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Monday, August 24, 2009

Vaitahu, Tahuata

We spent three nights anchored at Vaitahu, the largest village on Tahuata. It's nice to look at from the boat but the two potential dinghy landings pose their individual problems. The concrete quay requires a stern anchor with a lot of rode and a long bow line to tie off to a creosote lamp post. (Clean looking water is available from two faucets on the quay.) Or there's a tiny bit of sandy beach where a stream runs into the center of the bay. If you have good dinghy wheels you can make it over some rocks and up the steep cement launch ramp there. Both landings are difficult if there's any swell running into the bay, and good timing is important. We used each method once and, though we didn't have any problems, there are easier places to visit.

The best part of our decision to leave the beautiful beach at Hanamoenoa for Vaitahu on Thursday was the surprising arrival of the Aranui 3 just before sunset. We had read about the original Aranui in our edition of the Lonely Planet guide, which briefly mentions this sister ship launched in 2002. It's a combination cargo/cruise ship and puts the Galapagos cargo rust buckets to shame. Immediately after dropping anchor the two cranes on the foredeck went into action lowering flat boats with twin outboards to ferry cargo to the concrete quay. To our amazement the first item onto a boat was a brand new Toyota Hilux truck. When the barge got to the quay a front loader pressed its shovel down on the barge to hold it steady. A man got in the truck, we could see tail lights go on, and it inched forward out of it's open container. After a few swells went by one of the hard-hat crew shouted at the driver to go for it, and other shouts rose up from the crowd which had gathered on the quay to watch the proceedings (I counted 20 4-wheel drive vehicles which appeared above the quay after the Aranui 3 set its anchor). The truck made it safely to shore and the proud new owner drove it away. Next we saw a small sport fisher come around the point headed for the ship. It waited until a crane was free and then it hooked up four points of a chain hoist and was lifted up onto the foredeck of the ship! The rest of the evening's cargo was building materials which were unloaded by the front loader and set on the quay. On the ship itself we could see several well-dressed tourists taking photos from the upper balconies, but no one went ashore. The next morning the Aranui 3 was gone.

We went for a walk on shore to see if anyone wanted to do some trading. The only person who approached us was Jean, who was happy to walk us around the yards of his extended family to find some fruit. We really only wanted pamplemousse but he didn't have much that was ripe so he also gave us a couple each of green mangoes, green avocado, oranges, something that looks like a persimmon, bananas, and something that looks like a bright red, shiny little apple which tastes more like a pear. I found out that he is married with two daughters so I brought out my little bag of cosmetics which was all we'd happened to bring with us. He didn't want the little mirror, the mascara, or the nail polish, but he took all three of my sample perfumes (my last ones!), and ran back to his house to get us three drumstick and thigh hunks of frozen chicken (which were too big to be locally raised) and two heads of something like chard, even though we had been protesting well before then that he had already given us enough. As we made our goodbyes he asked if we would be returning next year, and suggested that perhaps we might like to bring him a bottle of whiskey in exchange for his generosity.

We tried snorkeling the wall by the quay but it was a steep drop off to the deep bottom with not much of interest. It rained both Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday it rained off and on the entire day. We entertained ourselves with episodes of Battlestar Gallactica, movies, and reading, but it was a long day and I had made up my mind I wanted to leave on Sunday. Well it pays to stay flexible because what should reappear at dawn on Sunday but the Aranui 3! We immediately realized that this time the tourists would likely go ashore for services at the big Catholic church, and that tourists ashore would probably also mean handicrafts displayed for sale. So we kept a sharp eye on the ship's activity and when we saw people lining up on deck to board one of the landing barges at 0730 we threw on our church-going duds and jumped in the dinghy to hurry ashore. John made an expert landing on the beach and we hauled the dink up on the grass above the launch ramp. We blended pretty well into the crowd as they made their way to the church for services at 0800. As per any Catholic service there was an hour and 10 minutes of standing and sitting for both French and Marquesan prayers, readings, and sermon, interspersed with lovely singing by the predominantly female choir. The building itself is unique, built out of old ship's ballast stones with an open air wood ceiling. The rising sun back lit a large stained glass above the altar and I especially enjoyed the flower scented breezes and the sight of the cliffs and trees in the large gaps between the roof and the tops of the walls.

After the service we chatted with a New Zealand couple and a man from Idaho. They were loving the two-week cruise and said that although accommodations were basic, the food was fabulous, and they liked having a fixed itinerary where all shore excursions and activities were included (although obviously the sport fishing expeditions were extra). The only drawback is that their visits to each island are brief and it didn't sound as if they'd had much opportunity for swimming or snorkeling. We followed them to the crafts display but we weren't much interested in what was mostly jewelry. The tourists had mentioned that they were headed to Hapatoni next and, since that's where we'd intended to go too, we hurried back to Nakia to sail two miles along the coast to the next small village.

Linda and John