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Text: MULTIHULLS Magazine November/December 2003
I t was wonderful sitting in the beautiful anchorage of Hiva Oa after 19 days of only sea and skies to look at; my eyes hungrily drank in the green valleys, palm trees and the sweet sight of land. For the next two months we would be travelling in French Polynesia. These island groups may be classed under the same name, but they couldn’t be more different. Take the landscapes for example; Ua Po has dramatic cliffs and sweeping hills that plunge down into deep ravines, whereas Hiva Oa has rolling hills and lush green valleys that make a more gentle skyline. Then there are the Tuamotus, that rise a mere 12 feet from the water and have only sand and coconut palms. Yet these atolls are still beautiful despite their size. The Society Islands are somewhere in between with soft hills that merge into steep cliffs surrounded by reefs.
The one thing that is the same throughout French Polynesia is the warmth and kindness of the natives. In Hiva Oa it was over a one-mile walk uphill into town but any car driving past would stop and offer us a lift. The village of Hanavave in Fatu Hiva is only a small collection of houses with no restaurants but a local woman called Rosa prepared a small feast in her house at only $10 a head while her family ate outside in the dark. The locals also invited us to see their dancing rehearsal. They were preparing for the Heiva Nui in Tahiti and had been practicing for 9 months and all that hard work certainly showed. We wanted to visit the tattoo museum in Ua Po and a man called Pascal invited us into the museum and gave an amazingtalk about tattooing, singing and dancing along the way and telling us local stories. He then showed us a few nice things in town such as the local wood carver and arranged a walk through the mountains to another anchorage. All this information, including the museum, was free of charge and came with a smile. In Nuku Hiva Mum and Dad went to buy anchor chain from the local chandlers. Everyone there was friendly and when the shop owner heard that they had to carry the chain all the way back to the boat he immediately offered them a lift back in one of his customer’s cars!
One of the best Monday’s I have ever had was in Raroia, Tuamotus where we went pearl gathering with the locals. This involved taking the oysters from their lines in the sea, prizing open the shells and taking out the beautiful pearl. You would then divide the bad meat from the good and pile the oyster shells up ready for shipping to Tahiti. The locals were patient and friendly as they showed us the ropes. After a hardmorning’s work, all the yachties gathered on Zazen to trade pearls for rum. The locals traded fairly and gave us each a pearl and a small bag of silver ones for free. While in Raroia, we found out that a large and exciting event for the natives is when the supply ship comes in. Raroia has only two supply ships a month, one ship starts in the north Tuamotus and comes down south, therefore Raroia is its last port of call. This means that the ship is nearly empty and Raroia gets only the dregs and left-overs. The other ship starts down south making Raroia its second port of call, so everyone gathered on the dock eager to receive their supplies to last them through the month. We, on seeing the commotion, went ashore and watched as the huge ship sent two dinghies ashore full of food and other supplies. The sleeping children were unloadedfrom the wheelbarrows, the supplies were put in and the happy families went home. We watched as the men started to nail two dinghies together with planks of wood to make a catamaran. They then, to our amazement, lowered a VW transporter from the supply ship onto the dinghies. The dinghiesslowly drove ashore and delivered the big white van onto the dock. But what are they going to use it for? A twenty-minute tour of the island? A 300m airport transfer? The funny thing is there aren’t any roads on Raroia! The whole community of Raroia (there were just over 50) were so happy to see us and hear of our travels that it was hard to leave. Raroia was a very beautiful place but sadly the wind changed, making Raroia a lee shore forcing us to leave for Tahiti and the other boats to seek shelter on the other side of the atoll. But maybe it was good that happened, otherwise we would never have left.
Tahiti, was the first civilised place in many months but we were pleased to find the locals were still friendly, despite the size of the island. When we arrived in Tahiti we had no beer so Dad decided to ask a local fishing boat if the shops were open on Sunday, in doing this he hoped to save a fruitless trip ashore. Mum and Dad went over to the fishing boat and asked. The man’s face fell when he heard the question, “Sorry, no it is closed today,” he said in French. Then his face brightened , “But here you go” and he handed Mum and Dad an ice cold beer each. Our main reason for coming to Tahiti was to see the large festival called the Heiva Nui. This festival takes place every three years and people om all over French Polynesia come to take part, including our friends from Fatu Hiva. Not only does the festival include dancing but also food, flowers and crafts. The food and flowers make up the Agricultural Fair (Te Vahine), which is very impressive and had yamsup to 200 kg in weight! The arts and craft were very beautiful and were in the artisan fair (Heiva Nui Rima’i). They had wooden tikis, nose flutes, drums, quilts (Tifaifai), Fatu Hiva Rosa’s House paintings, shell jewelry, pearls, straw hats and local dresses all hand made.
All these things were wonderful but they did not beat the dancing which was incredible, with many people from different islands participating. This meant different costumes, different music, and different dancing styles. They were all fun to watch but the best group would have to have been Fatu HIva. After having seen all the effort the villagers of Hanavave had put in while rehearsing and in making costumes out of traditional tapa cloth (cloth fibre from tree bark)it made their performance just that bit more special to us. So with one half of our Pacific Island cruise completed we draw closer and closer to our new life in Australia but it is best not to think about that yet and simply enjoy the rest of our adventure while it lasts! —–