Monday, December 19, 2011

Stupid Ship Tricks

Everyone on the ship, including the guides, was up and out on deck at six this morning.

We were all dressed and gawking with our cameras—the Aranui was performing a cool party trick this morning and no one wanted to miss it.

On approach to 'Ua Huka's bay of Vaipaee—which is rightly named Invisible Bay since it has a narrow mouth and doesn't really look like a bay until you're right up next to it and can see that there's a narrow passage between the cliffs—is too narrow to navigate the ship through. So the Aranui sits just outside of the inlet and sends cargo and us passengers in on barges. But 1) the ship has to get out of there later and 2) the ship could drift into the cliffs without constant vigilance, so the crew perfoms a fancy 180-degree turn first, effectively reversing into the bay, nose out. Then, to keep the Aranui in place between the cliffs, one of the crane operators wanders up into this cage as two crew members dons safety harnesses and hop into one of the green-and-white whaleboats.

This boat is then lowered into the sea, where the crew members detach the crane chains from the whaleboat, swap their safety harnesses for life jackets, start up the engine, and then take a rope lead that is unspooled from the back of the restaurant deck. They speed over to the cliffs with the rope, and one man then hops out of the whaleboat with the rope, which he loops over a huge permanent peg. Another rope is placed there as well, and then the crew does the same thing on the opposite side. The ship can then drift no farther than the give of the rope on either side, and can safely stay put.

We didn't go to shore at six a.m. We ate breakfast, showered, and prepared for our days as soon as the docking maneuver had ended. Then, at 8:15, passengers boarded the two barges 35 people at a time for our visit to the 'Ua Huka, one of the less frequently visited islands of the Marquesas. There, we piled into pick-up trucks for a ride to Vaipaee's small but excellent museum and arboretum.

Vern and I both headed for the first pick-up truck. He'd worked out before I had that you get the choicest handicrafts by being first on the scene and by sticking with the ship's guest lecturer, who normally works at a museum in France, but I'm a fast learner. We didn't just get in the first truck. We got in the first truck alongside the guest lecturer.

"Hey, there's a ukelele in my seat," I exclaimed. Our driver, it turned out, was also the musical accompaniment for Vaipaee's welcoming committee.

At the museum, women placed flower or seed leis around our necks.

"Is that the handicraft center?" I tried to act casual as I spoke to our guest lecturer.


Vern and I headed straight over and picked up the best pieces. He decided to buy two of them while I went for wooden tikis.

The museum, meanwhile, turned out to be run by one of the region's top sculptors, who sat behind its front desk. He'd collected artifacts from as far away as Papua New Guinea and had them all labelled and displayed. We browsed war clubs, spears, tikis, and ax heads before watching a welcome dance and then loading back into the trucks to ride over to the botanical garden.

The garden, or arboretum, houses all kinds of trees, many of them fruit-producing. Today's guide, Steven, shimmied up trees for us to pass down oranges, avocados, starfruit, and mangoes.

Mmmm, mangoes.

Our next stop was another handicraft center, in the village of Hane. Why mess with a winning formula? Vern and I headed in. I grabbed a herminette, another one of those war club-type things like the one I'd been wanting so badly a few days back at the Marquesan Arts Festival. This one wasn't as rarely exquisite, and I didn't personally know the carver, but it also wasn't $250 like that one had been. This one was $60. I held it in my hand, thinking about if I needed it.

Cedric from the dorm wandered by. "Don't put it down," he said. "Someone else will snap it up."

He was right. Others were hungrily oogling my herminette.

"If I buy this, it's going to be an albatross all the way home" I said to Cedric.

"But look at the price."


I bought it. I now have a decorative herminette that is three-quarters my height. One end has a pointy beak on it, and the other has a pointy horn, or maybe bone. Neither end is suitable for shipping or carry-on, or even for packed luggage.

But it was only $60.

Lunch was a smorgasbord of all things fishy down the road in Hane (no, I didn't eat much with my seafood allergy), followed by a choice of a hike up to look at a tiki or the handicraft center of Hokatu. The Aranui crew had untied the ropes and sailed the ship around to meet us at Hokatu. The surf here was rough and wild, the coast similar to the rugged coast of Easter Island—even wild horses wandered around. There was no pier or dock or boat launch. The Aranui crew came to fetch the passengers in the whaleboats, so we had to pick our way along the rocks, then wade into the surf to twist around onto the boats.

One of the crew startled me by swinging himself up onto the boat—out of the sea and over the side. Where had he come from? He was wearing swim trunks and a hard hat, which made me laugh.

The whaleboats were smaller than the barges, and it took more trips to get everyone back on board the Aranui.

We chugged away from 'Ua Huka at four, passing two craggy islets some twenty minutes later. These were Teuaua and Hemeni, protected homes to thousands of terns, called kaveka. The birds chattered like mad and flew above their cliffs in giant swirls. They look like specks of dirt in my photos.

We'd had a long-day of excursions under the hot sun.

But there was no time for sleep. Tonight was Polynesian Night.

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