Nuku Hiva & Marquesa Farewell

The day after the festivities on Ua Pou we sailed the 20 miles to Nuku Hiva, which is the administrative capital of the Marquesas. There were more BPO activities planned there, including a “farewell dinner” for all the Pacific Odyssey crews, who will be continuing on at their own pace, no longer with the BPO. We also planned to get fuel and groceries there.

Although the harbor is big, I found that the several dozen boats there made it feel crowded. And while it was delightful to have an al fresco restaurant right on the dock, complete with WiFi, I spent many frustrating hours there trying with only occasional success to upload photos to the blog. I also tried to find an American who would be flying home soon, who could take my kaput iPad to mail to Hallie, but no success there. Not many Americans in the Marquesas, except those on boats.

The BPO events were good, but we were weary of Marquesan welcomes and dancing. We soaked up the information presented about the Tuamotus (the next island archipelago, 500 miles southwest), got fuel and food, said goodbye to friends that we may or may not see again, and got going.

The forecast was for very light winds. We decided rather than be bounced around by waves without enough wind to keep moving, we would just go down the coast to Hakatea Bay for the night. This was a great choice, as spectacular volcanic landscapes are not something we have grown weary of. The bay is sheltered all around, mostly by mountain cliffs that bring Tolkien scenes to mind, with a small beach and one hut. One other boat anchored. The bay has room for many more, but more would have ruined the perfection of the place. Birds could be heard singing from shore, and varying scents wafted by as the breeze shifted this way and that.

The evening perfection gave way to a morning that was intensely hot and infested with little flies. We decided to get underway. Yes, the winds are light, but we have been enjoying a quiet sail on a relatively smooth sea, and we’re in no hurry.

I had no idea what to expect from the Marquesas, and they have been a delight — certainly the place closest to my heart so far. The Tuamotus will be dramatically different. They are coral atolls, barely rising above the sea. They used to be called the Dangerous Isles because they could not be seen until a ship was too close to avoid the surrounding reef. I look forward to the new experience lying three days’ sail ahead!

Ua Pou #2

The next day’s activities were to take place in the next village, about four miles west. We motored the boat to their bay, anchored, and headed ashore. The locals waved to us, indicating that we should bring the dinghy to the “beach” — nothing but watermelon-size rocks with crashing waves. No way! We managed to tie the dinghy off a pier, despite surging waves coming in. Most of the rest of our rally crowd came by car from the first bay.

The locals then wished to formally welcome our group. We walked 100 yards up the road, to be out of sight, so we could then approach as a group from away. They blared horns and shouted and chanted. As we got close they formed two lines, which we were to walk between in single file. The mayor welcomed us. The tribal chief welcomed us. And then there was some serious dancing by nearly-naked men, to welcome us. Next the males in our group were to join the men and dance with them. Drawing upon our warrior spirit, this was cool, though we generated a lot of laughing among the children present! Probably someone took an embarrassing video of me, but I haven’t seen it yet…

There were demonstrations of how to open coconuts without metal tools. And how to take out the coconut meat. There was wood carving and basket weaving going on. There was a huge spread of fruit, etc, for our welcome breakfast. We were running later than planned, so breakfast was followed immediately by another huge spread for lunch! There were lots of jokes about fattening us up…to be eaten.

Then into the 4WD vehicles and up into the hills to visit a German who, 40 years ago, married a Marquesan and began a homestead. They live “off the grid” in an idyllic wilderness. They generate electricity via a home-made water turbine fed by the stream, plus some 40-year-old solar panels. They grow fruit and coffee and cacao and macadamia nuts, and he makes 100% cacao chocolate that he sells to visitors like us. And believe me, we bought some!

Visiting this guy, and seeing his old manually-operated equipment, made me think of my friend Brian. The two of them could have talked (and built stuff) happily forever, I think.

Back into the cars, we were told that our next stop was a waterfall where we could swim. Parking on the side of the road (a narrow edge before a drop-off into a ravine…), we walked a couple hundred meters into the “jungle.” (It’s not overgrown like a jungle, but it is so lush that I don’t know what else to call it.) Past a huge banyan tree. Past a cliff where the banyan roots appear to be holding the earth together. Across the stream the struck me as disappointingly small (I was hoping to have a good swim in fresh water). Up the gully, and THERE was the waterfall, with a delicious pool at the base. Into the water — cold at first, and then perfect. And yes, deep enough that I couldn’t touch bottom as I swam across to the falls. And then the torrent of the falling water pelting down, you could stand under it, almost too much to take on your skin, but you could also stand behind the falling sheets. We insisted that the couples in the group stand behind the liquid curtain and kiss. Too bad Hallie wasn’t with me! But what a wonderful fresh invigorating enlivening maybe even enlightening shower!

Back to the beach. I played some volleyball with teenage kids, most of whom were better than I. There was a tournament of pentanque (bocce), and the team of Tim and Bill won a gift certificate to a restaurant in Papeete. The local ladies clearly outclassed all of us, but we were guests and I think they may have made sure they didn’t win the little tourney.

Dinner had been cooking in a pit since dawn. It was now after dark. But before dinner it was time for a fire dance demonstration. The nearly-naked men again, and in the dark with torches burning, I could just about imagine being an enemy of theirs, and being terrified. They were big and powerful and tattooed and ferocious. The chief screamed unknown words at us. Drums carried messages direct to the soul. The warrior cries echoed off the fire-lit backdrop of rock cliffs. Torches in hand, they danced, they bellowed, they did choreographed hand-to-hand combat. They were clearly “into it;” I noticed that one of them got a glowing cinder on his back, and it stayed there unnoticed or unheeded by him. I soaked it up; especially the drums and the all-out raw male energy of it all.

The dancers then led the way to the fire pit, pulled off the many layers of banana leaves, and with bare hands pulled out the steaming baskets of fish, octopus, goat, breadfruit and bananas — for us to devour. After dinner another Marquesan told us that all the men in our group needed to come to the center of the pavillion, as we were to do the pig dance. He was a hoot, teaching us how to do the simple moves, but more importantly urging us to get into the grunting and shouting and wild boar spirit of it. I think we all did pretty darn well, despite the hoots and laughter from the Marquesans, both adults and kids. Then the ladies were to join the men, men outside in a circle, facing the backs of the ladies on an inside circle. The pig dance continued with the men doing the moves we had just learned. The ladies were to do some of the same moves and grunts, but when the men got to their most macho part, the ladies were to put hands on hips and wiggle, with a touch of…perhaps flirtation, perhaps mockery, perhaps both…toward the men. A good time was had by all.

So ended our two jam-packed days in Ua Pou. I don’t know what to make of it all; it was a lot to digest (both figuratively and literally). I’m grateful and honored (and exhausted) to have been a part of it. We’re told that the town had never put on such an event before. One individual, our guide on many of the activities, had pulled it all together. May many good things come his way!

Marquesa Photos #2

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Approaching Ua Pou

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Fruit!!
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Church
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No stained glass windows in church...
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Breadfruit class
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Tim pounds breadfruit
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Scenic overlook; no guard rail...

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Jackie passes through the official Ua Pou welcoming gauntlet
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Dancing
Official welcome from the chief and the mayor (the woman)
Official welcome from the chief and the mayor (the woman)
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Demonstrating how to husk a coconut
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The chief does some carving
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Time for more food. (Lots of jokes given the history of Marquesan cannibalism that Bill and I are too skinny and need to be fattened up.)

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Village pier, where it all happens
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Us
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Walking to the waterfall
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Had wonderful swim here
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Fire dance
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More food. This time from the traditional fire pit
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Now on Nuku Hiva, Hakatea Bay

And from there we left the Marquesas for the Tuamotus. The Marquesas have been spectacular, and they have left their mark on me…

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Wait, is that Nuku Hiva making a face as we depart?
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Sailing past Ua Pou again as we depart.