I am having the most wonderful time sailing with Paul Emily and Justin on Tin Tin.
As I got off the plane, the tropical heat and smells hit me . I didn't know what to expect ... And am discovering the most deserted tropical volcanic islands: wild, covered in rich tropical vegetation , forests, banana and coconut groves. When the first settlers came through the gradual migration from south east Asia centuries ago there was nothing edible , so every plant since had to be introduced : predominantly fruit to the Marquesas and vegetables to the Society Islands ... All of which are now prolific with scores of different varieties of each.
The people are quite amazingly welcoming and plying us generously with fruit from their laden gardens and patches with expectation of nothing in return . They are without exception completely open and delighted to stop us , share and chat . Emily and I have enjoyed two different rides on ponies that abound in the Islands. At one time they were the only means of transport , or on foot , climbing over great passes to link communities . Through this and other hikes and two hire jeeps ( over very rough tracks ) and of course anchoring off bays with tiny communities , we have really explored and learnt a lot leaving a sense of enormous respect for a life still living very much on the edge.
All other produce is eagerly awaited from the monthly visits of the cargo ship Aranui who circulates around all the Polynesian archipelagos from Papeete bringing everything else they need. The "shops" on delivery days are emptied almost immediately of any other fresh " produce "!
I can't quite believe that Paul has sailed all this way from England , and whilst meeting local people it is also astonishing to meet other boats of all nationalities who have amazing stories to tell ... The Marquesas islands are the first landfall in the long passage across the Pacific . Tin Tin has definitely the shortest voyage at sea from leaving "home", whilst many have been at sea for a few years or many more ..... Taking in different passages , different continents and different experiences .
What is amazing is the resourcefulness of every crew . As one pilot guide commented "almost any boat will do " and that is the case : every shape and size , and condition. There are few, if any, boatyards except at the capital Papeete in Tahiti . Crews ( from all nationalities ) are all congenial and happy to share experience , advice , knowledge and lend or give spare parts, no less in Tin Tin who are skilful and ingenious in their problem solving and fixing .
Being a fair weather sailor the conditions are bliss . Wherever we are anchored there seems to be a light breeze , and almost every day and night there is intermittent and torrential rain ( it is the end of the wet season ) ., hence the islands' lushness! If one embraces these , they are a lovely shower to cool by . Walking in the forests or hills though is hot and sweaty and mostly muddy , and everywhere you are beset by mosies. Nonetheless always rewarded by a richness of plant life and views of commanding peaks and hidden bays. Birds are becoming more populous seemingly as we head northwards. Each island has a small group of indigenous species and a few common ( esp sea birds) . There are no mammals or harmful reptiles or insects except for one little pesky "No No". which are viscous invisible sand flies on the beach . I am afraid I have resorted to deet as the only sure way of avoiding attack. Others have resorted to large consumption of marmite ( Brewers yeast which I had forgotten does the trick too )
My only other regret was relying on the lonely planet guide of Polynesia to kindle . It is so hard to navigate a guide which isn't a BOOK!
The history if the lands is extraordinary : 130 islands ( of which 76 are inhabited with in some cases just one family . The population ( virtually an untouched civilisation ) was gradually decimated from around 18,000 in 1842 to 2096 in 1926 ( ie only in one century ) through disease brought by traders , missionaries, and settlers. It is extraordinary to realise that these people ( to us similar to pre Romans 2, 000 years ago ) existed in their purest form so recently in the world's history . There are many many Archeological sites, standing testimony of such a recent "ancient" past . Herman Melville's " Typee " is a great story to evoking life in indigenous people as the first settlers found them ( which has been compulsory reading for all of us !) The islands changed hands between the Spanish , Americans , and finally Annexed now to France ( since 1842) who has the usual maternalistic view of an existing colony.
Now there is a population of 280,000 in total, most who live on Tahiti especially the young , many hoping to make their fortune in the bigger metropolis, thus leaving only 8,000 in the marquesas and 13,000 in the Tuamotus. The former are still remote and wild , the latter becoming more popular through tourism the clearest and healthiest reefs left in the world, with the idealised coral atolls , palm fringed beaches and 400 species of fish , almost all to be seen by diving or snorkelling. We are heading there in the next three hundred miles down wind over the next few days . After a week or so dodging reefs, we will head for the Society Islands (Tahiti and its neighbours ) though there are other archipelagos , and from here to Australia and New Zealand and Indonesia there are thousands of island groups .........