Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fatu Hiva

"Oh god, they're still out there."

I peeked out of the curtain on my top bunk in the dorm on the Aranui combination freighter/passenger vessel. We were almost to Fatu Hiva, and I had to find my way out of bed. More importantly, I had to pee.

But the other dorm residents were standing under my bed in the tiny corridor, shuffling back and forth to begin their days.

Again I was faced with the issue of crawling out of the top bunk while avoiding the sprinkler hub with the ladder being by my feet, people just below, and no way to get out gracefully due to the shallow depth of the berth. My feet had to go first and I'd been scooting/shuffling out for a few days.

And there were French people in their underwear all over and me without coffee again.


Every morning was going to start like this, wasn't it? With me having an inward hate-fest about the dorm bunk. I suddenly found myself regretting my distaste for exclusive treatment and press trips. Should I have waved around my book credits and Wanderlust magazine cred?

No, no. That would be wrong. I'd be beholden to the ship's PR department, and the free trips I'd taken in the past had given me mixed results. When they're good, they're fun. When they're bad, you're stuck with a moral dilemma. Anyway, no one offered.

I grumpily managed my way out and into one of the co-ed toilet compartments, then squeezed into the incredibly small shower. I hung things from hooks and balanced my Aranui-provided towel and Sydney-provided flip-flops on top of the door opening.

I headed in late to breakfast and sat in the corner alone, but was soon joined by a pleasant British couple. After two cups of weak coffee, I was a little more human, which is good as I had to spend the day in the company of others touring two smalls towns on the island of Fatu Hiva.

We disembarked before the cargo unloading begain, and that's when I remembered my Antarctica trip. We'd had a hundred people then, and the hundred people descending onto an island to photograph penguins hadn't been anything like I imagined. And here in the Marquesas, we had somewhere between 160 and 200 people, all making a beeline for the handicraft center.

This was okay, in the end, but it took some getting used to. I was able to visit the church with Susan from Long Beach who was originally from the Bronx, and after we re-boarded the Aranui and sailed around this hilly green barely populated island, then hiked above the Bay of Penises with Vern from Lorton.

The Bay of Penises was beautiful on the scenic view department, but a total disappointment on the phallic front. The pinnacles in the surrounding hills reputedly look just like penises. Well, I suppose there are all shapes and sizes in the world, but the hills just looked kind of hilly and a bit rocky, not really phallic at all.

"I guess there might've been erosion," said Vern, doubtfully.

The missionaries had changed the name to Bay of Virgins when they arrived, which I could find even less justification for in the rocks.

We were rained on and sunned on over the course of the two small villages, and when we finally arrived at the pier for our barge back to the ship, a local woman was screaming a steady stream of obscenities at another local woman. This was a town of 200, so bad blood must be a tough thing, but fortunately, the town's policeman showed up quickly and intervened. I wonder what other crimes he'd had to solve. Missing pig? Cat up a tree? Container showed up with half a delivery of Coke?

The rain pattered on and off as we stood alongside the docking area on a concrete volleyball court, keeping an eye on the angry woman to make sure she was nowhere near us. The policeman stayed with her for a long time, talking her down, until she sat crying, her fury spent.

The barge slipped in between cargo deliveries and ferried us back to the ship for sunset.


  1. I had no idea you were not really comfortable with 100 people in Antarctica. Were you in a three-berth cabin? In any event, you were perfectly charming.

  2. Oh, no, the accommodations were fine. It's just...you imagine a lonely outpost, the farthest point on the planet. Then the reality is 100 people scrambling together around a patch of snow. If I could do it again, and I couldn't because the prices have gone far up since we were there, I'd do one where you get to kayak alone for an afternoon.