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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Marquesas Islands: yours to explore….

Valerie and Laurent Devin

Lagoon 380, Catamaran
May 8th, 2016

One year ago, after 26 days at sea, we first smelled fire and then flowers, for once a relief on a boat. The smell came from shore and was confirming that our eyes were right, this was land and we had arrived.

Had we just spent nearly a month isolated from all human-kind and support, it sure didn’t feel like it. Indeed after a few days, the routine sets in and hours came and went by very quickly. Just keeping track of our progress, making the daily blog post and Ham contact with the Pacific Seafarer’s Net was enough to keep the most active of mind. Well maybe the 1000’s of movies and series we had religiously collected during the last 2 years, helped also.

Our first landfall was Hiva Oa, which enabled us to be in good order in no time. The paperworks are one of the easiest of all time, and at the right price, meaning free if you own a European passport or a long stay visa. An agent can also help or just deposit the bond. But enough about what you can read everywhere, let’s dive into the daily life in “Paradis”.

young ladie

With  French backgrounds from birth, we were quick to immerse ourselves and mostly able to understand all the nuances of the local language; well, until they switch to Marquesan, of course. We stayed put in one valley for four months last season, and came back this year. We let ourselves be fully absorbed again into the community and understand the way of living in such a remote place on earth. We will try to bring you a few pieces of knowledge we’ve accumulated. Unfortunately, how to pick the ripe mango five meters away, or prepare a perfect Marquesan oven, for that you will have to come here to learn.

The census of 2012 registered 9,980 people in the Marquesas. You will quickly discover that they are all direct family, or if related at any level by marriage or further down the line, simply called cousins. Once you leave the “big city”, the atmosphere changes drastically. People will know before you realize it that you anchored in their bay. Be courteous, walk around and say “Bonjour” with a smile, and doors will open quickly. Though some simple rules apply in your new world, never pick-up a fruit from a tree or the ground without the authorization of the owner; you see this one could be different from the land owner it seats on. Truly, whoever planted it gains the reward of the crop, so be sure to ask, and for a minimal price or free depending on the mood, you will have more than you ever hoped for.

When saying hello, shaking a hand to the entire group is advisable; also a few words and a bit of discussion is a mark of politeness. Just walking by or not answering a call for café, will make you a pariah in no time.

As we have learned the hard way, saying “no” politely to a gift, as we have been so well educated, is frowned upon. The rule of traditional hospitality is to share what you have lots of, so if offered gracefully accept it, nothing is expected in return. Though if one day you have profusion of something, do the same and return the favour. In the same register, if you observe something that you find beautiful or want to make a compliment, be very cautious at expressing it, as you may find it in your hands and given to you, making you even more awkward in your shoes.

Because we are so used to being lost in our city, doesn’t mean it is the same everywhere in the world! Indeed, know that you are being observed at all time, even far in the coconut tree plantation away from the village.  People know where you are, you will not see them but they see you. And lastly, stay on the tracks; do not walk in the wild. The land is privately owned, even if it looks like a forest, and you do not want to find yourself witnessing a type of plantation you don’t need to know about.

Even the young teenagers made us laugh when they identified a boat by what the female companion was wearing. You are observed, just be aware of it, ask if you don’t know and a solution will come your way you didn’t even think of.


In most valleys, the major part of social life is structured around the church; there is nothing fanatic about it, just a tradition and a solid implantation of the Catholic Church. One of its leaders in the 70’s decided to go against the state’s dictates and created a dictionary, a bible and service all in Marquesan. Thus enabling the language to survive the slow death it was going through at the time, as it was forbidden at school in favour of French. So now we know where you will be at 0800h on Sunday, for some amazing choir and drumming in Marquesan.

You may also be surprised if invited into a house. The kitchen, in most cases, is outside the main dwelling and not much furniture is present. This doesn’t mean that they are poor. On the contrary, we are talking French bureaucracy and having a fully furnished lodging makes them subject to added taxation. This is changing as of 2016; the land taxes are showing up, even in the most remote valley.


Every island has his or her hustler, which you will learn to recognize quickly. In fact there is one valley in particular, where one has taken the art of begging or asking for thing to another level! The inhabitants, know full well that they will not see you ever again, that you don’t have cash and that after a long crossing you are in (sometimes desperate) need of fruit and vegetables.  So, they will ask with no shame, for very specific things upfront, abusing the cruiser who doesn’t understand the values of the new world they have landed on.

If there is one thing to remember from this short piece of observation, one of the best tricks we have now implemented on Letitgo, is that officially we are a dry boat. This means we do not drink on land, except if we know our host very well. Alcoholism is a problem around here; we witnessed situations of excessive drinking in social settings. The men tend to not eat until they feel the “buzz”. So when asked to exchange five pamplemousse for that bottle of cheap rum, first think of the problem you create in a family, and then look up at the price of replacement in the shop! Your unitary price will be close to $12 a grapefruit. Now who was wiser?

If you don’t apply this simple rule, you will soon be surrounded by new friends, with all kinds of “amazing deals for you”. Add to this fact that violence is one of the major reasons to visit the dispensary.

These are a few points we have observed. There is so much to be discovered around the Marquesas; so let yourself be charmed and take your time to discover the Islands.


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  1. Ane Street says:

    Please withdraw your sentence about alcoholism “…a Marquesan doesn’t know how or when to stop when in front of a bottle,…” is an insult to your hosts and I consider it racist.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anne, and we are sorry you found some of the content in this article offensive. We try not to heavily edit the articles that come in, as these are cultural experiences that members share with us. Having said that, we have edited the content to reflect a more respectful perspective.

      1. Ane Street says:

        Thank you for replying.

  2. Jennifer Handley says:

    Hmm, your experience with regards to alcohol in the Marquesas was certainly very different from ours. We were in Hiva Oa for three weeks when we first arrived in 2006, and we also visited a couple of the adjacent islands (Fatu Hiva, Tahuata) but we did not experience what you describe. We were never asked to pay for pamplemousse with liquor, and, with 7 people aboard, we purchased dozens and dozens of them. Because we were in Hiva Oa for an extended period of time, we did meet a few of the locals and were invited into their homes and again, alcohol was not part of the picture. We also attended a couple of sporting events and while there might have been some drinking, I don’t recall it being excessive.

  3. Vassilingalou says:

    Thank you for your nice advice and a first sensitive look into life at the Marquesas.
    As we’re planning to leave the Caribbean direction Panama and Pacific the next days, it is very useful to get all ready a feeling of the Pacific people.
    Fair winds and calm seas.