Weather, Food, and My Bad French

Kaoha from the sometimes sunny Marquesas!

So, that turboprop I was worried about was actually remarkably smooth until we came in to land. I never mind coming back to earth but Seven was looking a little anxious as we bounced our way down through the last 1000 feet onto what appeared to be not a tropical island at all but a kind of desert.

The airport at Nuku Hiva is basically an open-air A-frame shed with counter, a couple of benches, a large shelf where you pick up your baggage, and a couple of bathrooms with signs on the doors that said: “Fermé: pas de l’eau.”

“Quite dry here,” I said to the woman was there to pick us up.

“Il pleut de l’autre côté,” she said.

For those of you who do not yet have a complete grasp of the geography, this is where we are:


The Marquesas, which are part of French Polynesia, lie northeast of Tahiti about 3 hours by plane. The islands are volcanic in origin and have no fringeing reef and very little coastal plain. Except for the bays, most of the coastline consists of sheer black and reddish cliffs that plunge straight into the sea. The mountains are extremely rugged, at least on Nuku Hiva, and the people live in deep valleys separated from one another by razor-sharp mountain ridges. The valleys each have a different character depending upon which way they face, drier, wetter, brighter, darker. Taipivai, for instance, Melville’s Typee Valley, runs east-west and has longer slanting afternoon (and presumably morning) light, whereas the sun is already high in the sky by the time it reaches the north-south running valleys.

Taiohae, where we have been staying, faces south, and for the first couple of days we had a southerly wind which brought rain, and that meant, in turn, a copious amount of slippery red mud on the roads and pathways. The tropics can be pretty challenging when it’s wet, an there’s something about this place—it’s the hills, I think, and the feeling one has of being closed in—that is daunting even when the rain is not pouring down in sheets.

But then the wind swings round, the sun shines, the water changes color completely—from slate to turquoise—and if you’re smart you rent a car and make the wild drive north to Hatiheu and then walk an hour or so over another ridge to Anaho, which is one of the most beautiful bays I have ever seen.

Here is Matiu on his balcony at our hotel in Taiohae:

Maitu on his deck

Here we are walking through someone’s garden:

Matiu, Dani and me walking

And here is where we ended up:

Anaho Bay

Weather, Food, and My Bad French (cont.)

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Editor of Harvard Review and author of "Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia" and "Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All."

9 thoughts on “Weather, Food, and My Bad French”

  1. I’m not sure if I should tell you this or not, but my wife’s uncle is the father of the French nuclear program and spent a lot of time out there blowing holes in the place with nuclear devices.

  2. I love vicariously traveling with you! Keep the blogs coming. The photographs are wonderful! Hope to see you in the fall. Sallie

  3. Kia ora Christina and whanau

    Your notes make for good reading. I wonder what impact the 21st century has had on those islands. For you, every new twist and turn is clearly becoming a new experience … so it should be.

    E noho ora mai

    All the best


  4. here are my memories of the place when the bay was full of Polynesian canoes

    The warrior’s taut muscles gleam under a sheen of coconut oil. He stands perfectly still as the interrogator menaces him. I do not understand the language, but the meaning is clear.

    “Why have you voyaged to our island? Who are you? If you come in peace, you are welcome. If in war, we will kill you where you stand!”

    The interrogator’s warriors are arrayed behind him along the beach. Further inland stand lines of young women dressed in short skirts of pili grass, their black hair glistening under the tropical sun. Over the visitor’s shoulders, I see three large voyaging canoes, their double hulls rising and falling with the gentle swell, their crews poised to swarm ashore if violence erupts.

    The interrogator steps back and stands proud before his warriors. The silence is tense. It is the visitor’s turn to speak.

    “I come in peace from a far distant island. I am a prince of New Zealand, descended from the first voyagers who settled our island. But if your intention is war, your blood will wash the shore clean.”

    I stand transfixed. The crowd jostles around me, pushing forward. A young girl giggles, breaking the spell.

    I have just witnessed a “recreation” of an ancient scene, a ritualized greeting that was common throughout Polynesia in a time when powerful voyaging canoes plied the Pacific in great numbers. These canoes are replicas. The island’s warriors are high school students, the visitors are men and women dedicated to the revitalization of Polynesian culture through retracing the ancient voyaging routes taken by their ancestors.


    1. Rose Corser, who has lived in Taiohae for over twenty years told us about the time all the canoes came. She said that some of the crews naturally made friends with others, but couldn’t remember which with which: Marquesan with Maori maybe? It had to do with similarity of languages. Another guy I met, from the Tuamotus said that Maori and Marquesas were similar: it seems that the absence or presence of the “k” has a big effect on the sound of the language: “plus dure” he said of the Marquesan, compared with Tahitian, which even I hear as very soft. He also said that in Maupiti they sing when they talk, i.e. they talk in a sing-song way….all hugely interesting…

  5. The Nuku Hiva airport sounds like a refreshing change compared with the big, impersonal airports most of us are used to. Glad to hear the turboprop plane sailed in the sky smoothly!

    Nice photos … Are you seeing interesting birds?

    Continued safe and wonderful adventures to you all,
    Gail C.

    1. At first I didn’t see many birds at all, but when we were walking through the forest I could hear them and wished I had someone to tell me what I was listening too. Today I saw some wonderful small white birds with fine, pointed, arc-shaped wings, lots of them in one place over the ocean. I thought at first that they were gulls, what do I know? But they were too small and too white and too fine….Terns maybe?

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