Day 9 – Ua Huka (Vaipaee, Hokatu, Hane)

Sunday 6 March 2016 – 5000 steps?

6am Aranui enters Vaipaee Bay – Interesting Manoeuvrer

7:30am first barge to shore

Vaipaee Museum, Welcoming dances, Handicraft Centre, Museum

Botanical Garden

Hokatu Village Handicraft Centre and Petroglyph Museum

12:30 lunch at “Chez Celine Fournier” in Hane

Catholic Mass 1:30pm, or hike to Me’ae

2:30 – 4pm Barges back to Aranui

6pm Nuku Hiva/Ua Pou meeting

7pm Polynesian Evening around the swimming pool

I set my alarm for 5:50am because I wanted to be awake for the most interesting manoeuvre of the Aranui cruise. Around 6am, the Aranui was scheduled to enter the Vaipaee bay. What is unique about this bay is that it is only about 50 meters wider than the length of the Aranui ship itself. Once we entered the bay the ship had to drop and anchor from the front, spin itself around 180 degrees so that it was facing outward of the bay and attach two ropes from the stern onto anchor points on shore. This would keep it in the harbour facing outward without the chance that it would move position and crash into the cliff walls to either side.

I went up to the top deck by where the bridge is to watch the captain and his crew initiate this manoeuvre. They did it with such precision. I would have though they were performing a ballet. As they rotated around, it looked as if the rock walls were only a few feet away from the ship, but before I knew it, they had the boat secured on three sides.

The dining room was probably completely empty until this was all over as most people wanted to watch all that was going on from outside. By the time it was all over and we headed in for breakfast, the dining room was packed and the common topic of discussion was the precision which the captain had to undertake to ensure a safe manoeuvre in such a narrow passage that you can barely even see from the open ocean.

Starting at 7:30am, the first of the barges were heading to shore, shuttling goods and passengers to the main dock. We were warned to bring water shoes as it was to be a potentially wet landing on the dock and a wet pickup from the beach in the afternoon. It was a good thing we were told to bring water shoes for the entire day for more than this reason, however. The entire day was a wet one and many of the sites we visited had us walking through mud that would have caked my shoes. Instead, mud just got all over my water shoes which I could just submerse in water to clean off.

We disembarked the ship in two separate groups. First, it was the German speaking and English speaking passengers. Following them, the French speaking passengers disembarked. The reason was so that we could have a more intimate experience discovering the sites we were about to explore with less people at each place.

About 50 4×4 trucks were waiting for all of the Aranui passengers just outside of the pier. What I love about this island is that most of the drivers decorate their trucks with fresh flowers and green leaves. Attached to the back of the cab of the truck is the locally grown decorations.

Kirsten and I were the last two English speakers which could not fit into the truck before us and so after a short wait, we were directed to truck number 14. Our driver, named Domingo, drove from the pier to the Vaipaee Museum, only a 5 minute drive from the dock. Once there one of the guides from the Aranui explained how over ten years ago, the previous mayor of the town wanted to preserve rare wooden artifacts from old Marquesas. Unfortunately, however, many of the known old artifacts were in museums around the world and this village could not afford to purchase them. As a result photographs were taken of artifacts in Paris, New York and Oslo and a local carver set to work to recreate these carvings for the museum.

Inside there were spears, tikis, jewellery, a recreated traditional kitchen, old photographs and collections of shells. I found the photographs from early visitors to these islands most interesting. It truly gave a glimpse into the life of the early settlers and the early days of the native Marquesians. At the end of our visit to the small museum, a number of local residents including our driver, played some songs and danced for us. The men were strumming their ukuleles and guitars while the women danced for us. Following their first song, they pulled members of the audience in to dance with them. As I was in the front row taking photos with my camera, I was an easy target… that and the fact that my wife was pushing me forward and laughing at the same time. She really thought it would be funny to watch me do a Marquesian dance. Well, I had to comply and think I did a fairly good job of bending my knees and knocking them together like the Marquesian men while holding one arm in and one stretched out, rotating the hand movements back and forth. Who knows, maybe one day there will be great demand for Marquesian dancers.

Following our time here in the largest village of Ua Huka where half of the islands 600 residents live, we made our way to the Vaipaee Botanical Gardens. It had been pouring rain earlier and so it was a bit of a soupy mess on the garden trails. I was glad I was wearing my washable water shoes because there were parts where the bottoms of my shoes were caked in mud until I could find a grassy patch to wash them off in. Fortunately, during our visit there was no rain.

These botanical gardens were beautiful and had all sorts of local fruits and flowers. We were treated to samples of mandarin oranges, lilikoi, kumquats and litchi nuts. Also in the garden were hibiscus flowers, limes, pamplemousse and a variety of other plants I could not identify without a little bit of assistance. While wandering around, we ran into the man that help establish these gardens 40 years earlier. He explained to us that many years ago he was troubled to hear about so many Marquesian plants disappearing. He wanted to preserve these plants and develop this garden. He had been inspired many years ago by a quote that “you can live off of the food on your land but you cannot eat your money.”

The smallest town on the island, is the village of Hokatu. To get there we had to take a winding road along the coastline past the airport and second largest village of Hane. Along the way, we stopped past the far side of the airport at a viewpoint overlooking the airport and rocky shores. It was an overcast sky with lots of runoff from the mountains creating a bit of murky brown water with coconut and palm leaf debris along the shoreline. It was however a spectacular sight.

Continuing on we made our way to Hokatu. It was a small town on the ocean with only a few shops including a artisan’s handicraft centre. We wandered around looking at the intricate stone, wood and bone carvings. Having seen so many handicraft centres, I wondered how many of the tourists from the Aranui were still buying souvenirs to take home. Kirsten and I decided to take a few minutes to sit on one of the stone benches facing the ocean just outside. After a few seconds however there was an odour in the air and Kirsten looked down to see about 5 feet away camouflaged in the rocky beach, a large 10 inch long fish head that had been cut off and left on the beach. We quickly decided to move a little further down the beach where we found another bench in a little less odorous location.

The waves would roll up the steep beach and pull down from shore the round rocks that had been smoothed over from years of rolling up and down this shore. As the smaller rocks rolled down the hill into the ocean with the waves, it created a unique and soothing rhythmic sound that I could have spent hours listening too.

Before leaving, I wanted to have a peek at the small 300 square foot petroglyph museum that was across from the beach. Inside this museum, they had taken moulds from petroglyphs that had been discovered in the rock faces from all over the island. Some were fairly faint and hard to discern while others were more defined and obvious. They gave a small little glimpse into the life of the early inhabitants of this island.

We had to backtrack to Hane which was to be our lunch stop and final village to visit for the day. Our musician driver took us into the village and then inland to the restaurant “Chez Celine Fournier”. It was in a wooded setting about a 10 minute walk from the main village and harbour of Hane. It had been overcast and drizzling most of the day but shortly after we arrived. It started to downpour so strong, it was hard to hear my wife that was sitting right across from me. The water was pouring off of the tin roof above us. Fortunately we picked a table on the terrace area where there was a nice steady breeze, others that were inside the restaurant said it was a bit hot inside. The French speaking group was seated in a separate building next to us with lattice walls which also could take advantage of the small outside breeze.

There are not many restaurants that can accommodate 250 people in the Marquesas islands. Especially considering that there are only 600 people that live on the island in the first place, the only need they have for this is when the Aranui comes. Most other cruise lines all prepare meals on-board the ship for the few times where they can even come into a port.

Following dinner, there was a little break in the rain and so we started to walk down the street toward the harbour where the Aranui was to pick us up. We still had two hours before the Aranui 5 was going to be pulling out of Vaipaee and into Hane so we took our time. We stopped first at the catholic church that was painted in white with red trim. I sent my drone up for some aerial photos. Some others from the cruise ship waited around for the 1:30 mass to start while others continued to wander around the village. Others that had planned to go on a 40 minute walk to a small “me’ae” had to find something else to do as the hike was cancelled due to the rain.

Kirsten and I found a small shelter by the beach to hang out under with a local lady and her two kids. It was again starting to rain and soon was pouring even harder than before. From the shelter we could see what seemed like Niagara falls coming down off of the stone walls just outside of the shelter. The rain was deafening and was if buckets of water were not only being poured down but being thrown down above our heads. Two local kids in the shelter with us were having a great time. They would go to run out in the rain and within seconds were soaking wet. They jumped from puddle to puddle and would put their heads under the constant stream of water coming out from a drainage spout in front of us. Over the course of the next hour the torrential rain would pick up from time to time before calming down a little.

We headed over to the harbour by 2:30 for the first boats back to the ship but the Aranui was not yet in the harbour. It must have been delayed in completing its deliveries and pick up of supplies in Vaipaee. It was probably an hour late and so all of the cruise passengers were huddled around the copra bags in the small shelter on shore. While most of the cruise passengers braved the wet trip back to the boat in their ponchos, Kirsten and I sat in awe, watching 20 local men as they would each haul two and even three large sacks of copra to the shipping barge. They would wade into the water many times well above their knees as the waves would come in and hit them and then drop the sacks onto the edge of the barge. A few men on the barge would toss the heavy burlap sacks into two metal containers on the barge. As the pile next to us in the shelter emptied out, truck after truck would pull up and all of the men would empty out the new vehicle.

It was obvious to us that each of these men were not only taking care of their own copra but also helping their neighbours and friends with offloading their own loads of copra. They all worked together quickly, conscious that it was important to work fast so that each of the sacks would be loaded and then covered with a tarp so that it would not get wet. As soon as the copra was loaded other supplies that were in coolers and boxes were weighed and loaded onto the barge and placed around the metal copra containers.

We ended up catching the last barge back to the boat. All previous barges were filled to capacity and a handful of the elderly passengers were getting sick from not being prepared for the wet weather. We did not mind. Watching the process in person of loading the barges with goods that the locals could sell and earn a living from was much more interesting than any TV show or documentary.

Later in the evening, after having a warm shower and drying off, we went to the short meeting discussing the next stop in Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou. These were both islands and cities that we were returning to to pick up some final goods, supplies and local passengers before heading out on the final crossing back home.

This particular evening was an evening highlight for all of the cruise passengers. Dinner was supposed to be served around the swimming pool on the outside deck but due to the amount of rain we were still getting, it was moved indoors to the dining room. This was the big Polynesian Evening. There was an entire buffet line of entrees from shrimp curry, taro leaves with coconut, oysters, fried rice, barbecue chicken to pulled pork. The other buffet table was completely covered in a variety of cheeses and deserts. There was a towering birthday cake of cream puffs drizzled in caramel and chocolate all stuck together and two feet tall. Cakes, pastries and fruit salad were all being dished out to those waiting in this buffet line by two cooks from the kitchen.

Following desert, the staff from the ship performed a number of songs and dances from the islands. They beat on their drums and strummed on ukuleles while dancers spread out throughout the dining hall to dance for us. It was a marvellous evening that filled everyone with the happy and energetic spirit of Polynesia.