Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ua Huka

It was pouring rain as we entered 'Invisible Bay'. Aptly named, the bay is accessed through a narrow space between towering cliffs that the Aranui3 could not sail through. The ship anchored outside the entrance to the bay. We got up early to watch an amazing maenuevre as the whaleboat sailed first to the left and then to the right, trailing massive cables attached to ship that they attached to permanent 'stakes' embedded the rock walls in order to stabilize the ship so it could be unloaded.

It was a difficult, but thankfully dry landing. Islanders were waiting with leis and/or beautiful seed necklaces for everyone. It had become a given that there were always flowers to tuck behind our ears at every landing, but the necklaces were something new.

The fleet of 4x4's were waiting and took us up to a small museum (and shop of course). Many of the drivers were women, as were the musicians. This island has a history of a matriarchical society, and the recently retired mayor of over twenty years was a woman. According to the French lecturer, while this is one of the most remote islands, it has been the best managed.

Again, according to him, the economy of this island has been badly battered by international exploitation. Copra had been the main export, until the marketers and health food types 'discovered' the magic of the 'Noni' fruit. Touted to be the end all cure of everything, a large Amercian investor encouraged growing and farming of this fruit for production and sale via a pyramid like sales campaign in the U.S. The island had a growth in its economy that allowed it to build better roads and facilities, but it proved to be too expensive to raise the product in French Polynesia. So the seed, and business was moved to South East Asia, leaving the islanders with little more than the poorly paying copra to sustain their economy. The visits of the Aranui, with its approximate 200 tourists contributes a lot to maintaining the economics of the island. In addition, these islands are famous for their large, beautiful wood carvings that they regularily ship back to Papeete to sell.

The island is also known for its freely roaming wild horses and goats. Unfortunately, free roaming grazers have seriously depleted the undergrowth, and the islanders are now actively engaged in reforestation. There was an opportunity for passengers to continue by horseback, and many did, meeting up with us at the next stop which was an arboretum. It had been raining, and there were sporadic showers. The paths were slippery and muddy, so I chose to stay behind and sketch some of the tikis that resided at the entrance to the gardens - one with and one without a penis. Church people don't like penises, and in the past had the habit of chopping them off!

This is definitely my favorite island. It seems different from the others - perhaps due to the matriarchy! It is very bare in parts, but the reforestation has been successfull, and there seems to be a balance of lush greenery with the more arid parts.

Everyone arrives back at the entrance with muddy feet, and slightly damp. We head off again through some amazing hair pin curves, and many stunning viewpoints to the town of Hane for another excellent buffet lunch. After lunch, we visit several craft stores. The vehicles disgorge another feeding frenzy of shoppers into the small buildings and I am again totally overwhelmed. Despite seeing several small items that I might want to buy, the clutching and grabbing and constant babble rendered me powerless to spend money. I gave up, and waited outside.

We then headed to beach, where we would be returning to the ship by whale boat. It was definitely a wet loading, and despite wrapping my leg up, the bandages got wet. It was one of those boardings where the giant polynesian sailors grabbed you and tossed you on board... rather scary!

I had the dressing changed, and then dressed up in my new pareau, lovely crown of leaves that I had recieved earlier in the day, my temporary tattoo, and headed to the Polynesian evening.
This is the main 'gala' of the voyage, held out on the deck around the pool. Everyone is encouraged to 'dress Polynesian' and since by this time we all seem to own at least one pareau or, for the men, a wildly flowered shirt, it isn't difficult. It is an evening of good food, drinks, lots of entertainment by the staff, but after a long day, I didn't stay til the end, and headed to bed early.

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