Tag Archives: Marquesas

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!

Ua Pou #1

Yesterday we sailed the 60+ miles from Tahuata to the island of Ua Pou, and thus from the southern group of three Marquesan islands to the northern group of three. Here, the BPO reps had arranged for two very full days of activities.

Today started with a “welcome” — each person presented with a bead necklace and a leaf necklace/drape, and an amazing spread of fruit. Mangos, pomplemousse, bananas, dried bananas, breadfruit chips, star fruit, pomegranite, guava, watermelon, and probably more that I have forgotten. We used noni leaves as plates, and “toothpicks” made of banana leaf spines to serve ourselves. We barely made a dent in it all. There was a time, maybe 40 years ago, when fruit was not cool here. The companies that were importing canned and other goods pushed their wares as better than the local foods (which they suggested were for the animals). The economic hard times within the past 10 years have led to a revival of local foods. Now the Marquesans are proud of having locally organically grown fruits, harvested ripe, with no preservatives — not like what is in our supermarkets in Maine!

We did a guided walk around town, from a local’s point of view. This island seems wealthy to me. The streets are good (in town, not up in the mountains); there are street lights; there is a hospital; there is a school and a new (and old) soccer field; there are horses; there are lots of 4WD cars; the houses look to be well built; everyone looks healthy and happy. Much of this is from French subsidy, as the infrastructure is done by the French administration, paid for with the taxes collected in France. Is there a poor part of town? Or people struggling to survive in the hills? If so, we saw no indication of either.

We stopped at an ancestral meeting place — a sort of village green with stone walls. Our guide described some of the activities that used to take place here. In particular she described the dance where the young men and women would meet and perhaps choose mates. The women, she said, would spend several days preparing in the hills, searching out fragrant flowers to use as perfume, especially, she said, “For their most intimate place.” She said at the dance the women would be in a circle, and the men would be inside the circle. With great animation (chuckling with macho-ness), she proceded to demonstrate the men’s dance. Squatting low and grunting and jumping from side to side, bobbing and swaying, and then bending low and sweeping upward she planted her face in one of our lady’s “most intimate places.” Thus if the man liked what he smelled, he might choose his mate. Kissing, by the way, was not part of the process. People kiss now, because they have seen it in movies or on TV.

One highlight on the tour was the Catholic church. It was big and beautiful. There are no stained glass windows. There are large openings aloft looking out on the amazing peaks of Uo Pou. You have to see them to believe them — what could be more spiritual!?

We’ve had several discussions about how/why the Marquesan paganism gave way to Catholicism, back in the 1800’s. According to today’s guide, the original Catholic missionaries were eaten. But the white man brought diseases, just like in other parts of the world, and a large portion of the Marquesan population died from them. That apparently was an indication that the white man’s God was more powerful than the many Marquesan gods, and the tribal chief converted. (One person told us that even now many Marquesans do not like to visit some of the old spiritual places, because they are afraid of the angry spirits of old lurking there.)

Next came a presentation about the history of breadfruit, including a breadfruit “creation myth.” (In a time of drought a father magically turned his body into a tree trunk, his limbs into tree limbs, and his head into the breadfruit, and so provided for his hungry family; and from this first tree all breadfruit trees have descended.) We saw how a sea shell could be used to skin the fruit, and we learned how to pound the cooked fruit into a “poi.” We also learned how to carry it out of the hills without bags, and how to bake the breadfruit whole. You can cook it pretty much any way you would cook a potato.

Then a huge lunch. Dishes we hadn’t had before included dried octopus and curried goat. Lots of breadfruit!

We had some boat-related distractions at that point. A French guy showed up asking who was the owner of a certain boat, and despite that person speaking no French he proceeded to yell at him at length about how he had anchored too close. While there may have been some basis for his upset, he was a jerk. (We’ve subsequently heard that other people have had bad experiences with this jerk, too.) But the crew went off to move their boat. At that point the cargo ship from Tahiti was seen to be approaching, and our boat had swung on its anchor such that it might be in their way. Off I go, too late to move out of their way (they got through with no problem), but nevertheless to set the stern anchor that we should have done originally. Hopefully we are now well out of their way if they leave before we do in the morning (which, it turns out, they did — uneventfully).

We had a chance to look at (and buy) local crafts. Many of the items were stone carvings made with “flower stone.” This is a reddish-brown stone that appears to have little flowers in it, that is unique to this one island. (A similar stone exists in one place in Brazil, but it is sufficiently different that Unesco deems the Ua Pou flower stone to be globally unique.) It was tempting to purchase a flower stone carving, but our next activity was to go to a beach to hunt for flower stone ourselves. I’m content with the little specimen that I found on the beach. However, I did buy a wooden Tiki after talking at length with the artist about the different types. The tiki I bought makes no rational sense, because it is a style from another island that we aren’t even visiting. But it “spoke to me,” and I now have it on the corner of my berth, and I smile whenever I see it.

Piling into three 4-wheel-drive vehicles (actually ALL vehicles here are 4WD — they have to be!), off we went to see some of the sights, hunt for flower stone on the beach, and visit an ancient partially-restored site. Beautiful, fun, educational, and exhausting.

I learned about the Marquesan creation myth. A male god and a female god traveled together, always over the sea. Until the female god said she wanted a home. So the male god started creating a house, which is the six Marquesan islands. Ua Pou is the upright pilars, another island is crossbeams, one is the roof, etc. Somehow in the process of doing this the gods lost their godly powers, and they became the world’s first people, in their Marquesan island home.

I asked our guide why he had no tattoos visible, and he lifted his shirt to show me his tats. (We’re told that tattooing originated in the Marquesas, and that “tattoo” is in fact a Marquesan word.) Our guide explained that a Marquesan tattoo tells your life story, using ancient symbols. It starts when a boy turns 15, and every 4 years the tattoo is expanded to tell the “next chapter” of the story. So his tattoo is a work in progress. He said that warriors of old would have tats telling of their conquests, and if you werethreatened by a warrior whose body tells the story of heroic deeds you might want to simply “obey” rather than confront the man! Women also get tattoos, but theirs are mostly done around their ears, their mouth, their nose, and in fact around every bodily orifice, to protect themselves from evil spirits. Recently some men have been getting tattoos around their ears, which our guide derided, saying those men are getting “girl tattoos.” He explained that Tahitian tats are very different (not as macho), but recently Tahitians have been copying the Marquesan tattoos, often without giving credit where credit is due. He says anyone is welcome to use the Marquesan symbols to do tattoos, but everyone should recognize that these are Marquesan. He was clearly fiercely proud of the heritage, and wants it to remain distinctly Marquesan.

We returned for a barbeque dinner on the beach. Now I need a day to recover, but no — we have another full day of activities planned for tomorrow!

Manta Rays

It was with some reluctance that we left Hiva Oa yesterday. Two of our fellow crews had just arrived, several made a first stop at Fatu Hiva and thus we had not yet crossed paths, and one was still at sea. But enough of hanging out in the Big Town — we had things to see. We had heard that at the neighboring island of Tahuata there are manta rays, and you can swim with them, and watch their magnificent slow flight through the water. Tim said if he could witness this it would make his trip!

So in the morning we went shopping. One mango excepted, I think everything we bought was imported. The beer was from Tahiti only 700 miles away, but the frozen meat came from New Zealand, the brie and other cheeses from France.

And then off we went. It had been suggested that we go to a particular bay on the west side of Tahuata, but there was a town there, and I thought it would be fun to stop in one of the more remote bays a few miles north. We spoke on the radio with another crew that had hired a boat/guide to bring them here, and they said there were mantas near the north end of the island, so that settled the matter. The first likely cove had two boats anchored in it. Although there was room for a dozen more, we decided that was too crowded, and we pulled into the next cove, which we had to ourselves.

We had been warned, and we quickly saw for ourselves, that the wind gusts coming down from the hills ashore blow very strong over the anchorage. “Williwaws.” No problem, though. The worst that would happen is we would drag our anchor, and that would take us out to the open sea, and we could just come in and try again. Sometimes with the wind comes a quick rain. The clouds and the sun (or full moon) and the winds are quite a show; I could sit and watch for a long time.

We saw no mantas on the way in. I swam ashore to see if I might speak to someone in one of the two structures visible, but no one appears to be around. We switched our focus to dinner — experimenting with cooking breadfruit two ways, along with some tuna that another crew had given to us. The breadfruit was good, but I think we can do better with a little more experience. At nightfall we watched divers with underwater lights apparently scouring the rock edges of the cove, but for what we could not tell. There are sea urchins and a blobby form of star fish; maybe they were collecting urchins.

In the morning I took the dinghy around the point to the cove that had the two (now three) boats anchored, and asked them about mantas. Yes, there had been mantas at the mouth of that cove two days before, but not yesterday and they had not seen any this morning. I learned that you spot them by their “wing tips” which they poke up out of the water a few inches when they are near the surface. On my way back to the boat I thought I saw a rock ahead as a rounded the point, and then realizing there couldn’t be a rock there (the waves would have been breaking on it) I thought it must be a shark fin. And then I realized this was what we were looking for — the wingtips of a manta ray. I saw two, close to the surface, just a few feet away. On to the boat to rally the snorkelers!

When we came back to the spot some time later, sure enough, we could still see wingtips here and there. Into the water we went, and WOW — these animals are sooo cool! Massive yet graceful, not in any hurry, not much caring about our presence, they slowly flap their wings and fly along. They have huge “mouths,” wide open, taking in water and filtering out the plankton as their food. The water flows out through slots on their undersides. Their backs are black; their bellies are whitish with some black spots; their mouths are white and look very ominous when coming directly at you, wide open. They bank when they turn, like an airplane. You can dive down below them and look up at them flying overhead. Awesome…magnificent…

Our goal achieved before noon, we are “just sitting” at anchor enjoying being in an amazing place with no one around.