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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fatu Hiva

C'est superb!! Just as I thought, we've been running practically non-stop since our arrival Monday morning and we collapse at the end of the day with something to eat and maybe a DVD to relax with. We spent our first day making the transition from being at sea to being at anchor, switching things from one berth to another, and cleaning things that hadn't been touched in three weeks. After a quick afternoon nap we jumped in the water to scrub the hull which was coated in slime from the boot stripe to within a foot of the bulwarks. The water is a fabulous 81 degrees, silky smooth, and still the deep blue color of the sea. Big puffer fish came to investigate the gooseneck barnacles John liberated from the hull, and we've seen parrot fish from the boat.

Tuesday we made the obligatory hike to a nearby waterfall to swim in the deep large pool below what is now barely a splashing cascade down a sheer wall of rock. We ate a quick lunch and walked back to the last house on the road before it turns into a dirt track to the falls. We had admired the lemon trees there and thought maybe we could trade something of ours for un sac des citrons. The grandmother didn't want the nail polish I'd carried with us and asked for parfum instead. We ended by agreeing to take the lemons with us that day and returning with perfume and lipstick the next day.

But Wednesday morning, after John finished defrosting the freezer, Chantal swam over to ask if we wanted to go to Omoa for the day on their big catamaran. We dropped everything to go with them since the Omoa anchorage is not suitable for overnight, and is not a place we'd be comfortable taking Nakia. It only took half an hour to motor the three miles, and Etienne set the anchor in sand in nine meters of water. What wind there was came from the west into the bay and pushed the boat back into the swell rolling to the beach instead of holding it out more offshore. But after making sure the boat wasn't going to go anywhere we took the dinghy to the brand new concrete landing behind a new breakwater at the opposite side of the bay from the old landing where the swell breaks on the steps. Then it was into town for a walk around. Chantal and Etienne had heard of a restaurant in town so we went off in search of Pension Chez Lionel all the while stopping to chat with the locals. Lionel wasn't set up to serve food without prior arrangements but he sat us down with a bottle of water and had a long chat with Chantal. I understood that he's lived there for 36 years but the French was too fast for me and I soon zoned out to watch the thin cats and dogs instead. On our way back to the boat Chantal hunted down the woman with the key to the museum so we could see their collection of wood carvings. I think I understood that the really valuable things are kept elsewhere but we saw some lovely pieces. People were working on the big grassy area between the museum and the bay preparing for a festival in December. It had been a long day by now but as we were almost back to the wharf we heard a hammering sound and Chantal went to investigate with us tagging along behind her. At the back of a house a woman was beating bark to make tapa cloth. She had some already out drying and she brought out finished pieces for us to see. Starting at 5,000 CFP (about $50) and more they were too expensive for us, and besides we didn't have any local currency yet. But Chantal found one she liked enough to buy, and we appreciated having the opportunity to see the work in progress. We arrived back in Hana Vave in time for a sunset swim, exhausted but happy to have been able to see the much larger village at Omoa.

We spent a couple of hours watching a pair of humpback whales right in the anchorage Thursday morning. At first we thought there was just one big whale which would spout 3-4 times before submerging without fluking. But then Big Momma emerged and we realized that the big whale must be an older calf because mom was huge. She only did a couple of spouts to every two spouting periods of the smaller whale so we didn't get to see as much of her, but she was quite impressive. No one was up yet on the other two boats to see when the calf swam right down the side of Nakia but we were shocked at the sight of the white underside of the whale gliding by beneath the surface of the water! At this point John decided you only live once and grabbed his snorkeling gear to get in the water. He was prudent enough to stay by Nakia and not try to swim out to them, and he was richly rewarded when both of them swam close enough behind Nakia for him to see them go by him. They exited the bay soon afterwards and we were thrilled to have had an opportunity for such an up close and personal experience.

By this time Silvio and Lilia on Matajusi (from Brazil) were up and gave us a call on the radio to say that the drums we heard on shore meant that a dance rehearsal was in progress and it would be worthwhile for us to go in and watch. So we dropped everything to go ashore with the camera for a wonderful treat. A group of men playing drums of various sizes accompanied (mostly young) men and women rehearsing traditional dances. Even as they laughed at their mistakes, it was thrilling for us to have this first glimpse of local culture being handed down to the next generation.

We returned to the boat to gather up our trade goods determined to "purchase" tapa and tikis. Silvio had told us that only there in Hana Vave would we be able to trade for handicrafts, because people in the larger villages everywhere else wanted cash. While John went off with Silvio and Lilia I hiked back up the long hill to pay for our lemons. I gave the grandmother a couple of half empty cologne samples and let her choose one old lipstick out of three. When I asked which one she wanted she indicated all three, but I limited it to one and she chose the one with the shiny silver case even though it had the least amount of lipstick remaining in the tube. I was hoping she'd throw in some more lemons since I'd kept my promise and trudged all the way back out to her house, but she was a more shrewd bargainer than I was. (In Omoa a man gave us pamplemousse, lemons, and bananas just as part of stopping to chat with him and his family.)

On my way back to find John I searched for Teresa, a woman who sold tapa to friends of ours during their visit. At the second "house with a big hedge" I found her and she invited me in to see her work. It was not the same high quality as the woman in Omoa, but Teresa was willing to exchange for it and we began the long process of deciding what it was worth. Unfortunately I don't have what most of the women seem to want which is perfume (full sized preferred), scented lotions, blue or green mascara, and lipstick (not gloss). She ended up choosing two DVDs (her teenage son had a say in those), one old lipstick, one new nail polish (dark blue), and two new tubes of Chapstick (strawberry and cherry flavored). I have no idea what the actual price of the tapa was but I selected a medium sized turtle on a reddish brown cloth. I wasn't so much interested in the tapa as in the experience of trading for it, especially if we won't have many opportunities for this in other places. I hooked up with John who had made out like a bandit. He walked away with three carved wood tikis in exchange for some old rope. Again, I'm not sure what we'll do with them, but he had a great time making the trade.

A man stopped to ask us for help with his broken laptops. John took a look and found one that booted up with no video (after the daughter had sprayed it with WD-40) and another one that wouldn't respond at all. He reseated a couple of the cable connections of the first one but no luck. The man will have to take them to Papeete for further testing. On our way back to the dinghy we arranged for a trade of pamplemousse for bonbons with two boys. While John went back to the boat to drop off the tikis and get some water I waited at the wharf for the boys to return with the fruit. When they finally came into view it looked like they were empty handed but they told me to follow them back to the church. I felt like I was connecting with my "dealer" when they pulled the bag of fruit out from behind a corner of the stone wall surrounding the church yard, and it was only then that I realized they had probably not picked these from trees belonging to their families, and that they didn't want to be seen bringing them to me in front of all the people who gathered by the water in the late afternoons to swim and hang out. They didn't recognize the M&Ms I gave them, but once they started eating them they gave me the universal thumbs up sign of approval.

We returned with Silvio and Lilia to a house with wood carvings native to Tahuata. As we watched Silvio pulling out his trade goods we realized that the pieces were way out of our "price" range unless we were willing to give up a large bottle of rum (what they all ask for first). Silvio ended up getting the best wood and bone carving for a large bottle of wine, a new pair of $100 sunglasses, and a $100 bill. We thought that was a pretty high price to pay, but then the artist wasn't really interested in the wine or the sunglasses in the first place.

We returned to the boat drop dead tired after another long day in paradise, hoping to spend a couple of more days unwinding before heading off to Hiva Oa for our official check-in. The weather has been fabulous with sunny days and cool nights (74 F). After being at sea we don't notice the minimal swell in the anchorage at all, but the weather has also been especially calm after our first day which was very gusty. We are thrilled to be here and are enjoying every minute!

Linda and John