We have been visiting anchorages faster then I can write about them. Not that this is a horrible problem to have, but I’m sure it is tough on my readers who are expecting frequent updates. We are now in our 4th anchorage since I last posted. So, onto the details!
We finally managed to quit staring at the scenery at Hanavave Bay (the aforementioned Bay of Virgins) and took the dinghy ashore for some exploring. The town spread back from the water, with small side streets branching off the main street running up the valley away from the water. This appears to be a very typical layout for the towns, a central cement street in the middle of the town. As far as I can tell, they do not use the concept of city blocks in in their towns. And has also proved the norm, the town was clean and well kept. Sure, you can find a bit of litter if you look for it, but the villages are tidy and many of the houses have landscaped yards. Somehow I had it in my mind that there would just be clearings in the jungle with a home in the middle of them, but most houses have both decorative and fruit bearing plants in the yard. Another surprise is the amount of newer 4wd vehicles, mostly Toyota and Mazda pickups with the occasional Range Rover thrown in. While my island tour on dirt roads and the frequency of rainfall explain the 4wd, the recent vintage and amount of vehicles is unexpected.
I made these observations as we hiked up to a waterfall, which while quite high was more of a water running down a mossy cliff than an actual waterfall. Probably more interesting to us than the waterfall were the fresh water prawns and eel that we saw in the pool at the base of cliff. The eel was probably 18 inches long, and not as shy as expected. Melody dipped a waterproof camera underwater to take a picture and it swam towards her, and later caught Cassie off guard by slithering over her foot which was actually out of the water.
Once we exited the jungle we continued to walk up the valley on the paved road. The next village lay 10 miles away by road, and the word in the anchorage was to hire a local dinghy to take us the 3 miles via water to the village and hike back, as the road gains elevation at a more gentle rate in that direction. But since no one seemed eager to test their French, we just started walking towards the town of Omoa and quickly found out what a more aggressive elevation gain meant. Burning quads. Still, our relentless climb soon brought us views of the town we had walked through, followed by the anchorage and even Hiva Oa in the distance. We finally walked out to a radio tower on one of the ridges and felt like that was enough of an accomplishment and turned back. Shortly after a pickup truck drove by heading the same direction, slowed and stopped and after an exchange of Bon Jours, we climbed in the back in part because the driver seemed to expect us to, and in part because walking down a steep hill isn’t really much easier than walking up.
After a pretty sound nights sleep on all our parts, we headed to Omao by boat the next morning. Apparently some construction has been done since our guide book had been written as we were warned of a difficult beach landing so we were happy to find a breakwater and easy dinghy landing, actually quite modern with solar powered street lights. We were looking for the local craft, cloth made out of bark named Tapas. Our timing was a little off since we were there on a Sunday in a predominantly Catholic community, but after a little asking around some women led us to a house and the handicrafts started appearing. I think several of the women went to their homes to bring some samples of their work in hopes of a sale. While I found a couple kitties with some beautiful markings a bit more interesting, some of the Tapas and hand carved bowls and Tikis were worth viewing. The Tapas have patterns, similar to the Marquesian tattoos, some abstract and some with recognizable items such as dolphins or sharks.
We proceeded to walk up the road through the village, wondering how close we were to the location of a hut Thor Heyerdahl had lived in for part of his time on Fatu Hiva. According to a hand drawn map of the island in the book he had only been about a mile and a half from the beach, and at about that range we found some stone platforms, possibly one of which their bamboo hut had been on. While his year on Fatu Hiva lacks true historical significance, it was interesting to speculate where he had been and how things were different now verses a mere 80 years ago. While the village of Omao is bigger now, with paved roads and 4×4 trucks, it still doesn’t seem so far fetched to wonder off to a private spot on the island, and live off the bounty of the land. While not every tree is dripping with fruit (as I had somewhat pictured), there appears to be no shortage trees bearing edible goodness. We had even seen the fresh water prawns he mentions eating, and the anchorages are teeming with fish. I’m happy living in a sailboat with relatively modern conveniences, but it is interesting to speculate. Apparently I’m not the only one, as the first season of Survivor was filmed in a bay here in the Marqueses we plan to visit in a few days.
Event though the guide book was wrong about dinghy landing, we decided to heed the advice about the anchorage not being stellar for an overnight stay, and headed for our next stop. Done with Fatu Hiva, we set sail for Baie Hanamoenoa on the island of Tahuata. As Fatu Hiva shrunk behind us, I couldn’t help but think from a distance the island must appear much the same from this distance as it did when Thor Heyerdahl approached, and even further back when the islands were discovered by Europeans. Certainly the villages were different, but the outline of the islands has not be spoiled by condos, beach front resorts or other developments. Most towns seem to have only a store or two and no other real commercial establishments. Certainly life has changed radically on these islands since they received European explorers, but they are the least commercial place I’ve visited so far.
Our timing was a bit off and we had arrived at Hanamoenoa after dark. Luckily the last few nights the moon has been so bright we have been casting shadows on the deck, and we were able to use the moonlight and radar to find a place in a slightly crowded anchorage to park the boat for the night. It was a well chosen spot as the next morning several large (6’ across) Manta rays made slow circles on the surface near the boat. I spent time watching them in a mesmerized state , and finally went to get the camera only to once again have my wildlife\camera theory proved true, and did not see the Manta rays again after bringing the camera on deck. It also meant I didn’t get a chance to swim with them.
We spent the day snorkeling and relaxing. From the shoreline coral spread out on the bottom like urban sprawl, with multi colored fish darting every which way. Bella Star was anchored nearby so I had another chance to catch up, and we had the crew from Starship over for drinks to thank them for doing such a great job hosting the Pacific Puddle Jump SSB net while they were under passage. They revealed they had only used 45 gallons of fresh water on their 22 day passage. With three people on board. I think we’ve used that much in day, although owning a boat with no watermaker, I do feel guilty about that.
Finally the next morning I had another chance, and I wasn’t going to hesitate this time. When I spotted the Manta rays, I jumped in and swam over. Of course – no Mantas in sight. So I just relaxed in the water and waited, and after about 10 minutes I was rewarded with a Manta swimming (flying?) slowly around me. It appeared to be feeding, along with several schools of fish in the area, and I just hung in the water and watched it slowly circle. Several times it would swim straight at me, always gracefully veering away, but still slightly unnerving to have an animal bigger than you on a collision course, with a mouth a foot across wide open. Eventually it swum off, leaving me with hopes of another encounter and a lifetime memory.