Nevis W.I., December 21th, 2013
We started the New Year in our house with the whole family, son Nicolas and his wife Alexandra and the 3 grandkids Leonie, Keana & Matteo. We enjoyed their company for over 2 weeks when they flew over to St. Martin for 3 days on their own in a fine Beach Resort before flying home for business and school. It was a great holiday for all of us.
As usual, we old folk stayed in Nevis till mid March when we took a speed boat over to Reggae Beach and a taxi to Bradshaw International in St. Kitts from where AA flew us to Miami where we spent a few days visiting friends and made a few purchases for the house back in Nevis and for home in La Tour, then flying with Lufthansa home to Geneva.
May saw Willi flying to Japan to meet his old colleagues and business associates and, of course, he attended the last 4 days of the Tokyo Sumo basho, one even partly with Sale Konishiki. One morning we had breakfast with Sale and Martin Fluck at the Royal Plaza. Big Sale is still big, but has lost a lot of weight due to a stomach bypass and looks very genki (healthy). Uschi went to see friends and family in Germany.
In October, we went with Hans and Sylvia Friedli to the white truffle region of Alba in the Piedmont in Italy where we spent a few lovely days. Too short actually. We made our headquarters in a very comfortable agriturismo hotel without a restaurant license (only breakfast there) and had other meals in various restaurants, from bourgeois to very upscale. All gave good value for the money, the upscale one was with great views too and a place where Mussolini took his lady friends to play after a good meal…
Then it was time to start our 2013 trip which led us via our usual route of Thailand to Perth, where we took more or less the same tour that we had done before with Turi Junker of Sandgroper Tours in 2005, though on that occasion I could only do the tour lying on my back all the time owing to a pinched nerve in you know where… The tour went from Perth via Bunbury, Margaret River, Albany, Esperance up to Hyden (Wave Rock) back to Perth. We had good though rather cool weather; the flowers were out in full bloom. This time Turi’s wife Silvia joined us which made the trip and the lunches all the more enjoyable.
On for a few days in Sydney, more friends to see: Rudi & Mikari Zingg, Robert & Josie Rutishauser, John & Nora Flint, Steve & Christine Gorman, Mary Harada, and other contacts only on the phone.
Early one morning we took our Qantas flight to Auckland, with a short wait for the connection by Air Tahiti Nui to Papeete and the Radisson for a couple of nights until boarding the Aranui 3 for our 13 day voyage on the combined freighter/cruise ship to the Tuamoto and the Marquesas Archipelago, all about 10° S latitude and between 138° and 140° W longitude.
The Aranui 3 was finished in 2002, Gross 7418 tons, 117 m long, 17,6 m wide with a draft of 5,5 m. 198 Passengers in 11 suites, 12 deluxe cabins, many standard cabins and berths and a dormitory. On this trip the ship was about 75 % full, and of course all the top accommodations were fully booked. The food was nothing to write home about, the wine ditto, except one fantastic Polynesian buffet but the local personnel on the service were very friendly and efficient.
This was the order of the trip: Papeete – Takapoto (Tuamoto Archipelago) – then 42 h at sea to the Marquesas Archipelago. First island on day 4 was Nuku Hiva, next day Ua Pou, then the largest, Hiva Oa, followed by the smallest Fatu Hiva. On Day 7 back to the south of Hiva Oa. On Dec. 1 Tahuata, Day 9 Ua Huka, day 10/11 back to Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou to load the ship fully with copra before leaving the Marquesas sailing 45 h back back to Rangiroa in the Tuamoto Archipelago for a last visit on shore and some more copra before reaching Papeete on day 14 early in the morning.
The crew normally unloads the freight destined for the port either in iron crates or by whole 20 ft containers in barges; they later drive back with varying quantities of jute bags full of copra. This is the main livelihood on which the islanders live and they do live quite well, I must say, thanks to the high subsidy paid by the French Government, ca. 8-9 times the going world market price! Therefore, the Marquesans have about the same level of income as the average Frenchman. The few roads are all concrete or asphalt, and most pickups or SUVs are recent models or brand new (the Aranui carried 6 of them). They do a lot of fishing and agriculture for their living. But due to the heat & high humidity, the pace is slow.
Telephone service is cheap and available in all the villages, inter-village is 15 US cents a minute and to Tahiti 30 for cell phones, half for land lines. Even to France, only 60 cents. Even internet is relatively affordable, only we on the Aranui 3 paid quite high prices and did not get access because the tightfisted owners had not paid the Chinese suppliers access rights in the smaller islands, only the bigger ones…. And only at the slowest band width available. I thought I would be smarter and bought another supplier which was better but he was not present on some of the smaller islands…
The land visits are mostly well organized, some from the quay-side but often by the ship’s barges, and then on foot to the small villages, with 4x4s when the distances are significant. Mostly, we see churches, and their cemeteries, old archeological sites and lots of handicraft centers. Most islands make different specialties, some in wood carvings, others produce paper bark things, still others have blacks pearls, fine bone carvings, many also have colorful pareos, etc. etc.
The area is volcanic and very few are inhabited. Before the Europeans arrived in larger numbers around 1840, it is estimated that perhaps 300,000 people lived in these islands. However, illnesses unknown before, like the common flu and many social problems like syphilis, etc. as well as alcohol and tobacco decimated that population to some 60,000 in 30 years or less. Only very young and very old people survived, and therefore much of the culture was lost.
On day 5, we were in Atuona, the main town on Hiva Oa, where Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel are interred. A very nice museum with many replicas of the artist, and of course Brel’s restored twin engine Dassault Bonanza. He must have had great help in procuring the necessary aviation fuel back in the seventies, since we had problems in Nevis in the late nineties for our AeroCommander. The distances here are much greater than SXM to NEV, it’s rather like Miami to Nevis!
In 1897, Karl von den Steinen of Berlin University came to the large island of Hiva Oa. He managed to have discussions with the last surviving priest, having previously worked at the Te l’Ipona site in Puamau , north side of Hiva Oa, about all their traditions and vdSt kept detailed records for his University. Also nearby is the tomb of the last chief of Puamau.
One day we went on land and watched the making of Tapa (bark cloth made from 3 local trees, namely the Mulberry, Breadfruit and Banyan) and flower bouquets. The sturdy ones among us later went on a 10 mile hike steeply up through a terrain totally without shade to some 650 m altitude, where the crew had brought a nice picnic – the 2 hour descent was fabulous they said with fantastic views. There were 36 sturdy gals/guys who went on that hike; most participants were exhausted from the exertions but they were nevertheless very happy to have participated.
Back in Papeete, we will be staying at the Manava Tahiti Beach Resort introduced by none other than long time visitor Andy Muller who comes here several times a year. Air Tahiti Nui will then take us to LAX from where we will fly to Miami and reach Nevis on Dec. 17, just in time for X’mas and New Year, this time without the family, to our great regret.
We have however visited friends in Palm Desert where we stayed with James and Julia Smith at their home overlooking one of the Golf courses thee. And in Miami we met Colette Liffmann, and had a great time with Peter and Nora Hueppi with son Peter-Andreas as well as with Joe and Elena Kurstin the night before we left for Nevis. We also had to do all our shopping needs there for our forthcoming 3 months stay on the island, the Hilton shuttle had to run an extra van just for us and our 6 bags….
In closing, Uschi joins me in wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a most wonderful, happy, successful and healthy New Year of the Horse 2014!
Willi & Uschi
*The Zurich number +41 44 586 5060 above is in Switzerland and reaches us in Nevis over the Internet, if no answer, just leave a message and your number and we will call you back within 24 hours. The numbers here in Nevis are Land line +1 869 469 8818 cell Uschi +1 869 665 8322 and Cell Willi +1 869 660 2000.