Ship Links Tahiti and Marquesas

Prince is an American writer living in French Polynesia.

Picture yourself in the South Pacific on an island whose name you probably cannot even pronounce correctly, watching a baker turning out evenly browned loaves of French bread from a primitive stone oven.

Imagine buying beautifully designed tapa cloth, the hand-printed fabric made from bark that was used not so long ago as clothing for cannibals.

Follow in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Herman Melville to find the allure that caused them and others to escape the beaten path in favor of a richer experience.

Personal Voyages

Your own discoveries can be made on a voyage aboard the Aranui, a passenger/cargo ship that makes monthly round trips from Tahiti through the Tuamotu atolls to the Marquesas Islands.

You will explore some of the least-discovered islands in the world, thousands of miles from any continent.

The baker and his rustic oven are on the island of Ua Pou. The tapa cloth is made on Fatu Hiva and you may visit Gauguin's grave in Calvary Cemetery overlooking the village of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa.

These are three of the several ports of call made by the Aranui during 16- or 17-day cruises to the Marquesas, the most remote islands of French Polynesia, more than 900 miles from Tahiti, the principal island.

This handsome 264-foot German-built vessel is operated by the Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime in Tahiti. The expanded passenger service offered by the Aranui allows you to enjoy the reality of exploring the Marquesas aboard a tramp steamer.

Physically Demanding

But cruising on board the Aranui is recommended for the traveler who is in good physical condition and can enjoy tropical climates. Age is not necessarily a limit but understand that a working cargo/copra ship is not for the coddled passenger.

The captain and crew are qualified, well-trained and polite Polynesians and the ship carries all the safety equipment required by French maritime law, which does not include a doctor.

The Aranui can sleep a maximum of 40 passengers in 17 moderate to compact cabins and another 40 on the sheltered wheelhouse bridge, where mattresses are available.

The cabins, all air-conditioned and carpeted, include classifications A, B and C. The A-class rooms include bathrooms; there are lavaboes in the B-class rooms, and full facilities, including abundant hot water, are down the hall for the B- and C-class cabins. The cabins are all attractively decorated, and kept clean with daily maid service and twice weekly laundry service.

The D-class passenger sleeps on the wheelhouse bridge where there are three toilets and three showers.

The air-conditioned dining salon is adjacent to the small bar and lounge, in which there is a modest library and games of chess, cards and backgammon.

Varying Rates

Rates for the voyage, including three daily meals, vary according to sleeping choice from $1,980 for the best cabin to $720 for deck passengers.

Departure day is always an exciting event. As passengers arrive at the Papeete dockside they are greeted with fragrant flower leis and escorted to their cabins.

While the deck passengers are getting settled on the bridge and saying goodby to their families and friends, the cabin guests are treated to welcome cocktails and canapes in the ship's lounge, where they meet their host and hostess.

These are outgoing, multilingual people who manage accommodations, tend bar, help serve meals and act as guides for the many shore excursions in the Tuamotus and Marquesas.

The French chef and his kitchen staff, meanwhile, are preparing the lunch that will be served soon after the ship gets under way. The meals are planned to please the palates of guests from different countries.

Three blasts of the ship's horn signal the Aranui's imminent farewell from Papeete, while the strong Polynesian crew makes last-minute preparations for departure.

Toward Open Sea

At noon Capt. Theodore Oputu maneuvers the vessel into the mainstream of the harbor and heads the Aranui toward the Papeete pass in the fringing reef and the open sea. Capt. Oputu points the bow northeast toward Rangiroa, the first landfall en route to the Marquesas.

At Rangiroa and Takapoto, two atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, passengers go ashore to explore the turquoise waters of the interior lagoons. The first-class Hotel Kia Ora Village in Rangiroa is their home for the day and in Takapoto they visit a black-pearl farm. Lunch is served ashore on both atolls, featuring seafoods from the lagoon.

As the Aranui holds course for the Marquesas the passengers learn to relax, enjoying the motion of the ship and forgetting about the world beyond the horizon.

On the fourth morning out we sighted the island of Ua Pou. Everyone was at the ship's rails to watch the first Marquesan landfall. The white rocks seem to be a calvary of sentinels guarding the bay.

Rugged and menacing, these steep mountains soar like rock fortresses high above the ocean. The powerful surf of the thundering sea beats endlessly against the boulders, unbroken by any barriers for more than 4,000 miles.

Sea birds fly around the islets that lie within half a mile of the coastline. Some of them leave their sugar loaf-shaped rocks and come to greet the Aranui, shrieking cries of welcome.

Peaks and Spires

New vistas of Ua Pou reveal jagged peaks and spires, phallic-shaped pinnacles that provide an appropriate introduction to these islands that legend says were born of the copulation of sea and sky and are called in Marquesan, "Te Henua Te Enata, " "Land of the Men."

Of the six inhabited islands and the six smaller, unpopulated ones, there are not more than 807 square miles of land area and only 7,000 people.

For inhabitants of isolated valleys and villages, the ship brings building materials, trucks and Jeeps, airplane fuel and food supplies. For some thirsty throats the most important product in the Aranui's holds is the new supply of beer.

The Aranui makes her calls, visiting Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva, where passengers go ashore after breakfast, weather and sea conditions permitting.

While the ship's merchandise is being unloaded and bags of copra, oranges, grapefruit and limes are weighed to stow on board, the passengers have the opportunity to visit interior valleys, where they often see relics of an unknown past in the form of stone carvings called tikis.

Ancient stone temples, where human sacrifices used to be performed, lie half hidden among the tropical foliage, slumbering in a world of green, seemingly forgotten by the Marquesans of today, who are devout Catholics.

Ashore, Aranui passengers relish feasts of lobster, shrimp, roast suckling pig and luscious fruits. Picnics under the shade of mango trees, hikes up mountain trails, visits to archeological sites and refreshing baths in cool river streams await the explorers.

A Melville Scenario

Melville's "Typee" becomes a living scenario when a visit is made by horseback or four-wheeled-drive vehicle to Taipivai. Others thrill at the first glimpse of expansive Hanavave Bay, or the Bay of Virgins, in verdant Fatu Hiva.

In some villages, humans, horses and wheelbarrows provide the only transportation. On mountains and plains, wild horses gallop freely in the wind, while white puffs of sheep balance precariously on the alpine ledges over the bays and herds of goats look down from fairy-tale-shaped peaks.

Inviting beaches, lush fruit-laden valleys, beautiful and happy Marquesan children and exciting whaleboat landings in the foaming surf become daily events.

Sometimes the Aranui anchors in waters rich with sea life. As fishing lines are dangled overboard the ship is surrounded by schools of playful dolphins, giant turtles and graceful manta rays, who perform their ballet as they feed on the abundant plankton.

Shopping for intricately sculpted rosewood or tou bowls, ukuleles, tikis, saddles and ceremonial war clubs has more meaning when you see the article being created under the skilled hands of a Marquesan woodcarver.

We also bought tapa wall hangings, basalt stone carvings and bottles of seductive monoi oil. This perfume is a combination of coconut oil and sandalwood and sometimes herbs, flowers and pineapples are added.

Revitalizing Elixir

This bewitching concoction is wonderful for revitalizing sun-dried skin and hair, is used by both sexes and has often been praised for helping to begin a shipboard romance under tropical Marquesan skies.

Others, however, give this credit to the effect of dancing the tamure , the sensuous and exhilarating undulations that are often performed on the Aranui's sun deck after dinner.

This is Tahiti's national dance, and when properly performed, is said to flame the senses. For some passengers, however, it's not the senses but the muscles that burn, after trying to learn this hip-swiveling, rubber-legging dance.

As the Aranui's services do not include a masseur, the effective treatment, then, is to go to your cabin and apply the monoi oil as a liniment.

For your discovery adventure of the Marquesas Islands aboard the Aranui, contact your travel agent or write to Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime, Bureau Aranui, P.O. Box 220, Motu-Uta, Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. Or you can telex WIMPORT 217FP.

The Aranui's wholesale agent in the United States is Ron Armstrong, World Adventures, Box 3009, Newport Beach, Calif. 92663, phone (800) 221-8687.

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