Thursday, June 29, 2006

June 25, Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

From Tahuata I sailed to the next island to the northwest, Ua Pou, and anchored in Hakahau Bay in front of the main settlement on the island, a town of about 1000. The setting borders on the fantastic. Above the palm trees that line the shore, above the steep forested hills, are several bare rock obelisks rising hundreds of feet above the surrounding slopes. These formations are volcanic plugs, very hard basalt that plugged the volcano hole. Over eons, the mountain eroded away from around these plugs leaving them to project over the landscape in majestic silence, often catching a passing tradewind cloud and for several minutes wearing it like a cloak before releasing it to catch another.
As I rested at anchor for a couple days I contemplated my course to Tahiti. The safe course, especially for a single-hander would be to sail around the Tuamoto island group, not risking the narrow entrances through the reefs in this low lying island group made up of many atolls. This was sad to contemplate, since the group offers scenery and experiences in great contrast to the rugged, lush islands of the Marquesas.
Just as I was resigning myself to missing the Tuamotos, a couple that had crewed on another boat asked to crew with me. things weren't working out for them or their skipper on the boat they came in on from the Galapagos and they needed a change. After interviewing them closely I took them on, which will enable me to pass through the Tuamotos, stopping at a few of the atolls.
Friday the 23rd was the last day of school for the village children and the start of celebrations leading up to Bastille Day on July 14. That night we attended a music and dance exhibition at the community hall that also was a banquet for folks from all over the island. We stood outside taking it all in: the relaxed excitement, the foolery, the foods, the flower garlands worn by the women. Babies were tended on mattresses in the back of pickup trucks parked nearby. A barbecue was set up on the beach for those of us who were not seated inside. Our meal was a bed of French fries with some meat and a sauce on top. Very greasy and one eats with one's fingers. Fortunately, an outdoor faucet was available for washing up.
After provisioning by the crew and some boat work by me we set sail on the 24th the short distance to the island of Nuku Hiva, directly north, and the main town of Taiohae. This town is the largest of the island group with a population of about 2000. Many cruising boats lie at anchor here, including a three masted, very new but salty-looking vessel that must be at least 300 feet purportedly belonging to the founder of Netscape. By day the white hull blazes in the sun and the stainless flashes in blinding brilliance. By night the masts are floodlit at both sets of spreaders with FAA approved red anchor lights at the heads.
We no sooner anchored before being called on the radio with an invitation to a birthday party at a local hotel. About 30 cruisers were shuttled around the bay to a tropically elegant dining room with patio and pool overlooking the bay. The food was a buffet of local dishes prepared and presented meticulously by a chef who appeared to be a mix of French and Polynesian. To mention just a few of the dishes: a white fish, perhaps wahoo, lightly smoked with a very fine red roe topping, sushi tuna sliced very thin with wasabe and soy on a bed of cabbage, typical salad greens (a luxury here), shrimp in a salad, piglet smoked lightly and cooked so even pieces of fat were tender, not greasy, and tasty beyond words, rice steamed in coconut milk, goat in a coconut sauce, manioc which provided a special sweetness that integrated nicely with the other tastes, taro presented in several ways, and very thinly sliced breadfruit fried like potato or banana chips. There were others and of course desserts but I can't go on without getting hungry all over again.
Before and during dinner we were entertained by three men playing two guitars and the Marquesian version of a ukulele which has eight strings and a solid piece of wood as a body. they all sang in sonorous, sweet harmony. After dinner eight or ten women danced several dances. In the first, each dancer held a candle in a dish in each hand, somewhat like candle dancing I saw in Indonesia. Other dances included the very fast hip swiveling that characterizes Marquesian dance movement from that of other Polynesian traditions. One young girl, maybe fifteen, in Ua Pou moved her hips side to side four times a second. Don't try this at home.The most exquisite dancer in this group was clearly the dance instructor and leader of the others. Her grace and tranquility gave her movements an ethereal quality in which her expressive hand and arm gestures could be understood as a story or as an expression of the traditional ideals of this island culture. As she danced her eyes seemed to see beyond this space, beyond this time: not quite trancelike but in that vein. The other dancers smiled and went through the motions but were hardly dancers.
It will be difficult to leave the Marquesas. Each island has had its particular fascination and joy. The people are more than generous and friendly, making us a bit ashamed of our reticence, born of a culture of reserve, strong individualism, and with an overlay of puritanical strictures.


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