The Marquiesas islands - wild polynesia



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Approaching Nuku Hiva we where stunned by the dramatic scenery. Tall green mountains shooting straight out of the sea , covered in jungle, and waterfalls pouring off the cliffs. It was a fantastic way to arrive. To make it even more memorable we were met by 4 very playful dolphins. The show they put on was a fantastic sea-world display of jumps and twists.  At one point three of them did the Dolphin equivalent of synchronized swimming. They would jump out of the water at the exact same time and do the exact same jump.

Dolphin show  Approaching Nuku Hiva  The Bay

As you can probably guess after 22 days at sea we couldn't wait to go ashore, and were thrilled to find a few shops selling baguettes and brie cheese! This, being French Polynesia the "savages" have been taught to appreciate the better parts of French culture; Baguettes, cheese and wine. So we just had to stock up. The town Taiohae and the bay remind us very much of Deshaies in Guadeloupe, except that the bay is wider. The town was all centered around the main street that ran along the front of the bay. Behind it a large valley surrounded by impressive mountains created something similar to a bowl. The bay itself offers a large spacious anchorage, but a rolly one. Magnus who joined us in San Blas, left us here in Nuku Hiva. He joined a Danish boat called "Frigg" and sailed on towards Tahiti. Frigg has 4 other young Scandinavians onboard making sure Magnus had a good time. It was good to have him onboard, but he was on a tighter time schedule than us and had to move on to Tahiti.

The people being Polynesian are quite large in size and are very friendly. The women have long ,black hair and nearly always have a flower behind their ear. Even when they are out jogging, they have a flower behind the ear! They wear colorful sarongs wrapped around their waists, although the western style of dressing is also popular. The men have very interesting tattoos on their arms and faces as is the tradition. They are quite athletic and much more attractive than the women judging with an European eye. After checking in with the local authorities we were told we all had to go to the hospital and get tablets for Elephantitis, as apparently it is a problem here and it is transmitted by mosquitoes. Elephantitis is a nasty little worm that grows in your lymph system and makes your legs swell up to Elephant proportions hence the name.

Police  woman with "flower power"    A typical Marquiesan

There are many wild horses on these islands, particularly in Nuku Hiva, and just about everyone owns one or two of them. Apparently if you can catch a wild one you can claim it for your own. You find horses tied up everywhere you go, and Camilla was thrilled to find a couple of young horses tied just next to the dinghy dock. Everyday she would go and pat them and even found an old brush onboard to groom them. They seemed quite surprised by all the attention. In the afternoons many bring their horses down to the beach and ride bareback up and down the beach. It is quite a sight to see. Camilla went riding with a local boy up over the mountains one day, but they took it easy and used saddles!

     Camilla and horses. Local kid and his horse

On Saturday mornings there is a market by the dock, but it starts at 4 am and you have to get there early. As in most tropical countries we have been to people do get up early. The reason for the 4 AM start is however that this is when the fishermen comes back from their nightly fishing expeditions. So the catch is very very fresh. We went ashore with torches and tried to pick out some fresh vegetables and fruits. The farmers sell their produce from the back of their trucks and it is much cheaper than the shops. One lady was even selling French pastries and they were beautifully decorated and very tasty. Under a tarpaulin was a make shift restaurant where they sold roasted pig, goat and smoked chicken. Henry, who was responsible for cooking the meat, had been up all night preparing it. His wife and kids where sleeping on a mattress under a tree nearby when we arrived there at 5am. We discovered that the people of the Marquiesas eat a big breakfast and then very little else during the day. The supermarket is selling roasted chicken meals first thing in the mornings even on Sundays, so you could have a hearty breakfast before church. It was hard to tuck into a roast chicken so early in the morning, but we tried it anyway and it was delicious.

Coffee from cereal bowls at 0500 AM

One Sunday we went to the local catholic church and heard the beautiful singing. Everyone sings and harmonizes, while someone strums on a guitar or ukulele. The church was full and it was a very colorful congregation. At one time during the service everyone was to greet the people next to them. The man in front of us turns around to shake our hand. He is athletic, well dressed with long black hair, wild pig tusks around his neck and covered with ethnic Tattoos from top to toe. He was the very personification of a Marquiesan. The missionaries did not change the deep nature of the people even though they managed to convert them to Christianity. It is like these people have one foot in each tradition. The church itself was very modern with contemporary architecture using a blend of local materials, stone and wood. There where many wooden sculptures surrounding the room creating a unique Polynesian feel. It was quite an experience.

After a few days in the bay we decided to explore some more of the island and set sail for a bay known to yachties as "Daniels Bay". We sailed in company with Ruby Slippers a family from Seattle. The anchorage is called so because Daniel used to supply boats with fresh water from a spigot that he had attached to a buoy out in the bay. He has since died, but the local people will fill your jerry cans if you give them a small gift. We gave them rum and coffee, and before we knew it they had filled our dinghy with a large bunch of bananas, about 8 massive grapefruits called Pamplemousse and a bag of limes. There are few houses in this remote bay, and we understood why when we saw the surrounding mountains towering up around them in spires and valleys. It was breathtakingly dramatic! Such wild terrain does not lend itself to roads so there is no connection with the rest of the island. To get to Taiohae where the shops are the only way is to go by horseback over the mountain, which takes a day or two, or go by boat.

Coconut in Daniels Bay Walking in Daniels Bay

To get to the houses in Daniels bay you have to dinghy up a river that winds behind a sand bar. The kids jumped in and swam and thought it was such fun to be pulled downstream by the current. The water was very refreshing but a bit cold. Walking up the valley from the river landing we found several stone "tikis", or stone statues lining the path. The Tikis are remains of the old beliefs held on these islands before the Europeans. Tikis can be found all over Polynesia but the most known are the giant statues in Easter Island. Thor Heyerdahl, who set across the pacific in a bamboo raft to prove that the Polynesians came from South America, spent a year here in the Marquiesas. It was the statues that got him thinking that there was a common culture on all these islands. Where there are Tikis you can also find stone platforms that formed the foundation of houses and ritual buildings. What was quite remarkable to us was that the locals paid so little attention to them. There was no obvious pride or understanding that they where valuable cultural artifacts. They where just there. But some areas and some actions where still taboo. You could not move a Tiki, as that would be instant bad luck. The locals also had to stay away from certain areas. It was no problem if we wanted to go there, but for them it was forbidden territory. Daniels Bay has today only a handful of inhabitants. Most houses are used for holiday homes. Once upon a time, the stone platforms tell us, there used to be many thousands living here.

    Tikis along the path

The interior of Nuku Hiva is all wild and  un-inhabited ,full of wild horses, cows, goats and pigs. The locals we met in Daniels bay where about to leave on a hunting expedition when we where there. They hunt for wild pigs, but this time where also to collect some cattle. The ride to the top of the mountains and into the interior would take them one whole day on horseback. 6 dogs would follow them and help in the hunt. The men all wore necklaces strung with boar tusks from previous catches!

After Daniels bay we sailed to the northern part of the island to Anaho Bay. We sailed here with another family on a catamaran called Aldora. They are from Maine and have 3 kids onboard so great play pals for Colin and Camilla. Anaho is reputedly the most protected anchorages in the Marquesas and it was a pleasure to have a night where the boat did not roll. It is tiring when you al the time have to hold on. We also took the opportunity to try to catch up on some school work and tidy up the boat a bit. Anaho bay has a long beach with coconut palms, and behind them towering mountains. A dramatic but less intimidating scenery that Daniels Bay.

Anaho Bay

The bay used to be the site of a small restaurant and a small guest house apart from the workers on the coconut plantation. Now it was all closed down. The copra, dried coconut, prices where down and the guest house did not work out. Everyone moved into town and left the bay to itself as it did not have any road access. The guest house and the little church was turned into a summer camp for kids. The Copra production was replaced by Noni , a fruit used in health products, and tended to by people from the next door village.

Helping load Noni into the boat

The kids found some lovely shells along the beach and many "knickers' nuts" to make a bead necklaces. We did find a lot of cowrie shells when the tide was out as the bay was a beachcombers dream. Unfortunately it was not great for swimming as the water is deep and murky and we have seen several sharks. Sharks are ok as long as the water is clear. When it is murky it is a different story.

After resting in Anaho bay we felt the time was right to move on. We sailed back to Taiohae where we met up with Tom and Mark on Magic Roundabout. They had not had a cup of tea for quite a while since they ran out of gas on the crossing, so we made sure to put the kettle on. After stocking up, having dinner shore at the local hotel and meeting up with friends we headed for Oa Pou before setting sail for Tuamotus. Oa Pou is famous for its spires, but they where covered with clouds when we where anchored in the bay. We did however get to introduce rugby to the locals and had a great time on the beach.

The Spires on Oa Pou

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This site was last updated 12-06-2007 18:59:18