While performing the rather mundane task of dropping off the laundry, Jeff inquired with the multifunctioning local Sandra (she took us to the Gendarmarie to check in, and was now taking our laundry) about an island tour. An impulse decision later and we were quickly packing for a day long island excursion, snacks, water, cameras and more water tossed in to packs and bags and we were off. We met with Frida and her silver Mitsubishi on shore, loaded up and we were off.
Frida is a native Marquesian who speaks English, French, Marquesian and Tahitian. She was a fountain of knowledge, which was fortunate as we peppered her with questions about the island, her culture, politics and local lore. She answered our questions as she piloted her SUV up and down some intense roads. A surprisingly large portion of the road was paved with concrete, but there was plenty of dirt road clinging to the side of rather steep hillsides – I won’t quite say cliffs but the wild goats seemed we saw on the side of the road seemed nervous. We climbed over ridges, and dropped into valleys that contained settlements, sometimes with a small village, sometimes with just a couple families – although with one family having 17 children, that might be a small village too.
We learned quite a few interesting facts along the way. There are 26 varieties of Mango on the island, Marquesian children spend their first few years of school at a local school before attending a boarding school in the main town on Hiva Oa at age 7 and finally completing their education at Papeete in Tahiti. I detected a slight competition of countries as she mentioned several times that the people of Marquesas could understand the Tahitian language, but not vice versa. While very sparsely populated now (our guide claimed to know everyone on the island, and quite a few seemed to be related to her) the population of the island used to be 60,000 and chiefs would have to chase people away when they outnumbered the resources. This may be part of why Marquesian people appear to have settled Hawaii at some misty point in the Polynesian past.
All the while we were learning about the island, we were passing through jaw dropping scenery (or maybe it was just the roads that were dropping my jaw). We climbed from sea level to 700 meters, and dropped back down to sea level. Then back up and down, over and over. This island is a series of ridges and valleys, covered with such lush foliage is it hard to imagine walking more than 10 feet without a trail or a very sharp machete. As we passed through different zones, a new plant would appear, dot the roadside for a kilometer or two, then vanish. Some plants remained constant throughout the journey, such as coconut palms, banana trees (plants?) and all those different varieties of Mangos. Being from the rainy Pacific Northwest, I’m used to some greenery, but this was another level of lush.
We made some stops to see the sights, including a rock with petroglyphs and a semi restored site with some larger stone tiki statues. Despite these tikis being over 1000 years old, they are just sitting out in the open with no fee required to see them, no park ranger, and no barricades preventing you from walking up and touching them. I guess if they have survived this long they might make it awhile longer, and it isn’t as if there are huge crowds molesting them as the island receives a pretty limited quantity of visitors and these statues were well beyond hiking distance from the main town.
We finally pulled up at a pretty beach and to our surprise Frida pulled out a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit juice, coffee, banquettes, pastries, and some fresh mangoes. After we feasted, we all took a dip in the Southern Pacific Ocean, a first for me. As we excited the water and began rinsing the salt and sand off, Frida pointed out the ridges were clouding up, and rain makes the roads very slippery. We all quickened our pace and piled in, the image of some of the roads motivating our progress. Happily we did not encounter more than a few drops and never had to test the 4wd capabilities of our ride. Once we retraced our path through the pine forest (yes, a pine forest on a tropical island which if I understood right was not native, but the wood didn’t prove strong enough for construction, leaving a rather out of place grove of trees) we were on a downhill run in the sunshine to the bay we are anchored in. We made one last stop to hike to the smiling Tiki and take some photos and finally ended up back “home.”
A long day was topped off by the sight of Bella Star in the anchorage, and finally after over a year Aaron, Nicole and I had a happy reunion. We ended up all hanging out on another Seattle based boat, Bravo, and swapping tales of the last year. I’m sure there will be some more time spent together, especially since there is some Sailor Jerry in need of consumption over more catching up.
Since we took our tour yesterday we’ll work on boat projects today, and try to catch the vegetable truck in town. We’ll probably try to work our way to a new anchorage in the next couple days or two, this cozy bay went from 13 to 22 boats while we were gone yesterday with quite a few more projecting landfall in the next few days. It’s going to get crowded in here!
Thanks to Jeff and Melody for taking us on the island tour, it was a truly amazing experience. I realize there is interest in photos and I’m seeing what I can do, but the internet here has speeds in the agonizing range so it may require some patience on everyone’s part. I’ll do the best I can. In the mean time I’ll just have to work on painting a better picture with my words.