Day 235, Year 1: Lumpy, Bumpy Ride
Date: Friday, June 9, 2006
Weather: Squalls Mixed with Sunshine, Moderate to Strong Tradewinds
Latitude: 13 degrees 51 minutes
Longitude: 145 degrees 37 minutes
Location: Marquesas to Tuamotus Transit, Day 4
Miles to Go: 55
We are having a lumpy, bumpy ride out here, but we are both fine. I remember reading “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” over and over to our children and I think Pooh would agree that this passage has been blustery. We have periods of sunshine with puffy white clouds and then all of a sudden one of those clouds starts to darken, the winds increase, and we get a mix of high winds and rain for a short period. Things just begin to settle down, and it happens again-squall after squall after squall. Our daughter Heather wrote her version of a “Captain’s Rambling” to us yesterday, but she admitted it was more “ranting” than “rambling” about the weather back home. Here’s part of what she had to say: “I’ve decided that Cape Cod is on its own very special tectonic plate that moves around the globe randomly. For a couple of winters, when Buzzards Bay froze shore to shore, I was convinced we were in the Artic Circle. Now I believe we’re in Bangladesh during monsoon season. It has been raining for weeks, with the exception of Memorial Day weekend. I actually had to wade to and from my car today as the entrance to the parking lot was flooded 4+ inches deep and the “puddle” had no edges. It just connected a marsh to a stream. Rivers around New England are at or above flood stage, and we’re due to get 4 inches of rain tomorrow … 4 inches in one day! Not to mention gusts to 40 knots and thunderstorms.” Well, I hope we don’t get 4 inches out here today, but we will probably have 40 knots. And I feel more like I am in the North Atlantic instead of the South Pacific. We have the warm weather, but not the steady trades. Today we were getting winds north of east again. But I don’t think I’ll get any sympathy from anyone from the Northeast. Hopefully we will be safely tucked into the atoll of Ahe by mid-morning tomorrow and snorkeling in the clear, warm waters by tomorrow afternoon. Sorry, Heather!
The Marquesas Experience
June 9, 2006
I promised to write a summary of what we learned and experienced while in the Marquesas. This is probably more for us than for anyone reading this, but if you are interested in history, you might want to read on. When we left the Galapagos, we knew that we would not be visiting the same kinds of islands with the variety and great numbers of wildlife in the South Pacific. We thought our experiences would revolve around learning about different cultures. As it turns out, the people living in the Marquesas today could be transplanted anywhere in small town USA and things would not be very different. But there is a beauty to their islands and traces of a very different life not so long ago. Male body tattooing seems to be the only leftover from the days when fierce, cannibalistic tribes populated the Marquesas. However, the culture of those days is retained through annual festivals and celebrations. The dancing is beautiful and we have loved watching the outrigger races in the anchorages. We will see the culmination of this in Tahiti and Bora Bora as the islanders travel there for the ultimate festival the end of June.
Of the five archipelagoes in French Polynesia, the Marquesas is the farthest from any continent. Peru in South America is due east some 6,000 kilometers or 3,600miles. Baja California is to the northeast and is 4,800 kilometers or 2,880 miles away. The island of Tahiti is 1,400 kilometers or 840 miles from the Marquesas and Hawaii is 3,850 kilometers or 2,310 miles. When you are in the Marquesas, you are very much removed from contact with the outside world. Or at least that was true until radio, television, and the internet arrived. Our impression from what we saw is that almost every family, even those in remote villages a far trek from the nearest town, have a satellite dish and television. On the little island of Fatu Hiva, the television sets were almost all flat screen digital-very new. Also, it seems that every family has an almost brand new 4-wheel drive vehicle. Part of this prosperity is due to the export of the fruit of the Noni plant which grows like a weed here. Noni and copra production (copra is dried coconut meat from which coconut oil is extracted) seen to be the basis for island economy. We did not see any instances of the poverty and squalor we saw in parts of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. Every yard was neat and clean and there were potted tropical plants everywhere. We’re still not sure why they are potted and not planted in the ground but think it might be for watering purposes during the dry season. The French government subsidizes these islands and the price tag must be huge. All of the road work equipment we saw was brand new, all of the government offices are in brand new buildings, and most homes are a standard prefab that must be shipped in. There are still the markings of what one would associate with rural America about 50 years ago in both the small villages and the largest towns. There are the ever-present chickens. They are everywhere-proud roosters and lots of mamas and baby chicks. Goats and horses are tethered in yards and fields and in some towns we came across the “town cows” and “town pigs”. Sometimes pigs are kept in side yards, but when that is the case the pens are very clean with absolutely no smell. In some towns we found pens with large numbers of pigs being kept on the edge of town-still very clean pens, but obviously grouped for convenience and then shared amongst the town’s people. In Hanavave, Fatu Hiva, we found one “town cow” and in Taiohae, Nuka Hiva, we found about four cows and one bull tethered on a town green. Otherwise, these little towns look like little towns anywhere.
The defining feature of the Marquesas is the flora, not the fauna. Plants are everywhere and they are bigger and more beautiful than any we have ever seen. Sometimes we would see plants that we saw in the Caribbean and marvel at how much larger they are here. In the Caribbean a ginger plant might have one blossom, while here one plant might have 50 or 60 blossoms. The smell of flowers is in the air and fruit literally drips from the trees. Our one great discovery was pampelmouse. That’s the French word for grapefruit, but other than the fact that it is round and yellowish-green, the pampelmouse is very different from its relative, the grapefruit. These things are huge-at least twice the size of normal grapefruit, but not quite as big as soccer ball. You cut them in wedges and enjoy. They are so juicy and sweet, in a grapefruity sort of way. Papaya grows everywhere and citrons or lemons litter the ground. We only have three pampelmouse left and hope that these things grow in Tahiti. We have become addicted.
The people in the Marquesas are very friendly. They speak a mixture of French and Marquesan with a little English thrown in for good measure. We found that we could speak English and use hand gestures and usually get our ideas across. Young children often greet you with, “Hello. How are you?” Others say, “Bon jour.” And still others use the Marquesan greeting, “Kaoha.” Music has an island flair, but has been modernized. The electronic keyboard is always used along with the traditional ukulele. Traditional drums are used only for traditional dances. The music coming from homes sounds like US country-western music being sung in French and Polynesian. Teenagers wear Bob Marley shirts but we didn’t hear the music.
Where did these island people in “the land of men” come from? And when did they come to the Marquesas? A man named Robert Suggs is accepted as one the most accurate historians concerning the settlement of the Marquesas. Based on the findings of Lapita pottery from southeast China, it appears that “the men”, as the Marquesans called themselves, sailed from Samoa to the Marquesas around 500 BC. These people sailed from southeast China to Samoa some 1500 years prior to that. There is evidence that in an El Nino year, the westerly winds blow from Samoa straight to the Marquesas. It is believed that this is how “the men” reached the Marquesas in their double-hulled outrigger canoes. If the seas were anything like they have been for us, I sure wouldn’t have wanted to do this transit in a canoe! Evidently these same people then sailed from the Marquesas to Hawaii, to Easter Island to the south, and to the Tuamotu atolls.
In the Marquesas, we found Fata Hiva to be a beautiful little harbor to sail into after the long crossing from the Galapagos. Hanavave was a delightful village and the scenery was spectacular. Our next stop, Tahuata, had nice beaches, but not much else. Atuona on Hiva Oa was the most “city-like” place we visited, even though Taiohae on Nuka Hiva is the administrative center. Hiva Oa was nice, but not our favorite. Our car trek to Puamau was interesting and gave us a real feel for the ruggedness of travel here, but when we left there and went to Ua Pou, we found our favorite island in the Marquesas. It is beautiful, the people are friendly, and it is easy to reprovision there. We enjoyed the traditional dancing and music at the Mother’s Day celebration there. When we left Ua Pou, we went to Nuka Hiva. We first visited Daniel’s Bay and walked to the Vaipo waterfall-spectacular. We then went to Taiohae. This town was nice, but a bit of a disappointment as the administrative center. We didn’t feel it had as much to offer as Hakahau in Ua Pou. Lastly, we visited the small village of Taipivai in Comptroller Bay. If Ua Pou was our favorite island, Taipivai was our favorite village. We enjoyed walking through the village and finding the archaeological site there.
You can’t visit the Marquesas without commenting on the beautiful Catholic churches. The wood sculptures are magnificent. Each church is so very different, but the cathedral in Taiohae was beautiful. We tried to capture some of the beauty in our photographs that will be posted to the web once we reach Tahiti around the 21st of June.
We visited me’aes (may’ah-ays), the huge rectangular platforms that were the sacred place of priests, chiefs, and warriors. We saw many paepaes (pay-pays), the stone sleeping foundations consisting of two-levels of rectangular stone platforms. And we saw tohuas, the ceremonial plazas that were the sites of feasts, stilt races, and dances. Stone-carved tikis adorned these places. Again, we tried to capture the essence in photographs to share with you.
Our heads are still spinning from all of the experiences we had in the Marquesas. It was a beautiful group of islands with lots of history. Tomorrow we will be in the Tuamotus-a completely different place. There will be no volcanic mountains, waterfalls, and very few plants other than coconut trees. But the water will be shallow and clear and the diving and snorkeling should be great. Stay tuned.