We left Hooumi Bay to head back to Taiohae in desperate need of WiFi to download tide tables for the notoriously difficult Tuamotos. About ten minutes after pulling up the anchor and realizing that the wind did not want us to go that way, we decided to sail four hours to Ua Pou, the final Marquesan Island on our itinerary.
The passage had various extremes of weather. There were 30 knots winds, rains, calms through which we had to motor, sweltering heat, and decent breeze. As we got close we could see massive basalt towers protruding through the lush jungle. I needed to find a way to hike to the towers. They called to me even from five miles away.
We entered the small anchorage at the township of Hakahau on the northern side. There was a small breakwall protecting five other sailboats, with swell rolling in and crashing on the beach near the entrance. We found a protected spot and dropped the anchor.
We could see many people swimming, paddle boarding, and canoeing on the large beach, and their laughter carried to our boat. It was a mix of cruisers and locals having a great time together. We would have loved to join, but we were on a mission.
While most large islands have a yacht services office to direct wayward sailors like us to all of the amenities, this island did not. Finding WiFi and possibly a baguette and fresh yellowfin tuna were our top priorities. The walkway along the beach looked the most promising, as it took us past the largest building, which turned out to be a school. I wondered if the students go swimming for recess or gym class. They must have longingly looked out the windows on sunny days even more than I did as a child.
We continued past the soccer field and turned left. This led us to the bank and post office, which meant we found the center of town. There were seven or eight locals outside, so we asked “Parlez-vous anglais?” and one woman came forward. She directed us to the nearest WiFi by pointing down the road to the book store. When we arrived, there was only one person there, and she looked like a sailor. The telltales were that she was close to my dads age, athletic, and sitting outside a closed store using an Ipad. We struck up a conversation and learned that the internet was spotty there, but up the hill was a bed and breakfast with a bar, and the owner, Jerome, would provide high quality WiFi if one buys a beer. We thanked the woman and headed up the hill.
Jerome’s establishment was an iconic Polynesian hideaway. It overlooked the harbor, was open to the ocean breeze, and had several couches and tables scattered around the interior. My favorite parts were the tiki bar with five stools tightly clustered around it, the daily wine list written in dry erase marker in the corner, and the colored lights strung from the ceiling. The Hinano beers were cold and the WiFi was fast, so we were content.
Jerome’s property also features a lovely restaurant, and he supplements his income as a hiking guide, so we booked dinner that night and a hike for the following morning. He was a one stop shop for everything we wanted.
When we arrived for dinner we were the only guests not staying in the Bungalows. We odered during our previous visit, so we had a beer, played with Jerome’s friendly cats and dogs, and waited for our meal. We smelled tantalizing fragrances coming from the kitchen, but no food appeared. Finally my steak and my dad’s unicorn fish appeared. Both were perfectly cooked and flavorful, but the side dishes outclassed them. In addition to fresh baked bread, which was lacking in our diets, there was breadfruit au gratin and salad with juicy tomatoes and the first avocado I had since leaving California. Although that does not necessarily sound special, vegetables are rare on these islands and the bread only lasts a day, so scarcity made them a treat. After thoroughly enjoying our meals, we paid the bill and went back to the boat to sleep in preparation for the 7am hike.
We carpooled with a French couple named Joel and Florence, from France originally, currently working as teachers in the Society Islands. Joel looked serious, with hiking boots, a quality daypack, and an athletic build. Florence was in running shoes and normal clothes, similar to my dad and me. We enjoyed a tour of the northwest side of the island in their rented Hillix truck as we headed towards the trailhead.
I had no idea how difficult this hike was going to be due to the language barrier between Jerome and me. All I knew was we were going to drive for 45 minutes, hike to a tower, go see the chocolatier, and hike to a waterfall. That sounded perfect.
It started out easy, with little grade and many stops for Jerome to explain the plants to everyone – in French. Our explanations were less detailed, for example, “This is a vanilla flower”. We had to guess the rest from the words we understood with our limited French vocabulary and his hand gestures.
My dad was complaining that he wanted to do less talking and more walking just before we started to climb. The ascent was spectacular and we could see the ocean over the jungle canopy. There were parts so steep that we needed to use ropes to climb. It was more technical than I expected, and I was worried about my dad. We made it to the top, winded, to touch a rock that supposedly connected you to the spirits, or kept away the spirits, or maybe was just good luck, the true meaning was lost in translation. The imposing basalt tower filled my entire field of vision, which was unfortunate because there were several other towers nearby that would have made great pictures. However, I was satisfied knowing that I accomplished my Oa Pou goals. I found WiFi, and hiked to one of the towers. It’s amazing how much your priorities shift while cruising. Next was the hard part, surviving the descent.
Going down was challening since the mountain was steep and the trail was covered by palm fronds. The group utilized several methods to get to the bottom, the best pioneered by the 12 year old French girl in our group. She squatted so her butt was just above the ground and skied down the hill since shoes gave little traction. That was not an option for my dad since with one new and one limited knee, squatting was impossible. We managed to avoid serious injury with only a few falls.
We were rewarded at the bottom by an eccentric German chocolatier who lived alone on a sustainable farm/chocolate factory with solar energy and rain collection system. He produced several chocolate flavors: orange, pepper, dark, and macadamia. The consistency was almost like fudge, but it was very good. We enjoyed a Tupperware full of samples, but it was like roulette. I liked the dark and macadamia, but disliked the pepper flavor. They looked identical. I got tired of picking the wrong one and bought a bar of dark chocolate to share with Dad.
We left the chocolatier’s house and weaved our way through the squawking chickens eating coconuts on his dirt driveway. We needed to complete our waterfalls of the Marquesas tour after hiking them in both Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva. After a couple kilometers we arrived at the natural pool with a deluge of water flowing off a fourty foot cliff. The waterfall was the shortest one we had seen on our travels, but it had the heaviest flow. My dad swam over and let it cascade onto his head. I did the same since I needed a shower, especially after that rigorous, muddy hike. Joel and Florence joined us in the pool, and after everyone was sufficiently refreshed, we walked back to the car.
During the car ride back, Joel invited us to visit their home in the the Society Islands. We gladly accepted the invitation since we hadn’t even been in a house in two months, so seeing land based people in their natural environment would be a treat. I bet they even have air conditioning! We exchanged numbers and said our au revoirs.
Our timing was perfect. The fishing boat just returned to the dinghy dock with two massive yellowfin tuna. They were selling fillets for $5 per kilogram, so we bought two kilos, and went back to the boat for a very late sashimi lunch. After filling our stomachs with fresh fish, we prepared the boat for sea and took naps in advance of our 9pm departure for Fakarava in the Tuomoto Archipelago, a 530 mile passage. Little did we know, catastrophe lurked around the corner.