From Fatu Hiva we sail to the next Marquesian island some 45 nautical miles away- Hiva Oa.
Hiva Oa is one of the largest and most populated islands in the Marquesas, and the Port of Atuona is one of the official ports of entry for yachts and ships. Here we check-in officially in French Polynesia. The checking-in procedure for French Polynesia is different for different people. If you are traveling with a European passport- it’s free to check in at the local Police station and you can stay 6 months (or forever if you are French). You go to the local Gendarmerie with your passport and boat papers and you sign a form- it takes 15 minutes.
If you are traveling with Canadian, American, South African and other not so lucky passports- you have a few options: to pay a deposit at the bank (which will be returned to you months later when you leave French Polynesia; payable ONLY by credit card) and show that you have funds (around US$5,000 for a family of three) in case something happens to you and you have to be put on a plane and flown out of the country; or you have to show that you have bought a return airplane ticket- even if you are sailing with a yacht; or you have to hire an agent who will become your guarantor. Americans and Canadians can stay for maximum 3 months, while South Africans- 2 weeks only!
You lose money in all cases. In the first one (security deposit)- you lose mainly from the money exchange fees and bank fees (over US$150, depending on money exchange rates at the time of the transactions). In the second option, if you buy a ticket for a plane- you can cancel and refund it right after you check-in with a cancellation fee (this is the cheapest option- about US$20-25 cancellation fee). If you hire an agent- you have to pay US$300 for his service and you have to have a valid health insurance.
Ivo and I are born in Bulgaria (Europe) and Maya is born in Canada, but our Bulgarian passports have expired and we couldn’t renew them, because there were no Bulgarian embassies nowhere on our way. We tried in Panama- at the Bulgarian Consulate, but they don’t have passport service there- so no luck. We are traveling with our Canadian passports.
The guy at the Police station in Atuona tells us, that they cannot recognize our European citizenship which we have by birth right, unless we present a valid European passport (not expired). So we need to go to the bank and pay a deposit, buy a plane ticket or hire an agent.
Our ordeal begins. We start going between the bank, the police and the agent; friends are trying to help us with the many issues that come up.
At one point, about two weeks later (still not checked-in), I ask at the Police station what will happen if we don’t check-in at all and keep sailing from island to island? Will they arrest us, confiscate our boat? Put us in jail? – No, says the police officer, I don’t know what will happen…
Nothing will happen, most probably. Later we met a couple from the United States who have never checked in and have remained for three years in French Polynesia planning to stay for at least two more.
Finally our only option is to hire and agent. But we don’t have health insurance. So we get DiverDAN for the family- recommended cheapest option. And we pay the agent fee which is killing us… For a second time we regret not having valid Bulgarian passports- the first time was in Colombia.
More than two weeks after our arrival, we are finally legally checked-in and free to keep sailing and exploring the rest of the islands and atolls of the South Pacific.
We use our time while stuck on Hiva’Oa to walk around the island and chill.
We hitchhike from the port to the village almost every day. Everywhere in French Polynesia hitchhiking is the best, fastest and free way to go from one place to another (if the island is big enough to have roads). Friendly people on all of the bigger islands gave us rides all the time.
In the village of Atuona, we marvel at some awesome sacred wood and stone carvings called tikis. Tiki in Maori and Polynesian mythology, is The First Man- half human half god- created by god Tumatauenga.
Tikis are protective statues considered the “patron of sculptors”, with huge head, symbolizing power and big eyes representing knowledge. Every tiki has its own personality- some are evil, others are benevolent.
Tiki is a powerful icon of Polynesian culture, symbolizing spiritual strength, and visitors of the islands buy small tiki figurines or pendants as souvenirs- to protect them in their journey.
The largest ancient tiki ever discovered is on the island of Hiva’Oa in the Bay of Oipona Puamau.
The Moai- monumental stone statues on Easter Islands- is a variant of the Tiki.
As we walk around Atuona marveling at the majestic scenery all around us, we hear music- wild rhythms that make you want to start jumping and dancing around the fire. The kids in the local school are practicing for a school celebration and they let us watch. This is our first glimpse of Polynesian dance and music- savage, sexy and full of stories.
How awesome is that these kids get to learn to play the drums and belly dance in school since age 5!
A short hike away through the outskirts of the village at the foot of the volcano is the old cemetery.
But another cemetery attracts far more visitors.
On a hill overlooking the bay is the grave of post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Calvary cemetery has become a major tourist attraction, besides the Gauguin Museum down in the village with reproductions of his paintings. All tourists coming here climb the hill in heat or rain to pay homage to the famous painter who “escaped western influences” and returned to nature to find paradise lost. Yet, the locals are not too sure about Gauguin and his legacy. What were this French man true motives to buy a house and live in Hiva’Oa?
The Marquesan islands became famous shortly after their discovery by early European explorers as “haven of free love”. The islanders’ unique culture and way of life included a very different attitude towards sexuality. Children and parents shared quarters and it was OK for kids to witness their parents having intercourse. The adults even found it amusing and funny when children simulated sexual acts, and encourage them to do so from very early age. This explains why European ships were met with swarms of young girls, for whom virginity or chastity was not a social construct, climbing aboard to have sex with the sailors. It also explains why a middle-aged painter whose many Marquesan lovers were barely adult girls, died of syphilis in 1903.
*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video More Sushi in Hiva’Oa for more stories from the island- meeting a guitar maker, the arrival of Aranui, looking for an ancient petroglyph in the forest and sharing some MORE SUSHI with friends!
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