Definitely something different – Marquesas – the land of tikis, tattoos and human sacrifices

The Marquesas, in French Polynesia are definitely something different – tikis, extensive patterned body tattoos, evening drum rolls, ladies wearing a flower in their hair and ancient sites of human sacrifice. Thankfully the locals have become much more peaceful now and this is a charming place – very friendly people, good French cuisine, French bread and croissants, and everywhere is clean and well looked after. The Marquesas are high atolls and rise up to over a 1,000m with mountains and deep valleys. This makes for dramatic scenery and exciting roads.

A great lunch spot overlooking the bay

Our knowledge of the geography of the Pacific has rapidly improved. So, we are now half way across this huge ocean and have a further 2,500nm to sail before we head south in November to New Zealand. French Polynesia includes 5 Archipelagos – the Marquesas, the Tuamotos, the Society’s, the Austral’s and the Gambier Archipelago. Due to the prevailing wind conditions we will not visit the Australs and Gambier Archipelagos. French Polynesia is about the size of Europe! From here we will visit the Cook Islands, Tongo and then Fiji.

Being part of France and Europe, The Polynesian’s are able to vote in the European elections. The election boards where the candidates posters are supposed to go remains empty on Wednesday! Elections are on Saturday! Ummm.

Election boards!!

The Marquesas Archipelago includes 6 islands. After arriving in Hiva Oa we had to do an overnight sail to Nuka Hiva where Stuart was catching his plane onward to Tahiti and then New Zealand. This has proved an excellent spot for some rest, relaxation and a general “sort out ” of the boat, and we are enjoying catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones. We have spent some time in Taiohae Bay and Hakatea Bay on Nuka Hiva, and plan to visit Hakahau Bay on Ua Pou. These names are extraordinary – impossible to remember and pronounce, and the spelling is difficult, inconsistent and not improved by “spell check” adding its own version.

A tiki complete with his weapons

The Cathedral

Frustratingly the generator has broken – the exhaust pipe has corroded after a mere 1 and a half years. It is not a fundamental piece of equipment but does mean we need to be more frugal with electric use and water. A fitting for the spinnaker halyard at the top of the mast was also damaged. As it happened we had had evening drinks with Graham, Johnny and AA from S/Y Karma who are from Belfast, and their boat had been kept in Strangford! Graham is a very experienced rigger and he very kindly helped replace the damaged sheave fitting for us. We could have used a spare halyard but it is so much better to have fixed the broken fitting. In common with all the boats which have crossed the Pacific the hull of the boat has picked up a feast of wildlife. I fear these nutrient rich waters are going to make hull cleaning an endless job.

We had an excellent island tour of Nuka Hiva from Richard who was extremely knowledgeable. Since Captain Cook’s time these islands were unwilling hosts to a multitude of explorers, whaling ships and missionaries until France took formal possession in 1843. There were also various tribes and so over time there has been plenty of warfare. European diseases devastated the population at times. We visited sites of human sacrifice which were really quite elaborate with elevated platforms (presumably to get a better view) for priests and chiefs. Some of these sites have been reconstructed and are used for celebrations, and once you get past the gory bit are actually rather lovely. Tikis are spirits of the dead and old and new are plentiful – they certainly add to the mystique. The views and roads are spectacular.

A very old tiki, with the sacrifice site behind

There is very little native wildlife but we see many smallholders farming pigs, and cattle mostly tethered. There are many small tough looking ponies, wild pigs and goats. Feral hens are everywhere. Tropical fruit is plentiful when in session. There are always bananas and we have now tried purple bananas and orange plantains for a change. Pamplemouse (like a sweet grapefruit) and star fruit are in session at the moment and until the supply ship (once every three weeks) comes that is the fruit we will be eating. Choice is limited but we certainly will not starve.

The water here is quite murky but we have seen sharks and turtles and the anchorage is visited by mantra rays. Julian spotted the rays while up the mast!

We had a fantastic walk with friends from 3 other boats (Krabat, Hullabaloo, and Jolly Dogs) to see the third highest waterfall (1000ft) in the world. We enjoyed it so much we did it twice. Once again the scenery was amazing. The scale is such that photos will never do it justice. This was followed by an excellent lunch – wild pig, citrus salad and bread fruit, followed by coconut ice cream – provided at a local house. A real experience as the cooking is done on an open fire and the facilities are very basic.

We are now waiting for a weather window in order to move onto the Tuamotus about a four day sail away. These are low atolls and are only as high as the tallest palm tree, and do come with a reputation as they were previously known as the Dangerous Archipelago. Hazards include the very strong tidal currents in the passes, and numerous coral heads. We will undoubtedly learn some new skills.

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