Exploring the Marquesas

Exploring the Marquesas

The Marquesas, home of the friendly, the plentyful, the rugged, the rain, the nono flies, fruits & the exotic at it's best. So do the guidebooks and stories read. We found rain, cleaning Jade Akka before landfall. We are impressed by the steep slopes of the ridges. The growth and green pleases the eye after the long sail - especially after the harsh and dry land around La Paz. Luckily we did not meet the nono flies, said to be pain on the nicest beaches.

Plentyful is nature and so are the cruising yachts. Mangos abound, no business is done without adding Mangos for free. And while Mango seems a precise type of fruit, it truely is just a word for many types found here. Native mangos are small and more apple like, some introduced mangos are huge with huge amounts of very tasty flesh. In the popular anchorages a variety of yachts abound, too. From low budget lake-Zurich-size cruisers to tax-heaven-flagged newlybought yachts all is here. Jade Akka fits in well, rather on the large side but clearly long used. Many families are under way, a few single handers and some couples.

We decided to go off the beaten track after a few days in Atuona's crowded bay. So we buy a few Pomplemousses - a treat! - and head south around Tahuata to Hapatoni. We meet Robert while looking closely at the village's volleyball court. By accident we meet him and his wife up the hill where the grow fruit & flowers: Jasmin, mango, pomplemousse, bread fruit etc. They build a new home with a view - a view to the sea where Roberts fishes. His wife teaches at the local school and they run the church. A big workload. Even in Paradise work abounds - for locals as well as cruisers.

Of course we join the volley match in the evening. As a result we go fishing the next day with Robert. The local wood carving artist turns out to be the coach. So Isa also buys a pair of ear rings to support the sport as well as culture. We unfortunately miss a big local event next week, but we are super happy to have met all these people. A special notice goes to the sexes: behaviours are very, very equal. We are stunned. And men adopting women styling are perfectly integrated. So we wonder and guess on the whereabouts: the missionaries might have turned the spiritual world of these people upside down, but luckily not all other cultural traits?

After an hour jungle hiking we find more cultural traits on Hiva Oa: carvings and ancient sites for celebrations. The huge stone blocks arranged to walls and floors impress. References to very early Greek sites pass our minds. However, the ceremonial carvings here are said to indicate canibalistic practices in some cases. The settings were spectacular, whatever site we visited: cliffs reaching into clouds in the back, views across the sea in the front, nature to the side. The builders new to choose their site and create impressive entries, inviting spaces and protected VIP areas. Tabu - or "tapu" in its original form - applied to varying areas for varying groups. Again we can only wonder how life could have been here before contact to seafarers brought diseases and decimated the population.

Another hike brought us to a secluded south-sea-dream-beach. No yacht, no tourists there. But a hike along dry ridges, small paths, no signs and a surprisingly varying flora around us. In the valeys the path was covered with leaves from the dense vegetation. On dry ridges just grass sides and a few trees shade the earthy track. Finally it's the coconut-white-sand-lush-vegetation mix we find where we rest. On the way back we enjoy the many mango trees and their fruits. What a nice way to get a snack under way - no weight to carry, just grab some fruits from wild trees.

Rays circle Jade Akka in our last Hiva Oa anchorage. The sea is jade and full of plankton. Nothing to see while swimming. Luckily a ray had surprised us in Tahuata while snorkeling. So we enjoy the view from aboard and in the dinghy.

We dove into the next jade anchorage on Nuku Hiva. The passage was easy, quick but shaky for those not used to it. A rugged coastline indents into a fully enclosed anchorage. Of course well known by cruisers, but still only had four boats when we arrived. So we soon jumped into the dark water to cool down. However, not without a feeling of being the most unfitting creature swimming there.

A little dinghy excursion brought us to a lovely beach with a private house. So we explored the whole beach to see if there was some public space. Besides a path used by hikers we found some ideally suited swimming creatures close to shore: juvenile sharks. About 30cm long, they kept close to shore in shallow water. Standing there, they approached and circled our feet until we moved just slightly. Faster than the eye could follow they would retreat - but only to come back in a few minutes. Fascinating,how well the colors match, the streamlined bodies move through the water. It leaves us with a feeling of exposedness. Exposed to an environment where we are not top but bottom of the food pyramid. Swimming back to the dinghy my thoughts circled around all the documentaries I had seen. Sharks do not attack people. Sharks may be curious. Some sharks prefer murky water where freshwater comes in. Etc etc. More thoughts on this in the Tuamotus, where water are „shark infested“ and sailors say „you can not swim without them“.

The Marquesas seem to be islands of single ridges that divide the weather, thus also dividing the fauna into dry or plenty. Our anchorage is famos for a cascade walk. So we get there. A narrow valley, overgrown with anything there could be, is crossed by our trail. Trail? Besides the jurassic-park-like valley the biggest surprise is the ancient stone road that serves us as trail. It starts at the beach and ends just a bit off the cascades. Stone platforms, stone pits, stone road: it’s big. We wonder if it was a sacred site. Locals tell us later that this was the capital in ancient times. The population was probably 10 times today’s population, so this place made sense. And impressed.

Ali the Eel also impressed. The pond at the cascade’s foot invited for swimming. Swimming with Ali. Ali is a 1.3m long freshwater eel. He was so nice to present itself to us. I did not go swimming. Unfortunately the dry weather had also diminished the cascade. So we will keep the walk, the stone structures and the „restaurant“ at the end of the trip in good memory. As we had asked for pomplemousse and bananas, we were called in by a couple to purchase the fruit. They also offered a meal - raw tuna in coconut milk, tuna cooked, maniok (cassava), rice & fried bananas. Wonderful. And their son was a volley player that had won several local championships with the Nuku Hiva team. They are serious about sports here!

So after Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Nuku Hiva, it was Ua Pou that once again surprised us: in the variety of activities that were performed in the evening in the village. Sports from soccer to volley and kajak as well as petainque. Singing at the church. Riding along the beach. Story telling at the market. It’s just the opposite of urban life and still the same. Here everybody knows each other. There you only know the people that do the same as you do. But at the end the being together and performing a common activity seems the key to happiness.

Ua Pou tops the other islands in terms of peaks: needle like they scrape the clouds above the ridges. And they really do. They stick their top in a cloud at any time. Just at the base of these rocky needles the growth starts. On the top very green it turns shrubby towards the shoreline. Just a few valleys are visibly cultivated. And only there full of fruits and sociable people.

Here the first bigger batch of Marquesas impressions ...
More in Marquesas / Ua Pou etc in low resolution here due to slow internet ...