We are anchored in the Bay of Virgins, Hanavavae on Fatu Hiva. It is stunning.
Sheer vertical cliffs rise thousand of feet from a compact valley floor cut by various streams. We hiked up the road that passes through the village at the head of the bay and followed its switchbacks to a hairpin curve high on the mountainside overlooking the bay. The narrow, winding road connects the only two villages on the island and was a dirt track until paved 2010. There was a remarkable change in climate at the higher altitude. The wind was dry and cool well above the coconut tree line. The slopes at that altitude were covered in low vegetation, mostly grass and sparse shrubs. Lower down, we had passed trees with many parakeets or lorikeets chattering away. At the top we looked down on tropic birds soaring across the valley below. The valley is enclosed by a collapsed caldera with a waterfall at the end. For those familiar with the Columbia Gorge, imagine Multnomah Falls X 3. Fruit trees of all sorts grow in abundance. Thai basil and chili peppers grow wild along the road, as do several varieties of orchid. The bay itself is a small V-shape that is entirely open to the western Pacific. So, although quite protected and safe, a significant swell rolls through causing all the boats at anchor to rock and roll continually. The shoreline is rock and cobble but a well-built quay to one side, that is protected by a short rip rap jetty, makes a dinghy landing possible.
In the morning cows graze under the coconut tree grove just beyond the cobble beach. A pod of dolphins swims through the bay among the anchored boats early in the morning and in the evenings. There are goats on the island, too. In a way the goats are the most amazing to watch. Semi-feral domestic goats live on the mountain sides, coming down in the daytime to graze and climbing up for the night. Dozens of goats can be seen in the evening on vertical rock cliffs that would require technical rock climbing for humans. They clearly head to favorite clefts in the rock face where they bed down for the night.
A small village occupies the valley floor with tidy homes and well kept gardens. The gardens are mostly fruit trees: bananas, pommelo and pampalmous (large citrus like grapefruit, but sweeter), citron (limes), small lemons, guava, jack fruit, mango, and papaya. What are obviously gardens are also not planted in the usual European or American manner of straight rows and rectangles, but in a rather organic fashion that seems to suit the environment. We see very few vegetables growing, although some sort of winter squash plant, obviously once imported, seems to do well along the road sides. There’s a tiny church a with rectory built of concrete block painted white, and a small building used, we think, for school. All are enclosed in a neat low-walled compound surrounded by individual homes. A public works project is underway and can be seen across the small river that cuts through the village. It looks like some sort of water works. The villagers have electricity, cell phone service and, somewhere, an internet connection. There’s a very tiny store stocked mostly with sweets, canned goods, and very limited dry goods. As we walked down the main road of the village, we were passed by a teenager on a bike with a laptop slung across his shoulders; he stopped briefly to greet us and ask “Vous cherchez quelque chose?” (Are you looking for anything?). Sadly, no. Everyone we pass greets us with either a “bonjour” or “kahoa” – and friendly smiles. Every evening at 5:00 the church bell rings and the door – visible from the anchorage – opens to admit parishioners for the evening service.
This afternoon was a comedy and affirmation of community. There are about a dozen sailboats anchored in this small bay. It is known for an iffy holding bottom and williwaw winds that blast down the steep mountain sides. Due to the strong winds this morning we delayed and delayed rowing ashore. In the early afternoon one of the French sailboats began to drag its anchor and drifted through the fleet. A young Australian couple in a dinghy zoomed over, picked up a third from a New Zealand boat, and raced out to the drifting sailboat. By this time the drifting boat was coming up upon another anchored boat, which was fending off as best it could. Another boat crew joined in with their dinghy. In the end they boarded the drifting boat, started the engine (labels and switches in French!), retrieved the anchor, and anchored again securely. The good samaritans then went about their business, which was departure for another destination. The subject boat crew came back from a long hike ashore to find their own boat secure in a new position – thankfully not adrift at sea. And the good samaritans now long gone.