Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This town isn't big enough for the one of us. (Hanavave Village, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas)

Hmmm. Time to figure out what I've got myself into here. Mr. Planet has this to say:

"The dramatic landscape of the six inhabited islands are drier and steeper than the society and austral islands. With no barrier reef and no protective lagoon, the feeling here is wild and earthbound. In the northern group of Nuku Hiva, 'Uo Pou and 'Ua Huka, the land is a desert of low shrubs surrounding sharp basalt peaks and pinnacles; only the river valleys are lush and habitable. South, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva are carpeted by fruit trees, ferns and flowers. blah blah blah.

The Marquesas is _not_ a beach destination. There are a few enticing stretches of sand, but they are invariably infested with nono, a small aggressive biting fly that the locals will tell you is fiercer than a lion. blah blah blah"

Wait a minute! What do you mean this isn't a beach destination? Why the hell did I pack my sun focusing screen, lawn chair and Budweiser beer can cap? Damn. I'll save them for the Tuomotos I guess ;)

So apparently this used to be called the Bay of Penises until the outraged missionaries cleverly moved a letter of the name around and it became the Bay of Virgins. I'm not sure what the massive stone phalluses everywhere have to do with virginity, but nobody ever accused a missionary of scientific or observational accuracy.

Dramatic - check. Wild and earthbound - without a doubt. 562 people on the island... hmm. I only see about 30. After dreaming of civilization for a month, I came racing ashore to get my hands on anything that could be bought (I know, its sick). There is one little booth where they sell canned goods and grocery type stuff for the village. I am embarrassed to say that I spent 8.50 USD on pringles and a can of coke. Retail therapy in its most basic form. Its not like I've been going hungry and the food on the boat has been quite good, but did it ever feel good to wolf down something cold.

I wonder if people actually get land sick after being at sea for some time? It took a long time for me to walk straight. Chris and I went swimming in a (Fresh!) stream, got in a water fight with a couple local kids and ate mangoes as they fell from the trees.

I seriously needed to go for a walk. Check. I headed up the only road out of town (there is only one road which connects this village with its larger cousin on the other side of the island). The road forked and I took the one which is not right and ended up in a dead end after some very strenuous switch backs. With a fervor born from a month of obsessing about it, I blazed on, straight up. Mountain climbing sandals on. Check. Up over a tree line of sorts (it appears as though they did a controlled burn at one time and the very, very steep ground was a weird blackened root system. The views were amazing, but I was stymied from achieving my goal of getting to the top of the hill. 10 feet from the top it just became too steep and I kept sliding downwards. Sat there for a bit, enjoyed the solitude and then slid to the bottom on my ass. Over exertion struck and I almost crawled home to the boat.

The people here are very nice, but I am kind of sad for them. Not for their quality of life, not because they don't seem happy, but because me and people like me are here. We aren't the first to be here by a long shot and we will not be the last by a longer shot. Somewhere along the way somebody traded something for something and somebody got invited to a local home for a simple dinner. Reports come back and subsequent visitors expect the same. The behavior is reinforced and the reports are confirmed. It was fully my expectation that we would be able to trade for fish and fruit and that somewhere along the way we would end up with a bounty of Marquesan delights in some home or another. As a tourist I felt due my authentic Marquesan experience in hospitality which was not denied. The Mahi Mahi fish steaks we bartered for were delicious, the meal was a hoot. In the end though, I felt like I had been a part of a remote village less than I felt that I was a cog in a transplanted tourist economy. Competition, greed and status are on their way and a nice happy village will learn to pander more and more to the needs of a bunch of crappy tourists. I don't want to come across as self righteous and far be it for me to deny a hundred people their slice of the american dollar, its just that I get nervous around fragile communities, especially when I am the one buying the pringles.

By all reports this place has changed a lot in the last few years as more and more boats make it a stop. Its a striking place with a beautiful spirit. I wish them the best.

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