Since I'm adventurous, the remoteness of the Marquesas and the almost impossible way to get to them were intriguing. Their removed placement on the planet ensured that they'd stay virtually untouched for centuries; that is, until the Aranui ships had the idea of opening up some tourism and bringing passengers along on their deliveries in the islands.
Aranui, meaning "The Great Highway" is not your typical cruise ship. The Aranui is literally the lifeline to the Marqesas. The boat, crewed primarily by Marquesans, departs Papeete, Tahiti every six weeks on 14-day "adventure cruises," with the primary focus to deliver supplies from mainland Tahiti to the various islands; I'm talking everything from livestock to fruits to modern day amenities. One of the items on my cruise was a cement truck delivered to the first island stop, Nuka Hiva.
What was liberating about the Aranui cruise was that is was devoid of the typical pieces of a traditional cruise experience: the non-existent endless buffets and 10-pound weight gain, and lines of hundreds queing up to disembark on each island. Instead I was able to hang out with the crew to learn about their culture and be treated like family. This is "un-cruising," as I call it. I also found that most of the passengers on board were seasoned travelers looking for something different and unique, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Now, as "rugged" as the Aranui sounds, it's actually quite comfortable. There are 15 suites and only 53 cabins, with the maximum amount of passengers around 150, and the crew knows each passenger by name. The ship has a lounge and small library for reading, although most books are in French; there are also a couple of computers although internet access is only available on two islands, and about $50 US dollars for a 1-hour internet access code available via the small on-board gift shop. There is a bar, run by YoYo, and on-board entertainment supplied by the crew. Each cruise also brings along historians and archeologists who enlighten passengers about the Marquesan culture while en-route at sea, and various lessons are offered to keep passengers busy. One such activity was traditional dance taught by "Smiley," who then incorporates students into a special evening of entertainment for passengers.
By the trip's end, I can guarantee that friendships forged at sea will remain, the memories of the crew "singing you home" will brighten any cloudy day, and just maybelike many of the passengers I "un-cruised" withbooking another trip to the Marquesas with the Aranui will be a given.
Tomorrow: Adventure Girl sets foot on the islands of Fakarava, Nuka Hiva and Ua Poa
[All photos: Stefanie Michaels]