Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fair weather in Fatu Hiva

We arrived in Fatu Hiva and our jaws dropped. The Bay of Virgins (formerly Bay of Phalli) was both breathtaking and crowded. We dropped anchor, closer to the rocks than seemed comfortable, and added to its numbers – 12 boats altogether, huddled in a niche between towering phalli – er, spires. We became comfortable with our anchorage, and appreciated the unobscured view it afforded, but had to tiptoe around other boats and their anchors to get there. Every evening at sunset the bay glowed golden-red. It was almost unnatural, that glow.

There’s not much there but the little village of Hanavave, with its mini minimart and its church (the bells ring every day at 5pm to invite the villagers to evening prayer. It seems only the women attend.) We explored the little village, greeting and being greeted at every corner by the friendly locals, stray cats, “wild” chickens and tethered dogs. Most of the animals were in some need of medical attention, but the first, most obvious candidate for our interventions was a young, pregnant cat belonging to the local policeman with whom we’d checked in. She was walking around with a fishhook impaled in her paw, though the policeman most decidedly didn’t care. First off he offered to give her to us (he had 11 cats roaming around his place – and the number had grown to 12 before we left Fatu Hiva, with the birth of another kitten). We told him we’d be back with medical supplies, and didn’t give him the option to decline. So, we returned and got the job done, surrounded by and audience of children who were eager to help. The kids were friendly, but strangely silent.

Next on our walk we met an outgoing local woman, Desirée, who showed us the recently abandoned, week-old kittens she was trying to care for. Later that afternoon we brought kitten milk replacer and a make-shift nipple (fashioned out of a latex glove) for her to nurse them with. There we encountered a couple men (Jacques and Roland) with whom we had earlier traded for fish. They encouraged us to sit and chat awhile, offering us wine and regaling us, in pidgin French, with old wives’ tales and theories about their Marquesan heritage.

For example: It is commonly accepted that the Marquesan ancestors were much larger in physique than their modern counterparts. Why should this be? In older times youths under 18 were not allowed to engage in any substantial labor – couldn’t lift or carry stones bigger than a fist. This allowed them to grow larger, of course. Now that modern Marquesans work and toil from a younger age, they are stunted by the loads they heft. Stands to reason, no?
I gave Desirée a lesson on stimulating kittens to pee (they were fascinated by this) and, before we left, we were loaded up with fruit and given an invitation to Roland’s house the next morning.
At Roland’s place we were treated to a grand lunch of flame-grilled fish and pork (from a boar he had hunted), poisson cru (Polynesian-style ceviche), fire-roasted bread fruit and rice. We met his kids (Mélissa, age 8, and twins Cécilia and Roland Jr., age 4), who were happy to have the play dough we had brought for the occasion. I examined his kittens (healthy but, strangely, tethered to a tree) and his pregnant dog, and we visited. After lunch we took a walk to the river so the kids could bathe and play, and learned about the legend of the eels that inhabit the rivers here. The kids were delighted to see themselves on camera, so I took lots of video footage of their river antics.

As we were heading back to our dinghy we were approached by a local woman (Thérèse) who explained that her dog was aggressive and asked if I could castrate him (word had traveled that I’m a vet). We promised to see him the next morning.

Back in the bay we met Daryl (from Liberty Call), an American single-hander who had just made landfall after a 29-day passage from the Galapagos. As our boat was obscuring his otherwise unblemished view of the bay’s rocky phalli as he was taking photos, he offered us a bunch of pictures of Pangaea in the foreground of this lovely tropical bay. We made out well on a book swap, too.

The next morning we took a bunch of gear (surgical instruments sterilized in our pressure cooker, what drugs I have on hand, etc) and found Thérèse’s house. We met “Rex,” who really is friendly in an over-enthusiastic, pent-up way (he lives on a tether). But as soon as we’d try to exert any degree of control over him he’d lunge and threaten to bite. Ben had a way with him and earned a wee bit of trust, but it required two injections of sedatives, and finally some man-handling restraint to give him an IV injection. It took 45 minutes and two men (and me) to get ourselves to this point. Once he was out the rest of the procedure went smoothly. We were watched by a couple neighbors and a passer-by who himself castrates adult male dogs by stuffing them in a sack. He wanted to see my technique, and may have been disappointed that no sack was involved. We were sent home with more fruit (by now we’re drowning in bananas), fish and bread.

We then met up with Roland and the kids and took them to the boat. Roland explained that the kids had been buzzing with excitement all morning for this little excursion). We gave them copies of the pictures we’d taken the day before, accepted more fruit gifts, and gave them a tour. After a short time of play and excitement, Mélissa threw up and all three became subdued by motion sickness (even though we weren’t actually moving). After our visit we sent them home with a headlamp, 2 tupperwares, fingernail polish for Roland’s wife, colored pencils and a pair of sunglasses. You’ve probably gotten the gist that money is seldom used on Fatu Hiva – trades are preferred.

We left Fatu Hiva the next day with a boat full of fish (delicious Wahoo), lemons, limes, pamplemousse, guavas, pommes verts, bananas, bread fruit, coconuts, guava jam and 2 baguettes. And here we experienced a change in plans. We were planning to visit other islands (Tahuata, Ua Pou and Ua Huka) but Ben just had to check his email, only to discover that his presence was required in China to check on an important production stage of the new, little version of the Flying Tiger. We knew he’d have to make a trip but didn’t expect he’d have to go so soon. We made a bee-line back to Nuku Hiva so he could make arrangements to fly out. So, here I am, hanging out back in Taiohae Bay. Ben left a couple days ago for the 3-day trek to China (via LA, of all places, and with a one-day layover in Hong Kong). Time to get adventurous on my own. So be it.

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