Swimming at Tahuata Island

Sunday, May 4, 2003, 8:30 p.m.

Hanatefau Bay, Tahuata, Marquesas Islands


Dear Friends and Family: 

We spent too many days at Atuona, Hiva Oa.  We went there first, because they have a gendarmerie where one can go through customs (we are, after all, entering a foreign country).  Then, it seemed like our laundry situation was so desperate that I paid to have the laundry done.  That was Tuesday or Wednesday, and the laundry wasn't going to be ready until Saturday (yesterday).  So we had quite a few days to kill.  One of those days turned out to be May Day (May 1).  All the stores were closed, and all the kids came down to the harbor. 


Notwithstanding the warning in our cruising guide that there was a shark population in the bay, the kids jumped right in off the rocks, and swam back and forth to the beach.  By and large they were teenaged girls, and Brian (our 19 year old crew member) went right over and joined in, practicing his French, and apparently being told repeatedly how good looking he was. Brian, swimming with local girls in Atuona harbor

One day we walked up the road about a quarter of a mile, and visited a fruit grower, Felix.  He wanted to trade for rope or bullets.  Bullets, we have none, but we have plenty of rope.  So for six meters of rope, we got lots of pamplemousse (a very mild, sweet grapefruit), limes, mangos, coconut, and pomme citere (we're never seen that before -- not sure what it is) (those are still ripening).  We got a tour of Felix's farm, including his vanilla plantation.  The method for growing vanilla is interesting:  within a tall metal framework, coconut husks are piled up, forming a sort of pillar.  The vanilla (which looks like an ordinary, but sparse vine) climbs the column.  Felix said that he makes $300 a kilo for vanilla beans -- obviously his best crop!

Vanilla growing on coconut husk columns at Felix's farm

Brian and Felix at Felix's plantation

Not many people speak more than a few words of English.  So we're all making the attempt with French.  Jim has had no French, so he's trying to learn a few words.  I find I am able to make very basic communications, which surprises me somewhat.  I'm able to understand most of what people say, as long as they are not talking about anything complex.  Thank you, Anne (my French teacher)!  (Amazing what I learned in 8 weeks!) 

Brian has had three years of French, and he really seems to be getting a kick out of communicating.  He says he never thought he'd actually use it, and wishes he had applied himself more when he was taking the classes.  Craig has more French than I and less than Brian, but he is the boldest about stepping right out and making communications.  Yesterday we ate lunch in a park/soccer field/ceremonial field, and a group of girls were playing volleyball without a net.  Craig leapt right up and joined in, much to the delight of the girls.

Craig joining in a volleyball game
Jim and laundry

The laundry -- set to arrive on Saturday (yesterday) -- turned out to be extremely damp.  "It rained last night" was the excuse.  We strung up lines all over the boat, and managed to get it dry by this afternoon.  At least we hope it's dry!  It's so humid here, that it's hard to tell whether things really are as dry as they're going to get.  Hopefully mildew doesn't set in!


Probably the most distressing thing about the Atuona harbor is the murky water.  We've been waiting for the tropical paradise with the crystal clear water -- and Atuona certainly wasn't it!  It rains for perhaps an hour every day -- sometimes very hard -- and there was a muddy river flowing into the harbor.  Our watermaker filter clogged up.  Then there is the surge that comes into the bay, rocking all the boats from side to side.  (This is almost constant -- it's just a question of how much!) 

Last night we ate at what appears to be the nicest restaurant in Atuona -- a high class pizza restaurant.  We ate out on a terrace, surrounding by fragrant and colorful flowers, and served by a young woman who spoke no English whatsoever.  We pooled all of our French skills and managed to have a magnificent dinner, and delightful evening. 

We'll miss the big party in Atuona next week -- everyone said the place will be packed out -- perhaps it's for the best that we won't be there.  It's the 100th anniversary of the death of Paul Gauguin (he lived the last years of his life on Hiva Oa, and died there 100 years ago.)  The schools are closed for a week for this celebration.  We watched a big government boat take away all the children who live on Fatu Hiva but who attend boarding school here.  They're going home for the week, rather than hang around for the festivities.

More photos of Atuona and Hiva Oa 

Today (Sunday), we took down the laundry, took in the awnings, battened the boat down, and headed to the next island to the south, Tahuata.  We found a lovely bay with only two other boats in it, surrounded by palm trees, with crystal clear water.  After getting the awnings and the laundry up again, we all dove in, and swam in the wonderful warm (but not too warm) water.  We expect to do a lot more of that in the next few days.  Tomorrow we have a village to visit, and lots of swimming to do. 

Best wishes to all -- 

Craig and Barbara Johnston

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