It was just before sunrise when we rounded the eastern tip of Hiva Oa and started our motor sail down the south side of the island. For the next 3 hours we were treated to astonishing views of sheer, steep, tropical vegetation-covered cliffs that plunge straight down to the ocean. Waves crash against it, sending up plumes of water, while frigate birds and white tropic birds fly by. The closest thing I can compare it to is the Napili coast of Kauai. As we watched this scene go by, we began to get whiffs of this amazing smell. I expected an earthy smell like Hawaii has, but this was different. I would describe it as the smell of Pier One Imports, but more precisely the opening day of a Pier One Imports when all the merchandise is new and the packing crates are still around, sort of a perfume-y, bamboo, straw smell. It smelled wonderful. As we neared our anchorage at Atuona we saw the steepest mountain of all, 3,500 feet straight down.
We had been warned by our friend Dean that the anchorage was busy; so when we arrived and saw all the masts, we were a bit disappointed but mentally prepared. We went in and found about 15 boats there, all bow and stern anchored. Luckily, we managed to find a spot, and when we were hook down we could finally enjoy our surroundings. This is a beautiful bay surrounded by hills covered with lush tropical growth, a gray-sand beach lined with palm trees, and water that’s green and black. It’s not a good place for swimming: there’s little visibility through the water and it is known to have sharks. The fact that there are a lot of boats here (and probably no holding tank usage) is reason enough for me to stay out of the water. Our disappointment about the number of people in the anchorage didn’t last as this is a remarkably nice group of people. It’s nice to land somewhere and get all the news on where to buy things, what’s fun to do, and “talk story.” I had theorized before we came that most of the 150 boats or so from Mexico would be well ahead of us. I was right, but what I didn’t realize was the number of people who come from Panama and the Galapagos; there are a lot of them and they are still arriving. New boats come in every day, but boats also leave every day (we now have about 20 boats here).
We celebrated our arrival with some rum, so happy to be here and done with the passage (I’ll write more about that later). We then ended up busy getting settled and putting things away, helping Dean bring his boat in here and get re-anchored (he had originally anchored outside the bay), and other odds and ends. We ended up napping a bit in the hot afternoon, then coming back to life around 4pm. At 5:30, Rich got on the Sea Seafarer’s net to let them know we were in, and then we were free to go to dinner. We always try to treat ourselves to a nice dinner in town after any crossing, and Dean had a place in mind, one of two restaurants in town.
It was near dusk when Dean picked us up in his dinghy and headed over to the dinghy dock. Rich and I were a little out of it, still short on sleep and a little overwhelmed with going on land. I had somehow expected a real dock and was surprised when he pulled up to two slabs of concrete, the lowest of which was nearly a foot under water, and the higher one maybe 6 inches. Water surged and swirled over them, and they had a rough, pebbled surface that looked like it might be covered with slippery growth. Did he want us to step off on that? Where was the real dinghy dock? It’s been a long time since I’ve been cruising and making more “rustic” sorts of landings. Well, it was time to get back in the saddle. I took off my shoes, clambered to the front part of the dinghy, and Dean pulled up near the lower slab, being careful not to end up on top of it in the surging water. When the timing looked good, I went for it and landed well, glad the slab was neither too rough or too slippery as I walked over it in bare feet. That adventure done, it was time for the next one: the mile or so walk to town. It was warm and humid, like walking through Jurassic Park, only with a fair number of cars going by. We were walking on the road and as we had to go off whenever cars passed, I was glad there were no snakes to think about.
The restaurant was simple but nice, with things like pizza, steak, fish and chicken dishes, actually a surprising amount of food, and what turned out to be very good food. Dean got pizza, and Rich and I split steak and poisson cru, a specialty in French Polynesia that has raw fish and cut up vegetables in a coconut milk base, much like ceviche in Mexico. We all had the local Hinano beer. The residents of Hiva Oa speak French, and there is very little English, but we managed with my nearly-forgotten high school French and pointing. Figuring out how much things actually cost in dollars was an exercise in thinking, and none of us knew if we needed to tip. Our waitress seemed quite happy when we gave her the 15 % tip (figuring it’s better to be safe than sorry). It wasn’t surprising to find out later that you don’t really need to tip here; oh well. It was nice to find out the owner of the restaurant will give cruisers a free ride back to the anchorage!
Well, it was back to the dinghy dock, which was now even more underwater! Wading through knee-deep surging water and getting the moving dinghy was quite an adventure. The timing was off for poor Rich, who ended up half falling in the water. Well, more clothes for the laundry bag. We got back to the boat, rinsed off, and weren’t awake long as the long day caught up with us.
The next morning we woke up just before dawn to an amazing din outside. It sounded like there was suddenly a stadium nearby, full of screaming World Cup Soccer fans, topped by the sound of whooping Indian tribes galloping into battle. We were both up trying to figure out what in the world this was when we realized this is the sound you hear when tens of thousands of roosters crow throughout the hills around you. Wild chickens thrive here, and in the morning; it shows. Luckily, when we’re on the boat, we’re naturally early risers. This would not be a good place for a late sleeper. -Cyndi