Tag Archives: 5. Panama to Tahiti


Late in the afternoon, after seeing the Manta rays, a small powerboat came to us. Aboard was a couple with a son, perhaps eight, and daughter, perhaps nine. We had our usual language barrier, but they indicated that they wanted a small amount of gas for their outboard, and they would trade a short stock of bananas for it. We syphoned at most a gallon out of our tank and into theirs. They indicated that tomorrow we should sail to their town of Vaitahu, only two miles away, and they would have more fruit for us. Tim communicated that he would buy ice cream for the kids.

So today we did. The bay off of Vaitahu is even more dramatic/beautiful than where we were before. There are three other sailboats in it, and room for fifty more. Fantastic rugged slopes crash down from the clouds to the sea, but they are lush green, with coconut palms in all the valleys, and a tiny village at the bottom.

Tim and I took the dinghy to the landing (where you hope a stern anchor will prevent damage on the sharp rocks in the swells), and stepped ashore. There was the boy from yesterday, and a man who said that the boy’s family had gone to pick grapefruit (pompelmous?) for us. Tim gave the boy a box of snack/energy bars. The boy didn’t seem to know what to make of that, but as we all walked toward town we apparently passed his house, because he scampered up a little hill and ducked inside, and reemerged with just one bar in his hand.

Initially we had no luck trying to communicate with the boy. But he understood ice cream, and he led us to the store (no sign on it). As we were buying his treat, his family showed up with a bag full of fruits and vegetables. We tried to discuss where best to see mantas, but communication was very difficult. Until Cameron showed up…

We had been told to look up Cameron. I assumed he was a local, but in fact he is a surfer dude from Hawaii, who has spent much of the past 20 years in Polynesia. He seemed to be friends with everyone, and we chatted at length about the goals of the Blue Planet Odyssey, and whether or not there is any direct evidence of sea level rise in the area. (He says no, even though he has no doubt it will be happening.)

I asked about Internet access in the town, and he said, “Here.” We got the wifi password and tried it out, but it was even slower than what we had found in Hiva Oa. Certainly not going to support uploading photos; barely supported email.

Cameron let us know that the store owner was inviting us to lunch across the street. We hesitated, because Bill was still aboard the boat, but we decided this was an opportunity not to be missed. It turned out that LOTS of people were invited to lunch, including the crews of the other 3 boats (one of which was Cameron’s). What an amazing spread! Ceviche, whole raw fish sliced so you could eat it off the bones (with coconut milk, it was explained to me), breadfruit in a goo like poi (in coconut milk), cooked bananas, rice, grilled chicken, sausage, olives, nuts, mangos…

Luckily we had brought along one of the soccer balls that we carry to give as gifts. With Cameron’s help we asked our host if we could give it to his son. He said to give it to “all the kids.” Cameron said this could be tricky, but he knew which kids we should present it to. By now the kids had run off to swim, but Cameron walked to the landing with us and explained the gift to the boys there. The gift was well received! We had some trepidation about soccer being played on the edge of the rocks, but as far as we could tell no one got hurt.

As Cameron said, we were in the right place at the right time to get a real Polynesian experience — and it was quite a treat for us! We even packed lunch “to go” for Bill, plus took two mangos to augment our bag of fresh fruits. Back at the boat we ate one of the grapefruit, which was without question the best I’ve ever had. I can’t help but wonder, can it get any better than this, or is this the best day of the entire circumnavigation!?

Hiva Oa Tour

Today we hired a local named Pifa to give us an all-day tour of Hiva Oa. Pifa looks Marquesan, except that he has no tattoos. In fact his last name is O’Conner and his great-grandfather created a homestead here. Now he says he is related to about half the island’s population of 2500. Pifa studied in Hawaii for two years, so he speaks very good English, which of course helps with the tour. He also speaks Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and perhaps a couple other languages, in addition to the mandatory French and Marquesan (plus the various dialects of French Polynesia — Tahitian and somewhat different from Marquesan).

We drove over the island to the north side. This entailed going up over the steep hills, down into a central valley, up over even steeper hills, and down to the ocean. Many of the roads barely deserve the name — 4 wheel drive is definitely a requirement, even when the weather is dry. Along the way we sampled various fruits direct from the trees (his own, or belonging to someone in his extended family). The views were spectacular. But also the homes that we visited of some of his relatives. The houses were simple, but the gardens were beautiful/bountiful. We stopped at one place that was growing vanilla as a cash crop; I’d never seen it growing before, nor did I even have a sense of what the plant was like. Quite beautiful.

We stopped for a special lunch of wild boar (the hunting of which is a major past time and topic of discussion here), goat in coconut sauce, fish ceviche, breadfruit, plantain, bananas, rice and starfruit juice. Wow. Despite Pifa’s help (and he’s a big guy, like most Marquesans) we could not finish it all.

Then back in the 4-wheel drive to go to a sacred ritual area of the Marquesans. Along the way we passed a large flat stone at the top of a high cliff over the water. This was where a beautiful young girl would be sacrificed to the gods every new moon! We learned that there used to be a community of 18,000 Marquesans in this area, in addition to another rival community on the other side of the island. We saw where the temple was located, where only the priest and the tribal leader were allowed inside. There were large stone tikis depicting the leader, a warrior in front of him, his younger brother behind him, and nearby the one who did sacrifices. Here men were sometimes sacrificed, supposedly voluntarily, so they could join the gods as servants. There was also a large stone tiki of a woman giving birth. There was a tattoo hut, where the first-born male of a family would be tattooed from head to toe over a period of 3 months, once he reached puberty. The tattoos on the chest depict his family history. Others told stories of strength and courage, etc. These tattoos were the only “written language” of the Marquesans, other than some petroglyphs. Being tattooed by primitive methods was a major trial; not all survived the ordeal.

Pifa told us more than I could retain about the old culture and of the history. The name ‘Marquesas’ comes from a Spanish explorer in the 1500’s. The pre-European name for the islands I did not retain, but it means “Land of MEN,” and in this case the “men” does not seem to refer to “our tribe” versus outsides, but instead to fierce male warriors. Cannibalism was practiced — eating slain enemies and also their own newborns if born with deformities/handicaps. In the mid-1800’s missionaries came and told the people they had to stop eating other people. Given the power of the European gods (that gave a soldier the power to kill a man as if by magic without even touching him) this had some sway. Plus with the natives dying off in vast numbers from the European diseases, Christianity took hold. This is Easter weekend, and many people are dressed up and in church, and most businesses are closed until Tuesday. But it is apparent that many Marquesans are very proud of their heritage. French is a second language to them, and they prefer speaking their own language. The tradition of tattoos remains even if most of the symbols have lost their meanings. And they love their homeland. The island is spectacularly beautiful, food and water are abundant, and the weather is always good!

Day 2 at Hiva Oa

Liking things much better a day later, even though I spent a large part of the day trying to do a blog post with some video, with no success (yet). The island’s only gas station is a short walk from the dinghy landing, and it has a “mini-mart” with baguettes and cheese and fruit juice and a reasonable selection of canned/dry foods and…….ice cream. Nice. And the place where I got Internet access is the “signal station” out on a point, high in the air, with an extraordinary view of the ocean and the islands and the approach to the harbor. And a picnic bench in the shade. Wonderful place to struggle with slow Internet access. More cleaning of the hulls today; greeting the next boat in (Chapter Two); dropping off our laundry with a woman who will return it clean in two days.