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Business is booming in Hanaiapa

June 16, 2011

June 10 – 12

Hanamenu may have been full of mystery, but it wasn’t all that pretty, so at ten o’clock on the second afternoon I weighed anchor without the usual regret and motored the short, nine miles to the next bay east, Hanaiapa. Murre pushed into a stiffening headwind that settled in at twenty knots on the nose by two o’clock, reducing our speed to three and four knots over the ground.

Hanaiapa began to take shape as we rounded Metatepai Point and even from sea it was evident that its features were as bold and grand as Hanamenu’s were drab. To the west an exactly vertical cliff several hundred feet high and nearly a mile wide announced the bay, its face so smooth as to have been cut by a knife. From a low dip on its western flank, a waterfall flowed over its sharp edge, flew out and then tumbled, expanding into an even mist as it fell the impossibly long way to the sea. To the far east, the cliff-top descended quickly, directing one’s eye to the black and imposing tower of Rocher Fatutue rimmed with breakers. We gave it a wide berth, even averted our eyes as if turning away from Medusa. Back from the cliff, a mountain spine topped with stacked, broken rock too large to be boulders moved south and became the bay’s western arm before dropping into the jungle of the valley over which coconut palms were a dense forest and where lay the village. Black rock descended sharply into the sea on both sides of the bay; waves boomed through spout holes throwing mist fifty feet into the air.

We lowered the anchor into twenty feet of water and a sandy bottom, or so said the chart. But as I backed down the chain growled in a way I’d never heard, and even when Murre hooked and held I was suspicious. Immediately after switching off the engine, I jumped into the pale blue water to see how the anchor was situated. The bubbles of my splash rose slowly around me as my skin woke to the warm, delicious wetness; I cleared the snorkle; inhaled; pulled myself down the chain–and as the bottom took shape, a large shadow. A dolphin? A shark? I halted. No, a Giant Manta Ray glided forward with the grace of an albatross and on wings equally as wide. It turned toward me. Mantas are famously friendly and curious, but this was my first encounter, and I could not help but back away. It swung close and by and was lost in the haze in seconds. Back on the trail of the anchor chain I found it dropped into a coral garden and was wound around two large coral heads as if tied to a bollard and beyond which the anchor lay exposed on the hard crust, biting nothing.

Not knowing what else to do, I left it, and upon invitation from COLUMBINE, the only other boat in the bay, rowed ashore in the early evening for an explore of the village. Cynthia and Glenn had been at the anchorage a day already and had met some of the locals whom they were visiting again with gifts of jam and beer. The beach landing is rocky, and back of it, a grassy park area cut by a stream connects to a clean concrete road that connects to the village a quarter mile back from the bay.

We had just passed the main square when we were hailed by an old man on his stoop waiving us up his drive and into his home for coffee. In the tradition of explorers past, we followed. Cynthia, who carries a small French dictionary and possesses a smattering of phrases, became the designated translator, earning her a seat next to our host who we learned was Sal. Sal: in his sixties; dressed in shorts, t-shirt, baseball hat; a sweet smile mostly absent of teeth, three children, all in Tahiti; wife in Tahiti; has lived on the island twenty years; lives alone now in a house of two rooms; works copra, but not much, father came from Czechoslovakia as a young man–never left. On the wall, an ornately carved bone knife hung next to an amateurish painting of Jesus. On the dresser, a boom box, polished shells, family pictures, an orange European football towel–“Manchester United, 1987”. Sal directed his attention at Cynthia, and not because of her expertise in French. He laid his hand gently on her arm.

At the previous anchorage, Cynthia (not Glenn) had been invited to go trolling for tuna along the coast. The owner of the boat spoke in Marquesan and Cynthia was unclear what he was requesting in exchange until he made a lewd gesture. Then in French he explained there were few women on the island–he wanted a wife for the afternoon, longer if it suited Cynthia. Cynthia indicated she was already married, which the boatman acknowledged with a smile, and the fishing expedition proceeded without incident, except for the landing of a yellow tail.

With coffee Sal brought out a translucent, lightly sweet pudding whose contents Cynthia could not translate beyond the word “mousse”. In fact, the conversation repeatedly spluttered because Sal could not understand much of Cynthia’s basic French. Simple phrases–what is this? where is your family?–said slowly and with precise pronunciation met with a blank look and we were forced into pantomime, which worked surprisingly well, but deeply frustrated Cynthia. Our meeting ended with the offer of bunches of bananas if we returned the next day at three. Cynthia was the last to approach the front stoop where Sal puckered his lips almost to exaggeration and took a big, juicy kiss before she knew what was coming.

Famous among cruisers is a villager named William who has kept a log of all visiting boats since the middle 1970s. His house, where cruisers are invited to register, is announced by a sign near the street made from one end of a cardboard box and on which is written in dark pencil, “Hanaiapa Yacht Cluhb” [sic] and below this, “William”.

Here I signed Murre into a log that consisted of several dilapidated ring binders going back only to 1990. William explained the house had burned down that year, taking previous records with it. He was a man of medium height, a paunch, and was pale for a Marquesan. He had a gray head and beard died black but not recently enough to hide the truth. He had a ready smile. But his chief attribute was that he spoke some English. The beer was given, and in exchange we received grapefruit, limes, tomatoes, watercress, and wild peppers on the stem. I showed interest in the first page of his log, a few typed words of Marquesan translated into English.

“Come tomorrow,” said William, “and I will make you a nice Marquesan dicionaire.” I agreed to return at ten in the morning. Then came the question that every cruiser records … “Do you have any Rum or Whisky?” asked William. I said I would return with some Tequila. William did not know what this was, but when Cynthia made a gesture for “it makes you loopy”, William smiled with satisfaction. “You come at ten o’clock then,” he said again.

Marquesans are famous for their kindness, and old cruising books are full of stories of gifted bananas, coconuts, and other aid with no expectation of return. But things have changed. In a country that is cash poor but produce rich and where liquor is twice as expensive as in the states, a barter system with well-supplied cruisers was bound to develop. William was, in fact, the village entrepreneur who had invented a way for keeping his bar stocked during the cruising season at no cost to himself.

I returned at ten the next day to find William at his table and looking down the path in expectation of my arrival. Once inside he laid out two sheets of typing paper. The left hand side of the first was stacked with Marquesan words in neat block letters as was but half of the second. The right hand column of each was blank. William handed me a pen and said, “Now we make a nice Marquesan dictionaire.”

There were forty words in all, clearly written in the order in which they had come to mind. First was KAOHANUI/Hello followed by ENATA/People, EAHANA/Men, VEHINE/Wife, MAHAI/Son, MOI/Daughter. A man has priorities, after all. Notable, however, was the absence of the word for husband. Nor had William listed words for father or mother even though both were buried under white crosses in the front yard.

Next came the animals: PEPE, NUHE, EMOA, PUAA, PIFA, KEUKEU, SOARE, EIKA. I wrote down their English counterparts in the column to the right: puppy, dog, chicken, pig, cow, goat, horse and fish respectively.

As we moved through the list, I said each new word aloud in my best Marquesan accent, which was not very good, for William often failed to understand me and had to consult what he’d written. He would look at the word for a long while as if it were in a foreign language. “What is this?” he would say. Then, “Oh, NUHE–yes, is Dog.”

At IKA we ran into difficulty. “Fish,” said William.

“But I thought EIKA was fish,” I said.

“Yes, EIKA is Fish,” said William.

“Then what is this?” I said, pointing to IKA.

William put his glasses on this time to look at IKA. Then, “Yes, IKA is fish.”

“So, IKA and EIKA mean fish,” I said.

“No. Yes. Is fish, but make finish,” said William, gesturing that I should cross out EIKA. Privately I was gratified to meet a man whose struggles with spelling rivaled my own.

The words continued into the fruits–MEIKA, Banana and ANANI, Orange–but soon became random. POPOUINUI, Early Morning was followed by PURUETE, Wheelbarrow and FAEBURE, Church and MAHINA, Moon and KOTEREPRAKE, Plywood. How had these connected up, I wondered. Finally William had tired of his labors for his last word, KAAPEE, meant Sit Down.

With that the meeting ended. The tequila was gratefully accepted and I walked down the path wondering how I could use my forty words of Marquesan.

Glenn, Cynthia and I returned to Sal’s house at three for our bananas. This second conversation was as awkward as the first except for the polite smiles when we presented our gifts: cranberry jam, mexican hot sauce, and a cuban cigar. The cigar received the warmest reaction, and Sal pointed to two large stalks of green bananas on the back stoop, our prizes. Through mime and the occasional comprehended word, we came to realize that Sal had walked with a wheelbarrow three kilometers into the jungle for our bananas. But the mystery of why he would travel so far when the village was planted almost entirely in bananas could not be resolved. Such effort, however, deserved more than jam, hot sauce, and a cigar, so I produced my last small bottle of Tequila, which likewise produced in Sal a smile of immense proportion. And suddenly I understood: William’s great success had given rise to a competitor.

end

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One Comment
  1. Alisa Proctor permalink
    June 22, 2011 4:41 pm

    Hi Randy!
    I just was chatting with your cousin Lisa Vietz and she told me about your adventure. I’m so happy (and jealous!) to find you are “out there”. That you are singlehanding garners you an extra helping of admiration. My husband Devan and I spent ’93-’94 cruising Mexico, through the canal, up the western Caribbean to Florida. It was the best year of our lives, and getting back out for long term cruising continues to be our goal. We have kept our boat (38′ ketch) in Florida since ’94, and spend as much time there as possible (the rest of the time we live in Newport Beach, CA). We have two boys (6 and 9) and plan to take them out of school in Dec 2012 for a year of cruising (probably western Caribbean area).

    Cruising the Pacific isn’t in our present plans…but it’s surely a place I hope to get at some point (and I’ll always have the romantic dream to circumnavigate). So, I will continue to keep up with your blog with big smiles. As you know, friendships are made fast and deep when you are cruising…and although it’s been likely 30 years since I’ve seen you around the halls of Lodi Academy, I again feel a connection by way of wind, and water and the cruising community! Soak it all up…

    Fair winds, and following seas,
    Alisa Proctor

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