Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 13th – Dry Land at Last in Nuku Hiva

An island as remote and unspoilt as Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands doesn't change much. In a sleepy place of less than 3,000 people, the pace of life slows down to a virtual standstill, and you get to appreciate the simple pleasures in life – warm sea breezes, friendly people, and some truly spectacular scenery. To be honest, if you want something more than the simple pleasures in life, you're in the wrong place!

We joined the ship's tour that took us out of the island's quiet capital Taiohae, and into the precipitous hills that make up most of this volcanic island. Taiohae is surrounded by a ring of jagged mountains (making up the crater of a former volcano), so our drive out of town was incredibly steep – pretty much every car here is a 4 x4 by necessity.

Once we'd got up to the top, we stopped to enjoy the amazing views back down to town, with its bowl-shaped harbour playing host to the Silver Whisper, looking like a little dot in the distance. From there, the landscapes flattened out a little, before we descended into the fertile Taipivi Valley – which had loads of coconut plantations, banana and other fruit trees, and hardly any people. Before the westerners arrived, the valley would have been home to thousands of Polynesian tribes people, but sadly the impact of western diseases almost wiped out the island's inhabitants completely.

Vaccination programmes in the early 20th century stabilised things, but the biggest problem these days is emigration – mainly to the "bright lights" (such as they are) of Tahiti. Nevertheless, as long as you like peace and quiet, then this is a good place to live – crime is a rarity, so the team of 4 local policemen and 5 French gendarmes don't have a lot to do. Seeing a "Je Suis Charlie" slogan was a sad reminder of what a dangerous world we live in, but also a reminder of how far removed from many of the cares of the world that a place like this is

Perhaps the biggest problem with living here is the high cost of living – petrol is 280 Francs per litre (£1.81, $2.76, or €2.34), while the price of a small beer ($5.00) was enough to turn you tea-total. However, the people seem content with their lot, and they live peaceful, uncomplicated lives where everyone knows everyone.

After the tour, as we wandered around town, we called in at one of the few restaurants in town for a much-needed cold beer (it was H-O-T today), and the local speciality dish - a delicious poisson cru. How the locals afford these prices is a mystery to me, but after 7 days at sea, I think we deserved a bit of a treat.

Finally, we made sure we got back on board in time for the local show in the Viennese Lounge. It was a wonderfully exuberant display of the local culture, song and dance - full of energy, precision and enthusiasm. A great end to our first port of call on this World Cruise.