Remote and unsullied, gay-friendly Marquesas Islands are heaven on earth
KEVIN KALLEY & DAVID H. CURRIER | Contributing Writers
Burly, tattooed men. Really. And this is not an Atlantis cruise.
Just 6,000 miles southwest of DFW lie the Marquesas Islands, among the most remote places on the planet. Herman Melville wrote about the Marquesas in both Typee and Moby Dick; a visitor there himself, he escaped being eaten by cannibals. (Google “Marquesas cannibals German” for some interesting news.)
But, hey, this is 2015. All is A-OK; isn’t it?
Nearly 1,000 miles north of Tahiti, the Marquesas — an archipelago of 20 islands and atolls of which only six are inhabited — depend on supplies from Papeete, the major port in French Polynesia. Interestingly named Ua Pao, Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Oa, Thauata and Fatu-Hiva, they are situated southeast of Hawaii, just south of the Equator. The names of some of the islands and villages loosely translate to “Land of Men.”
Your cruise ship, the Aranui 3, is a freighter, but the lifeline to the outside world. It provides supplies of Coca-Cola, containers of frozen foods, Pampers, modern outrigger canoes, a Primavera Vespa scooter or two, perhaps a Toyota 4Runner, or a Caterpillar D10 bulldozer to the small villages situated in Marquesan bays. Representatives of the 9,000 inhabitants of the Marquesas are enthusiastically waiting on the docks or at the community centers when the Aranui arrives with food supplies for their small general stores and 150 passengers.
Members of the “muscular” crew — as even Aranui literature refers to the staff — double as longshoremen loading and unloading freight when they are not assisting with the whaler-tenders that ferry you to and from the islands’ often primitive docks. Unlike Tahiti, Moreea or Bora Bora, the Marquesas are relatively young volcanic islands with spectacular, cloud-capped, rain-forested mountains encircling some of the world’s most beautiful small harbors. They are not protected by coral reefs and calm lagoons, although some have spectacular beaches. When the Aranui is unable to dock, your tender excursions may provide the equivalent of a 10-coupon amusement park ride to a weathered wharf or flat beach. Dramamine anyone? (Note: the ship, tenders and islands are not equipped for the mobility challenged.)
Cutely-shy Jacob, the dining room manager, and his staff, and the hot and out-there Manaarii, the entertainment coordinator, are not in the beefy category. But the hunky Polynesian dancers dressed in loin cloths, with tusks and bones adorning their classic Marquesan tattoos and accentuating well-defined chests, will tease your fantasies as they perform on deck!
Tattoos are significant in Marquesan culture. According to one of the French lecturers onboard the Aranui, categories of tattoos are reserved for particular types of individuals depending on their personality and occupation. It’s not uncommon to see males with their face entirely decorated with geometric patterns. Marquesan women frequently have tattoos from back of their ear down to the collar line of the neck.
During our cruise, the handsome husband of a Dutch couple arranged for an arm tattoo of a traditional Marquesan pattern from one of the Aranui crew. His son in Amsterdam was not amused. “It’s all downhill from here, Dad. The next thing you’ll do is buy a Harley,” he texted. You may want to add to your collection or get your first tattoo, too. (This service was not an advertised part of the cruise.)
The Aranui cruise is a 14-day adventure visiting the six populated islands, plus Takapoto and Rangiora (the world’s largest atoll) in the Tuamoto Archipelago, and Bora Bora in the Society Islands. Each of the islands offers a different experience: swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing (the Aranui chef will prepare your catch for dinner), visits to the museums of artist Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel (and their tombs), exploring the most significant tikis outside Easter Island, hiking to ancient petroglyphs, purchasing stunningly iridescent black pearls — you’ll have the option to visit a pearl farm where you may acquire pearls in a rainbow of colorful shades, various shapes and quality; meeting woodcarvers producing tikis, jewelry and masks for souvenir hunters; observing tapa being made and purchasing paintings on tapa, trying on some colorful pareos (sarongs) for that South Seas themed party back home, swimming with sharks and rays, take a helicopter tour… your days are slow-paced but busy. (If you plan to snorkel, pick up your ship-issued gear as soon as possible. There may not be enough for every passenger who wants to swim with the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.)
Cruising the Marquesas, you occasionally get “lei’d” in the villages, or at least have a traditional, fragrant tiare flower placed behind your ear. Warrior-like “savages,” tender hula dancers and tribal musicians entertain in several communities. Local children may scurry up to you to have their photo taken.
While ashore in some ports, take advantage of the chance to dine on traditional foods at a simple local restaurant. Goat, pork and fish cooked in a Marquesan earth oven are accompanied by vegetables, fresh salads and fruit desserts.
As an openly gay couple, we were always at ease in Papeete and on the islands. In fact, the Polynesians are well known for their acceptance of LGBT citizens (GenderCentre.org.au). Onboard the Aranui, we easily made many friends with the straight couples during the social events. Passengers were quick to “bravo” us during the Polynesian costume night (we took cheap tropical stuff from Walmart); the fashion show (couture provided by the ship’s boutique) also provided for multi-lingual camaraderie.
Graduates of the dance class gave a talented performance after dinner at the last night at sea. Manaarii would have had great success teaching dancers at the Round-Up Saloon how to line-dance Marquesan style! He also provides classes in ukulele, pareo fashion and palm frond weaving.
Aranui 3 has a variety of accommodations with standard cabins featuring twin beds, porthole, a desk, closet, under bed storage, television, intra-ship telephone, a safe for your valuables and bath with shower. Larger suites feature private balconies, queen size beds, sitting areas, mini-fridge and full size tub with shower. The Owner’s Suite can accommodate larger parties. For those who may be more budget-minded, there are even dormitory style accommodations. And speaking of budgets, tipping is not expected or appreciated on the ship or any of the islands including cosmopolitan Tahiti.
Coming in August: Part 2 of the Marquesas Islands
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2015.