Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Marquesas – South Group

The sunset at Hanaipa Bay, Hiva Oa
We arrived at Taahuku Bay on Hiva Oa on April 18th after a 20 day passage.  I cannot describe what it feels like to make landfall after so many days at sea.  There is nothing better after such a long passage than collapsing into your bed, knowing  there is no chance of being called up to the deck to help with a late night sail change.  To know you will be able to sleep the entire night, without interruption?  Heavenly!  
You see phone booths in the strangest
places!  Is Clark Kent nearby?
It was also great to reunite with the friends we had made in Mexico and to swap stories about our passages and catch up on how things have been since we last met.  The Pacific Ocean is the biggest body of water on the entire earth and crossing it in a sailboat in no small feat, so there is a true feeling of shared accomplishment with other boats when you arrive at Hiva Oa.  Exchanging stories about our passages (including the good AND the bad) was a great way to decompress from the stress of the voyage before continuing our journey.  

After getting checked into French Polynesia (which is SUPER easy when you have a bond exemption), the clock starts ticking.  As an American, you only have 90 days to explore the entirety of French Polynesia, which includes the Marquesas, the Tuamotos and the Society Islands – 1000’s of miles worth of places to see.  There are so many spots that we would have loved to linger, but with just 90 days we decided we could only spend 3 weeks in the Marquesas. 

A classic local "warf"
So after re-provisioning with vegetables and fruit in the “large” town of Atuona, we started off in the company of our friends Cherokee Rose to explore the island of Hiva Oa.  We stayed at two other anchorages – Hanaipa Bay and Paumau Bay.  The shear lushness of these islands are hard to describe.  They are very similar to Hawaii in that they are fairly young volcanic islands with high humidity – so the trees and plant life are absolutely stunning.  More flowers and fruit trees then you can imagine!

The grave of Paul Gauguin on Hiva Oa
For any of you artists (or art lovers) out there, we did visit the grave of Paul Gauguin – who spent many years on Hiva Oa painting the “natives” along with chasing all of the young (12-14 year old) girls he could get his hands on.  The local clergy put up quite a fight to get him to keep his hands to himself, but apparently did not have much luck.  Gauguin died on Hiva Oa in 1903 apparently surrounded by empty wine bottles and drugs, owing the local merchant a pretty penny.  It’s ironic that someone we would consider a pedophile and a drunk in current times has found fame after death through his art.  I have to admit I always thought him very talented, but am disappointed now that I know a little more about his life…

The spires at Fatu Hiva
After Hiva Oa we made our way to Fatu Hiva – definitely the most striking (IMHO) of all the islands in the Marquesas.  The anchorage at Hanavave is absolutely breathtaking – which these dramatic rock spires that shoot high into the air, backed by a lush valley of greenery.  The beaches on most of these islands (Fatu Hiva included) consist of black sand, so swimming is not recommended as there are sharks and the visibility is not good due to the black sand.  That doesn’t stop people from getting into the water, and though I am a big part of the “JAWS” generation (you hear the theme music in the background, right???) and have an unreasonable fear of sharks, I did actually get in the water on several occasions because it is just so damn HOT here you just have to cool off sometimes!  I just didn’t STAY in the water very long!  

The local artisans in the Marquesas are amazingly talented – men focus on carving (using wood, shells and bone) while the women focus on “tapas”, which are black drawings made on “paper” beaten from local tree bark are also popular.  We had heard about the amazing art available here and so made it a point to seek out local artists.  In the town of Omoa we found a women with beautiful designs, and so purchased three small tapas that we hope to frame together, plus a medium size tapa in a classic Marquesan design.   After our purchase she led us to several other artists and then gave us a bunch of fruit from her property.  Fruit grows EVERYWHERE in the Marquesas and is in such abundance that they do not sell it at any of the markets, so you actually have to depend on the kindness of the locals to get your fruit.  Thankfully they are VERY generous with it!

Finally - a white sandy beach!
Our new paddle!
After Fatu Hiva we decided we needed a safe place to swim and so headed for Tahuata – renowned for its white sandy beaches.   They did not disappoint!  It was wonderful to finally do some quality snorkeling and swimming without too much fear of JAWS showing up.    The water temperature was in the 90’s and clear as can be, so it felt like bath water and the snorkeling was great!   Tahuata is also known for the quality of its carvers and in the town of Hapatoni we purchased an exquisite wooden paddle.   At home in the northwest, a paddle like would likely sell for several thousand dollars – but here we paid just $80!  Fantastic!  

After four days of Tahuata, it was time to move on to the Northern group of islands in the Marquesas…

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