“Keep close to nature’s heart. Break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain… spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
To that quote, you might add visit the South Sea Islands, specifically the Marquesas. This is about as close to pure, unspoiled nature as one can get and yes, your spirit will feel cleansed.
A common dream or fantasy that many of us have is to “get away from it all” and your flight of fancy inevitably takes us to some idyllic South Sea island. Well, in the Marquesas there are no less than 15 islands, all grand, brooding, powerful and charismatic.
The Marquesas Islands, or Henua Enata, meaning “Land of Men,” are so secluded from any continent that they seem to be lost at the end of the earth. So now the question arises: how the heck do I get there? One word: Aranui. On a 14-day, 800 mile Aranui adventure cruise, the journey begins from Tahiti to the atoll of Fakarava, and then on to visit the inhabited islands in paradise before returning to Papeete.
The Aranui 3, which bills itself as “Freighter to Paradise” is, indeed, a working freight vessel, and a veritable lifeline to the remote, inhabited Marquesas islands, bringing supplies and provisions such as cement and sugar and picking up sacks of copra and fruit. When you consider a 14-day cruise on a freighter, you may have some qualms about comfort, food and shipboard life. Then, upon boarding, your trepidation will be quickly quashed as nearly 150 jovial passengers mingle for a satisfying lunch in a pretty dining room. The atmosphere feels charged with excitement of adventures to come– and you just know that all will be fine. Throughout your voyage, passengers are entertained, catered to, and feted; the Aranui seamlessly melds the freighter’s work with that of a fine cruise ship; it feels effortless.
Your Aranui adventure takes you to the island of Ua Pou. You’ll explore the tiny town of Hakahau with its splendid Catholic church and imposing hand-carved wooden dais. Lunch at Rosalie’s Restaurant affords your first chance to try breadfruit, a Marquesan staple (meh), as well as curried goat, barbecued rock lobster and sweet red bananas.
On to Hiva Oa and the second largest village in the Marquesas, Atuona. This is where Paul Gauguin lived, worked and died. And Jacques Brel, composer of such memorable songs as “If You Go Away” and “Marieke”- he, too, was seduced by Hiva-Oa and is buried there, as well. You’ll climb up the hill to the cemetery surrounded by jagged mountains and green jungle that flow down the slopes toward the sea. Your reward: a sweeping view of the harbor, the calm Pacific, and the blue purity that surrounds you, setting the mood for this moving site. Gauguin’s gravesite has a simple marker made of volcanic rocks, with “Paul Gauguin, 1903” scrawled in white paint; a few flowers are strewn about, along with a withered lei as decoration. Brel’s grave is adorned with a plaque showing dob/dod; he made sure that there would be a large bas relief plaque portraying his face and that of his significant other on the headstone.
The most lush and remote island of the Marquesas is Fatu Hiva. It is also a center of ethnic crafts and throughout the village you’ll see women hammering mulberry, banyan and breadfruit bark on logs which they then dry and paint, creating their famous tapa cloth. To reach the village of Omoa, you’ll experience a colorful jeep journey up winding mountain roads with hairpin turns provoking a truly white-knuckle ride. You’ll be glad for the distractions along the way: men on horseback, chickens and roosters standing in the middle of the road as though they owned it. On the side of the road you’ll see fat sows suckling their young and the ubiquitous stray dogs forever foraging for food.
Jeep over to Hiva Oa-Puamau, the most important archeological site for tikis – ancient, human-like religious sculptures like those on Easter Island. Wander among mysterious stone carvings located deep in the rain forest, the aroma of rank jungle and the tang of the sea teasing your senses. To make the island completely unforgettable, your guide will regale you with haunting myths and legends that surround this ancient civilization.
Tahuata, island of beautiful fragrance – frangipani to be exact. The first missionaries arrived in 1797 and the generous local chief left his wife with missionary John Harris with instructions that he treat her as his own. Unlike Gauguin who was besotted with the island girls, it seems for Harris not so much – he fled the next day. There is a magnificent church here, “Notre Dame de L’Enfant Jesus,” built by the Vatican and decorated with superb Marquesan carvings.
After visiting a few more islands, you’ll be on your way back to Tahiti, but not before enjoying the many pleasures of the Aranui: lying in a lounge on deck and zoning out whilst gazing at a forever sky with intricate patterns of blue and white and when in port, making good use of the on-deck pool. You’ll look forward daily to lunch and dinner, not the least reason being that you’ll be served all the wine you can drink. The festive parties on board are a hoot – one night a pareo party (you’ll all hve to dress in Tahitian garb) with a lovely buffet and a pastry table that yu won’t soon forget. Patisseries in Paris have nothing on this chef! Your picnics on the beach afford you the chance to swim and snorkel and, throughout, the crew keeps things cheery and comfortable.
Ahhh, spirit and soul washed clean. Mission accomplished!
Check out Marquesan and Tahiti events in NYC. Ok, this is the city, not Tahiti; however, it’s still lots of fun, and less expensive!
If You Go:
Aranui 3, Freighter to Paradise