The passage from Baja to Nuku Hiva Island ended 3 weeks ago but it feels like years. Something about being on the open ocean for so many days and nights causes a response from the senses that I cannot recapture in text. In a word, it was marvelous. There were challenges, as we expected there to be. There was fatigue and sloppy swell that made the cook [yours truly] both frustrated and cautious. Also, the day prior to our departure for the Marquesas I injured my tailbone when I sat down on our forward hatch. It took nearly the entire passage to heal. I assumed it was a badly bruised tailbone – only once or twice did I consider following Mike’s advice to raid the narcotics from our emergency medical kit. About 3 days before landfall I was able to sit down without any pain. Our last night before landfall we hove-to rather than make anchorage in the dark and we experienced our first lightening storm at sea. It was very scary for me and I spent my 5 hour watch counting the intervals between lightening flashes and staring at the darkness between. But despite all this, I loved the long passage and a large part of me wanted to continue sailing.
A new challenge during the crossing from Baja was hand washing cloth diapers every other day, but it gradually became part of my routine tasks. I cringe when I think of how we took care of our trash along the west coast of Baja, figuring that we could get by with what the locals did – which amounted to adding our trash to an open heap at the far end of the ‘town’. But a little too late it occurred to me that by doing this we were essentially tossing our trash over the side. The poverty of Baja Tortuga and even Baja Magdelena was more than I had ever traveled in and I was unprepared. To our credit, we did try to burn our plastics in Baja Magdelena about ½ mile from the village and were stopped by a local teen who actually smothered our fire with rocks and waited awkwardly and defensively for us to leave, insisting that we leave our trash with him. My heart sank as I watched him dump out our trash bag when we finally rowed back in the dingy – he was looking for glass and cans to recycle but couldn’t care less about the plastic bags and diapers that would pollute the waters where hundreds of humpback whales breed. After that, I became convinced that only two options exist for sailing with a baby in places without proper landfills - either use cloth diapers or personally burn all the disposables yourself. And as long as the swell was less than 6 feet and my tailbone wasn’t too bothersome, I did the diaper washing with a smile on my face…and now that we are anchored the washing is no big deal.
Right now the first thing about Marquesian life that comes to mind is tropical insects. The ‘no no fly’ plagues the beaches and sand of the Marquesas and I have been attacked voraciously. The ‘no no’ is tiny and you don’t feel them while they take a chunk of your skin, but later as the blister forms over the bite, it itches really badly. The 10% of my legs and arms that are bitten up actually kept me from wanting to go ashore yesterday. We have had some terrific hikes on Nuku Hiva and it was worth it – but I did not expect my mantra in paradise to be ‘don’t itch, don’t itch it will only make it worse’. On the flip side, the generosity of the Marquesian people is staggering. After leaving Taiohae where the prices were untouchable (small watermelon $13, potatoes at $6/lb, a small cabbage head was $12, a load of wash cost $9) in the smaller villages we have been given bags of mangos and stalks of bananas and tried at least 5 new fruits that I didn’t even know existed before I got here. What Alaska has in wild salmon, the Marquesas has in fruit. I don’t think I will ever fully enjoy a banana or mango from the grocery store again. I am glad I read Herman Melville’s Typee before we anchored here in Baie de Controleur – there is so much history here in the Taipi valley and we toured some ruins the other day while Elias had his premier horseback ride. I am looking forward to another week in the Marquesas before head further west, and I hope in this time to find someone to sell me a goat so I can add some canned goat to our dwindling and monotonous food stores. Wish me luck!
On Sunday last, in Baie d’ Hakahetau on the island of Ua Pou, I was seated in the last pew of the Catholic church. The entire service was in Marquesian, with the exception of the sermon which was partially in French. There was singing and in the front row a family waved flowers side to side in time with the hymns. Women covered shoulders and knees and I was glad I had the foresight to dress accordingly. The entire congregation was in flipflops, with the exception of one grandmother who wore a fine set of 2” heel black pumps along with her surfer t-shirt which was two sizes too big. The foreign language and the rhythmic surf crashing just outside the church and the staggering heat inside the church all added up to me realizing how far removed I am from my previous life on Kodiak. This is some serious traveling. As I processed how out of touch I feel from all those I know and love, Elias remained dazed and sweaty on my lap – or on my hip if we were standing…that is, until he suddenly decided it was time to go and began to say ‘bye’ really loudly to our neighbors in the pew as he waved at them. I took the hint and we walked out into the fresh air of a glorious seaside morning.