Part 5: April 7 – 13, 2007 – Voyage on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesas – Week 1
Day 1: April 7 – Depart Papeete
We had to wake up very early in the morning from Bora Bora (4:30 AM) in order to get to Papeete in time for the start of our trip to the Marquesas. Because we were to board the ship between 7:30 and 10 AM we scheduled ourselves to leave on the first 50 minute flight from Bora Bora at 7 AM. Since the airport in Bora Bora is on an island this meant the shuttle boat was to leave at 5:45 in the morning from the main town. Although the 20 minute shuttle didn’t really leave until 6 AM we had plenty of time to check in for our flight and purchase a few postcards at the airport gift shop.
We were met upon our arrival in Papeete by a friend who was kind enough to drive us to the bank and then to the Aranui 3 port. The Aranui 3 is a half cargo and half cruise ship that makes a number of 15 day voyages annually to deliver goods and bring passengers to the Marquesas Islands. The original Aranui that serviced the Marquesas Islands is almost 40 years old and has since been renamed. It doesn’t however handle long trips as it now only services areas around Papeete. The Aranui 2 was sold to a company in Africa where it is still in use today.
The Aranui 3 follows it predecessors in servicing the Marquesas Islands with the goods they need. The front half of the Aranui 3 can hold up to 4000 tons of cargo and is complete with two large cranes that can together load and unload up to 70 tons at a time. The main purpose of the ship is to transport cargo to the Marquesas Islands. Although it does tranport copra, noni and other goods back to Tahiti, for the most part, the ship simply carries 3000 tons of sea water back which simply helps balance the ship for the return voyage.
When we arrived at the cruise terminal it was amazing to see the cargo ship in action as it prepared itself for its voyage to the Marquesas Islands. Cargo was busily being loaded and prepared for the voyage with the use of the two large cranes on the front deck. Passengers loaded their bags onto a conveyor belt in the rear of the ship that wisked belongings up to an attendant on the main deck of the ship who then transported them to the rooms. On the cruise section of the vessel it can accommodate up to 180 passengers although on our particular voyage there is only about 110 cruise passengers due to us travelling in low season. Both the front half of the ship and the back half of the ship were both working simultaneously to prepare for the launch of the trip. Everyone seemed to be working smoothly to achieve their respective tasks essential for the voyage.
After checking on the boat we had a bit of time before a 10 AM welcome cocktail in the bar on one of the top decks of the ship. Our children were happy to sit down with some fresh Tahitian made Mango, Banana, Pineapple or Grapefruit Juice while other passengers enjoyed a Rum Punch. It was also at this time that we really started to enjoy the air conditioned boat. For so many weeks we have not been around air conditioning in the 28 to 34 degree celcius weather. It was the first time we were able to sit down and enjoy a nice cool place that was not in a vehicle or the reception room of a business office.
Our children were also anxious to walk around the ship and explore every room. The Aranui 3 is a freighter with cruise passengers and so it is not as large as other cruise vessels. It did not take long to explor the ship and see the facilities it offered.
Since our family has 5 children and 2 adults we had to take up three cabins on the ship. Most cabins only accommodate 2 people with a few that accomodate 3. The standard rooms consist of two single beds while the rooms that fit an additional person have a bunk that pulls down. As a result we were fortunate enough to get three cabins beside each other on the lower passenger deck.
Our cabins were located on the lower B deck of the ship. The only thing on this level apart from cabins is the exercise room and laundry room. It is also the deck that is just slightly above the waterline and so one can hear the splashing of water up against the side of the ship constantly. As the ship pulled out of Papeete it was impossible for our young 4 year old to take a much needed nap because he was too excited to see the water splashing up against the porthole window and to see the waves outside. For hours it looked like we were sitting inside of a washing machine looking out at the water from outside splashing up against the window. The children were absolutely mesmorized by the rolling waves that splashed up against the side of the ship and our window.
On the next A deck above are located more standard cabins along with the children’s video room / play room. Because of the configuration of the cabins on the ship, everyone is fortunate enough to get an ocean view room. The bottom two levels are portholes while the limited number of suites have larger windows or balconies.
The next deck of the ship houses the reception area, infirmary (doctor’s office) and Marquesian Library. The library at the front desk has a collection of books specific to the Marquesas Islands and people’s experiences to this part of the world. Books on Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville and others are standard.
Finally the next two decks are for the Restaurant and then the Lounge, Library and Swimming Pool. The swimming pool is a popular place for our children as they like to splash around in the fresh water. Within only a few hours of us lifting anchor the kids were determined to make the swimming pool their first stop. The swimming pool is very cleverly designed. It has tall sides to contain the splashing water as the ship rolls from side to side, forward and backwards. To one end of the pool there is an area within the pool that when the ship is still, is not more than a few puddles of water. But when the ship is moving around, this area transforms the entire pool into a wave pool as. The water sloshes out of the pool into this wading area and then tumbles back like a waterfall into the swimming pool as the water slides back. It is a constant motion while the ship is cruising along and extremely exciting for the children.
Our first day was fairly simple with a lunch that seemed more like a full on dinner, an orientation session and then another big meal for dinner. By the evening we were extremely exhaused and our children were begging to get some sleep. With the rolling action of the ship our 6 year old Orin fell asleep at the dinner table and our 8 year old Dailin decided that he would skip Dinner and head straight to bed. He wasn’t feeling too good. The rest of the kids along with Mom and Dad were quick to follow them for an early night sleep.
Day 2: April 8 – Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands
We arrived around 6:30 in the morning on the Aranui 3 to the atoll of Fakarava. We entered the Tuamotu Island’s second largest atoll through the largest 1 mile wide pass in the South Pacific. To our left we could see a thin continuous strip of land that went on for over 40 kilometers while on the other side we could see occassional patches of rock and a sparse unconnected ring of vegetation that completed the circular shape of the atoll.
Just prior to entering this Tuamotu island the seas began to be somewhat calmer and not as rough as we had experienced while in the open seas. The motion of the boat swayed less as I lay in bed waiting for our first stop in the Tuamotu Islands.
Being that it was Sunday, and particularly that it was Easter Sunday, we had decided that we would attend church services during our slightly less than 3 hour stop in Fakarava. The children all got dressed as we anticipated the events of the day. It didn’t take them long to eat their fresh fruit breakfast as they anxiously awaited our departure.
The Aranui had anchored about 800 feet from shore and so we were going to need to take a boat to get to land. One of the two large cranes that sit attop the cargo deck of the Aranui hoisted our bulky metal barge over the edge and gently dropped the massive vessel into the water adjacent to the ship. They placed this shuttle boat next to the metal steps that descended down along the side of the vessel around water level.
The sky was overcast with clouds and at times it looked like it may rain. But it didn’t rain and we were glad for that because the boat was open and did not have any shelter above it.
When it was time for us to disembark and before I know what was happening the crew members took our four and six year old children in their arms and descended down the steep curved steps that lead to the mini barge below. We followed quickly behind them. By the time he was halfway down the stair and my four year old saw that he was not in his mom or dad’s arms he started to cry with the fear of his life in his eyes. Under no circumstances did he want this gentle looking Polynesian man bringing him down to the boat alone. He was sure to make quite a fuss even after we all sat down on the boat together treating us as his parents as if we had deserted him.
The flat deck boat skimmed accross the water to a boat launch that was on shore. Two workers lowered the front end of the vessel with comealongs so that it created a ramp each of the 80 passengers could use to walk off the boat and onto the shore without even getting their feet wet. I felt spoiled coming on shore in such a rig and to be greeting by a half dozen trucks that seemed to be there to greet the biggest invasion of tourists they had seen in two weeks. As we disembarked we could hear the Tahitian drums nearby beating out their welcoming music.
We were however on our way to church and had been told that church services on the island started at 8 AM. One of the Aranui workers pointed out the small Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel only a one minute walk from where we landed and so we quickly walked on since it was now a few minutes past eight. Fortunately it was still overcast and early in the morning. This meant that the sun did not beat down hard on us nor was the heat of the day unbearable on this flat island.
The island of Fakarava only has about 700 inhabitants that are spread out along the rim of the atoll. The little meeting house we found only a few houses down the main street was a picture perfect chapel that looked like an old schoolhouse. Upon entering the front gate we were greeted by the 4 or 5 people that were present. The podium was decorated with a band of fresh flowers with a tropical plant in the front. I was a bit surprised to see so few people wandering around and asked at what time the services started. I was informed that they started between 8:00 and 8:30. What I have come to understand as “Tahitian Time”.
Our five young children in their khaki pants, dress sandals and white shirts sat quietly in the portable plastic white deck chairs as we waited for the church service to start. In the next 20 minutes we didn’t see many more people but by 8:30 in the morning there were about 22 others gathered together in this now overflowing chapel. I had been told that other in the congregation were gone for the holidays to Papeete and so it was anyone’s guess how many people would be present.
The church service was a simple one with familiar hymns. Although the opening hymn was sung in both Tahitian and French, the rest of the songs were sung entirely in French. The final of the three sermons just glossed over me. Ninety percent of the sermon was in the Tahitian language with the occassional few sentences in French. My son next to me kept asking me to translate what I could, only to be dissappointed that even I did not understand what was being said. I myself was getting a fresh taste for what each of my children were going through as they struggled to get a grip on and a basic knowledge of the language. I felt a bit of a feeling of helplessness as I struggled to understand what was being said to everyone around me. The words we were all hearing were the same but each one of us undersood something different if anything at all.
Following the service we were bid farewell to the smiling faces with a handshake or kiss on each cheek as we left this small little meeting house. Many people thanked us for coming by and we left as quietly and quickly as we had come.
I continued to walk down the street about 5 minutes to where we had been told another Catholic church was. As I approached the church I could hear the energetic closing hymn of their service being belted out in a perfect almost gospel like harmony. Within a few minutes the song was wrapping up and people came pouring out of the building in their white clothes and with the ladies wearing their various styles of hats.
Bicycles lined the stone wall along the street side of the church and cars were parked all around on the side of the road. As people started to go their separate ways, some drove away in the backs of pickup trucks, some rode away on bicycles and many walked away on foot. Easter was obviously a very busy day of worship for this island church that was also across the street from the ocean.
I walked with my oldest son who was by now the only one of my children still with me. The rest of them had all headed back to where we had arrived on the island to listen to and watch the Tahitian songs and dance that were heard in the distance. By this time the sun had come out and was beating full force down on us and so as we walked we attempted to stay in the shade of the occassional trees as much as possible.
My son and I had decided that we wanted to see how wide this little atoll island really was so we found a small dirt road that lead inland. It only took us 3 to 4 minutes to discover the outside edge of the reef as we came over a small crest of a hill in the road where we peered out into the open ocean with its waves crashing onto the shores of the reef that was only 20 feet from shore. The choppy waves that rolled on shore on this side of the island were a sharp contrast to the peaceful waters that lay calm within the lagoon of the circular atoll.
While the inner waterline of the atoll mostly was home to rocky ledges and beaches, this outer edge of the atoll was mostly made up of large pieces of coral, rock and the occassional shell. My son waded out into the water and I had to quickly call him in before he reached the knee deep water that quickly led to the coral reef only a short distance out. He wasn’t too impressed but I have had bad experiences with friends being dragged along sharp coral after being hit by waves, not to mention we were warned against going into the waters on this side of the island during our orientation meeting the evening before.
As we walked back to where we would catch the boat back to our ship we noticed a dirt road that went along the back side of the island and a shorter inland road that paralelled both this road and the paved one that we had come in on. We opted to walk the centre road that lead back to where we had come from which was lined with small humble homes that were very basic but many of which were tastefully decorated with natural polynesian flowers and shrubs.
It was not hard to find our way back, not because there were not many roads, but also because of the Tahitian drums that we could hear again beating in the distance. As we approached the quay area we saw a number of young 8 to 14 year old Tahitian dancers that were all dressed up and had just wrapped up their performance. The local band however were still going strong, not on their drums but rather all strumming on their guitars and other string instruments as they sang. It was truely an enchanting rhythmic music of perfect harmony.
It finally came time for us to leave. As we put our life vests on we sat down for fifteen minutes waiting for our boat. As we did this a game of petanque (boules) was just getting underway behind us on the roughest surface of driveway-like gravel I had ever seen. Three local Tahitian men with their metal balls in one hand and cigarettes in the other were throwing the balls into the air to see who could get it closest to the cochon (big marble sized ball) about 30 feet away. They seemed to lance their balls with the greatest of ease and were enjoying their Sunday in the hot sun. It was entertaining to watch them interact with each other as they played on the most unpredictable of gravel surfaces with an amusing look on their faces. I’m sure a professional French player would have been appaled by the conditions of the natural court they were playing in but they didn’t seem to mind one bit.
As our deadline passed to leave we boarded our boat that would shuttle us back to the cruise / cargo ship. Once again the boat workers carried the little children up the stairs as we walked into the blast of cool air conditioned air that came from the front entrance of the vessel. We were all glad to get out of the hot sun of the day that had greeted us in Fakarava but sad to see this island for such a short amount of time.
As we lifted anchor and set off to exit the atoll island of the day, clouds gathered around the ship and we left in pouring rain without having even got wet during our stay. It was the perfect day and the perfect time to get off and walk around the main town of Fakarava, we only wished we could have stayed a little bit longer.
Day 3: April 9 – At Sea
Today was a day of relaxation and preparation. I had a great deal of time to type experiences from my small cabin with the waves crashing outside my window. The purr of the engine, splashing of the waves outside my porthole along with the rocking motion of the boat almost put me to sleep a number of times but I did manage to stay awake.
I did complete a token amount of exercise in the morning but not nearly enough to compensate for the three large meals I ate during the day. The food on the Aranui is absolutely incredible. Although there is a set menu, the staff have been extremely accommodating to alergy requests that we made prior to the trip for our youngest boy. They also have been great at preparing special meals that don’t contain certain foods we requested not to have for the rest of our family.
My only complaint with the food is that there is way too much. Breakfast is buffet style with fruit, pancakes, breads and cereal. The lunch and dinner always consist of a salad or other appetizer followed by a main course and then a much too tempting desert. My hope is that I don’t have to roll myself off of the ship when it is time to leave.
On our boat there are a total of 9 children, just over half of which are our children. According to one crew member we are the largest family they have see aboard the vessel. Two other French families (including the onboard Doctor) have two young 3 and 8 year old girls. The children seem to really be enjoying the onboard activities organized by the designated kids activity director. An early lunch (11 AM) and dinner (6:30 PM) has also been organized for the children so that they don’t have to wait until 7:30 PM to eat like the rest of the adults.
Being that it was Easter Monday, the children were able to color Easter eggs and to judge the adults Easter egg coloring contest. They also were kept busy playing games, swimming in the pool and watching an after dinner video. There seems to be plenty to keep the children busy and they are always excited to have something different to do.
Our first big orientation session was also held today to review the entire Marquesas portion of our itinerary. We were also advised to ignore the other itineraries that are frequently distributed as the exact itineraries change based on what cargo is being shipped along with the tide schedules. In Hiva Oa we have a long stop as we have to enter and exit the pass at high tide. During low tide the ship is only about 80 centimetres from the floor of the ocean where it anchors as it waits for a safe time to leave.
All excursions are included with the Cruise passage of the Aranui. With the exception of some optional scuba diving trips, museum admissions and horseback riding, the guided hikes, on land traditional meals and 4×4 excursions are all included. We are anxious to be heading for shore tomorrow early in the morning to catch our first glimpse of the Marquesas Islands.
Day 4: April 10 – Ua Pou: Hakahau and Hakahetau
Apart from two hours and 45 minutes on Fakarava we have finally completed three days at sea. Most of our family didn’t get sea-sick but for those who were feeling a bit shakey, we were pretty much over it after our first night’s sleep. The first day’s trip was the roughest seas so far and so that helped us all get our sea legs.
By 5:30 in the morning, we were pulling into the Ua Pou Harbour of Hakahau. It was a beautiful sight as we pulled into this fairly desolate island. The hills were covered in a low lying greenery. The mountain peaks were rounded on the sides of the harbour but directly in front of us in the centre, there were a dozen rock spires on the mountains in front of us. Many of these spires were covered in clouds as the clouds hung low and continually drifted past the tops of the mountain. It was an eerie but beautiful site.
In the protected harbour there were two sailboats anchored in the early morning as we pulled in to the cement dock to the side of the harbour to unload the precious cargo that the local residents were anxiously waiting for. The Aranui 3 dispatched two of their whaleboats to take ropes which helped secure the Aranui to the dock. Within a very short period of time the boat was ready to deliver its goods to the hundreds of residents who were anxiously waiting for items they had ordered.
Throughout the morning we saw at least 10 vehicles (mostly jeeps and 4×4’s) and dozens of containers hoisted off of the cargo ship with its massive cranes and depositing them on the shore. Over the course of a few hours pickup trucks, tractors and dump trucks came by to move the goods that were being left on the quay. One of the residents also notified us that the island’s supply of gasoline was quite low and so they were all waiting for the fuel that the Aranui always brought to their island.
We were free all morning to wander around the little village with its post office and bank to explore life on this little island. We decided that our family would rather do something a little different and so we asked the ladies selling handicrafts if there was anyone that could do a tour for us. We were told that there was only one person on the island of Ua Pou registered to take paying passengers and that was Isadore. I asked her how to get hold of him and then she pointed him out to me as he was just driving by in his king cab pickup truck (with long bench seats in the back).
I rushed over to speak to Isadore the island Taxi driver and asked him how much it would be to do a tour of the island to the beaches by Hohoi to search out some flowering stones. After agreeing upon a price, he said he would come back after going to the Aranui to pick something up. Well we waited half an hour and did not see him and got a little worried. Perhaps he had forgotten about me, my wife and our five children. We grew a bit tired of waiting around the handicraft centre and eventually told a person that knew Isadore that he would be able to find us walking the 5 minutes into town. After visiting the bank, we tried hitchhiking to Hohoi but were told that not many vehicles went that way and it was probably not a good idea (this was definately true). So we wandered around the village before heading back to the area we were to meet him at near the port but saw no sign of him. We thought that perhaps he had met another higher fare paying passenger and decided to take them instead and so I went looking for a nearby Guesthouse to see if they knew of anyone that could take us around the island.
Just as I reach the Pension Pukuee high up on the hill above the harbour, up drove Isadore with his white Nissan truck and my family inside ready to go on our journey. When I told him we had given up on him I soon discovered the reason for his tardiness. He had gone to the Aranui that day to pick up a brand new vehicle. He had sat watching as one car after another was pulled out from the cargo area of the vessel before his finally was pulled out. He had wanted to take my family on a drive around the island in his brand new vehicle as it was all enclosed and would enable us to avoid breathing in the dust from the dirt roads of the island. Isadore drove us to his home where his new car was being carefully washed by his wife in preparation for his first drive in the vehicle. It proved to be very handy indeed as it was comfortable with three rows of seats and air conditioning. He also informed us that it was only the second automatic transmission vehicle on the island of Ua Pou, something that was very evident by the way he lurched to a screeching halt as he was getting used to driving the new vehicle. After about an hour-long drive he seemed to be starting to get the hang of it. It also took him a few minutes to figure out thow to go in reverse with the automatic transmission vehicle, but he managed to get the hang of it.
The drive to Hohoi took about an hour from Hakahau. The dirt road was extremely rough with large loose rocks all over the road. It is a road that is best driven by someone who knows the area very well. Driving down the road I kept thinking that we were going to pop a tire. As we passed through some of the valleys we drove through stream beds that intercepted the road, we saw Isadore’s brother-in-law’s new mango plantation as well as banana stalks that lined the road. The road led us up through two mountain passes where we had panoramic views of the bays and spike topped mountains. It was an amazing view on this East side of the island. Ua Poe itself is very dry and dusty. Even the brown sandy beach by where we landed in Hakahau is more of a dirty sand that is powdery and sticks to you. Here on the east side of the island it seemed to be covered in a bit more vegetation and greenery, but definately not lush tropical jungles.
The valley where Hohoi is located only has about 80 inhabitants (100 when the school children come home from Hakahau for the weekend). The valley we were going to see is to be the host city for the upcoming 2007 Marquesas Festival. I am not sure where the estimated 3000 guests will stay while here but we were assured plans are currently being made. Due to the festival, money has also come available to restore the nearby archaeological site of a tohua (open air gathering place). We walked around the site where an archaeologist is assisting in the restoration efforts. They began work by clearing the ground of trees in November 2006 and hope to have a good portion completed prior to the December 2007 festival. Many local villagers were here assisting in clearing the land and pouring concrete stones that were to replace broken or missing ones that have been dammage due to years of neglect and carelessness. The archaeologist told us of how over the years this location has been used by locals to gather but they have not been careful. Fires had been built around the sites which have cracked large rocks which formed many of the stone platforms at this site.
After a bit of a lesson on the use of these historical buildings we continued on our drive through Hohoi and to the nearby beach. We were told it is now almost impossible to find the ever popular flower stones that used to cover the beaches here, but our children wanted to have a try at finding some ourselves. The flower stones are unique to this area and are created when phonolite crystalizes in amber coloured flower shapes within the rocks. Our guide informed us that this smooth looking almost river rock stone does not originate from the beach but rather from the mountains. The rock breaks from the mountain and rolls through streams to the ocean when it rains. It was while we were beachcombing at this beach that I also discovered the secret to how these stones also get their round polished look.
As we walked up the beach, waves would come crashing on shore. The waves came into this bay directly from off shore where there is no reef to protect the harbour. As the waves would swell up to crash on shore, it would also roll these rocks onto the rocky beach. What was amazing however was that as the water retreated back into the ocean, it would drag the stones back with it creating an almost avalanche like sound of loose pebbles. These rocks would roll up and down the shoreline to create a tumbled rock look that was as good as any professionally tumbled rock I have ever seen. We collected a number of green, purple and other coloured rocks but unfortunately did not find any flower stones. After only about 30 minutes in search of the elusive flower stones we had to head back to Hakahau for our lunch. The children seemed to have slightly heavier waist pouches on the way back that were filled with the treasures they had found at this rocky beach.
We drove back with Isadore as he explained to us his many jobs and talents as a musician, farmer, business man and taxi driver. He was supposed to perform at the afternoon Marquesian dance presentation for all those who had been on the Aranui 3, but we arrived at the Pae Pae Tenei (traditional meeting platform) just as the dancers were wrapping up and the rest of our fellow passengers were taking a few pictures for lunch. As we pulled up to where the performance was held Isadore seemed to have a bit of a pale look on his face. His brand new vehicle was making a slight hissssssing sound from the back end. After a bit of further discovery we discovered that the hissing sound was coming from the rear passenger tire. It looked like a rock had rubbed up against the side of the tire and it was quickly going flat as we watched the car sink closer to the ground. Isadore motioned for us to go on to lunch while he repaired his vehicle promising us that he would have one of his music CD’s and a few flower stones ready for us when we returned back to Ua Poe before our return back to Papeete.
There are not many places to eat on Ua Poe but the Aranui 3 organized a local lunch for us that was very impressive. Chez Rosalie’s restaurant is apparently only open when the Aranui is in port and so we were treated to a feast of shrimp potatoe salad, octopus, cooked bananas, rice and bright yellow watermelon. It was a much needed feast after walking around in the hot 32 degree celcius afternoon sun.
By the time lunch was over, we had little more time than to head back to the Aranui for our departure to the other side of the North end of the island of Ua Pou. The boat left the busy port of Hakahau with its 1500 residents for the town of Hakahetau with its 200 inhabitants. In this harbour there was no place to moore the large ship and so our family along with the other passengers boarded the ship’s whaling boats. These smaller boats hold about 30 people and can handle rougher waters. As we pulled up to the cement dock that jutted slightly out into the harbour we had a fun time dismounting with the ongoing waves that would lift and drop the boat in a very precarious way. Although it was the most rough dismount I have experienced, there were about five Aranui staff members to pull us out of the boat and help not only our children but us adults up to the top of the cement wharf.
As we arrived we walked up the little village road where we saw dogs, chickens and even a large pig tied to a tree in a resident’s yard. School was just getting out and so we also saw mothers picking up their children while other little 6 to 8 year old children just walked home. We followed a few of the children as they were going in the same direction as we were going. A 10 minute hike took us up the hill to a beautiful flat stone viewpoint that let us look over the pristine bay with its tall green mountains and hills on all sides. This side of the island was much more lush and green than the previous dry village we had seen. The flat stone lookout was covered in coconuts that were being dried in the sun for about two weeks in order to produce the highly sought after copra.
As we headed back to ship after only 2 hours on shore, we could see the local residents gathering the last of the goods that they had transported on our cargo ship. The cargo being transported to this side of the island was much smaller as the goods had to be transported by smaller boats and all items had to be moved by hand (rather than using the tall ship’s cranes). The last load of the day that I saw driving away was a pickup truck full of the highly prized toilet paper. I would estimate that at least 400 cases of toilet paper were in the back of the pickup truck, something I reminded them was obviously very important.
Shortly after arriving back on the boat, we attended our usual evening briefing for tomorrow so that we could prepare everything we needed. As usual the following 3 course meal was a marvelous feast that I am sure takes no notice of anyone’s waistline. The children were once again fed an hour earlier than the adults and it did not take any coaxing to get their sleepy heads to bed for the evening.
Day 5: April 11 – Nuku Hiva: Taiohae and Taipivai
Our first of three trips to Nuku Hiva Nuku Hiva was a busy one that took us on an excursion that lasted the entire day and had us visit two different sides of the island. We started the day in in the main centre of Taiohae followed by our departure from the small town of Taipivai.
A school bus shuttled us the two kilometres from the freighter terminal where we were docked in Taiohae bay to the downtown area where people were once again set up to sell their handicrafts. Residents from all around the island were gathered in a community building to showcase hundreds of original handicrafted items. Everything from carved wooden tikis to intricate polished stone pieces were on display. I opted to spend my free hour walking down the beautifully kept waterfront collecting video and still photo memories of this mountainous harbour. The mountains once again were covered in greenery with the mountains rising to 864 metres. At the entrance to the harbour were two large stone sentinals that seemed to almost guard the peaceful harbour that was filled about a dozen sailboats, three cargo vessels and a millionnair’s yaught (complete with a helicopter and helicopter pad).
I even had a few minutes to stop by a small computer store where I was able to get onto a computer to upload my latest blog. I have to say that the internet connection was the good old fashioned dial up service. It was slow but nonetheless I was able to do all the updating I needed to do in 15 minutes for the minimum 250 CPF ($3 CAD) charge. It is great to find a computer store to gain internet access as it allowed me to plug in my memory stick to the computer and paste in my blog without spending a few hours on the computer. The most common locations for internet connections in the Marquesas Islands are at post offices but unfortunately their standard computers don’t allow for any plug in devices.
At 9:30 AM my family left with the rest of the group from our cruise ship for a day long excursion. We all walked over to a parking lot that had about 25 four wheel drive vehicles, a 20 passenger minibus and about 4 local horses. Although we left the horses behind, they were a common sight throughout the day. We saw horses tied up almost everywhere on the island. In the town, by the churches and up on hilltops way up in the mountains. To this day many Marquesians still use horses as a means of transportation. It seemed like horses were about as common here as scooters were in Papeete.
Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas Islands. Although the two old castle like turretts of the original building with its gate-like entrance are still intact, a beautiful new building was made in the 1970’s. The new cathedral is also on this tohua site using stone from the Marquesas’ six inhabited islands. The cathedral contains stone and wood carvings that mix the Marquesian like culture with the Christian stories and traditions. Etched in stone are carvings of the Virgin Mary while wooden door posts contain life size carvings of apostles that have the appearance of the local Marquesian people. The recent clergy that helped create this newer cathedral enlisted the support of the local Marquesian christians and tried to encourage the use of skills and ideas that had for over 100 years been prohibited by the church. Inside the cathedral Aranui staff presented an hour long lecture to passengers on the Christian history within the Marquesas Islands. Presentations were made in English, French and German to accommodate for the needs of all passengers on the boat.
The largest part of the day was spent on the drive North and then East into the mountains and back down again to the neighbouring town of Taipivai. The drive up the steep mountain has in recent years been paved and so the trip was rather easy with no dust to contend with in the back of open jeeps and trucks. The road twisted and turned along the road that crawled up the mountain to the top ridge of Mount Muake. With one stop first at a viewpoint we continued on to a higher viewpoint that overlooked not only the harbour with all of its boats, but also the mountains towering up on three sides. The colours of the mountain ridges with their wave like vertical surfaces was indeed a breathtaking location to spend two hours for lunch and visiting others. There was a large shelter with picnic tables and flush toilets to make the stop much more managable for our group of about 120 people.
My son’s highlight was to watch one of our fellow passengers from France who is a professional artist, draw pictures from our surroundings. We looked through his book of designs that he started while in Tahiti and the Marquesas and it inspired my son who has been diligently sketching outlines of mountains and scenes of our trip. His pictures of the harbours we visited in the past few days along with old churches from the towns were beautifully illustrated as he sketches on site and adds the colours when he has time in the evening.
Our descent down the mountain took us to the sleepy little town of Taipivai that hugged a little harbour about 25 kilometers from Taiohae. Near this town we took a 20 minute hike up an unmarked road and trail to the Paeke Archaeological site. The trail led up a clear path through coconut and mango trees to a me’ae (Marquesian Sacred Site) where two stone platforms were visible with tall stone tiki’s up to 5 feet tall. The tiki’s were carved to represent specific ancestors of the people and form part of the wall supporting the rock ceremonial platforms. Although the tiki’s are starting to fade from the stone due to the wear of rain and sun, the two platforms remain intact.
At the end of our tiring day we were all anxious to return to our boat. It was a good thing that my youngest two children aged 4 and 6 stayed on the boat while it cruised to Taipivai without us as they would not have lasted in the hot sun of the day. My 8 year old even headed back early rather than complete the hike at the end.
As we all boarded onto the barge that would take us back to the Aranui some large waves came rumbling through this otherwise protected Fjord like harbour. The waves were enough to soat the few passengers that were seated in the back of the boat furthest from the shore where passengers were still trying to get onto the boat. As these waves came crashing in they pushed us so high up onto the black sand beach that our barge was stuck. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew they asked the local man on shore who hopped into his tractor that was parked on the beach and he gently pushed us off the beach and back into the water.
Throughout the day each passenger was dressed in long-sleeve shirts, pants and plenty of deet insect repellent to keep of the pesky nono’s. If bitten they leave an itch that is not easily forgotten. Although it was a long day in warmer than normal clothes that took us from one harbour to another on Nuku Hiva it was an experience I would not have missed for anything. It was a day where we learned a great deal of the history of these remote islands and gained a greater understanding into their culture and way of life.
Day 6: April 12 – Tahuata and Hiva Oa Islands: Vaitahu and Atuona Townships
We were fortunate enough to visit two islands today. The first being the village of Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata and the second being the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa. Vaitahu is a small little village nestled in a small valley between towering mountains on all sides. The steep mountains raise up on all sides with the somewhat sheltered harbour on the other.
We entered this island using the large metal barge boat and it was a rough landing. Although the harbour is sheltered the waves do come in and create 3 foot swells on shore. Where we landed there was a cement landing constructed with steps up to the platform. As we dismounted from the boat, the swells occassionally rocked the boat up and down. When this happened the crew members directed us to wait a moment until the barge was safely positioned by the steps at a proper height. Each time we dismounted there was also two to three crew members there to help us all the way up to the top of the platform.
After we disembarked and were walking down the short road to town someone pointed out to me a brand new pickup truck that was being prepared for offloading at the dock. They had loaded the truck onto a barge with the ship’s crane, motored the barge up to the dock with the top end on the cement and the back end with the motor pushing the barge constantly into the dock. This was to keep things stable as they proceeded to drive the truck off the barge, first the front end and after about 30 seconds of the truck balancing both on the boat and on land with the barge bouncing up and down, they drove the back end off the boat and safely onto land. It was quite a precarious procedure and I’m sure stressfull enough for those involved.
We took our time walking into the village where the local artisans had set up their tables to sell their various handicrafts to the people on the Aranui 3. They showed off their carved masks, spears, tikis and jewelery along with stone tikis, sculptures and poi pounders. Carved jewelery was also a popular item being offered. It is heartening to see the hard work that goes in to each and every handicraft item that is displayed on their tables. To know that many of these people make a lot of their extra income off of the items they sell and that many of them only sell these items when the Aranui ship comes into their port is amazing.
We didn’t have much more time in this village and so we went walking a little further to the beautiful Catholic Church on the island. As we rounded the corner that brought us through a field to the church I saw one of the men from our group whom we had seen two days previous, sketching and he was busy with his Marquesas drawing book creating a new piece of artwork. My 11 year old son Jaeden, who had brought his sketch pad with him on this occassion, proceeded to pull out his pad and drawing pencils and proceeded to draw the same object this 75 year old artist was working on. This artist who has completed many expositions of his own had a look at my son’s sketches and then watched him at work. Occasionally he would give my son a few pointers and watch him in action and in silence. Although he spoke very little English, he tried his best to be a mentor to my son who had this great desire to develop his talent for art. It was one of his best afternoons to sit with a professional and to create art with his assistance.
As I left the two of them alone to have a look at the beautiful Marquesian carvings and stained glass window in the nearby church, the school next door let their children out for a short recess. All of these young and curious six to nine year olds came out of school to see what was going on in the world around them. Some of them started running around in the field while a group of them started to gather around my son and this older artist. They marvelled at the work that they were creating and had a look at the recent pictures that this man had in his book which were all created in the French Polynesian Islands. They were all in awe with the pictures and hung around for some time watching them at work. After a little while the gathering crowd got so large that the two artists had to pack up and find some other things to do with the remaining few minutes on the island. My son had no problem running up to the local children and playing soccar with them while the elderly gentleman slowly wandered back towards the Aranui 3.
Our second stop for the day was in the city of Atuona on the nearby island of Hiva Oa. This larger town heavily influenced by Europeans is one of the main centres of the Southern portion of the Marquesas. The port was located a few kilometers away from the town and so we spent most of the rest of the day being shuttled around in the local community school busses. Our first stop was at a Chineese / Marquesan food restaurant called Hoa Nui. Although this restaurant is only open by reservation (with bookings made a day in advance) they put on an enormous buffet lunch feast for the Aranui 3 as they usually do. To date they offered the widest selection of food we have seen at a single meal.
Our next few stops for the day were up the mountainside to the cemetary where Belgian singer Jacques Brel and French painter Paul Gauguin were buried. These two men are perhaps the most touted residents who have ever lived on the island. Perhaps due to the fact that they both spent their last years on the island, they have been immortalized on this island.
Our final stop was to the Atuona Cultural Centre which houses both the Jacques Brel Memorial and the Paul Gauguin Museum. Being that I am not familiar with Jacques Brel I decided to take in twenty minutes at the Paul Gauguin Museum which houses a collection of “imposter” paintings. Due to the fact that the facilities in this tropical city is not condusive to the preservation of works of art, all of the paintings and most artifacts are simply copies of the works that Paul Gauguin himself created. The museum aslo provides a good history of his life along with excerpts from letters that he wrote to his family back in Europe. A replica of Mr. Gauguin’s “House of Pleasures” is also on display in a separate building on the site. This final stop to me was interesting from a historical perspective but unless you are a Paul Gauguin fan, his life and lifestyle in the last years of his life while on this island until 1903 were not really of interest to me.
Day 7: April 13 – Fatu Hiva: Omoa and Hanavave (most isolated village)
Fatu Hiva was a definate pearl of the Marquesas Islands. This island was indeed a special place as we visited its two villages that only have a population of about 250 people each. Because Fatu Hiva does not even have an airport, it was the most remote and adventurous island on our itinerary.
I landed in the town of Omoa where my son and I were amongst the first group of people on shore. We had decided that we were going to take the 17 kilometre hike from Omoa to Hanavave and so the 20 of us hikers needed to have a head start on our visit to the island.
The town of Omoa is very traditional and similar to what the old Marquesan islands would have been like in the past. Although there are now 4 wheel drives and tractors, much everything else about the town is the same. Villagers welcomed us with open arms as they showed us their handicrafts that were for sale. They also held demonstrations on how they created tapa cloth by pounding various types of bark for 3 hours to mold it into items that they would traditionally need. A demonstration was also made on how to make scented flower bunches for brides using a variety of flowers, herbs, pineapple chunks and sandlewood powder. They would then roll these into a hair bun on the ladies heads.
We also had the opportunity to visit a local museum that housed artifacts from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Carved padles, trading items, bowls and photos were all on display to show ancient carvings and history of the Marquesas Islands.
The next part of the day was the most rigourous part of the Aranui 3’s itinerary. It included our 4 hour hike into the mountains from one village to the next. Now this may not seem like much of a big deal but considering that there were only 3 vehicles on this road throughout the entire day (including one guided trip of boaters and the people bringing our top of the mountain picnic) it was as remote as we could have made ourselves.
The weather for the hike was perfect. It was overcast for most of the two hour ascent up the mountainside and trees alongside the road provided a great deal of shade. Although it sprinkled with rain on two occassions, it quickly passed leaving us refreshingly damp and cool in the hot air of the day. Occassionally a breeze would blow through the mountain valley trail and my son and I would greatfully stand there with our arms outstretched to enjoy the coolness of the wind.
As we mounted the mountain we curved and twisted up the mountain along a rich red soil road that was fairly wide in many places. The road headed along the ocean at first but quickly moved inland for half of the hike. Mountains towered over us at first but as we climbed up these towering mountains turned into level views high above enormous valleys of lush green vegetation. At times we looked over the edge of the path to see sheer mountain cliffs that would only take one step to send someone tumbling a kilometre or two down to the bottom of the valley.
It was a bit bizzare to see the power lines that were along the path. The trail consistently crossed with a three wire power lines that ran across this little island. Every time we thought that we had reached the top of the mountain, there was again a bit of a climb. The mountain was a bit deceiving as it gradually mounted corner after corner for two full hours.
After a nice refreshing lunch that was brought to the top of the mountain for us (and a refill of our bottled water). My son Jaeden and I started the two hour descent down the mountain. This at first was quite a nice leisurely stroll as we only gradually descended. The sun was out a little bit more but still shade was most common. On a sunny day this part of the hike would be extremely hot as the shrubs on this second mountain were virtually non-existent and as a result there was almost no shade at all.
Thirty minutes into the descent we arrived as some steeper areas and took a ten minute shortcut that had us almost sliding down an extremely old 4×4 trail that may have only been possible to descend. Finally after half of our descent was complete we arrived at a viewpoint that hovered over Virgins Bay below. From here we had a panoramic view of the hills behind us, of the basalt rock pillars in front of us and the crown like peaks of the mountains that encirled us on all sides. We were extremely high up in the mountains and had one of the best views of the area. It was truely a rewarding hike for this view alone. It looked like a viewpoint or some other construction was going on at this location as a large area had been flattened out and a dump truck and crane were working here to smoothen the road. This heavy equipment looked so much out of place on this tiny little island. But as we continued to descend we could see why the road was being widened and flattened. It was this part of the descent that was perhaps the most tricky and scary as loose rocks and uneven boulders created a bumpy road surface. The road in this last descent was also the steepest we had seen and we even slipped in the loose rock a few times but fortunately did not get hurt. One older person in our group at this point caught a ride down the mountain on a local person’s motorbike as it skidded down the mountain with its breaks on much of the time.
The final 20 minutes of our walk descended into the valley of Hanavave below. A fresh water stream could be heard alongside the dirt road we were walking on as Palm, noni and banana trees towered all around us. This valley was an oasis on what otherwise seemed to be a barren mountaintop on this last half of the trail. As we descended into the village that follows the last 1.5 kilometres of a river, we saw a horse tied up in a field. This horse was obviously someone’s main source of transportation in this tiny town. We crossed a bridge which then led us to the paved road that wanders the rest of the way into town and to the seashore. Along the road people were selling more handicrafts to those few of us who had decided to make the trek accross the mountains. It was disheartening to walk by with only a tired glance at the hard work of their artwork. We were however extremely exhausted after 5 hours away from our group on the ship and anxious to see all the others who had taken the boat to this new little port town.
As I arrived into this little town of Hanavave I saw what it truely must have been like in the Marquesas even 50 years ago. The townspeople were on holidays at the arrival of the Aranui and put on a dance and musical performance for us at the site of their downtown basketball court that overlooked the water. Everyone in town was there selling crafts, dancing, handing out drinking coconuts and smiling. This little town on Virgins Bay was not only friendly but the breathtaking view of the towering pinnacles and mountains around it made it an unforgettable place. Most of the passengers on the ship wanted to just stay but once again this was not possible as we did have to move on.
This may also have been the sentiment of the youth that I saw on the small boat that took us back to the Aranui. He was decked out in a flower lei and all of the young children of the village were descreetly saying goodbye to him. He too was leaving his village where he probably had grown up and was heading back to Papeete. Children from these islands go to Atuona at the age of 9 or 10 years old and around 15 or 16 years of age they leave the Marquesas Islands (as do all children of French Polynesia) to finish their high school in Papeete. It was sad to leave and we said goodbye to this little corner of paradise with its famously beautiful sunset on the horizon.