L O G B O O K - by John Philp



THE MARQUESAS


MON 12th JUNE - Tau arrived yesterday from the Galapagos after a long passage. We’re in Taiohe Bay, Nuku-Hiva Island, in the French Polynesian Marquesas group.

TUE 13th - The town of Taiohe is spread along a volcanic stone shoreline. An airstrip is on the north-western end of the island, and one commutes there by 4WD or helicopter. Behind the town towering mountain ranges rear high up into the clouds.

Restaurant prices here are amazing. We thought the Caribbean was bad, but in French Polynesia you have to be sitting down when they give you the bill! Two beers and three soft drinks set us back F$40.

The locals are big and robust, and friendly, reminding me of Tongans. They say this was the only part of Polynesia where polyandry was practised - the custom of women having more than one husband or partner.

THUR 15th - We up anchor and sail downwind to Baie de Hakatea a couple of bays west. As we enter the small rocky entrance mossy green cliffs rise on one side to heights of 700 metres. The cliffs are corrugated - each section folded over the next like a curtain bunched up. Here and there a sharp spike breaks lose from the curtain and sticks up defiantly. The hills on the other side are also elevated, making for a dramatic anchorage.

We’d bought a bunch of fresh baguettes for the six families living here and deliver these ashore before hiking up a valley to the Vaipo waterfall - one of the highest in the world.

The valley is curious for the old paved stone road that runs most of the way to the waterfall through dense green tangled bush, breadfruit and wild guava trees - the air cool and damp. The road was probably built for access to the funeral caves in the cliff sides which contain the remains of chiefs placed there many eons ago in mortuary canoes. Stone platforms are also scattered about in the valley - foundations for Polynesian dwellings of another time. We spy a couple of old stone tiki’s standing sentinel beside the path, and numerous rock cairns - of which there are over two dozen at the waterfall itself.

The pool at the bottom of the waterfall is hidden away in a place where sunlight rarely reaches, the cliff face rising up in tortoured curves to the water cascading off the highest platform 1,970 feet (600 meters) up. There’s a great roar as it lands then comes rushing around a corner and down a short spillway to land in the pool. Swimming up to it is dangerous as the dizzying rush of water sucks the air away making it difficult to breath.

When we return to the dinghy it is filled with lemons, breadfruit, and pamplemousse (grapefruit), in gratitude for the bread we presented.

FRI 16th - A lazy day at anchor, reading, swimming, and walks ashore.

The bay is geographically overwhelming, and one can’t help gazing at the cliffs in awe. At night the cliffs are especially bewitching, immense dark shadows contouring the rock in the pale moonlight, the dark omnipresence of the rock so real and tangible.

SAT 17th - Before sunrise we haul the anchor up, pausing at intervals to wash mud off the chain. We sail twenty five miles to Hakahetau, a pretty anchorage on the northern side of Ua-Pou Island, where we discover one other yacht anchored in front of a pretty village. Rock overhangs line the small bay and the water is clear and hued in gorgeous blue and green.

From here we have a fabulous view of the striking volcanic plugs in the centre of the island. Like monuments bridging the island and the clouds, they reach heights of 1,232 meters. In the time we spent here I never saw them all visible at once. The fast moving cloud was always passing in front of one or more of them, smearing them in grey for a time.

I hike into town and track down Tina Klima, an aunt of a Tahitian friend. After lunch her son drops me back at the bay with three large cartoons over flowing with fruit.
The rest of the crew are already at Etiennes house having been invited there for dinner along with the couple off ‘Blue Dawn’ - the other yacht in the bay. Etienne’s the knowledgeable ex-school teacher and mayor, a character who speaks good English and loves spinning a yarn.

SUN 18th - The crew go ashore for the 8am church service and later are invited back to Etiennes house for a Sunday feed. Afterwards whilst walking the meal off, a pickup comes by and the driver signals them to climb in. Driving towards town - suddenly the driver pulls over and climbs into the tray instructing Tony to drive as he is too drunk! They drive all the way to town like this and have a wander around before hitching another ride back to Hakahetau.

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