As we approached the lush green cliffside of Atuona, the bay wrapped Sonrisa in a warm tropical embrace. Sonrisa offered her cheek and received the traditional welcome from her old French friend: "kiss-kiss." The scent of flowers tickled all of our noses like a sweet perfume. We have arrived after 21 days and 20 hours at sea.
We ensure the hook is firmly set, unfold Grin and set to rowing. The anchorage was crowded and we like to reserve an easy escape, so once again we were furthest boat from the dock landing. Row, row, row. We find a spot to land, and step up on the dock. Picking our way up the cement and stone stairway, the land swayed back and forth beneath our feet. "Isn't this stuff supposed to be stationary?" I ask, my legs and feet confused by the sensation of terra firma.
A gas station is the only hint of civilization anywhere near the dock. The rest of town is situated approximately two miles away. We start our walk, and soon we are followed by two young boys (approx. 12 years old) donning flipflops, swim shorts, T-shirts and a "NIKE" backpack. They walk directly behind us, not two feet away. We greet them: "Bonjour," and they continue to walk directly behind us. Soon, one is picked up by a passing car, and the second one continued to walk. We let him pass us, figuring we are slow and he would like to get by, but he hung back with us. He walked along, stopping at an overlook here or observing a beautiful hibiscus flower there. He didn't speak a word to us, but played upbeat Polynesian music over his iPhone speaker.
Starving, we broke off at the first restaurant and went our separate ways. As we sat at the table, we realized he as giving us a tour! Sorry that I didn't try out my rusty, broken French with our tour guide, we turned our attention to fresh vegetables. There must be some here somewhere. We read down the menu and select a salad with cheese and a salad with ham, respectively. It arrives, and it is as satisfying as we hoped: a large pile of fresh lettuce, cabbage, carrots and green peppers, surrounded by a halo of tomatoes and topped with cheese/ham. It was served with a light, tangy dijon vinaigrette, and a bowl of fresh baguette slices. After 22 days at sea with only the food you can carry with you, a fresh pile of cabbage is mana from heaven.
As we eat lunch, we see waterfalls begin high atop the lush green cliffs. We are surrounded by flowers and fruit growing wild, everywhere. You can smell the sweetness of rain in the air. The town of 1500 people is small, manicured, clean and friendly.
The influence of French and Polynesian cultures blend harmoniously. As you arrive in town, the first thing you see is a large white cross sitting high atop the hillside. The roads and social centers are lined with stone and wood carvings of Polynesian Tikis. Food served at the three restaurants in town include crepes, baguette sandwiches, steak and frites and also goat with coconut milk, poisson cru (raw fish "cooked" in lime juice and coconut milk), and various pig based dishes. Two languages are spoken interchangeably: French and Marquesan.
Locals wear flowers in their hair like an American might wear a baseball cap. You hear live drum beats, ukulele-like guitar sounds and singing floating from back yards, schools, patios and military barracks. Sometimes these are solo performances, but most often, they are groups of family/friends gathered together for some music. Locals could be found enjoying the beach, fishing from the marina dock, or soaking in one of many beautiful views.
This place is not too shabby.
On Saturday morning, our agent Sandra takes us to the Gendarmerie (police office) to check into the country. With that bit of business finished, we explored the grocery stores to replenish our dwindling boat stock. All sorts of strange things come in cans here: Pate, butter, cheese. We find some tasty looking meat (both frozen and fresh) including bacon, salami, cornish game hens, sausage, and steaks from New Zealand, rubbed with Herbs de Provence. We load up the backpack, finagle a "taxi" ride (i.e. some guy standing in line at the grocery store that the cashier knew), and row ourselves back out to Sonrisa. We will have to do a few more loads like this.
Having learned our lesson from Isabela, we hit the ATM and withdraw cash in bite sized chunks each day. We have heard that the Tuamotus have no ATMs, only operate on a cash basis, and are very expensive. So, we have to plan ahead again. No matter, the good ATM is the only places in town graced with air conditioning. It's a momentary respite from the sun and humidity.
With money, food and land legs replenished, we were ready to do some serious exploring! For dinner, we followed a wave of locals out to the pier. A food truck, and a number of small plastic tables and chairs were set up on the dock. The tables had table clothes and were lit by little candles. You ordered your dinner at the food truck window, then a waitress would bring it out to your table. The choices included several savory crepes, dessert crepes, steak & frites, chicken chow main, poisson cru, or fish with rice. We looked round at each table, and everyone had either steak & frites or chow main. So, when in Rome�the chow main was salty, tasty and plentiful. The steak was good, but the fries were amazing: crispy on the outside, silky potato on the inside. They were served with an A1-like sauce on the side, sweet and tangy. For dessert, we enjoyed a crepe filled with Nutella and topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and Chantilly (whipped cream).
With friendly people, beautiful landscape and tasty food, the adventures here look promising.