Marquesas, French Polynesia
Where do we start to properly describe the Marquesas Islands, these absolutely stunning and bountiful islands that suddenly rise several hundred meters up far far out in the Pacific Ocean.
We can start where we were when we described most of our experiences on the Galápagos Islands, two thirds of the 3000 nautical miles from the Galapagos to the island of Nuku Hiva. But there is still not much to say about that trip. The last third was as good as the first, our guests Knud and Marianne adapted to the Pacific Ocean and life on board, and the Pacific lived up to its name. We sailed the little more than 3000 nautical miles in 20 days. We were enriched with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, many dolphins, small whales and an absolutely stunning starry sky.
On December 4th 2021 we arrived early in the morning at Taioha’e Bay, Nuku Hiva. We had barely entered the bay before 3 dinghies came whizzing towards us screaming and shouting. It was our friends from Pura Vida, Stella and FantaSea who welcomed us in the same way as they did when we arrived in St. Vincent after crossing the Atlantic. They and Elma had made a delicious breakfast which we all enjoyed together. What a lovely welcome.
The Marquesas archipelago consists of 12 islands, 6 of which are inhabited and is the northeastern part of French Polynesia. The islands are mountainous and bountiful. There are almost 10,000 people living on the islands. They speak both French and Polynesian. Various European personalities have lived on these remote islands. Paul Gauguin lived part of his life on Hiva Oa, where there is also a museum of his paintings from the island, and his tomb high up with a view of the Pacific Ocean. On Fatu Hiva, Tor Heyerdahl settled for a period before he went on his famous Kontiki expedition.
Nuku Hiva is the main island in the Marquesas archipelago, and also where we spent most time in the archipelago. A bit like Bequia became a home for us in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (see Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). Every morning there was a cruiser network on the VHF, where you could hear about activities on the island. We could participate in some of the activities, e.g. June and Laura went to dance lessons and tried to learn the local dances, which are very difficult, as the whole body is in motion in a coordinated symphony that seems to require some extra joints in the body that we Europeans apparently do not possess.
In the Marquesas Islands you say Kaoha or Kaoha nui when you say hello (in the other archipelagos you say Ia Orana), nui means a lot. Goodbye is Nana, which it is on all the islands. Marquesas abound in fruits like banana, mango, breadfruit, papaya and of course coconuts. The water around the islands has many fish and the most common eat is tuna. If you are lucky, you can buy fresh tuna on the pier for about 5 EUR per kg.
When you walk in the street, everyone greets you, not just with a nod, but with a smile, eye contact and a Kaoha, people wave and greet from their cars and you quickly feel at home.
We have only experienced sweet and friendly people, and we have experienced that people want to get in touch with us, and they even try in English, which often is better than our French, to get in contact with us. On the Marquesas, there is very little crime, so the houses are not burglar-proof, you do not have to lock bicycles, cars or your dinghy. We have been used to always locking our dinghy and it is liberating and feels safe that it is not necessary.
Give a gift
We do not have numbers for all the fruit we have received as a gift, several times we have been invited into people’s gardens and have been endowed with large amounts of fruit. Each time we have tried to pay, but they will not hear of it. Even at restaurants we have experienced that they have given us fruit to take home. If you have more than you need, you also share even if you do not have much other than fruit. At Hiva Oa we had the boat up on land in the boat yard, which took more time than expected. Therefore, we spend more days in a small hotel than it was planned. The owners asked us to tell when we were going to sail, because then they would bring fruit to us. We did, and the day before departure we got a big bunch of bananas and a big bag of mangoes, papayas and grapefruit.
We had a large cooler box left over from the trip across the Pacific, which we managed without a refrigerator. After we got a new compressor for the refrigerator, we no longer needed it. Therefore, we took it ashore on Nuku Hiva, and gave it to the first random fisherman we met. He was probably a little surprised, smiled puzzled and said thank you. It was a good feeling. After that, every time we met him afterwards, he offered us different fruit, which he immediately picked up in his car, was just a bonus and not at all expected. And there was so much that we could share with other boats and still be busy eating it before it got bad. The fisherman told that he had supplemented the fishing with sailing trips for tourists. Although there are many fish around the islands, they can see that the big international fishing fleets are well on their way to emptying the seas from fish. He sailed between Nuku Hiva and Ua Pau, as well as trips to the largest waterfall on Nuku Hiva, which can only be reached from the waterway.
However we could sail to the waterfall ourselves. In the neighboring bay of Taiohae, Daniels Bay, we anchored all alone in the most beautiful bay with steep cliffs all the way down to the water. At the head of the bay we went ashore with the dinghy, and were received by a family. Very few people live in this palm tree paradise sandwiched between the steep cliffs. The first family you pay a modest amount to gain access to the waterfall. And then you get so much fruit that it is very difficult to consume it before it becomes overripe. For example, they laughed when Søren took a few lime fruits from a large bucketful. No No, we should have all the lime fruit in the bucket. One of the next house you meet on the path offers to make lunch for you when returning from the waterfall. You should say “yes, thank you”, because it is really delicious and cozy. Here you sit in the garden and get grilled tuna with different salads. Really cozy, and a family that wants to talk about where we come from, the journey here and what it is for a place they live. Currently, they were transporting a large quantity of sacks of Cobra (dried coconut) and fruit down to their dinghies, which were to be transported over to the supply ship that would arrive at Taioha’e a few days later.
However, the lunch and fruit are only after a fantastic nature experience, the trip up to the waterfall along smaller and smaller paths up through the forest, and not least up by the waterfall, a green and very peaceful place closed completely behind the high and steep cliffs. We were there outside the rainy season so there was very little water in the waterfall but the place was just absolutely enchanting due to the tranquility and the very beautiful scenery.
Tiki’s and “bone holes”
In the Marquesas Islands you can really feel how strong a culture here has been, but also still is, although much was changed with the French missionaries many years ago, who with the introduction of Catholicism on the islands suppressed much of the original culture. Fortunately, there were some missionaries who understood that it was better to have respect for the existing culture rather than to suppress it. They started writing down symbols on (we will get to that in more detail in a later blog post), songs, traditions, etc., even though they were not popular in the church back in Europe.
We have enjoyed seeing when the church has been surrounded by Tiki’s. A Tiki is a sculpture that symbolizes a half god, half human being who creates humans. In the past, the Polynesians worshiped, and feared, the Tiki.
Several places in nature you can see the original ceremony sites. Typically, you will find here a large Banyan tree (fig tree), stone settings from buildings, squares, etc., but also large holes, so-called “bone holes”, where people were kept, typically prisoners from other tribes, and a missionary now and then, until they would be put in the big pot. Horrifying stories that they got their eyes stuck before being thrown into the hole, gives you the chills when looking down into such a hole.
The more brutal part of Marquesas’ history is in big contrast to how the people of the Marquesas Islands meet us today. The world’s happiest, helpful and sweet tourist manager we are sure to find on Nuku Hiva. Her name is Colette, and you always get in a good mood when you enter the tourist information. On the vanilla farm at Tapivai, we experienced a huge hospitality twice (we just had to have Freja and Nanna over there when they visited us out here). Here you can see how vanilla is grown, and get a great understanding of the price of vanilla. Every single vanilla bean must be pollinated by hand, as the specific kind of bees that otherwise did this is extinct. So they work many hours a day on the vanilla farm owned by a former nurse and her husband. And even after a long working day, we are offered fruit, something to drink, shown around, and help to feed the pigs that happily grunt around on their natural grounds, where you only to in car if it has four-wheel drive. All of this for free, so we bought a lot of vanilla as a thank you.
The islands are of course reminiscent of each other, but you notice some small differences when you spend some time on the islands. There is a difference in how they pronounce Kaoha.
At Ua Pou, we experienced to a greater extent that sport was a part of their everyday lives than on other islands. On all islands they play a lot of volleyball and petanque, but on Ua Pou we met jogging groups, surfers, saw a basketball tournament and a lot of football was also played. There were also more sport equipment shops at Ua Pou.
There is also a difference in the material used for the Tikis on the islands. Ua Pou, for example, has more new Tikis of stone than the other islands, where they are typically carved in wood.
“I prefer washing clothes for others… ”
We spent some time on Nuku Hiva with Daniel. We got to know him because he does laundry. And then he also makes tattoos. But Daniel has a completely different education, telecommunications from Paris. He could easily work with what he is educated with if he lived somewhere else, which he has also done. But in Europe we do not see each other. We just walk past each other on the street. No one greets, smiles, or looks up from their Smartphone. Everyone is busy. And after a while, that was enough for Daniel. “Then I would rather do laundry for others here on Nuku Hiva, than live in a bubble and not be present in the moment and among the people I surround myself with“, is the realization. And he’s definitely on to something. We have laughed at the thought, that when we come home we become the crazy people who smile and greet everyone we meet on the streets of Copenhagen.
Daniel has now also started a cafe at his laundry and tattoo shop, along with his mother. Stop by and listen to some local music, have a nice chat, have your laundry done, talk to his mother who is a shaman, and maybe get a tattoo. And then it’s right next to the new chandlery, so there are plenty of reasons to stop by.
Supplies to and from the islands come mainly with supply ships sailing on a regular route between the islands and Tahiti. People are used to having to wait for the next ship if something is missing. And the rest of us get used to it too, even though it does not come so naturally to us at all. But we learn that we can easily get by with what we have on board, and appreciate what we can get when there has been a supply ship. At Ua Pou we had again been invited into the garden of a couple to get mangoes. The man said that it was really only temporary that they should have lived there, but then they had become very happy about it and had stayed. The hardest part was probably here outside the rainy season, where it does not rain that much. The Marquesas Islands get almost exclusively their fresh water from rain. It is important to collect when it rains, but since it had not rained that much for a period, rationing on fresh water had been introduced at Ua Pao, so the water supply was only open for an hour and a half a day. Even when we sail longer distances, we have less strict rationing on the water.
Ukulele with Chez Jimmys house band
One of our favorite islands on the Marquesas is Tahuata. We sailed there to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Like the other islands, it is incredibly beautiful, and in a way it also feels more “untouched” than the larger islands. There was no harbor for the residents’ small fishing boats, so they moor at the buoys in the bay. It was very normal that before they moor at a buoy they came by and asked if we could sail them to the shore. We always accepted, and then we sailed to their boat, and when it was moored, they jumped into the dinghy and we sailed them to the shore. They are usually not small people, the fishermen of the Marquesas Islands, so there was good pressure on the dinghy once in a while.
If we needed access to the internet, it was most often at the café “Chez Jimmy”, a nice authentic café where sand forms the floor. Jimmy plays the Ukulele, often with many of his friends. So there is often live music in the café. Laura also plays Ukulele, and tried one of the 5 Jimmy had lying around. When Jimmy realized she could play a Ukulele, he played a little with her and she was asked to join the next day where we had Christmas lunch. Luckily, Laura was brave and said yes, and those she played with were good at helping her through the unknown Polynesian songs. She got a fantastic experience, and subsequently had buy herself a nice Polynesian ukulele, made by one of those she played with.
Our very own Tiki
Now that we talk about untouched islands (as much as there exists), then one Marquesan island are more untouched than the rest. Fatu Hiva. It is the southernmost island of the Marquesas Islands and it does not have its own airstrip, which means a lot for how the islands develop. Here you settle for a supply ship approx. every other week., and a ferry to Hiva Oa a few times a week. At the same time, the nature on Fatu Hiva is exceptionally beautiful. You can tell that money is not so important on Fatu Hiva – what should you buy with them anyway, as long as you have a few everyday items available. Therefore, exchanging goods is more common. At Fatu Hiva, a fishing hook and ropes are worth more than money. So here we exchanged lures and hooks for fruit etc.
However, we were more than abundantly loaded with fruit from Hiva Oa, so we did not exchange much. But we got something completely different. Fatu Hiva has some very talented artists who carve tikis out of wood, and we would not leave the Marquesas Islands without a hand-carved Tiki. So we went to Simon and Sisi, and ordered 2 big tiki’s, one for Laura and one for June and Søren. We also had some of the Marquesan symbols for travel engraved into the Tiki. They had some impressive projects going on, and some nice bowls – and a ukulele. So it turned out to be a little more than the tikis. A beautiful bowl with the Marquesas cross and a Ukulele for June – she had been jealous of Lauras for a while. And of cause they gave us fruit as a farewell gift
Fatu Hiva is, as mentioned, the island where Tor Heyerdahl lived for a period, and devised the theory behind his Kontiki expedition. Fatu Hiva also became our goodbye to the Marquesas Islands and we sailed off with the sunset towards the Tuamotus Atolls. The first atoll we sailed to was where the Kontiki expedition landed on a reef, Raroia. But before we get there, the next post will be about tattoos.