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The Two Captains


2C Update #111
Ua Pou -- May 16-18

To make the twelve-hour sail from the Southern Marquesas to Ua Pou, the closest island in the northern Marquesas, the Two Captains raised Tackless's anchor just after midnight . The early hours of the trip, still in the lee of Hiva Oa , were windless, so we were forced to motor. By four a.m. , however, our wind began to fill and we enjoyed yet another fine sail with the wind on the beam. Couple the smooth ride with a stunning sunrise and we were in a much uplifted mood as we approached the island of Ua Pou.

On the chart, Ua Pou looks like an Indian spear head made from a flake of stone, but in person the island thrusts skyward monoliths of countless volcanic plugs, the highest of which is over 4,000'! Through these the clouds shift, revealing and covering the spires mysteriously. It is quite the skyline.


We bypassed the main town of Hakahau to continue around the north side to the small town of Hakehetau to join up with our friends Michael & Mary of Danseuse de la Mer in time to help celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. Michael and Mary had started the Sunday off by going ashore to attend the local church service. There, despite having no language in common, they were befriended by a local couple, so that by the time we got our anchor down, they had a whole schedule lined up for the four of us.

It seemed that the couple's daughter had to return to school in Hakahau (after the primary grades, the kids from small towns and small islands have to live in during the week to continue their schooling), and we were invited to make the drive with them to drop her off after the weekend. Although Ua Pou is only ten miles long and seven miles wide and the distance between the two towns as the crow flies is barely three miles, the drive took at least an hour on the squiggly dirt road that followed the coastline. From our seats in the back of the pickup truck, which the four of us shared with three youngsters, we enjoyed spectacular views of Ua Pou's spine of spires on the one hand and the coves of its rugged coastline on the other. On either side of the road we often passed wild horses grazing. Our host was a good guide, stopping the truck at particularly scenic overlooks for photo ops. We wondered among ourselves what the cost in diesel (most vehicles here seem to run on diesel) was to haul four extra full-frown Americans over and back. (Before we left Ua Pou we gave Job a length of line he'd been wanting to anchor his fishing canoe.)


Our second arranged activity seems to have gotten a little lost in the translation. Etienne Hokaupoko, a schoolteacher, resident and one-time mayor of Hakahetau has through the years cultivated visits to his town by cruising sailors. With a house in the village where his son lives while he and his wife live on a hillside out of town, Etienne often delegates his son to invite cruisers to his house for a meal. Although Etienne speaks English, his wife and son do not, so between the language difficulty and the third party invitation -- despite efforts to confirm -- we were delivered after our tour to Etienne's house only find it was not a good time. Please come back tomorrow!

Unfortunately, tomorrow held a potential conflict. Job, who had driven us to Etienne's hillside house, had already invited Michael and Mary (and us by way of them) to go "into the mountains for fruit" the next morning. Even though the two hosts were doing the communicating, it never quite got decided whether both acitivities could be fit in. Come morning, I was feeling pretty flagged by all the activity (after being sick the previous week), so Don and I took a bye on the fruit trip and settled for meeting up with everybody for lunch at Etienne's.

At eleven o'clock , Etienne showed up in his dilapidated truck to pick us up, at which time we learned we were not the only guests. Also waiting was a young couple (German and Australian) and their baby (born in Trinidad ) from a tiny Australian-flagged boat. To our chagrin, there was no sign of Mike and Mary nor of the father-son pair on the fourth boat in the harbor who had also been invited, although had everyone shown up, I can't imagine how we would have fit in Etienne truck!

Having no idea what to expect, we arrived back up at Etienne's hillside home to find a picnic table set in the back yard and the BBQ grill burning hot. Although this "new" house (one of the many built by the French government) had a small inside kitchen, Etienne and his wife Yvonne preferred to cook in a separate cooking shack in the back garden. Yvonne had set out bowls full of poisson cru, rice, fried banana, and poi. In addition, there was a bowl of boiled potatoes, plantain, and on the grill thin steaks of New Zealand beef and hamburgers! Wow! Etienne stopped Don from ladling out a big spoonful of poi onto his plate, warning him he probably wouldn't like it. Marquesans, he told us, as he filled our glasses with home-made guava juice, couldn't imagine a meal without the filling starch, but he was absolutely right. To the rest of us the poi tasted pretty much like glue. The rest of the food was terrific.


To invite into your home such a mixed bag of unknown people, with three or four different languages to boot, makes for an unusual kind of hobby, which is really what I think it is for Etienne! He has been doing it for so long, it almost seemed like a routine. When we would ask him questions about himself, Etienne would refer us to his "Wednesday evening potluck" at which he does some kind of show. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be staying that long, so we never heard his story. After the meal I had a chance to chat in French with Yvonne who, although she speaks no English, seems to take Etienne's group dinners in stride. Since I was the only guest who spoke French, I really enjoyed being able to learn more about their lives, their children and grandchildren.

Etienne insisted in packing up leftovers for Mike and Mary. We could see from Etienne's yard that their dinghy was now back at their boat. When we delivered their doggy bag we found that, rather than missing out, taking the bye on the "back-country fruit trip" was the smartest thing we did. Turned out Job's main obective was clearing some land by felling coconut trees with a chain saw! (The Marquesans are jumping to replace coconut trees with nonni bushes!) I don't know which was more frightening to Mary, the sight of Michael with a chain saw in his hand or the full-sized coconut tree than landed feet from her! They were tired, dirty, sweaty and mosquito-bitten. Gee - sorry we missed out.

Incredible to realize we only spent two nights a Hakahetau, and our two nights at Hakahetau were the only days we spent on Ua Pou. This, in retrospect, was our loss. The main town, Hakahau is the third-largest village in the Marquesas, and on our quick drive through seemed to have a number of stores and several places to eat. Michael and Mary had a memorable meal with friends at "the house up on the hill". That's how it was described to them by the gendarme, but with a little detective work in the Lonely Planet Guide, we deduce it was the Pension Pukuéé. You walk up in the morning and discuss what you would like to eat and return in the evening to have what sounds like a gourmet feast! Hakahau also has a reputation for particularly fine cavers (in wood, stone and coconut shell) and other cruisers stumbled on a memorable dance presentation put on for the freighter/cruise ship Aranui when it comes to town.

Speaking of which, this is probably as good a place as any to mention that the Aranui is probably the best way for anyone not on their own yacht to see the Marquesas. The Aranui is a cargo-and-passenger vessel that make 16-day tours from Papeete of the Marquesas and Tuamotus islands. Actually, touring these islands on the Aranui might be even better than doing in on your own boat, because in cruise-ship fashion in each of the communities the ship visits the first-class passengers are treated to special performances and organized excursions. At only around $100/day, with food and wine included, it seems like a great deal. For info see www.aranui.com or contact the Compagnie Polynésienne de Transport
(CPTM) in the USA at 650-574-2575)


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