Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Visiting the Marquesa Islands French Polynesia - Part 1

(Be sure to check out Onboard the Aranui 3  - Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 and Part 4 if you haven't already. )

 OK ... the part of my report that I am sure you have all been waiting for, as in "So how were the islands?"

Briefly, the islands are beautiful. The Marquesa Islands are volcanic in nature, being the youngest geologically of all the islands in the chain that starts in southeast Asia. We visited two atolls in the Tuamoto Islands group that lies between Tahiti and the Marquesas: Fakarava (first island stop) and Rangoria (last island stop). The rest of the time we spend sailing around the inhabited Marquesa Islands: Nuka Hiva, Ua Pou, Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Ua Huka, and then back to Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou to deliver cargo picked up on the other islands.


Fakarava is an atoll with about 600 residents. I would guess its highest point is about 15 feet above sea level. We had no cargo to deliver or pick up so why we stopped I'm not particularly sure. We had time to wander around, walking across the motu (island) from the lagoon to ocean side which took us all of about 10 minutes. (An atoll is a ring of coral that surrounds a calm lagoon. However, the ring does not necessarily break the surface all the way around and the result is a string of small islands circling the lagoon.) The lagoon was very calm and the oceanside was protected by a shelf of coral. However, I'm sure I wouldn't want to be here during a hurricane (cyclone in this neck of the woods).

We had time to wander around, look into whatever shops were open including a very nice pearl shop. It was Sunday and most shops were closed. We passed two churches, one holding a Christian Sunday service and the other where the singing was Polynesian.

Nuku Hiva

We had a day at sea and it rained most of it. But the next day dawned clear when we docked on Nuku Hiva. Our stop was its capitol, the town of Taiohae. The dock was about a 25 minute walk to town or, for those that didn't or couldn't make the walk, there was a Le Truck (picture a wooden school bus with benches) to take us the distance.

Perhaps because of the bad weather, we docked about 1 1/2 hrs late and things were a bit rushed. We were supposed to have time at the handicraft center in town and then board any of the four wheel drive trucks waiting nearby. With really no spare time, most pax went straight to the trucks while others (moi?) had to browse the handicrafts first.

As each truck filled up with 4 passengers, it took off to visit the Cathedral of Taiohae. The pax were divided into three groups for lectures on the history of the church and of the missionaries in the area.

Along a drive up the winding island road -- concrete in some areas and dirt in others, with the associated ruts and potholes -- we stopped at a couple of places for photographs. Of course the views were stunning and I would have loved to have pulled a chair out of the trunk of our vehicle and sat there with a drink in my hand.

We were offered a beverage but it was simply bottled water. Back into our vehicles for a visit to the archeological site of Tohua Kamuihei.

There we were entertained by dancers. Afterwards, we again split into groups and those that wanted could wander around the ruins. While there was a defined path, it was rocky and crisscrossed with tree roots so we decided to pass, saving ourselves for the after lunch "20 min walk uphill to the MeaePaeke" site.

Lunch was a buffet, as all lunches ashore were. They were all handled very well, with multiple tables serving the same dishes so no long wait to eat. This particular stop was special as parts of the main course, such as the pig, goat, fish and some of the vegetables, were cooked in an earth oven. We got a chance to watch as the workers scraped off the dirt, peeled back layer after layer of burlap and then layer after layer of leaves, finally lifting the food out on a stretcher.

Some of the menu items included cold foods such as poisson cru, octopus salad, and shrimp salad, plus hot foods such as the roasted pork, fish, goat and vegetables. For the first time I had a chance to try breadfruit and cassava and liked both. Dessert was a banana pudding which was the most unappetizing looking dessert I (and a lot of other people) had ever seen. While it was tasty, most of us couldn't get past the appearance ... trust me ... you don't want the "image."

We had options for after lunch: an approximately 40 minute hike to the saddle between two beaches, an approx. 20 min walk uphill to the archeological site, or swimming at the beach, if it was calm. We opted to visit the archeological site.

This is where the brochure can use a rewrite. For us, it was grueling and we wished we had our hiking poles. It was uphill over rocks, roots and, in places, mud. By the time we got to the top, we were soaking wet, exhausted and very thirsty. While we found the site interesting, with barely uncovered walls and tikis, we were so busy recuperating from our hike that we didn't pay much attention to the lecture. In the end, after we visited another site (by vehicle) we really began to understand that all we were learning about Marquesan culture was really conjecture. In 1888 Marquesan society came to an end, when all of the Marquesans were disarmed and the Church forbid the practice of any Marquesan culture. The Marquesan culture we see today is being reconstructed from the journals, logs, reports and artifacts found in museums around the world.

During our time ashore, the Aranui 3 had moved anchorage. After hiking back downhill, we grabbed a bottle of water (provided by the Aranui) and got into our ride. Down more curving roads to a black sand beach and the barge waiting at the beach to tender us back to the ship.

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