I have always liked tattoos, Polynesian style in particular. Living in Florida isn’t the best place to find a good Polynesian artist, so when I was invited on this trip one of the first things I did was start researching tattoos and artists of French Polynesia. A name kept appearing as one of the best in all of the South Pacific, Felix Fii. All the research said that Felix lived on Tahuata in the Marquesas, where a lot of amazing Polynesian artists come from. This island was then added to our Itinerary.
All the planning and research on Felix turned out to be pointless because we were told by numerous people that Felix had left Tahuata for Papeete, Tahiti, probably to make more money tattooing tourists. Not wanting to wait another two months until we make it to Tahiti we decided to get some tattoos in Fatu Hiva by a very talented artist. After the tattoos we figured we might as well stick to the plan and go to Tahuata anyway because it was on the way to our next island, Nuka Hiva, and would break up the 120 mile trip nicely.
The sail from Fatu Hiva to Tahuata was pretty intense. The trade winds whip around the points of the islands and increase in strength. This mixed with the islands heating up in the sun and creating wind of their own caused the breeze to be very strong that day. We saw 40 knots at some points and even with all sails reefed, Delos was heeling 25-30 degrees constantly. Trying to move around and do simple things like eat or fill up a glass of water is not easy. It’s like being really drunk in a fun house that is continuously moving.
After the 8 hour sail we set the anchor in the bay of Hapatoni, Tahuata. Our friends, Eric and Liz, on Secret Agent Man were also anchored there and had actually been at a local wedding all day so we put the dinghy in and headed for town. We were happily met by all the local children playing on the dock. They took our dingy line and after we tied it up they were eager to jump into it and play with the paddles. We walked away hoping everything would be working and floating when we returned. What happened next was completely unexpected.
As we walked down the main road that followed the bay we came across a little concrete building with a bunch of guys sitting next to it in somewhat of a circle, singing and swaying back and forth. We then saw Eric pop up from the circle and come to say hi. He was eager to introduce us to his friends he had been hanging out with the past couple days and at the wedding earlier. Everyone had apparently been drinking boxed wine and smoking Paki-lo-lo (marijuana) all day. Goodn like tt was about 3 p.m. on a Sunday and most of these guys couldn’t stand up straight. I felt almost back home. walked closer to the circle I spotted Jauquim (from Hanumenu on Hiva Oa), his eyes barely open. He recognized us right away but had problems with our names. At first he stood up and came to shake my hand, calling me “brother”. I, of course, thought he meant brother as in “hey bro”. Nope, he actually thought that was my name. After figuring this out and reminding him I was Brady he then pointed to Brian and said “brother”. I said yea, of course thinking that he meant it in the “that is your brother” sort of way. A few times of him calling Brian brother was enough to make us realize that’s what he now thought Brian’s name was. We corrected him and tried to get the point across that we were brothers, family. He already knew this from the first time we met him in Hanamenu, Hiva Oa but I guess the boxed wine and paki-lo-lo had fogged his memory.
It was like showing up to a bar too late, right when they are about to close. Everyone had been drinking for hours and were giggling and singing and there we were, sober, just hanging out. The boxed wine did get passed around quite often which helped a little bit. Maybe an hour had gone by before people started to stagger off. One guy even stayed sitting there for a nice nap with his chin buried into his chest.
Most of these guys lived on other islands, like Jauquim. They were all related one way or another. I guess that’s what happens in a group of islands in the middle of nowhere. One of the guys, Mark, who was the uncle of someone’s cousin who was the brother of the groom, or something like that, seemed to have things under control enough to tell us there was a cookout the next day and we should come in for it. We headed back to Delos trying to make sense of what we were just involved in.
The next day Brian and I went in to check out the cookout. Erin didn’t come because the day before she was the only girl hanging around about 20 drunk Marquesan guys. So I don’t blame her. It seems that for a couple days after the wedding the men and women don’t interact a whole lot. When Brian and I went in we found the women working on Tapa and other crafts in a covered area while the men were out back behind the food, just as wasted as the day before, playing music and sitting around. It was about noon so Brian and I figured that they must have taken a little nap and then started the boxed wine and Paki-lo-lo business all over again. We sat with them, ate some amazing food and listened to them play music. It was still pretty awkward for us because of the language barrier but we hung out long enough not to be rude, occasionally trying to take pictures and video of the music. It turned out about four of the guys did not want to be in any photos or videos. After some terrible French and hand gestures we found out they were police officers on Tahuata and the other surrounding islands. If any video or pictures surfaced of them in their inebriated state it wouldn’t turn out too well.
The box wine got passed to Brian and I a few times and, naturally, we drank it. As we left a few hours later it seemed like the party was still in full swing.
When we got back to our dinghy the children surrounded us all asking to visit the sailboat. Brian and I looked at each other and decided three would be the right amount. After telling the children this, they all argued amongst themselves and the lucky three hopped in the dinghy without hesitation. I like the trustworthiness of these islands. No parents in sight and it definitely didn’t seem like they were ever told to not go with strangers, encouraged to go if anything. There were two boys and a girl, all around 10 years old. They were giggling and very excited to get to Delos. We pulled up alongside and we were amazed at how respectful they were, asking if they could board and where they could sit, even washing off their feet in our fresh water hose before stepping down into the boat. We gave them some apple juice and a tour then Brian took them back to the dock. It is interesting that hanging out with kids was much cooler then sitting around with a bunch of drunk adults. I’m sure they will be the cool kids in the village for a while.
The next day, while I was sleeping, Brian and Erin went in to the village to check out the little store and they said it was totally different. No one was on the street drunk. No loud music, no yelling. Just calm and quite like nothing had happened. I feel that our impression of the village and Tahuata itself is very skewed. We will always refer to it as “that one island where everyone was wasted”. The funny thing is most of the guys drinking and partying like crazy didn’t even live on that island. I guess I would compare it to going away for a weekend to a buddy’s or family members wedding. A lot of these people probably hadn’t seen each other in a while and what a time-honored way to get reunited, drink wine, eat and play music for 48 straight hours.