Saturday, April 28, 2012

around Nuku Hiva again, this time by boat

Vicki and I left Taiohae and headed back to Daniel's Bay, which Vicki had not seen yet. We got there to find no other boats; just before nightfall, our buds Carol and Livia on s/v Estrellita arrived. We hadn't expected them until the following day, so that was a nice surprise. In the morning, Carol and I dinghied over to Hakaui to fill water jugs. As we were doing this errand, two boats full of officials arrived to continue the investigation into the murder of a German cruiser, which happened last year in this bay. We also could see a woman who we think is the man's widow among the group. How hard it must be for her to have to return here without her partner.
After watching the large group set off into the bush, the four of us headed off in the opposite direction for the waterfall. This is a beautiful hike, shaded most of the way, passing numerous old Marquesan house platforms and a few tikis. We saw no other hikers today, but heard from the villagers that a tourist had gotten beaned by a falling coconut yesterday, so we were reminded to watch where we rested along the way!
We also availed ourselves of hardhats for the last part of the hike into a high walled gorge. We had a refreshing swim at the waterfall, and a leisurely hike back, stopping to visit Tieke and his wife Kua on the way. They served us banana fritters and lemonade, but unfortunately we had forgotten to bring money to buy some fruit from them.
Here is Tieke giving me a Maori-style "haka" grimace in thanks for the Island Planet Sails hat that I passed on to him. He and his wife are very nice folks and I was glad to see them again. Back at Daniel's Bay, Vicki and I were ready for a rest; Carol and Livia stayed ashore, talking with one of the boat drivers. He sharpened a stake for them and showed them how to use it to husk a coconut, and then to use some of the outer fibers to squeeze the milk from the meat. They traded him some ice for some fresh fish, and he showed them how to make poisson cru (raw fish with coconut milk). Later in the evening, they made some of their own and shared it with us - delicious! Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Estrellita, who are heading for the Tuamotus soon. We got an early start the next morning and motored around the west and north sides of Nuku Hiva, intending to meet up with more friends in Anaho Bay. Conditions stayed mild for the entire way, and we arrived in the early afternoon, passing Mark and Michelle on s/v Cheers on the way. There were only two other boats in Anaho, both friends from Mexico: Beausoleil, with Mike, Karen, and their son Falcon; and Buena Vista, with Don and Deb.
Anaho is a beautiful and peaceful anchorage, with less swell than anywhere else we have seen in the Marquesas. But there was also a lack of breeze, making it very hot and humid, and allowing a swarm of no-nos (no-see-ums) to bite us at will during our stay. Because of the bugs, we only stayed 2 nights here. Snorkeling was nice on the coral reef fronting the beach, and we enjoyed walking the sandy beach around the head of the bay.

We also took advantage of the calm waters to change headsails, repair the autopilot, and send me to the masthead to check things out. Friday we set off for the return to Taiohae. Conditions got pretty bouncy even before we got into open water; once offshore we took a few green waves right over the bow, with quite a bit of water making it through our cabin-top vent, an unwelcome and fortunately rare occurrence. We had to tack our way to the NE corner of the island, but were finally able to crack off a bit for the passage to Cape Martin on the SE corner. When we finally got back to Taiohae around 2:30PM, there was a nice spot for us to anchor close to the quay, and conditions were the mildest we had seen here. Today (Saturday) we did chores: we jugged 10 gallons of water, 20 gallons of diesel, and 5 gallons of gasoline to the boat. Duty-free diesel is about $4.50/gallon; gasoline is not duty-free and costs about $7.50/gallon. We also tried to replenish our supply of fresh vegetables, but the market was already sold out of almost everything by 6AM! I also tried to pick up our propane tank, which I had dropped off for filling yesterday; but the place is closed until Monday. We have checked out with the gendarme, and plan to leave on Monday as soon as we can get our propane tank back. Our last chance for fresh stuff will be Ua Pou, but what we have heard about the anchorages there makes us dubious of being able to land the dinghy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Circumnavigating Nuku Hiva (by car)

Car rental rates are pretty steep in this part of the world, so we decided to invite Carol and Livia, from s/v Estrellita, to join us for our excursion to the airport. They had been advised by friends (Regis and Jeanne on s/v Xe) to do this trip, and had been given a number of suggestions for the route, including taking a "back road" from Hatiheu to the airport. We were happy to have their information and their French fluency, and they were happy to share in the cost of the vehicle (a Toyota crewcab diesel 4x4 Hilux).
We got underway by 6:20AM, and started up the steep hill to the interior plateau, stopping for photos along the way. What with the pre-dawn scramble to get 4 people and a lot of luggage to shore, Vicki and I had forgotten our camera. Justin and Livia kindly agreed to share their photos with us. At the first junction, we turned right for Taipivai, and were soon descending to the bay where we had anchored a few nights before. We looked in vain for the Melville monument, and continued up the valley via a dizzying series of switchbacks to a pass overlooking the valley of Hatiheu, on the north side of the island.

The switchbacks going down were equally sharp and steep, and I couldn't keep myself from yelling in fear when we rounded one hairpin to see a Blue Land Rover coming at us from the other direction! No harm, no foul, except I probably scared the crap out of my passengers.

Down in the lush valley, we came upon one of the largest traditional village sites in the Marquesas, called Kamuihei. This was the most intriguing traditional site I have seen in these islands. We explored a veritable maze of pathways winding between stone walls, house platforms, boulders carved with petroglyphs, and several impossibly large fig trees. Some of the platforms were topped with recreations of traditional wood and thatch houses, and there were several recently carved tikis and a large "honu" (sea turtle) sculpted from orange lava.
After stopping at one more stone site, we descended to one of the most beautiful bayfronts I have ever seen,fringed with coconut palms and jagged rock spires. Hatiheu was definitely worth the grueling drive!
Carol, Livia and I had heard wonderful things about the restaurant here, Chez Yvonne, and we convinced the others that we should wait an hour until we could order an early lunch. We also got information about the "back way" to the airport, winding along the precipitous northern shoreline of the island. We were assured it was only 2 hours, and was an "easy" drive. More on that later.

While we waited for the restaurant to open, we explored the church, the bayfront, and the concrete wharf at one side of the bay. The only boats in Hatiheu bay were locals, and we watched a family of 6 carefully negotiate the loading of their possessions and themselves as the strong surge carried the boat back and forth along the quay. Step lively, granny, or you'll end up in the drink!

Back at Chez Yvonne, half of the group ordered grilled fresh fish, and the other half requested goat in either curry or coconut sauce. For side dishes, there was breadfruit, manioc, rice, and salad. Everyone's food was very tasty, and Vicki and I came away with enough leftovers for a filling dinner! We got back in the car at 11:50, wanting to be at the airport by 2:00pm. A "two-hour cruise…"

 The road started off nicely enough, and was no rougher than what we had already seen. Most was gravel or dirt, but the steep bits were paved with concrete.
In only half an hour we had reached the village of Aakapa. We stopped to ask directions at one intersection, and the French driver warned us that the road ahead was "pas bon" (not good). Hmmm.

Indeed, the tread soon got lighter, the rocks got larger, and the pitches grew steeper. But we were committed now, as there was not enough time to backtrack to the main road. We were distracted from our concerns by the scenery, which was absolutely stupendous. It was also dizzying, as we were mostly picking our way along a single-track, with cliff walls on one side, and a sheer drop to the sea on the other. We had to stop every now and again to remove boulders from the lane. Luckily we encountered no other vehicles!
As we made our way over one ridge, down into a valley bottom, and up the opposing slope, we wondered how many more valleys we had to negotiate before re-joining the main road. At one point, in a valley bottom, heading downstream toward the beach, the road petered out, and we found ourselves in the middle of a pasture, surrounded by horses and cows! Carol walked to a nearby house, and we were directed back upstream a kilometer or so. We all burst into laughter when we spotted a small handmade wooden sign with a picture of an airplane! At last we knew we were headed the right direction!
 The track got a bit more well-used and a bit less rough, but we were grateful that there was no rain, as we passed thru several patches of dried mud, with old car tracks fishtailing their way along. We did end up having to negotiate one huge mud puddle, which we did at a high enough rate of speed to coat the entire vehicle with red mud. Nothing drives like a rental!

Joseph was fidgeting, and Justin laughing nervously, as the 2:00 deadline approached. At last, at about 3 minutes past 2, we emerged onto the main road, which was under construction, but still much smoother than what we had been on. We made it to the airport by 2:10, and J&J checked in with no problems. Missing this plane would have meant a one week delay for both of them.

We said our good-byes, with hugs all round. Totally exhausted, I gratefully turned the wheel over to Carol for the relatively easy (but still steep and narrow by most standards) drive along the main road back to Taiohae. This part turned out to be pretty scenic too, with pine plantations, tree ferns, and verdant pastures reminiscent of Switzerland. A very diverse set of landscapes for such a small island!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Taiohae again

Back in the bay, there were more boats than before, so we decided to anchor over on the west side of the bay, which was the traditional cruiser's anchorage before the wharf was built, but is now used only by locals. We put out bow and stern anchors on a nice sand bottom, just outside the mooring field. Instead of dinghying to the concrete wall, we had to land on the beach, but it was fairly calm (more on that later), and we could safely stow the dinghy in the shade of some large trees.

For anyone arriving in French Polynesia by boat, the skipper must officially sign them off the crew list. When we got to the gendarmerie, we were 3rd in line, so the process took close to an hour. Here in the backwaters of French colonialism, the wheels, or rather, the rollers on the ancient fax machine and printer, turn slowly. We weren't complaining, however, as we got to wait inside an air-conditioned office.

Back on the boat, Joseph and Justin labored to cram all their worldly goods back into "carry-on" dimensions. I am still very impressed at how much they brought with them. Justin left us with his soggy and stained sleeping sheet, affectionately referred to as the "shroud of Hougham." Joseph left us a number of much appreciated gifts, such as a new solar shower. He also loaned Vicki his headlamp after hers went walkabout.

We went out for a final celebratory evening, starting with drinks at the Pearl resort, and dinner at Rose's Hee Tai restaurant. Justin and I missed out on the first part, as we had to pick up the keys to the rental car for tomorrow's drive to the airport. This was a bit of a comedy, as the agent was gone to Papeete, her son was nowhere in sight, and even the lone employee was gone. We found the key in the car, took it with us, wrote a note, and headed down the hill. At that point, the employee showed up. She was a bit shocked that we had taken the key without filling out the rental application, but we soon had put everything right, and drove back around the bay to meet Joseph and Vicki. Dinner was delicious, but getting back to the boat in the darkness proved challenging. The surf had come up during the afternoon, and Vicki got tossed into the drink by a rogue wave!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Vicki arrived in Taiohae, as scheduled, on Tuesday. What a thrill to see her after 3 weeks apart. The boat is ready for several days with 4 aboard, as Justin and Joseph don't fly out until Saturday. Wednesday morning we sailed out of the bay, headed for Taipivai, the bay 4 miles east where Herman Melville lived with the natives for a month or more back in the 1830s. He wrote about his experiences in Typee. If you haven't read this book, you should - its a wonderful description of Marquesan life before there had been much contact with Euro-American "civilization."

We had a nice sail, tacking upwind into a 10 knot easterly wind, passing several large British cutters outbound for the Tuamotus. When we got to Taipivai, we were surprised to find 10 boats at anchor, nearly as many as at Taiohae.

We soon learned why this is a popular anchorage. Besides calm conditions and beautiful scenery, there is a fresh water shower on the beach, a navigable river leading to the small town, where there are several stores and other services. There is also unlimited walking along good roads, and very few cars to share them with. In other words, everything a cruiser would want for a comfortable extended stay, and none of the noise or bustle of the "city" - ha!

After getting the hook down, the 4 of us, using both the dinghy and the two kayaks, went upriver to the wharf, and hiked up the valley. Along the way we passed stores, a church, a post office, and the cultural center where the Marquesan Inter-Island festival took place last December. We were looking for a historic sacred site listed in our guidebook, supposedly a short hike uphill to one side of the road. Despite asking numerous villagers for directions, we managed to walk right past the turnoff. We doubled back in a heavy downpour, and finally found a slim, grassy, rock-lined path leading right through someone's yard! It turned out to be a steep 1/3 of a mile uphill, so we were glad for the cooling effects of the rain! A pack of black and white spotted dogs joyfully accompanied us, scaring feral chickens out of the bushes along the way.

The sacred site was typical of the ones Vicki and I saw last year - stone walls and platforms, anchored by weathered tikis, and dotted here and there with a rectangular well. Without someone to interpret the scene for us, we were left to our own musings about the grim days when merely to gaze on these rocks was taboo, unless you were either a chief, a priest, or part of the menu!

After a relatively calm night, we decided to move to a different cove, near the smaller village of Hooumi. Unlike Taipivai, we had this spot to ourselves. We enjoyed a hike through the verdant valley and up to an overlook where we could see back to Taipivai. We topped along the way to admire a small church with a stone grotto alongside, and visited an "artisanat" (craft shop) where we purchased some of Madame Teata's beaded necklaces. Afterwards, we cooled off with some snorkeling, although the water here, as elsewhere in the Marquesas, has limited visibility, usually only about 15 feet.

Our second night at anchor was rather dramatic, punctuated by numerous squalls. I cursed myself for not raising the engine and dinghy so that we could quickly get out to sea if need be. Luckily, we awoke still solidly anchored in the center of the cove. Out to sea, we could see whitecaps, so we knew it would be a rough ride back to Taiohae. We had to get an early start in order to check Joseph and Justin out with the gendarmerie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chill-out time in Hakatea

After completing formalities and replenishing the cooler with Hinano beer, we sailed 4 miles down the coast and spent 3 nights anchored at Anse Hakatea (Daniel's Bay). Daniel no longer lives there, and the only inhabitants are cows, horses, and chickens belonging to the villagers in neighboring Hakaui. We hiked up a verdant valley to an incredible waterfall, bought mountains of fresh fruit (pamplemousse, bananas, oranges, papayas, mango, and pineapple) from the friendly locals, snorkeled with manta rays, and slowly cleaned the boat in preparation for Vicki's arrival. This morning we motored back to Taiohae.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Safe arrival in Nuku Hiva

Anchored in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, after a safe and successful 22 day passage from Cabo San Lucas. Light airs for much of the trip, but we ended with several days of very fun tradewind sailing. Nothing broken, plenty of food and water left, ate the last of the fresh food today for lunch. Looking forward to Vicki's arrival here next Tuesday! Thanks to Joseph and Justin for being such fantastic crew members. I could not have done it without your help!