Tuesday 5th April
We stand in the Gendarmerie in Atuona, Hiva Oa, clinging to the desk looking blankly at the form in front of us, we must look like a group of drunks brought in to sober up. In fact we have all got a bad case of sea legs, the room sways in front of us and we are so dazed the filling in of the customs form is a real intellectual challenge. The Gendarme must be use to such scences, he smiles at us indulgently as he gently coaxes out of us the required information to check into French Polynesia.
How exciting is that, we have reached French Polynesia. Well deserved “got here beers” were enjoyed by all.
The final night had been stormy and the approach to the island quite rough. Our first glimpse of land for seventeen days, far off on the horizon, was of a huge slab of rock clocked in cloud. As we approached the anchorage our hearts dropped the sea didn’t appear to be much calmer and the anchorage was rumoured to be rolly. We craved calm.
Luckily rolly is relative and compared to our last few weeks the bay as we motored past the breakwater was positively tranquil. We looked around us, we were completely enclosed by steep green, green hills. The mountains behind us have dramatic sharp ridges that runs up into the mist. At the head of the bay is, what would be called in a school geography lesson a V shaped valley. Every patch of land is covered by exotic trees and luxurious vegetation. The beach is of black volcanic sand and the sea is brown from the rich soil that has been wash down during the heavy rains of the previous night.
It is steamy hot and heavy downpours are frequent, the undulating road into town from the anchorage is about 2 miles long so we try to time it to pick up a lift with the yachting agent and sorter of all things in Hiva Oa, Sandra. Town is just a couple of roads but there is a bank, a post office and three small supermarkets. This is – French – Polynesia so at a price you can dine on fine wine, cheese and pate all served on crusty baguettes, there is however a distinct lack of fruit and veg. The locals apparently grow so much in their gardens that there is no demand for them in the shops. So for the yachties it is a case of dodgy deals from the backs of vans.
The Marquesas are famed for thier pamplemousse, these large grapefruits are sweet and delicious and acted as a fitting welcome for our friends on Toothless as they arrived a couple of days after us. As did the squadron of small manta rays that filled the bay that day about eight of them swam around the boats for a couple of hours. It is nice to see familiar faces in far away places and we shared a nice lunch together comparing notes on the crossing.
The Marquesian people seem a contented bunch, smiling and helpful. On our first evening we went to one of the few restaurants in town, a pizza place that had a local band playing. The music was a mix of popular French and Polynesian songs, it was all very casual and unpracticed but they were obviously having such fun, it was infectious, the whole place was full of smiling faces, tapping and singing along to the tunes.
Besides being the welcoming first port of call for tired ocean crossing yachts, Atuona has one more claim to fame, it is the last residence and final resting place of Gaugin. There is a small museum and you can visit his house, unfortunately all his paintings were returned to France when he died, the display is full of copies only but the sumptuous gardens alone were worth the visit. Ian walked up the hill to picturesque grave yard where he is buried.
Today we plan to sail to a bay on an adjacent island about 10nm away, the bay is of rare white sand and the book says one of the prettiest in Polynesia. I think enjoy it here.