The Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia are a cruiser’s paradise. There are only 8 islands – and a handful of exposed rocks that we need to be careful of! – but each one seems to have its own personality. So far we’ve visited three of them and are quite delighted!
The first one we encountered was Fatu Hiva, among the tiniest, but with the biggest reputation. We spent a couple of nights anchored near the town of Omoa and then a few in the famous Bay of Virgins (a.k.a. Hanavave). We had a nice hike to a famous waterfall with a pretty but chilly pool at its base. Dave and Baban enjoyed a short swim, but Dan and Kathy settled for a shower in the rain instead. 🙂 Because it’s technically the dry season, the waterfall was not running very fast, but it noticeably increased when the rain shower began! It was coming over a very steep cliff and dramatically fell a few hundred feet. The lush jungle surrounded us and we felt as if we were in our own private little space. The hike took perhaps an hour, and was really therapeutic for our legs that had grown lazy over the long passage across the sea.
Even though we had found a place to drop our anchor, the anchorage was still crowded and our location was not good. There are strong winds that come down the valley and across the anchorage, and the boat dragged anchor more than 100 feet while we were gone. As we passed through the small town on our way back from our hike, a local woman invited us to have dinner at her home later that evening. Dan chose to stay with the boat, to keep an eye on the anchor, while Kathy, Dave and Baban returned for dinner. Veronica spoke virtually no English, but her husband Rod spoke reasonably well. Dinner was delicious, including our first taste of “poisson cru”, which is raw fish (often tuna) and coconut milk, lemon juice and salt – it turns out to be quite common in this area. There was also a green salad, chicken, boiled vegetables and two banana dishes, one fried and one made with coconut milk that had a texture sort of like bread pudding. All of it was made from local ingredients, and delicious! And Veronica prepared a wonderful dish for Dan to eat later. Our conversation was limited to the basics of our life stories, but it was fun to have an authentic visit with a local couple. Veronica was from the Tuamotus and Rod was from the Marquesas, but they spent most of their lives working in Papeete, in the Society Islands. After the meal, they offered to sell us a bunch of fruit from their yard/garden: pamplemousse, mangos, bananas. We traded them a few small items we had brought, including a T-shirt, some reading glasses and some nail polish. It was a fun interchange!
After we left Fatu Hiva, we moved to the next island north, Tahuata. The bay of Hanamoenoa was reported to be a really nice anchorage by several other boats we’d already heard from, and it was only 15 miles away. Although there were only about 10 boats when we arrived, within a few days there were more like 20, many of them with kids. It turns out that families travelling with kids have a special need to find others with similar aged children, and they often maintain a network of friends, travelling together or arranging for occasional meet-ups. This bay was selected as a meet-up spot for the same time that we had planned to be there. There were roughly 40 kids of various ages that weekend, playing on the beach, jumping on a big floating trampoline toy one boat had tied up behind them, riding along on wakeboards or inflatable rings behind dinghies, etc. They organized a couple of group meals on shore and had a bonfire night which we joined in. It was a very social couple of days – and then they moved on. 🙂 Baie Hanamoenoa has a small but beautiful white sand beach, surrounded by jungle and backed by tall volcanic cliffs. There are a few homesteads behind the beach, but we didn’t meet the people there. (Actually, Dave and Baban had an encounter one evening when they went ashore to do some astral photography, but that’s their story. Baban brought his tripod and his fancy camera, and got a spectacular photo of the Milky Way.) We all went snorkeling one afternoon along the rocks to the south. It was wonderful to see the variety of tropical fish zipping along the reef and ducking into its crevices! After about 20 minutes, though, Baban and Dan ran into a patch of stinging jellies, which left some significant welts. Ouch! We quickly swam away from the shore and headed back to Lungta. Oddly, we haven’t seen these jellies since. A couple of times we dinghied the 5 miles down the coast to a nearby village to do a few errands – and try to get some internet. There was a cafe there run by an astute businessman named Jimmy. He provided breakfast for $10, including internet access, while his next-door neighbor only offered breakfast. All the cruisers frequented Jimmy’s place! 🙂 After our first meal there, he asked us if we wanted some oranges. We enthusiastically said yes, and he picked a bag full, adding in 3 breadfruit. Then he told us it would be an extra $15. 🙁 We didn’t like that way of doing business and we declined. He came back three different times with the same suggestion, and then changed his tack – how about some whiskey? Or some old line (rope)? We negotiated 10 meters of line for the bundle of fruit, and we all came away feeling like it was a fine deal.
After 5 days, it felt like it was time to move on. We hadn’t yet checked into the country, and we were definitely enjoying what it had to offer! We pulled our anchor and moved north another 80 miles to the island of Nuku Hiva. This is the biggest island in the chain, hosting more than 2000 inhabitants – and the second largest in the whole country, after the capital Papeete. Here we could take care of the legal formalities of checking in and arranging to get our long-stay visas. (If you are remembering that we already applied in Panama, you’re right! This is a multi-step process, with lots of details. The first year of a long-stay, one gets the standard 3-month visa, followed by a resident card for the balance of the time.) We have turned in the paperwork for the long-stay cards, and are now waiting 6 weeks for them to be processed. They can only be picked up here in Nuku Hiva or in Papeete (or an agent can help with the process too). It will take about 6 weeks for them to be processed.
The town of Taiohae (tie-o-hay) is situated at the head of the big bay of the same name. The bay comfortably fits many dozens of boats, and has had over 40 the whole time we’ve been here (about 3 weeks). We’ve seen many familiar boat names (many from the tracking list that Kathy coordinated while crossing from Panama) and a number of new ones as well. There’s a nice wharf where we can leave our dinghy while we’re ashore, and a cafe very nearby that has a fairly decent wifi connection – unless there are lots of customers already online. 🙂 The local fishing fleet uses this same dock, and cleans and sells their fish early most mornings. We’ve found amazingly fresh tuna here for only $2.50/lb! As the fishermen are cleaning their catch, they toss the scraps off the wharf into the water. A small crowd of sharks have learned this pattern, and it’s exciting to see them scramble whenever something lands in the murky water!
Taiohae is a bit of a cross-roads for boaters, with some arriving directly from their crossing and others arriving from other islands in the chain. It’s a good place to meet people and exchange crew. We expect to hang out here as we wait for the processing of our long-stay visas to complete, but our crew are both interested in moving on a bit more quickly. Dave has already found a place on a Swedish boat that is heading towards the Tuamotus, and Baban is in discussion with an American boat that is not going to get long-stay visas, so will move on to Tonga or Fiji before the end of the season. We (Dan & Kathy) are starting to look forward to having the boat to ourselves again. It’s been fun having crew, but it’s also nice to be “just the two of us”. By the next time we post, this transition will probably already be completed, but right now it feels like there’s a lot of change in the air. 🙂
Shortly after we arrived in Taiohae, we were shopping in the grocery store, when a tall man struck up a conversation, asking all about where to find various services. Bob is on a boat called Second Summit, which has a number of challenges after their crossing. Dan offered to help diagnose the fuel problems with their main engine & generator, and thus a friendship began. We spent much of the next day working on the air leak and getting to know Bill, Bob, and Julie. They had a fourth crew person, but he disappeared quickly after a drinking binge that caused some awkward difficulties with the local police department where the checkin process occurs. Some time that first night their dinghy got seriously damaged on the rocks and the outboard motor got dunked (or rolled?) in the water (outboards don’t like saltwater 🙂 ). They are going to be here a while. 🙁 Bob is a very energetic athletic guy, always working on new ideas for a hike or paddle outing. We joined him on one hike a week ago, and our calves are still recovering! Julie is an unconventional young woman with a fun spirit who we’ve also been spending quite a bit of time with. Bill, the owner, is a bit older and less adventurous. In appreciation of Dan’s help, he took us all out to dinner one night at a fancy hotel’s restaurant, and we enjoyed goat curry and vegetable/chevre rolls with eggplant fritters.
Two weeks ago we took a little jaunt to another bay 5 miles to the west. It’s called Taioe (tie-o-eh) on the map, but cruisers generally call it Daniel’s Bay after a friendly local. The valley there is sometimes called the Royal Valley, and it sports another don’t-miss waterfall. 🙂 We beached the dinghy and found the trailhead quite easily. It was a gentle hike, passing through a small settlement of perhaps a dozen tidy farms. We paid a $10 fee per person to the local “valley association”, collected by a burly, heavily tattooed man named Patrick. (We had already heard about this fee, so we had money with us!) The first half of the walk followed an ancient roadbed, lined with large stones but with the surface gone. Later it headed up into the valley, lined on both sides with tall cliffs and lots of tropical vegetation. A stream ran through the valley, which we crossed 3 or 4 times. We came across an ancient town, with lots of stone construction in ruin, some walls, some steps, and a few stone-lined pits (for food storage?) We imagined the royal family living up there between the majestic cliffs, and travelling the wide boulevard to access the sea. We had heard that the trail beyond this village was hard to find, and we followed one to what seemed the end, where it ran to the stream but didn’t appear to continue on the other side. There were signs saying that continuing was prohibited (we think! It was in French, which is still mostly incomprehensible to us. 🙂 ) We turned around at this point, tired enough that we chose not to search for another path to the waterfall. Later we learned that we were in the right place, and if we’d been a bit more determined we would have found the continuation to our path on the other side of the stream. We retraced our steps, and when we got back to the settlement we met a woman named Monette, who was happy to make a meal for us. At first she thought we were just starting our hike, and said that she’d have dinner ready in two hours, but then we made it clear that we had just returned from the hike, so she offered us some fried banana morsels and whipped up a feast! She included a green salad that had shredded green mango and a wonderful vinaigrette dressing. She sat with us and chatted as we ate; the local culture is so gentle and happy that it is a real pleasure to meet the local people! They seem to live off of the bounty of nature, feeling no urgent sense of not enough. Since the trees produce more than they can eat, they happily share what they have with strangers that come by and ask. They speak gently and smile frequently. Many have tattoos, a holdover from a traditional lineage that little is known of anymore. The current population is only about 10% of the size it was when westerners first arrived in the 18th century. Many cruisers are getting Marquesan-style tattoos, in commemoration of their big passage or to add to a collection they already had started.
Back in Taiohae again, we have learned our way around a bit. There is a lovely produce market right near the dinghy dock, which runs every morning except Sundays. As one friend said: “The French don’t do Sundays!” We’ve found two grocery stores which stock a surprisingly different set of items, so we typically visit both. One of them carries baguettes and larger loaves of bread that can be cut into slices for sandwiches. We’ve found brie and other cheeses, expensive but so good on the baguettes! We’ve also found a French baker who makes delicious pastries on Saturdays & Sundays, once again giving us cause to celebrate the weekend. 🙂 He makes croissants, chocolate rolls, brioches, eclairs, and more! We’re still sampling the list. 🙂 Food here is fairly expensive, compared to Central America, but perhaps comparable to what we paid back in the States. Some items are printed in red, which means that the French government subsidizes them. We have found Corn Flakes subsidized for $3.50 for a small box, while the next cheapest box of cereal is $5.50! We often walk away thinking we haven’t gotten very much food for our $80-100, but then we manage to eat just fine. We’re getting used to a new array of meal ingredients, although we haven’t yet embraced anything particularly exotic, outside of pamplemousse – and soursop (a.k.a. guanabana and coeur du sol), which we discovered in Panama City with Suzanne!
Last week, along with Bob & Julie from Second Summit, we took a hike to the bay to the east, called Comptroller’s Bay – except that we actually hitchhiked half of the way. Although it was paved road most of the way, it did have quite a bit of elevation gain, about 3000 feet. We were surprised to wear out as thoroughly as we did! It turned out to be surprisingly easy to hitchhike here, because almost all of the vehicles that passed us were pickup trucks. It seems that the paved roads here are fairly recent, perhaps 15 years or so, and there’s not really much need to travel from one place to another, but people are enjoying their new-found capabilities. The first person to pick us up was on his way out hunting wild pigs and goats (previously he would have used a horse); most of these islands have wild populations of these animals which now make a ready source of food without having to invest in feeding them. We saw several small groups of pigs foraging along the roadside as we were walking this day. We also saw goats when we were in Daniel’s Bay the previous week, including darling kids frolicking at the water’s edge. Their bleating echoed around the bay for an entire morning. We marveled at the views on our walk, both up at steep cliffs that evoked memories of Yosemite and down at the crystal blue water of the coastline. There were quite a few unfamiliar plants, some flowering, some bearing odd fruits, which we would stop to admire. Near the end of our hike, we were hoping to come to a waterfall. We came to a stream crossing where we waded across the cool water. Julie knelt down to stick her head in the water, flipped her hair overhead and created a beautiful arc. Dan spent 10 minutes trying to capture that on his camera, and then we all noticed that we’d been consumed by mosquitoes and another biting insect called nonos. Yikes! The welts itched for more than 2 days – and sleepless nights! When we realized that we’d have to bushwhack to get to the waterfall, we petered out and decided to call it a day. We hitchhiked most of the way home, tired and full of the sensory experiences of the day’s adventure!
This week and next, there’s a festival going on, presumably celebrating the harvest season. There are booths set up in town, and the vegetable market is on hold. Many of the booths are selling jewelry and other art trinkets, but also a massage corner, a pellet rifle shooting range, and a fruit sampling booth. Half a dozen huge stones were placed along the beachfront, and carvers with Makita electric grinders have been making them into tikis over the course of the week. We talked with Henry who was working on a sculpture of sea turtles. He told us how the original people of these islands believed that when someone dies, their soul goes into the sea and then into a large animal like a turtle, whale or mantaray. Later, if the people eat that animal, they receive some of the power of their ancestors’ souls back. When the missionaries and French colonial powers came to the islands they were shocked, saying that the soul goes UP into heaven rather than DOWN into the sea, and the ceremonial eating of sea turtles has been banned. Henry (and others) are outraged at the destruction of his culture and is working to restore the heritage to today’s youth.
Drums ring out most evenings, accompanying dance performances both rollicking war-frenzies and seductive hip-shakers. We haven’t seen any schedules, so we just keep our ears open! A few days after we arrived in the bay, we ran into a friend that we hadn’t seen since we were in the Sea of Cortez in 2014. Norma & Christian arrived here in Nuku Hiva a year ago, and have settled in here. She has joined a group of women who are doing a Polynesian dance class twice a week, and they had a recital last week with 20 of her group. It was fun to see this Mexican woman joining in on a traditional Polynesian dance! We’ve had them over to dinner one night since then, and are planning a hike for next week. It’s good to have friends!
Yesterday our neighbor Silke (a single-hander on a boat called Ocean Maiden) paddled over and told us that she was having trouble with her anchor. She thought it had snagged on a rock, but had been unable to get it free by maneuvering the boat in circles. She has some ear troubles and couldn’t dive the 30-35′ herself to see what was happening and clear the problem. We pulled out our dive gear and helped her out. It’s the first time in 4 years that we’ve used a dive tank instead of our hookah, and we had to dig out some pieces and reconnect some other bits. Eventually, we got it all together and got over to her boat. We worked out our game plan, and Kathy jumped in the water. Dan & Silke maneuvered the boat up to the anchor so that there was no stress on the chain. Kathy found that the chain was wrapped around a tree (!) that was sticking up about 8 feet from the silty muddy bottom – about 4 times! With a bit of effort, she was able to lift the coils up over the branches one at a time to untangle the snarl. It was a good feeling to be a hero and help out a friend! Silke treated us to a plate of fish cakes – yum!
Well, that’s the news on Lungta. We have wifi internet when we take our tablets ashore from time to time, so we’re checking our “usual” email addresses again a couple of times a week, as well as getting internet tasks done as needed. We’re also still checking our Iridium email most days. Drop us a line if you feel so inspired – we’d love to hear from you!