Happy People in Nuku Hiva

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After Tahuata Island, we sail to Nuku Hiva- the biggest Marquisan island (330 sq km) and the second largest in all of French Polynesia after Tahiti. Like all the other islands of the Marquesas hotspot, Nuku Hiva is a young volcano, between 4 million and 400 thousand-years-old, without a barrier coral reef formed around it yet. 400 thousand years make it a baby of an island in geological terms (the Caribbean islands, in contrast, are about 50 million-years-old). Its dramatic jagged pinnacles and strangely shaped volcanic peaks haven’t been made smooth by the effects of weather and time yet.

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Taiohae is the capital and most populated city in the Marquesas, which we decide to skip, and sail instead to two of the island’s most secluded bays.

The first one, Anaho Bay, is on the north side of the island, not far from the place where Robert Louis Stevenson- the author of Treasure Island– first landed on his voyage in 1888.  And Herman Melville  (author of Moby-Dick) wrote his first book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life based on his experiences in Nuku Hiva.

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This is one of the most beautiful bays in Polynesia we have seen, with sandy beaches, palm trees, sharp rock formations and volcanic ridges in the background creating a dramatic breathtaking landscape.

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It takes us an hour to enter, slowly tacking in the deep bay, with the wind stopping completely at times, changing direction or suddenly descending accelerated from the mountains.

We spend there only a couple of days snorkeling, walking around the beach and looking for coconuts before sailing to Hakaui Bay on the south side, bringing a big yellowfin tuna with us. The waters around these most isolated South Pacific islands are rich with fish- catching large tunas, wahoos, dorados and marlins is not a rare exceptional event.

Once again we sail into the bay without turning on the engines, and drop anchor on sail. We are used to this now, after three years of practice.

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First, we slow down the boat by opening the sails (wind angle) or unclutching and letting out the main sheet completely if the wind is too strong, so that the mainsail catches lass wind. We choose the spot where we will drop the hook and slowly approach it. Ivo furls the jib quickly as we are close to the chosen spot and we turn towards the wind a few meters before we reach it. It takes some time before the boat stops completely. Maya drops the hook and we leave the mainsail up for a while so that the wind pushes it and the boat back- to set the anchor. Then we drop the mainsail. It’s almost the same like dropping anchor on engine, except that there is no margin for errors and maneuvering depends on the wind direction and force.

Here, we find once again our new friends from S/V Mercredi Soir and the German family with the two cute little girls aboard S/V Invictus and we share the big tuna with them aboard Fata Morgana- first of a series of epic parties.

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Hakaui Bay is a river delta and the staging point for hikers to the world’s third highest waterfall. Ivo and I take our awesome orange kayak for a spin, while Maya is in the dinghy with her friends Tom and Sam an hour behind us.

Entering the river from the sea is like entering a different world in the shadow of a green mountain. The kayak sliding silently, the river is dark and still. Large yellow flowers floating over their perfect reflections, a row of palm trees guarding the shores. We disturb a heron on the river bank and an eel beneath the water surface.

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The river flows slow, full and deep for a while until it reaches the garden of a small house and becomes shallow. We leave the kayak here attached to a tree. This land with all its fruit trees and large flowers, and this house surrounded by coconut palms, banana plants and shrubs with tiny red chili peppers belong to one family- an ever-smiling Polynesian woman, her over- hyper Polynesian man with tattooed face and their 12-years-old son.

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The path to Vaipo waterfall cuts through their property and they welcome hikers all the time, guiding them through the mountain, organizing dinners for cruisers and trading fruits.

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It’s late in the day and the path is muddy from the rain in the mountains so we, together with our friends, only hike to the first viewpoint from where we can see the waterfall- thin and tall- cascading down the mountain. To reach the waterfall, you need a guide, the path has to be dryer, and you have to start in the morning, as the hike is long and difficult. We are happy to see the fall from a distance and go back to talk some more with the extravagant locals at their river-farm.

Vaipo Waterfall

Vaipo Waterfall

The Marquesian people are closely and proudly related to the Maori people of New Zealand. In Polynesian mythology, their common ancestors come from Hawaiki – the original home of the Polynesian peoples. The Hawaiki people disperse across Polynesia, to the islands of the Pacific Ocean in open canoes, called waka. This is why even today the Maori and the islanders have so much in common- music, dancing, traditional tattoos, beliefs and mythology.

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The Polynesians are also the most welcoming people who meet strangers with open hearts and smiles on their faces, without prejudice or reservation. It is surprising to find such people after traveling halfway around the world and meeting all kinds of people- we didn’t believe they really exist- honest, open and warm, like happy children. They made us happy too.

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The crazy farmer and his wife are preparing dinner for a group of cruisers. Among them- the Muktuk Family with two boys born and raised on the boat- never lived on land. Their life is an epic never-ending adventure worth of a book.

The Muktuk kids

The Muktuk kids

All the ingredients the local farmers use for the cruisers’ dinner are stuff grown in their own garden or caught in their own backyard, which are the river, the ocean and the mountains. Fish and sea food prepared with fresh coconut milk, roasted chicken and goat meat marinated in fresh coconut milk, and a heartbreaking fruit salad containing unbelievable variety of local fruits soaked in fresh coconut milk.

These guys live off the grid in the most beautiful place on the planet. They have all sorts of fruits and vegetables in their huge garden right next to the river, they have coconuts which they use in all recipes and to make copra; they have pigs, goats, horses and chickens; they fish in the ocean and hunt wild boars and wild goats in the mountain; they organize traditional dinners at their house for cruisers for a few dollars; and they trade.

The next day we return for a visit bringing a few gifts for them and their son. They give us in return a bucket of pamplemousse – which are humongous super tasty grapefruits, piles of star fruits, coconuts, papayas and bananas which we pick from the trees ourselves. Stocked up with a mountain of fresh fruits, we are ready to sail again.

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We stage our crossing from the Marquesas to the blue atolls of the Tuamotu island group from Ua Pou- our last Marquisan Island.

Jilie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

Julie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

 

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*Watch our 12-minute YouTube video Off Grid in Nuku Hiva  – beautiful river delta and a waterfall, and meet our friends, the Muktuk kids, and the local Polynesian guy with face tattoo who lives in paradise. 

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Since you’re here …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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The Blue Hanamoenoa Bay in Tahuata

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Across from Hiva Oa, only 2.5 NM away, is Tahuata- the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Marquesas.

We sail to Hanamoenoa Bay- a pretty little bay just for cruisers with a nice glittering beach once visited by Captain Cook. The bay is shallow with white sand and warm, completely transparent turquoise water, like liquid glass. A few other boats are already here and a few more are coming behind us. It’s the time of the year when cruisers are crossing the Pacific Ocean and the Marquesian bays are full with arriving yachts.

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It has been months since we have last anchored in a bay of such clean warm water. I am trying to think… Las Perlas in Panama or San Blas? More than one year? We jump in as soon as we drop anchor and first thing’s first- Ivo starts scrubbing the hulls from all the nasty stuff – algae and barnacles- which have colonized the bottom of our Fata Morgana.

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The boat arriving shortly after us drops anchor and the guy jumps in the water with a spatula to clean the hulls too. EVERYONE with no exception comes to Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata to clean the hulls. Spontaneously, this place has become “the cleaning station” for all cruisers.

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While Ivo is busy working, Maya and I snorkel around. It’s such a pleasure to swim in 31C waters. There are a few corals near the rocky shores and colonies of tropical fish. But mostly the shallow bay is covered with white sand. Perfect holding for yachts. We swim to the beach.

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While Maya is joyfully playing with the waves I walk around. We heard that a really friendly guy named Steven lives here alone in a shack on that beach but he is not home. Maybe he gets really bored spending all his life on the beach with cruisers coming and going, so he went to visit his friends in the village further away. In any case, he didn’t come back the entire time we were in Tahuata.

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His house is just a basic wooden construction with open veranda raised from the ground about a meter. There is an outside table, a kitchen area with open fire, containers for storing water and other household stuff.

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There are also lots of fallen coconuts lying around. With a friend from Lithuania- Rugile sailing aboard S/V Moonshine, we decide to try and open a few. But these coconuts are Steven’s and he is not home. Maybe, he wouldn’t mind if we open a few, especially if we leave something in exchange? We bring canned beans and tomato paste which we leave on the property and with clear conscious we begin operation “Girls with Machetes”. Rugile hacks away pretty skillfully for a girl. Four of the big coconuts fill a 1.5L bottle. We stock up on delicious coconut water.

Rugile S/V Moonshine

Rugile S/V Moonshine

Tahuata bacame Maya’s favorite place in all of the Marquesas. Not only because the water is like a swimming pool and she spent more time in the water than outside the water- playing on the beach or snorkeling around, but also because here Maya met a couple of boat kids from Belgium- Tom and his sister Sam, cruising aboard a Catana catamaran Mercredi Soir.

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Here, we met another family aboard a 52 lagoon catamaran Invictus. With S/V Mercredi Soir (Belgium) and S/V Invictus (Germany) we became pretty inseparable and cruised together as a community from one island to the next, sharing fun and beautiful moments and helping each other in times of need.

Maya

Maya

Here, we also met for the first time S/V Moby and S/V Excalibur- two cruising families from France. We became good friends with them too and kept meeting them here and there on the Polynesian islands all the way to New Zealand.

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We shared our most beautiful memories of the South Pacific with our friends- stories and adventures in beautiful places I can’t wait to tell you about.

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tahuata*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video The Girl With The Machete in Tahuata for more beautiful views of the Hanamoenoa Bay and our time there snorkeling, playing on the beach, jumping from the rocks and KILLING COCONUTS WITH MACHETES!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
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Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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Checking-In in Hiva’Oa. The Island of Paul Gauguin

Atuona Bay, Hiva'Oa

Atuona Bay, Hiva’Oa

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.

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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!

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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.

Aranui

Aranui

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The largest ancient tiki ever discovered is on the island of Hiva’Oa in the Bay of Oipona Puamau.

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The Moai- monumental stone statues on Easter Islands- is a variant of the Tiki.

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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.

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How awesome is that these kids get to learn to play the drums and belly dance in school since age 5!

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A short hike away through the outskirts of the village at the foot of the volcano is the old cemetery.

Old cemetery, Hiva'Oa

Old cemetery, Hiva’Oa

But another cemetery attracts far more visitors.

Paul Gauguin's grave on Hiva'Oa

Paul Gauguin’s grave on Hiva’Oa

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?

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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.

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.*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!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana


Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!


 

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Back to Nature in Fatu Hiva

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We sailed 3000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.
Our average speed- about 5-6 kts- the speed you have when you go jogging casually in the morning. We honestly thought that upon our arrival in the first of the Polynesian islands, we will have “crossed the ocean”. Not really.

After 23 days of uneventful sailing, a few squalls, too much sushi, and the most spectacular sunsets, we arrive in the middle of the ocean- a tiny speck of land that you can’t even see on the map without a magnifying glass. Fatu Hiva- the first land on the path of sailors doing the Pacific Crossing from Galapagos- a place beyond reality.

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

We arrive at night and drop anchor between few other sleeping boats in the Bay of Virgins. The moon is full and bright and we can make out silhouettes of tall cliffs all around us. The smell of flowers and green earth. For the first time in almost a month we sleep at anchor, the boat still, land right next to us.

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In the morning we wake up in the shadow of a strange Jurassic world. Maya says it looks like the Khajiit Realm from her favorite game- Skyrim. The Khajiits are cat people who live in a place called Elsewhere and their king has three sons who are the three moons of this magical world. Fatu Hiva is much like Elsewhere of the Khajiits.

Jagged cliffs of frozen magma plunging into the sea; jungle-covered mountains bathed in pink morning mist rising over a thousand meters; soft folds of green valleys carved by rivers and ancient waterfalls.

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We won’t be surprised if a bunch of dinosaurs pop up from the forest. Actually, a velociraptor just swooped over the palm trees and we saw King Kong climbing up the cliffs on the west side of the bay!

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Right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 12 degrees south of the equator, Fatu Hiva is the southernmost island of the Marquesas island group at the north-eastern extremity of French Polynesia, and the most isolated one. It is only 85 square kilometers in territory with two small villages of a few hundred people and there is no airport. The island is accessible only by boat and tourism is virtually non-existent and limited mainly to cruisers, like us.

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We jump in our three-person awesome kayak and paddle to shore. Land feels strangely new and shaky. It’s hard to keep the balance. Our knees are startled. Our joints awake with disbelief. Our legs are utterly surprised at the forgotten act of walking.

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The dry warm air full of exotic smells is overwhelming.

The village near the bay is but a cluster of a few neat houses almost hidden behind drifts of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Lush gardens with papaya, banana and palm trees, large flowers the color of fire. Pigs, goats and chickens looking at the ground in search of goodies, a sleepy dog walking aimlessly under the bright tropical sun.

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The first Polynesian we meet is a woman sitting on a low concrete fence near the road. She looks like a mixture of Latin-American and Asian race, yet distinctly particular for the Marquisan islands. Dark long very thick hair, a large red flower behind the left ear, she smiles “Bonjour, bienvenues a Polynesie Francaise!” and asks us if we have some perfumes or makeup to exchange for fruits from her garden. Her French has a distinctive islanders’ accent. On these remote Pacific islands with small populations and no shops, where all goods arrive by boat a few times a year, people need all sorts of things, so easily obtained in continental countries. Anything basic- from makeup, clothes, household objects, food and spices- is difficult and expensive to get, and cruisers are always welcome to trade whatever they can spare in exchange for local fruits, vegetables and fish. But we didn’t bring anything to trade.

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We keep walking up a steep road looking for a small waterfall in the forest. Right before we left the boat, a fellow cruiser told us how to find the waterfall. You take the main road and walk up until you reach a curve. Keep walking on the path to your left, past the school and the bridge, through the forest. The path will get narrow and steep and difficult at places. You can’t get lost.

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We got lost. We keep walking on the road up the mountain under the burning sun and it feels the wrong way. There is absolutely no one to ask if we are on the right way to the waterfall. Maya is tired, complaining that her legs hurt. My legs hurt too, and the pain is intense- it has been 23 days of sitting on our butts most of the time and zero walking.

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We reach the top of the hill overlooking the village and the Bay of Virgins. Fata Morgana and her friends look like toy-boats in a calm blue lake below us. The view is spectacular. White birds with long tails like bridal veils soaring among majestic cathedral-like volcanic pinnacles gathering clouds in their crowns, dramatically shaped red and grey cliffs, lush green forests and valleys, and beyond- the endless blue of the ocean.

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Here, in 1937, Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife found paradise. Here, they lead for one year and a half “a primitive life in the wilderness, away from the artificial civilization, independent of everything except nature”, as he wrote in his book “Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature”- an experience for which I envy them.

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To our left, far in the distance on the opposite side of the mountain we spot the waterfall. We have been walking away from it for the past one hour and a half but the view from this hill is worth the detour. And now we have a better idea where it is. We go back down and meet an old guy walking next to an old horse carrying heavy bags full of dried coconuts. He tells us how to find the way.

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An hour later and one more time getting lost this time in some farmlands, we are finally on the right path.

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It has been a wild dream to see this place, to walk among a jungle full of flowers, to reach the waterfall. And now we are here. Bathing in the cool sweet waters of the deep green pool of our dreams.

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There are not so many places left in the world- awe-inspiring places of extreme natural beauty, unspoiled by civilization and mass tourism like the remote island Fatu Hiva and its elusive waterfall.

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*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video Fatu Hiva- Back To Nature for amazing views of the island and the waterfall!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

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