There are 21 boats in Hiva Oa, most flying EU flags. This is the first time we’ve not been surrounded by Canadians, who dominate the Mexican fleet. Europeans route through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. They have rum and nutmeg; we have tequila and salsa. The Swiss boat has a fondue party. The Swedish boat trades kefir for my yogurt starter. There is no denying we are a long way from home.
I get on the VHF radio and hail Tahiti Crew, the agency assisting Pacific Puddle Jumpers, and introduce Te Poerava. “Te Poerava,” she says without the North American hiccup we’re used to hearing, “that’s beautiful; a local name meaning The Black Pearl.” Dan and I exchange exultant looks, we have reached the land where Te Poe belongs. In the back of my mind I was always worried Te Poerava might translate into something off our intention. It happens. I recognized a boat name in Ensenada, Purusha, meaning the light within in Sanskrit. As in namaste, the light within me bows to the light within you. A Ruski sailor laughed: Purusha means Shit Box in Russian. The shit box in me bows to the shit box in you, too. We met a boat in San Jose del Cabo, Mamala, named for Laverne, whose daughters call her “Mamma La.” Mamala means Suck It in Spanish. I wonder if Mexican Harbormasters find that as funny as I do.
Tahiti Crew offers to take us to the gendarmerie at 08:30 to meet customs officials. I say gracias but I mean merci. We’ll be speaking Sprench until “beaucoup” finds its way onto the tips of our tongues. What the heck time is it here? I think we crossed two time zones across 30 degrees of longitude. Marquesans set their clocks a half-hour off the rest of French Polynesia, inferring a smidge of prudence that doesn’t exist on Island Time. Our agent arrives at 09:00. One thing we are not, is in a rush.
After working at a WiFi hot spot all day, I convince Dan to trek (with all the electronics in a waterproof backpack) to church for Easter Service. A candlelit procession chants through town toward the sanctuary. Pews fill with women in white lacy dress and strings of black pearls. Deep drum beats and hymns resonate in my heart-space, but I feel remorseful having the same color skin as the missionaries, who convinced Polynesians to wear such inappropriate dress.
Traditionally, clothing (in the form of sennit belts and bushy frond skirts) was not permitted until the reaching of age; it was a signal that announced sexual right, and it kept young people from indulgence until they reached maturity, so they grew to be a strong race. Myopic missionaries were encouraging salacity, preaching “Longer skirts! Cover your sinful bodies!” To Marquesans, the body wasn’t sinful and sex wasn’t acceptable until the wearing of clothing authorized it. Tens of thousands of natives died from diseases brought by Catholics; 75% of the Marquesan population was lost, along with centuries-old traditions. This is well known (except to missionaries, who refuse to be enlightened).
On the walk home the rain began to pour. I felt guilty for making Dan come with me. Shame! A true sign of my Christian upbringing. Not an island in the Pacific galaxy has avoided the inexorable invasion of white people who know a better way to live. No lamps light the street here, the moon is blackened by heavy clouds. Splosh! Dan stepped full-in to a deep puddle. He didn’t laugh. We thumbed a truck down for a ride to the port. Betty Jean was full of rain water, but Praise the Lord, our handicapped winch managed to hoist her. It’s easy to ramble on about religion and how it both amplifies and destroys customs. And it’s a relief to place blame. Thank God, the electronics in Dan’s waterproof pack stayed dry!
We sludge through the dark along a muddy trail to a BBQ. It’s a global crowd; what nation doesn’t like fire and beer? Locals are kind and tattooed, strumming guitar and beating drums. Yachties from around the world do us a favor by speaking English; one of three languages they learn in grade school. Ali, a mechanic from the neighboring Gambier archipelago, plays a quick ukulele, speaks seven languages, and wears a gorgeous chest tattoo. He thinks all the rain is a result of global climate change. A travelling nurse warns us not to drink the water from the streams. We recognize the big Marquesan on the drums from behind the counter at the hardware store. A South African man rolls excellent cigarettes. Sandra, the gal who did our laundry and helped us through the immigration process, is here with her son, selling Hinanos. And there is the Ugly American, a loud-mouth from the Deep South.
Dan has Montana elk steaks to cook over the fire—big hit! Everyone loves the taste of this foreign meat, but none can comprehend the animal from which it came. Between the language barrier and Dan’s attempt at charades (hands overhead are antlers, but the crowd looks confused…), we have a good laugh trying to communicate what is an elk. The words “big deer” don’t ring a bell for this crowd. Even “Bambi” doesn’t get a hit. The closest match suggested was “elan,” African antelope; an animal we met on safari. The next best guess: kangaroo. Definitely a global crowd!