By the morning of day four on Hiva Oa, my sweaty F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) induced panic reached epic proportions. I tried to relax in Sonrisa's cockpit with a cup of coffee, but it was to no avail. My throat is tight, my breath short, and my feet are itchy. We have got to get going! You see, once again, the administrative aspects of managing the boat, feeding ourselves and trying to deal with internet have delayed our explorations. How are we supposed to adequately explore 10+ Islands in the Marquesan Island Group, the 70+ Islands of the Tuamotus and reach Papeete, Tahiti by June 24? That is less than one month away, and we are already on Day 4 of only one bay! Just to get from Sonrisa to town takes about an hour given the row and the walk. I am failing. I feel like a failure. I'm not doing this right!
After hyperventilating into my brown paper bag, I collect my wits and set a plan for the day. We must find a rental car, so we can traverse the two-hour drive to the other end of the island and see the largest Tiki in all the Pacific Islands (except for Easter Island). Once the rental car is reserved for tomorrow, we will hike to see the petroglyphs that are close to town. Easy enough, right? I have money, the Atuonans have rental cars, this should be a simple transaction.
We row the 20 minutes into shore and begin our search at a warehouse we pass on the walk into town. We arrive at 9:30 a.m., and a sign, front and center advertises Atuona Rental Cars. Perfect. We enter the parking lot and look around, but it is desolate. Not a soul in sight. Locks on three doors seem to indicate it is closed right now. "No matter," we figure, "we will just do our hike to see the petroglyphs and return right before lunch. Someone is bound to be here by then.
We walk further up the road and find the trailhead to the petroglyphs. Andrew twitters with excitement as we commence our first jungle hike. He hums the theme song to Indiana Jones. The double track road slowly devolves into mud, crosses a river, and starts onto a footpath overgrown by moss, banana trees, coconut palms, flowers, and plants with leaves so large they could serve as an umbrella. The jungle shade is a welcome reprieve on this hot sunny day, but my feet itch as the mud slurps between my toes.
Soon, our path is blocked by a small group of cows. In the US, I have no qualms about walking past our docile, slow cows. Here, though, the cows all have sharp, pointy horns. I imagine them taking chase, head bowed to stab me in the gut, as I wave my red hankie like a conquistador. No, no, I'd rather wait for them to move from the trail. In the meantime, I can observe the pretty jungle. Andrew was not so patient. He repeatedly cajoled them to "MOOOoooo-ve," but they refused. Eventually, he decided to clamber through vines, tree-fall, thickly growing plants, and spiderwebs to make his way around the cows. I followed. Where is your machete when you need one? Luckily, our path is well marked with jungle rock carins just like on trails at home. I enjoy the familiar touch.
At last, we arrive at the petroglyphs carved by ancient Polynesians. We have no idea what they depict or say, but it's easy to imagine men wearing bone carved into jewelry hammering away at the rock.
Upon returning to the road, we try the rental car place again. 11:30 p.m. Now, there is a dog resting by the door, but still no one else there. The sign has a telephone number, but we don't have a phone. Furthermore, wouldn't we be calling this building where no one is available? Puzzling, we hike the hill toward our agent, Sandra's, office. Maybe she can guide us. But, Sandra is not there either. Instead, we meet a fellow cruiser who is using the wifi. He indicates that there is another rental car company at the top of a very steep hill, just after the hotel. Ok, we will try that.
We grab a quick lunch at the gas station: baguette, Roquefort blue cheese, and a cold, crisp apple. We note beautiful fresh tuna fillets in a fridge, $5, for purchase at a gas station. We know what is for dinner tonight.
Next, we hike up and up and up. And indeed, we find what we are looking for! A group of goats stand beneath a sign reading "ATUONA RENTAL CAR," just to the left of a driveway. We walk to the house/building at the bottom and find a woman tending to her yard. "Bonjour!" I greet her, "Je voudrai louer un voiture pour demain?" She cocks her head to the side and scowls as if she doesn't understand. I pantomime me holding on and driving a steering wheel and repeat: "louer, rent?" She scowls again, "Oui, oui, je compris, mais je n'ai pas les voitures ici." So, she understood my question, but she doesn't have any cars here. Now, I scowl, puzzling. What about the sign in front of your driveway? She explains that it is just a sign, we must call the phone number. Great.
I smile, thank her, and turn to go. I hope she cannot see my frustration. Apparently, they place signs in front of random buildings/driveways/parking lots like we in American place billboards along the highway. The billboards are not signposts for a business location, but information only. How do you tell the difference here? Who knows.
We already climbed this long hill, so I want to see what is up here. I begin following the road further when Andrew decides he has had enough. He waits for me at the bottom while I climb two more steep mountain roads to find a beautiful hotel overlooking the ocean and the bay. Lets get one thing straight: I do not sweat; I glisten like a lady. But, by the time I reach the hotel, I am glistening profusely. The woman manning the front desk inquires as to whether I would like to make a reservation for dinner. I dab with my hankie, trying to prevent all of my glitter from dribbling off my chin and onto my chest. She speaks no English, and as I try to explain my plight of the rental car in French, she remains confused. I tell her that I may want to eat dinner on Thursday, and she insists that Thursday is the next day even though the next day is only Wednesday. We struggle and struggle, until finally a gentleman who works with her arrives. Relief comes over her face as she says: "He speaks English!" He looks at me, then her and says: "No, she needs to learn." I laugh and say ok. Her face falls.
We struggle and struggle. Eventually, she understands I want to rent a car and I need help calling the phone number. There is nothing that persistence cannot solve. She calls and makes a car reservation for us lickety-split. YAY! I bound down the hill toward Andrew with rental confirmation in hand. Mission accomplished, and it only took eight hours.
We walk back to Sonrisa beneath stars, numerous as raindrops frozen in space. My anxious battle between exploration and administration cooling as the tropic sun goes down. It is easy to view this voyage as a long vacation as the abundant availability of Mai Tais seem to suggest. To maintain my sanity, I need to change this assumption. On a vacation, you temporarily separate yourself from the necessary work of life. Hopefully, you leave your administrative paperwork behind; you pay bills in advance so you can lounge on the beach without worry. You don't have to clean your house, fix the leaking roof, grocery shop, find internet or manage your pest control plan. These ministrations can wait for your return.
We cannot set these responsibilities aside for the duration of this trip. We have not arrived in Paradise to vacation. As sailing nomads, we arrive in a port to live there along with the locals for a few days, a week, a few weeks. Then, we move on to a new port. We participate in life the same way we would at home, hopefully carving out a bit of time to explore the special "tourist" nooks as well. I can't get bent out of shape when it takes 8 hours to fill up our gas tank, locate transportation for our grocery run, or (note the use of the word "or" not "and" - this is 8 hours per project) load two pictures to the internet. I left the US to experience different cultures; a slow pace and lack of convenience is part of the culture I am here to experience. I am not wasting my time. It is just as special to participate in the day to day life of a place, as it is to experience the imaginary world one escapes to when on vacation.
All this to say: I need to cool my jets.