yacht Club de Tahiti and voilà (!), we were welcomed to French Polynesia with a warm smile and, more importantly, without having to post the bond. (Thank you so much Andy and Michel!)
Backtracking to the post office to purchase stamps, we took a number and swatted lurking nonos while waiting to send our Customs form to Tahiti and to buy visa stamps (3000 CFP each). Nonos are the Marquesean version of a sand fly that is somewhat like a cross between a New England black fly (vicious carnivores) and a no-see-um (tiny). After a 45 minute wait, our number came up and we approached and sat at the wooden bench in front of the clerk whose uniform was a spectacular turquoise on turquoise floral print with a oh-so-subtle patch indicating it was a postal uniform. On her lovely Polynesian head sat a flowered crown, called a "hei upo'o", while and on her filing cabinet, beside her computer screen was a four-foot tall bouquet of (false) birds-of-paradise that cascaded towards the floor. This post office did not resemble a PO that is in, let's say, Kansas!
The town of Atuona is clean and there are flowers everywhere (and no trash!). The Atuona valley stretches north and west towards the mountains from town and groves of mangoes and coconut palms climb the steep slopes almost to the rocky cliffs that stretch up to the sky. A puffing, winding climb up through the neighborhoods brings you to amazing views of the bay and finally to the Calvary Cemetery, where Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel were laid to rest. Gaugin's volcanic stone grave has offerings of poetry, exhausted candles, a shell necklace and a few plumeria blossoms, presumably brought by admirers and family. Standing aside the grave is his subtle but lovely sculpture of a woman, entitled Oviri, or "savage".
Our stay in Hiva Oa, though only six days, seemed to fly by. We washed clothes (in a bucket at the tap at the pier), cleaned the boat of salt and effected repairs. We also sought and found some excellent fruits and veggies - bok choi, eggplant (aubergine), pamplemousse, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, etc. - which are sold every day near the town park from an old land cruiser. There are three magasins (grocery stores) in Atuona all within a rock throw of each other. Though the stores are small, we surfed their warehouse-like aisles, and discovered treasures such as rich cheese, canned New Zealand butter, Asian cooking ingredients and bins of dozens of yard-long golden-brown fresh baguettes that generally disappear before noon when the shops close for lunch. Much of the food is pricey by Central American standards, but some is also quite reasonable: Canned tomato sauce for 47 CFP (about 50 cents) and canned butter for 208 CFP or about $2.25 per pound - a fraction of the price of even lesser-quality butter in Panamá. Other prices took our breath away like that of liquid laundry detergent at almost 18 USD per bottle and about three slices of ham for 450 CFP (almost $5)! Alcohol? Forget it! $80 is a LOT to pay for a bottle of Johnny Walker Red scotch.
We found a car rental agency and, along with Teresa and Rob of Yohelah, rented a full sized four wheel drive Toyota Hilux for $150 per day (gasp)! We actually had the car for about 36 hours, bought a truckload of provisions between us, and took a tour out forty two kilometers (each way) to the farthest north and east village on the island, Puama'u, where we declared the anchorage was not tenable.
The road across island climbs and winds up the island's steep mountains and appears to be continuously under construction; tall red-mud cliffs cut deep into hills to make switchbacks navigable. Along this road and far from any habitations, we encountered wild goats and (honest!) wild chickens. The road offers ever-more-beautiful views to the south and west of the island towards Ile Tahuata across the Bordelais Channel before climbing through (red) pine groves and topping out in a cloud forest of moss covered ancient trees before reaching a pass and dropping through a series of sharply pitched switchbacks which gave us the sensation of falling through space. Once emerging onto the northern coast, the road clings to sharp ridges as it winds back and forth, dropping hundreds of feet down to a rocky beach at the head of each deeply inset bay.
One switchback, high on the mountain ridge above the pounding surf, was so sharp we could NOT make the turn with our truck. Almost in unison the women aboard let out a involuntary yelp as we watched the land disappear from view. Rob, who was driving, said "no worries, we'll just back up". There are no signs along the road and seemingly few people, so we continued on up and down and around each bay until we reached a village with a magasin where we could ask directions. We'd arrived! The beach at Puama'u was rocky and also had a rock barrier, much like a breakwater, which we used as a platform for our picnic of wine, baguettes and cheese.
Just inland of town was the magnificent restored and groomed ceremonial site of the Na'iki tribe including stone plaza or tohua where, historically, human sacrifice was carried out to appease the gods. On site is a tiki of Taka'i'i, the largest west of Easter Island and of related origins. The site also includes a tiki called Maki'i tau Pepe, which depicts the death (maki'i) of Tau Pepe, who died in childbirth. Tau Pepe's child is said to have survived. According to our guidebook, women who die giving birth must be worshipped to dispel malevolent spirits; thus the tiki which is believed to assist in communications with the spirits.
From Hiva Oa, we made the passage to Hana Vave on Ile Fatu Hiva. The anchorage there is deep and stony with poor holding but amazing mountains rise above it and it's a must see site. Many tourist guides of Polynesia use a cover photo of this bay's gorgeous garden of bulbous aggregate rock peaks that line a valley ringed behind and above by sharply spiked volcanic peaks. The valley and bay face west and each evening as the sun sets, the view evolves as the colors and contours of the peaks continuously change with the warm light of the setting sun. The village is small and its friendly people still speak melodic Marquesan, which is related to and sounds much like Hawaiian. They also speak French and (reluctantly, but with a smile) substitute enough English to help us. Pareos aren't beach wear here, they're smart everyday dress for women living in a paradise where the average temperature varies little. Fatu Hiva is relatively untouched by the outside world (no internet, few motorized vehicles) but its people are seemingly prosperous from fishing, plus growing and selling copra, noni and fine artisan crafts. Fatu Hiva artisans still carve hardwood into magnificent artifacts and also make tapa cloth by pounding the bark of mulberry, breadfruit or hiapo (banyan) trees.
On our first trip into the village we encountered a woman, Kathy, who was trying to sell a traditional Polynesian supper of chicken and coconut milk plus poisson cru, or fish cooked by the juice of limes. Her English was excellent and her sales pitch practiced, which she delivered rapidly through a cloud of cigarette smoke from her seat on the stone wall of the Catholic churchyard. She was hoping we could scare up interest amongst the cruising fleet anchored in the bay. A bit further down the one main street in town, we met Teresa who pulled us into her small neat home and, while talking to us in French-Marquesan-English, drew us a map out of town to find the Vaie'enui cascade and its popular swimming hole.
Teresa turned out to be a tapa artist and we promised to return to purchase one. Tapa cloth, is made of bark pounded to a thin paper-like consistency, and are of varying shades of warm brown with traditional designs executed in black. We selected an ornate depiction of a sea turtle which is now mounted on the teak bulkhead in our main salon. Teresa also had some magnificent tiki carved of wood for sale and these were priced appropriately but beyond our budget. Before leaving she tried to teach us a bit of French but also some Marquesan - particularly "apa'e" or goodbye and warmly touched Leslie cheek to cheek (twice).
Saturday evening, just at sunset and with 45 miles to travel (hopefully under sail alone), we pulled our anchor and set sail for Ile Tahuata, arriving Sunday morning after a night of sailing through all types of wind (or little at all) plus squalls and rain. The villagers here at Hapatoni are said to be extraordinary wood carvers and we are anxious to visit their shed and observe them work. This combined with chores, hikes to the ancient sites and a bit of snorkeling will probably consume a few days...really it will.
Vos amis du bateau Carina,
Philip, Leslie et le beau chat, Jake