It took us four days to check in to French Polynesia. The first day, as we mentioned, was May Day, a holiday. The next day was Saturday and when we arrived at the gendarmerie with our agent the office was closed. Sandra called to inquire and was told they’d had an emergency. What kind we didn’t know.
Sunday we planned to take an island tour to see the tikis so it was Monday before we filled out our paperwork and got officially stamped into the country. Then we had a wild goose chase back and forth to the Post Office to pay a fee for our temporary residence cards but in the end it all got sorted and we did what all cruisers do when they find themselves in a village of any size with time on their hands: we went grocery shopping.
There are three or four little stores in tiny Atuona and you have to go to every one to find what you need. One store has carrots, another has plain yogurt. One has leeks, another has cheeses. There is no one stop shopping here in Hiva Oa, and we suspect it’s the same throughout the islands. Some of the stores also sell shoes or clothing or even household items, all about the same space as the living room in our old row house. Finding fresh vegetables is what counts for exercise in these parts, miles of walking and schlepping in extreme heat.
Our tour on Sunday was a seven-hour bum-breaker of a ride in a beat-up Ford pickup with two bench seats in the bed with a canopy roof. Three lucky people (including Jack) sat on cushy seats in the cab while a couple from Liechtenstein, a man from the Bay Area and I clung to the roof in the back as we lurched and slammed up and down over the mountains to various vista views on a severely switch-backed road.
Many times we drove perilously close to a steep precipice and my stomach flipflopped when I peeked over the open side of the pickup. “Don’t look there,” I said to my seatmate Tom, as I shrank back from the edge. Once the switchback was so sharp that our driver John had to do a three-point turn inches from the cliff. My palms were sweaty.
The main events were stops to see the tikis. The first was a lone “laughing tiki” hidden in the forest, and the second was a reconstructed site with several big tikis, one of which is the largest in the Marquesas. We were interested to learn that the head of one of the big tikis is in a museum in Berlin, so he has someone else’s head on his shoulders. They should give it back.
After the main tiki site we drove to a beautiful beach where John laid out a pot of rice, a chicken stew, bananas and lemonade. There was a church and a rectory nearby and we sat on a covered patio eating lunch and watching the sea.
The truck-bed sitters were dismayed to learn we’d have to take the same road back over the mountains again, and Jack magnanimously offered to switch places with Tom, who moved into the cab in a hurry before Jack could change his mind.
John drove home much faster so we four in the back had to cling to any available hand hold to keep from being flung down the mountain. We could barely take photos because the road bed was rocky and we vibrated and rumbled all the way back to Atuona.
The tikis are the main attraction on Hiva Oa and having seen them we were ready to leave the crappy anchorage and move on, but we have to wait for the paperwork that will allow us to buy fuel at duty free prices all through French Polynesia. So we’re stuck in this rolly, crowded harbor, trying to avoid being hit by a boat named Miss Behavin’ that came in after us and dropped his ground tackle right on top of ours, despite our pointing out exactly where our anchor lies.
Wednesday, says Sandra. We can’t wait.