Oa Pou

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Tue 29 May 2018 08:06

9:21.5S 140:02.8W

Hakahau, the main village on Oa Pou and the third largest in the Marquesas was surprisingly quiet.     A gang of council workers were repairing the road but otherwise there was practically no one. We found a shop and it sold French baguettes and the best croissants in the Southern Hemisphere that we have eaten so far. Next to the town hall there was a building with a door open and three women chatting outside. One of them shouted out:

“You can come in, it’s a craft centre.” There was no sign to say as much.

We were hoping to do some walking. Doudou whom we had met on Tahuata had told us about a path that crosses the island and we had decided to hire a guide, probably Jérôme, Doudou’s son in law who runs a guest house.

The next morning Franco stayed on Caramor and I headed into ‘town’ to phone Jérôme. I dropped by the craft centre and the lady on duty greeted me:

“What are you doing here? You should be up at the fair!”

“Fair?” I asked.

“Yes, everybody’s there. Why do you think it is so quiet!”

We chatted some more. She knew both Jeanne-Marie, the mayor of Tahuata’s wife and Simon, the carver on Fatu Hiva, of course both were from Oa Pou. She told me that Felix, Jeanne-Marie’s husband was at a meeting of all the mayors of the Marquesas in the town hall next door.

“Once the meeting is over, he will have spare time. He may visit his in-laws but more likely he has other plans.” She told me.

This sounded terribly like gossip to me and I do love a bit of tittle-tattle.

Back on Caramor, Franco had dismantled Aries, he had decided to change some more parts. We finished putting Aries back together again and headed for the fair. It was organised by the Agricultural Cooperative of Oa Pou and was the first in ten years. There were stalls selling crafts, fruit and veg, books and odds and sods. There was a juice bar. Every lunchtime there was a buffet of local food, our chance at last to sample some Polynesian delicacies. There were also competitions, the best bowl of fruit, the best cow, goat and pig and the fastest copra making team. It was just like a county fair back home in Wales, I was in my element. 


Popoi is mashed very fermented breadfruit, we liked it. Sweet potatoes prove that the Polynesians made it to Peru. The raw fish and octopus were very tasty


Franco at the juice bar


Fruit bowls in the competition

It was also a chance for different interest groups to hold meetings; we were there for the ‘Association 193’ presentation. One hundred and ninety-three is the total number of nuclear explosions carried out by the French Government on two atolls in the Tuamotu archipelago. (In a previous post I mistakenly said there had been 193 atmospheric nuclear tests.) The cancer rate in French Polynesia is far higher than in continental France and at last there has been recognition of the harm done to the Polynesians. A law has been passed which entitles radio activity related cancer sufferers and their families to compensation. The process isn’t easy, a case has to be made and presented to a judicial process in France. The first cases were submitted two years ago and so far none have even been looked at. The association is helping people put forward their cases.


The impressive peaks of Oa Pou are all volcanic plugs

From the phone box I had spoken to Elisa, Jérôme’s wife and she had told me to turn up at the guest house at 8:30 the following morning. I had asked her if she ran a restaurant. She did, but she was busy that night with 25 guests. 

“Maybe another night,” I suggested.

“Guests have priority, and anyway it’s by special arrangement only.” She retorted.

“Not much of a restaurant,” I thought.

The next morning at the guest house:

“Hi, I’m Kath, I phoned yesterday. Are you Elisa?”


Hmm, hmm, obviously Elisa didn’t do small talk.

“Is Jérôme here?” I asked. 

Elisa pointed towards a Frenchman with tattoos wearing a short cloth wrapped around his hips who was eating breakfast.

“Hi Jérôme,” we said.

No answer. We were at the point of leaving when finally he spoke to us. It seemed a strange way to run a tourism venture.

Two guests would be arriving a little later and activities would depend on what they wanted to do, probably a visit to a restored archeological site and a hike across the island on Sunday.


Caramor in the Bay taken from Jérôme and Elisa’s guest house

Back on Caramor we checked emails, it was 11am on Friday. There was an email from the dive school where we were hoping to do a scuba diving course:

“You need a health certificate” it read. 

We dashed to the medical centre, it was our only hope, nothing would be possible at the week-end and we were sailing on Monday.

The reception couldn’t have been warmer. 

“Of course we can issue you with a medical certificate. Is there anything else you need? Any health issues? We treat everyone for free here,” explained the reception nurse. 

Our eyes, blood pressure, heart rate and weight were checked, then we were ECGed. All good. As we were waiting to see the doctor so that he could write up the medical certificate, he walked out with a small boy who was coughing badly.

“How long has this child been coughing?” The doctor asked the father.

“Since yesterday,” answered the father.

“Is that yesterday-three days ago or yesterday-longer?” 

Clearly the doctor was familiar with the different time dimension in the Marquesas. The people we had met had all been ‘on time’ but struggled to quantify ‘elapsed time’ in the past. “How long ago?” or “how many per year?” were two of my questions that generally remained unanswered. 

The trips we signed up to with Jérôme were worthwhile. His two guests, Céline and Pierre were great fun and we enjoyed meeting them. We set off in Jérôme’s car from the guest house, he hadn’t said a word, then suddenly he clicked into action and spoke non-stop for the next few hours. He is very knowledgeable about the Marquesan past and culture and has a memory for facts and figures.


Stone sculptor’s daughter polishing


The ‘temple’, the sleeping terraces were further up the slope


The chief’s platform


The tiki is contemporary, a present from the neighbouring island Nuku Hiva, Jérôme explains his tattoos and the dips in the foreground were used by the master tattooist to make the ink ( the stone would have been the other way up)

The hike across a corner of the island along an old track used for the extraction of copra was interesting and we would have struggled to find the path on our own. Jérôme described the many plants and their uses, most of which were brought by the Polynesians. 


Looking back towards Hakahau 


Inca steps?


Kath enjoying swimming in fresh water

Elisa dropped us off at the start of the walk and picked us up at the end. She only ever spoke to complain about something. I felt sorry for her, she isn’t a happy woman.

That evening we returned to the fair, it was the grand final and there was going to be a ball and a buffet. We paid our due and were seated at a large table. A local band was playing and it was great to hear some local music. A little later we were joined by a couple of ladies and a man. They sat down but didn’t return our greeting. We hoped they didn’t feel put out by our presence at their table. Jérôme had explained that Polynesians don’t do effusive greetings and that traditionally there wasn’t a word for ‘thank you’. There was a word the king would use to thank his subjects but this was overkill in day to day life. The Marquesan Academy has since coined a word, so as to adjust the language to the norms of French politeness. 

After a short while a plate of crisps and peanuts was pushed towards us. Our neighbours were sharing their snacks with us. One of the ladies opened a bottle of wine and offered us a glass, we didn’t feel we could accept given the price of wine here!

After a few speeches (the mayor went on for ever, and then decided to do it all again in French), the buffet was served. Everybody got up and rushed to the table. Our companions urged us to join the fray before all the food disappeared, but remained seated themselves.

Franco and I held back a little longer, we aren’t used to fighting for our food (Franco is one of five brothers but he is out of practice). I found refuge in a small group of women who seemed to be queueing and together we broke through the mêlée to the food. A big burly guy was behind me,

“Hurry hurry” he urged, then he realised I wasn’t local and backed off a little. 

“Is that pork?” He asked me. I told him I didn’t know, so he stuck his finger in my plate. 

“Yes, that’s pork,” he confirmed. I was amused and impressed, I don’t think I can tell meat apart by feel.

The music livened up and the women got dancing. There are some large ladies here but on the dance floor they certainly move those hips.

It was a fun night out and we had been made welcome. As we left, the lady from the craft centre who had told us about the fair waved us goodnight.