15 July 2018
We are off to Fatu Hiva! We have heard many wonderful things about this lush island and have looked forward to visiting it immediately after checking in at Hiva Oa. French Polynesia has been under French influence for a little over one hundred years, and the islands themselves, geographically are younger than the Tuomotos or Societies. In fact, like Venice, Italy, the French Polynesian islands created by volcanic forces are actually sinking back into the sea and one day will be atolls like the Tuomotos. These islands receive a fair amount of rain and seem to have an abundance of clear water. We are told that locals warn to not swim, snorkel or dive the black sand beaches. I queried this rationale and it appears to be only local concern for not being able to see such things as shark easily in the water.
We were up at 0630 to release the stern anchor and up the main anchor for our early start to Fatu Hiva; by 0730 or so we were off leaving Hiva Oa in our wake. It will be a beat into the wind (read: uncomfortable and wet sail) as it is 40nm south of us and we will be short hauled as much as possible (pointed into the wind as tight as we can and still maintain forward momentum) as we head into the the Southerlies. We chose to play by the rules this time by checking into Hiva Oa. Fatu Hiva is not a port of entry and as US citizens, we need to check into the country before exploring. They do not want to have cruisers come in unless they have checked in to the country officially first at either Hiva Oa (Atuona) or Nuku Hiva (Taiohae) Some have chosen to “chance it” and succeeded, others made the same choice with an end result of being asked to leave immediately, and rumor has it that some were even fined! It could leave a passport flagged with repercussions of future travel compromised and not worth the risk for many. I think we have figured out a “work around” but I am not likely going to post it online. None the less, we followed the rules this time.
It would be a likely six-seven hour sail and anticipating one tack to the island with 15-18kn winds on our port. It was more like eight hours and variable wind speeds. Pinched as tight as we could, we still ended up motoring the last hour or so back to the bay. As the sun began to set, the island took on a surreal glow and we arrived. The lush green Jurassic Park we entered was bathed in the last of the sun’s golden rays. There are two main villages. The larger is Omoa which reportedly does not have a good overnight anchorage. So we arrived at the smaller village of Hana Vave and the Bay of Virgins. It is everything out of the Disney’s movie “Moana”. Beautiful temperature of 74-80 degrees, occasional sprinkles of rain that clear up as quickly as they start, and a light breeze that keeps any little flies or gnats moving along. The volcanic shores rise up out of the bay and hold palm trees in their rocky clutches as the hills reach almost directly up to the sky. It really feels like we are in the Polynesian islands now. The distant drumming, its unmistakable resonance, called us in from the bay. There were already twelve other sailboats in the anchorage anchored in anywhere from 30-90ft. SV Kokopelli, (Brian and Mizzy) who we had met in Hiva Oa were already here! How could that be?! They left after us! John could not figure out how that could be and finally it was answered when he found out they had motored the entire distance. That helped the sting a bit as I believe he actually lost sleep over it! They were still experiencing problems with their outboard even after having the mechanics in Hiva Oa boatyard work on it and John told them that once we found a less rolly anchorage, he would work on their outboard. They have the exact same model as we do. Brian and Mizzy shared with us that there is a local dancing going on this evening and they would come by and pick us up if we would like. Of course we would! We could make out the faint drumming coming from shore. Light breeze, enough be comfortable and keep bugs away, air temperature neither hot nor cold. The dingies come up to the quay, and when the tide comes in and can be as much as a meter or more difference. At low tide, it can be a big step in and out of the dingy from the top of the wall. Some use a stern anchor to keep the dingies from knocking about on each other, which is an excellent idea. We walked up the road and John found a young man who said his name was Cedric. He was heading towards the dancing and could give us directions. With a little English, he gave John directions and also mentioned his uncle who is a wood carver and we should see his work. Well! We had heard that Fatu Hiva was noted for their wood carvings! I wondered how we would find them and little did I know…. We rounded a corner, and over a bridge, open window homes with curtains that were now waving outside in the breeze allowing airflow, the drumming became increasingly louder. It was dark now and we came past a concrete building (most of the buildings seem to be concrete) which showed a menu. We were now on a game field, such as soccer, and the very same one we could see from the bay! We simply made an almost complete loop! Before us sat families on chairs, on the grass, with little kids running around playing. We walked through various different groups and settled on the ground of very short sparse grass. The music began- ukuleles, guitar, and the drums. Various sized traditional drums, with leather coverings. We were treated to a village display of their two dance troupes. They have been practicing for a month or more, possible competing with each other or to be competing in Omoa next. There is a large festival to take place in 2019 and the best of the villages dance troupes will be performing traditional dances in Tahiti. This festival occurs every four years as well as another that happens within the Marquesas itself, inter-island every two years.
They wore traditional grass/flower headdresses, tops and skirts as well as the guys having accoutrements on their chest/calves. All were made from real plants and painstakingly hand sewn on to belts that appeared to be tapa cloth. Tapa is the pounded bark from trees, a similar process to making paper pulp.There was a story teller that began each dance, telling a story in the Marquesan language that was almost as theatrical as the dance itself. Each group had choreographed their own dances and songs. Families all sat out to watch with little kids running amok, and a few at the sidelines imitating the dancersThey sang and danced to various drums and slack strung guitar/ukulele as we watched for a couple hours before we made our way back to the boats in the bay. There is a stiff breeze coming through the valley tonight but as I ready myself for bed, I could still hear occasional hums of drums and singing in the distance..
Morning came with the sounds of waves slapping at the boat, birds in the air and baby goats bleeting for their moms on the steep hillsides surrounding the bay. Again, John needing “John” time to work on their outboard, Mizzy and I took off for the village and to hike the waterfall. John dropped us off at the quay with the dingy and asked us to estimate our time. Well, 45 minutes up and the same back, and an hour there. Let’s say three hours. What we didn’t plan on was that our hike time was shorter than others had reported… and we got lost. Our intention was to walk to the waterfall. (Understand that the word “intention” is often used in cruiser lingo as “plans” are rarely kept due to repeating changes!) She had been to the French Polynesian islands, but not this island, some years earlier and was familiar with some of the flora and fauna pointing it out as we chatted. We stopped here and there, and met a few people along the way. A gentleman tending some trees called out to us and asked us if we wanted some fruit. Well, okay. Then he asked if we would like to see his carvings, as he is one of the village carvers. Sure. He had us focus in on a time, difficult in a language we didn’t quite understand but thought we could make 3:00pm. The residents are a little more friendly here than Hiva Oa with a sing song “Bon Jour” and a smile offered a little more frequently. Every house seemed to have an assortment of trees, many pomplemousse trees so laden with fruit that several lay on the ground having cracked from the fall, been gnawed by vermin or ants, and in various stages of rotting. Pomplemousse is most similar to a grapefruit but is reportedly sweeter and often used for trade by the locals with visitors. It is also only found in these islands and we would not likely find them in the Tuomotos or beyond. There are also coconut, lemon, orange, mango, guava, banana, plantain, noni, bread fruit and soursop trees. There is another that is used to make a chutney however, that name escapes me. In fact, there are more that I can’t think of as they did not pass my lips but I know they were discussed. What a wealth of fruit! We were looking at a tree with the unusual fruit used for chutney when a man come out of his house to show us the fruit we were looking at on his tree, he picked one, peeled it and offered it to us to try. Then, he began picking several to put in our bags. We still aren’t quite sure what it was but was very appreciative of his enthusiasm! Very sweet. We continued walking, asking directions from everyone we met. Mizzy reports her French is very rusty and I have none other than basic greetings. We walked past the post office, the administrative office, copra stations (dried coconut) and up a winding road, crossing a creek (the same creek) at least a couple times. We continued to ask directions for anyone we met and Mizzy translated. We soon found ourselves at a gate. The men behind it understood we were looking for the “cascade” and pointed and directed back across the last bridge we came from. Back to the road, at least it was downhill. We cross back over the creek and voila! The fork in the road, the rock with all the little rocks (cairns) on it. To the right on the paved road? Or to the left, more or less a rutted roadway. We took the left, on the rutted roadway when we came to yet another homestead and a few loudly barking dogs. Hmm…Not wanting to chance dogs, we went back to the road and proceeded to walk. Uphill. No, REALLY UPHILL. While it was paved, it was really uphill, similar to a 45degree angle as it would traverse its way up the mountain and over to Omoa. We went as far as the first hairpin curve and could see over the valley. Enough. We were tired and it would be getting dark even IF we were to find the waterfall. Walking back into town was MUCH easier as all down hill. We chatted merrily about all subjects, doing what cruisers do, finding out a lot about each other in a short period of time. Everyone has a dog….. or three! Short hair, non descript mutts. On a line, they are quite noisy as they work their part. The fortunate ones that aren’t bound by some sort of tether, meandered lazily about, not paying much attention to the humans. A few cats are seen but not many. Evidently neither of those two species hunt the black rats that are on the rampant on the island…there are also wild boar but we only saw domestic pigs. Seems like many families have a pig. There are free roaming chickens everywhere and occasionally a cow tied up. After a wonderful walkabout, now an hour or so off target time, and no waterfall, we arrived back to where we thought Temo’s home was. We yelled “Bon Jour” a few times and soon, Temo appeared at the door. He has a table on his patio, covered with a colorful cloth. A television plays inside the house. We enter the patio, leaving our shoes with all the others in front of the step. He pulls back the cloth and shows us his work. Exquisitely carved wood tikis of different motifs and sizes, turtles, curved bowls- some with lids and some with handles, all wonderfully carved with Marquesan symbols. They are indeed so beautiful however, he had another object that caught my eye- he called it an U’u. A head knocker. In the form of a weapon that was used by Polynesians in early times. It had tiki faces carved on both sides as well as various other symbols. His son, Diego, comes out to help with translation. A young man in his early twenties, he has studied in France and speaks several languages. He assures us that the carvings are by hand and from wood on the island or the neighboring island. They aren’t cheap and he isn’t interested in trades necessarily. These can be sent on to Tahiti and they can make good money. More and more, trading for money is the practice! Even US dollars are acceptable. Five years ago and longer, trading with the locals was a more common practice as they did not have access to things we have become accustomed to given the power of the internet and Amazon.com. Now that they are becoming more online, access is still difficult but some trading can still be done, typically for alcohol which is very heavily taxed in the islands. An example would be an inexpensive US wine of $7-10 might be $27 or more here. One piece of Temo’s stood up for me, and all I could think of was the adage about if you see something you like to get it as you may not see it again. Fatu Hiva wood carvers are well known for their detail and excellent carving. I would need to think about this as it was not a small item. We thanked Temo and Diego, who gave us several pomplemousse and asked to trade for a bottle of wine at least. I assured them I would return to see the piece again. Mizzy said they were beautiful but that we would need to return with our husbands. The floor still had the remains of a costume- from last evenings performance. Indeed, Diego was one of the performers, first group. He said they did well but they were only practicing and dancing for this island and would be heading to the bigger town of Omoa. The costumes are all real leaves, picked from the yards and hand sewn onto a bark similar to the Tapas of which they women are known for. Temo gave us more pomplemousse from his tree and with the promise of a return of wine, we would be back. John’s mission with the outboard was a success, as expected. Brian was happy as his motor now no longer died on him.
One of the mango seasons is over and another yet to begin, however they have pomplemousse trees everywhere that are bulging with fruit. The boughs are heavily laden with fruit, fruit that simply falls to the ground to rot as they cannot consume it quickly enough. It seems each yard has at least one tree if not several. Let’s talk about this crazy fruit. The pomplemousse is large and round similar to the North American grapefruit varieties, except it remains greenish with a slight yellowish hue when ripe and ready. It keeps easily, some say up to two months and others say six weeks. It’s similar to the grapefruit only much sweeter (as long as you don’t eat the white membrane like a grapefruit). I have never, and I repeat NEVER have liked grapefruit as much as I have tried to. Watching others spoon into its juiciness could never tempt me. I have tried it with sugar on top, with honey on top, as juice, as a sweetened juice, heck- even as a soda pop! Nope. Any diet that had grapefruit as a basis was not on my list. “Here, try the pomplemousse”. “No, I don’t like grapefruit.” And then…I tried it. Well now, this is a sweet surprise. It doesn’t bite at my tongue, make my throat close and want to spit it like a watermelon seed. It doesn’t leave the sting of antiseptic essence in my mouth. Why, let me have another spoonful…wait, is that bitter I taste? Hmmm….careful of the membrane surrounding each section. The skin seems thicker too. They are large but split in half through the waist, they seem to go down quickly. John tasted it, wrinkled up his nose and said it would taste better with tequila. Of course he did. He then began quickly to assess what alcohols would go with it and that I should extract the juice and try it. Of course he did. What I didn’t expect was the satisfying and refreshing vigor it would give in my day. Or that I would begin to crave it. I was hooked. Oh those wicked Polynesians, what have they created?! Was it the passage with the fruit gone within the first week that left me ravenous for fruit? Was I dehydrated that I was using the pomplemousse for hydration? I know the importance of maintaining good hydration even though I am sure I don’t drink near as much water as I should. Nonetheless, I found myself eating not one, but two (and there was an occasional three!) per day. Well this is awkward. John would just stare at me over the glasses on his nose. In my mind, I was sharing these with my dad who loved fruits of all types, sadly thinking he really would have loved these.
John is interested in finding the waterfall as is Brian. Mizzy an I are willing to attempt again, although we are pretty sore from yesterday’s trip. Lesley and Bob (England) are going to join us today. They too, had traveled from Panama to French Polynesia like Brian and Mizzy. Bob and Lesley have been living aboard their 34ft yacht for several years now too. As we walked up the main road, we passed by another older gentleman working on a pipe. I know this will surprise you…he said he was a carver and asked if we would like to see his carvings! We politely said we were heading to the falls but would stop on our return. He tried to determine a time and John gave him the best we could estimate. I now know that you don’t look for the carvers, they find you! We made a lovely trek over the bridge and past the post office and administration building, to the dirt path off of the main cement road to Omoa. As the road began its 45 degree ascent, the large cairns indicated the dirt path was indeed our path to the waterfall. The foliage became denser, elephant ear leaves were almost human size. Banyon trees and others came close together and only the rustle of ferns with occasional bird calls could be heard. Soon, there was the sound of trickling of water and just as soon it became the sound of rushing water signaling our close proximity. Before our eyes, we could see the cascade, water from several hundred feet above us into a pool in front of us. The majority of the waterfall was surrounded by rocks on all three sides. We scrambled over the boulders and before we knew it, the guys had quickly doffed their clothes to their swimsuits and dove in. Brrrr…..it is refreshing, another adjective for cold. As Bob coined it with his lovely accent – “it’s nutgrabbing”. I am not sure what that translates into Celsius or Fahrenheit, so you will have to trust me on this one. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon at the pool, temperature pleasant after a while, noting the back walls. I had prepared with my swimsuit underneath, as had Mizzy. Lesley was not going in past her knees no matter how much Bob and Brian goaded her into coming in to see the actual “falls” and “how amazing it was that you just have to come in to see it”. It was with her final no that she slipped unhurt, but now quite wet higher than her bum. So much for staying dry. We eventually we need to work our way back, refreshed and clean of sweat and insect repellant, we would need to re-apply before heading down. The wooded area was home to some mighty hungry “mozzies” (mosquitos).
We travelled the same path past the official building and the post office to the rock of Cairns. Yes, indeed, we are to go past the parking dogs and continue on for the waterfall. The trees that appear like hollowed out dugouts, with leaves larger than the elephant ears holding drops of water, vines hanging from the trees. We could eventually hear the unmistakable sound of water falling. A small pool set back in the rocks and the water falling high up from the cliff. Of course we had to get in! Fresh water, about seventy degrees – refreshing! We soon reached the road back, passed the copra drying station, and while Mizzy and Brian went off with wine in hand to see Temo’s carvings, John and I visited with another carver. He too, had lovely wood tiki’s, stone tiki’s and wooden bowls. Starting to see the theme here. We told him we would think about it and let him know yet in my mind, it would be Temo’s piece that I would have. As we left his home, his wife called me back and offered me bread she had made and wrapped. It was still almost warm. How sweet!
Tonight would be a dinner at Poi’s house with his wife doing all the cooking. Poi is the unofficial “official” of the island. For $25/per person, his wife would cook a traditional Polynesian dinner. We were signed up as part of sixteen cruisers that evening, dining on Poisson Cru, fried meat (likely goat), breadfruit, various salads, deviled eggs, and a dessert of fresh fruit of the island served on a large leaf. Star fruit, papaya, mango, banana, and small red fruit. Breadfruit is really interesting. A starchy fruit, it has more of a texture of potato, flavor of almost a sweet potato, and is well known for its health benefits and ability to pass as more of a potato than a fruit. Once a big staple in the Polynesian diet, it had declined during the French colonization as their interest was in coconut or copra as an export. We made new friends and would be going diving tomorrow with a few of them. We are the only folks from Mexico departure here, as this group is compromised of those coming from Galapagos and part of a different rally. We have Polish/Italian, Swiss, English, French represented as well as Bryan and Mizzy/ and ourselves capturing the US division. Of course, our hosts are Marquesan. Another pleasant evening and it was delightful to meet other cruisers as well. Quite a nice ice breaker. Cain and April are traveling on Spirit of Argo, a Peterson 44. Quinn (their Irish terrier) has a blog about what his crazy owners are doing to him. You might find it quite entertaining at www.spiritofargo.com. We also had an opportunity to get to know Wojtek, Elena, and baby Paul on S/Y Imagine. While the catamaran is vision, their mission is even more amazing. Once pro soccer player, an unfortunate circumstance led to his having an AKA or above knee amputation. His and their experience with this, has led them to turn their catamaran to a sailing prosthetic station where they can actually manufacture prosthesis! They are sailing to those who are less fortunate to offer something that may otherwise never be obtained and change lives. Absolutely amazing. Look them up on the web at www.sailing4handicaps.de
The next day we decided to dive the point outside the Bay of Virgins. Depths were deep along the rocky formation. We had seven divers and one snorkeler visiting with the hopes of Manta Rays or sharks. We didn’t have anything large or super exciting but we did have two eels, a stingray and lots of colorful fish. The water was blue and relatively clear. Coral was alive and vibrant. Everyone had a good time. Cane and April did not join us as Cane was pretty much under the weather with a head cold and April was certain she had caught whatever Cane had. I gathered up a few things that other documented visitors had taken for trade (information that was as recent as two years and up to 5 years old) and trekked up to Temo and Diego’s home. Blown glassware, nicer jewelry and some electronics were not as exciting for trade. Rum, wine, and very good fishing lures and line for Wahoo/Dorado are still preferred. And of course, cash. I laughed and said I would see what I could do, as we were careful to not bring too much alcohol in for fear of being taxed as per the “rumor”. And I was willing to part with one of my larger lures that I was made fun of for the size. I would be back tomorrow. That evening we had an invitation to join Wojtek and Elayna aboard SV Imagine. Both the Swiss couples were there as well, lively conversation and the requisite boat tour of their incredible prosthetic building and beautiful boat ensued. We look forward to diving in the Tuomotos with Wojtek and Elena.
We are going to leave tomorrow morning so this is my last full day. It would be my only chance to finalize my trading experience. I was able to pull together a bottle of wine (Mexican) , a bottle of fruit beer (Belgium), a new and very large lure, approx. 300 yards of used but very good condition heavy duty line, and cash. This would be it. I arrived before Diego, so Temo showed me his work area. A very simple lean to with a bench and his hand tools. The only electric tool was a polish cloth on a hand drill. Soon Diego returned and with Diego as our translator, and Temo and I using our best bargaining skills, we sat down with fresh pomplemousse juice and began dealing. In the end, we both were happy and I would be able to take away an equisite Marquesan carved smaller version of an U’u, two small tikis of rosewood from the next island and two tapas made by his wife. U’u’s are the “headknockers” or the clubs of ancestral Polynesians used in battle to beat their enemy. Many early depictions of warriors show them carrying such clubs with a large bifurcated top with points on the end. Tapas are cloth made from various barks of trees that is repetitively beaten much in the same way that paper is made. The belts of the headdresses and skirts of the dancers used tapas to sew the leaves on to. The tapas often made by the women of the village usually contain scenes or symbols from the Marquesan language.
What a day already! Oh, and Temo loaded me up with more pomplemousse and a stalk of bananas! Then, he drove me to the quay! He waited while I called John and had him pick me up before he left with his truck. Very thoughtful.. My Fatu Hiva experience was complete. John wanted photos of the breakers and waves in the rocky outcroppings outside of the bay. I stowed my goodies and we were off again. No photo could ever show the massive power and energy of the waves that form and and crash against the volcanic walls outside the bay. Years and years of water carving into the sides, creating blow holes. We were coming back in with the dingy when it appeared there were some dolphin feeding at the side of the bay. Except they looked a little different. As we neared, they heard the sound of our engine and raced toward us! The rounded faces of False Killer whales, a type of dolphin, and there had to be almost a hundred of them! Before we knew it we were surrounded by them as they played in the wake of our movement. I took the GoPro out and held it underwater as John stopped the dingy and began rowing. I had no idea what kind of footage I might get but was hopeful for anything. (I was pleasantly surprised and please with some of the footage!) They stayed for a while and soon bored of us. Another dingy came out to swim with them and they appeared bored with that too and began to leave the bay. We started the engine and began our return when all of a sudden we were surrounded again! They heard the motor and came back to surround us. This went on for almost thirty minutes before they became bored and John determined we needed to get back to as the sun began to set. We saw our snorkeler friend, referred to as the Russian. He had been out snorkeling and saw a hammerhead in the bay! Could this day be more exciting? I think not! However, it is time for the adventure to continue and tomorrow will be a big day as we had north again, with southerly winds to take us to Tahuata!