Barter and Bananas in Fatu Hiva

This is our fourth day in Fatu Hiva. It truly is a tropical
paradise. The island has about 600 inhabitants, and the little
village that we are anchored next to probably has 150 of those
inhabitants. Everyone barters for goods. No one is interested
in money. We only wish we had stocked up on more goods to
trade. The big items to trade to get fresh fruit (pamplemousse
(like pomelos), bananas, papayas) seem to be soap, perfume,
earrings, hair dye, sun-glasses and flip-flops. Getting fish is
trickier, and in fact, we have not yet been able to swing a
deal. The fisherman want liquor, fishing lures, strong rope,
boat fenders, or, strangely enough- bullets! We don’t want to
give them liquor as we have heard that this leads to some pretty
bad behavior among the men (also it is illegal to trade), and we
don’t have spare fishing lures, rope, or fenders. We certainly
don’t have bullets. We are really trying to figure out what
they want the bullets for.

If you walk along the road there are mango trees, but
unfortunately we are a few weeks past mango season, so there is
not much to pick. Apparently you could pick all you wanted if
you arrived earlier. There are lots of lime trees, and you can
also pick your own pamplemousse and bananas as long as you are
careful not to take from someone’s personal yard. Yesterday we
traded one of my button down cotton shirts and a bar of soap for
a big stalk of bananas (about 50) and eight huge pamplemousse.
The lady that we traded with was just standing in her garden –
and we noticed that she had a huge pamplemousse tree, filled
with fruit, and on it she had hung several large stalks of
bananas. She was very shy, and sweet, and seemed quite pleased
with our exchange, even though what she really wanted were
sunglasses, earrings and nail files. When we were walking down
the road, another lady beckoned us over from her house. She was
dressed in her sarong and a ratty bra – I think she was quite
young, but she had a lot of grey hair and only a few teeth. She
wanted to arrange a trade with us. We didn’t seem to have
anything she wanted, and then she mentioned hair-dye. Bingo! A
deal was struck. I happen to have a dozen or so bottles around
the boat and so we arranged to do an exchange for fruit. I think
we will wait a few days until we finish up some of the stuff we
have on board first. When I think of all the old earrings, small
bottles of perfume, beaded necklaces and other valuables I
tossed when we moved out of our house I get upset. I could have
had a veritable boatload of fruit for that stuff.

Luckily, a few of the families do cook dinners for the boaters
in exchange for money ( hooray!). Our second night here another
boat helped organize a dinner party on shore at one of the
houses who apparently do this at least once a week. It was
great. There are anywhere from 15 to 20 boats in the harbour at
any time, and that night, people from 11 or 12 boats came to the
party. We knew almost all of them, and the few that we had not
met before, seemed familiar to us as we had seen their boats or
heard them on the radio. Since we all just made this huge
ocean crossing there is a strong feeling of camaraderie among
the boaters, so it was really fun to have dinner with them. It
was served on someone’s verandah – and the family had prepared a
feast of local food – raw fish marinated in coconut milk ( which
was delicious), chicken also cooked in coconut milk (very bony
chicken), pork with beans (yuck), barbecued bananas, bread,
rice, some type of salad ( no greens), barbequed breadfruit(also
an acquired taste) and pamplemousse for dessert. Some of the
cruisers brought wine. The husband of the family played ukelele
and guitar, and their little 3 year old did an incredible
Polynesian dance. There were several people there that we like
very much, particularly an Austrian couple on the boat Rishu
Maru who are traveling around the world with their 9 year old
son. They built Rishu Maru from wood and epoxy themselves. It
was really fun. It is interesting to note that we were the only
American boat in the group – the others were from Austria (3
boats), Germany, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Canada, South
Africa and Italy.

Our legs are still kind of weak from sitting on the boat so
long, but we have taken a few walks. The anchorage is known as
one of the most beautiful in the world, and it truly lives up to
its reputation, so we are not even that anxious to leave the
boat as the view is so amazing. The walks, however, are
incredible, as it does not take much to get up to a high
viewpoint and then the colors of green, the high peaks, the
jagged pinnacles, the black outcroppings, the smooth green
valleys, are all just simply astounding.

All of the boats arriving here have a thick layer of barnacles
and green scum that somehow accumlated during the voyage. We
took one look at our boat, and groaned thinking about how much
work it would be to scrape it all clean. Very fortunately for
us, however, there is another boat near us – Robyn’s Nest, with
a crew of 5 very young and energetic people who were anxious to
make some money and they offered to clean our boat for us. We
gladly agreed and two of them spent 3 hours bobbing and diving
in the warm water cleaning the boat to perfection.

You are supposed to check in with the local authority (the
gendarme) when you arrive here, and then apparently he gives you
only 2 or 3 days at most before he says you must leave and do
the official check-in at the more populated island of Hiva Oa.
Luckily for us, as soon as we got into the harbour
someone told us that the “gendarme” hangs around the dinghy
dock in the morning and tries to catch all the new boaters and
register them and give them their 48-72 hourwarning as soon as
they come. Since we are not anxious to leave this place, we
have been avoiding him by not going into town until late in the
afternoon. Whenever he finally catches us we will have to
pretend we just arrived. Apparently he doesn’t even have a
boat, and you can’t see the boats in the harbour very
clearly from the shore, so he doesn’t really know who is here.
We have been very straight with all official rules up to this
point on our trip, but we are going to have some big issues with
getting a three month visa here once we do officially check in,
so we want to stretch our pre-check in time as long as we can.
Not a bad place to hang out, that is for sure.

Last night, we had a funny exchange for food, but it was with
other yachties, not with the locals. Apparently word got out
that we have eggs on our boat. Believe it or not, but it is
impossible to get eggs here. So some of the other boats, with
women who like to cook, approached me to see what they could
trade with me to get a few eggs. We were thrilled to find that
they, unlike us, had caught so many fish on their trip that they
didn’t know what to do with them, and it was all in their
freezer. So we ended up trading 8 eggs for a large hunk of
fresh caught tuna. We finally had our fish dinner – and they
apparently made cornbread and mango bread (must be like zuchini
bread). Very funny. We had actually approached a fisherman on
shore yesterday evening and simply could not swing a deal with
him to get fish. Money? No. T-shirts? No. Coffee? No. He either
wanted boat line or bullets, so we just had to walk away.

Our second night here we came into town for a walk and found
that there was a village wide celebration in honor of the Virgin
Mary. Everyone in town was in the church, all dressed up, the
women in their mumus and the men in clean t-shirts and shorts.
They were singing some very pretty songs accompanied by the
ukelele and guitar. We wanted to sit in to listen to the
service, but we were on a mission. As we were taking our
dinghy into shore, another boat had frantically called us over.
They pointed to the boat in front of them, a large catamaran
called Miss Jody, and said that Miss Jody was dragging her
anchor. It looked like Miss Jody was going to be right on top of
the other boat, and then possibly onto the adjacent cliffs in a
very short time. They told us that the crew of Miss Jody were
on shore and asked if we could find them and tell them that
their boat was dragging. We had never met Miss Jody so we didn’t
know what they looked like, but there aren’t too many foreigners
here and we figured we could pick them out from the locals
easily enough. So when we got to shore, and saw everyone at the
church we just kept walking down the road trying to find these
people. We ended up having a lovely walk (our first walk on
land), but after an hour and a half it was getting dark and we
started heading back to town. Just as we got back to town we
found the people from Miss Jody, who had apparently been in the
harbour the whole time, just visiting other boats on their
dinghy, and their boat was ok. Then just a minute later the
entire village approached us, in procession, singing, and
carrying statues of the Virgin Mary, all adorned with flowers.
We joined the group ( along with several other yachties), and
really enjoyed the whole event – as they stopped at 3 different
flower adorned displays in honor of the Virgin Mary and sang
songs and prayers.

P.S. I can not begin to tell you how handy my French has come
in. Not only is it very fun for me, but it is unbelievably