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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ua Pou You

This is our view of the island of Ua Pou as we sailed in. Ua Pou is pronounced “wa-poo”.

Our first stop was the village of Hakahetau. I imagine this valley must be one of the most beautiful settings for a village that you could find anywhere.

It is also a very friendly village. Here Holler Hokaupoko kindly shows Alisa and Elias his tattoos.

Alisa went to church on Sunday and had a convivial, though entirely non-verbal, interaction with the woman in pink. Left to right: U’u, Kavehei, Fabienne.

We were invited to Holler’s house twice for lunch. Here he is making coconut milk. We cook with coconut milk quite often back home in Alaska, but our method of preparation relies heavily on a can opener.

Holler told us that there are fifty varieties of breadfruit on Ua Pou. The top one in this picture is Puero, the one on the right is Kuuhaa, and Holler didn’t know the name of the one on the left.

Holler roasted the breadfruit over a coconut husk fire.

Back on the boat that night, Alisa sliced one up and fried it in oil – delicious with ketchup.

The sunsets were a highlight of our days at Hakahetau. Providentially, Eli napped through the sunset twice while we were here, giving us the chance to have a cocktail in the cockpit and watch the show, just as yachties are meant to.

We also took some great hikes in the mountains.

And we walked to the local waterfall. Cruising the Marquesas sometimes seems to boil down to getting fruit for your boat and hiking to various waterfalls. Alisa was very happy with the way this photo turned out, as she ought to be.

I also went hunting with Holler’s brother, Atai. We got up at 0300, just as we would if we were deer hunting on Kodiak in August, and we spent the morning hiking around the head of the valley. The game in the Marquesas are feral domesticated animals, and people hunt exclusively with .22s.

Atai insisted on taking this picture of me. When I look at it, I find it instructive to see how fixed my smile had become by this point in the day. During our hunt Atai shot at a pig and missed, shot at and hit a goat but did not follow the blood trail and so did not bring it home, and shot at and missed a chicken. In my head I was starting to call Ua Pou “old MacDonald’s ecosystem”. That was before we came across four wild horses and Atai said, “I kill one”. Great, I thought. He’s going to shoot a horse with a .22 right in front of me. But Atai held off.

This is what was carved in the butt of Atai’s rifle. “Hoka” is short for Hokaupoko, his surname. “Teikimaakautoua” is Marquesian. He translated it as “king think war”.

This is the scar that a boar left on one of Atai’s dogs.

Holler and Atai’s father, Etienne, is mentioned in one of our cruising guides as being very friendly to cruisers. That he is, but at times we also got a whiff of the “professional friend” from our interactions with his family. Etienne seemed tired and withdrawn the two times that we had lunch at his house. But Holler explained to us that he had many sailor friends (“You know ____ ?” he asked us, naming a semi-famous American sailor. “She sleep here – in my room,” he said, with the biggest grin in all the Marquesas.), and that his father would eventually pass along to Holler the business of taking care of the yachts.

When Holler first invited us to lunch he said, “I invite you, so you do not pay.” Atai later invited us to dinner at his house, and I accepted, but Holler later explained that since we were invited we would pay only 500 francs each instead of a thousand. We begged off, and invited Holler out to the boat for dinner instead. There was another time when we were starting to visit with someone else in the village and got snatched away for another lunch with Etienne and Holler, and we began to feel a bit as if our visit to the village was being managed. Meanwhile the no-nos were making Alisa miserable, with little red welts all over her arms and legs that she had very little luck at not scratching. We had some great interactions with people in the village, everything from invites to visit people’s houses, to help getting ourselves off the dinghy at the very tricky wharf with our one year old and our water jugs. But our interactions with the village were also starting to feel a little sticky – we were getting more interaction than we wanted at times, and felt we might be building up obligations with Etienne and Holler and Atai that we didn’t want to meet.

So we decided to leave. The last night we were anchored up in Hakahetau, Alisa made pizza and we had Holler out to the boat for dinner. And we had a great time. I pointed out the Big Dipper in the north, above Nuku Hiva, and with the help of our Alaskan flag and a prop from the galley, explained our name for the constellation, and that it is a symbol of Alaska, and that it appears upside-down to our eyes in the southern hemisphere. Holler loved the pizza. He asked if Alisa had made it in the same way that he had made Marquesan food for us at his house, and when I said yes he said it was the best pizza he had ever tasted, much better than the pizza he used to buy in Pape’ete. Holler lived in Tahiti for ten years, learned Tahitian, worked at the Radisson, married a Tahitian, had a daughter, got divorced, and came back to Hakahetau.

“To live in Tahiti, not possible,” he explained. “I am crazy. No land, no business, no mango tree, no breadfruit tree. Here I can eat without buying. In Tahiti it cost me 5,000 francs each day to eat.”

He went on to explain that the only drawback to living in Hakahetau was that there were no jobs. He said that in 1980 the population of the village had been 1,000 people but that so many had left for work that it was now 200.

The evening went on. We were eating in the cockpit, under a skyfull of stars. After we were done eating Elias came up to the cockpit and I gave him a horsey ride on my knee.

“What song you sing?” asked Holler. It took me quite a while to realize that he was asking me what I was saying to Elias as I dandled him on my knee – I hadn’t thought of “giddyup, giddyup, let’s go” as a song, but I suppose it is. So I got the chance to explain cowboys and the etymology of “giddyup.”

“I like this very much, learning life of American people,” said Holler. After a minute I asked him how long he had been speaking English, and he said, “one year.”

Not too much later I rowed him back to the wharf. That dinner on Pelagic was such a great way to end our visit in Hakahetau. I got to see Holler as a straightforward island guy who was naturally friendly and curious, spoke four languages, didn’t know much of the world outside of French Polynesia, and just wanted to be friends with the people who came to visit his bay.

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