Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fakarava and Ua Poa and Feeding Frenzies....

Nov. 3/08
We arrived at Fakarava, the first island, at 8 am. Fakarava is the second largest island in the Tuamotu archipelago. We were told it would be a dry landing, which meant I needn't worry about wrapping up my bandaged leg. But I wrapped it up anyway. I became quite adept at various wrapping styles: the saranwrap wrap: the white garbage bag wrap: and my personal favorite, a bathing cap with a hole cut in the top for my foot, tied up with some long balloons that I had in my backpack.

Most of the islands do not have docksides adequate for the freighter to land beside, so we go ashore in the 'barge' which looks like a ww.2 PT troop landing thing. There are rows of wooden seats, and we go down a ladder/stair outside the ship to get into it, as it bobs alongside. When we get to shore, the front drops down and aided by the sailors, we leap out... sometimes dry, sometimes wet. And sometimes if we are to disembark beside a dock, there are steps inside so we clamber up onto the dock from the barge. There are always a pair of giant tatoo-ed Polynesian sailors on either side to help you up, or in some cases haul you up, and in extreme cases, lift you and toss you up!!!

This day, we landed at a small beach clearing, where there were about half a dozen vendors selling shell jewellery and black pearls. Since this island has a lagoon, many people, including Sophie, head off for some snorkelling. As it is Sunday, Pierette and I head slowly up the road to the Catholic church - her for the service, me for the singing. We found the small, stone church, but as it was very hot inside, I chose to sit on the stone wall surrounding the church, and listened to the beautiful singing, while painting in my sketchbook.

Women and children slowly approached, dressed in Sunday best wearing flowered or beautiful white 'muu-muus', their heads crowned with circlets of fresh flowers. Nearly everyone had flowers in their hair. Two mothers with small babes sat beside me on the wall, and I sketched them both. I wandered away from the services, down to the beach where others from the ship were swimming. More painting as I enviously watched the swimmers, I and ended up back where the vendors were. There was a small band playing, so I sketched some more, before boarding the barge and heading back on board for lunch.

We then sailed on towards the Marquesas. People lay out soaking up the sun, swam in the small pool, spent time in the bar, took books out of the library, shopped in the store... just a generally laid back day. A word about the meals, which were excellent...albeit a bit too much fish of every kind and description. All French style, and meals were accompanied by wine.

Nov. 4/08
We woke up the next morning to mist over the peaks of Ua Poa. Unlike the other archipelagos of French Polynesia, the Marquesas are mountainous, probably more recently emerged from the ocean bottom. The craggy, tower like 'piton' peaks are quite distinctive. It is the only island with towering volcanic plugs like those seen in Moorea and Bora Bora. These treeless, misty phallic peaks loomed into sight as we were sitting down for breakfast, and I quickly caught them in my sketchbook.

It was a hellishly hot day, but a dry landing, as the ship was able to tie up at the recently (1988) built port. The air was redolant with the smell of limes, which we were either loading or unloading, because of course the main point of our stops was commercial. We heard there was an internet (one) at the post office. I tried it, managed to post something to the LonelyPlanet, but none of my emails went through. We then plodded through the heat to yet another church. My walking wasn't quite up to snuff, so it was pretty tedious.

Despite the heat, a number of people chose to go on a 40minute hike to a cross (viewpoint) on top of a bump of a small 'mountain'. This led to a number of emergency calls to the poor doctor, and a trip to the local hospital for an Elderhostel man, who tripped, bashed his head and broke a finger. Another woman collapsed from the heat. Another group were given wrong directions, and ended up trudging though the heat fruitlessly. I am so glad I am 'crippled' and am not even tempted to do these hikes in this heat!

The Catholic church/religion is pretty big out here. The churches are full of wonderfully carved altars and statues done by local artists. It was cool inside, so I hauled out the sketchbook again. We met up with the rest of the travellers at a the Tenai Pae Pae - a flat, large stone platform that had housed previous religious sites, where there was a dance performance. Lots of fluid moves by the women, and lots of grunts and lunges from the men.

We were then driven to a huge outdoor buffet lunch at Tat Rosalie's restaurant. The thing I hated most about the whole trip was this 'mass eating' with 150 of my 'closest, most intimate friends', whether it was in the ship's dining room, or at one of the island feasts. I like a quiet conversation at meals - and sometimes I don't like to talk at all. Sometimes I like to sit and read when I eat. This constant mass eating ritual drove me nuts. With that many yammering people you can't hear yourself think or even converse with the people at your own table without shouting. I especially hated it when we had buffets. The Germans, in particular, would descend on the tables with their cameras for food porn photo ops.... snapping picutres like mad of the loaded platters of food!!

The food at these outdoor buffets was pretty good and interesting... from pit roasted pig, to poisson cru, to something made with 'poi' - sort of a sweet gelatinous stuff. But 'dining' it wasn't. These mass feedings might be fine for people accustomed to group travel... but not me! YUCK. I would have killed to just have dinner with a few of my new friends without being surrounded by a multilingual cacophany.

We returned to the ship, and sailed to another village where the freighter was unloading frieght. There was an opportunity to go ashore, but I chose to stay on board, as it was wet landing and it looked a bit rough. It was really nice having the boat almost to myself. From reports it was a pleasant small village, where they sold something that was unique to the island, called 'flower stones', stones with crystals that looked like flowers, and hats woven from leaves. Another hike for those who were still standing to a coprah platrform, another catholic church. Again,I enjoyed being by myself, and watching the freight being unloaded .

There were lots of activities on board, none of which I participated in. You could learn how to dance and singTahitian style, have a lesson on how to tie your pareau, lectures on history and culture and movies. In the evening there was music in the lounge and bar and entertainment by the staff I had seen the first day. To be honest, by 9 oclock, when dinner was over, I was just as happy to settle with down in the privacy of our cabin with a book.

Sophie and I would often host our friends in the cabin for a pre dinner drink and nibbles.... a quiet time for friendly conversation before facing the noisy dining room.

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