Trip Log: 3768 Nautical Miles.
Our friends Bruce and Marianne on Galivant turned up at Hanamoenoa bay, so naturally we had to have a rollicking evening with them. They announced that they had a 3 liter bottle of tonic water available. Hmm... what on earth could we do with that?
We enjoyed meeting Phillipe, Virginie, and Emma (3 yrs) from the French catamaran Mowgli. Mowgli's featured color is yellow, with a yellow dinghy with yellow engine cover. The outside of each hull is decorated with pictures of animals. They will spend a year or so in Polynesia, then head for Australia where they hope to start a business. Phillipe is quite disgusted with France, saying that the French do nothing but complain without lifting a finger to make changes. Their boat is a 43 foot aluminium catamaran built by ProMeta in the south of France. They sailed with the Iles du Soleil rally from the Canary Islands to Senegal (where they went 150 miles up a river), Cape Verdes, then Brazil. Part of the rally included 1,100 miles on the Amazon, an experience they found fascinating. Another boat in Hanamoenoa, All The Colours, was also on that rally. They're an Australian family who bought their boat, a Beneteau Oceanis 43, in France and spent two years cruising the Mediterranean.
We found Hanamoenoa bay to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable anchorages we've ever been in. The weather was fine the entire time of our visit. The water is very clear, so the snorkeling is wonderful wherever you go. The lovely sand beach was not marred by the presence of no-nos, the biting flies that all of the guide books say ensure that the Marquesas are not a beach destination. The water temperature was in the low 80's, so you could spend hours in the water. There are plenty of interesting places to kayak---on Saturday morning I visited five other sandy bays in a stretch of 2 miles, each with its complement of coconut trees.
Hunting the wild pamplemousse seems to be a common pastime among some of the cruisers. The hunter is armed with a machete and stalks through the bush looking and listening for the elusive prey. The pamplemousse is smaller than the north american moose, with a more compact and rounded body, and generally considered less dangerous. They're probably even less harmful than the coconut, which often kills or maims by pouncing from a tall tree onto the head of an unsuspecting victim. Once the prey is spotted, the machete is used to cut a pole which is used to knock the prey from its perch. Once captured, they struggle little, and seem resigned to their fate on the breakfast table.
On Saturday evening, we said farewell to friends and weighed anchor, bound for Ua Huka (pronounced Wa-hookah). We'd heard that the island is seldom visited but well worth the time. Phillipe told us of Delphine and Maurice, in the village of Hokatu, adjacent to Hane bay. They run a store selling carvings, and provide meals. The guidebooks claim that the carvings available in Hokatu are the best to be found in Polynesia, and are reasonably priced.
As dusk came, we sailed at up to 7 knots along the coast of Hiva Oa, accompanied by dolphins again. The breeze faded at dark and became almost non-existent for a couple of hours, then arose again so that we had a very comfortable passage in 8-10 knot winds, making 4-5 knots. We slowed a little just before dawn so that we would arrive at Hane bay with sufficient light. It's a narrow bay with a dramatic island just at the entrance --- this island is much like the Sugarloaf off Tutukaka in New Zealand, but instead of being way out to see, it's less than 100 meters off the southeastern entrance of the bay. We anchored next to the only other visiting boat in the bay, a huge modern monohull named Rapture. I'd estimate Rapture to be about 90 feet long. We watched the two couples on the boat (which flew a Marshall Islands flag) land on the beach, and they left before we returned from our shore trip, so we didn't get a chance to meet them.
A notable feature of Ua Huka is the fact that it is overrun with wild goats and horses. Much of the vegetation has been stripped from the lower slopes, and you can see and hear the goats as they move about the steep cliffs. Although the trees have been stripped, there is still abundance green ground cover. The island, just like the others we've encountered in the Marquesas, rises to a very high and jungle clad central spine that spends most of its time in the mists.
The dinghy landing here is quite tricky, so we decided to use the kayak instead, making two trips. I managed to land Sal and the dry bag without incident, but Tane and I managed to get sideways to the surf and were dumped unceremoniously. It all has to do with timing (waiting until there is a set of smaller waves) and the dismount (not getting your legs caught under the kayak as it accelerates of a wave just at the shoreline). Oh well! I'm sure we'll master the technique. The problem with the kayak is that you have to raise the skeg and rudder as you come in for final approach, and this makes it turn sideways very easily if you are not perfectly perpendicular to the waves.
We started walking westward towards the arboretum, a managed area that includes plants and trees from all around Polynesia. The views from the high winding coast road are spectacular, with the volcanic rocks and white sand merging into aquamarine then dark blue. After a few minutes, we were picked up by a local couple who took us all the way to the arboretum. We'd thought it would be just around the corner, but it turned out to be several miles. At the arboretum, we saw no other people as we wandered about. There are several buildings, one of which contains a display of the many timbers represented. The walk takes you by an amazing array of plants. At one spot, there is a grove of star fruit trees, and you can pluck and eat the fruit as it otherwise just seems to fall to the ground and rot. Toward the end of the walk, we came upon a large orchard of mostly citrus fruits --- mandarins, oranges, pamplemousse, and many others that were new to us. As we ended our walk, we picked a number of huge purple avocados and several bunches of the small hot chilis that were offered for sale in Hiva Oa.
We started the walk back towards Hane bay. After a mile or two, we came upon the island's airport, a beautifully maintained facility with a large modern car park. There was a single vehicle parked and no sign of people or aircraft. The runway is relatively small, so I imagine only the smallest aircraft land here. Shortly after the airport, we were picked up by another local and driven back to the bay. From there, we walked in the opposite direction towards the village of Hokatu. The road went up steeply around the eastern cliffs of the bay, to a point overlooking the sugarloaf, then descended steeply into the village via a series of switchbacks. From above, we could see that this was the happening place --- people were swimming off the black boulder beach, frolicking in a couple of kayaks, playing boule (bachi? ball in Italy), and gathered in a large canopied area. When we arrived in the village, we discovered the store with the carving was open, so our first task was to visit the place. The carvings are indeed excellent. We bought several manta rays, a multi-colored wooden tiki with an alien head, and Tane scored a wonderful rosewood abstract tiki with an embedded manta ray. The open windows at the beach facing end of the store opened into the canopied area, where a large group of women were playing bingo. The numbers are called out first in Polynesian, then in French. The women used colorful glass tokens on their bingo boards, and, as before on Hiva Oa, no men were participating.
After impoverishing ourselves in the carving store, we asked if there was a place to eat. Delphine led us to another building where we bought meals at 600 cfp per clear plastic tub. On offer was pickled fish in coconut, whole bananas cooked and pickled, roasted breadfruit, chicken, and pork. We all chose the fish, bananas, and breadfruit. This was our first encounter with breadfruit, which is yellow and starchy, with a taste that is roasted, yellow, and starchy! The bananas were excellent. Most of the fish chunks still had portions of skin attached, so you end up with a final chewy bit of skin with each piece. Our request for drinks resulted in the standard green coconuts.
The village, spotlessly clean as usual, is home to not only people but a large number of dogs, pigs, and bantam chickens. As elsewhere in the Marquesas, the people are very friendly a relaxed, and we seem to be the only outsiders. Aside from the carving store, nothing seems geared for tourists but you are made very welcome. The contrast with Latin America couldn't be greater---gone is the frantic hustle and bustle, dust and fumes, and abundant ever-present trash. We thoroughly enjoy being in Latin America, but it's always full-on. Here, we're finding it possible to relax completely. I imagine the story will be quite different in the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora)---the large glossy brochure on yachting in French Polynesia that we received from the agent in Hiva Oa proudly announces that there is an increasing number of superyachts and cruise ships visiting, and all of the boats pictured seem fit for billionaires.
An unusual feature of the places we've visited is the total absence of fishing boats active at sea. There were a few in the harbor at Hiva Oa, but no evidence of them operating at sea. Tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi and billfish are reported to be abundant around the islands. The fish we ate yesterday was the first fresh, local fish we've seen on offer anywhere. I'm not sure whether the reason for no fishing is cultural or whether the food on land (fruit, goats, pigs, chickens) is so plentiful there's no need. Another marked contrast with Latin America.
We've heard from Tom, Sean and Brad on S/V Marlin---they're nearing the end of their crossing and may stop at Ua Huka. So far, they've been on the way four weeks, so I imagine cabin fever is rife. This afternoon we may move to the bay they're planning to stop at so that we can welcome them to the Marquesas. Tom says all of the beers they brought for trading have somehow vanished, so they have no currency. Or so he says.
We'll probably make the 20-30 mile trip to Nuku Hiva on the 6th. We're hoping the swine flu pandemic won't affect Bruce's flight from Auckland to Nuku Hiva.
Although we really enjoyed Hiva Oa, the water in the anchorage at Tahauku bay was dark and impenetrable --- not in any way inviting for swimming or cleaning the bottom of the boat. We were eager to get going. On Tuesday morning, the trip to Hanamoenoa bay on Tahuata island took less than two hours. The winds were very light, so it was motoring all the way --- a huge change from the long passage. On the way through Bordelais Pass, we were accompanied by a school of dolphin, leaping and cavorting about the bow. Tane got some more great shots that we should be able to post when we get to Nuku Hiva. Coming into Hanamoenoa bay, we found ourselves in a school of manta rays, so while I circled in the boat, Tane and Sal went swimming with them. The number of boats in this little bay has ranged from a low of around 10 to a high of 15. A little crowded by some measures, but we're enjoying meeting many new people. Eric and Susan Hiscock, famous cruisers who wrote many books, rated this bay as one of the top three in all of Polynesia, and it is indeed special. The water is very clear, the beach is pure white sand backed by coconut palms, and the green clad mountains soar in the background. There is a great deal of coral on the rocks, and a dazzling parade of colorful reef fish.
We've spent our time visiting, having visitors, snorkeling, walking the beach, kayaking, and just lolling about enjoying the weather and the scenery. It hasn't rained since we've been here, which is in marked contrast to the anchorage just five miles away, where it rained several times each day. During yesterday's snorkeling trip, a lone manta ray circled us repeatedly, and then came in directly so we could see right into its wide mouth. It was accompanied by a remora, a fish with a sucker on top of its head that allows it to attach itself to larger animals like mantas and sharks. It wasn't attached, but swam within an inch of the manta's underside, matching every move.
This morning we took the dinghy a couple of miles up the island to Vaitahu bay, where there's a small settlement. The primary mission was to buy baguettes, but we also came away with a bunch of bananas and 10 huge mangoes. The scenery at Vaitahu is even more spectacular---the mountains are highest just above the village, and they were completely clear of clouds so we were able to see them in their full glory. The village is as clean as Atuona, and the roads very well maintained. Again, people were driving very new vehicles. There are only a few miles of roads, so it seems they must be a status symbol here as well. How they manage to bring the vehicles ashore at the wharf is a mystery---it must be quite a sight to see. The ferry that comes each day definitely isn't large enough to carry a car.
We're now beginning to feel that we're really in Polynesia now. It's certainly living up to advance billing!
Our plan is leave for the island of Ua Huka tomorrow evening. It will be an overnight passage. After a few days there, we'll move the 20 miles to Fatu Hiva which is the main center of the Marquesas islands.
2009/04/28, Hiva Oa
Atuona is the largest town on Hiva Oa, with most of the island's population of around 2,000. We're anchored in baie Tahauku, which is next to the more open bay in front of Atuona. It's a four kilometer walk around Tahauku, over the point and down to Atuona. The road is lined with hundreds of mango , pistache, and papaya trees---these are just the ones we recognize. We've collected many of the mangoes on our several walks back and forth. The massive bulk of an ancient volcanic core towers more than 4,000 feet directly over Atuona and the anchorage. Most of the time, the peak is shrouded in cloud, but yesterday we were fortunate to see the entire massive peak --- it's spectacular, with sheer cliffs, and where it is not vertical, completely covered in dense green vegetation. The entire island is very green---very much in the mould of King Kong.
The town, the streets, and the people are very clean and tidy. There is absolutely no trash visible anywhere, and the roadside is trimmed regularly. The roads are well paved, mostly concrete. All of this is in sharp contrast to what we've become accustomed to in latin America. The French government subsidizes the islands heavily. Almost all of the vehicles are very new, with the most popular by far being the Toyota HiLux four door four-wheel-drive pickup, followed by the Land Rover Defender, then an assortment of Korean cars. The gardens around the homes are filled with fruit trees and flowers and are well tended. The most common flower is the hibiscus, in every color and size imaginable. The lobiscus are the flowers when they've fallen to the ground. The local women all wear flowers in their hair.
Bantam chickens are running everywhere. There's a continuous background noise of the roosters crowing. Even in the most remote parts of the island, you see them by the side of the road. They're very colorful birds, with tremendous variety.
In the mornings, we wake to the sound of grunting and splashing as the locals rush by in outrigger canoes. It seems there are several teams, and each canoe holds around eight. Sometimes several of them are racing. At other times, we see individual outrigger canoes zipping about the anchorage. Of course, they're all of very modern fiberglass construction.
There are about 20 boats in the anchorage at any time, with boats arriving and leaving throughout the day. Yesterday, a boat named Monkey Feet, a "kid boat" (a boat with several children aboard) came in and anchored next to us. Soon we learned they had broken their forestay on the passage. Luckily, they had enough wire to replace it --- we contributed the use of our 110 volt angle grinder to the project. There are boats from the US, Canada, Norway, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and, surprisingly, one from Japan. Lauren Grace, Kachina, and several others left today for other islands, three other new boats arrived. This morning, a catamaran named Honeymoon left the anchorage and as they passed us, they called out to Sal to tell her that they have been following our blog and love it, and that they also have one on Sailblogs.
Paul Gaugin moved here after becoming frustrated with his life in Tahiti. He painted a little, but then was unable to, and involved himself in politics, aligning himself with the locals against the French colonial functionaries. He died here. We visited the Paul Gaugin center that contains reproductions of a great deal of his works. They were painted by a couple of artists commissioned for the project, and the colors are certified to be correct. They're wonderful paintings, with rich colors. There are copies of many of his letters, ones he wrote, and ones written to him by people like Vincent Van Gogh. The center is not in any way touristy, with nothing on sale---it seems the locals are very honored that he chose to be here, and the center is a celebration of that fact. There's also a Jacques Brel (a famous French singer who also lived here on Hiva Oa) center, featuring his private airplane.
The prices of just about everything are wildly more than we've been used to in Latin America --- beers in the supermarket are around four dollars each. On our first trip into town, we ate at Snack Take Take, one of about two restaurants in town. We ordered two meals, a side of green beans and three beers for lunch. The bill was more than 80 dollars. The currency here is the French Polynesia Franc, not, as we anticipated, the Euro. There are about 85 of these to the US dollar. Anything and everything seems to be in the thousands of PFCs.
When you arrive in French Polynesia, you're required to post a bond which amounts to at least the price of an airfare to your home, for each person on board. We signed up for the Latitude 38 magazine sponsored Pacific Puddle Jump in order to receive a waiver of the bond requirement, but were too late. Fuel costs nearly 15 dollars a gallon unless you have a fuel tax waiver. Australians receive a 90 day visa automatically, but most others, including New Zealanders and Americans, are only given 30 days and must apply for an extension. With all of this, and our need to import the autopilot drive and other parts, we decided to use an agent to handle our paperwork. It now seems as though we would have been able to handle it all ourselves at considerably less cost. Oh well! The local representative, Sandra, also provides a laundry service which we also used for our biggest items. The price of this, too, made our heads spin.
The prices are very high, but given the remoteness and the standard of living here, it seems unavoidable. We're very happy to be here, the people are very friendly, and the whole atmosphere and scenery are fantastic, so the prices are not a big issue for us.
Galivant arrived on Thursday, the day after us. On Saturday, we rented a car (a Toyota HiLux 4 door, of course!) with Bruce and Marianne of said Galivant, and drove over the entire island. We started by heading directly to the most distant point, the village and bay of Puamau. The roads were excellent, with paving and concrete whenever it became really steep, which was often. We climbed thousands of feet to the central backbone of the island, were treated to spectacular views of Hiva Oa, Tahuata, and Motutane, then followed this north and east, finally descending an amazing series of switchbacks, and for about 10 miles, inched our way around the cliffs over the sea. At Puamau we visited an ancient archeological site that featured a number of huge stone tikis. My concept of a tiki, from growing up in New Zealand, was a wood, bone, or greenstone carving that you hang around your neck. Here, the tiki is large stone carving, often several times the height of an adult. We were the only people at the site and after about 15 minutes, the lady in charge of the place turned up to request our 300pfc each for the visit. On hearing that we lived in the US, she exclaimed excitedly about the election of Barack Obama, turned up her nose at the mention of Nicolas Sarkozy, and the proceeded to wield a huge pole to knock down some pamplemousse for us. These are the huge grapefruit that grow here, and we found them delicious.
On the way back along the island spine, we took a detour marked by a sign offering banana products by a fellow with the last name of Connor. He turned out to be quite an ancient white fellow, spoke only French, and had a first name something like Fau'vau. We had fresh bananas, whole dried bananas, and sampled his banana vinegar. We left with a bunch of fresh bananas, about 8 dried banana leaf-wrapped packages of dried bananas, and a bottle of banana vinegar. Our next turn was from the spine of the island towards a bay on the north side of the island. Here, in the bay, we watched as the locals took a huge conger eel that had been roasting on a fire, dipped it in the sea, and began to deal with it. On the cliffs around the bay, we saw numerous goats. They are wild, and along with the bantams, pigs, and some wild cattle, seem to make up most of the animal population. On the way out of the village, we stopped at a house displaying an ARTISANAT sign. It turned out to be the house of a Belgian woman, and she was offering painted cloth pictures done by her husband, and gourd lamps of her own design and construction. They were all excellent, but also very expensive. While we were looking over the offerings, there was a sudden shaking of the power line to the house. Moments later, a local fellow came rushing to the door in a torrent of excited French. It turned out a huge tree had fallen across the road about 100 yards away, bringing down the high tension lines. We all walked up to see it, and sure enough the tree completely blocked our way back, and there were live high voltage wires on the road.
Nadine, the Belgian lady, immediately called the authorities in Atuona. It turns out that the power lines supplied Atuona from a turbine near the village we had just visited. Atuona was without power, and until Nadine called, they had no idea what had happened. They promised to dispatch a crew immediately, and arranged to have the turbines shut down to make clearing the wreckage possible. They were all very nervous about the downed lines, because in a previous similar incident, a boy was killed when he walked near a downed wire.
Nadine invited us back for coffee while we waited for the road to be cleared, and so we learned her story. She and her husband Jean had moved to the island from Belgium 30 years ago. They first settled in the next bay around at the site of an abandoned village. They were the only people in the bay and valley. Cars were unavailable on the island, so they had to walk 5 hours to Atuona for basics. They lived on fish and the fruit from the trees at the site of the old village, built a house, and raised three boys. One of the boys is at college in France, and the other two are in Tahiti. They miss the island and two intend to return. Nadine and Jean moved the two miles to the village with the road so their children could receive schooling. We asked her many questions about their life on the island, and about how things worked. It turns out that in the village, the only people with jobs are the lone policeman, the two teachers, and the engineer who cleans out the waterways for the turbines. Everyone else earns money from copra, the dried meat of the coconut. They fish, gather fruit, and hunt wild pigs. In fact, Nadine told us that the fellow who came rushing to the door to ask Nadine to call Atuona about the tree, had been pig hunting at the time. Pigs are hunted with dogs and knives---guns are not usually used. We had noticed that one tourist activity offered was to hunt wild pigs. On our drive back, we passed a man with a machete and a pack of five dogs --- he'd clearly been hunting pigs. The French government pays the teachers and gendarmes twice the salary they would receive in France. Today, we hitched a ride with a teacher who has been here two years, and has two years to go. He told us he enjoyed it here, but that it was often quite boring. He hikes and fishes, but the high salary also allows him to take trips and he's visited Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the two years he's been here. The government does not provide money for living to the locals, although it does provide subsidies for housing---you can buy a standardized government house for 3,000 dollars if you have no income. We asked about the very new and expensive vehicles that all the locals seem to be driving, and she explained that in this culture, appearances are everything. People spend all of their money on vehicles and on making their gardens look wonderful, but inside the houses there is usually only a single couch and no other furniture.
After returning to Atuona, we continued on to the west looking for another ancient site. On the way, we ended up at a beach that was crowded with the locals. They were playing volleyball and in a large grassy area, women were playing bingo. The beach was directly impacted by the trade winds, with big rolling surf crashing onto the black rocks, and with thousands of coconuts rolling up and down the beach with every wave. We decided to stay a while and watch the action. As dusk approached, we made our way up a narrow road into the jungle at the base of the huge peak, finding the extensive black volcanic ruins amongst huge trees.
Sunday was spent working on boat projects. A big part of my day was taken in disassembling the head and replacing the diaphragm, valves, and seals. The buildup of hard water and turd scale was massive. We're all hoping the days of spouts up the bum are past.
Today, Monday, we did some final provisioning, received our paperwork from Sandra the agent, and set about getting ready to depart tomorrow. We've decided we'll sail first to the island of Tahuata, which is very close. The harbor we're in here is fed by a river, and the water is opaque, so we're looking forward to being able to swim.
We're amazed at how civilized things seem to be here. These islands are very remote and isolated, with almost no tourism. The visiting yachties seem to be almost all of the visitors---apart from the locals, they're the only other people we see on the streets and in the stores.