South Pacific Travel Adventures

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Continued from page 4

As the crew was rowing fast with all their strength, I could see it coming – a big monstrous wave. I felt utterly helpless as it came surging over us, thrashing and burying us as it thundered on. I was suffocated by the water. The sea had taken a second shot at me, and this time I thought it had won.

When the wave had passed, not only was I still alive, I was naked except for my soaking wet panties. I grabbed for my pareu. It floated away from me in the water-filled bottom of the rowboat. Everyone was in hysterics at my expense. Again, danger and laughter. I was really starting to get it. Laugh at danger. Don’t fear it. Don’t threaten it. Just laugh at it. As I caught my pareu and covered myself with it, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t tie the thing. Rachael tied it for me with that expert touch of hers. I'm sure it never would have come undone if Rachael had tied it for me in the first place.

After an exhilarating ship to shore ride, we were rewarded with spectacular views of lush green vegetation. As we walked through the village of Omoa on Fatu Hiva, it began raining heavily. I didn’t mind because I was thoroughly soaked anyway from the monster wave. Rachael asked directions to a store where we could buy fruit. We found ourselves instead at a private residence where there were plenty of fruit trees. We asked to buy oranges and bananas. The owner told us to pick all we wanted. No charge.

Rachael took the owner at her at her word. After gorging ourselves on oranges (not having had fresh fruit for several days), we filled our paniers with oranges and limes, and Rachael cut down an entire stalk of bananas. We staggered back to the boat under the weight of all this precious booty.

Fatu Hiva was famous for its tapa cloth, which is a fibrous material made from the inner bark of breadfruit trees and mulberry trees. The bark is beaten until it is as thin as coarse paper, then painted with designs and used for wall hangings and paniers. Rachael and I followed a woman to her house to look at some tapa paniers. While the woman was showing us her wares, a dog walked up to her, raised its leg and sprayed her ankle as if she were just another tree.

Later, the Namoiata anchored on the other side of Fatu Hiva near Hanavave. Kahu Le Vieux (called “the old man” because he was 50 years old) was from the village of Hanavave. He was very much loved there. He never left an island without being loaded down with gifts. At Hanavave he was given a gunny sack full of oranges. Kahu grabbed my panier from me, dumped my camera and other things on the ground and filled it to the brim with oranges – and did the same for Rachael.

Fatu Hiva is also known for its beautiful wood carvings. In Omoa and Hanavave, I found the buys irresistible. Rachael and I went from house to house looking for all the finished wood carvings so that I could buy them all.

Next morning, the Namoiata anchored off the island of Tahuata, near the village of Vaitahu. The island was home to Rachael’s brother-in-law, Frederick. I, too, was welcomed as family with kisses on both cheeks. Frederick’s wife, Ina, hustled off to get us coffee and to prepare a welcoming meal of poisson cru – all of this before 6 a.m.

Ina, her face beautiful and serene, was from the Astral Islands, south of Tahiti. She had met Frederick when he was sent there as a doctor. Now he was Tahuata’s doctor – and postmaster. Since people on this island were pretty healthy, his medical practice was limited to delivering babies.

Frederick, 26, had a beautiful angelic face and a slightly pudgy body. Ina, 25, was five months pregnant and heavy besides. They had a two year-old daughter, Fifi, and an adopted four year-old daughter, Janine, with frizzy hair and dark lively intelligent eyes. Frederick was delivering this fatherless child when the mother died. Since there were no relatives, Frederick, a bachelor at the time, adopted her.

Frederick had 12 years of school. Required education in French Polynesia was eight years. The small library in his house consisted of medical books, history, politics and philosophy. His thirst for knowledge was unusual in the islands.

Rachael and I went for a walk around the bay of lava. When sea water washed into a crevice, it sounded like a giant dragon heaving in distress. Water was sucked out of the blow hole, followed by a powerful surge of water spewing 50 feet in the air.

On the way back to the house, Rachael and I picked and ate wild watercress. We returned to a feast of poisson cru, poe and popoe, uru, cooked fish, dried fish, coconut milk and fermented coconut milk (for dipping the other food into).

The Namoiata made three stops to drop off supplies for the inhabitants of the island of Hiva Oa. While we were anchored near each of the three villages of Atuona, Tahauku and Hanamenu, Rachel and I scurried around asking where we could buy wood carvings. Craftsmen worked from home. There were no stores that sold wood carvings on any of the Marquesas Islands.

The Namoiata headed for the island of Nuku Hiva. Gradually we saw the long serrated outline of Nuku Hiva materialize out of the gray mist ahead. It looked like a huge reptilian sea monster sprawled on the surface of the sea with its backbone sharply sculpting the mist and clouds. The steep coastal cliffs of Nuku Hiva met the sea in a line of white foam along the perimeter of the island as far as the eye could see. Rachael and I piled into the rowboat, already heaped high with baggage and crates, and headed for shore on the strokes of six crew men.

Nuku Hiva was the main Marquesas island and seat of the French administration. Rachael and others thought I should pay my respects to the French governor of the Marquesas. When we met, I spoke to him in French and was quickly rebuffed. In broken English, he reprimanded me for my poor French accent, and told me that if I could not speak Parisian French, I should not speak French at all. I had better things to do than to be insulted about my language skills by a pompous little man on a power trip who preferred to slaughter the English language.

Nuku Hiva was a treasure chest of beautiful hard wood carvings. Prices were just a fraction of what similar pieces sold for in Papeete. At each village we visited, I bought every single finished piece available. I figured that if I couldn’t sell them to the stores in Papeete, I’d have gifts to last a lifetime.

In Taipivae (Herman Melville’s Typee), I bought all their beautiful carved bowls. As we anchored off the villages of Anaho, Hatiheu and Akapa, I added to my collection. At Pua, we loaded cows, legs dangling in the air, onto the ship. At Hakaui, the boat went for repairs. At Taiohae, I bought all the wooden lances made there. It seemed each island specialized in a particular type of woodcarving.

As we approached the island of Ua Pou, we saw the black shape of the island rising like a medieval castle above a heavy layer of fog close to the sea, its volcanic spire poking thousands of feet straight up. I bought every finished wood carving I could find at every stop we made at Hakahau, Hakahetau, Haakuti, Hakamaii, Hakatao, and Hohoi. Our last stop, the island of Ua Huka, where we anchored off Hane, yielded even more carved treasures at bargain prices.

It had been 48 days since the Namoiata left Tahiti. Losing a rudder had extended the trip by 18 days.

Back in Papeete, I checked into a hotel, displayed my wood carvings and invited owners of the tourist shops to see my wares. The Marquesas Islands are almost a thousand miles from Tahiti and not easily accessible, so it was a sellers’ market. I set prices 100 percent lower than what similar items retailed for in the local stores. I priced each item and refused to bargain. My wares sold out in one day, netting a neat 650 percent profit.

The night before I left Tahiti, Rachael and Bonnard put on a farewell tamanaa feast. Most of the guests (crew from the Namoiata and their families) saw me off at the airport the next day. As I boarded the plane, I staggered under the weight of dozens of shell lei necklaces – draped up to my ears.

It had been a wonderful trip with wonderful people. I’ll never forget the loving, kind and generous spirit not only of Rachael and the Namoiata crew, but of all the people I came in contact with in the Tuamotus and Marquesas Islands.

In 1976, I received the unhappy news that the Namoiata had sunk off the coast of Moorea.

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