Tuesday, 21 May 2013

the smell of land

Taahuku Bay, Hiva Oa
Rediscovering the sights and smells of land is sweet nectar in a sea voyager's life. A verdant island whose mountains are shrouded with clouds, Hiva Oa welcomes you to its shores. Taahuku Bay, however, wants to spit you out.

Photo courtesy of Adam and Edie

It may not be obvious in the photo above, (as usual, we're on the edge,) but Taahuku is a small, crowded and often uncomfortable anchorage. Being one of the Marquesas' only two Ports of Entry, this is one busy harbour.

One of our vocal neighbours
We didn't make it to land on the day of our landfall. We slept. We wept. (Okay, shed a couple tears when I found out some precious books had been ruined by an unfortunately placed leak and mold had taken hold of our clean bed sheets. If you have washed king-sized sheets by hand, you'll understand. At 400 francs a kilo, there is no way someone else is doing our laundry.) But my distress was short-lived, there were too many other distractions. We would continually stop what we were doing to inhale the pungent air around us, while roosters serenaded us night and day. 

We did go to shore the next day, after I more or less successfully cut Rick's hair. The anchorage was so rolly that morning, he had to pin my feet down with his. The promise of fresh baguettes and pamplemousse beckoned and we rowed to shore to meet Sandra, our customs agent. Once on land, we ran into familiar faces and we all shared our war stories on the drive into Atuona. A passage is something one dissects with other passagemakers. It's sort of like when you were a kid and you'd compare scar stories with your friends.

View of Atuona from nearby

After the mock-stern reminder by the gendarme checking us in, that Rick must speak French from now on, we went in search of French Polynesian francs to satisfy our cravings.

Our companion in Atuona

Brel's grave at the Cimetiere Calvaire

While in Atuona, we paid homage to singer songwriter Jacques Brel by visiting his grave in the company of a mutt we'd just met. It took some convincing to get this dog to stop trampling all over Brel's grave. I'm sure if he were alive, Brel would have laughed at the irreverence. Rick and I both have always admired the capacity the singer had for stirring emotions through his witty and stark social commentaries and his songs of terrible heartache. Ever heard the song Dans le port d'Amsterdam? He was one of the quintessential troubadours of the sixties, Belgium's answer to Bob Dylan.

Atuona is an hour's walk from the anchorage, if you stick your thumb out, there is a good chance someone will pick you up. Sometimes, people will offer you a ride simply if they see you walking down the road, just like that. It reminds me of when I used to pick up hitchhikers in the Gulf Islands. These islands share the same friendly vibe, although there are more palm trees.

Clouds like to rest on this moutain top
The baguettes on the other hand, take me back to eating breakfast in my grandparents' kitchen in France, complete with cafe au lait. It's strange to come to a tropical island and be faced with all these little reminders of my country of birth. (Fred, remember Hollywood Gum? They have it here!)

After a mere three days, we were in the mood for somewhere quieter, somewhere we could breathe a sigh of relief, and of course, go swimming. So we pointed our bow toward what Lonely Planet calls Hiva Oa's little sister, Tahuata Island.

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