Sunday, May 31, 2015

Best Eats Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

Local Marquesas fare:  grilled fish with cassava and
breadfruit fritters at Yvonne's, Hatiheu, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia.
"It's the best grilled fish I've ever eaten!" gushed some fellow Nuku Hiva travelers.  They were referring to Yvonne's, in Hatiheu, reputedly the best spot to eat on Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, the largest island of the bunch.   Fellow cruisers on MaryAnn tried to talk us into sailing around the island (to adjacent and legendary but upwind Anaho Bay) to join them for a special order luau-style meal there; we opted out.  The $65/day + buy-your-own-meal guided island tour, stopped at Yvonne's, too.  

Lunchtime food truck Tahioe Bay,
Nuku Hiva, purveyor of quiche.
Thus, my expectations of Yvonne's were high.
Quiche, a bargain bite for $2.50.

Pearl Lodge, overlooking Nuku Hiva's Tahioe Bay. Marquesas.

When someone asks me about what I consider "the best," I try to stop myself, and ask, "What do you like?"  Wine Spectator, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc., everyone has their biases, including me.  All too often I forget to challenge others who opine about their best with the same question.

Poisson cru au lait from the "no sass" locals stand
at Tahioe Bay Nuku Hiva.  Their awning is green; they're
to the right of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services.
My bias is for mouthwatering flavor, be it explode-in-your-mouth intense, or superbly sublime.  I rarely like greasy or bland.  While willing to open my (or Wayne's) wallet, I'm frugal and in all immodesty, a good enough cook, it feels like a ripoff if I make it better myself.  I love flowers, lovely views and decor and fancy settings, but if the food costs more than $10 USD for an entree, if it's not delicious, I'm unimpressed with the bling.  Thus. my top picks lean more heavily toward road food rather than restaurants.  If you disagree with what makes an eatery worthy, that's ok.  At least you know my biases and can factor them against my recommendations accordingly.
Food with attitude stand with free wifi,
Tahioe Bay Nuku Hiva, Marquesas,
French Polynesia.

Before our road trip, on Nuku Hiva , I'd done a bit of sampling in Tahioe Bay, where we anchored....

When we first arrived, I made a beeline for the stand to the right of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services, where cruisiers huddled at the long benches soaking up the wifi and power extensions.  

It was mid-afternoon, and I was making plans for dinner 'out' there.  "What time do you close?" I asked in French.  "We're open now," the woman at the counter replied, a bit haughtily, in English.  I repeated my question.  She repeated her answer.  Frustrated, I determined it was not a language issue, but an attitude issue, shrugged my shoulders and left, figuring I'd just return around dinnertime.
Menu at Yvonne's, Hatiheu Nuku Hiva Marquesas -- the English side.
Roughly, to translate to USD drop the two zeros, though exchange
rate is a bit better than that these days.

Around dinner time, I was told, "We're closed."  "What time do you close?", I enquired (again).  "Six," was the reply.  It was 5:15 when I returned to the boat.  Wayne did later buy a cup of coffee there, and I bought some breaded tuna.  They were ok.

The next day, I ate at the food stand on the other side of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services.  No free wifi or plug-ins, but it seemed to be a mostly locals' hangout, with the occasional French cruiser or three.  They were friendly, with a similar menu and similar prices, $10 for most entrees.  I ordered the poisson cru (tuna ceviche), their choice whether coco au lait (with coconut milk) or Chinois (Chinese style).  They brought it au lait, fast, and like the food truck on Hiva Oa, on plates, with silverware.  It was good, though honors for the tastiest poisson cru au lait still goes to the $18 plate Relais Moehau on Hiva Oa (not the boys on Tahuata's Hanamoenoa beach).
The other side of the bouganvilla, to the left of this
inauspicious storefront, is the legendary Yvonne's restaurant,
Hatiheu Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia.

The $2.50 bacon, potato and onion quiche from lunchtime food truck parked in the parking lot the Nuku Hiva community performance hall was pretty good too.  

We took in the view for $6/beer (Hinano), $7/house wine (awful), $8.50  for a gin-and-tonic at the upscale Pearl Lodge.  Considering gin sells for around $50/bottle and up, the mixed drinks price seemed reasonable.  We didn't order food, though the travelers who gushed over Yvonne's were staying at this posh place.

With the going tour-the-island guide price at $65/head versus $120 + diesel for a rental "car" for four, and mostly paved roads, we opted for the the 4-wheel-drive extended cab Toyota truck.  Watch for a future post on our scenic Nuku Hiva road trip.  We figured we could play by ear whether or not to spend our "savings" on the guide on a meal at Yvonne's.

We did.

We weren't sure we were at the right place when we stopped in little Hatiheu, a pretty town on the bay, framed by toothy dramatic spires on one side.  There was a sign for a grocery store, and a restaurant was attached, but we didn't see the sign for the restaurant.  "Is this Yvonne's?" I asked the attractive older woman behind the counter.  "I'm Yvonne," she replied, with a gentle smile.

We were the only customers in Yvonne's large restaurant, which looked like it could easily accommodate 100.  Beautiful hibiscus arrangements graced every table.  Service was prompt and pleasant.  We already knew the prices were $18+/ entree, and generous, including a side of cassava and breadfruit.
Classic local Marquesas food from Yvonne's:  clockwise:
breadfruit fritters, cassava, curried goat (center), and white rice.

I ordered the grilled fish, on recommendation from the Pearl Lodge guests.  Wayne ordered the curried goat, as he knew I wanted to try it, and we planned to share.

The food was good, but didn't "wow" me.  I've eaten better curried goat and a good grilled fish is enjoyable but rarely rocks my world.  I appreciated that it was all local fare.  Wayne groused about what it cost to prepare (almost nothing) versus what we paid.

My take-away?  If $18-$30/generous plate for some decent local grub with good service in a beautiful local setting is perfectly ok with you, you'll enjoy your meal at Yvonne's.  The assertive hand-out hungry kitty at Yvonne's will likely stick in my memory than the pleasant but nothing-that-special-in-my-book meal.

I'm glad our trip was far more about exploring the island of Nuku Hiva than the food, or I would've felt a bit disappointed.  Then again, the bar is pretty high for me, but Nuku Hiva's road food remains solidly in the lead on my top "best eats" picks for Nuku Hiva.

This little beggar at Yvonne's did not tempt me
like the sibling kitties we saw on Ua Poa.
Location Location
We are currently on our fifth and final Marquesas island stop, Nuku Hiva's Tahioe Bay (S8.54.856 W140.05.880), before moving onto the Tuamotus, which are still part of French Polynesia.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Marquesas Distribution: Trains? Planes? Automobiles? Ara Nui

Ara Nui in Hiva Oa, Marquesas, hard at work unloading freight.    
How do imports and exports transit in the remote Marquesas?

“Lifeline to the Marquesas” the Ara Nui makes 16 2-week trips a year through French Polynesia, most of it in the Marquesas…. It’s a freighter.  It’s a passenger liner.  It’s both!

Two local Marquesans together carry their Ara Nui shipment
off for more efficient transport.
We first encountered the Ara Nui 3 in Hiva Oa, Marquesas., not long after our arrival.  At oh-dark-hundred, about 2 am, she managed to wedge herself into Hiva Oa’s small Tahauku Bay anchorage (S9.48.260 W139.01.924).  

When we awoke it seemed over half the island population’s individuals and business workers turned out to pick something up.  There was a substantial lineup of trucks.  There were forklifts going nonstop.  There was a crane offloading boxcars of cargo.

Hustle and bustle of freight unloading on the Ara Nui in Hiva Oa.
Despite Hiva Oa’s seemingly ideal agricultural conditions, the majority of their produce is imported via the Ara Nui… onions, potatoes and ironically, even pamplemousse comes in, with New Zealand serving the Marquesas as their primary bread basket.

The Kubota tractor import was a veritable magnet for male lust, as she was gazed upon from admiring eyes, and even stroked, wistfully.

Hiva Oa’s exports are primarily copra (coconut flesh) and construction gravel. 

As the Ara Nui passengers ambled off, they flocked to take photos of “The Copra Guy,” as did I.

By mid afternoon, the Ara Nui was done with all it’s imports and exports, and we watched the fascinating process of her exiting tight and tiny Tahauku Bay (watch for photos in a later post).

Like the locals, we flocked to the stores to check out their freshly restocked shelves – the next day many stores would be closed for one of May’s 4 3-day holiday weekends.

Ohhh… Ahhh… Nothing from the Ara Nui drew more attention
from the local Marquesas men than this Kubota tractor.
Like the tides, the Ara Nui is an integral part of the fabric of life in the Marquesas.  We’re glad we got a glimpse.

Ara Nui freight import paperwork processing.
Pamplemousse trees are as common in Hiva Oa as Starbucks
in Seattle, yet, here’s pamplemousse getting imported
from New Zealand!

More New Zealand produce on its way to Hiva Oa from the Ara Nui.
Ara Nui crane lowering a crate.

Weighing copra for the Ara Nui to export in Hiva Oa.
Yes, that’s just a loincloth he’s wearing….
Location Location
We’re currently anchored in Taiohae Bay, on Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia (S8.54.856 W140.05.880) though the photos for this post and our first Ara Nui encounter was in Tahauku Bay, Hiva Oa (S9.48.260 W139.01.924).  I toured the Ara Nui there; watch for that in a future post, as well as one showing how the Ara Nui wedged its way out of Tahauku Bay.  

And some “jellies” on his feet, which
kind of spoiled the look, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fatu Hiva Hiking Breakfast of Champions – Beer & Chocolate

This blowhole was one of many Fatu Hiva
scenic spots on our boat ride from
Hanavave to Omoa.
The day after we made the 17 km Fatu Hiva hike from Omoa – Hanavave, our friend Steve from Armagh groused, “I will never feel the same about Lonely Planet again!”  (I noticed Armagh’s Moon Guidebook listed the 17 km hike, too).
Blown!  We got close to the blowhole.  Timing the shot
to catch the spray while not soaking my camera lens was challenging.

Omoa town, Fatu Hiva dropped quickly
into the distance as we hiked up….
Wayne and I were relieved Steve blamed our guide book for recommending the hike, instead of us….  He completed the hike a couple hours faster than us, pounding the long, steep and shadeless downhill return stretch in some of the worst heat of the day.  We trailed a bit behind at a more leisurely pace with Jan from Ambler, pushing it to get in before dusk, though believe we rebounded more quickly.

Seen along our Fatu Hiva hike, these
blackened ferns were striking.  There was
as much variety of ferns as in
my best Pacific Northwest hikes.
These orchids, which grew in wild abandon,
were my favorite flowers on Fatu Hiva.
Fatu Hiva’s textured foliage invited photoplay.
Fatu Hiva shares billing with Venice, Italy as one of the more surreal scenes I’ve had the pleasure to step into.  In the case of Venice, stepping out of the train station doors felt like entering a postcard into the past.  Fatu Hiva’s Bay of Virgins (Hanavave) is like the bunnyhill of landscape photography – nearly as impossible to take a bad photo of its fantastically lit weird geological formations as it is to fall on a bunnyhill (click here for some stunning Fatu Hiva Hanavave anchorage photos).

Given we only planned to anchor in the Bay of Virgins, we were hungry to explore more of Fatu Hiva’s vibrant foliage, crenulated mountains, vistas overlooking soaring basalt wall and spires…..

We caught a small speedboat from Bay of Virgins* to the more established Omoa in the morning.  Normally we’d grab some breakfast before we took off.  I figured it would be okay; there was a “bigger” grocery in Omoa**, so I was betting I could grab an inexpensive baguette there and eat on the go, and something cold to drink in addition to the water we packed for our hike.

*$60 or $15@ for each of the 4 of us in the boat.  Arranging that is another story…. For now, let’s simply say while we liked our driver, the arrangements did not leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the locals.  Made me pine for Hiva Oa albeit pretty though less visually spectacular than Fatu Hiva.

**The grocery in Hanavave had very short hours and didn’t even carry beer!  Not even Hinano!

Oddly, this Fatu Hiva road was nearly impossible
to see when looking up from Hanavave valley.  We liked the subtlety of that.
No luck on the baguette – and we were early enough to get them – if they had them.

But… they did carry some substantial 8 oz sided Cadbury Old Gold 70% dark chocolate bars for just over $3.  I bought several.

And they carried ice cold Hinano beer.  We bought two tall ones.

“They’re just going to get warm,” Wayne observed, glancing at our Hinanos.  “They won’t be any better warm,” he added.

I agreed.

Overlooking the town of Hanavave, Fatu Hiva on our downhill stretch.
So there we were, exiting the small valley surrounding Omoa, beginning our steep climb toward the summit, eating dark Cadbury chocolate bars, washed down with cold Hinano.  It was only 9:30 am, and hot.  Breakfast of champions.  Not one I care to repeat.

We stopped to check out viewpoint after viewpoint, detail after detail along the sometimes paved, sometimes ferrous red-orange winding road.

About halfway through our hike, at a lovely summit point with covered picnic tables, we enjoyed a more nutritious lunch of cheese and salami on gluten-free rice crackers, with bananas for desert.

Just outside the town of Hanavave.  As through much
of the Marquesas, coconut palms are grown for copra production.
At the end, we were tired, hot, sweaty, dusty and felt a little flat-footed.  Yet, the walk was as thrilling as it was long; we’re really glad we did it.  If you follow in our footsteps, I recommend saving cold beers and chocolate for the finish rather than the start of the hike.

When we sailed to Tuahata, we noticed our guidebook mentioned there was another 17 km village-to-village hike.  To Steve’s relief, we never even suggested it, except to let him know there was one listed in the guidebook. Ditto for Ua Poa.  In Tuahata, the highlight was swimming with manta rays (click here for that).  Ua Poa, we opted for another 4-wheel drive tour.  Watch for an upcoming post on that.

Can you see those little tiny dots in the water? One of them
is our sailboat at anchor in Hanavave Bay, Fatu Hiva,
as seen on our Omoa – Hanavave hike.

Location Location
We’re in Taiohae Bay, on Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia (S8.54.856 W140.05.880).  We’ve tentatively planned a Nuku Hiva road trip for this Friday, May 29th 2015.This time we’re relying on good local guidance from Kevin of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services before we go, a map and a rented 4-wheel drive ($120 + gas).  Our new autopilot’s been installed (though it needs to be tested).  We’ve replenished our engine diesel and outboard gasoline fuel ($6/gallon!).  We still would like to replenish our water tanks before we go, get some last-minute fresh produce***, visit the local dentist and the waterfall at “Daniel’s” (Hakatea Bay) before we head off for the Tuamotus.  Depending on where we stop, that’s a 300-500 mile sail; several days worth.

***We’ve heard fresh produce is difficult to come by in the Tuamotus and also a good “trade” item for fresh fish there.
Fatu Hiva’s hills really are this green!
(totally unmodified photo – really!)
Fatu Hiva’s dramatic crenellated cliffs.

Is it even possible to capture Fatu Hiva’s panoramic vistas?  This view was about halfway between Omoa and Hanavave.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons (Part II: Autopilot)

Wayne removing our steering wheel to access
our Raymarine wheel-based autopilot drive.
We bi---ed, moaned and complained about our Raymarine wheel autopilot*.  Though from St. Martin in January 2013, all the way back to Florida, then throughout the Bahamas (over 3,000 miles between the two) and from Florida to Cuba, (~600 miles) it did work, mostly.

Gearing up for our South Pacific passage, Wayne did studious research… especially the long passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, French Polynesia; 3,000 miles and the longest unbroken open ocean stretch in the world.  Between those two points, there is nothing but open ocean.   

Autopilots failed with alarming frequently.

Given our recent autopilot issues from Cuba to Providencia, we decided to order not just one, but two autopilot drives (the part that failed) to back up our currently working autopilot before we left Panama for the 1,000 mile Panama - Galapagos passage, to be followed by a 3,000 Galapagos – Marquesas passage.  Before we arrive in New Zealand by their cyclone season in November 2015, Panama was our best location to acquire any needed parts for the 5,000 or so miles we’d cover this year.

We did everything we could to baby our autopilot….
  • Most of the time, we only ran our genoa (headsail), as if we used our main or even our tiny mizzen sails it stressed our autopilot.  Made for slow going.
  • Wayne set the sensitivity down low on autopilot, which allowed to to sashay more rather than put in more effort to maintain course.  Also made for slow going.
  • Wayne handsteered more often to reduce our use on the autopilot.
  • A dampened washcloth was kept on the drive motor, to help keep it cool.

Our autopilot worked, more or less, until 23 days into our 32-day Galapagos – Marquesas passage.

And then it didn’t.  At all. 

 Once again... 
  • Wayne replaced the autopilot drive.  He’s gotten so much “practice” at this, it takes him less than 10 minutes to make the fix.
  • Then Wayne replaced the new and our newly broken autopilot drive with parts from the first and our existing autopilot.  And then he put in our second new autopilot replacement drive
  • Then Wayne put in our newly broken autopilot drive with parts from the second and our existing autopilot. 
  • Then Wayne cobbled together the best of our existing remaining parts from all our autopilots.

Wayne quickly removed the autopilot from our wheel
to swap out the old Raymarine autopilot for a new one.
Miraculously, we made it in those last 750 miles and 8 ½ days to the Marquesas with the cobbled autopilot still “working.”  It “worked” throughout the rest of our travels through the Marquesas, though with no multi-day passages in that stretch, it’s not such a big deal.

Tomorrow Wayne’s installing a CPT wheel pilot we ordered from the U.S. and received in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas.  It doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles our Raymarine autopilot has.  But, more important, CPT autopilots have a reputation for rock-solid performance.  CPT owners rave about their autopilots.  Raymarine wheel autopilots, like us, typically use profanity to describe their autopilot’s performance, and we’re not talkin’ “Hot Damn!”

In a “past life” I worked in Hewlett-Packard’s marketing department.   Part of my responsibilities included figuring out the right customer for our product and making sure why was clearly articulated.  If I were naming our Raymarine autopilot, I would call it “The Little Weekender.”  For smaller boats, especially if they’re motor boats (not sailboats) and not making multi-day, continuous passages, our Raymarine autopilot is fine.  But for a small South Pacific-bound cruising sailboat making the requisite multi-day passages, it’s inadequate.

And then there’s CPT…. Our CPT customer service experience thus far is simply outstanding.  Watch a future post for details and to find out how it’s working out – install and performance.

Also, watch for yet another Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons Part III.  Or – check out Part I Shouldas:  Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Passage if you haven’t seen it.

*FYI – an autopilot is a device that automatically steers the boat to a set course.  Imagine you were driving from Alaska to Chile, nonstop.  Wouldn’t you like it if your car could be steered for you, and your job would be to make sure it ran smoothly, stayed on course and didn’t hit anything?  Autopilots are like an extra crew member, sharing the load….

Location Location
We’re currently anchored in Taiohae Bay, on Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia (S8.54.856 W140.05.880) with a new CPT autopilot in hand waiting for install before we head off to the Tuomotos, which are ~450 miles away, likely a 5-day, non-stop passage.  It will be a good test for our new CPT autopilot.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Marquesa Beach Boys & Poisson Cru Au Lait

"Hamu" with the parrot fish he caught spearfishing
about an hour earlier to use in making poisson cru.
How did we find ourselves eating the freshest poisson (South Pacific ceviche) cru coco au lait (coconut milk) ever in the Marquesas?

Not quite sure how it happened.... If we invited ourselves or were invited by the local "boys" on Tuahata's HanaMoeNoa beach.  All I remember is somehow we got into a conversation that afternoon and agreed to to return that eve for poisson cru au lait, bringing a dish of our own to round out the meal.

As we left, they sent us off with a huge bag of over 20 limes, several just picked pamplemousse and oranges.

"Hamu" quickly fillets the parrot fish from his home
on the beach of Tuahata's HanaMoeNoa.
Seems "the boys" took over their aunt's copra operation a couple months prior, while she went to France.  Steve, who appeared to be in his late teens or early 20s, spoke passable English.  His friend was in his mid-20s, and I confess to not catching his Marquesan name fully; let's call him Hamu, for the sake of this blog post.

We hustled back to our boat and I made the fastest ever chicken picatta (chicken, cooked with vermouth, chicken stock, lemon juice, onions, mushrooms, garlic, capers and served over rice) and green bean, blue cheese and viniagrette salad.  Despite the substantial ring of rum bottles surrounding one of their coconut trees, we understood bringing hooch was still optional; we still brought some from our meagre supply. 

Who knew dogs liked coconut meat?
Just so you know it wasn't a fluke....

I take a pass at making coconut milk for the poisson cru coco au lait.
Hamu, meanwhile, speared several parrot fish and was busy filleting them when we returned.  Then Hamu finely chopped garlic onions and freshly squeezed lime juice into a marinade that "cooked" the fish.

Steve took charge of creating the coco au lait*.  He demonstrated how to husk the coconut (Wayne then husked one), then split the husked coconuts.  We declined following suit as we're still not that comfortable with machetes.  Some of the coconut water drained we drank, some was reserved for the coco au lait.

*Shot some short videos of the coconut husking and shell cracking via machete which will be added later to this post.

The split coconut meat was scraped into a bowl.  Again, Steve demonstrated, and this time I scraped one of the coconuts.

Next the coconut meat shavings were placed into the center of a cheesecloth-like fibrous coconut cloth.  The cloth was then folded over the coconut meat shavings.  Hamu demonstrated how they creamy coconut milk was wrung through the cloth, twisting it first one way, then the opposite way over the bowl of reserved coconut water.  I took over that task for a bit while Hamu took a "smoke break."

Wayne returned to the boat for more rum ("Men drink rum straight," they declared and so it went quickly....), and also gave Steve and Hamu some of our light fishing tackle.

The coconut milk was added to the fish marinade.  And then we feasted....

Afterward, we enjoyed a campfire, gazing out over HanaMoeNoa Bay.

Afterward, the boys washed the dishes and eagerly accepted the leftover chicken piccata and rice we took the the leftover poisson cru.  Everyone was happy.

I'm not sure if the boys will remember us (after all - there were a lot of rum bottles left by prior guests!), but we will never forget the experience.  And I will never look at coconut milk or poisson cru the same way again.

Wayne admires the beach campfire on the beach at HanaMoeNoa,
Tuahata, Marquesas, while anchor lights
twinkle like stars in the background.
Location Location
This happened when we were anchored at Marquesas Hanamoenoa Tuahata, French Polynesia (S9.54.494 W139.06.342);our third Marquesas island stop. We are currently on our fifth and final Marquesas island stop, Nuku Hiva (S8.54.856 W140.05.880) , before moving onto the Tuomotos, which are still part of French Polynesia.

Check back periodically for an update with video on preparing coco au lait.  Given limited internet and power - it may be a while.