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Sweet Days in Hiva Oa

By Shangri-La - Published June 01, 2008 - Viewed 9131 times

There are tons of roosters on Hiva Oa. As ever, I wake with the sun. Here, in Tahauku Bay, it rises over the mountains behind us, coloring the rosy tradewind clouds that gather at the jaggedy summits, while the roosters crow. They echo from the hills, across the bay, and up from the valley at its head. It’s a virtual crowing cacophony.

What a landfall!

The village of Atuona is a couple of miles away, around the bay, up a hill, and on the other side of a headland. Can’t see it from here. A little up the road from the dinghy landing, there’s a cow pasture, and several cows mingle with the roosters, all gathered under the spreading branches of shady mango tree pendulous with fruit. The road itself is splattered with rotting fruit. We’re here at the height of mango season, and Sam has been foraging. Papayas, oranges, avocados, coconuts, breadfruit, and hibiscus line the road as well, and on the foredeck we have a selection the boys picked when I sent them ashore yesterday.

Yes, I had to kick them off the boat and send them to shore. We just spent 32 days at sea, on this 36-foot boat, with just each other for company, and two days after dropping anchors, one fore and one aft to keep the bow pointed into the incoming swell to reduce the rolling, I had to kick them off the boat. I don’t know if I should be happy or alarmed that they aren’t sick of me and Shangri La.

I kicked the boys off the boat, and sent them off to explore and buy baguettesl


We arrived on January 2, a Wednesday, and was told by the guys on one of the two other boats in the anchorage that the village was closed down for the afternoon—no gendarmerie for checking into the country, no stores, no restaurants, no nothing. However, the only gas station on the island is in the harbor along the quay where the inter-island cargo ships dock, and it was open. There, we were able to buy three ice-cream cones, a cabbage, and a bottle of water flown in from the Alps for $23. That was the last of the ice creams and water.

After spending a few hours ashore at the water spigot with soap and buckets of laundry, we had the guys from the other boat over for dinner. They’d arrived five days earlier from their passage from San Francisco, en route to New Zealand on a delivery.

Nicholas and Sam didn’t need to change their clothes as often as soon as they knew they had to do their own laundry

As two boats arriving in the Marquesas and preparing to transit the Tuamotus to Tahiti at the height of what is considered cyclone season, we had stuff to talk about, specifically weather, currents, water temperatures, probabilities. Over dinner, which happened to be pasta with some Trader Joe’s sauce and a baguette they brought along, and my cabbage salad, we talked about El Nino, La Nina, and the role they’ve historically played with cyclogensis in this area, how this year is one of less probability.

Yup, after 32 days at sea, our first dinner was more pasta and cabbage salad. And, none of us minded. The boys had mild cravings for some things like pork chops, roast chicken, and ice cream, but they still ate the red sauce and pasta with gusto, and later, when the guys left, we talked about how good dinner was, even though it was more of what we’d been eating at sea, and how, in fact, we’d actually provisioned excellently and fared really well out there. In hindsight, we agreed, even though I could still vividly remember the way I woke up many mornings feeling like the day would be interminable, that the crossing had zoomed by.

The joy of being at anchor, enjoying beautiful surroundings

Even Sam, who many times had flopped himself down on the settee moaning about the absolute boredom and pointlessness of being on the ocean when one could be on land, that sailors who liked living the life must be a fringe element of total weirdoes, was saying he was sorry the crossing was over.

Then, we put away the washed, dried, and folded laundry, a small pile that heralded one way in which the sailing life has altered them. Typically, the boys required daily outfit changes, but since I’d told them that after Panama there’d be no more machines, that all future laundry would be done by their hands, during the crossing, the boys had been waging a competition to see who’d use the least clothes. Sam won, having gone through three boxers, two shirts, and two bathing suits, while Nicholas had used five boxers, three shirts, and two bathing suits. I’d used a little more, and can honestly say that between frequent bucket baths and the clean ocean environment, nothing got out of control.

The other shift was with electricity consumption. Between casting off the mooring buoy in Panama and setting the anchor in Hiva Oa, we ran the engine for a total of 14 hours, meaning the batteries were kept charged by solar and wind power, and the boys learned how to conserve. They now automatically turn off lights and fans behind them, and only open the refrigerator a couple of times a day. They now discuss and plan for what needs to go in and out of it! And computer usage is mainly limited to schoolwork and Sailmail, which only really happens when the engine is running because SSB transmissions use tons of juice.

The boys foraged ashore for fresh fruit that, literally, just drops from the trees.

Sam now keeps a constant vigil and a running commentary on the amps being consumed and battery voltage remaining, as displayed by the monitor at the chart table. He scolds me and Nicholas if we forget to turn off a light, or leave a computer unattended – this all a huge change for a boy who used to compulsively open the refrigerator door 72 times a day, so often that he’d gained a neighborhood reputation for the affliction.

The next morning, Thursday, after a night of solid, uninterrupted sleep, we went to the village and found that fresh baguettes are plentiful and cheap, about $1.25, and immediately ate one of the three we bought for the day while doing the check-in procedure. Unless you’re an EU citizen, every foreign arrival in French Polynesia has to have a return ticket home, or else post a bond equivalent to the cost of a return ticket, refundable upon checking out of the country.

The outdoor shower was a welcome respite from saltwater baths at sea. We luxuriated in the ample freshwater

Also, Americans and some other nationalities are given just one-month visas, unless they’ve already applied for and received the three-month visas from an embassy before arriving. Once here, it’s possible to apply for an extension, but it’s a drag involving phone calls, more applications, waiting on long post-office lines and bureaucracy. So, we’ve entered on our Swiss passports. Through my father and marriage, the boys and I have dual nationalities, and for the first time ever, we are taking advantage of it.

Atuona has changed, but not too much, since I was last here in 1985. I remember the village used to consist of the Town Hall, a post office with one telephone booth, a small café and shop, all clustered under the shade of breadfruit and mango trees. The center has spread; there are houses sprawling up into the hillsides, and there are three grocery stores, two houseware/hardware stores, a bank with an ATM, the post office with internet, about six telephone booths, a couple of hotel/ pensions, and I’ve seen people wearing flowers behind one ear and a cell phone at the other.

We hitchhiked around the island, and friendly islanders always picked us up

I’d read that the TV show Survivor did a stint here in the Marquesas, and that cruise ships had started including some of the islands on their itineraries, so I’d expected even more change. But, here in Hiva Oa, “progress” hasn’t run rampant, and it still feels like one island among a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, mainly only accessible by boat, and therefore a privilege to be able to experience it.

For now, we’re relaxing in Atuona, listening to the roosters crowing cocorico—French for cock-a-doodle-doo—while cleaning up, drying out, lubricating, maintaining, catching up on mail and email. The boys have been complaining about how a river feeds into this anchorage, making the water pretty murky, and they’re hankering for San Blas Island quality, their favorite place we’ve visited thus far. So, I think finding underwater clarity will guide our not-so-distant future, because that’s what the boys want more than pretty scenery—unless a triceratops is basking on top of a ridgeline or pinnacle, they could care less about dramatic land visuals. They want reefs, colorful fish, sharks, ray mantas, moray eels, so that’s what we’ll find them.

In another couple of days, we’ll head for the next-door island of Tahuata, to an anchorage one guidebook says has good snorkeling and that Eric and Susan Hiscock have rated as one of the three finest in Polynesia. What next? We’ll see. Haven’t really made any concrete plans for the next several weeks, and for now, with the anchor down after a month at sea, I like it that way.

We’re just hanging out for now, catching up with ourselves, enjoying the feeling of noplace we have to be

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