Part 6: April 14 – 20, 2007 – The Aranui 3
Voyage on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesas – Week 2
Day 8: April 14 – Hiva Oa: Puamau and Hanaiapa
Our arrival in Hiva Oa was as beautiful as ever. Although the mountains were not towering over us in this little harbour, there was one unique feature in the pointed rock that jutted out of the water about one third of the distance across the entrance to the harbour. This pillar stood alone in the water behind where the Aranui was anchored by the time we woke up in the morning.
The true adventure however started when it came time for us to disembark the whaleboats when we arrived on shore. It was perhaps the most trecharous landing so far as the boat bounced against the concrete landing amid 4 foot ocean swells. Old and young disembarked from the boat with the skilled help of the sailors that were in charge of assuring we made it on land safely. It was especially exciting for us as parents to see the boat drifting up and down as one sailor on the boat passed our youngest children to another on land. But we were also rather distracted with making sure all of our other children were safe as they made their way to the disembarking gate on the boat. Our older children enjoyed the challenge of stepping off the boat at the right second to safety on shore.
Where we landed there was an extremely narrow and steep road that mounted slightly before leveling off towards the village and along the waterfront. Those who chose to do so were able to walk 40 minutes to an archaeological site just outside of the village. With our children however, we chose the easy alternative by taking the 4×4 jeeps that were provided along the paved streets to the Iipona archaeological site. This site is said to be one of the best precontact Marquesian historical sites with the largest Tiki at over 6 feet tall.
It was overcast as we drove the six kilometres to the site, a break from the brief drizzle that rained down on the whaleboat before us. Armed with a plastic bag holding our camera equipment we were fortunately the first vehicle to arrive at the site. As we arrived the first of the hikers who had a head start were not far behind. I jumped out of the vehicle to grab a few photos before the rest of the 120 passengers arrived. I only had about one minutes before my few moments of photo taking were limited to shots of individual artifacts and tikis due to the flood of passengers which were arriving on the site from the Aranui.
The boat passengers where shortly divided into three groups in order to accommodate for a 30 minute lecture on the history of this archaeological site. Due to past experience, I opted to listen to the historical presentation given by the French historian Didier who has been with the Aranui for many years. My experience has shown that the other lecturers are not that well versed on the depth of knowledge that Didier had to share and so my family listened to the condensed 10 minute version given by Vai in English while I had the opportunity to have a detailed and intellectual account in French.
This site was created by a Marquesian tribe called the Nike who were constanly at war with the neighbouring tribes (wars consisted of the death of two or three warriors before being brought to a close until the next one). These people were very powerful and always successful in their wars. After they captured and ate a neighbouring chief following one battle, multiple neighbouring tribes chased them away and the prominent people left on canoes for other islands.
The uniqe thing about this site was the relatively large Tiki statues that we saw here. The largest one in the Marquesas islands was located here and is over 6 feet tall. It was amazing to see the amount of work that these people put into carving the stones that represented and immortalized their ancestors.
As we were finishing up, it began to pour down with rain. At first a warning shower which quickly cleared up and then a 10 minute downpour. The man selling his carvings at this site quickly packed up his things and headed for home while the rest of us without raincoats ran for a small overhanging shelter that was part of the entrance sign. By the time we reached this place however we were all very soaked as the tree we were initially standing under did not offer any refuge from the rains.
After waiting a few minutes the rains calmed down enough for us to slide the children into the second row seats of one of the pickup truck taxi’s. We however hopped into the back of the truck for a rather wet ride to the location of Tohua Pehe Kua, the valley’s last chief and queen’s gravesite. There wasn’t too much exciting going on at this location which was also conveniently a Pension’s back yard. They also sold honey, fruits and other products for the many tourists crammed under a small little shelter. My kids were more interested in the four week old piglet that was tied to a post in the back yard than anything else. The little tiny pig although on someone’s dinner menu of the future, was more of an attraction to play with for my children (especially my 4 year old son).
After a short stop we were all rather anxious to be getting back to the boat and into some warm dry clothes. Although it does not seem to get cold in the Marquesas, I was beginning to feel on the verge with my wet clothes. About a kilometre from where the whaleboats were picking us up, my two oldest children wanted to get out of the truck with some of the other passengers and hike back on foot. It was a nice flat trip for them most of the way and was a great chance to stretch out the legs before the rough boat ride back to the Aranui. My 11 year old son was all for running the all the way back while my 12 year old daughter just walked with some young 8 year old girls and their parents.
Our second stop for the day was in a sleepy little town called Hanaiapa. This was probably the first village I saw that did not have the main centre of town along the seashore. The only people I saw along the shore as we arrived was a young family who were having a picknic together with their three children along the edge of the ocean and a group of three boys who were jumping into the waves with their short surf boards. I guess even here in the Marquesas surfing is as much a sport as anywhere else. Although the waves in this semi-sheltered bay were not gigantic, they gave a good 10 second ride to the young surfers who would ride them as far as they could. It entertained them for hours.
The road to this little village was a small dirt road, the first dirt road from a pier that I had seen. Trees lined the road with yellow flowers that were falling off and spread out all over the ground. The road turned abruptly inland about three quarters of a kilometer from the pier when we reached a stream that emptied into the ocean. The stream was lined with a beautiful rock wall and nearby there were some polynesian canoes sitting up on land.
As we turned up the path you could hear the sound of the stream as it flowed alongside the dirt path which soon turned into a paved road as we neared the town. It is here where I saw a Marquesian man riding his horse back home near the end of the day. The occassional homes were to the side of the road as we approached the tiny village. Flowering shrubs and plants dotted the sides of the road with Hibiscus and other flowers. At least a kilometre inland we found what seemed to be the centre of town. Homes were a little closer together here and to the side of the road looked like a small community building where people had set up to display their handicrafts. This building and the small little church that you could hardly see from the main road were the only indication that there was even a town here. Otherwise it would have just looked like a countryside road.
Some intricately drawn tapa paintings were found here along with a brisk business of selling coconuts with a convenient straw stuck into it. I saw even local Marquesians shelling out the 150 CPF for a drink from a coconut and then they would break their “glass” and eat the fresh coconut itself. It was a small and relaxing little town. Not much happening and it seemed as if not even a single shipment from the Aranui was destined for this little town as nobody was waiting for their cargo at the pier.
Day 9: April 15 – Tahuata: Hapatoni (Archaeology)
This morning we arose early for church services in the small town of Hapatoni on Tahuata. This little town only three years ago was opened up to the rest of the island when it received access via a small road. As a result the first cars in this village only appeared around that time. It is a very much traditional island that has kept its friendly traditions and old way of life.
My 8 year old son Dailin, this morning was rather sick and throwing up from midnight until we left and so we left him behind with my wife who was taking care of him (he had food poisoning from something he ate on the boat the day before). As my four children and I arrived on shore, we were greeted by three warm and friendly ladies who sang out to us in Marquesian a song of greeting and presented each of us with a crown of woven greenery as they placed them on our heads. Each of the children were happy to receive one except for my four year old who didn’t recognize these strangers. He embarassingly threw his on the ground while Alyssa scooped it up and held onto it until he warmed up a bit and placed it on his head for a photo.
When we asked the local residents of the village what churches held services in the town, there was only one. For a town of 100 people everyone wanting to go to church went to the stone Catholic Church. One gentleman I spoke to said, oh yes there are Protestants here too but they go to the Catholic church, there is no other choice. Our church was not present in this village and so we followed the steady stream of visitors that had come with us on the first whaleboat to the little church in the village. There were two rock walls that contained a path which lead to a field in front of the church. When we arrived all the local villagers waited outside as a father and his boys beat a drum outside by the bell calling all who wanted to worship to the church. After a short break they would beat their drum again until one final time when the church bell was rung by pulling the rope and the drums beat along with the bell. When the bell was rung all the parishoners sitting outside came in to join all of the visitors who were already seated. A mat was placed in front of the front pew and all of the local village children seated themselves here.
The harmony of the songs that were sung and the energy with which they were sung was breathtaking. Each person seemed to sing as if from their heart and even the children belted out the songs with all of their might. The music in that church was harmonious and heartfelt.
After the church services we wandered back to the boat where we spent the rest of the day relaxing. I stayed behind to take care of my son who shortly thereafter was well again (food poinsoning only lasts 12 hours). Orin and Eli wanted to stay out of the sun and so they stayed with me. It wasn’t until about 11:45 AM (45 minutes after the last boat to shore) that I realized Alyssa and Jaeden had been so busy reading or daydreaming that they too missed the day on land with their mom. So we all ate onboard and had an extremely relaxing day.
We were a bit sad to have missed the meal in the village and the friendly Marquesians who hosted a dance performance. The people here were so friendly and hospitable. Their smiles were warm and one could tell they were genuinely happy to have visitors on their island. We were told that this little community will not accept any small amount of money from the Aranui 3 company to provide the greetings and local fruits that they generously offer. They want to provide this from their hearts and in gratitude for the souveniers passengers buy from their local artisans. Although the Aranui only stopped here three times last year, it is now on the itinerary for the entire year in 2007. A great choice.
Day 10: April 16 – Ua Huka: Vaipaee, Hokatu and Hane (4×4 Jeep & Horseback Riding)
Our entire day in Ua Huka was spent on shore with the Aranui 3 dropping us off in Vaipaee and picking us up in Hane’s Bay. It was a long yet different experience on this horse filled barren island.
The excitement of the day started very early in the morning. We headed off around 4 or 5 am from where we had been anchored and left for Vaipaee. What is most interesting about Vaipaee is that there are sheer cliffs on both sides of the bay, not much wider that the length of the Aranui from bow to stern. We arrived around 6 AM and it was at this time in the morning that the crew of the boat did what I would imagine to be their most challenging manouver. As they approach this harbour, they drop their anchor facing directly into the narrow harbour. They then proceed to spin the boat 180 degrees in the narrow channel so that the front and rear of the boat are within what seems like 150 feet of the two rock walls while at the 90 degree mark. They continue to spin the boat and dispatch two whaleboats to pull a rope to the shores on either side. The boats then tie up the Aranui to the sides of the canyon so as to keep it stable and prevent it from turning any further. With the anchor down in the back and the two ropes acting as guywires the boat is firmly in position to unload and load its cargo (as well as passengers). In this type of position however nobody except the cargo barges would be able to get into or out of the harbour. I saw a sailboat floating further inland of the shore and there was no way for this boat to exit the harbour even if it wanted too.
I could have been fooled into being told that I was in some Mexican Village when I saw the landscape and topography of this small island. There are only about 600 people on this entire island, much less than the number of horses which graze wild everywhere you look. As with many other islands in the Marquesas, horses are still used quite regularly but they are starting to be replaced with the ever popular pickup trucks that are being brought to the islands. After all they can carry a lot more cargo at a time. It is in this same manner that modern conveniences are starting to replace traditional ways in these islands. It is hard to believe that the first vehicles didn’t arrive until the early 1970’s and the first electrical power didn’t arrive until the late 1980’s along with its numerous conveniences.
At the quay people were busting about preparing to drop off or pick up shipments with the Aranui in town. Some locals were also making a brisk business of selling food to other locals that perhaps did not eat breakfast or had not brought a lunch with them. It looked like this was the place to be this morning. Apart from the 2 people on our boat who were visiting this island on horseback, everyone else piled into the numerous flower decorated pickup trucks that lined the quay to Vaipaee. These trucks whisked us off to the main town hall where a group of “Mama’s” from the village prepared a short two song music and dance presentation for us. Our driver was the town’s gendarme (policeman), one of only two on this island of 580 people. Outside the town hall we saw one of only two dance performances so far during our trip, presented by adults. Most of the rest have all been performed by young children. In this town however, they didn’t have a holiday from school with the Aranui in town like other villages.
Following the performance we received a tour of the local museum where original and recreated pieces of old life, carvings and architecture are on display. They displayed everything from hand carved Marquesian stilts to a miniature homestead, fishing hooks, tikis and shells. Considering the small size of the museum it was amazing to see how many artifacts they crammed into this tiny space. It was by far the most comprehensive and best museum I have seen in the Marquesas.
After a bit of time for buying the usual handicrafts from the village handicraft centre, we headed off for our next stop at the Marquesas’ only botanical gardens or rather arboretum (as everything relates to different types of trees). This arboretum has trees from around the world that all grow well in the Marquesas. On display is everything from roseapples, pamplemousse, starfruit and bamboo to mangos, lemons and banyan trees. It was a relaxing walk but there were tons of mosquitos to keep us moving from shade tree to shade tree in the hot sun of the day. The high deet content of the bug spray helped a little bit but these mosquitos must have been desperate for some fresh blood as they still managed to leave their mark.
The next part of the trip was my favorite of the day. Our family drove in the back of the same pickup truck through Hane to the town of Hokatu. The stretch of coastline between the island’s airport and Hokatu was the most breathtaking. To the one side were steep mountainous terrain that rose high into the hills above us and dotted with horses. To the other side of the main road that zigzagged along (which in parts was one lane) were sheer drop off cliffs that overlooked the deep blue waters in the rough rocky shores below. Waves crashing up against the shoreline and the beautiful cliffs made for an excellent viewpoint as we paused for a moment looking down. Jaeden and Alyssa were happy to be riding in the back of the pickup truck as they wound around this stretch of road that wound around harbours and little villages. From their vantage point they could see unobstructed views of the scenery, and travel in the same manner as half of the local population. The roads are small and weave around thus not allowing for great speeds to be achieved while driving. I asked our policeman driver how his job on the island was, and he told me it is a very tranquil and quiet island.
We drove through Hane and on to Hokatau. We were told that the Aranui 3 does this every second trip to give both communities and equal opportunity to sell their handicrafts. Hokatau would complain that when passengers when there second, they had already purchased the handicrafts they wanted and not buy more. As a result each village takes its turn at being the second one visited. In my opinion however Hokatau’s handicraft centre was the most comprehensive and well stocked that I have seen since arriving in the Marquesas. Where Hane had a few items, Hokatau had shelves filled with wood carvings of all types. Both detailed and basic carvings were found here of manta rays, drums, masks, tikis, hair piks, bowls and platters. It was by far the best selection of wooden handicrafts that I had seen. Even after dozens of handicrafts were purchased by the over 100 people from our ship, it hardly made a dent in the heavily stocked shelves.
While we were selecting a drum to purchase, we asked a local boy on the other side of an open window if he could play a bit for us so that we could listen to the sound of the instrument. He directed us to an old man peeking through the next window over. From the other side of the window this old man played a little bit on the two drums for us to compare the deep tapping sounds. The young boy then told us that the older man was the artist that had actually carved the drums that were for sale. It was interesting to see the people that were gathered round the handicraft centre to see what would be purchased from the local townspeople.
For lunch we headed back to Hane where we ate at Chez Celine Fournier. Once again the feast was diverse and based on local foods of the area including rice, raw fish, curried goat and ground oven cooked bananas and pork.
From here our group split up into two. Those of us who wanted to take a 40 minute (each way) hike into the mountains to a viewpoint headed off inland while everyone else headed back by foot to the village. My wife took the older two children Alyssa and Jaeden on the hike while I took Dailin and Orin on the fifteen minute walk back to shore. They were a bit too exhausted from the sun to be wanting to spend much more time walking. Eli had stayed on the boat with the person that handles children’s activities as the day was a bit too long on shore and we didn’t want him to be attacked by the Mosquitos we were avoiding at the gardens. Dailin who didn’t bring any swim clothes headed back to the boat while Orin and I had a quick 30 minute swim in the small rolling waves of the bay. It was a thick black sand beach which on shore was so thick that your feet would sink into the wet sand. In the water some debris and pebbles would wash up and down with the waves but were not bothersome at all. It was a refreshing end to the day.
Getting onto the boat hear was the most adventurous yet. It was a wet landing and when cargo was brought on and off the whaleboats men were wading into the water grabbing their goods and walking out of the water amid the waves that were rolling in. When it came time to get on the boat, the sailors would pick up the children and put them in the boat because the boats had simply landed on the beach. There was no dock in this little town and so even the elderly people in our group had to be carried onto the boat. It was quite a sight to see some of the crew trying to hold the boat while others were attempting to load the boat with passengers. Those holding the boat were trying to make sure the boat was not beached while at the same time trying to make sure that it was not too far from shore.
Everyone was onboard by 4:30 in the evening, ready for a boat ride past “Bird Islands”. They are two little island motus that are not far from shore where the airport is located. In twenty minutes we were passing by this island that had litterally thousands and thousands of birds. For the small size of the island it was almost deafening to hear the birds on this flat treeless island flying around in swarms. From quite a distance we could hear the birds but it was hard to see them until we approached very close to the island. It was if they all rose up off the island as we sailed past and it was amazing that these thousands of birds in such a small area could fly around and not crash into each other. There were so many that it looked like a swarm of bats darting around in all directions. I along with each of my children and the other passengers absolutely enjoyed this short diversional activity.
Day 11: April 17 – Nuku Hiva: Hatiheu (archaeology, traditional Marquesian dancing and petroglyphs)
We returned back again to the island of Nuku Hiva but this time to a town along the northern coast. Hatiheu was once again a small town but on the Marquesian island with the most infrastructure. This was also the first and only town we encountered that had a dirt road throughout the town. Most villages until now at least had a paved section through the downtown area, but in Hatiheu time seemed to stand still, at least a little bit longer.
Our four year old Eli, asked me once again if he could stay on the the boat while the rest of us went on our shore excursion. He was getting a bit tired of trotting off in the sun and wanted the predictable routine that was offered by the kindhearted Mila who handled the kids activities on the boat. Given that we were going into the mountain and that the risk of Nono’s and Mosquito’s is high on Nuku Hiva we decided it would be best for him to stay on the boat as much as we wanted him to join us. As a result after our usual buffet breakfast we said goodbye and parted on one of the last whaleboats that took us to shore.
My wife Kirsten, Alyssa, Jaeden, Dailin and Orin joined me for our day in Hatiheu. We hopped into and in the back of one of the pickup trucks that shuttled passengers around. My wife jumped out in the village with Alyssa and Jaeden who wanted to have a look at souvenirs that were being sold by vendors at the side of the road. I however continued on with the younger two to the tohua (ancient Marquesian gathering place) where we were to learn about the ancient uses of this site.
Just outside this historical site we saw two men working amid their coconut trees, husking and peeling coconut from their shells. While one man collected coconuts from the fallen trees, the other sat next to a pile of coconuts. With one swipe of his machete he grabbed a coconut from the pile and within seconds had it husked and the interior of the coconut in large chunks on the ground. From where he sat he would throw the coconut shell twenty feet into a fire that was burning in front of him. The entire fire consisted of burnt or half burnt coconut shells. These men were in the process of making copra. From here they would lay the coconut in the sun for two weeks in its final preparation to be exported and turned into oils. People from these islands go through the hard labour still of shelling coconuts for copra. Although they made it look easy, it is still very labour intensive compared to collecting noni fruit and placing them in a barrel for export as a medicinal cure-all.
After waiting at this archaeological site called Hikokua for about half an hour for everyone to arrive on foot (including the rest of my family), the first part of our afternoon entertainment and education got underway. Three local men came and presented the “pig dance” which consists of a dance that immitates the ever so popular pigs of the island that are well respected. This dance included jumping around hunched over while making deep hoarse noises that sounded much like that of a pig. I’ve been told that after singing like that for twenty minutes, one’s voice is gone for the rest of the day. Our children enjoyed watching this spectacle that was located in the same place where similar performances were conducted in years gone by. The performance was conducted in this gathering place that was flanked by raised stone platforms on three sides, areas where spectators in the past would also watch from. To one side was a rock where solo ceremonial dances where performed while at the far end we had a view of the spike like mountains that greeted us as we entered into the harbour. It was a beautiful sunny place to spend an hour learning about Marquesian culture and history.
We continued up into the mountains to the second and third adjoining sites of Kamuihei and Tahakia. Although these site were not totally cleared from trees as the first site, it was a more authentic recreation of the shady meeting places and performance areas of the traditional Marquesian settlements. Whereas the first site was cleared and restored by local villagers, these sites was restored nine years ago under the supervision of Archaeologist Pierre Ottino whom we had also met restoring a site on Ua Pou the week before. What was so impressive about these sites were the sheer magnitude of their sizes and numbers of areas. Also impressive was the massive 600 year old pandanas tree that seemed to hover over the entire area with its massive multi rooted trunk and stretched out canopy. I have truely never seen anything like it. It was great to know that this site was restored in 1998 in preparation for the Marquesian festival that brings together people from all around these islands. A great excuse to pull together the ancient history of the area with the present.
After viewing the big pits in this area that had once contained taboo objects and bones, we caught a ride down the mountain to the town spokesman or mayor’s restaurant called “Chez Yvonne”. This lady is a traditional woman who directs the town well. She works to mantain the culture and history of the area including the opposition of constructing a road to the nearby bay and settlement of Anaho. The meal too was very traditional. It all started with the unveiling of the three pigs and breadfruit that had been cooking since 3 AM in the Marquesian underground oven. We were then treated to a 4 course feast for lunch that started with a seafood platter, lobsters, the pig and then a tapioca coconut desert. By the time we were all done we couldn’t eat another bite and were thoroughly impressed by this remarkable lunch.
The final part of our afternoon we opted to skip the 40 minute hike to the Anaho saddle viewpoint. We decided that we would just have a swim in the waves of this bay’s black sand beach that were big enough to make a parent nervous and at the same time strike excitement into the hearts of our children. Smaller two foot waves would break followed by a series of three to five foot crushers. While Alyssa, Jaeden and Dailin enjoyed being pounded by the larger waves a little further out where it was usually waist to shoulder deep, Orin and another girl his age from France who he met on the boat played closer to shore where the waves swirled around them and would have swept them away had I not been there to lift them over the waves and hold them by me. This is probably the most fun our children have had in the water since arriving in French Polynesia.
Although the Marquesas islands are not known for their beaches like the crystal blue waters and white beaches of other French Polynesian islands, the few beaches that are here can be exciting if you avoid the strong currents and know where to swim. What makes these beaches perhaps more rough is the fact that the Marquesas islands are not surrounded by reefs like the other islands and so they are open to the elements of the waves of the Pacific Ocean. As time went on however we could see that the kids probably would never want to leave this slightly dangerous beach so we packed up with the promise that we would do some more swimming in the Aranui’s onboard swimming pool. Although not as exciting it did work and get the kids out of the sun for that afternoon.
Day 12: April 18 – Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou Islands: Taiohae and Hakahau
We returned to two main islands and two main cities that we had already seen before. Our cargo ship, the Aranui 3, returns to the bigger islands where it offloads most of its cargo so that it can collect the large shipping containers that they left behind when we first arrived to those cities. With the cargo ship now mostly empty with the exception of the fruits, copra and noni we were bringing back to Papeete, the ship likes to pick up the containers it will need for the next boatload of items it will bring back to the islands in another few weeks. The Aranui makes 13 trips per year to the Marquesas and they need most every bit of space in its cargo area to transport the goods to the islands.
We first stopped in Taiohae on Nuku Hiva for a short two hour stay. Although a short stop we had enough time to take our oldest four children on shore where a le truc schoolbus shuttled us into town where I headed to an internet cafe (to update my photos and blog). This was not entirely exciting for our children so when I was done 45 minutes later we walked around the waterfront of the village before stopping for an icecream treat at a little corner-store. Taiohae is the most developed city in the Marquesas and was a bustling town by Marquesian standards. Although there will not be any traffic congestion in the near future and horses are still used as a mode of transportation, it is nonetheless a busy little town which had at least a dozen or more sailboats in its harbour. For yaughtees coming accross the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos and Mexico, it is the first port of entry in a month long voyage across the ocean, a place where people tend to spend a bit of time celebrating being back on land again.
We set off around 9:45 in the morning to spend the afternoon on board and arrived around 1:00 PM in the first town we visited of Hakahau in Ua Pou. No sooner had we arrived on the island did Isadore, our taxi driver from eight days earlier, have someone search us out in the dining room. He had come to deliver the promised flower stones our children had so desperately searched for on the beach but not found. He also delivered two cd’s of his music. One CD’s was of him and his two brothers while the other was of him and his two teenage children. It was a pleasant surprise to see him on the boat again delivering the promised items he had offered before. Within no time however this sole taxi driver of the island was off again driving passengers from our ship around the island.
In this little town we took all five of our children on shore to get any last minute souvenirs and presents. We returned to a small little souvenir stand that was above the beach and on the other side of a paved road (behind the beachfront thatched roof souvenir shops). My wife had picked up some reasonally priced souvenirs the week before and so she was happy to return again. Here we found perhaps the most affordable carved necklaces on the islands and even our 4 year old Eli, was happy to finally get a souvenir bone necklace of his own. The lady at the stand was also happy to resize his necklace to fit.
While the children went beachcombing I headed off to the bank to withdraw some money that we would be needing while on the Tuamotu islands. While Rangiroa would have a bank machine, the next island of Tikehau would not and so I needed to get enough cash due to the daily and weekly withdrawal limits on my bank card. The bank was not far away however and so I still had some time to play with my children at the beach and watch my son work on his drawing. He had once again seen the elderly gentleman from France working on drawing a scene of the thatched roof vendor’s area and sat down beside him to work on drawing the same thing. By the time the rest of our family was ready to go Jaeden stayed to work on his picture along this master artist.
By 3:45 PM our ship was leaving the Marquesas islands for the last time. From beside the swimming pool of the Aranui 3 we looked out at the mountain peaks to say goodbye to these awe inspiring islands. Each little corner of its culture and history had taught us about one of the most remote and unique places in the world. It has been a true delight for us to explore these islands together as a family on a cargo cruise vessel. A delightful experience not one of us will forget. With another two days before we arrive in our last stop of Rangiroa of the Tuamotu islands, we will have a bit of time to take it all in before starting the final leg of our French Polynesian adventure, that of the Tuamotu islands.
Day 13: April 19 – At Sea
You may think that a day at sea may be a bit boring but it was a well needed break from being on the go every day. While the shore excursions were interesting and educational, after 9 straight days of being on the go, I was ready for a bit of a break. Even with the small “break” from being on shore there was plenty to do. The children as always wanted to make sure to spend some time in the swimming pool. As we were at sea, the pool was back to sloshing around like a bowl of jello. It was exciting for the kids to get in the freshwater and be jostled around in the pool to cool off.
The kids’ activity co-ordinator Mila, had plenty planned for our children as well. As we were to leave the ship a day early, this was going to be our last full day on the ship. Traditionally on the Aranui, passengers can invite the crew to eat with them in the dining room during the last two days. We decided to invite the four people that served our children in the dining room as well as Mila, to the early kids lunch. Our children all wanted to say goodbye to their newly made friends on the ship along with the other four little French girls they had met on the ship. Upon hearing about this, the other two sets of parents asked to join in. Due to the number of extra people however the cook refused to make that many extra meals one hour earlier than normal. He was not as impressed with the idea as the rest of us. We were all a bit dissappointed but when pushing a little further, Mila, after a request from our family, was able to convince the Staff chef, to make the meal for us.
At this point the meal was just for our family and the staff because the food was all traditional Marquesian or Tahitian food. It included the standard foods such as raw fish cooked in lime juice, cooked bananas, breadfruit and fried fish. Upon my request we also ate the meal in the traditional way… with our fingers. This however took a bit of reminding amongst the staff as some of them too, are much in the habit of using utensils. It was the first Tahitian meal where we were able to eat with our hands and I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down. Too many times a Tahitian meal includes at least one non-Tahitian component which is excuse enough to use utensils when eating.
As we all got together to eat, the staff members had all placed a wrapped package on the plate of each member of our family. The children were as excited as always to open it up. Inside they each discovered some little treasure to remember our vacation on the Aranui. Each child along with my wife and I, were each presented with an Aranui t-shirt except for Eli who received a pair of shoes that had red and green lights in them that lit up when he walked. Eli was especially excited to try out his new shoes and seemed to zip around non-stop during the rest of the meal. We were a bit surprised at all of this hoopla for our family and asked if it was normal procedure on the ship and we were informed that it only happens “rarely”, perhaps as rare as a family of 7 getting onto the Aranui (in the staff’s memory we were the first family on the ship with more than three children).
After enjoying our meal I spent much of the afternoon lazing around the outside deck in the sun for the first time (I had no energy to do the packing that needed to be done) while our children finished putting together the Marquesas journals. From the first day on the boat, Mila had each of the children adding things to their journals almost on a daily basis. Inside were the words to the songs they had danced to at the polynesian night, simple translated words in Tahitian, Marquesian, French and English as well as their own personal thoughts on the trip so far.
At 4 PM in the evening the man responsible for all of the cargo on the ship held a question and answer session in the lobbly. It was interesting to hear about this man’s 25 years of experience on the Aranui 1, 2 and 3. He talked about while there was over 2000 tons of cargo that we brought over to the Marquesas islands, less than 300 tons were being brought back in the form of copra and other fruits. This was quite evident as we plowed the open waters to the Marquesas Islands. Where water had once constantly sloshed up against the porthole window at the beginning of our voyage, our porthole was now a couple of feet above the waterline. We also learned that the ship had transported 22 vehicles on this trip and the most unique piece of cargo so far had been a helicopter. Finally about 8 cows and a horse were transported during the voyage from one of the Marquesian islands to another.
Our evening dinner was elaborate as ever. A delicious salad appetizer, followed by a beautiful fish dinner and a diet defying chocolate mousse desert. With two amazing deserts per day I was ready for a different diet (with both one regular chef and a pastery chef on board it illustrates the Aranui’s focus not only on the meals but also on the deserts). We said goodbye to new friends at this last dinner with a promise that we would say our last farewells at our beachside picnic on Rangiroa the following day.
Day 14: April 20 – Rangiroa: Tuamotu Islands
When we had asked Silvie, one of the guides, what time we had to disembark on this our last stop we were told 8:30 AM. This didn’t sit too well for us as it is not an easy thing to pack up for 7 people in three cabins and get a good night sleep at the same time. When we quietly complained to another staff member about having to have our bags packed by 8 AM and be off the boat a half hour later, we were told that other arrangements could be made. So we contacted the other guide Vai who was more than happy to accommodate our request for a 10:30 AM departure. This was all of the extra time we needed and sure made the day much more enjoyable after a good night sleep. Although Silvie was not impressed with our alternate arrangements, she bit her tongue and allowed us to follow the schedule we had made for ourselves.
Because the last barge had departed two hours earlier to take passengers to shore, they floated one again for us and all of our baggage as we said goodbye to the crew members that would not be on shore. Once on shore we had a place to store our bags while we enjoyed a bit of time swimming in Rangiroa’s lagoon and saying farewell to our fellow passengers. The on-shore picnic was great food from the ship and all of the regular ship staff including the servers and bartenders were there to do their job (although the servers had a bit more of a relaxing time since it was a buffet style paper-plate meal).
It was sad to say goodbye to everyone as our Pension came by to pick us up. I was almost sure our ride would leave without us as it took at least 15 minutes to round up the children and say bye to everyone. But they did wait. As we filled up the car with our luggage, our hostess Vai, asked another vehicle that had just arrived if they would take some of our family members in their van and to where we were going. She said, he’s my uncle so its not a problem. It saved us a lot of waiting because there was no way we were going to fit into the 5 passenger vehicle with our family of 7, all of our luggage and the driver. We waved goodbye to all of our friends and were off for another adventure in Rangiroa. We were leaving the Aranui one day early and sad to leave but excited for more experiences to come.