Intended to post this one a while ago …
Hanamonae Bay, on the northwest end of the island of Tahuata in the Marquesas, has got it all. Its smooth white sand beach is lined with coconut trees, limes, pamplemouse and several other unidentified (but delicious) fruits. The crystal clear water and healthy coral reefs on either side provide hours of snorkeling entertainment and make spear fishing feel like a trip to the supermarket. Every morning a pack of manta rays make their way through the anchorage and will playfully swim around you passing close enough to pet.
It also has wild chickens. We were determined to have one for dinner.
Day 1: Practice
The next morning we scavanged our boats for anything that could be used as a weapon and made our way to shore to hone our skills. Amongst our arsenal was; a pole spear, a spool of cord for rigging snares, a machete for trail blazing and a slingshot with steel balls for ammo.
We stacked tin cans and let loose on them with the sling shot, occasionally knocking one down. If we found a chicken, we’d have to get really close. Satistified with our skills, we set out into the valley to find ourselves some dinner. An hour later we found ourselves back on the beach with nothing but a bag full of limes and arms covered in thorn scrapes. We hadn’t even come close to a chicken. The feast would have to be postponed till the following day, instead we gathered firewood.
Day 2: A Close Encounter
After our hunt in the valley proved to be a failure, we studied the mornings rooster calls and decided to head into the hills. The grass was thick and we each took turns with the machete blazing our way uphill. The sun was hot and the going was slow, but as we neared the top a chicken mistakenly let out a call. We staked out the vicinity … but in the thick waist-high grass we never even caught a glimpse of our meal to be. Once again we returned to the beach empty handed.
On shore a group of locals had backed their boat towards shore, turned the stereo to eleven and begun burning the wood we’d collected. They offered us some beers, and laughed at our failed attempts to catch a chicken. “All the chickens are up in the trees.” one of them said, “wait till they’re asleep then noose them”. Unsure if they were just pulling our leg we asked if they caught the chickens. “No! we buy them forzen at the store!”.
Beer after beer came out from their cooler, followed by several whole fish (from the same cooler). They generously invited us to eat their fish, and then generously invited themselves onto our boat “to dance”. An awkward gathering followed during which they drank a healthy portion of rum and insisted on playing techno.
Day 3: An Umu (of sorts)
Thanks to the locals from the previous day we now knew which fish were ciguatoxin-free and decided our luck with hunting would improve in the water. Sure enough we managed to pull up a dozen or so (small) fish. We dug a square pit about 3ft deep and just as wide, lined the bottom with large rocks and lit a fire inside. The fish were wrapped into little packages made from large leaves and covered in coconut milk. After an hour or so we then piled a new layer of rocks on the fire (though later realized we should have kept the fire a burning for a while longer at this point), follwed by our little fish packages. We then layed branches over the pit, covered it first in canvas, then in sand and sat back and watched the sunset. An hour later, when we figured the fish was done, we deconstructed our underground oven revealing several packets of slightly less raw fish.
The umu was a failure, so we transfered our undercooked fish to a grill grate and began finishing them over the bonfire. As we sat on the beach with the last bits of light slipping away we heard a cry coming from the valley. A happy healthy chicken was taunting us.
Our chicken dinner would have to wait until Vaitahu … but thats another story.