Monday, April 21, 2014

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva

We are heading for the Bay of the Penis, now named the Bay of the Virgins since the Catholics got involved in the culture of this beautiful country. Verge (penis in French) is very similar to Vierge (virgin in French)… In their own language the bay is called Hanavave.

We arrive at sundown on Easter Thursday. The church bells are ringing; goats are making themselves heard all over the nearly vertical hills and rock formations tightly surrounding this gorgeous valley. A little after the sound of bells settles, we start hearing the congregation singing. Each day until Easter Sunday there are masses and they are extremely well attended, standing room only, some folks listening on additional benches outside. Hanavave is unique, dramatic, and stunningly beautiful. Frida, our tour guide in Hiva Oa had said to try to arrive at sundown and she was right, it makes for an even more spectacular setting when you first see it at sunset.

We feel a little like zombies, motoring the whole way when a beautiful sail could've been enjoyed. Different styles for different folks. It reminds us how much we miss the simplicity and beauty of sailing.

Side Note: The captain has decided to head back to Hawaii instead of sailing further south to the Tuomatus and Tahiti. We will leave Music in Nuku Hiva for our next unplanned adventure. We will either crew on another boat should one become available, go aboard the cruising/freighter boat Aranui 3 to Tahiti mingling with the locals who travel that way in bunk beds, or take a plane to Tahiti. We will see what is available when we get to Nuku Hiva tomorrow.

On our way to Fatu Hiva we motor by the island of Mohotani, now uninhabited and a park/preserve no one is allowed to visit. About 300 years ago the island had many people (although the smallest tribe they were thought to be around 2,000) who one night gathered in a cave to drum and sing. The legend or story is that, possibly because of the loud drumming, the cave collapsed and killed everyone. No one was ever found. People then shied away from this ghostly island.

The 611 or so people of Fatu Hiva treat us slightly differently than the people of Hiva Oa. More remote from all other islands due to lack of an airstrip for planes to come and go, they are much more independent from the other Marquesans Islands yet dependent on tourism. In Hiva Oa, we were never offered dinners, art, tours, etc we had to seek them. Here depending which valley you go to, and there are only two, the welcome is different. In Hanavave, people are quite pushy with either what they have to offer or what they want to trade with you. In Omoa, they ask you what you are interested to see, buy or trade. Slight difference is quite interesting.

Fatu Hiva is another very rugged island. To go from one town to the other in a straight line would be less than 8km yet the walk is 17km with many switchbacks and steep hills. The summit is at 1,125 meters.

What they are interested in trading are carving tools for the sculptors, brushes to paint tapas, hats, sunglasses, backpacks, flip-flops, earrings for the small girls, hair ties, perfumes, nail polish, fins and snorkeling masks, fish hooks and lines (anything to do with fishing). Of course they also ask for ammunition (.30-.30) and alcohol but we kindly tell them the last two are not an option.

Of note as well is the fact that even though this is a special weekend, none of the women or girls are wearing flowers in their hair like they did in Hiva Oa. The same plants/flowers grow here so I do not understand the significance of this variation between the islands. We did however see many women with monoi (naturally scented coconut oil) in their hair in preparation for Easter Sunday.

We have heard of a 100 meter waterfall (they call a cascade) so we search for the way there. We are told to turn left at the lizard petroglyph then right at the banyan tree; from there, to follow the cairns. It was a little more complicated than that but we found it by first turning left at the four grazing cows…. The cascade is barely running due to a dryer season but still beautiful. There are eels in the pool below so no one goes swimming. Some of the locals eat them, others don't. A kid shared the legend of the eel that got so big that it got stuck between the rocks below the pool and the town went without water until they investigated and found the culprit.

For my birthday we decide to get off the boat for the whole day and hike all the way to the other village, Omoa. What better way to spend a birthday than in the out of doors with a freshly shaven clean lover, enjoying a picnic along the way. The previous day we ran into one of the 'taxis' who could take us there for a mere $150 (choke)! We decline for this price is absolutely outrageous. We leave around 7am and have a fabulous time seeing nearly the whole length of the island. In the four hours that it takes us to hike to town, only a couple of trucks drive by. One gives us a ride for the last 15 minutes it would've taken us to get to town. We didn't have to pay him anything.

We visit with a lady who makes tapa (cloth they paint intricate designs on or wear as clothing for special ceremonies) and sculpts. We purchase a small tapa of a typical Marquesan tattoo design and a small rosewood sculpture of a ray. She gives us an additional smaller tapa made of a different material and a small acacia seed necklace. She explains the gathering and usage of 4 various types of trees, the beating of the bark with a hard wooden striated mallet, the soaking in lemon water, the making of the paint brushes and the painting. I asked her to sign her artwork or give me her name but she didn't want to do that.

Following that we roam around what appears to be a deserted town. I think that like Mexicans, most have siestas in the warm afternoons. It is great to speak with the locals. Someone offers us a ride back for only ½ the price of what the other taxi wanted. We again declined stating that a water taxi would do it for only $30. He didn't believe this pricing but once we got back he was there and amazed to see we had made it back. The main reason people from Hanavave go to Omoa is to get alcohol. It is not sold in Hanavave. Interestingly enough, the folks from Omoa think the Hanavave valley is too cold for them…

The rest of the afternoon was spent with two amazing little boys, Francois and Sergio, about 9 and 8 respectively. Neither had ever tasted apples, one liked it, and the other didn't. They described that there were 40 kids in school and two teachers. They also illustrated in details, with props, how they hunted wild boars with dogs and either traps or guns. They bait the animals with coconut and that they preferred the taste of wild boar over raised pig. They are fun kids begging for us to bring them back fins and snorkel masks. We wished we had some aboard. Being crew makes it extremely difficult to have anything to give to anyone. We wanted to go back to land to give some of our belongings to them but the captain is ready to go.

These kids, unlike so many in US and Canada, know the names of all the plants on the island. We finally get to see a corossol, seurette (a sour fruit not quite ready to eat yet), and manioc. We come across an older man carving under a corossol tree and stop to chat. He tells us that French Polynesia, since May 2013, has applied to be part of the United Nations. They are awaiting referendum/vote.

We also visit with a couple who just came back from a successful wild boar hunt. They invite us for dinner but we must decline since Music is ready to go. Unfortunately another missed opportunity.

The only way these artists can sell their work is to sailors who anchor here, to the people on the Paul Gaugin cruise ship which comes twice a year, the people on the Aranui 3 which comes about every 3 weeks but is mostly full of locals, to the people of Hiva Oa or Nuku Hiva, and finally they attend two tradeshows in Tahiti (one just before Christmas and the other 6 months later). They live with very little but they look well and don't seem to be lacking anything. Other than bad teeth from too much sugar the population looks healthy.

We come back from Omoa by boat with an 18 year old who is getting his captain's license at the end of the season. He is raising money to go to Tahiti to take the test. He and his twin brother/sister share many of the island's legends. He also asked if I knew Celine Dion since I told him I was from Quebec. He then asked me if I knew her parents. He seemed to have difficulty understanding the concept of me not knowing her or her family personally. Being from an island where he knows the ancestry of each and everyone, it must be quite a step to comprehend our larger world.

Anyhow - although too short of a stay, we enjoyed this island. A small sign near the school asked that visitors do not pick fruits in the village and this is the way they end it: "Thank for your comprehension"; Fun translation… (Thank you for your understanding).

What we would've done different is to purchase fewer fruits in Hiva Oa and buy them here had we known the bigger need for barter and money. Should there be a next time…

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Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel

Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel

Paul Gaugin, 1848-1903, died at 55 on May 8, 1903.

A large copy of one of his signatures (he was known to have about 5 or 6) welcomes you at the entrance of the cultural center bearing his name and dedicated to this loved, hated, damned, or controversial artist. The left depicts the Brittany period of his life while the right explores the Polynesian period.

Gaugin was called a plagiarist as well as a master and everything in between depending whom you spoke to. He was a lonely renegade, poverty affecting his pursuit of art and family life. He often compared his paintings to music and was considered a fairly good musician by some.

'Je pars pour être tranquille pour être débarrassé de l'influence de la civilisation. Je ne veux faire que de l'art simple; pour cela j'ai besoin de me retremper dans la nature vierge'. I leave to be quiet and to be away from the influence of civilization. I only want to make simple art; I need to steep myself in virginal nature.

In 1891 and after 69 days at sea, he arrived in Tahiti in search of that, only to find French administration's unfair treatment of the natives and much influence of colonial authority and Catholic Church. He left very disappointed and disillusioned. He returned to the Marquesas (Hiva Oa), 10 years later, in 1901 hoping the remoteness would help him in his quest of the primitive and wild. He encountered the same and identified himself as their defender to the extent of even defying the judicial and administrative powers up to a few months before his death.

Many questioned the cultural immersion Gaugin claimed to have had with the natives. Studies now prove that the names of his paintings and some of his writing show he was much more involved than previously thought.

The cultural center contains 117 legal faux (legal reproductions) of some of Gaugin's paintings. They were all done voluntarily by Viera and Claude Farina.

A reproduction of "the Maison du Jouir" (house of pleasure), Gaugin's house and atelier, are found in the exact location of his personal home. Next to that home is a well which for years was thought to be a legend but was finally found and excavated in 2,000. Natives didn't use wells so only 3, including Gaugin's have been found on the island.

Jacques Brel, 1929-____, on Hiva Oa 1975-1978. His tomb is near Gaugin's but was vandalized so we could not locate it.
'Partir est une fête, Rester serait la mort'. To leave is a party, to stay would be death.

Brel, a singer, composer, writer, actor, director, sailor, and pilot believed men are nomads and that there are two ways to react to what you don't know: Say that it is idiotic or go check it out. He preferred to check it out and tended to favor other men who did too. His pet peeve was stupidity and he believed that stupidity was pure laziness, a type of grease around the heart and the mind. He sings and thinks a lot about death, not having very good health himself and knowing it is the common denominator.

He and his wife settle here where he is unknown. He finds that most of the money France sends to Polynesia is used by Tahiti, leaving little to the Marquesas and others. He fights for some more fairness: education for the kids, medication, books, dentists, etc. He opens the first movie theater in Hiva Oa purchasing two projectors and showing Bonnie and Clyde. Honoring the personal use of his plane to help bring mail, freight, and people to and fro, small planes here are still part of the Jacques Brel air plane club.

He dies fairly young. His work environment filled with smoke - I believe he has lung issues.

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Hiva Oa - Palm Sunday to Easter

Hiva Oa - Palm Sunday to Easter

We had heard of delicious handmade banana beignets, impossible to find in stores or restaurants, only at people's homes. I inquired and managed to order some from Iris (many natives use Europeanized first names), who said she would bring some the next morning.

Next morning, she unfortunately doesn't have them stating the whole island is without eggs. Disappointed and now hungry having kept my appetite for this special occasion, I wondered how that could be possible since a) the supply ship just left less than a week ago and b) there are chickens all over the island? It then dawned on me that most eggs were turned into Easter eggs… but then we saw eggs for sale at the various stores so... Many people do not know how to, or think they can, say no. They feel it is better to have an 'excuse' or a story; most Mexicans do the same thing, especially when trying to satisfy clear (a new expression to us here) skin people. We had another instance of a missed delivery: promised grapefruits that never showed up. You need backups and plan B's when you travel here. It is ok, we understand.

After several days of serious hiking we seem to have our land legs back. Our last hike on Hiva Oa was up river towards the end of the Atuona Valley. We crept higher and higher via switchbacks to a point where we could glimpse the valley and bay below yet see and feel clouds forming just above our heads. Mount Temetiu can be clear one minute and then right in front of your eyes, like magic, as the moist air going up the valley hits the cooler area near the summit, a cloud forms rapidly. In a whole week of being here, we have only seen a cloud-free mountain top once, and for a very short while!

We managed to meander through 80-100 feet tall coconut trees, a quiet ancient grove, its lower canopy filled with banana trees. Playful and curious goats seek us as we pass by. Other than bird calls, the valley is very quiet.

The previous day, we followed a river up another valley. It was very muddy and bushy, not a well used road. We crossed the river before finally finding reported petroglyphs in that area. Vanilla orchids climb up many of the old trees around. Very large leafy plants seem to announce very wet areas all around. Another peaceful hike.

Returning to town we try yet new fruits: quesnelles (they taste a lot like rombutan but their flesh is pink instead of cream, their skin smooth and green rather than red and spiky) and corossol (very similar to yaka in Mexico, possibly same). The natives are very proud of their many varieties of fruits.

Back at anchor until our next adventure we joke that we need to change the name of the boat to Musique, the French version. Our neighbors while having cocktails in the cockpit were suddenly drenched by a large shark attacking small fish nearby. We had heard of the possibility of sharks but yet to see proof. On another vessel, while up the mast, a fellow crewmember observes a very large ray. The water is so murky it is very difficult to differentiate what is below us.

I purchase a beautiful hand painted batik pareo from a lady originally from the Tuomatus. She gets her inspiration from Gaugin: A woman eating a mango. I think it befits a part of the island's history. I comment on the flower 'wreath' the person I purchase from is wearing, asking how long it takes to make one. Her reply was that she didn't make it, her daughter did. Really adept women take about 1 hour to make them. She then told me, with a wink, hers was made of fake flowers and that she uses it only as a spare/backup to cover her gray hair! Some of these natural wreaths are hung from the mirrors of trucks and cars when they are too old to show off in hair. I admire a bracelet some other artist is wearing. She explains it is made of carved wild boar tusk which has the natural curve to fit around the wrist. It is very cleverly carved.

We finally get to see the Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel Cultural Centers but more on that in another post.

We notice many more of the posts supporting verandas are wrapped with palm leaves. It is in honor of Palm Sunday and Easter. At home we used to just weave small cone like shapes with palm leaves, a much smaller version of decorating with palm.
Two locals have remarked that the winds/weather will change by the end of April and that now is a good time to head out. Rainy season should be upon us soon. When we arrived there were 22 boats in the anchorage, 15 when we left. We were part of the first wave of arrivals. The highest number of boats arrives in July. We met the Paul Gaugin cruise ship on our way out. This ship visits the island only twice a year. Good time to depart and let other tourists roam this beautiful island.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hiva Oa Tour

Hiva Oa Tour

Mike tells me that since I started speaking French daily, my writing is tainted with a French accent… As long as you understand the context, I hope you can enjoy it anyway.

The anchorage we are in is part of the nicknamed Bay of Traitor; supposedly called this way because when Spaniards stayed here, for a whole week in 1,595, they were always fogged in. They left without ever seeing anything.

The anchorage is in constant flux with boats from all over the world. It is much more 'global' than what we had experienced in Mexico: Sweden, Germany, Norway, Israel, Australia, Switzerland, France, US, Canada, all within just 20 vessels. We are awaiting our fuel permit, enjoying hikes and new culinary delights while we hang around. It should arrive today. This permit allows us to pay a lower price for fuel, much welcome in this part of the world where it is understandably pricy.

The villages of Hiva Oa are too far apart to walk, some of their anchorages too roily or difficult to land on the beach, and the very narrow and steep roads, especially in the rainy season, quite dangerous so we decided it would be best to hire a guide to tour the island and learn its many treasures.

Our guide is quick to point out that there are pamphlets and posters everywhere asking not to give alcohol to people. Boaters from US and Canada here last week did just so and the whole island is abuzz against their gesture towards the natives. Alcoholism is rampant and they need our help not fostering more abuse.

We learn that some Marquesans wish to separate from France, the majority still preferring to stay a French colony. The reason given for wanting to separate is that France doesn't have their best interest at heart and are selling some of their land to China to exploit. France forces/humiliates local chiefs into signing contracts/treaties with Chinese who are looking for rare earth/metals to help manufacture computer parts, not really caring about the natives, their land, continued decent employment, their culture, etc. Supposedly the islands from here to Hawaii are high in these metals. Sadly for the Marquesans their economy mostly comes from government work, followed by tourism, then agriculture. Not sure they could possibly survive on their own.

In 1987 island people gathered together to come up with ways to revive their culture away from Catholics and French influences, a cultural consortium of sort. Their language as well as various types of arts are being revived. While schools had stopped teaching Marquesans their own language, it has now been reinstated. When asked if the island is seeing an outflow of young people the reply is no. Many, even though they go to school in Papeete by the age of 14 return home, only ones with very good jobs stay in Tahiti or abroad.

Another example of a cultural loss is the disappearance of their remarkable tattoos. In 1,700-1,800 it was forbidden by the Queen of Papeete to get tattoos so much of the motifs/designs, unique to each island disappeared. Mostly Tahiti was influenced by this rule, the Marquesans less so. The art is being revived. It was believed that infants born at night were sacred. Women without the appropriate tattoos were not allowed to lay their hands on these infants.

We first visited "Le Tiki Souriant", the only known smiling Tiki (divinity = ½ god - ½ human) sculpture. Our guide asked us to figure out if it is a Toa (man) or Vahine (woman). Some think it is a man because no prominent breasts are present, others think a woman because of the large eyes making her look like she may have make-up. It turns out it is a woman, not due to the eye make-up but because of the tattoos lining the bottom of her lips and behind her ears. The site seems an odd location, not a promontory, not a river, nothing with a view or special about it. We are told that by the time it was carved, about 450 years ago, people of the island were trying to hide rather than live in the open.

Hiva Oa and other Marquesan islands still have Tikis unlike many of the other islands where the Catholic priests landed first. After 170 years of heading this way, priests didn't have the same passion or strength to destroy all things Marquesan.
Our guide Frida takes us to the highest drivable point on the island. At 700 meters, we get a beautiful misty view of one of the bay to the south of the island. The rocks are either red or black basalt, striking colors against the lush greenery. At this altitude we are surrounded by clouds just like Mount Temetiu near the anchorage, nearly never seeing the sun. It is misty, cool, and green.

Marquesan cuisine consists mainly of Uru (breadfruit), bananas, plantain, manioc, fish, and pork. They live mostly off the land growing pineapples, mangoes, copra (dried coconut), vanilla, bananas, star fruits, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, pumpkins, cucumbers, squashes, papayas, rombutans, grapefruits, citrus, etc. This makes it difficult for visitors to purchase produce. Stores do not need to carry much of them since natives grow their own. Visitors can connect with locals or sometimes can pick their own. On the other hand you can find very fine cheeses, wines, patés, foie gras, if you are willing to pay the high prices. Only copra is sold to Tahiti as an income crop. It takes a person about 16 days to gather 2 tons of copra for which they will be paid approximately $2,075. (these are not verified, but based on one persons report… we will attempt to verify).

Speaking of food, I bumped into a French Chef who teaches cooking on the island and he has been saddened by the way people cook now that more packaged items come by boats more frequently. Marquesans' diet has suffered with the flow of new foods and beverages..

They raise goats, pigs, chickens, and cows. When asked if they make cheese from the goat's or cow's milk, their answer is that it is too much work. Fishing adds needed protein to their diet. Marquesans do not generally suffer from diabetes, an epidemic in so many other parts of the world.

Like their diet, their music is really simple, only using drums originally made with wood and shark skins. They do not play other types of instruments.

Many of the plants we see are not from here; they have been imported from the Caribbean, India or Africa. Many we recognized from visiting Mexico: mangoes (26 varieties), papayas, bananas, etc. The holy tree of the island is the Banyan Tree. They used to put their dead, after embalming, mummifying, enrobing with tapa cloth, and then drying in the sun, in their branches. There is one lone baobab (from Africa) in the town square in Atuona.

We supposedly have to be aware of elephantism (not sure of spelling and not in our dictionary) and dengue fever, diseases carried by mosquitoes. After speaking with the local pharmacist, we are told to take the needed drug after we leave these infected areas, not before or during our visit. The risk is low and it shouldn't be too much of a problem. The locals who live here take a drug on a yearly basis to prevent infections.

We stop for lunch and discover the succulent tastes of fried breadfruit (used very much the same ways as our potatoes but starchier), plantain, poisson cru (ceviche), star fruit juice, pork in a brown sauce, goat in coconut milk, rice, pamplemousse (grapefruit-like) and po'e, a dessert made with coconut and pumpkin.

The most important part of the tour is the visit to Me'ae' at the foot of Toea Peak, a sacred place built 1,037 years ago but restored in the 18th century. The area had water so people from other areas needing water would exchange an infant boy in trade for this essential staple. When it was clear there were too many people for the island's resources, 50 pirogues with 12 people each headed for Easter Island. Not all made it.

This sacred space had forbidden (tapu) access. It was reserved for people with very high mana. "Mana is a highly fickle essence of everything that be." The quantity of mana given at birth depended on how much the ancestors had acquired. It gave supremacy to the families of expert artisans, chiefs, priests, or warriors. A chief with lots of mana was able to secure abundant crops and wellbeing of his clan. Women were usually not allowed here.

It was used for rituals, especially funerals of high ranking lineages or depository of clan member's bones. Caves quite a ways from this site have been found filled with people's remains arranged in neat order. There were no established standards or locations and it wasn't used between rituals except perhaps for the occasional hermit priest living here.

These types of sites usually contained a minimum of 2 buildings, one for the regular priest, the other for the high priest, and at times a third one to store the ritual objects.

Materials used to make ritual objects included plants for woven cloth or mats, wood (sculptures), shark skin (drums), conch shells (trumpets), carved boulders (tikis), petroglyphs, and slab altars. Breadfruit was fermented and the drink would be served to the divinity.

The main tiki here is of Chief Takaii, a great warrior. It represents strength. Chiefs would use a fire platform to read the smoke to foresee the future of the clan. There is a female tiki named Fau Poe who, uncommonly is in a seated position looking up at the sky. Most tikis are standing. A lama can be found at her base supporting the idea of a possible South American influence. It is also believed that around 1830-1860, Peruvians brought about 60 boats to take away Marquesans as slaves. Another female tiki was thought to be the medicine person. At the back of all the tikis is an area shaded by holy trees where they tattooed people.

During WWII, German soldiers lived here and took the head of one of the tikis to Germany. It is now in the Berlin Museum and the locals are trying to repatriate it.

Here too the Catholic influence can be found in that all male tikis have had their penis broken off.

On a last note, the last 'known' cannibal was found in Nuku Hiva in 1909… Most do not like to speak of that dark era.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Southern Cross


As it would happen a friend passed on a message from Australian Astronomer Fred Watson who stated that indeed we would have been able to see the Southern Cross from where we were.

We are not going crazy yet!


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