The Marquesas Islands. How to tell about this exceptional place in all points of view? After two weeks here, we had the chance to discover the small island of Hiva Oa, known as the home of Jacques Brel and Gauguin.
In the last week, we arrived in a small bay in the south of the island. Since we had arrived at night, we had stayed outside, but the swell and the wind pushed us closer to the bottom. There are only a few places to anchor, so we scouted with the dinghy before going inside. So I found myself in our little peanut, wandering between the anchored sailboats. Émilien had given me a lead line to check the water level because we also knew that the chart was not very reliable.
I discover the landscape in more detail: a beach of black sand and pebbles is located at the bottom of the bay. The vegetation is luxuriant, of a bright and intense green. Above us, perched on the steep slopes, houses with tin roofs overhang us; the view must be magnificent from above! The water is not at all transparent but rather green and seems quite turbid, which does not particularly invite us to swim... At the entrance of the bay, there is a dike which acts as a port with fishing boats moored. Everything is much calmer once this protection is passed and I can do my little survey quietly. All quiet, not true either since we will see sharks and rays in the bay later in the week.
Finally, there is some space and we move the boat quickly. We stand at the edge of the anchorage area, the bow tied to a large buoy and the bow held with the anchor. Several other boats were also there radially to the buoy. Once settled, it was time to visit this beautiful island.
First, we met Vincent, from MMS, the famous maintenance center that helped us so much with the engine during the transpacific. He must be in his forties, he owns the shipyard and is very nice. He welcomes us in the shipyard and puts at our disposal the sanitary facilities: happiness! Few people can understand the pleasure of a shower after a month at sea! The salt coming out of the hair, the fresh water, the dead skin going away, ... A little moment of ecstasy!
On the construction site, we also find Marc, accompanied by Charlie, in his twenties, whom we had met in Martinique. It's definitely a small world! They arrived a week ago and have to take the beautiful 52-foot catamaran out of the water. The maneuver seems complicated because they won't have a rudder anymore, so we offer them our help.
This presence is good for us. Seeing people, chatting, talking about each other's adventures... So many things that we missed at sea. We meet the sailors from here: all more incredible than the others. Between families with children, retired people, young and old sea dogs, experienced sailors who have at least made the same journey as us. For some it was the first time, for others it was just another crossing. This atmosphere is benevolent, no competition, just beautiful stories to tell, mutual aid and sharing.
We also meet our first Marquesans: big guys with tanned complexions, black hair and, for the most part, big Maori tattoos. They are not necessarily all talkative but are always friendly and helpful. Despite their incredible bone structure, a kindness and gentleness emanates from some of them. Always saying hello, "kaoha", always helping, offering. This philosophy marks us at the beginning: we don't know them, but they offer us fruits, cake, some come to discuss while we are just passing by and we are even picked up without being asked. A form of humanism.
After these first exchanges we go to Atuona, the main city of the island. This one is about half an hour walk away. On the way, we walk along lush gardens: there are fruit trees everywhere! We ate mangoes that had fallen to the ground and carambola that had been picked directly from the tree! Just like in the shipyard, there are chickens and roosters everywhere in freedom that hide when we pass. Life is not too hard for them: no predators, freedom and fresh mangoes to eat! Finally, we are a bit like these hens and we enjoy this exceptional environment.
The town is rather small but well supplied with services. There is a bank to withdraw Polynesian francs, the local currency, supermarkets, a handicraft exhibition center, a post office, the Gauguin and Brel museum and various restaurants and guinguettes more or less open.
What makes us stand out is this atmosphere: all in simplicity. Here, everyone knows each other, we say hello and we chat with the locals. We also see our first tiki, these engraved stone statues that decorate the city. There are some in every important place of the city: in front of the soccer field, in front of the police station and especially, everywhere on the esplanade of the village.
When we arrive in this nerve center, we are welcomed by a group of women who sing and play the ukulele: almost cliché but so authentic. We let ourselves be lulled by the melody and time seems to have stopped.
After this exceptional moment, we visit the gallery. We find the famous tikis carved in stone or wood, other statues, traditional spears made of wood, jewelry with beads or seeds and above all, tapas. Nothing to do with Spanish gastronomy, these are paintings made on traditional leaves that have spiritual meanings. The drawings are made of symbols that have a different symbolism. We also learn that the same is true for tattoos. These explanations plunge us directly into a culture that we do not know.
Finally, we understand better why so many travelers stopped here: life is simple and soothing. We also understand why the Polynesians are so strong: the plates served are huge! The shock is quite brutal compared to our life at sea.
Nevertheless, we quickly get used to the local way of life. We start to know some of the locals and I take advantage of each trip to the city to fill up with mangoes picked up on the roadside. Our days revolve around DIY on the boat and the editing of vlogs for Lucas. In the afternoon, we go to the city to stroll and play petanque, the national sport. We would never have believed it! Petanque as the main sport in front of soccer... like what, even the most popular sport in Marseille has been exported. To be honest, we are beaten to a pulp except for Emilien who sometimes honors his Marseilles years. We made friends with Joyce, Philippe and Pascal who joined us every evening.
Later in the week, the long-awaited day came for Marc's catamaran to be taken out of the water. The day before, they dismantled the rudders to take her out and the boat was left without steering. It doesn't look like it's going to be easy to get the 11-ton boat out of the water: it will have to be moved to the launch to position it above a hydraulic trailer that will lift it. There is little room for maneuver at the launch, which is surrounded by two low walls and the wind is blowing across. So we divide the tasks: Emilien will be in the dinghy with another person to help the boat to maneuver, I will be on board with Charlie and Marc for the maneuver and Lucas, faithful to his post, will be on land to film the event, camera and drone in hand.
As expected, the maneuver was not easy: the boat had to go backwards and with the wind, it was dangerously off to the side. Émilien and his sidekick pushed the boat as best they could to maintain its course. Marc managed the throttle and the bow thrusters as best he could, but it took several tries. During the maneuver, Charlie indicates the alignment to Marc with the help of Vincent who is in tow.
Then comes the fateful moment: passing over the trailer. Charlie and I throw our moorings to the staff on shore and guide Marc with a few beats. Once the boat is moored to the tractor, it is no longer our responsibility but that of the staff who maneuver the hydraulic trailer for many minutes to align it. Little by little, they raise the trailer's bollards and start lifting the beautiful boat. Once lifted, the pressure starts to come down: the hardest part is done! The yard moves the boat, which is just entering the gate, and they put it in its place. The pressure finally drops and a mixture of joy and pride takes place. What an incredible moment!
In the evening, we have dinner with Marc and Charlie on board the Diversion. The boat is incredible! Nothing to do with the Noddi: everything is bigger, more powerful, more comfortable... Not to mention the kitchen! (which even has an oven). This boat is magnificent in every way and, cock-a-doodle-doo, it is French built! They tell us about their adventures and we spend a superb evening.
To thank us for our help, Marc invites us to visit the island with them, accompanied by a guide, Blaye, a Marquesan specialist of the Polynesian culture. We jumped at the opportunity to discover the Marquesas Islands, the island of Hiva Oa and thus begin to feel this unique culture.
To be continued.