Bonjour, bienvenue sur le Marquises.
Excusez-moi s’il vous plaît. Je ne parle pas français. Je suis un ignorant américain.
Thank goodness the ‘smile and nod’ is universal and that the Marquesans are a friendly and patient people. We hired Tahiti Crew to process our customs, immigration, and bond exemption paperwork, so despite our serious language barrier entering into French Polynesia was a breeze. Post formalities at the Atuona Gendarmerie, and after 19 days and 8 hours at sea, it was time to do the most ignorant American thing of all: seek out a cheeseburger and Wi-Fi.
The Marquesas are volcanic islands rich in beauty, history and mystery. Colorful, clean, sparsely populated and lush, the islands in this archipelago are breathtaking. Sans condos, high rises and golf courses, this place seems to be the last remaining tropical paradise unspoiled by avarice. Notable literates and painters have been inspired by these mysterious islands, I not one nor the other, shan’t do this place justice. With monumental 2,000-ft rock faces and spires scattered across the skyline it feels like Yosemite rose from the sea. Mountains that centuries ago beaconed for exploration would no doubt today inspire in Royal Robins a first assent. We’ve had multiple stepping stones along the way, but the Marquesas are a destination in its own right. Getting here, being here, has been surreal.
We made first landfall in Atuona, Hiva Oa, anchored in Tahauku bay, with impressive Mt. Tevatiu (3901 ft) as the backdrop. In a day’s time, three of the boats we had been communicating with throughout our crossing arrived in Hiva Oa. Unplanned, we would get to spend the next three weeks together exploring the nooks and crannies of Marquesan bays, hiking trails, and tiny towns.
A few days after arriving we all splurged on a Sunday brunch and day pass at the Pearl Lodge, complete with crepes, pamplemousse and pool. A sweeter and tastier cousin of the grapefruit, the pamp’ would soon become a daily staple. We shared space with this lovely extended Marquesan family who post-brunch broke into an impressive musical number, singing, playing large drums, guitars, an intricate Marquesan ukulele, and an improvised instrument with a glass bottle and spoons. They were not putting on a show, this was a normal family affair that we were lucky enough to witness. A stunning view, full happy bellies and beautiful music in the background sealed our arrival.
We had our first goods-for-food exchange in Fatu Hiva. Locals were interested in rum but we exchanged fishing hooks and toiletries for pamplemousse and papayas. A local teenager offered tangerines and I replied ecstatically but she walked away when I offered money in lieu of rum. No tangerines for Bravo.
Riding on the coattails of Sedna’s resourcefulness, we joined our buddy boats in a dinner prepared by a local family in the town of Hanavave. A feast of poisson grillés, poisson cru, poulet, rice and noodles. Bananas too, but none for us… Andy will spontaneously combust if I bring one aboard Bravo.
Fatu Hiva’s picturesque Bay of Virgins was a tough but gorgeous anchorage. The much advertised sheer volcanic cliffs that inspired its former name (Bay of Verges….oh what a lonely “i” can do) offered the perfect backdrop for the quintessential “We made it to French Polynesia!” picture. The spot is tiny, windy and lacking in enough secure holding so we didn’t sleep a wink – kept up by 25 knot howling winds gusting throughout the night. It’s fairly common for cruisers to worry about their anchor holding and proximity to other boats; no one wants to wake up to the risk of hitting a fellow sailor. Having been woken by a screaming woman holding on to our lifelines – on the outside of our boat – let me tell you, it’s not a pleasant experience. Despite monitoring our swing and holding for over 24 hours, a much lighter trimaran and Bravo swung into each other in the wee hours. No damage was incurred to either boat, but needless to say, we didn’t sleep for the rest of our time there.
We sailed from Fatu Hiva towards the west side of Tahuata, where we were greeted by more monumental mountains. The bay of Hana Moe Noa offered turquoise waters, snorkeling, mantas, sharks and beautiful sunsets. After a few weeks of rotating sundowners, dinners and passage anecdotes, we parted ways with our buddy boaters with a pool-and-sea-toy flotilla.
Our last stop in the Marquesas was the island of Nuku Hiva. We sailed to Taiohae, Controleur and Anaho bays and got a chance to catch up with another set of boats friends from La Cruz. Matt flew out of Nuku Hiva towards Tahiti to continue on his own backpacking adventures. Thank you Matt for joining us on this leg of our journey! We rented a car to drop him off at the airport and took advantage to tour the island by land; a unique chance for those of us who limit our explorations by sea. It’s astonishing how such a small piece of land could have such diversity! Inland took us through 14 shades of green, parrot green valleys, windy roads with long slender trees, towering rock cliffs, wild horses, cows, turquoise bays and a desert. It felt like driving up from the Costa Rican province of Limón towards the hills of Heredia, taking a left through the valleys and mountains of Colorado, and down the hill to Arizona.
We carpe’d the heck out of all those diems. Trails were hiked, local dancing attempted, archeological sites visited, fish caught, tropical fruits consumed, pool toys inflated, paddle boards paddled, reefs snorkeled, birthdays celebrated, WiFi hunted for, water jugs lugged, cocktails toasted, boat projects completed, and new friendships strengthened. Memories were made, photographs taken and words finally written. For someone who wrote about cabbage in one sitting it’s odd I’ve taken this long to write about a place so worthy. I seem to need moments of solitude at sea to get my blog cells brewing.
My one regret as I set sail away from this place is having interactions with the locals be limited to pleasantries. It’s tough to go beyond that when all I can say is Kaoha (Marquesan for hello). I remain captivated by their way of life. Fascinated by their culture. Mesmerized by their art and music. Intrigued by their history. Wondering if they know in their heart there are few places in the world like their home. I am sad to be leaving. The Marquesas have been good to us, but with a third of our visa behind us, it is now time to move forward. Onward towards the Tuamotos we shall go.
Until next time,
A note to our readers: The internet in the tiny islands scattered through the middle of the Pacific ocean is exactly what you would expect: very slow and hard to come by. Our posts continue to be powered by us emailing WordPress through our Iridium Go. We cannot use this technology to surf the internet, access apps nor upload good pictures to our posts. When we get a few minutes of land-based WiFi we upload to Instagram, so check out our photo gallery there! Unfortunately we cannot read your replies or comments but stay in touch and we will reply as soon as we can. Thank you for reading! A&M