Nuku Hiva. A month-long exhale.
02 June 2016 | Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands
The islands making up the group named Isles Marquesas are vastly different from one another - in size, shape, topography, and in the number of residents. On each island we've explored, for example, the north end of an island can be vastly different from the south. Taken together, the Marquesas Islands are mysterious, lush green, rugged, with caves, lava, and intrigue...a little scary even. We find it ironic that, in the 6+weeks since we made landfall in the Marquesas Islands (after sailing over 3,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean in 26 days), we've only travelled approximately 100 NM with 1 night at sea! We have spent time on 3 islands: Hiva Oa, Tahuata, and now Nuku Hiva, for a total 6 different anchorages. Many of our cruising colleagues have covered much more territory. We've been sad to see them move on and yet, with each passing day, we're happy that we've stayed back - testing the old adage that less is more.
Nuku Hiva is the third island we've visited. On May 1st, we sailed into Taioha'e Bay, our destination because it is the commercial hub (a bit of an overstatement) and the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands. We planned to stay in Taioha'e Bay for only 3-4 days, a quick in/out...with 3 tasks in mind: (1) Finalize our long-stay visas, (2) Provision (food) for the next leg of our travels, and (3) Get fuel in the tanks. As I finish up this post we are preparing Athanor to depart for the Tuamotu Archapelego. It is already June 2nd, and we find ourselves back in Taioha'e Bay on Nuku Hiva. I imagine that I sound like a broken record, but I'm brought to tears thinking of the amazingly rich experiences we've had on this island during the past month. Indeed, many of the experiences involve the physical beauty around us, and yet over and over again, it is our connection to the people here, and their way of life, that makes our experience so rich. I'll share several of these with you below.
The first experience shares a slice of our daily life as well as those that live here full-time. Although we have a water maker, Taioha'e Bay is not clean enough to make water, so we decided to purchase / procure water while we were here. While in Mexico, we could have as many 5-gallon jugs of potable water as we wanted delivered to our boat, here it is a bit more complicated. Step 1: Gather our own (3) 5-gallon jugs, borrow another 7 from fellow cruisers (dinghy around to other boats to pick them up). Step 2: Drive our dinghy to the dock, climb the ladder up to the wharf - meanwhile fisherman are throwing fish guts to the sharks in the water (I'm not kidding - we had a shark show - and those darned sharks raised the stakes on me not falling in, which I'm known to do). Step 3: Pile the empty jugs in the back of a pick-up truck owned by Kevin (an ex-pat, married to a Marquesan womam, owns a Yacht Services business here). Step 4: Wendy (local Marquesan woman who works for Kevin) and I drive 1-1/2 miles up the hill where we find a water pipe with 4 spigots. Step 5: Wendy and I fill our water jugs. Here's where we all get to learn something. This spot is where the entire community gets their drinking water. Residents do not have potable water in their homes. While I was getting water, a mom and daughter drove up, filled their water jugs while chatting with Wendy, and off they went. Step 6: Unload the (now heavy) water jugs into the dinghy and make our way back to the boat (concentrating on handing these heavy jugs to Rob while keeping the feeding sharks in my peripheral vision). Step 7: Lift the jugs out of the dinghy onto the deck of the boat. Step 8: Pour them in the water tanks. Step 9: Return empty jugs. This process motivates us to conserve water. ☺. As an aside, this is the same process we follow for fuel (exchange spigots for gas station). Rob's observation....water is heavier than diesel!
With our major chores completed, we took a day to travel the island by car. The highlight of the day was visiting the rich archaeology on the island. We were awe struck by the Kamuihei-Tahakia-Teiipoka site, which is the most comprehensive in the Marquesas. We visited what once was an entire village, including community halls, foundations for homes, hiding places during times of war, etc. Prior to the early 1800's more Marquesans lived in this small valley than all of the islands combined (somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 people). I hope the images we captured give you a sense of the richness of this archeology. We've heard from the villagers on each island we've visited that Marquesan's are struggling to learn more about their ancestor's history and bring back the traditional cultural and community foundations that collapsed once Westerners arrived.
Because Taioha'e Bay is a major check in port for boats arriving in French Polynesia, there were upwards 60 boats in port at any given time. After getting an overview of the island by car, we were ready to find a bay with only a handful of boats - and to exhale. Our first stop was Controller's Bay, less than an hour away. We felt the buzz of the village fall away quickly as we spent the day puttering on the boat, reading, and watching wild goats climb the steep mountains around us!
The next morning, Rob (and soon thereafter, I) got wicked eye infections, which we later learned are something of an epidemic in Taioha'e Bay. I pulled out our massive supply of antibiotics but of course we didn't have that one, so we packed it in and made our way BACK to Taioha'e Bay. In most circumstances, I wouldn't share that detail; however, what I want to share was our experience at the Nuku Hiva 'Hopital'. We visited on a holiday, which meant we needed to see someone in the emergency room. This doctor's visit (let alone an emergency visit) was like none I've ever experienced. The "Hopital" is a single story building, much like a small elementary school. We were greeted in the outside hallway by a lovely young nurse (French) - turns out she took a year off of nursing to work as an au pair in Seattle...is this a small world or what? We were in/out in 30 minutes. She was kind, professional, and efficient; the clinic felt very much like a "country doctor." I've taken to carrying around several coloring books with me at all times, so when I saw a little girl in the hall crying, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to unload a few of them! Because it was a holiday, we had to come back the next day to pay our bill (they simply trusted us to return)- and bring stuffed animals. Total cost: $50 including the tariff because of the holiday, including 1-2 days worth of medicine. Can you imagine going to the doc in the US and having this experience?
After several days of walking around with orange eyes (antibiotics) we were back in the saddle and off to magnificent Anaho Bay - another planned 3-4 day stay that turned into 10. Our experiences in Anaho Bay exceeded all expectations. Our first night was kicked off right! Our friends on Anakena caught a 20lb yellow fin tuna on their way into the bay and invited all of the boats at anchor for a feast of sushi.
In Anaho Bay, there are approximately six homes - with a total of 20 residents., without any stores, schools, or services to speak of. It is an hour-long (steep) walk over a hill to the nearest village. We were thrilled to spend time with our friend Nikko, whom we met in Mexico. Nikko is a wonderfully personable young French/American who single-handed his 27' boat "Yellowfeather" across the Pacific. He made many connections on shore and introduced us to several. One of which was Heretu - a budding artist who imprints bamboo flutes with a traditional Marquesan design using a wood-burning tool. We visited him at his home and loved his work so we asked him to paint a piece for us on Athanor. He created the piece you see in our photo gallery that will remind us of this magical place wherever we go.
Another of Nikko's connections resulted in us receiving two "just caught" octopuses! We sautéed one in coconut milk and BBQ'd the other. Just amazing! Finally, Nikko shared with us that a family in the bay will cook dinner for you upon request - like a restaurant, but not exactly! As an aside, Moana & Heiva are parents to son Moana who tattooed my back (small community). So small, in fact, that we've heard that many of the men head to other Tahiti to "find" their wives. Rob kayaked over to their house during the day to ask if we could come for dinner. Yes! So we took a shower, put on some clean clothes and kayaked over at 6p.m. We were the only people there. They served us a lovely meal of tuna tartar, chicken curry and pamplemousse (like a giant grapefruit). And to top it off their young daughter played guitar and sang for us.
Back to chores again. While we were at a calm anchorage, I decided to tackle sewing the enormous sun awning that's been dogging me for months. So far we've cobbled something together, but when the sun comes up a blazin' at 5:30a.m. and sets 12 hours later, we need serious protection. Sewing a 12' x 14' object anywhere is a substantial amount of fabric, but doing so at a small dining table in a small space is comical (see photo). Yes, that's me sewing in my swimsuit (daily uniform), holding a headlamp in my mouth.
It looks like the wind gods will be blowing again this Friday (June 3rd) and we'll begin our trek south to the Tuomotos - via Ua Pou, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. We've read - and been told by friends already in the Tuomotos - that they are the idyllic picture of Polynesian islands they'd envisioned.
Thanks for reading. We miss you all so very much.
Susan & Rob