Monday, May 26, 2008

Tai Pi

We sailed from Baie Anaho to Baie de Tai-pi, where Herman Melville’s novel Typee is set. Once there we went ashore looking for someone to trade with for fruit. We found Dolores, who gave us tons of fruit – pamplemous, mangoes, oranges, bananas, and tava, which are something like lychee nuts. She also gave Eli the necklace he is wearing here, which she made herself, and a matching one for Alisa. She wasn’t really interested in trading, but we hoped to reciprocate a little, and so gave her cigarettes and a retired staysail sheet.

There is something a little acquisitive about this kind of experience for sailors in the Marquesas. Produce in the stores is imported, very expensive and of a quality not to get excited about. On the other hand, the islands are groaning with some of the most exquisite fruit in the world. But visitors cannot just hike into the woods and pick their own – every tree, everywhere, is assigned ownership. So you have to get fruit through your interactions with the locals, either buying it or trading for it or being given it. Alisa and I were very happy to get all this fresh fruit for the barky, since it meant days and days of good eating. But we were also just flabbergasted by the generosity of Dolores and her son, Jan. We walked into their yard uninvited, speaking almost nothing of their two languages. When I said, “fruit”, which is spelled the same but pronounced “fwui” in French, they latched on to this as the first intelligible word I had come up with and suddenly got themselves busy running around the yard to pick fruit out of their trees to give us. Incredible.

We made arrangements to visit the famous local paepae with Jan the next day. When we arrived at their house Elias was overjoyed, because…

… Jan had saddled up his horse so that Eli wouldn’t have to walk the four kilometers each way to the paepae. Jan was amazed that it was Eli’s first horse ride. “They start late in Alaska,” he thought to himself. Eli turned out to be a good rider. He sat up strait and clicked his tongue in the proper way and said “brown horse, brown horse” over and over and only cried when we took him off.

These paepae were ceremonial sights, if I understood Jan correctly. They were very impressive, relics of a time when the coastal valleys of Nuku Hiva were each populated by societies that were constantly at war with each other.
We saw ancient tikis.

Jan showed us the stone where captives from other valleys were killed before being eaten. Cannibalism occurred here, but Jan explained to us that it was only people captured from other valleys who were eaten.
Jan stopped on the trail back to climb a tree and pick us pistach, which are small purple fruits that leave your mouth a little numb, completely unlike pistachios. He also picked vi for us, which look like mangoes but are more fibrous and tart, and korosole, a fruit for which we had no reference in our previous experience.
This is the korosole a few days later, after it had ripened up. Tasted way better than it looks. Marquesan fruit makes the fruit of the rest of the world seem pretty poor. Granny Smith apples just aren’t going to do it for me anymore.

Elias fell asleep on the way back. The horse’s name is Chanti, and Elias still says “Chanti horse” every time I give him a horsey ride on my knee. These horsey rides are incredibly popular affairs on board, commencing before breakfast and not ceasing until bedtime – a great way to burn off a one year old’s energy in the confines of a sailboat ten feet ten inches wide. In addition to invoking Chanti’s name, Eli still points to his back to show me that he rode on Chanti’s back, and he says “reigns!” and shows me how he held them. And the actual horse ride was now nineteen days ago.

A couple of days later we hiked up to this picnic table on the ridge above our anchorage.

We had a great view of the yachts anchored below. We spent six days in Baie de Tai-pi, and during that time the number of anchored yachts fluctuated between one and nine. When there were no other boats in the bay to cast light on the water we had some incredible displays of bioluminescence at night. The barky was surrounded by schools of feeding fish, with each individual leaving a trail of ghost light in its wake. I remember thinking that it was the only time in my life that I’ve seen the surface of the water truly alive with fish. Pelagic is the furthest right in this picture.

We also had a great view of the valleys of the interior. For anyone who has read Typee recently enough to remember it, this is a view looking down into the Hapaa Valley, which forms one of the three bays at the head of Baie de Tai-Pi. We were anchored off of the Taipi Vaii valley, where the action of Typee occurs, and where Dolores and Jan live today.

Elias unfortunately had had enough of tourism at this point.

Two days later we sailed away from Baie de Tai Pi and the island of Nuku Hiva. The Marquesas are like Hawaii in an alternate universe. Like the Hawaiian Islands, they are geologically young islands of Oceania, high and volcanic, clustered together in an archipelago that is separated from all other land by extremely great distances. But unlike Hawaii, there is no urbanization, the population is overwhelmingly Polynesian, and everyone speaks the indigenous language.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, All -

    We spent the evening giggling and marveling and just generally enjoying your adventures from the middle of Pennsylvania... sigh. Just wanted to pipe up and let our presence on the list of enthralled checker-uppers-on-Mike&Alisa&Eli&Pelagic be known! We are happily soaking up your articulate, adventure-laden pixels, looking forward to what may come. Travel safe, happy & sane.

    - Morgan & Mike