Mutiny on the …

We all liked the mood lighting on Virgin America, but for sheer old-fashioned service I think Air Tahiti takes the prize. Our plane back to Tahiti from the Marquesas was 3 hours late, which meant that we missed our connection to Ra’iatea and Air Tahiti paid for our taxi, put us up in a good Papeete hotel, paid for our dinner and faxed through to the hotel in Ra’iatea where we were supposed to be staying so that we wouldn’t get charged for the night. When was the last time anyone got that kind of treatment on a domestic flight in the States? Mind you, I think we also paid almost as much for our domestic flights within French Polynesia as we did for the whole rest of the trip, still, it was a pleasant surprise.

Or would have been if it hadn’t been for the mutiny it almost incited. We are staying in a lot of different kinds of places on this trip: pensions, hotels, bungalows, condos, even a house in one place, and even though our accommodation in the Marquesas was definitely on the upscale end, the boys seem convinced that I am going to land them in a fleapit. “We just don’t have that much confidence in your choices, Mum,” according to Abraham.

Dani, who has a taste for large international hotels, refers to these dubious and unsatisfactory establishments as “Motels.” So, when Air Tahiti put us up in a large expensive hotel chain with multiple bars, restaurants, and a lagoonarium (!), he and Matiu were in hog heaven. Soft bed, nice sheets, huge flat screen TV, room service, the works. Unfortunately there was no time to enjoy any of it because we got there about 8 pm and had to get up at 5 the next morning for the next flight out to Ra’iatea.

No one got enough sleep; the airport was mobbed with people flying out to all the islands; we were a bit late and barely made the plane; all the seats were taken and we had to sit separately (no assigned seating on these flights); and to top it off, the place I’d booked on Ra’iatea turned out to be a spartan one-bedroom cottage with linoleum on the floors and thin mattresses, set in a pretty coconut grove on the water. The owners were very nice and, under the right circumstances, it would have been perfect. We had a terrific card game on the veranda, watched the fish jumping in the lagoon, made friends (in a manner of speaking) with a gecko who lived on the ceiling and even managed to make a meal for ourselves (ramen, cocoa, grilled toast and cheese, not exactly gourmet, but kid-friendly). But you may imagine what we endured along the way. “You took us away from that to bring us here?”

We did. I just had to get to Ra’iatea to see the Taputapuatea marae — which is similar to the Kamuihei site on Nuku Hiva, but different in interesting respects. One big difference is the location: Taputapuatea is built on an east-facing promontory, looking out to a major pass through the reef. It’s a commanding position, wide open to the sea and the sky and very visible from several directions. At Kamuihei you are up in the forest, it’s dim and green and there are huge trees with great twisting roots and big tumbled blocks of black basalt. It’s a really different feeling; though the basic structures are quite similar.

Here are a couple of pictures of Taputapuatea:

Taputatpuatea marae

and another with Dani in the background, picking his way over the coral (that’s a motu in the distance, a little islet on the reef):

Dani at Taputatpuatea

Luckily for me there was a really lovely beach by the marae, which is itself set in a beautiful garden, so we spent most of the day there, me wandering around looking at rocks…

taputapuatea

…and Seven and the boys swimming. Seven opened some kind of huge mollusk and fed it to the fish, which I think is what they are looking at so intently here:

snorkeling

Finally, I thought you might like to see “George” the gecko who kept us entertained for quite a while…

George the gecko

A Linguist’s Paradise

Farewell aux Marquises

It turns out we hadn’t really hadn’t got the full Marquesan flying experience until we landed on Hiva Oa (last resting place of Paul Gauguin). The airport is up on a plateau surrounded by mountains and the runway is, well, I would call it short. You kind of dive down onto it; and taking off you don’t get any of that long slow revving business. The engines roar into life and, whoosh, you’re in the air. Very exciting! Our pictures of the airport (where we waited about a half hour so they could refuel before flying back to Tahiti) seem to have vanished, but here’s one of the bigger (!) airport on Nuku Hiva:

Nuku Hiva Airport

And here is a look at one of the planes:

Air Taihiti

We’ve now made a number of flights in these interisland beauties and I’m actually getting quite used to them. It always gets a little choppy right after they serve the pineapple juice, but the Air Tahiti flight attendants are marvelously adept. One of them managed to balance an entire tray of hot coffee and pineapple juice while extracting Seven’s tray table from the armrest. Extremely impressive.

We are now returning to the heart of French Polynesia: Tahiti, Mo’orea, Ra’iatea, and so on. But before we bid adieu to the Marquesas altogether, I thought I should post a few more pictures. I became quite fond of the place in the end, though I’d have to say it’s not for the Intercontinental crowd.

Here’s another look at lovely Anaho from the ridge above:

Anaho Bay

Looking up from down below….

above Anahoe

Ancient stonework at Kamuihei:

Kamuihei

And the four of us at Atuona, Hiva Oa (out of focus, but hey, at this point, who cares)…

Four of us at Hiva Oa

Mutiny on the…

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

It’s funny about my French. If I say one or two words, even a short sentence, you could be deceived by my accent into thinking that I speak the language. But the minute I try to say something complex – or not even – the sorry truth is revealed.

This morning, for example, I’m quite sure that when I tried to tell the woman who was taking our laundry not to bother ironing it, I actually said that I never overtake (when driving). I can remember how to conjugate the oddest tenses (“I would have liked to have been asked…”) but I don’t know the most basic words for trash or outlet or receipt or anything, really.

My comprehension is a little better, though the Marquesans are sometimes hard for me to follow and the French speak too quickly until they grasp how useless I am. What often seems to happen is that I think I know what someone’s telling me — like that the road I’m looking for is at the end of the concrete — and then it turns it out that what they really said was that it was where the concrete started.

Seven, I should add, does not speak a word of French and cannot understand Marquesan, which is quite different from Maori. Still, he’s good value when we get off the beaten path. Everyone here is interested in where he comes from. He’s obviously not Tahitian (since he doesn’t speak French) and New Zealand, if you have a look at the map, is pretty darn far from here.

As for food, some of it is great, some of it is strange, some of it is really expensive, but the main issue is that for Dani virtually all of it is unrecognizable. I knew this would be a challenge for him. A Tongan acquaintance of mine recommends traveling with a jar of peanut butter (a death food from Matiu’s point of view, but perhaps we could just keep it away from his luggage…) and if Dani doesn’t start to experiment soon that may be where we end up. Our best find so far is a casse-croute from the truck on the side of the road: ham and some kind of soft cheese in a baguette for about $2. Everyone likes that.

A few more pictures from Nuku Hiva.

The view from a lookout on the way to Hatiheu:

on the road to Taipivai

Matiu at Anaho:

Matiu

Me, resting, on the hike back up:

Christina

Seven, frolicking in the wave:

Seven swimming

No wonder people are nicer to us when they see him….

Farewell aux Marquises

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:

Marquesas_map-fr.svg

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.)

Packing

ME: “So, we should think a little about packing.”

SEVEN: “Why? I’m just going to take some shorts.”

If you ask me, packing is almost the hardest part. I have been thinking about packing for months now — what to pack, what not to pack. But even before I got down to that there was what to pack it in.

Here is the vision I had ages and ages ago, finally actualized on my aunt’s lawn in South Pasadena, California on the morning of our departure from the US. Everyone carries his own (for anyone who’s curious they are mediums, i.e. pretty small) and they’re a cinch to spot on the baggage carousel.

Do you suppose if I sent a link to LL Bean they’d give me a a turquoise one?

Weather, Food, and My Bad French

Um, we’re not actually sailing…

I should perhaps point out that the beautiful image on the previous page is slightly misleading. I was looking for an image that would suggest Oceania but wouldn’t make the blog look like an ad for Polynesian honeymoon destinations, when I happened upon a painting by my friend Roger Kizik. Roger has been doing a fabulous series of large paintings of books, including “Sailing Illustrated.” (On my wall at home I have another of his book paintings: this one of Haddon and Hornell’s classic, Canoes of Oceania).

kizik small

Unlike me, however, Roger really is a sailor. We, on the other hand, are flying, which, while not as exciting as sailing, is not for the faint-hearted either. More about three three-hour flight to the Marquesas in a turboprop in an upcoming post!

Packing

 

Getting Started

We are going to spend 8 weeks traveling across the Pacific, with stops in Tahiti, Ra’iatea, the Marquesas, the Tuamotu Archipelago, Tonga, Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Vanuatu.

The itinerary is designed to take us to:

  • two points of the Polynesian triangle (Hawai’i and New Zealand);
  • a center of ancient Polynesian culture (Tahiti, Ra’iatea);
  • one of the earliest Polynesian settlements (Tonga);
  • and the most famous Lapita cemetery in the Western Pacific (Vanuatu).

We will also be getting a feel for the geology of the Pacific by visiting volcanic or high islands (Tahiti, Hawai’i, Vanuatu); a makatea island of uplifted coral (Tonga); continental islands (New Zealand); and, most excitingly for me, a low island, or atoll (Rangiroa).

Tikehau,_Tuamotu

The party consists of me, my husband, Seven, and our three sons: Abraham, Matiu, and Dani.  We will be leaving Boston at the end of June and will be posting stories and pictures as we go. Check in with us periodically to see how it’s going!

Um, we’re not actually sailing…