Apr 21, 2014

Fatu Hiva - The Remoteness of NO Airport

Every man can transform the world from one of monotony 
And drabness to one of excitement and adventure.
Irving Wallace

Sunset over bay of verges/vierges (penis/virgins) take your pick
We are heading for the Bay of the Penises, 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.

Beautiful small valley at end of bay
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.

Copra (coconut) drying under shade roof that can be moved over to dry copra in the sun
Close-up of copra
We feel like zombies, motoring the whole way when a beautiful sail could've been enjoyed with 17 knots on the beam! Different styles for different folks. It reminds us how much we miss the simplicity and beauty of sailing.

Small water shrine next to roadway
Precious water pool filled with sacred eels
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.

Looks like autumn - they are going into their winter here
Tree roots growing in the water - white hair-like roots
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 Marquesan 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.

Turn left at the lizard
Healthy bee population on these remote islands
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 5 minutes it would've taken us to get to town. We didn't have to pay him anything.

Fall reflections
We visit with a lady who makes tapa (bark based 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. 

Anchorage seen from lagoon
Anchorage seen from way above
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…

Verge or Vierge?
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.

Yep - they call this plant balls (couilles in French)
Alexa and Noella asking for bonbons (candies)
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 Gauguin 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 trade-shows 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 Québec. 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.

They call them the twins (one female, one male) tiki
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…

The tiki at anchorage's entrance to town

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