08 49N 140 04W - Nuku Hiva

Huaa hae me hoa,
(Our best attempt at "Family & friends". Stop the back of the tongue after each vowel so that each is pronounced as a separate syllable)

We don't realize how nice a flat anchorage is until we get to one. 2004/05 was a mild El Ninyo season but that has past now, sea surface temperatures are back close to normal, and the SE Trade winds are blowing again with appropriate swell coming in from the east. The Marquesas are geologically young, steep, rocky islands and there are no coral reefs surrounding & protecting them. The anchorages are rolly. Now for 3 nights we have been at the head of a deep flat inlet called Baie d'Anaho and the sleep undisturbed by pitching & rolling has been lovely. We have managed to catch up on boat jobs too (after all one definition of cruising is "doing your boat maintenance in exotic places"). The islands have spectacular scenery with high mountains, ridges, pinnacles etc. A few small villages on each island.

This morning the wind is puffing over the coconut-covered pass in the peninsular, the feral goats are bleating, we have eaten a breakfast of mango, banana & pamplemousse. (Yes "pamplemousse" translates to grapefruit in the dictionary, but in the Marquesas it is more than twice the size of a western grapefruit and has a distinctive, mild flavour).

The population of the Marquesas is small. People have been conspicuously polite and friendly. They are well cared for by the French government of Tahiti-Nui. They are isolated by hundreds of miles of ocean, and air fares which are as much from here to Tahiti as from Tahiti to N America. The life-style is simple having few accoutrements, but everything is clean and neatly kept. The roads & paths in the villages are lined with flowering shrubs, grass is neatly cut. They do not expect anything from us. The local artisans do beautiful wood, stone and bone carvings which are then sold in Tahiti at high prices. We have bought a couple and traded for 2 small ones. One island likes to trade for various things such as clothes, jewelry, fish hooks, fenders, perfume etc. We cannot think why they want perfume when the garlands of flowers the woman wear around their necks or heads smell so beautiful. The main economic boost comes from the coconuts and the noni. Noni plants grow quickly and are easy to harvest. Since the mid 1990's the fruit pulp has been sent to Salt Lake City where it is processed and mixed with various fruit juices, to form a final product promoted as an elixir for various ailments.

The people are a broad mix from slight, fair French builds to 300 pound tattooed Polynesian men, but smiles come quickly from all. Sunday church services are a mix of catholic hymns and Polynesian rhythmic songs accompanied by drums and ukuleles. Twice we have been entertained with Polynesian dancing and once a visiting French navy ship hosted a barbecue for the local village and included the crews of the 6 or 8 cruising boats in the bay. Each island may have 1 or 2 roads and 1 or 2 dozen vehicles, which all look new and smart especially after 2 years in South America. We were once invited to meet somebody at the village school, but, spotted by a teacher, were brought in front of the class rooms, shown round, and invited to answer questions in French. Although Marquesan is the local tongue, French is the official language.

We have to adjust our cost base as foods, fuel, postage, telephone & internet connections are either not to be found or 5 or ten times the cost of Ecuador or Panama. However we need little. Yesterday Jan walked over a pass to the next valley to check out a recommended restaurant with the wife on a neighbouring Canadian boat who had her 61st birthday. Finding that it only opened at lunch time, they stopped and had lunch. Goat in a coconut/curry/ginger sauce. It was good.

Every valley seems to have a Pai-Pai hidden somewhere under a grove of old mango trees. This is an ancient stone foundation and occasionally there are stone carvings of gods (tikis) or other things. Wild horses, pigs, & goats roam these groves too.

In Baie Hana Menu we were surrounded by giant Pacific manta rays as we anchored. They were 6 to 10 ft across and seemed inquisitive as their black delta tops and white bellies lined with dark skeletal-looking lines sailed around us. Janet read out that they are filter feeders and harmless, and can even be ridden by adventurous swimmers. Next day saw us in the water with them and they would cruise up to almost touching distance before diving just underneath. We tried not to look at the bard at the base of the tail. All quite dramatic. We have now seen small hammerhead sharks too, but hopefully not dangerous.

On land behind the beach in Hana Menu, a Polynesian man was living in a rough shed. At the week end there were a dozen visitors from Atuona and from a fishing boat moored in the bay (a long liner carrying 82km of line). Behind the hut, a stream had been dammed making a clear washing pool surrounded by gorgeous flowers. He would greet us when we walked ashore and offered us fruit. One morning we heard shots and asked later if he had caught wild horse, pig, or goat. No, he was collecting coconuts by firing his shot-gun at the tops of the palms 60 or 80 foot up. That evening we invited him back to the boat which he proudly told us was the fourth sailing boat he had been on board. He was covered in tattoos.

In Fatu Huva we hiked 17km up into the mountains and down to the only other village on the island. The small cargo/passenger vessel that visits monthly to collect the copra (coconut) and noni was in port. As the next stop for them was our village we asked for a ride. After being told if we walked there we should walk back they relented with a wink and we had a free ride back to our anchorage. Fatu Hiva was the only island where the woman still make tapa. Made from the bark of trees it was used for clothes, baskets, and mats. Today, it is used to paint intricate designs on and sell to the tourists in Tahiti.

We have been finding really big cowrie shells here. Dave found a tiger cowrie (spotted) about 4ins across in about 20ft of water. It was alive but Jan wanted it so much she went through the process of killing and removing the poor creature from its shell.

Our next stop will be the Tua Motus, which are part of the same country, but sunken coral atolls about 20 miles across rising 2 miles from the sea bed to only a few feet above the surface. 200 years ago they were named the "Dangerous Islands" for obvious reasons.

Fond wishes from Jan, Dave & Harmonica