Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

April 18, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

On a freighter plying the South Pacific

By Cecil Kuhne

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jumping on a cargo freighter in Tahiti for the Marquesas Islands -- the archipelago some 800 miles to the northeast -- isn't exactly the Love Boat. But it is a classic South Seas journey through a turquoise-blue sea to some of the most remote and unspoiled islands on earth.

The Aranui plies this French Polynesia route monthly, taking freight to the islands and returning with its cargo holds full of copra, the dried coconut meat from which soaps, oils and lotions are made. The limited number of passengers who are lucky enough to book passage on this 16-day journey inhabit a small portion of the 380-foot vessel.

The panoramic view of the islands is part of the attraction, along with getting to know the Aranui's barefoot, tattooed and friendly Polynesian crew.

Despite its remoteness, the Marquesas have had their share of famous visitors over time. The artist Paul Gauguin spent his last years on Hiva Oa, and is buried there. Capt. James Cook, Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson were visitors. Herman Melville spent a month on Nuku Hiva and later wrote the book Typee about his escape from cannibalistic natives.

Melville described the physical attributes of the islands perfectly: "Bold rock-bound coasts, with the surf beating high against the lofty cliffs, and broken here and there with deep inlets, which open to the view of thickly wooded valleys, separated by the spurs of mountains clothed with tufted grass, and sweeping down from the sea from an elevated and furrowed interior."

Occasionally the Aranui ties to a dock, but most often passengers are taken ashore by the ship's 25-foot wooden whaleboats, which are also used to move cargo.

While the crew works at unloading the freight, we are free to visit local villages, shop for handicrafts, watch schoolchildren perform native dances, visit magnificent Catholic churches spread throughout the islands, or just stare at the surf rolling into empty beaches.

There are also hikes into the backcountry, including several to jungle-covered archaeological sites with fascinating tikis -- stone images of Polynesian deities. Lunch is usually taken on shore at small restaurants, which are really more like the porch of someone's home, and includes an array of fresh fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, as well as lobster, breadfruit, bananas and papaya.

Attire is casual on the boat and the islands, and many of the locals, including the men, wear the single wraparound cloth called the pareu.

No one is in much of a hurry here. Evening meals on board are served family-style and prepared by experienced French cooks. The air-conditioned ship is comfortable and complete with a lounge / library, bar and even a swimming pool. Not exactly a five-star cruise, but intimate.

When we finally arrived at Papeete and the end of the journey, I dawdled as long as I could, and was the last one to leave the ship.

Cecil Kuhne lives in Dallas.

My Best Shot

Caroline Sherritt,

Baltimore

Fade to misty horizon

On a trip to Ireland with my mother, we were amazed by the majestic Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare. The limestone cliffs jut into the Atlantic Ocean and provide a view of the Aran Islands. While a few brave souls ventured down to the edge of the cliffs, we decided to keep our distance. Our time at the cliffs was unforgettable.

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