Friday, September 6, 2013

A Stop in “the City” – Atuona in Hiva Oa, Marquesas

The summer vacation in Belgium and the US recently came to an end and so did our month long “holiday” in Fatu Hiva. But instead of running to the store to buy fresh food and alcohol for BBQs and parties, like our friends back home, we made due with canned meals and started “brewing” our own drinks. The results were some kind of liquid resembling lemonade – with the same taste and alcohol content! – and the need to move to Hiva Oa, where supermarkets were to be found!

Once safely and comfortably anchored near Atuona after a fast and fun day sail, we walked an hour into town to check out the stores. Sure, they have much more stuff here than anywhere else we’d been the last six months, but the choices are a bit disappointing (a lot of different goods, but no choices or off brands within the goods) and the prices even more so. While we expected groceries to be cheaper than in the Gambier or Fatu Hiva, they mostly are not. So, instead of spoiling on brie cheese, salami and snacks, we – once again - stuck to the subsidized goods and filled our baskets with crackers, pasta, rice, flour and corn kernels to make popcorn (I will miss chips and nuts the coming year!.$7 for a medium bag of Lays chips or a decent size can of peanuts is just too much!), some expensive frozen meat and a stray can of pâté. Luckily, the baguettes only cost about 70 cents US, so we are expanding our bellies with fresh French bread again, one a day each!

The first five days, it was sunny weather and while Irie’s bottom became dirtier and dirtier in the brown, murky water of the harbor, Mark and I stuck to a schedule: heading into town to do some shopping in the morning (most of the time securing a lift with a friendly local), and catching up on emails and internet research during the afternoon. The evenings were spent with new made friends or in bed watching an old TV show. Laundry was done ashore, where unlimited water and a cold shower are available. Earlier this week, we walked to the town’s cemetery up a hill, to visit the graves of the Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel and the controversial French painter Paul Gauguin. Their museums are also in town, but a bit too pricey for our budget.

After a full day of rain, we risked a walk in search of the “Smiling Tiki”, on the road to the airport. The idea was to walk there – wherever there was - and hitch a ride back to the harbor. As soon as we turned off the main stretch of pavement, the road climbed and climbed, while sweat gushed off our faces and bodies. With the altitude, the humidity kept rising. I wondered out loud why we wouldn’t hitch there and walk back, downhill. Mark didn’t want to have anything to do with that, reasoning that I wanted to go for a walk, right? And, it was a nice walk with some good views. I snuck a few pointed thumbs in the direction of passing cars, but none of them slowed down. After about an hour and a half of following the airport road, a small jeep stopped to ask where we were headed. Both of us could use a little break at that point and the friendly Marquesan driver dropped us off at a dirt track. We followed his good directions and a muddy path and trail until we found a small rock, depicting… a smiling tiki with glasses. Quite unique and worth the hike there… until it started to rain and rain.

Our flipflops became useless in the muck. We heard a car in the distance, revving his engine, and decided to check it out, trotting barefoot through the thick mud and climbing up a ditch to another watery track. A jeep was stuck in the mud. Mark and I tried to help, flattening some areas and gesturing directions, but it was not to be. While the rain fell down in buckets, the driver decided to leave the car and get help. We made our way back to the main road, hoping to catch a ride, but seriously doubting it, considering our drenched mud splattered bodies. After a while, Vincent, a friendly French guy our age, who has been living here for ten years, took pity on us. Despite our wet clothes and muddy legs and feet, he picked us up and dropped us off by our dinghy! We made it home with a fresh baguette, right in time to shelter for the next downpour.

The shady grave of Jacques Brel in a tropical setting

The last resting place of painter Paul Gauguin

New try to distill alcohol, with a homemade contraption, this time. Hopefully it does have more alcohol than lemonade when the "bubbling" has finished!

4am arrival of the cargo ship Aranui - no more sleep with the "real" harbor sounds that followed.

The smiling tiki, which is off the beaten track and hard to find

Stuck in the mud. Unfortunately, Mark and I couldn't help, but sloshed through the mud anyway...

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