8:48.3S 139:01.73W Baie Taahuku on Hiva Oa. Last dance in Nuku Hiva
8:48.3S 139:01.73W Baie Taahuku on Hiva Oa. Last dance in Nuku Hiva
First to report is a cracked computer screen, after an abortive attempt to send some photos to Yachting Monthly for an article, our casting the dinghy off to return to Zoonie was problematic and in the process the computer, in the padded water-proof bag, must have knocked something and now I write this within two black lines running from the bottom corners to the screen to a black blob in the centre top.
Fingers crossed everything is working on the computer and let’s hope it lasts until New Zealand, when we were planning to get a new computer anyway because the old Dell Finally screamed to a whiteout death two thirds of the way through Mama Mia and now will not even take a charge.
On our last afternoon in Nuku Hiva we took the lengthy and laborious option of taking the 4, 20 litre diesel cans across to the Total fuel station in the dinghy, climbed the stainless steel ladder, amidst children fishing for crabs and a kindly Frenchman who, carrying my full can for me called to the garage attendant in a well-meaning way to say what are you letting this beautiful young woman do this for eh? Well I can imagine can’t I.
On our third trip a blue footed booby bird stood watching the proceedings with his cute pale blue green feet hanging over the rubber fender he was standing on. Mostly dark brown plumage, but he wore a pristine white waist coat with a chic straight cut from shoulder to shoulder. In flight they look like small gannets and the head and beak are similar too.
He made the trips worthwhile. We did three, carting 240 litres to the boat and on the first can of the last trip we were full so we didn’t have to go back again and all the cans are full too. So that’s what we used to cross the Pacific, 120 hours, about 500 miles as much of the time the engine was only charging the batteries and not propelling.
On Saturday evening we dodged the downpours to enjoy the Tahitian Dancing at the same venue as before.
In the scent of thousand times crushed blossoms the dancers spun, dived, reached and chanted at full volume for short bursts of time and then stopped, lapping up the applause before starting again on a different theme. They wore only flowers and foliage, no feathers this time. It was different from the local dances and just as exciting.
Sometimes nature’s percussion was so hard on the metal roof it threatened to outdo the drums inside. Mists of rain reached in to the dance floor through the glassless windows as if it wanted to join in and dancers slipped on the wet floor.
It was persisting when we all left and Rob and I sheltered with the other returning yachties under Henry’s canopy before we ran the gauntlet back to our dry, lit home.
Strong gusts of wind fall off the caldera rim over the bay, but mercifully they are short-lived so although Zoonie straightens her anchor chain slightly as the wind pushes her away from it the gust doesn’t last long enough to pull on the anchor itself.
The next morning the bay echoed to rhythmic drumming practice and canoes were out and around for exercise, and this was on their Sunday. We decided to cross the 82 miles to Hiva Oa overnight so we left at 11.45 and arrived 23 hours later after a lovely sail 60 degrees off the wind and with a tide pushing against us at about 1 knot.
At 3.20am in the moonlight we could not miss the monolith of Hiva Oa, every lungfull of breath smelling of flowers.
The anchor went down next to our friends Torsten and Hille’s yacht Infinity, a 40 foot Halberg Rassy. We became friends during the ARC Portugal Rally in 2014 and couldn’t wait to see them again. They weren’t on board so we relaxed on board and took in the surroundings in this tiny harbour. The promise of the arrival of big ships on Wednesday and Thursday added an essence to the mix.
They returned with their friends Mathias and Serca (apologies if I have spelt that wrong Serca) and we visited them on board after returning from our trek into town in the cool of the evening.
The next day a Tahitian police woman at the gendarmerie took our details before we bought a snack at the supermarket and made our way up to the Calgary Cemetery to visit Gauguin who has been resting there since 1903. What a view over the bay. On leafless trees white/yellow blossoms gave off a creamy rose perfume, perhaps frangipani? Oh Mr Google, where are you when I need you. And Jacques Brel, singer songwriter, that’s all I know!
I admonished Gauguin for his unkind treatment of Van Gogh and then we sat on the plinth of the white cross under our blue brolly to protect from sun and rain, to eat our lunch soaking up the fine view for living eyes only.
Wandering back down the hill the heavens opened once more and as we sheltered we watched a coconut and pamplemousse have a race down the water filled ditch by the road. The coconut won because its competitor got stuck.
In a colourful little bar with odd opening times from 7.30am to 1.30pm we supped cold beer while waiting for the Gauguin museum to open.
Back in Bahia we had met a French couple in their catamaran who were planning to go to the Gambier Islands on their way here. Well they walked past us carrying a bag of baguettes. It was good to see their familiar faces and they told us they were planning to have their boat lifted into the boat yard for their return home. That will be interesting to watch I thought. “But they cannot do it if it is wet,” and it’s wet a lot of the time at the moment.
Gauguin’s replica house is a modest affair built in the middle of town. Built on stilts wooden steps lead up to the main room which is empty but for a tiny corner by the glassless window where an easel is set up. Glass cases show photocopies of the inventory of his room contents and his art production and it is from these one must imagine what the room looked like in his time.
The museum building is full of good copies of his work and letters to friends and his long suffering wife bringing up her five children back home. I like the way his art developed into something quite new and distinct and largely his own invention. He captures the vibrant colours of French Polynesia and his females’ faces convey a complexity of moods. Simple and bold and distinctly Gauguin.
The walk from the harbour to the town is a fairly steep climb and takes about 50 minutes. Thumbing a lift only rarely works but then the exercise is welcome.
We strolled back to Zoonie for a quick wash before joining our German friends for a meal starting with Poisson Cru at the Relais Moehau restaurant overlooking the bay, of course. Our waitress had an orchid in her hair, my two fish in vanilla sauce was bountiful and delicious and Rob’s entrecote steak with Roquefort sauce was flavoursome and tender, our company was lovely, all the way up the hill Serca and Mathias had talked in English with me. The rain pattering on our veranda roof added to the ambience, especially with the knowledge we were getting a lift back in the 4x4 hotel taxi! Our French friends were also dining and I had to be dragged away to the waiting vehicle.
The Search for the lost Mona Lisa Tiki Souriant (Smiling Tiki).
Our little silver Suzuki Jinmy sped its efficient way northeast out of Atuona up and along a good concrete road to a roundabout where we turned, a droite , towards the airport where the best mechanic on the island is sometimes unavailable because his main job is ‘the’ air traffic controller!
We had a machete in the back and Rob cut down a fine hand of bananas that was hanging near the road. On through beautiful woodland with so many different shapes, sizes and greens of trees the air must be almost all oxygen.
Suddenly we emerged, high up and on the north coast of the island where the road became soil, muddy in places and very uneven as we started to precipitate around the ridged lava flows as they descend to the seashore with pretty little bays in between, all inhabited, and then rise again with more hair-raising bends and climbs and descents.
On top of one bare promontory a herd of goats grazing and relaxing were used to vehicles pulling up for a look. They had a supply of acacia branches to keep them munching.
In places the only way to construct the road was to take a bite out of the hillside to give a level surface and this gave us a tight hairpin bend with sheer drops all around and the hope there would be nothing coming the other way.
We stopped in one of these bays and had a cool can to drink with the lady in her snack bar. Its all do it yourself here. The building was well built, hand-painted and surrounded by a trimmed garden of flowering bushes on a natural lush green carpet. She knew no English so we chatted in French. I’m lazy, if someone offers English fine, if they can’t I can get by in French.
On the beach the high water mark is cluttered with bleached wood and white coral and coconut husks complete with coarse hair that look like canabalised heads! We found an intact coconut and Rob opened it with the machete and extracted the pulp. All around each house has its own copra production stagings with the white pulp in various stages of drying ready to be sacked up and delivered to the ship, due in on Thursday.
Diggers, rollers and bulldozers have a constant task keeping the road open and clear and we passed one high up on a narrow stretch of mud, holding our breaths.
I didn’t mention to Rob at the time, the clear break in the foliage at the edge, where it looked as if something had gone over, hopefully just pushed rocks and soil.
We stopped for lunch at Baie Nahoe and sat near a smoking coconut fire hoping it might keep the bugs away. The bay was lovely, leaning palms, rushing surf, a red and white piroque moored to a buoy just offshore but the biting bugs sent us back to the aircon of the vehicle. Such places best viewed from an elevated position perhaps.
Our destination, you might well ask, was the sacred tiki site at Paumau. Encircled by the curve of basalt heights around it and amidst giant trees this extensive restored site is maintained by a grandmother on the end of a strimmer being helped by her two grandsons. The main tiki has his seated wife near him and a crawling baby in-front. Thanks to our tour with Eric we could easily recognise the pae paes (house floors) and tohuas (communal areas) and knowing the most sacred areas are the highest one gets the impression of the arrangement of their lives.
We secreted a couple of breadfruit into the boot to join the papaya and pamplemousse we bought at the snack bar, and the bananas and started our return, in search of the Tiki Souriant.
Well we know the road between Atuona and the airport really well now but we still couldn’t find the sign. We should not have expected it to be visible as you drive by, silly us. The kind lass back at the hire car place gave us details, a square white sign on the right.
That’s better, we stood a metre from it just to confirm we were in the right place, but that was just the start of the fun. Rob took a photo of the directions on the sign written in the daintiest black felt tip and off we went.
Skirting through the gap around the barbed wire barrier to prevent vehicular access the track soon became mud and we were reminded of our trek in the mud forest in Gaudeloupe. 300 metres down we had to cross a stream and then 30 metres on the Tiki was to the right. We slid and stumbled and came round a bend to some myopic pigs grunting and snuffling their way up the track. “If they’re wild boar I’m going back” I said.
“I think they’re too small and I don’t see any tusks” said Rob, a relief I thought. We moved forward again and the lead one saw us, grunted once (I leave you to choose the equivalent in English.) The others immediately squealed in unison and they ran back down that hill as fast as shit off a shovel, their ears and tails vibrating manically. Really funny that was.
We followed, turned right “The mud on your legs is disgusting babe” He knows how to compliment a dame does my man.
On down the hill we saw some crates and pens and realised we had made chez cochon complete with ‘THE BOAR’ behind the flimsiest shuttering and grunting threateningly, he at least must have been wearing his specs.
Our passage back up the hill was determined and quick, with the hope we weren’t being followed. At the top we washed our feet and legs off in the slightly less muddy stream water and had nearly decided to give up when Rob spotted a narrow but well worn opening to a track on the left.
With nothing to lose we struggled over fallen palm leaves, down by another stream and soon started spotting Pae Paes almost hidden by undergrowth and trees. And there she was, be-spectacled and smiling enigmatically at the escapades of her visitors no doubt, amidst a site equally mysterious in its utterly beautiful unexcavated state. Rob photographed me standing by her, she only came up to my waist but leaned affectionately in for the pose. See what you think when I can finally send you the pics, is she smiling is she wearing spectacles? Is she the Mona Lisa of the Marquesas?
Back on board we were having supper in the cockpit when the red supply ship was preparing to leave. She had dropped a bow anchor just metres in front of us while two of her small craft took bow and stern lines to the shore. She then winched herself in on the lines to the dock. The reverse procedure followed for her to leave. Her bow crossed infront of us no more than 10 metres away. We had already moved back behind the imaginary line determined by two yellow posts on the shore.
I know I’m odd but I love to watch shipping movements. Once the anchor chain had finished clunking into the locker she motored almost without a sound out into the black night and her onward journey.
A small outboard sounded behind us and (Clapham East London) Ryan and Spanish Marko arrived to ask us to drinks on Ryan’s and Tasha’s cat Cheeky Monkey. There are only eight boats in here at present and we now know everyone’s crew except for one boat. Plus seeing our German friends and friends from Bahia this is a small place that unites people.
Ryan and Tasha met while doing TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) in Qatar and it was great to meet a Swiss couple with an Irishman crew, English Chris with interesting stories of the tsunami that hit this bay after the earthquakes in Ecuador, French Canadian Thomas, maker of a delicious loaf of bread with caraway seeds in it and his crew Andre on their traditional style ketch.
Yesterday morning we had to move again because the bigger and longer Cargo/cruise liner Aranui 5 was due in soon. With manta and sting rays all round us curiously watching our antics and hoping for some food scraps we upped both anchors, did a circle and re-positioned a few metres further back.
Sacks of copra started to pile up on the quay ready for shipment to Tahiti and groups of curious locals like us await the spectacle with interest.
Rob busied himself with rigging a canopy to go over the aft hatch so we could sleep with it wide open and not get rain inside the cabin, while I cleaned and made flapjack, trying to use up the Spanish honey as it won’t be allowed in New Zealand.
Around midday the one year old modern white ship loomed around the headland. “Blimey Rob, she is big!” I wondered if we had left her enough room. Two guys from one of her launches asked if we felt secure as her white hull turned away from its anchore just infront of us. By the time she had passed infront of us we both realised her anchor chain was now laid over ours but we reasoned it should lift off just as easily. This is the fourth such ship built owned and run by the Chinese family Wong. There was no number 4.
The young man at the car hire office said they do a happy hour from 5.30 which includes visitors as they stay overnight. In fact she does not stay overnight and when I got up before 5 to start this blog she had gone, silently. But not before the frenzied activity to get her unloaded carried on on the quay while Tahitian Vaipau showed us around her.
If ever you are interested this would be a lovely way to see the islands. The locals use it as a ferry and have their own dormitory while Germans, English and French use different lounges for lectures and documentaries. She carries 253 passengers and had 210 at the time and 100 staff look after them in 103 ensuite bedrooms. There are 9 decks and an open rear terrace with pool. Try as I could I could not see a Password for the wifi clearly displayed in the library!