Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bouncing along the Backroads of Ua Pou

We arranged for a tour of Ua Pou with Jerome, a rather interesting chap who runs Pension Pukuee, perched overlooking the harbor in Hakahau. Jerome is a former French Army Marine who served tours of duty in Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan. I liked how he described his Army career, “I wanted to protect those who can’t protect themselves, the women, the children and others.”  He speaks passable English and has an impressive depth of knowledge on the local history, geology, flora and fauna of Ua Pou.

Pension Pukuee is run by Jerome and his Marquesan wife. It is on the hillside overlooking the harbor and features incredible views of the ocean and village of Hakahau.
This Ua Pou carver examines a boar's tusk that he will fashion into a necklace for Jerome's wife.
We first drove to his friend’s house who was a carver, and was working on a boar’s tusk carving for Jerome’s wife. The carver’s on Ua Pou are touted as some of the best in all the Marquesas. We then drove out of the village and up a switchbacked road from Hakahau, marveling at the incredible views of Ua Pou and looking across to Nuku Hiva. He said Ua Pou is unique in that most volcanic islands collapse seaward leaving an opening to the sea, whereas Ua Pou collapsed upon itself, leaving a series of knife-edged ridges and spectacular sharp-nosed peaks, called Poumaka, Poutetainui and Kohepu.

The windward, northeast side of Ua Pou features spectacular views such as this bay at Anjou.
We drove through spectacular green rolling hills of the highlands to the northeast side of the island near the airport at Anjou. While talking about the condition of the road, Jerome mentioned, as have many Marquesans, that it is difficult for the Marquesas to get funding for capital projects out of the government in Tahiti. For 17 years they had been applying for funds to pave the road to the airport, and hopefully next year they will start construction. As we were bouncing along on the rutted road I was thinking “you definitely have to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle to live here.” He also mentioned that on some islands, like Nuku Hiva, there is a higher percentage of public ownership of land, whereas on Ua Pou over 90% of the land is privately owned, which makes getting right of way for roads a difficult process.

Traveling the backroads of Ua Pou results in some unusual traffic jams, in this case a herd of recalcitrant goats.
Next we ran into a huge tracked crane going exactly .2 mph. We knew then it was going to be a long day, given this was the only road on this side of the island.
Jerome had been helping out some friends install a communications tower on the island and knew a secret road that accessed the ridge where the tower was located. The view over hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean was spectacular. You could also look down to Baie des Requins (Shark Bay) where hundreds of black-tip sharks come to breed. Probably not a great place to go snorkeling.

Jerome at a lookout over Hakahetau.
Baie des Requins (Shark Bay) is famous as a breeding grounds for black tipped sharks.
We then drove down to the village of Hakahetau, a beautiful village nestled at the terminus of a valley with two rivers running into the ocean. There is a dock there, but trying to land a dingy or a boat would be very difficult because of the wind and swell present on the windward side of the island.

The quaint village of Haakuti with only 200 inhabitants.

It always humbles us to look out across hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean to know that we crossed half of it, but still have another 2,500 miles to go.
We would be returning to the village for lunch, but first we went up another 4-wheel trek up a jungle-like road where we parked and began a short 500 meter hike to Vaiea Falls. Along the way Jerome pointed out various trees and plants, including the Bancoul tree with its versatile little nuts. About the size of a small chestnut, the Bancoul nut contains a macadamia-type nut that can be used as a laxative (“Take just 3,” warned Jerome), can be crushed into a oil for lamps, and the soot from the oil (collected as the smoke settled on coconut shell halves over the lamp) for ink for the famous Marquesan tattoos.

Walter and Meryl at Vaiea Falls.
The incredible Bancoul nut.
The necklace-shaped tattoos actually represent an upside down coconut shell that hangs over the Bancoul oil lamp and collects soot that is the basis for the original Marquesan tattoo inks.
I don't have a clue what this leaf is but I love the textures and colors of the photo.
Hiking through the jungle like trails to Vaiea Falls.
The falls were secluded and featured a perfect swimming hole at the base, surrounded by rock walls and overhanging greenery.  We had a slow peaceful hike back to the car and began the bone-jarring ride to the main road. It reminded Meryl and I of some of the roads we traveled while on safari in Africa.

Chef Tiiero cooks up a delicious lunch of carangue in a mustard/curry sauce. You gotta love French cooking.

Once back in Hakahetau we went to Jerome’s friend’s house where he runs a small kitchen for locals and the occasional tourist. Called Chez Tipiero, the owner is a former chef in the French Navy. We’d heard the food in the French Navy is spectacular (Jerome said during joint exercises he used to trade his meals to US Marines for clothing and knives.)  Tipiero, a happy rotund Frenchman married to a Marquesan woman, brought us a plate featuring carangue (jack) with a delicious mustard/curry sauce, fried potatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob. We were too full for desert until we saw Jerome’s apple crisp a la mode. To die for!

Fat, contented and happy we enjoyed the ride back to Hakahau entertained by Jerome’s descriptions of island life and why he lived there. After being in war torn zones for twenty-five years in the army, he was mesmerized by the tranquility of the Marquesas, Ua Pou especially. He had met and married a Marquesan woman in France and when her family decided to quit their pension business he leapt at the chance to continue the family enterprise. He mentioned that land ownership in the Marquesas always passed to the oldest son, so his opportunity to buy outright the pension was a stroke of luck.

We didn’t get to go on the east side tour which features a beach with the famous “flowerstone” rocks, only one to two locations in the world where these rocks exist. Jerome was nice enough to give Meryl a couple of the colorful stones, along with filling our memory stick with tons of Marquesan songs, some incredible drone footage of Ua Pou from the air, and a couple of movies about the Marquesas.

I was girded for the worse when we returned back to our dingy, which we had left tied to the commercial wharf (after our two previous disasters with the dingy) only to find it happily floating about 40 ft. away. It was nice to get back to our boat after a long day bouncing around the back roads of Ua Pou. We sat in the cockpit in the late afternoon light with sundowners and watched the local racing pirogues racing back and forth, a nice ending to a long day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tourist for a Day

We literally passed out after the anchor debacle and sleep soundly through the night.  We took most of the morning cleaning up the mess from anchor mud and then took a short trip into the village. Ua Pou is well known for it’s great dingy dock, but the entire port complex was torn up as they were building a new ship pier so the dingy dock was unavailable. We decided to just row our dingy the short distance into shore and pull it up on the beach. The bay shallows up quite fast and we found ourselves pulling the dingy in foot-deep water and then up the sandy beach. Each year older we get the dingy seems to get that much heavier.

A mountain of delicious fresh baguettes.
The Artisan Center had a good selection of local carved bowls and tikis, along with women's necklaces and other jewelry.
We had a nice walk around the village, shopping at three different grocery stores (magasins) and a nice bakery with a table piled high with fresh baguettes. We found out that the Aranui 5 cruise/freighter ship would be in port the next day so we decided to visit the Artisan Center to see if we could find a nice carved bowl before the screaming hoards of tourists descended. Ironically we found the exact bowl I was looking for, carved by a local named Petero out of Pacific rosewood. The bowls aren't cheap, but Ua Pou is famous for the quality of its carvers so it seemed like a deal to me. We also arranged with a local Frenchman named Jerome to take a tour of the island in two days, as he would be full up with the Aranui passengers the next day.

When we got back to the dingy it was low tide and we had a very long tug to get it back into the water since the beach has very little slope. We had to figure out a new dingy strategy for the next day.

Everyday the kids would come down to the beach to practice in the racing pirogues. These kids could really paddle!
One nice thing about Ua Pou is how active all the islanders are on the beach. One guy was exercising his horse, bounding through the small surf line while young kids were out playing in the surf or swimming. A large group of kids came down and took out a 12-person training pirogue, while others were in 6-man and single racing pirogues.  We had a front row seat to the various craft racing around the bay for the next few hours.

I almost forgot to mention the view! Ua Pou has one of the most spectacular harbors, with several needle-like spires raising up in the surrounding mountains. This time of year the hills are a rich green color; it’s almost like you are in a National Park rather than an island with over 2300 residents.

We sat in the cockpit with our sundowners and just enjoyed the spectacle of it all.

The huge Aranui 5 shoehorned in between the breakwater and the new cruise ship dock.
After a fitful night’s sleep we awoke at 6:15 am to a cacophony of noise as the huge Aranui 5 pulled into the dock. Adding to the confusion was the fact a new dock was under construction, so fitting the Aranui into the narrow space took a couple of big workboats pushing hard again the port bow of the ship to shoehorn it into the space.

We tried taking the dingy into the construction dock to tie up but it was being used to shuttle workers to the ship, so back to the beach. This time we tried Plan B by dropping an anchor attached to a loop of 100 ft. of line. We landed the dingy in foot-deep water and then pulled it back out to its anchor. It’s a kind of cool system taught to us by Dave on Maluhia that they use in Mexico. We then ran the line up to a palm tree and secured it with the dingy happily bobbing in the water about 50 ft. away.

The locals put on quite the welcome for the Aranui passengers. Here is a long buffet line featuring "A Taste of Ua Pou."
We went to the community center that was packed with Aranui tourists having a pre-lunch buffet of local fruits and other foods. We had heard the thing to do on for the Aranui crowd. Rosalie said she had room and the price was about US$23, a little pricy for us but it seemed like a plan at the time.

An Ua Pou dancer with a tapa loincloth and the requisite boar's tusk necklace.

We then walked down the street to a pae pae where local dancers were set to preform for the Aranui’s (my generic term for cruise ship passengers).  It was a good performance, especially the male dancers, but once you’d seen the big dance troupes at the Hiva Oa Festival you are kind of jaded. It was however, very fun to watch the Aranui crowd, a mixture of about 75% French, 10% Aussie and British, and a smattering of others, many of whom looked like they were on their death bed (but were probably our age).

We then went up to Rosalie’s and took some time trying to find a table with English speakers. We sat next to a nice British couple that traveled extensively around the world and had some interesting tales to tell. The food was OK, but we were there for the experience more than anything.

After lunch we took a short walk up to the magasin to do some more shopping, coming home with four heavy bags full of food. We always forget the long walk to the dingy when we stock up on food, and always regret buying heavy canned foods about one-way through the walk. Back on the beach we could see our dingy high and dry on the beach with a Frenchman in his black Speedo sitting on the bow. We were then horrified to see the entire dingy full of saltwater and sand. The waves had broken over the dingy and filled it to the brim. It took another 15 minutes to get enough water out so we could drag it down to the water. The recalcitrant Frenchman finally got off but didn’t think to help us lug the heavy dingy down to the water.

Back at the boat Meryl put the food away while I spent another 30 minutes trying to get all the sand out of the dingy. Our under seat storage bag had been immersed in the saltwater and I had to remove all the emergency equipment, which although it was sealed in plastic bags, was soaked all the way through, leading to another three hours of cleaning, oiling, and repackaging everything. 

I think Ua Pou is trying to tell us something.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Knot that Binds

On April 11th we were packed up and ready to depart The Marquesas, with a stop over at Ua Pou along the way. We’d saved the best for last, as all our fellow cruisers said Ua Pou was one of their favorite islands. Leaving Taiohae Bay was difficult. While most of our friends from the last six months had already left or were on their way, it was hard leaving your home for the past half year. We knew we would miss the the friendly people, the baguettes, the somewhat workable Internet, and the ambiance of the village.
The spires of Ua Pou form a spectacular backdrop for boats at the inner harbor.
With a bright blue sky and 13 to 15 knots of wind on the port beam, we had an exhilarating 27 mile sail southeast to Ua Pou, one of the nicer day sails of our entire trip. 

We are in the center of the photo near the white fishing boat. With the wind blowing from the left of the picture to the right, we were just feet from the white boat until we could free enough chain to drop back. 
Unfortunately, our euphoria was soon to end. While the harbor is a good size, the area behind the breakwater is much smaller, meaning you have to use stern anchor so more boats can fit in the tighter space. We tried a new anchoring technique where we approached the beach as shallow as we dared, dropped the stern anchor, and then did a tight 180 degree turn out towards the harbor entrance. As Meryl let out the stern line and steered (no easy task), I got the bow anchor ready to drop. It wasn’t super windy, but with a moored fishing boat just to left of us and a 42 ft. Beneteau to the right, we were trying to shoehorn ourselves into a tight space. Everything was going well until disaster stuck!  The outgoing anchor chain had jammed itself in the vertical tube that guides the chain from the anchor locker and up through to the deck. I knew immediately what the issue was, I told Meryl to try and not hit the fishing boat that was precariously close to our port side, and ran down below and started moving tons of stuff that we store on top of the forward anchor locker.  

The Knot from Hell.
Normally the chain would fall back into the lower anchor locker. Here I've got the knot on top of the aft anchor locker but I can't get enough slack to actually work on the knot.
When I finally got the doors off I was staring at my worse nightmare, a knot of chain about the size of a large softball jammed at the base of the vertical tube.  When we had brought up the anchor chain at Taiohae Bay it piled up like a big mountain in the anchor locker. Normally most of it would fall down into the lower aft locker, but the top of the mountain essentially fell along the sides and new chain went over the top of that creating the iron knot. And that knot was now jammed as tight as (insert your favorite Southern homily here) possible in the vertical tube.

I had Meryl lower the chain a bit so I could see what the problem was, and kneeling over with my head down in the anchor locker (and trying not to fall in as the boat pitched in the waves) I started attacking the knot. After an hour of incredible frustration I had made little progress.  I could tell their were three double loops of chain, all of which were twisted around each other, making up the knot, which weighed about 25 pounds. I could barely lift it up before it’s weigh would pull me off balance. 

Plan Two was to try and get enough slack (again, incredibly hard to do) lift the knot through the forward hatch and get it up on deck where it would support it’s own weight and I could see what was going on. After another hour I was able to pull it apart enough to understand the knot, then it was simply identifying the three loops and passing everything through itself and then untwisting the mess.

I was completely exhausted and my arms were trembling with fatigue from dealing with the heavy 3/8” chain. Meryl was spent from trying to keep us from hitting the fishing boat on port and maneuvering the boat back and forth. Amazingly we weren’t yelling at each other and had worked well together throughout this mess.

With the chain now freely running we could slowing tighten the aft anchor while letting out the forward anchor. On top of everything else the anchor chain had been down on the bottom of Taiohae Bay for over two months and was covered with mud and sharp barnacles. My hands, even with gloves on, were like mincemeat and everything on the deck and the anchor locker was covered with stinky, gooey mud with occasional drops of blood.

After such a nice start of the day, and then dealing with the anchor mess, we looked at each other’s weary faces and said “screw it” and left the mess on deck and went down below to take a long nap -- we were both that exhausted. 

Such was the unexpected beginning of our rather weird stay at Ua Pou.