Fatu Hiva, tapas and back in Hiva Oa

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Sat 9 May 2015 02:36
Dear Family and Friends,

8th May 2015

Omoa, Fatu Hiva
Some 40+ miles from Hiva Oa, Omoa  lies on the Sw coast of an island at the SE most point of the Marquesan group, with 3000 and more miles of Pacific ocean to the east, Pitcairn and the Antarctic to the south and the Tuamoto atolls and island reefs to the SW. For all its sense of being an outpost of the French nation, with all the islanders needs arriving by weekly cargo boat, (no airport), there is an air of other worldliness, a slow pace of life and quiet community. Residents sit and talk, there’s no hurry, (but there’s none of the community meeting places we saw Tahuata, strange), At the post office, French TV channels played in the background on a flat screen (yes they have them here too), with wifi, mail and phone boxes, the outside world is within reach.

As we walked through the streets, home life is lived as much outside under the shade of a lean to roof as inside, sun dried bananas lay on racks, (these are delicious, sweet and a similiar texture to dried apricots, nothing like the dried banana slices which are disappointing!), fresh hands of regular and small ‘fig’ bananas are strung up. Fish or perhaps meat was being smoked on open racks. Chickens wander freely through the gardens, many properties have bread fruit, banana, pamplemousse (grapefruit) and lime trees. With good fertile soil I am surprised not to see more being grown although we did come across a star fruit tree. We scrumped a couple of fruit, (on the public road honest) to see whether they tasted any better fresh. I have called time on this fruit, it promises much with its star shape but even straight from the tree it is disappointing, a vaguely sweet and vegetable taste. More curious though are the racks on rails ( very similar to those of Grenada for drying cocoa), drying the coconut meat. The smell is a pungent cheesey one as the meat ferments, (it tastes like that too) and I have no idea what they use this for. I read that there is a copra (coconut fibre) industry but again we haven’t seen any evidence of it’s use.

Walking on, haphazard plantations of banana and coconut palms grow on the steep slopes, occasional big leaved taro, sandal wood and aromatic plants as cultivation gives way to natural vegetation. Cows and pigs are tethered , respectively in the forest and at home. Many clear streams rush down over the smooth lava boulders in the valleys, and it is so refreshing to stand bare footed for a few minutes in the cool waters after a hot climb from the village.

Chez Lionel, a pension hotel with no signs to announce this, (local knowledge is everything here, we had a similar lack of success in finding the well hidden bakery), failed to yield up Lionel, the Fatu Hiva head of tourism, the font of all local tourism and a taxi. Sadly he was out! Shame we would have liked to have done more, we were urged to see the views from the road to Hanavave but the alarming gradient to the road in hot and steamy walking conditions just didn’t appeal.

Fatu Hiva is the last place, certainly in the Marquesas, where the tapa bark cloth is made. Bark from certain trees is pounded, treated and used a base for the most lovely traditional Polynesian paintings. We found the smallest of signs, went into the grounds and found a lovely retired man, painting tapa. I asked for tapa, he pointed to his work and seemed non plus-ed by my lack of intelligible French. When I asked for other pieces, he invited us into his kitchen, opened a chest and there was a real treasury of this exquiste art, extraordinary. We purchased a few pieces which I shall treasure and left feeling as though we had just experienced something both unique to us and a living tradition. Then I worried about how I would get it back onto the boat dry and in one piece, as the swell in the harbour was both challenging and wet. But we did.

Up with the moon, we set sail to Hiva Oa hoping to arrive to meet Anne and Jonathan as they finally reach land at first light after a very fraught Pacific crossing. Theirs has been a real high drama for the last week, first one mast support fitting broke, then another, and worse another too. So impressively Anne is up the mast in a 2-3m swell making temporary lashings for the rigging, reported that the mast was moving, they could not fly any sails, had to borrow fuel from another boat to complete the crossing (in itself a difficult exercise at sea), and to cap it all their generator to charge the batteries (navigation and most other boat functions) failed as well. We are so pleased to see them well and the boat with its mast still up! Anne and Jonathan, are robust characters who have dealt with this  drama on the high seas amazingly well but what a stressful time.

Off to walk the 45 minutes into town, hopefully connect to the wifi!

All our best,

Lynne and Alan