Atuona, Hiva Oa
We set up a tour of the island thinking that it made more sense than renting a car since we don't know where the heck anything is (the itty bitty tourist "office" has never once been open when we walked into town) and the tour included a trip to the archeological sites... some of the "best in all of French Polynesia", we have read. The price was spendy (but less than a car rental) so we asked another family boat if they would like to accompany us. S/v "The Anitra" (Captain Doug, wife Tonye, 24 y/o son Andy and family friend and Andy's roommate 26 y/o Scott) were excited to go along with us.
We highly recommend Marie Jo's tour – you'll see her signage at the little hut in the Atuona anchorage and you will likely meet her there as she shuttles people to and from town frequently drumming up business. The cost for all 7 of us was 25,000 FP Francs (about $40US per person) and the tour of the island was from 8am until 5pm. We stopped frequently along the way – taking in the glorious views – and swimming at serene local beaches. Marie Jo's husband and our tour guide, Jean, stopped to pick fruit and chop open a coconut for us to enjoy – the coconut was so rich and sweet! Jean was chatty and spoke very good English, answering all our questions about the villages on the island.
One side of the island is much drier at this time of year than the other. Basil grows wild and has gone to seed, giving the green hillsides a rusty contrast from the sea. The drier side is still producing fruit where as the more lush and green side is dwindling – and the sad reason why we have not been able to get fruit (other than a handful of small mangos) since arriving in Atuona. Locals don't sell fruit in the stores because everyone has their own in their backyards. So to get it you must ask. And Atuona is now running low whereas had we arrived in March or early April we would have been given loads of fresh fruit for nothing.
Goats and chickens run free (as do a handful of cows) – horses are tied up at the sides of the road to munch down the lush grasses. Everyone seems to drive a truck. We saw no cars at all. Noni fruit trees seem denser on one section of the island than the other. The views are breathtaking! We got a flat tire and while Jean changed the flat we roamed the dense foliage – where we saw goats in trees. They quickly ran when they saw us.
The archeological site:
Jean stopped at the side of the road and we followed a slender trail into the trees. Wild pepper plants and pretty mosses grew prolifically amongst the rocks and trees. We reached an area where the "Smiling Tiki" stood – a small Tiki barely 3 feet high sits solo... except for what is left of a single petroglyph at his side. He is darling!
The main archeological site is far away ad there were very few Tikis (only 5 left) but they were amazing. There is a small fee to enter the site (300 FP Francs or $3.50US per person) as it is privately owned and the grounds well manicured. It feels like such an honor to have stood on old, old sacred grounds and to know that the 5 memories of an ancient civilization will not be around much longer – the lichen and mosses have deteriorated the stone, which is why only these 5 remain – the rest have long eroded. (I have wonderful photos which I will post when we get internet).
Jean talked about how a rock pit once was a burial ground for "traitors" - where they were buried in the ground head first. And he pointed to a large Banyon tree where he said traitors were hung by the lower jaw with large hooks and allowed to dangle alive for days until they finally died. Jean told of ancient burial rites: how when a Marquesan died long ago there was a special person assigned to pick the rotted meat from the skeleton of the deceased and once the bones were bleached they were stored in caves or hung from the Banyon trees. And, of course, we talked of the gourmandizers, Hiva Oa being "the last stronghold of cannibalism in French Polynesia" according to Eric Hinz's cruising guide, Landfalls of Paradise. Speaking of eating...
We stopped at a remote restaurant where our guide, Jean, had made a reservation earlier. It was not a cheap cruiser taco cart at $26US per person, but WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!! We were served our very first Marquesan meal – a supreme treat! ... and by the way, sitting next to a local Marquesan while eating is a very loud experience... lip-smacky, saliva slurpy, gastronomically belchy... and I had a hard time not laughing and quashing the desire to imitate just to see if it made my experience that much more pleasing! The meal was truly so special and many things we had never eaten:
Poisson Cru, (fresh tuna ceviche made with lime, salt, coconut milk, carrots, green mangos and onions)
Goat meat served in a coconut milk gravy spooned over rice
Delicately seasoned pork cooked with something green and chopped onion – also spooned over rice
Fried sliced plantain
Poo-ee, a pumpkin cooked in cornstarch – very chewy, gummy and tapioca-esque – I especially loved this!
Coconut and possibly mango/papaya mix cookie-candy-thingy
Fried breadfruit – like a potato but better!
Hiva Oa is beautiful and I am so happy we stopped here. There are an abundance of canned goods in the grocery stores (the red labels are French subsidized items). The locals are extremely friendly and seem happy to have visitors. The cruisers are also very happy and helpful to one another. Everyone smiles. I am having a hard time with French and keep speaking Franglish... French Spanglish, which is understood by no one.
A Cute Story... a Day When My French Was Decent:
Jim, Carolyne and I were buying veggies from a Marquesan lady out of her truck when an elderly woman approached Carolyne and offered to share some of her dried banana fruit. We all tried it – it was very yummy. The Banana Lady asked us in French where we were from. I answered in French that we were from America. The Banana Lady's eyes lit up and she asked in French, "You are American?" We all shook our heads 'yes' and I replied in French that we were. She squealed with delight and said in very slow English, "I... Love... Las Vegas! Ching-Ching!" (and she did the universal hand gesture for slot machine). We laughed and laughed – so unexpected! And then she said something in French unintelligible and I laughed like I knew what she was talking about.
We still have no internet so can't check emails or post photos.
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com