How do I begin to describe Hiva Oa ? What an introduction to my first experience of Pacific island life. It is the second largest island of the Marquesas archipelago and has a population of circa 2,200 people. It is almost unique in that it’s coastal belt is devoid of coral shelves and as a consequence the coast is exposed to the full vigor of the prevailing sea conditions. Inland infrastructure is very limited so the only way to truly explore the many bays that adorn the coast is by boat. We feel very privileged to be in such an enviable position to have such a facility at our disposal.
However practical matters had to take precedent over my desire to start exploring this beautiful place immediately. What a simple joy to have a fresh water shower and completely desalinate. Likewise with our clothing which was in need of similar treatment after 43 salt encrusted days at sea and not forgetting giving Mare a thorough cleaning after the rigors of her passage. Next on the agenda was to register our arrival with the civil authorities in this French protectorate.
As we had chosen the little village of Hanaiapa as our first port of call we needed to travel to the administrative capital of Atuona to complete our entry requirements and to pay any landing charges that are sometimes levied on arriving boats. Although situated on the other side of the island the distance between the two is quite modest at some 20kms. however getting there provided us with plenty of adventures. On that first day we walked into the village thinking that we could just hire a taxi and get to our destination in less than 30 minutes. But we were applying our first world mind set to the task and life simply does not work that way here. Most transport had already left for Atuona by that time of the day but we chanced upon a group of locals in the village and one of them stepped forward and asked if we needed assistance. He spoke very little English and our French is also quite limited but somehow we managed to communicate and he offered to arrange a taxi for us but it we would have to wait for an hour. Whilst we waited he presented us with a gift of several different types of fruit from his nearby plantation. His name was Adam and with that simple gesture of generosity in welcoming two complete strangers to his village he, together with his partner Tatiana, would become two of the most significant people that I have encountered over the course of this entire trip. The taxi finally arrived and we travelled to Atuona to process our entry formalities.The taxi pricing model is completely different here to that at home or indeed in most other places that I have visited heretofore. In complete contrast to most other countries taxi fees here are levied on a per head basis as opposed to a fixed fee which can be diluted by sharing with others. This made the relatively short trip quite costly and for future trips across the island we decided to use the bus. We were later to discover that the bus only runs one day per week and locals have first refusal on the limited places onboard. We were fortunate to get a ride on the bus once, having risen at six in the morning to do so. On most other occasions we again arose early and headed out of the village on the hilly and often rain lashed road to Atuona walking in the hope of hitching a lift with one of the early morning, local commuters and for the most part that actually worked out fine and provided us with some interesting commutes.
But back to Adam and Tatiana, on our second day visiting the village we again met with Adam and he brought us to his plantation and little farm where he once again lavished us with gifts of hand picked fruit. He also brought us to his home and introduced us to his partner Tatiana. We immediately developed a rapport with them both such was their warmth and generous natures. On that first meeting Axel and Adam went back to the plantation to harvest some more fruit whilst I remained with Tatiana in their home where she taught me some native sewing techniques. That was the start of an incredible friendship with this amazing couple who epitomised the kind of freely offered hospitality for which the Marquesas islands are renowned for.They introduced us to their culture and their neighbourhood and welcomed us into their world. We partook of so many adventures in their company. Axel going on a nocturnal wild pig hunt with Adam and his friends. While we both got to sail in an outrigger with them to an adjacent bay to visit a local character called Alexander who at 77 years old lives alone and works as a fisherman and copra harvester ( extracting coconut oil and processing the remaining cake from coconuts ). What an inspiring and resourceful man he was and what a privilege it was to be afforded such an intimate insight into his subsistence but totally fulfilled lifestyle.
We also hosted Adam and Tatiana on Mare and treated them to some of our culture and attempted to reciprocate, in some small way, their overwhelming hospitality towards us. The only barrier to our friendship was that of language and that is where our Swiss friends Anisia and Tom from Vagabond were of huge assistance as we introduced them to Adam and Tatiana so they all could converse in their common French tongue which opened up another vista in our blossoming friendship.
Our visit here coincided with May 17th which some of you might recognise as being a very important day in the lives of us Norwegians. It is our constitution day and a day of national celebration at home and wherever Norwegians find themselves in the world. We were joined on the day by the crews of two other Norwegian boats who were anchored in the exquisite Hanaiapa bay alongside our Mare. Being so far away from home seemed to accentuate the sense of pride as the big day approached and we were determined to mark it with a collective celebration. However we became aware that there were local byelaws that forbid assemblies in public areas. But our new friends Tatiana and Adam came to our assistance, yet again, and invited us to celebrate our national day on their property and they even did the cooking for us. So on May 17th. Hiva Oa witnessed what was perhaps it’s inaugural Syttende Mai parade as our little expat community proudly marched behind our flag to the strains of an enthusiastic rendition of our national anthem. It was a memorable day and as my contribution to proceedings I performed for the first time, in public, some of my latest music and songs which were composed during our Pacific crossing. To add a local twist to my performance I dressed in typical island dress and accessories courtesy of our generous host Tatiana.
Amongst other highlights of our time here was a visit to the final resting place of the famous French artist and cultural icon Paul Gauguin who spent his final years on this tropical jewel and is interred in the local Calvary cemetery. Fittingly the 116th. anniversary of his death occurred during our visit. Perhaps less well known is the fact that in the same cemetery one can find the final resting place of the famous, Belgium born, singer and actor Jacques Brel. I was struck by his relationship with Hiva Oa and the fact that he had undertaken precisely the same voyage as we had just completed from Panama. In addition to our extensive beach walks we also trekked to one of the highest points of this former volcanic island which afforded panoramic views over the bay.
One of the discussions that Axel and I had whilst preparing for the voyage in Panama was our mutual desire to ensure that we would minimise our environmental impact on the fragile ecosystems that we would pass through or visit during this entire adventure. We both wish to be responsible tourists. On many of the beaches that we visited here we were disappointed to observe that the scourge of plastic pollutants was a reality even in such a remote place which is less exposed to mass tourism than most Pacific islands. We resolved that we would like to do our bit to help clean up our planet by collecting whatever offending material that we encountered on our beach walks. Small gestures for sure but as we have discovered during this past few months every great journey begins with just one tiny step.
Having spent almost one month here it was with heavy hearts and floods of tears that we said au revoir to our dear friends Adam and Tatiana whose unique brand of friendship has really struck a chord with me and has caused me to reflect on their generosity of spirit in accepting us unconditionally into their lives without asking for or expecting anything in return. Perhaps it proves that the old adage that says “ there are no strangers, only friends that we have not met yet “ lives on. It has also caused me to ponder on how our first world countries welcome people of other nationalities into our societies and on a wider scale just what a better world it would be if there were more people like this amazingly open hearted couple whose kindness and friendship I will forever hold in my heart.
So many times we thanked our lucky stars on the wisdom of our decision in choosing the secluded and commercially unspoilt Hanaiapa as our first anchorage as opposed to the more obvious and orthodox choice of Atuona. Places like this present incredible experiences to a traveller but it is the people that create the real magic leaving the deepest and longest lasting impressions.
We headed back to sea and new explorations on May 30th. with a cargo of happy memories of this our first Pacific island experience.
By the way I have designed the Gallery page of this website in such a manner that the photographic content is presented in panels which broadly align with the contents of these posts in order to compliment the narrative and illustrate some of the wonders of these special places and our interaction with them.