There are a total of 11 islands and 1 atoll,
forming the north eastern part of French Polynesia, which is often described as
Our first stop was Atuona for 5 days where Murray
managed to lose the customs clearance form between the Gendarmerie and the Post
Office (it was a good 50 yards). Upon returning to the police station, to fill
out a second form he was told this was not possible and the original would have
to be found, there was no option. A brief discussion (in French - ish) ensued
and eventually the Gendarme relented and simply photocopied the carbon copy onto
the back of a new original - easy really!
Paradise or not? Well, there are a number of very
good looking girls, but they wear shorts and football shirts and their smiles
reflect the fact there is plenty of fruit, but no dentists!
We were lucky in that in Atuona on Hiva Oa (count
those vowels!) where we stayed for a few nights they built a wall along the
beach to prevent nonos from breeding (they need wet and dry sand) The nonos are
small and agressive sand flies which can leave open sores after biting you.
These islands are not a beach holiday destination, that's for sure.
We took a guided tour of the island with Freda (age
58) who pointed out the tree that 'grass' skirts are made from. Her complaint
about the youth of today was that they are too lazy to make their own and order
them in from China or Singapore.
Freda also told us a creepy story about one of the
small uninhabited islands. In her grandmother's time all 2,000 of the
inhabitants attended a dance and the beating of the drums casued an avalanche
which trapped them in the natural amphitheatre they were using. The drums were
used to send a distress signal and relatives from nearby islands attended, but
were unable to find the buried islanders. The drums carried on beating for 3
months, before fading away.
Lunch on the tour was a mixture of local dishes.
Starting with delicious fried breadfruit, yellowfin tuna cooked by marinating in
lemon juice and milk, which was also lovely and plaintain, then goat (not
so good - better in the Caribbean) and pork dishes with rice, banana soaked
in milk and delightful coconut and manioc cakes to go with the best cup of
coffee of the whole trip.
We went to see the Tiki ('images of
Leigh - there is a faded carving of a Llama on the
base of one - is this proof of settlement from South America, or thet
Polynesians commuted back and forth?
The islands used to have a population of around
90,000, but were depopulated thanks to the French. In 1842 they introduced
syphilis, smallpox, dysentery, measles, leprosy, tuberculosis and malaria. No
surprise that by 1872 the population had reduced to 5,000.
The Marquesan men still have traditional tattoos,
but elsewhere they have been banned by the Queen of Tahiti (where the tattoo was
invented) and you cannot get a job if you have tattos.
The Marquesans no longer eat 'long pig' and have
stopped human sacrifices (where do you find a virgin these days?)
We have, for several years, played the game 'name
the famous Belgian' only to stop short after Tintin and Poirot. Now, thanks to
Hiva Oa, we have discovered the singer Jaques Brel - we have even seen his grave
(but have yet to hear his music!) so now someone wins every time. He is buried
in the same graveyard as Gauguin who came here when he ran out of underage girls
As we left Hiva Oa, we were followed by 2 large
sharks. Other guide books had warned that the anchorage was full of sharks, but
the visibility wasn't good enough to see.