Ca va tres bien (it is going very well) in Hiva Oa thus far. After sleeping for a good eight hours straight (a first since we left the Galapagos), we awoke on Saturday to the sounds of the waves breaking on the rocks surrounding the bay. If that didn’t suffice, I was quickly reminded of my whereabouts upon stepping out into the cockpit and setting my sights on the face of the majestic volcanic cliff that dwarfs our cozy anchorage. 

We spent Saturday morning checking three weeks worth of emails. Fortunately we were able to do so on the boat using a reasonably priced wireless connection. Dallas had other business to take care of online, so Wes, Tiffany, and I trekked the two miles into town around 2 p.m. We had learned that there was a surf competition going on at the beach and thought that would be a good opportunity to meet some locals. Indeed it was. There were many young Marquesans hanging out in small groups on the rocks along the beach or sitting on the beds of small pick-up trucks that most people here drive. One guy approached where we were sitting and began to look for the key that he had lost. We tried  to help him find it among the leaves, brush, and broken glass that was strewn around a large plateau of volcanic rock. Afterward Wes pointed out that the pile of rock was a marae, an altar on which traditional ceremonies such as human sacrifices were once conducted!

We returned to watching the young surfers and overheard a group of young men nearby who seemed to be having a good time. One of them offered to share his Pastise, and we accepted in order to break the ice. While I found the anise (black licorice) liqueur to be palatable, Wes and Tiff could not hide their grimaces, and the Marquesans were amused.

I tried to build up my confidence in speaking French by making some small talk. However, the most talkative of the group was clearly drunk, to which I attributed the fact that I couldn’t understand him whatsoever. However, Alec, who had invited us over, spoke slowly and clearly, and I found myself starting to form sentences. Alec informed us that he gives 3-hour tours of the archaeological ruins nearby via water taxi for 1,000 colonial francs (about 120 US dollars for 4 people). We began to consider it, but thought it would be preferable to find an English speaking guide. 

After the competition we went up to the grocery store to pick up some produce and cheese for dinner on the boat. There wasn’t too much produce to speak of–some apples, a couple of cucumbers, potatos, and onions, but we were told by the Swedish couple that they were given some pampelmouse (similar to grapefruit) upon walking by a local on his lawn. We are hoping for similar luck.

Speaking of luck, we saw Alec coming into the store as we were leaving, and he offered to give us a ride back to the boat. Once there, we invited him to come aboard and offered him a drink. He declined our wine but brought out a bottle of Cuervo tequila from his backpack. I teased him that he was a “fete marchant” (walking party). My French became more fluent after a bit of wine, and we began to bombard him with questions. We learned that Alex’s day job is tending to a large garden on the hillside. He agreed to give us a tour of the garden while we are here.

In terms of the political scene on the islands, Alec indicated that while most people in the Marquesas do not mind being under the colonial rule of France, Alec and a number of other young people want independence. Alec stated that France does nothing for them except for taxing their income, purchases, etc. and providing an unnecessary police force. He informed us that while the Marquesas officially flies the French flag, he flies a “drapeau d’independence” (flag of independence) that has two stripes of blue to represent the color of the sky and the sea with a stripe of white in the middle, on top of which are depicted the five island groups of French Polynesia (Marquesas, Society Islands, Tuamotus, Australs, and Gambier). Alec stated that France gets more in income from places like Tahiti than they provide but acknowledged that the reverse is true for the smaller island groups. We wished him “bonne chance” (good luck) in his endeavors for independence.

I offered Alec something to eat repeatedly during his visit, but he declined, so we just passed around a baguette and cheese to tide us over until we could have dinner. Around 10 p.m., Alec suggested that we return to town to eat at the restaurant by the beach. We thought it implausible that they would still be serving food, but Alec insisted that they were. Indeed, when we arrived, the restaurant was fairly full. The salad was the highlight–a whole plate full of fresh produce! The restaurant was adjacent to a dance club playing modern, international dance music. I thought the music and the atmosphere to be very alluring, but I didn’t feel like paying the 1,000 franc ($12) entry fee. Apparently the Marquesans are willing to pay to party!

We have been trying to decide whether or not to stay here or move on to Nuku Hiva for Bastille Day (Tuesday, July 14), France’s independence day. After talking to Alec, we’ve decided to stick around, as there will be traditional dancing, drum-playing, etc. If it is anything like today, it promises to be very memorable!