Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tattoos & Pamplemousse

I jumped off the boat and paddled in. It was every surf enabled cruiser’s dream. The swell comes into this bay and breaks right on the rocks. However, there is a secondary wave that’s formed when the big stuff bounces off the jetty. This wave runs perpendicular to the beach so when you take the left you are actually going away from the beach, back into the bay. First time I’ve ever seen that, and probably a contributing factor for what happened next. I broke another board. I snapped it right in half. I gave it to some kid who didn’t have one. I was strangely philosophical about it. Boards are born to break, and besides, I’m only here to create stories. If some kid thinks he just won the lotto cuz of my bad luck, then I can ride that karma boost for the rest of the day. Besides, at dusk his family drove him out in a boat and they gave me a huge potato sack full of pamplemousse, and a stalk of bananas as an extra bonus.

Captain Cook was here in 1769, and his men must have been terrified by how these natives appeared with their tattooed faces and huge powerful bodies. I have a tattoo on my right ankle that says “USA” in red, white, and blue. Before I was a dirty sailor, I took a turn as a filthy biker, and one summer, at the tender age of 19, I drove a motorcycle around the States with my friend Mark. I guess the similarities between sailing and cycling are readily apparent; the sense of freedom, the wind in your hair, etc. The tattoo seemed like the right thing to do, and here I am in the place where it all began. However, the engravings here, are monochromatic with highly stylized tiki-like designs. On an island of only 2,500 people I’ve already seen a few with face tattoos. Think; Mike Tyson, but with more ink, and on bigger men.

These people are behemoths. The first characteristic you notice are their feet (since everyone is barefoot). They are utterly huge. Like Hobbits, but with bodies to match. Then you notice the calves (30 lbs), and so on, up to the shoulders. You could put an oxen yoke on these men and it would fit. Most of the women look the same. They smile all the time and are so eager to converse, I hope they never see a Western fashion magazine.

I’ve anchored in some of the same bays The Endeavour did (I wish I had a metal detector), and tried to imagine what it must have been like for Cook and his sailors to discover this place. The direct translation for the Marquesan word for white man is, “long white pig.” They ate us, even though our calves are so small. We were the other white meat. The sense of wonder is still astounding 200+ years later. There’s no industry here. No resorts. No tourists. It’s so very inaccessible, that it’s remained unspoiled. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands LESS people now, due to the diseases that the European explorers brought. The population still hasn’t recovered more than 2 centuries later. You can’t say that about the rest of French Polynesia. It makes hiking a ghostly experience when one discovers an entire city that’s been left crumbling. So in a distorted way, the Marquesas Islands are even more untouched by man now, than they were.

These people are inherently kind. They take care of their appearance and property (rarely do I see litter), and the flowers in their hair are very charming. Have I witnessed drunks on the street or loud aggressive teenagers? – I’ve never seen even one. Anyone would be happy to have them as neighbors. The only problem I have with them is their infatuation with vowels. Just look at the names of their islands: Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva & my favorite, Oa Pou. Then there are the unpronounceable: Taioa, Meituua, Vaiehu, and of course; Taaoa. It sounds like Navajo, with the endless glottal stops. I can’t understand or be understood. Who cares? I smile and smile. These Marquesas Islands are utterly wonderful.

And now we are leaving them. French Polynesia is made up of 3 completely different island chains: The Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Society Islands. We’ve just began a 5 day sail to the Tuamotus. I love these long passages. They’re so exciting. I think I’ll grow my sideburns out.

P.S. / The finger healed on its own. Crooked and weak, it gets in the way of typing and knot tying. The doctor told me that I needed to have x-rays and a specialist look it over. Odds are I’ll need surgery, which means it will need to stay immobile for 6 weeks. I think I’ll leave it until I get to Australia, where I plan to wait out the cyclone season. Let’s hope I can get by with this goofy paw until then.

I remain,
Salty Bobby

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