Nuka Hiva R & R. And a fair amount of S.

At the end, we spent a few weeks on Nuka Hiva.  In truth, we didn’t DO a lot but it was a lovely stay.  There will be one more Nuka Hiva post – but I warn you up front this is about the mundane bits of our first few weeks of life in French Polynesia.  Be happy this covers only one post; I gotta fill three weeks here!

“S” is for School

One of the complications we’ve had since going cruising is school, in particular school for Will.  In order to take some needed courses we had to sign up for “on line” versions of them.  We were assured that even with our sporadic internet access there were ways to manage these courses, and in fact there was another cruising teen taking these sorts of courses.  The practical reality we found though was that this was not the case, without a decent internet connection one simply can not do these courses.

Of course in most places you can get internet if you go into a café or pub, but these are not conducive places to do things like study AP Physics or Trigonometry.  Especially when parental involvement is needed – we need the quiet of the boat away from the bustle if at all possible which means someplace with a decent and reliable WiFi signal.  Work can sometimes be done on shore in desperation but it is far from optimal.

We loved the Galápagos, but boat WiFi was virtually nonexistent in any of the harbors.  And we spent six days getting there and almost a month in the islands.  And sixteen days sailing off shore from the Galápagos to Nuka Hiva.  By the time we reached the Marquesas it had been nearly two months since Will had a solid internet connection to work with for more than a day or two at a stretch.  So with a reasonably comfortable anchorage with a good Wifi source on land we needed to hunker down and make some serious inroads on some of these courses.   Catching up on school became the driving force in our “where to go next” decision making process.

I Can Speak Again!

One highlight of French Polynesia…everyone speaks French!  After months of sputtering, stuttering and playing charades in Panama and the Galápagos I can finally communicate with the locals again.

Of course now I have to forget all of the Spanish/Spanglish I picked up over the last five months – especially things like the “short words”, e.g. small numbers, please, thank you etc.  I still find myself swallowing the occasional “gracias” in favor of a “merci”, but all in all it is a pleasure to be able to speak in mostly full sentences, articulate complex thoughts with more eloquence than Tarzan, and understand more nuanced instructions.

Please note that this does NOT apply to Polynesian, Tahitian,  Marquesan, Tuamotoan or of the other languages from this part of the world.  Which are in use around here as well as French.  There are altogether too many vowels, and there seems to be a tendency to give really similar names to places that are near each other on the same island.  For example Taiohae Bay is all of five miles away from Taioa Bay.  This same island has a Hatiheu Bay right near Haatuatua and a Hakea Bay.  You see where this is going…we have a pronunciation guide, I should record myself trying to SAY some of these things if you really want a howl.

Taiohae Bay

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Taiohae Bay from above. Evenstar is that little speck on the outside of the anchorage in the top left…

The town in Taiohae Bay is the administrative center for both Nuka Hiva and the Marquesas.  Nuka Hiva is one of the most populous islands in the Marquesas with about 2,500 people on it.

Town isn’t huge, but it boasts a post office, a bank, several restaurants, a boulangerie (French Bakery),  at least three markets, a pharmacy, a dingy dock where you don’t have to take your life in your  hands to get off your boat, and a public market area.   Freshly baked baguettes are available every morning but Sunday, though you have to get up early to make sure you get them.  It is a nice place to stay at all even if it is a little small.

There are certain quirks and oddities one must get used to now that we are seriously on island time.  For example pretty much everything closes for lunch time.  The stores and markets close and lock their front doors and turn off the lights from around noon until about 1:30 p.m. – you pretty much can’t get anything done at lunch time.  The bank closes, and sometimes they shut the ATM’s down during lunch too.

Money Matters

We learned this about the banks and ATMs our first day in town when we needed 75 French Polynesian Francs (the XPF about 80 cents in USD) in order to mail our clearance papers to Tahiti.  We just arrived over the weekend and were clearing on Monday morning – all the government offices are closed on the weekend.  After clearing in our agent gave us a slip of paper we had to mail.  We ran into friends while clearing in and ended up talking while standing around the gendarmerie until after 11:30 when whoops, the Post Office closes for lunch.  I walked down to the one bank and tried the ATM…it wasn’t working.  I asked directions to another bank and got sent back to the Post Office, where that ATM wasn’t working.  OK, no problem – I went back to the boat and collected Kathy and the kids to come in and check out the town.

The U.S. dollar isn’t much accepted in this part of the world, you really need the local currency.  Maybe you can get away with Euros but no one much wanted our greenbacks.  So our first quest, before we could even find someplace for lunch, was to find some place we could get some Polynesian Francs.

The XPF, by the way, is still the biggest mental adjustment to currency yet.  Our banks give us about 87 XPF’s to the dollar.  Which means that things like a local grapefruit are priced at 100 Francs, and it is not uncommon to get a restaurant tab of 7-8,000 XPFs.  It’s also…odd to be telling the ATM to give to 50,000 of anything!

Our first day in town though, we were hungry and needed to mail our clearance.   When I first struck out at the ATM’s I figured it would be like the U.S., where they close them for 10-15 minutes while they reload the cash.  Silly me.  We checked several times for the ATM’s to come back after walking all over town, they were still closed and we were no closer to lunch.  Finally we decided to wait for the bank to open and I could cash in the couple of hundred USD I had in my wallet for local money – we’d found a likely restaurant next to the bank and we decided to just wait on the front step of the bank for them to re-open at 1:30.   The bank reopened at 1:30…island time…which was more like ten minutes to two.  At the same time the ATM’s started working.  I’m guessing they were filling up the money from 1:30 – 1:45 then they opened the banks and the ATM.  Oh well…we got our money and we got our lunch!

That doesn’t mean that any and all future attempts to get additional cash didn’t feel a bit like pulling the roulette lever…sometimes the bank card that worked yesterday didn’t today!

Quest for Baked Goods

French Polynesian bakers are all insane.  Or at least we thought so when we first arrived here in French Polynesia.  We were told that if we wanted to get baguettes we had to get to the store by 7:00 a.m.  Hmm.  We can do that.  It is a bit early but we can get up, ride the dinghy in, and walk to the store that sells them by 7:00.  Apparently there is some sort of government subsidy for baguettes, throughout the islands they are readily available, cheap, pretty much the same price (67 XPF or about 80 cents) and really good.  IF you can get up early enough there are hundreds of baguettes in a huge pile.  But everyone in town descends like a plague of locusts in the wee hours and cleans the place out.

When I first arrived in Nuka Hiva I asked in a store if there was a Boulangerie (French bakery…pretty much ubiquitous in France) in town somewhere, as I’d read about one but did not see it.  I wanted to find the boulanger because not only are we fond of baguettes but they also produce many other fine baked things like pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), chaussons pommes (kind of like an apple turnover but with a much lighter and flakier crust), torsades au chocolat (a flaky crusted twisted thing with chocolate in it) and many other delights.  I was told the baker was closed, when I expressed my surprise that there was no baker in town any more it just got a head shake.

The reality was a little more variable.  The magazin (store) that sells the baguettes always has them early – but they don’t always sell out right away.  They cost a little more than the boulanger but they are there. And some days the bread goes early, other days you can walk in at 2:00 in the afternoon and there are still a few baguettes to be had.  Mondays are the worst since there isn’t bread on Sunday and everyone makes a mad rush Monday morning.   And the store did have a very small assortment of chaussons pommes, pain au chocolate and torsades.  Sometimes.

It turned out there WAS a boulangerie in town, but he was generally closed by 7:00 a.m. (as in in the morning).  We came in there one morning at around 7:00 looking for pastries and they were completely sold out of everything but bread.  But they did very nicely tell us we could place an order for the next day which we did.  And it was all there the next day, except the chaussons pommes which they just didn’t make that day.

We’ve since figured out a few things, not the least of which is that it gets light every early here and it gets dark really early too.  As in 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.  So apparently the boulangers like to do all their work in the dark when it is cool, sell their goods early and be done for the day.  This is quite a contrast from the way most bakeries we’ve been used to, but we finally figured out the Early Bird gets the chaussons pommes.  Sometimes.

We Do Some Fun Things

Lest you think that our visit to Nuka Hiva was all shopping and school work, I will let you in on a secret – we did some fun stuff too.  That’s a separate post…but I will leave you with a teaser that includes:

  • Car rentals, island tours, and the scariest road straight out of Motor Storm: Pacific Rift we’ve ever been on.
  • Native dancing
  • Kid & Friend Boats
  • A trip to a nearby harbor
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