The Wild and Unusual Marquesas - SailNet Community
 
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The Wild and Unusual Marquesas

 
Dramatic, towering rock formations are the stuff of everyday life in these volcanic islands.
 
Sailing Imani in light breezes on a robin-egg blue afternoon, we rounded the westernmost point of the Marquesean island Ua Pou and found an anchorage in the lee of this majestic place. Above the point, rock formations scowled down like nature-made tikis and at every turn, one saw faces hewn into rock by the wind.

"Pop, pop, pop," echoed off the canyon walls. Three Marqueseans with numerous dogs pursued a group of 20 clamoring and bleating goats along the narrow ledges of the rock faces above us. Two of the hunters wielded .22 caliber rifles, which they raised to take aim. After anchoring, we settled at the bottom of this natural amphitheater and, with binoculars glued to our eyes for the next two hours, witnessed the suspense and drama of a Marquesean goat hunt.

The .22s were not very powerful weapons, so they only wounded the fleeing animals. Within the first hour of our observation, the hunters apparently ran out of bullets. Still, the hunt continued. Cunning and perseverance marked the hunters' tactics as they stalked the goats, eventually cornering them on a high ledge.

 
 
Binoculars are a much-sought item for the sea-faring observers of a Marquesean goat hunt.
 
Many of the goats attempted—and most made—daring escapes, leaping 50 to 100 feet to the rocky shore below before scampering away. The third hunter collected the three goats that leapt unsuccessfully. Finally the hunt ended when a cornered, large-horned goat charged at a lone Marquesean hunter on a small ledge. The hunter responded, grabbing the goat's horns with both hands, throwing the beast to the ground, quickly slitting its throat. "Arhhhhhh," echoed all around as the hunter exclaimed his victory to the heavens. We responded in kind with shouts of our own for we were moved by this spectacle of man and beast.

Ua Pou is a Marquesean island of which we had little prior knowledge and no expectations. It is one of the smallest inhabited islands of the archipelago, yet our experiences here have been rich and unforgettable. As Paul Theroux said so eloquently in The Happy Isles of Oceania, "I should say that so much written about the Pacific is inaccurate—indeed, most of it is utter crap" that the widely held misconceptions of life in the South Pacific intensify the pleasure of traveling here.

 
The unexpected is just a dinghy ride away.
 
Unexpectedness is exactly what we have found in Ua Pou. It is a place of style, grace, and charm that must be experienced to be appreciated fully. Like Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, Ua Pou's main port, Hakahau is a port of entry. Yet it is a much smaller place that offers a more intimate experience to the visiting cruiser.

When you make it here, take a walk up the hill in Hakahau, past the electric generation station, to the charming restaurant-pension Pukkéé and introduce yourself to the proprietors, Hélène and Doudou. They are happy to act as Poste Restante (general delivery station for mail) for any visiting yacht. Mail should be addressed c/o: Chez Hélène et Doudou, BP 31 Hakahau 98745, Ua Pou Marquises. Telephone/Fax 011-689-925-083. Using this address is much better than using the post office, which only holds general delivery mail for 15 days. As an additional perk, their restaurant prepares wonderful Marquesean fare with the best views of the harbor below and neighboring Nuku Hiva.

Pirogue (native canoe) racing and training in Ua Pou were very much a part of daily life. After 4 p.m., five-man pirogues paddled quickly past the anchored boats, circling the wide bay up to 10 times without stopping. This past March, Hakahau hosted a week of inter-island sport competition and more than 1,000 people came to participate and observe sports events such as soccer, volleyball, and of course, pirogue racing. Sitting aboard Imani provided a perfect vantage to observe the fierceness of the competition.

"The music and setting transported us to a different way of life, as we paused to take it all in—yes, we found unexpectedness around every twist and turn."
Exploring the western side of Ua Pou brought us to the little village of Hakamaii. Imani anchored in 40 feet of water above a considerably rocky bottom. Before us, poised on the seafront of the village, stood a beautiful church with its azure and red stained glass windows. The shore featured pounding waves that encouraged thrilled squeals from the frolicking children swimming and playing in the surf. A dinghy landing appeared impossible under these conditions, so our gracious captain Marc offered to ferry our crew Anne, visiting friend Dani, my six-year-old son Tristan, and me, to shore.

The transfer to land proved to be quite tricky but doable, and we scampered out of the dinghy onto the large boulders of the shoreline. Waving good-bye to Marc in the dink, we found we were just a bit wet. On shore, we immediately met the kids who came out of the surf and hosed off, eager to show us their village. The children were inquisitive, though proud of their place on this earth. I noticed a handwritten sign just off the beach that reminded all that this place is for "Our Children" and that "We Must Keep It Clean for Them."

These children are evidently taught pride by wonderful example, for we found Kakamaii was the most beautiful village we have seen in these wild and unusual Marquesas islands. The stones covering the beach are everywhere in this village, incorporated into walkways, stone walls, and even inlaid into the floors and walls of the large airy church. The river that bisects the village is large and clear, offering swimming holes to the hot and sweaty. And the flowers, hibiscus and Tahiti Tiare, filled the air with their incredible scent.

On the outing, Tristan and I met a Marquesean man who offered us a ride on his gentle horse. We continued our tour of the village on horseback, until we were about to cross a very narrow elevated walkway. I chickened-out and we made contact with the ground again, offering a succession of "mercis." The gentleman waved good-bye and continued on his way home.

At 5 p.m. the air filled with the sound of beautiful voices, rising and falling together as we passed a home where a group of Protestants was beginning its end-of-day worship. The music and setting transported us to a different way of life, as we paused to take it all in—yes, we found unexpectedness around every twist and turn.

 

Doreen Gounard is offline  
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