Monday, April 30, 2012
I also question why we are out here when I have the luxury to ponder. We are approaching Nuku Hiva now in the pre-dawn, after a long but quiet night passage that began almost 12 hours ago. As I took my turn on watch at 3 am, I had the leisure to think about why it is we are doing this. The answers I came up with in the early hours of the morning are:
1. Because we can.
2. Because it's there.
3. Because what we are doing suits our personalities.
Because we can - We have the resources to do this trip from rental income and other small investments. When we cruise on Ladybug, it costs us about half what it would to live in our house, the main savings being house expenses such as taxes and utilities (these are now part of the rental income equation), running a vehicle, and additional clothing and entertainment expenses (plus we don't need to save for the annual vacation!). We also enjoy good health and we have no dependents or commitments - we have no children and our parents are healthy.
Because it's there - and it won't always be... We spent four seasons cruising in Mexico before leaving for the Pacific crossing. We could have and probably should have left earlier - but fear of the unknown and the ease of cruising in the Sea of Cortez bound us. There is so much to see - so many amazing places and peoples that staying in one place for years makes little sense. Many of the most remarkable places are also threatened by environmental and human pressures - the coral reefs, rain forests, and oceans in general, so we want to see them now before they are changed forever.
Because this suits our personalities - I think everyone has a level of change and stress at which they thrive. Both of us are keen travelers, enjoying changing scenery and not minding too much that we wake up in a different place each day. Admittedly, having the boat as our base gives us a sense of continuity, even though we are on the move every week or two. Not having a permanent land-base to return to is something we can deal with - at least for a while.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Hino had worked for 10 years on the inter-island boats and had traveled as far as Papeete, which took three days from here with a stop in the Tuamotus. He was now enjoying life at his home in the heart of Vaitahu. He was not married and his house appeared to be the social center for many of the young men and boys. There was a pool table and a foosball table under the giant awning as well as a swing for the youngsters.
The men were all quite friendly - chatting to us in French as they prepared salsa de mangue chinoise - prepared with under-ripe mangoes, sugar and a Chinese plum powder (a little spicy). Hino was also surrounded by animals - a 4 year old pet sow named Pakalolo and her three piglets, three dogs, an aquarium of fish, and many hens and roosters. Some no doubt were intended for the table but he was clearly fond of them all - referring to them as his family. The piglets and hens all came over when he called them and rooted in the earth where he sprinkled rice.
On our walk across to the other village we had been picked up by a couple in a pickup about half way there (after we had done most of the hard climbing, unfortunately). They were artisans who lived in Hapatoni, a village comprised almost entirely of carvers and jewelry makers. We had not realized it was so far between the villages (about 7 kms of steep ups and downs) and were grateful for the lift.
At Hapatoni we saw the carvers working and looked over their pieces in an artisan's exhibition. There were some very fine carved bone necklaces including a wonderfully carved octopus, tikis of bone with wooden end pieces, and some very intricate pirogue paddles, intended for display. We had not brought much money with us or we would have returned with more jewelry and maybe a paddle (the latter being coveted by Rani). Nobody pressured us to buy anything and one of the carvers - a handsome younger man with half his body tattooed - chatted to us about his carving and how he flew twice a year to Tahiti to exhibit and sell his work.
On the walk back we met Arthur Burns, whom we had seen earlier in Vaitahu (his name was tattooed on his upper arm, perhaps in case we should have trouble pronouncing it?) His family owned a plantation of more than 100 hectares in the hills between the villages with coconuts, mangoes, fei (plantain), and bananas. Arthur told us he had 10 children and was 64, although he looked barely 50. With a wickedly sharp machete, he helped us open a coconut we had found on the road and told us about himself as we strolled down the hill on our way back to the boat.
A little later another pickup truck stopped to offer us a lift the remaining couple of kilometers into town. The Marquesans have been very warm and open with us and the attitude here to life is refreshingly relaxed, even when compared to what we experienced in Mexico!
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Tahuata has 4 villages, two of which have decent harbours. We are anchored off Vaitahu, the largest of the villages in a bay named by Captain Cook for his ship, the Resolution. Resolution Bay is also known as Prostitute's Bay because during a stand-off between Marquesans and French in 1842, the island chief's daughter offered herself to the French commander to resolve the dispute (he did not accept the offer).
The village of Vaitahu is small and very neatly kept and through it flows a little river. It has the most beautiful church with a very Marquesan Madonna and child in stained glass. The only down sides are a rolly anchorage and a very tricky landing at a concrete pier with a 3 to 5 foot surge and slippery concrete with nothing to hang onto. Nice timing is required and then you have to hold the dinghy off with a stern anchor and tie the painter to a bollard - tricky geometry to both get to shore at the pier and keep the dinghy from bashing itself to bits in the swell!
We spent the last two days at Hana Moe Noa - a bay with a white sand beach a couple of miles northwest of here. We snorkeled for the first time and saw dozens of types of fish we had not seen before. Some are similar but coloured differently from their Mexican cousins and others are new to us. Good visibility and lovely warm water (30 degrees!). We also swam with large manta rays, which were feeding near the boats. They were quite unconcerned by us and swam so close that they alarmed Rani, even though we know they eat only plankton and small fish. The rays are about 4 to 6 feet in wing span and look like they are flying, as they slowly and gracefully beat their wings. They have strong colouring - black and white - and you can see right into their large mouths and along the gills on their undersides as they swim toward you. We also spotted a 6 foot reef shark - our first experience with anything this big.
Our friends on Chapter 2 were anchored beside us and we made the snorkeling trips together, towing their inflatable dinghy while in the water. One problem with using a hard dinghy like ours is that it is not easy to get into from the water without swamping. The inflatable is well-suited for diving or snorkeling expeditions.
We will stay here a couple of days and then head for Nuka Hiva, perhaps stopping en route at one of the bays on the west side of Hiva Oa. Our position is N 9 56 W 139 07.
The service was lovely - most of the village was there with the women dressed in their finery wi shawls over their shoulders. The men were typically in contrast, wearing shorts and T-Shirts although a few also dressed up. We had hoped to record the music but were ushered to a pew bear the front and I felt it obtrusive to pull out my camcorder, so I only recorded part of one hymn. The mass was in Marquesan and much of it was sung by a large adult choir, guitars, a children's chorus and the congregation itself, many of whom sang in beautiful in beautiful harmonies.
We recognized familiar faces including the people we had traded with the day before and other villagers. You do not have to stay long in a small village before you know and are known by much of the population. I felt moved to tears by the song and words, which had power, despite being mostly unintelligible. The service lasted an hour and after the service we shook hands with the preacher and with other attendees. We met an older Marquesan lady named Madeleine who later rescued us from a throng of children who were asking for candy. The kids know that visiting boaters often bring candies ashore to help make friends and any stranger is approached with a request for bonbons. We gave out a handful of hard Mexican sweets before following Madeleine through the town to her lovely house on the edge of the road to Umoa. She picked three pamplemousse for us and gave us a tour of her extensive gardens, which contained hot pepper bushes, pumpkins, many fruit trees, and herbs. She told us to drop in on our way back from our hike to pick some basel and mint for our tea and to pick up the fruit.
The hike began on a concrete road that switch-backed up the hill above the town - the same road we had used to reach the path to the waterfalls. We passed a small shrine with the Virgin Mary standing on an island in a little lake formed by the waters of a spring, water plants entwining her feet as she stood with outstretched arms in a cool stone grotto. The paved road was steep and we had to pace ourselves to avoid sweating too much. Rain clouds continued to pour over the mountains, driven by strong easterly winds, their shade providing periodic relief from the intense tropical sun. We were looking for a good viewpoint down onto the bay from which we could photograph Ladybug, but first were treated to a spectacular overview of the village. It was framed by towering pinnacles of black rock and mountains that appeared dark and ominous when shadowed by the masses of cloud.
A truck passed us bound for Omoa and the concrete ended, grading into a steep gravel track and then into a rich volcanic soil, soon to be turned to mud by a rapidly approaching rain squall. We saw a bulldozer parked on an overview and a small shelter for the workers of a gravel crushing operation. Just as we reached this the sky opened and we gratefully took shelter and watched as the rain obliterated everything in view. The deluge lasted only 10 minutes and we stepped outside to the most glorious view out over the bay and along the splendidly rugged coast - everything looking sharpened and renewed by the rain.
As we hiked to another overlook I spotted something reddish and articulated wriggling in the grass. It was a centipede - about 5 inches long - pretty but apparently quite poisonous according to our guide book. Despite my protests, Chris picked it up with s stick so we could get its picture. Back on the main road, we passed a couple of banana trees hanging on the edge of a cliff, that had clusters of ripe fruit. Chris knocked down a few but we left the rest for the return journey. Each fruit was about 3 or 4 inches long and intensely sweet.
The charts we had for the island (from an 19th century French survey) showed a plateau at the head of this valley, so we continued to hike beyond the look-off expecting to come to level ground. The scenery here was reminiscent in some ways of England with wonderfully green, rolling grassy hills. There was no livestock, but scattered black and brown volcanic boulders gave the appearance of distant ruminants. It turned out that the plateau was more a series of volcanic ridges and valleys and we never did reach level ground.
At each switchback, we said to one another - ok - let's just go to the next corner. This continued for a couple of hours, the scenery becoming more lush. Palms and mango trees replaced the grassy hills and we eventually found ourselves at a half-way point. We had left the valley in which lies Hanavave and entered the valley leading down to Omoa. We were surprised to find a series of picnic table shelters and I guessed that these might have been put in place for fruit pickers. We later learned that these were placed at the halfway point between Omoa and Hanavave for the tourists who arrive on the inter-island cruise/supply ship, the Aranui III. These tourists have a day trip between the villages and stop here for lunch. Above the shelters towered a huge deciduous tree so covered in epiphytes that its own foliage was hardly visible and a hedge of hibiscus flowers lined the road.
On a side road we found another shelter and a copra drying area as well as fruit bushes that were not familiar to us. They bore reddish purple fruit - about an inch in diameter. Against my advice, Chris tried a couple and said they tasted like a cross between a plum and a guava. Fortunately these turned out to be edible (we took back some to show Madeleine), although I cannot remember the name of the bush.
we hiked another kilometer or so until we had good views down into the valley of Omoa and then retraced our steps to the shelters and back down into the valley. The return journey was much quicker - mostly a gentle downhill ramble. The roads had dried quickly and the heavy sticky mud was now gone. Near the banana trees, I found a stick and we used this to knock the rest of the bunches down, filling a plastic bag. We saw no-one else on the hike until near the end when we met a father and son from one of the other boats who had climbed to a lower look-off.
We retrieved our pamplemousses from Madeleine and she gave us some mint from her own bushes and then directed us to the Mairie (village hall) where we 'pruned' basel from a public hedge in front of the building. I gave Madeleine a shawl clip to thank her for her kindness and we returned to the boat, exhausted but happy after a very full day. I intend to lead this hike for the Cowichan Outdoors Group at the earliest opportunity.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
On our first full day here we hiked to 'les cascades' - a 300 foot waterfall with a delightful swimming bowl carved out of the rock below. The hike was not too arduous, passing through rain forest and along a slippery boulder strewn route beside the stream. Two Frenchmen from a large yacht anchored behind us preceded us up the path and Mike and Karen from 'Chapter 2' joined us in the pool. We floated on our backs looking up the dripping rock walls to where, far above, the clouds scudded past. Mike and Karen brought Mexican beer and we enjoyed a swim-up bar 'au natural'.
Today was trading day. Rani had deliberately brought many items to trade in the South Pacific, including cloth from Mexico and jewelry from India. We also traded the camera I found washed up in an underwater housing in Mexico. We tried to be fair and match the value of what was offered with what we had, coming away with a wooden pannier (a fruit carrier) carved from some sort of ebony with a tiki-head handle, a wooden box with typical Marquesan motif, a boar's tusk pendant in the shape of a manta ray, some necklaces and earrings made from strung seeds, and two pieces of Tapa cloth - one with three glorious repeated circular figures and the smaller one with two dolphins embracing a turtle.
While Rani traded, I hiked a side valley. Un petit enfant attached himself to me as a guide for the first part of this trip, trying to teach me some French words. Little Alex (10 years old) told me that it was noisy in the town, but quieter up the valley. I guess all things are relative as the sleepy little town of a few hundred people seemed pretty peaceful - the main noise makers being roosters and the occasional dog. I left Alex at the last house and hiked up a muddy road into the hills.
I passed two men husking coconuts to extract their meat. They had their horses tied to a tree nearby and large burlap sacks bulged with the morning's work. Rani told me that she saw them ride into the village with the sacks tied to the horses around lunch time. Further up the trail I met a woman gathering palm leaves, perhaps for the Catholic service. She asked if I was looking for the waterfall but I told her I was just walking. She informed me that this road went to a Banana plantation and indeed it lead me to two such plantations, both planted on top of archeological sites (stone terraces or pae paes). I was surprised that the Marquesans had planted their banana farms on what would have been a sacred and tapu site to their ancestors. Accessibility and leveled land perhaps account for this choice.
Tomorrow we will attend mass at the little Catholic church by the river and then hike up to the plateau overlooking the anchorage. This hike follows the road to Umoa, carved in a series of switch-backs, which slash the hillside a thousand feet directly above Hanavave Village.
Clear of the island, the predicted 15 knot easterly filled in and we sheeted the main in tight and rolled out the small jib. We were hard on the wind for most of the 45 miles, beating into 5 to 8 foot breaking seas. The wind rose to 20 knots after a few hours and we saw gale force winds in the squalls, the worst as we approached the northern tip of Fatu Hiva. Ladybug will cope with these conditions and the wind vane will steer the boat so long as the sails are balanced (not too much mainsail up). Despite this, sailing in these conditions in closely spaced steep seas is very tiring. The motion is similar to a bucking bronco, with Ladybug pitching and tossing through 45 degrees fore and aft and leaning through 20 to 25 degrees to starboard. The starboard deck was awash for much of the passage and in the squalls, we were forced to reef down the jib to 50 or 60 % of its full size.
Many cruisers avoid this unpleasant passage by making a stop at Fatu Hiva before clearing in at Hiva Oa. We did not do this because we were concerned about getting fined by the customs boat (which had happened recently to another cruiser). In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to stop here first and we would suggest that cruisers en route to the Marquesas who want to visit Fatu Hiva do so before Hiva Oa - especially those boats that do not go well to windward!
It was worth the rough 10 hour passage, however. The Bay of Virgins is spectacular, with towering stone pillars on one side and precipitous green cliffs on the other. The small anchorage was quite crowded when we arrived (8 boats including a 75 foot French beauty) and we took 2 tries to set the anchor in a rocky bottom. A boat beside us had just dragged their anchor and took 7 attempts to reset. Winds have been gusting down the valley and throwing us from side to side, so it is not a peaceful rest stop like Taahuku, but the scenery more than makes up for this.
Our position is 10 28 S 138 40 W in Hanavave Bay (The Bay of Virgins).
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Pictures are below the text...
Yesterday's tour of Hiva Oa was a feast for all the senses, included the sixth if we had been tuned in at the sacred sites. Our friends on Chapter Two arranged the tour with Marie Jo for eight, so she had a full load with four people inside and four riding on bench seats in the covered rear of the SUV truck. We barely had room for all the fruit we picked en route!
Marie Jo does not speak a lot of English so I was her mouthpiece as no-one else understood as much French.I warned the group that I sometimes use my imagination if I do not fully understand, so the translation may sound more fantastical than the truth. However, the real truth was pretty unbelievable at times.
Our first visit was to a site at Ta'a'oa, dedicated to the god/chief Iupeke of the Tiu tribe. The complex of terraced rock ruins included a large grassy platform which was used for festivals (dancing and singing) and settlement of inter-tribal disputes. The big chief would sit on a paepae (stone platform) above the warriors and common crowds. The chiefess would sit behind the chief on a separate paepae. Having read Herman Melville's book "Typee", which took place on Nuku Hiva, I got the impression that women were not involved in chiefly decisions and kept in the background on these occasions.
We were not altogether surprised when Marie Jo pointed out the cooking pit where prisoners were roasted. Their heads were severed and hung in the banyan trees presiding over the complex like stately sentinels. Maybe roasted pig was on the menu most days? There was also a sacrificial stone platform for offering up the odd virgin. May the gods forgive our irreverent photo poses!
Our guide very graciously allowed us to take some papayas and tiny red chilli peppers growing amongst the ancient ruins. This was the start of our day long fruit fest! Next, we stopped at Marie Jo's home to pick up some sour apples which she cracked open on the ground. They were like under-ripe pear in taste but had thick skin, were more fibrous and contained a lot of edible seeds. I also took a few limes which had fallen off a tree and plucked some unripe mangoes for chutney.
The forty three kilometre drive to the sacred site of Puama'ou was along a windy road which wove through lush valleys of fruits and flowers and up and down the coastal mountains. A lot of it was unpaved and, like the logging roads up north, very rough. Marie used her first gear quite frequently as we either nose-dived down or strained up the steep, rutted and rock strewn route. while on one side we had tremendous views of the ocean and the islands of Mohotani and Fatu Uku, on the other we marveled at the nimble goats hopping up and down the rocky slopes.
Occasionally we passed through a small village at the head of a bay and waved at the few locals walking by. According to Marie these people make their living by fishing or gathering fruits like coconuts and noni for export.
We stopped frequently to pick up guavas hanging from roadside trees and to take photos of the wonderful panorama. I love fruit but even I was guava'd out by the time we reached Puama'u!
The large ceremonial site, Me'ae Iipona, at Puama'u is located on the northeast of the island. We were very impressed at the number of well perserved tikis still standing after thousands of years in an unprotected wet forest area. The largest tiki outside of Easter Island is of the great warrior Chief Takii. There is also a female tiki representing the priestess Tau'a Pepe who died giving birth to a son. Carved by her husband, the statue shows her in throes of death (maki'i). Carved heads placed at various places represented human sacrifices.
In the softly falling drizzle we felt awed by the beauty of the carvings. The hushed atmosphere of the temple was hardly disturbed by Marie Jo wacking pamplemousse from the trees with a huge bamboo stick!
While the rest of the group had a pre-ordered typical Marquesan lunch in the village, Chris and I opted for a beachside vegetarian picnic of baguettes and Camembert cheese. It was quite delicious. We also realised why Puama'u is not a good place for access by sailboat. The rollers are quite ferocious and unless you were a champion surfer you would be in deep peril trying to land on shore.
We barely stopped on the journey home.Of course We had to stop for a short hike in the forest to say hello to the "Smiling Tiki".
It's a good thing we went on a guided tour yeesterday. Our own attempt at finding a local petroglyph site today ended prematurely where a swollen river blocked the trail, as dark and ravening hordes of mosquitos descended.
|Beach at Puama'u|
|Unusual prone Tiki (possibly used for sacrifices?)|
|Tiki of Chief Takii at Me'ae Iipona|
|Maki'i tau 'a pepe|
|Bird of Paradise Flower|
|Tiki of Iupeke|
|Ceremonial grounds at Ta'a'oa|
|Goats were common along the road|
|View towards Atuona - note tree ferns|
|Our tour group|
|Hibiscus flowers are worn by Polynesian women|
|Me'ae Iipona site at Puama'u|
|Prone tiki at Me'ae Iipona|
|Brian off S/V Zulu looks at Tiki of Chief Takii at Me'ae Iipona|
|Me'ae Iipona site at Puama'u|
|Marie Jo - our tour guide and Marlene off S/V Zulu|
|Beach at Puama'u|
|Ata kua - smiling tiki|
In our first couple of days, we visited Gauguin's grave, where we had a lovely picnic lunch with Mike and Karen off 'Chapter Two'. We also met Marie, a local lady, who gave us a tour of her little plantation, taught us about the local edible fruits, and showed us how to de-husk and open ripe coconuts. She loaded us down with fruit including a couple of stems of bananas that are now all ripening at once in our cabin - we hope to dry some if the sun cooperates.
We have really enjoyed the bounteous fruit - hanging from trees along every roadside. Pamplemousse, guavas, bananas, and a slightly tart fruit called a pistache that also has a seed, which can be roasted and eaten but is no relation to the pistachio we know. Rani remembers the latter fruit as a 'jamun' from her childhood in India.
Today is a chores day after our day long island tour yesterday (see next blog post) and we have taken on water and processed hundreds of photos. Rani is currently off in town visiting Marie and trying to access the Internet at the post office.
|Ladybug at anchor in Taahuku Bay|
|View over Atuona|
|Climbing the hill to Gauguin's grave|
|Sculpture beside Gauguin's grave|
|Picnic with Mike & Karen|
|Rani and pamplemousse|
|Marie and her daughter Maria|
|The beach at Atuona|
A few pictures from Clarion Island, which we visited on day 6. Lovely rock formations but an untenable anchorage and no chance of landing in one piece, so we stayed only two hours.
|Northwest tip of island|
|Bahia Azufre (Sulphur Bay)|
|Surf on the beach - note wrecked barge behind surf break and military base to left. The swell in the anchorage was impressive!|
|Poor exhausted petrel passed away in our cockpit.|
Twenty six pictures for the 26 (well 25 and a bit) days. The detailed text for these pictures can be found in previous radio posted blog entries. The photos show a mix of wildlife, weather, repair work, and celebration.
|Dolphins in the bow wave|
|Tanker passing at dusk|
|Blue water swim|
|Fixing a bulkhead bonding problem with thickened epoxy|
|Red footed booby on the solar panel|
|Flying fish rigor mortis|
|Baby flying fish - these fish landed on board ranging in size from an inch to 9 or 10 inches|
|Fixing a leak in the rudder steering tube|
|Fixing another leak in the traveller bolts through the coach roof.|
|Rani boning up on her French.|
|Strumming near the equator|
|Getting the bubbly ready for equator celebration|
|Equator GPS - a bit late as we were toasting and bribing Poseidon|
|One for Poseidon, one for us|
|Sweetened rice offering to the Gods|
|Cleaning up after the squall (we left a hatch open!)|
|Squall in real life|
|Same squall on radar|
|Amazing squall area clouds|
|More squall clouds|
|Approaching Hiva Oa - We use a free chart software (OpenCPN) as back up to paper charts|
|Happy to see land!|
|Approaching Hiva Oa|
|The hook is down in Taahuku Bay, Hiva Oa|
|The anchorage at Taahuku|