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Marquesas, French Polynesia August 6, 2004 Español

Posted by Belle in : Marquesas, French Polynesia

Fatu Hiva

The dolphins followed us as we sailed parallel to the island. When we neared the end of the island, and we had to turn to keep following the coast, they disappeared. It really seemed like they were on a gig, paid by the island to welcome tired travelers. We continued, still in awe of the towering cliffs and green glow of Fatu Hiva. As we turned the corner the wind died down a little bit. We found the bay that was listed as the best and safest anchorage on the island. We could barely see two houses and a soccer field spread out over the one flat area on the coast line. As soon as we tried to drop the anchor wind came whipping in from the valley in front of us at 30 knots. Our anchor hit rocks. We tried again, making sure we were not too close to either side of the somewhat narrow passageway that led towards the land. Finally, we were anchored. We all could relax, we’d made it. You would think we would have had some strong urge to jump in the dinghy, zoom to land and feel dirt, but we didn’t. We took long showers and took naps before we went to land. Sophia went first by herself. I could tell she was both excited and scared. I wanted to wait for wences. When I was taking a shower some fishermen came to our boat. Wences came down and asked me to help him communicate with them. We had been told we could trade for whatever we wanted here. Apparently they wanted alcohol. Wence had already given them a bottle of rum. I thought it was for fruit that we would get later, but it turned out it was for a carving. They invited us to their beach, which was really more like a creek where a small fresh water river met the ocean. I asked them if they would take wences fishing in one of their canoes. They seemed a little reluctant, but said ok. Tomorrow. Later when we got to the beach there was a flurry of men, all wanting alcohol. More rum. They demanded. At this point I should have asked, for what? But I didn’t. Another man was practically throwing fruit at us, and this is what I thought we were trading for. Huge, green grapefruit, tons of bananas hanging from a stock, oranges, limes, a papaya. We were so happy to have such yummy fruit. Glen took all of it back to the boat in the dinghy and wence, dio, and I went for a walk.

I guess I had been expecting a warmer welcome from the people who live in Fatu Hiva. Very naí¯ve on my part. Most of the less than 100 inhabitants of the town where we were avoided eye contact and walked right by staring straight ahead as if they didn’t even see you. There were, of course exceptions. We met a really nice old lady Germaine, but she was selling stuff. She took us to her house and showed us her tapas. Tapas are handpainted designs on this paper that is made from pounded tree bark. They’re simple, mostly symbolic drawings of warriors, shields, some animals, a lot of turtles, they’re beautiful, very particular. We liked some, and we liked some of her wood carvings, but we had no money. We arranged for a time the next day when I would go back and buy some of her things. Then Wences and I walked around the town a bit. All of the houses are prefabricated, one story, very simple. Looking through the windows it seems like the walls were pretty bare. Not even shelves. They kept things in piles on the floor. They all had pretty curtains, though. And flowers everywhere, most of the women had one big flower behind their ear. There were trees practically bursting with fruit. Too much fruit for them to eat. Grapefruit, oranges, limes, bread fruit, cocoa nut, bushes with what looked like scotch bonnet peppers. We walked until we couldn’t walk anymore and then we went back to the soccer field. We let Dio go and he walked all over. He was so funny. He walked like a drunken mini Santa Claus. He would try to chase one of the ubiquitous chickens, but of course the ground is not level, so he’d bite it. Of course he fell and sliced his palm open. Not too badly, but he was just healing from the burn from grabbing the reading light. And the finger that got smacked from grabbing the fan. Guess I better get used to hydrogen peroxide/Neosporin sessions in the afternoon.

When we went to pick up Sophia in the dinghy, she was with a Fatu Hivan man, of course. He looked nice and happy. She told us that he spoke English, French, Spanish, and fatuhivan. Nice! His name was Felix. Of course he fell in love with Fee Fee, and took her to a beautiful waterfall to seduce her, but fee fee has so far been unseducable. He was a bit embarrassed as was fee fee when she let him know she wasn’t looking for love in Fatu Hiva. The next day we went on land to meet up with Germaine and of course we saw Felix. How can you miss anyone in that one street village. He seemed a little off guard, we were with Glen. He walked with us for a while and then split. We went to Germaine’s house, bought the things I was interested in, she wanted money, didn’t mention trading, then Glen went off in search of Fee Fee’s water fall and we went with Dio to practice walking and explore. As soon as we left Germaine’s house it started to pour. Luckily we ran into Felix who let us come to his house. We sat on the cement floor of his very simple house with one chair and one table and opened the picnic back pack my brother Nicholas gave me, and broke out some cheese and crackers, fruit, juice, cookies etc and had an indoor picnic. In the back of the room I noticed a bunch of carved wooden object. It seems they all learn how to carve wood and make tapas. Obviously some are better than others. Felix is very very good. I knew wences would like his things so I asked if he could bring some to show wences on the boat. Wences really liked his work and asked him if he had enough time to make four little shallow bowls for dipping sushi in soy sauce and wasabi. Felix said yes if he left that minute. So, we took him back, he went to work and we went to bed.

The fishermen never came back. We learned to never trade without seeing what you are trading for, and to be more relaxed about trading in general. And, alcohol perhaps wasn’t such a good thing to trade because they probably drank all of it immediately and then were hung over for an entire day. Good lesson. I stayed on the boat that day, getting it ready to sail, cleaning etc. Felix came in the afternoon and showed us the most beautiful wasabi bowls we could imagine. He had made matching chop sticks. The price went up but it was worth it. These were special. Very special. We asked Felix to stay for dinner. At the same time, Bob and Amy from another boat were coming over for drinks. I was making a shrimp, curry, coconut milk thingie that always takes forever. Some people ate, some had already eaten, but luckily those that ate liked it! I think Felix was happy to be off Fatu Hiva for a moment, and part of another world, if only for a moment. Wences told him he would pay him if he could get us a chicken the next day before we left. Bright and early Felix brought us a chicken and a bonito for sushi, and he refused payment. Nice present. Felix was a very nice guy. The REAL proof? Dio really liked him.

Hiva Oa

Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva are both islands in the southern marquesas. Fatu Hiva has around 6oo inhabitants and Hiva Oa has around 18oo. Hiva Oa is where Gauguin spent the last six years of his life. He actually fought with the inhabitants against the French colonial administration.

It’s hard to describe how beautiful the Marquesan landscape is. First, everything is so green, so lush. And the mountains just drop into the water. Not a lot of beach in these islands.

After three nights we left for Hiva Oa, a much larger island five hours away. We’ve been here now for three days. The first day wence and I went for a bike ride into town to clear customs. Man were my legs on fire. This is a hilly landscape and although it’s a nice ride, it gets so hot and humid, by the time we got there, we both thought we might pass out. We found a nice little place to have an early lunch. Wences had poisson cru, this yummy raw fish salad and I had some ginger fish thing, so yummy. And we drank cocoa water from straws inserted right into the nuts. Our little snack was tres cher. This place is no joke! Everything is super expensive, but we knew that. When we got back Sophia and Glen took the bikes and went into town. They had a difficult time getting anything done. There is only one computer in town that has internet connection, and somebody was on it. Then that place closed. At 2PM. As do a lot of the stores here. Perhaps everyone goes home and passes out from heat exhaustion. Who knows. But it seems people are up early here. On Sundays people get up at 5AM to get fresh pastries and bread. Luckily Glen is a baguette lover and went on his own accord and brought back lots of yummy treats we all ate thankfully. Later Wence rented a car and we went for an adventure drive over the top of the steep ridges and down into another valley. The road was challenging after a while, and although we were in search of another town, we turned around to go back after we had been going for a while. We saw some houses. All identical prefabs, and a volleyball court, but no town. We also saw a big rock overlooking the sea where they used to do human sacrifices.

On the way back we decided to help ourselves to some papaya and bananas we saw along the road. There was so much fruit. We got a little greedy, perhaps and while Glenn was bending a bananna tree branch to cut the stalk off, the entire tree fell onto the car. It was pretty funny. The trees are very light, more like thick corn stalks then what you think of when you say the word tree. Of course right after that moment a truck filled with Hiva Oans cruised by. They stopped momentarily thinking we must have had some kind of accident, because we really had become one with the bananas, but we waived them on, too embarrassed to admit that we were first, stealing fruit from somebody because obviously somebody owned this land, and second, that we were really bad thieves and had destroyed an entire tree just for a dozen green bananas. Well, by the time we got back to the boat we had four papayas and at least four dozen bananas. Enough for smoothies!

August 8

Wence left for Venezuela. I couldn’t believe it but I cried. I guess that’s good. I always miss him when he goes away, but in a nice way. It’s been a while since I cried, however. I like missing him. Now it’s late and I was supposed to be writing Connie Francis. That woman is killing me. Her story is so depressing, it’s hard not to feel it when you write it. I can’t do it yet. I need to wait to write. Tomorrow.

There are needlenosed fish outside our boat being chased by some big fish, maybe tuna, and they keep crashing into the hull right under my window! It sounds like they’re running for their lives! I do not want to be in that water! That’s for sure. Those fish are hungry! A fish massacres every night right outside my window!

August 11-13

We left Hiva Oa and went to with Glenn and Sophia and another boat called Lord Fred. Glenn has made friends with the owner, an Australian character who is 67 years old and his captain, another Australian who is about 28, and their two French mates who are in their twenties and tattoed all over with all kids of Marquesan animals. The first day we went to this really nice beach on Tahuata, an island near Hiva Oa. It was the nicest beach we’ve seen since we arrived, lined with palm trees, waves are not too big, a perfect place for Dio. Sophie and I would take him there before his nap for a quick dip and walk. He loved it. At first he was a little afraid of the water and the waves, but after three days, he has no fear. He loves the water. We would play a kind of tag in the water, which is by far his favorite game. And we walked along the beach to this place where the water hollowed out some shallow pools in the rock next to the surf, but far enough away so the waves aren’t crashing. Inside the hollows were hundreds of tiny fish. Baby fish and baby crabs. Dio would look at them for a bit, but was more interested in walking along the slippery rock covered with moss. Great, getting more like his father every day! He loves danger!

August 14

Today we went to another bay where there were HUGE mantarays. The largest one was going back and forth right in front of simpatica. Like she was pacing or something. I was waiting for Dio to wake up from his very long nap so I could feed him, and then I was going to jump in and swim with them. I made sophie go in, she was a little scared. Since it was very windy, you couldn’t see much in the water. So she’d be swimming along, following our direction, and then suddenly the ray would be RIGHT in front of her, and she’d be screaming. Shortly afterwards something happened to Lord Fred’s boat. He could not go forward with his motor. Only reverse. We decided we should tow him back to the previous anchorage, Dio’s private beach, spend the day there, since it was Sunday, and then tow them back to Hiva Oa on Monday morning. Tonight wence called. So nice to talk to him. He sounded tired but good. Póor guy has all these new health problems, some strange virus, something that sounds like acid reflux disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and gastritis. And some strange stomach virus. All at once. At least he has medicine now. And at least we know what was bothering him. I had never seen him like that before. He’s so tough and so rarely complains. It must have really been bothering him. The doctors could not believe that he had been having this condition for so long without doing something, simply the pain factor would have driven most people to a doctor months earlier.

The Real Nonos

We were warned to be careful of these tiny little fly-mosquito like insects that are very common in the Marquesas called nonos. Some people even avoided the beaches entirely, to avoid a nono encounter. That seemes very silly to me. Not go to the beach cause of a bug? No way was I not going to take Dio to the most perfect beach ever. I lathered him up with cintronella lotion, safe for babies and we would go off, despite all warnings to stay away from the beach and bushes.

The third day we were there eventhough I could tell they were feasting on my shoulder, it didn’t really hurt, not like a mosqiuito or a no seeum. It was a bit annoying, but no big deal. I would just run into the water and stay there for a bit with Dio until the coast was clear, so I thought. I did my best to ignore them. Two days later, when it started to really itch, I looked at my back in the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like a picture in some biology book illustrating some strange third world infection. My back was covered with tiny red bumps and when I say covered, I mean there was no normal skin. Sophia’s back was the same. We tried calamine lotion, benadryl, salt water, sun, everything that anyone said might help. And although calamine gave an hour or two of relief, the itching and burning came back with a vengeance. When we heard lemon juice helped, we couldn’t believe the day before we had thrown almost all of the over thirty lemons we had, in a lemon war with Lord Fred. Had I ever had a lemon war before? NO. Had I ever NEEDED lemons more? NO. The only place we could get more lemons here, was by going back onto that nono infested island, into those trees, where those sneaky little nono bastards lived, and finding the lemon tree that the frenchies on Lord Fred’s boat had found. How ironic. We had literally thrown away our cure. You can’t buy lemons here cause everyone has a tree in their own back yard so why would anyone buy them. I tried to recruit a hero from our boat. Seeing as Sophia and I were the nono victims, it would only make sense that Glenn or Wence went, right? Glen disappeared when I asked and wence took one look at my back and said, “No way am I going on that island.”
“I thought I married this macho latin guy who had no fear!” I said. ”
Bella, I’m not afraid of them, I just prefer to sit here and read my book.”
“What happened to my little hero?” I said.
“His day off.”

I thought I married this macho latin who wasn’t afraid of anything! He’ll go sky diving, drive like a maniac in any kind of car, but no. He was terrified of these little tiny insects. Who could blame him. We had had these bumps for days and they only got bigger, redder, and itchier. Sophia had a break down in the middle of the night, crying and scratching herself, putting calamine, salt water, anything on. I found her in tears on the floor. These nonos are no joke. She assumed she must be having an allergic reaction. I knew she was just scared that they would never go away and we would be scarred for life with these extremely unattractive bumps. Now it looked like we had extremely bad acne all over our bodies. I gave her a pain killer, rubbed calamine on her back, gave her some water and sent her to bed. It was good to feel like I could help calm Sophia because she has lifted our spirits, especially mine, so many times on this voyage.

I looked at myself in the mirror, and knew what I had to do. It was time for me, for once, to be the hero in the scenario. To go where none of these men would go, and save the damsels in distress. I sprayed my entire body with bugspray, my hair, everything, put on full rain gear, long pants, and socks and went into that nono lair, cause NOBODY ELSE WOULD! Chivalry is dead.

As we motored over to the beach, I looked out at the serene beach, seeing flashes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in my mind, thinking, who would ever think the enemy is hiding in this paradise. As I fingered my bug spray, I knew I was ready. I was going to take those nonos by surprise and steal fruit from their trees, right from under their noses. And if they tried to stop me, DEET would stop them dead in their tracks. These lemons were MINE. I HAD to HAVE them. And only I could do it. Sisters are doing it for themselves. I kept singing that song to myself as I pranced through the bushes, in search of the magic lemon tree. I spotted the tree, dozens of lemons hanging from its branches. I imagined Aretha Franklin and Annie Lenox singing SISTERS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES, watching me from the sky like the gods gazed down on the humans from Mt. Olympus. When I came back to the boat with 20 lemons in my bag, Sophia had tears in her eyes. Yes, I have an overactive imagination, but it was fun feeling like I was fighting dangerous forces of nature, if only for five minutes one day on a beach. It is time for me to channel this into Connie Francis, I know. She’s calling.

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva was probably my favorite place in the Marquesas. It has a nice round bay that is lined by the main street of the town. The landscape is more open than Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa. An easier place to live. And the people are a bit softer. You can walk the whole length of the town in about a half hour. Wence, Sophia, Dio and I had a nice lunch at a little place on the main drag. We were served by a man who was extremely feminine, to say the least. Apparently it is custom here that the second born son is given all the tasks of the females, and is even treated as a woman. The dress like women and act like women. Supposedly they are not gay. I had a hard time imagining this he/she going home to a lady, but it is such a different culture, how could I know anything, really. I feel like we could stay here for five years and not even begin to get this culture. It’s so different. We only stayed two days in Nuku Hiva, but it was my favorite spot. We met a 70 year old ex pat from California who runs a musem on marquesan art there. Rose. She was so sweet. She had moved there with her husband over forty years ago. Seemed like he wasn’t around. We were afraid to ask, but we think he died. As bad as her French accent was, this woman had fallen in love with Nuku Hiva and was planning on dying here. She worked with local artists, getting them to produce some really beautiful traditional works. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Marquesans were ever encouraged to do something else, other than the wood carvings and tapas and bone carvings. Did they paint? I wish I had more time here. Oh well. Lucky to be here at all, we always tell ourselves.