Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m eating. It might be some kind of fish cooked in some kind of way or it might be pae pae or it might be goat. We are on a merchant ship called The Aranui “cruising” the Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are a remote archipelago two day-sail from its closest neighbor: Tahiti. We’ve come on board because David, my husband, read a book when he was a young man. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki to be exact. Heyerdahl was born in coastal village of Norway in 1914. In 1936 he traveled with his new wife to the remote island of Fatu Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific and spent a year there. Later, in 1947, he built a raft and sailed from the islands to the West coast of South America. Kon Tiki is the narrative of this crossing – named after the balsa wood raft he sailed on. Ever since David read this book he’s longed to see these islands. And the Aranui is the only way one can travel to them. We carry automobiles, horses, television sets, barrels of oil, foodstuffs, mail, and us: 87 human beings from, mostly, France and the United States, with a sprinkling of Australians and British. Our cabins are small, cramped quarters with tiny bathrooms and a porthole that doesn’t open. There is a swimming pool on board but it is empty of water. There is a rustic bar, a dining-room where we take our meals on board, and a small library with books other passengers have left behind. This is no ordinary cruise as you might have surmised by now; especially when it comes to the food.
Of all the meals breakfast is the best. Fruits – watermelon, papaya, mango, orange, pamplemousse, banana. Great pancakes! Croissants, breads, ham, cheese. You can have eggs too, any way you want them. Lunch is not bad. Mostly we’ve had picnics on the islands or gone to island restaurants. We’ve delighted in avocado stuffed with seafood, duck with peas and carrots and onions, mangoes for dessert, or palm hearts with salami, fish with rice, pineapple. But sometimes even lunch tries our palate. One day we are taken to Tahuata and endure the omnipresent welcome by dancing children and lunch. David doesn’t like the food, mostly because his fish is raw. I enjoy mine despite the flies. Another day we ride up to a mountain spot for a picnic lunch where it’s cool and even sprinkles some rain. As I sit on a rock to eat, a rooster hops over and eats my muffin.
Dinners are the biggest problem. We have fish often, which is understandable. But I don’t like how they cook fish. It might be pae-pae: raw fish with breadfruit, coconut milk and something like mayonnaise. Or it might be poisson cru or crevettes. Sometimes we have goat in coconut milk or breadfruit or smoked chicken and rice. Once they served us canned fruit cocktail. Everyone was appalled! With all the wonderful fruits around…We even get canned veggies.
When we go to the island stores, the shelves are full of canned goods, packaged, frozen: chips, cookies, salty foods, high-fat content foods – very American or French. The favorite snack of the Marquesans are cheese curls. In the last hundred years or so the Marquesans have become addicted to these easy ways and as a result their health suffers. They eat a lot of pork, goat, and sweets. One of the guides said that there is a 50% incidence of diabetes. People are generally overweight. They don’t move much because they don’t have to work. The French government subsidizes everything: housing, food, cars.
A few days ago a journalist came aboard and wrote an article about the voyage, took some photos. When I look at the paper this morning I see my picture: me sucking my finger at a buffet table in one of the restaurants. I guess the food wasn’t so bad after all.
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