MARQUESAS - USUAL STUFF OF PARADISE

The Marquesas are quite different from how they seem to be portrayed (and
probably different from what Paul Gauguin expected even 100 years ago).
Gauguin went east from France, first to Tahiti and essentially drifted
further east until he reached the Marquesas which were (with a few
exceptions) the furthest easterly and most remote islands in French
Polynesia
(and hence the Pacific apart from Easter Island). The Marquesas are 2 big
islands, Hiva Oa in the south and Nuku Hiva in the north each about 20 miles
by
10, plus about 6 islands each about 4 miles x 3 miles and a handful of
rocks. Typical distance between islands is about 10-40 miles but of course
some cluster together. Nearest other islands are the Tuomotu archipelago
about 400 miles south west - but they are basically coral atolls mostly
uninhabited.

Gauguin was looking for was a way of life 'sauvage' - instead he found
missionaries and governors who really did not want him or his desire for 13
year old virgins and who were very protective. Gauguin's grave (elegant red
rough hewn stone,
no cross) is in the town graveyard a few  hundred metres above Atuona the
'capital' of Hiva Oa, and there is a very good Gauguin museum with exact
copies of his work, and details his close association with Vincent an Gogh
(they
lived in the same house for a time in Provence, and their paintings are
virtually
indistinguishable during this period).

The first surprise when we entered the harbour was not the outrigger canoes
or the ukuleles or the ladies with modern clothes (not like Gauguin painted
them)  - it was that the outriggers were made of
fibreglass, looked more like racing boats, and were stored on racks just
like a rowing club. Then we noticed the
vehicles - new Toyota 4x4's mainly. Much of the money comes from France
which is keen to keep the islands French - not least because of the nuclear
testing that went on in Moruroa, an isolated Tuomotu island. The rest of the
money comes from tourism - a 50 seater plane/day, (half locals, half
tourists) about 5 'pensions/guest houses',  occasional
yachts, and once/month the Aranui (a freighter with 80 passengers) and 1
cruise
ship every 3 months or so.A few plantations of bananas and HUGE grapefruit
export to Tahiti. There is a large French garrison and perhaps a quarter of
the population is of French descent.

The Marquesans are very friendly (everyone knows everyone else) and since
its difficult to hire cars, we hitched rides into town (as advised by
everyone) and in almost every case the first car to come along stopped for
us. We had a really easy check in at the gendarmerie, and visited the ATM at
the only bank (the ATM is inside so keeps bank hours, ie M-F). We
provisioned at one of the 4 small but adequately stocked supermarkets -
prices are roughly the same as UK, (but in CFP's -120=1Euro) and got half
the stuff we wanted (not
bad) at the 2 hardware stores.

Tuesday Christian and Caroline (Supreme Sealion and Sea Nymph respectively
on Intrepid) hitched a ride to Puamau on the only vehicle
going that day, and Nic and I did boat maintenance and cleaning (has to be
done). Then we sailed through  the windy Bordelaise Channel to Tahuata,
a small infrequently visited island just south of Hiva Oa. (All place names
are in the Marquesan language which involves a lot of vowels - they would
complement Czech or Polish very well - Marquesan actually sounds strangely
like Japanese).

Vaitahu (or Resolution Bay - doubtless from some RN ship long gone) is the
'capital' of Tahuata - 2 shops, no bar, 2 churches (1 Catholic, 1 old little
used Protestant), 1 school, the
missionaries would be
proud. You have to anchor in the bay in 12 metres depth (quite deep for
anchoring since you need 3-5 times that amount of chain out) and take a wild
dinghy ride in to shore through the surf. Beautiful simple church, lovely
kids (they speak Marquesan at home but are schooled in French from age 5),
and a surprise, small vanilla plantations - Marquesas are a major exporter
of vanilla  (so thank them when you have an ice-cream). Christian and
Caroline set up a temporary bar under a tree
overlooking the bay, and Nic and I walked over a huge pass to the next
village Hapatoni - a real treat - not only to see the extensive meae
(community sacred site) with terraces of black volcanic rock, but also the
idyllic village - very few cars, neat houses and gardens (complete with
French water and electricity meters near the front gate) an old  'royal
route' along the beachfront, and a petite harbour for the local
outriggers (which were already becoming more traditional and functional for
fishing as we got further away from Hiva Oa). We refilled our water bottles
at the local school, (delightful), and trudged up the 400m pass again
through papaya, banana and mango plantations, collecting fallen fruit as we
went...

Sunday 10th April was change over day so after watching the partial solar
eclipse through our sextant, we returned to Hiva Oa, farewell
dinner for C and C at the Haneke Pearl Hotel, and taxi to the airport to see
them off, and to meet Chris and Jill from Sydney who came in on the same
flight. Chris was laden with stuff we had asked him to bring - but had left
the English cheese in his Sydney fridge...... Nicky only just forgave him.

Monday we woke to a surprise - the cruise ship Gauguin towered outside our
small port and bum boats were ferrying passengers to shore via 'our' jetty.
There was a welcome band who looked  reasonably enthusiastic, (and who
helped
us with our dinghy up the alternative ramp). We paperworked again at the
Gendarmerie to document our change of crew, then hitched the 8 kms to Taaoa
where there is a really
atmospheric meae, the largest of its kind in the Marquesas, with altars, and
mortuary platforms, we picnicked where human sacrifices had been
delivered up....and picked tiny ferocious wild chillies. On the way back we
were passed by 20 4x4 jeeps rushing
selected cruise ship passengers for their 5 minutes at the site. (There is
no common pattern for meae but they tend to be the sacred or 'taboo' areas
above previous community sites (tohua)
often half way up a valley. There was a fairly strict system of status which
determined who could enter where.

Tuesday Kaha our guide (who is the father in law of Tania who owns the
Kanahau Pension and knows and runs everything in Atuona) drove us to
Puamau - a
dramatic rough 17km ride sometimes off
road as they were dynamiting, through hairpins and over precipitous
falls to deep blue bays. Puamau has the largest tiki (human statue) outside
Easter island, it was several sizes larger than me, and looked pretty
ferocious. Apparently the tribe at Puamau (Naiki) kidnapped and ate the
chief
of one of the neighbouring tribes who usually fought each other, but on this
occasion the 3 other tribes allied and best the Naiki in battle and drove
them to Atuona on the south of the island (now the capital so I suppose the
Naiki are having revenge by not funding Puamau....). We had a superb lunch
with Tania's aunt, then on the way back my right arm
swelled to twice its size and I just made it to the infirmary in Atuona who
were brilliant, pumped me full of antibiotics, dressed it all for free
...and next day we were inspected (nicely) by the coastguard boat, filled
Intrepid
with water by long hose from the jetty (tricky), changed our anchor chain
end for end to equal the wear, and sailed off to the Bay of Penises at Fatu
Hiva

No I didn't misspell it, the volcanic formations on Fatu Hiva are just like
8
or so 100 foot high,,,,,,,,,well, penises. The missionaries were appalled at
the name and added an i to change Baie de Verges to Baie de Vierge (Bay of
Virgins), so that's all right. And on the way we caught  a 4 ft dorado -
magnificent. I felt really bad for Christian, he sailed 4000 miles and 2
months from Panama without us catching a fish and Chris (who'd never really
fished before) comes on board and within 5 hours sailing is gaffing this
superb fish . But sunset here is at 5.30pm, and the Bay is deep and there is
only really room for 7 yachts - and we were the 8th. We tried one place in
16 mtrs, but came much too close to another yacht but luckily in gathering
gloom found a small spare spot in the south of the bay as 30 knot gusts
swirled all the yachts around. We had expected that all these anchorages in
the lee (west) of the islands from the easterly trade winds would be
protected, but in fact the winds seems to sweep over the top and accelerate
down the steep valleys, so are actually stronger than normal.

Fatu Hiva is almost impossible to get to apart from by boat, and its one of
the 'must see' places in the Pacific, previous visitors describe a sense of
unease, foreboding....We dinghied in to the new dock, I checked in my still
rapidly expanding arm with the local infirmary ('return at once to Hiva
Oa'),
bought some of the local sculptures (Fatu Hiva work is much admired and is
mainly sold in Tahiti for high prices)  and Nicky Jill and Chris walked
through the steep valley up to the magnificent view (they said). We had
dinner with Tahia and Tahu, chattering away in French (joint 2nd language).
There is a strong independence party in the Marquesas, but understandably
(given the money the French Government must be putting in), they want
independence ..........but not yet.

I exercised supreme self control by not fishing on the return, (a 4 ft
Dorado provides quite a lot of meals, even giving some away to Learjet,
another yacht), and we just made it to the Atuona infirmary 10 minutes
before it closed at 2.30pm on Friday for the weekend. The doctors were again
really great, (I  felt pleased to be European and may even restart buying
French wine - well maybe not bottles,  perhaps those boxes ..) but the
conclusion was that I had to go to the capital of the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva
where there is a hospital and surgeon. One nice aspect of this life is that
we can change our schedule - we had planned to go to Nuku Hiva  after
visiting the island of Ua Poa, but we just switched the order and will spend
a week or so
in Nuku Hiva, then double back to Ua Poa before sailing 400 miles to the
Tuomotu atolls.

Chris, Jill and Nicky had done a brilliant job fuelling
and watering, and we even met up with Jan and Metta on Anaconda in time to
swap stories and our mid Pacific photos. Anaconda had also swamped their
dinghy in surf,
and earlier seen their Spinnaker rip in half then sailed over it, and
reported that one of the crew of Serenity C had dislocated a shoulder
getting off a boat - cruising is never incident free. However, Chris being
Aussie by domicile if not birth barbecues fish like a pro, and Jill's virgin
guacamole was out of this world, so as I write I am doing the night watch on
Sunday,  and we
are 2/3 of the way to Nuku Hiva in lovely sailing conditions skirting
squalls. Chris and Jill
have just done their first night watch ever and all's well with the world.

Sunday 17th April - Taiohae Bay the anchorage of Nuku Hiva is in a beautiful
location, 2 'sentinel' rocks guarding the entrance to the bay above which
the lush valley rolls up towards dramatic ridges. Chris demonstrated a
method of putting out our stern anchor that created several knots unknown to
man before, (but ended really successfully), and I went into the charming 28
bed hospital and at 11am on a Sunday saw the chief surgeon within 5 minutes
of arriving. So now I have doctors orders to wait in Nuku Hika for a week
and do not very much. Tough eh? Test results should indicate the infection
( which can be really nasty here apparently - a previous yachtie had to have
a skin and bone graft to remove the bug). There's an internet cafe
(finally), widespread ciguatera poisoning if you eat fish caught near the
islands (deep sea fish like Dorado are OK), dubious water quality, dark
rumours of credit card fraud by the local sail maker, the dreaded No-No's
(sandflies of Nuku Hiva) haven't found us yet, and we may be able to get
the CD driver of our laptop repaired. The usual stuff of Paradise.

We hope you are all well, the northern hemisphere summer should be almost
with you, we wish you warm days, a wild and joyous social whirl and holidays
that take you away from it all.

Andy Nicky Chris and Jill, the crew of Intrepid.


PS Thank you so much for your emails, I have tried to reply to all, if your
message in total is greater than 30K (and that includes any attachments and
our email if you are replying to us) it will not go via sat phone, and I can
only get it when I find an internet cafe, so if there is a delay that may be
the reason.

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