Friday, 19 May 2017

Catching up - Cruising the Marquesas

Baie des Vierges, Fatu Hiva
You'd think we have lots of time to write and let you, our faithful readers, know what we've been up to. And yet... I think it's partly that we just don't spend time at the computer, or even on our 'devices' - except when we go ashore and join the saddos at the nearest wifi spot, where it's a delight to hear
Waterfall Fatu Hiva
from y'all. It's only this address, mailasail, where you need to keep it without pictures or links - feel free to write at length (though preferably without big attachments) to our usual .me and .icloud addresses.  I liked hearing from Susan about Islington's history exhibition, which she's helping to curate, for instance. I enjoy still being on the mailing list for Book Club -
Tiki Hiva Oa
I read and loved the set book, Days without End, by Sebastian Barry. It's good to hear that traditions are being maintained in our absence and that the Skerritts popped into the O'Briens for a drink (or was it the other way round?) And it's sad to hear that Robin Mabey died - and that Kasper the dog is no longer with us. Life and its opposite go on,
even when we are far away.

And we really ARE far away! The Marquesas Islands are just dots in the Pacific on any normal map, and not much bigger on navigational charts.

They lie three and a half hours flight northeast of Tahiti, which is the only way to get here by air. Very few travellers make it here, apart from yachts, and it's the very definition of unspoiled. We arrived at the easternmost island, Fatu Hiva, on 5 May, two days after my birthday, which was celebrated in style with candles on a birthday brownie-cake. Cards and presents from home and
Calliope in Ahona Bay, Nuku Hiva
Switzerland had been smuggled aboard, which was lovely. We (that's Charles and I, Alex and Roger and Dinah Graffy) had taken almost exactly 19 days to cross from the Galapagos. It's hard to summarise a long passage like that: there were eventful moments, some more pleasurable than others (catching fish and eating it as sashimi minutes later was wonderful, briefly losing Alex overboard - though he was always attached - much less so) There were long periods of not much happening, which is not a bad thing in itself and was particularly calming on night watches. Gazing at the Milky Way and shooting stars, the hours passed quite quickly.

Local Boats
Life on Fatu Hiva is quite simple and we found that with no local currency (the French Polynesian franc), everything we needed had to be bartered for. A lipstick (I'd equipped myself with 15 from the pound shop) bought two breadfruits, a large bunch of bananas and several pamplemousses (less bitter than the grapefruit we're used to). When we wanted to buy a wooden bowl from an artisan carver, we gave him some sheets of sandpaper and a pair each of reading glasses for him and his wife. Alex and I went to church on Sunday and were thrilled by the singing and sung responses - not a hymn book in sight. We went on an epic hike involving several wrong turns to a beautiful waterfall and swam in the pool below it. Alex joined in the locals' football practice and even played in their match, though he had to retire due to injured (and muddy) bare feet.

On to the next island, Hiva Oa we checked into French Polynesia officially at the gendarmerie and hired a car; this involved taking the keys out of the ashtray and driving it away, not so much as a 'may I see your driving licence?', let alone paperwork, even of the 'name and address' variety. We went on a fairly hair-raising drive, much of it on dirt tracks, finding sandy coves, dramatic cliffs and hillsides with a mind-blowing variety of trees - coconuts, palms, ferns, conifers and what we think were a kind of mimosa, with wide, feathery flat tops towering above all the others. Just a short dinghy ride from our anchorage, we snorkelled with manta rays a couple of metres across, very eerie in the opaque water (the Marquesas have lots of suspended nutrients in their waters - not so good for diving, but great for whales and dolphins). I spent a lively morning in the local primary school, fielding their questions (in French) about England and teaching them some basic phrases, then being shown their vegetable garden.

Nuku Hiva dancers
From Hiva Oa we went to neighbouring Tahuata island and had a great evening sharing sundowner drinks and snacks ashore with lots of other Oyster rally crews -- the first time we'd seen many of them since the big crossing. Then on to Nuku Hiva, the capital of the Marquesas, where a fantastic party was laid on by Oyster including unbelievable warrior dancing - similar to New Zealand Haka, very
ferocious particularly as the men are tattooed all over and wore only grass skirts. We've been here for a week and will stay one more, awaiting Pippa and William's arrival. It was very hard to say goodbye to Alex after almost six weeks together, a really precious time, and to send him on his marathon journey to Buenos Aires (via Auckland!) to see whether he can find the kind of work he's looking for there.

We've been for a drive round this island too, which yielded the anticipated banana and palm fringed beaches, with a grilled lobster lunch stop, and the utterly unexpected northern end of the island, which is alpine and reaches 1200m above sea level: cows, conifers, hairpin bends and air so cool I had (for the first time since January) goosebumps. Yesterday we walked up a valley through
fertile gardens and agriculture to a waterfall - apparently the third highest in the world - but we couldn't get close enough and the river went into the tightest of gorges, and then came back to a lunch of grilled goat, raw fish, papaya and other salad, and mango sorbet, all grown and prepared by a couple living the Marquesan self-sufficient life. $10 each including a  mass of pamplemousse, mangos, ginger, breadfruit and limes in
Waterfall Valley Nuku Hiva
return This evening we are anchored in TaiPaiVai bay, made famous by Herman Melville's Typee. No, there are no cannibals in sight. In fact, there is not a single sign of human habitation, only a few goats making their way along the cliffs. It's beautiful, remote and the only downside is that there are lots of little mosquitoes, called nono. We are a very long way from home and that's fine, but please do keep in touch. We will sail to Tahiti next, via the Tuamotus (otherwise known as the Dangerous Archipelago).  Love from Paradise!

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