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Date: 09 Jun 2012 07:29:50
Title: Isles Marquises: Tahuata, Fatu Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pou

Lat 9:21.20 S
Lon 140:06.15 W

10 days into cruising around the Marquesas, and we are loving the baguettes, roquefort, camembert and saucisson...

Of course I am joking, this place is unreal, but it was nice having proper cheese after dinner. Anyway, I think I may have rambled on too much about cheese so I'll tell you about the Marquesas, which really are unparalleled, at least compared to anywhere I've been or seen before.

There are 10 islands (and numerous large rocks) that make up this island chain in the middle of the Pacific. We are visiting 5 of them and during the last week have been to Tahuata, Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa, and we are now anchored on the fourth of our trip - Ou Pou - pronounced Wapoo. The Marquesas are very mountainous, all formed out of volcanic rock, and the rocks are sheer, rising steeply out of the water to peaks of 2000 metres. There are spires and multiple peaks on each island, and all have deep gorges and valleys, towering cliffs and stunning views.

After leaving Hiva Oa where we had checked in with the relaxed Gendarmes (French police), we sailed for an hour to reach the island of Tahuata (this story will work better with the aid of Google maps). The cruising guidebook we have advised us to anchor in bay a little further south but the first bay we came to was a beautiful arc with a palm tree clad beach at the head of it, and most importantly no other boats. So we anchored for the night, snorkelled round the bay, encountering our first Manta ray and a child's skull in the shallows...WHAT? I should probably fill you in that on several islands the Marquesan people were cannibals until relatively recently, so on finding a rock that looked exactly like a small skull I was entitled to a mild freak out. Even Archie had to dive down to confirm it was in fact a rock and not a sign for us to get the hell off the island! After the excitement of the manta ray and lack of cannibals, and seeing as the bay was not inhabited, we took advantage of the fantastic beach and gathered coconuts, wood and palm fronds for a camp fire on the beach. We barbecued fish we'd caught and some of the infamous Panama cow (still going strong) and had a very enjoyable and memorable evening on the beach, telling stories, watching the fire and the gazing at the stars. This is what we came for.

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The next day while Archie and Jamie went kitesurfing, Dad and I decided to try and scramble up the side of the bay to get a view from the top of the ridge. The hillside was covered in what looked like knee high grass, which turned out to be 6 foot high thick plants with angry giant wasps hidden in the bushes. Somehow I managed to avoid getting stung, but I have never heard Dad in so much pain. We must have been too close to their nest, because one wrong foot and poor Dad was yelping and screaming out profanities, and at one stage, he literally had to throw himself down the hill, rolling through the bushes to get rid of the wasps. He emerged with about 20 wasp stings, each one as big as a 50 pence piece. We have renamed them F**K wasps as that is what comes of your mouth when you get stung by these buggers. They look a bit like what we'd call a hornet in the UK and the sting is apparently extremely painful for about 10 minutes. Jamie got stung a few days later on Hiva Oa and witnesses can confirm that F**k wasps was indeed a very apt nickname. The view from the top of the hill was great but some would say not worth the pain - here is a photo of Mystic in the bay, looking North with Hiva Oa in the background. We spent another 2 nights on Tahuata, in other bays that were equally picture perfect, and we got in our first solo dives with all the gear we bought in Panama, without a guide.

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The next day lifted the hook at 2am and sailed down to Fatu Hiva - the most Southern island in the group. On the way into Fatu Hiva a huge pod of dolphins accompanied us for about an hour. The clear water and bright sunshine provided another wonderful Kodak moment as the dolphins jumped out of the water all around us. There are only two villages on little Fatu Hiva and the people that live there are completely self sufficient - being so isolated they have little choice but to grow what they need to eat. There is plenty of rain on Fatu Hiva and it is the most lush of all the islands. We stopped briefly in the larger village as it had a store, and we found an old man harvesting fruit that offered to take us to his house to look at some Tapa - printed drawings on dried out bark that becomes like a paper. We didn't buy any Tapa (Aussie customs would have something to say about that) but we did find some delicious dried bananas. There is only one road on Fatu Hiva, linking the two villages, Omoa and Hanavave. Dad and I walked the 17km road up and over the mountains to Hanavave, otherwise known as the Bay of Virgins (and previously known as the Bay of Penises until Catholic missionaries changed the name!). This was one of the most stunning walks I have ever done. The lush, steep mountains, valleys and ridges were breathtaking, and around every corner was another amazing view. The Bay of Virgins is regarded as one of the most spectacular in the world by those who have visited it. We spent two nights here, and walked up to a waterfall that we swam under for a Timotei moment, traded some cosmetics for Papaya, Pamplemouse (sweet Grapefruit), Lemons and Bananas, and watched the locals playing boule after a few beers on Sunday afternoon.

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Our next stop was back up north to an island called Oa Pou, but we decided to break the journey with a stop on the West coast of Hiva Oa, a different bay on the first island we had arrived into after the passage from Galapagos. The tiny village of Hanamenu had about 8 houses, all with beautiful perfectly manicured gardens, but no one was around. We eventually found one man cutting up coconuts, and another strimming the grass (a favourite pastime of Marquesans it seems) but other than that the place was deserted. We decided it must be a weekend haunt. The Lonely Planet showed a track leading out from Hanamenu up a ridge, so off we went on an expedition through the Marquesan jungle. Various disagreements followed concerning what was a "path", as we criss-crossed over the dried up river bed and along some wild pig trails, and eventually just bashed our way through the bush. After an hour the Wood-Hill's called time and headed back along the river, but the adventurous duo continued and eventually Jamie and Archie climbed above the tree line but still didn't get anywhere hear the top of the ridge line. Lonely Planet lies it turns out.

Breakfast with a view (of the mountains)

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Captain Bird's Eye with a branch of Bananas we traded for some fishing line - Dad hasn't shaved since the UK. No sign of anything living in it yet though...

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Walking across Shark Bay (no sharks seen)

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Finally we reached Ou Pou, which is visually stunning with multiple spires towering over the rest of the island - remnants from volcanic eruptions where the rest of earth around the spires has eroded away. We anchored in Bay Vaieo for a quick snorkel before lunch. Whilst we were looking for a place to anchor, we spotted a huge Manta ray in the water. In the excitement "we" also drove over the fishing line that had been out the back of the boat, and got it caught around the propeller. We cut the engine and Archie jumped in to cut the line (or to check out the Manta ray - I'm still not quite sure about the "accident"). Anyway, for the remainder of the day we had the most incredible underwater experience of the trip so far. It turned out that in this bay there were huge amounts of jelly fish, which is not great news until we realised that eating the jelly fish were 5 giant Manta rays, larger than we had ever seen before - 3 metres across (that's one and half Archies from wing tip to wing tip) and just awesome in the truest sense of the word. They were quite inquisitive and not scared of us at all, and as time wore on they came within just over a metre of each of us. it was incredible watching these giants cruising around so gracefully. After the newly named Manta Ray Bay we anchored in Hakehetau Bay. We spent two nights here, as we met a very friendly local who sourced some more fruit for us, and some jam, and who has a restaurant in the village which we visited for dinner last night. He had been a chef for the admiral of the French navy boat for 20 years. The food was fantastic - smoked marlin, mahi mahi, breadfruit chips, beans and for desert some kind of mango pastry with lashings of chantilly cream, all topped off with a bottle of real French plonk. A real treat and much better than the meal we had when we first reached landfall in the posh hotel.

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We are now on the way to Nuka Hiva - the capital of the Marquesas. We should have internet access and will be exploring the island for about 4 days, as well as provisioning for the next 3 weeks in the Tuamotus!

Lunchtime today - leaving Ou Pou for Nuku Hiva

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More soon from the Mystic crew xx

(Current view out the back of the boat of Ou Pou)

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