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Thursday, May 10, 2012

5/5/2012 Fatu Hiva

5/5/2012 Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Archipligo

Tucked far out of the way to the south west makes visiting Fatu Hiva a bit of a commitment. Cruising boats are required to check-in at either Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva before visiting any other islands so the 50 mile backtrack upwind after the long passage it took to get here looks like a lot of work. Consequently many cruisers don't bother with this tiny little gem in favor of following the flow on eastward. Missing this island though amounts to visiting Paris and not seeing the Louvre.

I am sorry I am unable to download pictures for you but if you have a free minute to Google Fatu Hiva it's definitely worth the click. The pictures you are most likely to see will be of the Bay of Virgins named for the thrusting rock formations that are prominent around the village of Hana Vive. The bay was originally called the Bay of Penises but in the quest to save souls the missionaries decided that was entirely too savage and needed to be changed. The islanders didn't really embrace the new name and the rocks of course kept their shape so its sort of becomes a mute point.
Like Hiva Oa this island was formed when a volcano erupted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Eventually the volcanoes' cone cracked leaving one narrow slice of the crater wall a ragged and rocky break open to the sea. Time then turned the barren rock to a lush tropical island. There are only two small villages with a 15 kilometer road connecting them, no airstrip, or hospital, no cruise ship dock and no French Gendarmes.

The valley that climbs quickly from the quay at bays head up into the crater of the long dead volcano is home to the village of Hana Vave. Nearly all the villagers who live on the island were born here and many have never been out of the Marquesas, some have never left the island. There are 42 homes in the village. The houses are modest but neat with tidy yard filled with flowers, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, chickens and commonly pigs. There is one small store in town, a post office, grade school and a church. Small lanes tie everything together around the river and the two roads out of town merge up and over the crater wall northward to Omoa the only other village on the island.

Our first day on the island we walked through the village and valley like tourists: mouths agape, head tilted upwards oohing and aahhing our way up as we went. I had learned the Marquesan word for hello "ka OH ha" and decided to try that with a smile on the locals. The single word of hello -actively and ardently corrected- instantly began opening the island to us.
The little yellow store was open so we stepped inside: 20 x 20, two sides bracketed with half empty shelves, one drink cooler-3/4 empty, two deep freezers and a small counter. We bought a couple of cold drinks and armed with our tiny vocabulary of French and our single Marquesan word we tried out our communication skills. Eventually with plenty of arm flapping, finger pointing and Spanglish speaking mime we managed a dialog of sorts.

The clerk behind the counter stayed silent and wary but an older gentleman named Daniel honed in with a request. He fingered and pointed at a key lanyard around his neck and offering fruit from his property if we might have one to trade. Surprisingly on the boat I had several tucked away with the thought that I might use the bits of webbing so I promised I would look and come back for a trade the next day. Figuring we were all on a roll we kept up the conversation and Daniel segued into an obvious inside joke. He mimed shooting a gun and pointing to the hills with a wicked grin then stepped around the corner out of sight of the clerks and put his finger to his lips in an exaggerated :shhhhhhhhhh." He took great joy in the exchange and later we watched as he played it out with numerous other cruisers.

We could never quite tell if he truly wanted to know if we carried a gun, or perhaps had bullets to trade or was offering to take us goat hunting. Or was he making a joke about the incident last year when a local man offered to take a Dutch cruiser goat hunting. That was the last the man was seen alive and his bones were found in a smoldering campfire. All anxiously reported as the first incident of cannibalism in the Marquesas in decades. We declined the offer but chose to accept it as a friendly cross cultural exchange.

From there we set off up the valley on a road that wound along a small river. The road slowly gained steepness as we walked through the break in the crater wall. In less than a mile we were surrounded on all sides by the bowl of the massive crater. It was a stunning vision looking up around us knowing that at one time this was a glowing, steaming, fire belching, lava flowing monster. The black rock stands out from the indescribable shades of green and everywhere you look there is nothing but up. We never found the waterfall mentioned in the guidebook that we had set off to see but the view was worth the walk. The craters ridge seemed to never get closer and eventually the heat and the switchbacks made us turn back.

Once back on the boat I sat in the cockpit staring at the beauty surrounding our little boat and couldn't help but think about the lives they live here. Fatu Hiva is often referred to as the most beautiful island on earth so if you were born and raised here would you're mind have a hard time imagining that not everyone in the world lives in a place of beauty? Imagine flying to say East L.A.! If you traveled off the island would the rest of the world disappoint you?


(I learned later that most of the young men from these islands spend a stint in the French Military and most end up serving in Afghanistan. It boggles my mind just thinking about that.)

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