Saturday, May 8, 2010

Visit in the Marquesas

The first thing striking us when arriving in the Marquesas was the majestic beauty of the landscape of these volcanic islands. Spat out from the center of the earth the lava rose above the sea level to create islands of splendid scenery on which grows lush vegetation. Well, once we recovered from the poetic beauty of the high cliffs and the palm trees we come back down to more down to earth realities such as the name of the different places here. For example, after our Pacific crossing we stopped in the village of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa in the French department of Marquesas in French Polynesia. The Marquesas Islands have names such as Tahuata, Fatu Hiva or my favorite; Ua Pou. Those names obviously mean something to the people here but for us, poor mortals, it is just a sequence of sounds with no apparent meaning and consequently it is very difficult to remember them. Just to show us, without rereading the text, what is the name of the island where we first stopped? You can imagine what a conversation between sailors here looks like. “Do you plan to go at Hatutu?” the other, a bit perplex, answers “Hum, Hatutu, is it the island north of here next to Kaukura? Oh wait, Kaukura it’s in the Tuamotu Archipelago not in the Marquesas…” and so forth.

But after three weeks at sea people who crossed the Pacific need to talk to other human beings. To talk about the crossing of course but also to talk, period. In Hiva-Oa we spent a lot of time socializing and the day we arrived we were quite happy to see again our friends Dominique and Malou on board their 65 foot (20m) catamaran Cata Fjord who we first met in St-Georges, Grenada. You can see them here on the left picture. Dominique and Malou are smart and extremely friendly people. Danielle and I can spend 5 or 6 hours straight talking with them and feeling we just started the conversation! We spent a lot of time with them, over a dinner and later for breakfast, talking about boats and solving the problems of the world. Unfortunately, our itinerary being faster than their we simply don’t know when we will be able to see them again. On the center picture and the one on the right you can see Max and Peter two Australians on board the sailboat Yanada whom we met in the Galapagos. They had issues in clearing in the country and we were able to help them with this. Speaking French in French Polynesia really helps when comes the time to sort out the different options offered to us to pay the infamous bond imposed by the authorities, which forces foreigners to either have a return plane ticket or to pay a bond corresponding to the cost of a plane ticket back to your home country. The value of the bond is then returned to you once you leave the country. I give you the short version of the story here but things are much more complicated, and expensive, than it looks like when it comes to the bond. Later we had a very good time spending an evening on board Yanada and twisting our ears trying to catch the Australian accent and expressions. Let’s say it is quite a feat to follow a conversation with Peter after the wine poured for three hours! Like with Cata Fjord our route now split from Yanada’s and we may see Peter and Max again only once we get to Australia. This is the sad reality of the life on a boat. We meet many nice people then one day on the snap of the fingers we must wave them good bye and there’s only emails left to keep in touch with them.

In Hiva-Oa we took a guided tour of the island during which we mainly visited the magnificent landscape but we also had a lunch in one of the local restaurant where we enjoyed a good sample of the Polynesian gastronomy. Let’s simply say that dishes were very good and Polynesian women really know how to cook. This becomes quite obvious when we take a look at the bellies of their husbands! On the picture you can see, at the center, a plate of shrimps on spinach in coconut milk surrounded by a dish of bread fruits with sweetened bananas, of raw fish in coco milk, of solidified fruit puree and rice.

During our visit of the island we went to see a ceremonial site where Polynesians, in the old days, carved the famous tikis those stone statues representing important people or an important moment in life such as here on the right picture where we can see the statue of a woman giving birth. From her look the baby must have been quite huge maybe the warrior we see in the background of the picture on the left! By the way I am not crouching to look at the baby in question but to observe the carvings at the base of the statue!

In Hiva-Oa are buried two famous people; the author and interpret Jacques Brel and the master painter Paul Gauguin. Jacques Brel, born in Belgium, spent the last years of his life here and passed away prematurely in 1978 at the age of 49; thanks to the cigarette and the lung cancer that followed. Many of you may not know Brel who was a signer made vary famous in the French world by his very deep and poetic songs. The interpretation of his songs was profound and made with a very emotional control of the tones and tempos completely unique to him. If you haven’t heard Jacques Brel before go to the music store and buy one of his greatest hit albums, sit down and just listen. You may not understand the lyrics but just the way he sings will make you dream. One the plaque next to his grave we can read (my translation).


Man of sails
Man of starts
This troubadour
Delighted our lives
From the North Sea
To the Marquesas

The poet,
From the blue of his eternity
Thank you
For your passage

A nice poem at the image of this great artist’s songs that make us travel in the imaginary of the reality painted in Brel’s unique style. I know that saying “the imaginary of the reality” may sounds a bit weird but one needs to listen Brel’s to understand what I mean.
As for Paul Gauguin he spent most of the time he was here drinking and upsetting the local authorities. I don’t really know Gauguin’s art so I don’t have much to say about him.

While in Marquesas it is hard not see once in a while one of these pirogues inspired from the ones used by the first colons coming from Asia long time ago. Wood gave way to the lighter fiberglass in their making but the people here seem to take the pirogues competitions very seriously and train regularly in the bay. As for Danielle she seems to be attracted by some of the rower’s build! Me, far from being jealous, reminded her that pecs and biceps are nice but having worked on a computer all my life I have very well developed fingers myself!