I've travelled for ten days in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia (French is Marquises).
In some ways a "Garden of Eden": the trees offer fruit and flowers and the sea offers plenty of fish and shell-fish. Wild horses and goats in the mountains. Chickens and their noise everywhere there are people,
Travelling alone (with Terry's bear Lucien) and mostly away from internet of any useful quality, has been a chance to meet and talk and listen.
This has been an opportunity to visit whilst the transport is effective enough to make a trip practical and just about affordable but before the worst of the change takes place due to that communication with the rest of the world.
It's been a privilege to visit at this time but, to quote a fellow traveller "C'est pas mon paradis" - it's not my paradise. Particularly on Tahiti and Hiva Oa, I also encountered a degree of hostility to tourists which I haven't found elsewhere: several other people have the same impression: we're not welcome here except by the hoteliers etc working the tourist trade. We're pretty much agreed that La Réunion is a much better place in the Francophone world for a tropical island holiday. Food, welcome, access by flights and value for money accomodation. Good that it's not just my opinion about French Polynesia but sad to puncture a dream balloon.
Nonetheless, I'm sure these pictures will look great in the winter nights in Europe, where it seems winter has come early!
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Last island! Tomorrow it's the airport at Papeete for the long trip North,..
Today started fine bright and dry and the pictures I made seem to have captured the luminosity of the light over the lagoon. The rainbow was Wednesday (first day here) the dawn is today.
But it hasn't lasted. I got to the Gauguin museum, which is just poorly resourced as the one in Atuona but it's in a brilliant location on the water front at Papeari. It didn't take long to see it all but then I didn't feel like paying £6 or so for the botanical gardens opposite, which are closer to the road, the only road. The museum garden is on the waterfront and was nice and tranquil. Terry's bear Lucien and I enjoyed an hour there just watching the light on the sea and the storm approaching from the little island, Taiarapu. Same weather story as yesterday but more violent.
I stopped off at a restaurant and had just started on their signature dish of Maui Maui in vanilla sauce with baked/grilled salmon when the storm arrived. First violent winds then violent rain. As we were eating outside it was quite exciting, until the storm got so violent that the rain was coming under the canopies. We the diners relocated but unfortunately the meal was spoilt.
I took the hire car out today after yesterday's bad experience with the buses. We went south to the Presqu'ile de Taiarapu (Tahiti Itu), it's Tahiti's little sister is;land, not actually separate but quite different from the suburban sprawl that is the ribbon development around the west of Tahiti.
The northern side looked unpromising at first, just more houses on the water front. But things changed towards the end of the road and, whilst I wouldn't say it was exactly a "Faustian moment", Tautira, the village at the end of the road (kilometre zero) is the nicest place I've been to so far on this trip: calm, friendly people and great views of Tahiti and the interior of Taiarapu.
The rain storms caught up with us and it was windscreen wipers and minor floods all the way back!
My first impression of Hiva Oa arriving from Ua Huka (via Nuku Hiva desert airport) was of a green lush island paradise.
It's not quite that, although the French singer-songwriter Jacques Brell chose to make Atuona, Hiva Oa his home for his last years (lung cancer due to smoking) and as did Paul Gauguin. Brell took up flying and I saw his aircraft, now preserved in a small museum. I also visited the museum of copies of Paul Gauguin's paintings and a recreation of his "House of Pleasure" and a particularly obscene tiki, clearly female; chaqu'un à son Tiki!. Gauguin's retirerment in Atuona was not long either.
I was told the the shopkeeper at Puamau, from whom I bought a snack lunch, is a descendent of Gauguin. Puamau is as close to the end of the world as I have yet visited and returned: accessible on land by a precipitous 4wd track that clings to the crumbling cliffs after crossing the cloud forest highland interior of Hiva Oa.
There are a couple of large archaeological sites, each of which I saw at dawn when the light is most evocative and the birds still singing. Impressive in their different ways: Puamau has large Tikis (stone statues) including one which depicts the lower half torso of a vanquished tribal chief (on the right in my photo).
Taaoa, much closer to Atuona, seemed to be about using stone age architecture to portray power. The architecture is about power rather than meditation or peacefulness. You can't fail to think that these people were a big and impressive tribe. It's been extensively restored and there's a clear map /layout which suggests the houses for the warriors, the houses for the chief and his advisers and so on. And the pits for the fermentation of bread fruit and another (some way away) for the bones of the sacrifices.
The views of the bays and Mount Temtieu are also fantastic but overall I preferred Nuka Hiva because it's even more dramatic and I found the locals much more friendly. Nuka Hiva airport is due to be upgraded to receive international flights which will change things there.
Leaving Hiva Oa was not so easy either:: just as we got to the airport, some rain started. Feli, the patron, was very happy because they need rain. Not so happy when he found his incoming clients would not arrive so he would not sell the bungalows tonight. He may also have soem problems with the 4WDs he has rented out getting stuck in the mud.
Air Tahiti weren't too bad on information. The flight out was meant to be on a little plane, I think a Twin Otter. That circled overhead for 30mins whilst the rain and cloud didn't clear. Then it left back to Nuku Hiva. Our flight was supposed to be to Nuku Hiva and then on to Papeete: they cancelled the passengers to Nuku Hiva and gave a new time for the flight to Papeete. We're arrive late but without a stop at Nuku Hiva.
There was a German tourist travelling alone who was crying when she thought that she would miss her international flight tonight to Santiago via Easter island.
But not a disaster for me, the worst was hitting the rush hour out of Papeete, though I was cursing the extra day I stayed at Hiva Oa which wasn't really used very well for seeing things nor was it useful relaxation. If I'd left yesterday then no delay...
Here's my postcard from Ua Huka. My first impression was of an island of fire or alternatively it was like landing on Mars. The rock is dark red and the plants and trees hang on to it perilously. Fantastic waves and spray. There are a few wild ponies who come down to the coast overnight to feed.
Inland, there are rich forests and some Polynesian sites. The one I was directed to is apparently one of the oldest in the Marquises. Alone at the end of the day, it was quiet and had the forest had a magic about it.
The island has a strong tradition of woodcraft and a photo-shoot had been organised for an in-flight magazine, which I was able to look in on. I've also bought a couple of pieces.
Hatiheu is a tranquil village at the end of a fairly difficult dirt road over a pretty pass (Teavaitapuhiva Pass, 490m) with a gastronomic restaurant with a couple of bungalows. Yesterday the restaurant had a couple of Commune of Nuku Hika trucks parked outside. Presumably they returned back over the pass after lunch... Lucien and I enjoyed a deliciously sweet windfall mango and a big grapefruit from the tree at the hotel - grapefruit here are large and sweet.
The Hikokua archaeological site has been restored, including a pit in front of the performance area for the disposal of taboo objects and also the rock which is described as being used for initiation rites associated with puberty... there are also pits presumed used for the disposal of sacrifices, including human sacrifices.
Robinson Crusoe and Indiana Jones all in one day... Trip from Taiohai round Nuku Hiva in a speedboat to Haatea Bay, then a pleasant hike past Hakuai village along the once royal road, then wading the river and continuing though where the tropical forest has reclaimed land that was once cultivated by the Polynesians. We passed the Vaipo waterfall, its flow reduced to an uninspiring trickle, both because this is the end of the dry season and also because the spring has been capped to supply the Vaimoto brand of bottled water. The towering rock cliffs scoured with deep and seemingly inaccessible valleys, though our guide, Eric, pointed out a tomb placed high up in the cliffs, accessible via a hidden valley .
The gorge narrows where the river emerges from underground, the gorge ends with a silent pool. We turned back and made our picnic amongst the thick tree growth; a large catfish, nearly a metre long, was in a pool nearby, he greedily snatched pieces of bread! Then back down the trail for a short bathe before another thrilling ride in the speedboad across the waves.
This is the valley of the Typee, recalled in Herman Melville's book "Typee - A peep at Polynesian Life", the classic adventure and travel story of the South Pacific, first published in 1846, preceeding "Moby Dick".
As Melville wrote:
The Marquesas! What strange visions of outlandish things does the very name spirit up! Naked houris—cannibal banquets—groves of cocoanut—coral reefs—tattooed chiefs—and bamboo temples; sunny valleys planted with bread-fruit-trees—carved canoes dancing on the flashing blue waters—savage woodlands guarded by horrible idols—Heathenish rites and human sacrifices.
I woke up before dawn from well after a slightly jet lagged night's sleep, first night in Polynesia - and wandered off to a little hill just as the sun light was beginning to shine on the rim on the volcano crater in which Taiohae is situated. I think the unwinding is getting to be reasonably successful as I just sat there for an hour or more watching the line between shadow and sunlight creep down the 1000m or so of the crater side.
Well All four flights HAVE all gone OK so far, fingers crossed. It's a very very long way: just over an hour to Paris, twelve hours on to LAX, all chasing the sunset, its tantalising line of red always just on the horizon but never getting any nearer. Then nine hours to Tahiti, all in pitch darkness, no moonlight nor even any city lights far below. Now three hours more by turbo prop from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Archipelago of French Polynesia in the South Pacific.