The Marquesas

I've always had a silly, romantic, almost schoolgirlish yearning for the South Pacific. It's a little embarrassing, but there it is.

There are basically two types of Pacific islands. The first are atolls, which consist of rings of coral surrounding a low-lying, sandy island. These are the type which used to be featured in New Yorker cartoons. (As in, if you were stuck on a desert island with one other person...) The second are the volcanic islands, like Hawaii, or Tahiti, or the Marquesas Islands, which are pictured above and below. These rise straight up out of the sea, and generally have a more forbidding aspect. Sorta like that island in the King Kong movie.
The Marquesas, located halfway between Australia and South America, are not just specks in the sea, but have a combined land area of 405 square miles. This is considerably smaller than the Hawaiian Islands, which are by far the largest in Polynesia and total 10,931 square miles, but is still substantial. (Most people don't realize that the Big Island of Hawaii, after which the state is named, is larger in area than the state of Connecticut.) Rhode Island, by contrast, has a total land area of 1045 square miles. Tahiti totals 403 square miles, but a population of 178,000, compared to the Marquesas' 8000.

This wasn't always the case. Back in 1600, when the Marquesas were first "discovered" by whites, they had a population of roughly 78,000. But the whites who arrived brought their usual gift of smallpox, and by 1900 the population was only 2000. During the 20th century the population gradually rebounded to a little more than 8000.

Hawaii is an incredibly beautiful place. But it's part of the US, and has a population of 1,374,000. It has one of the busiest airports in the world, a huge tourist industry, and a completely bastardized culture. It averages 214 people per square mile, compared to 440 for Tahiti and 20 for the Marquesas.

In all these three places, the air just smells better: bougainvillea, hibiscus, and frangipani all give off distinctly sweet, tropical scent. Any pollution just gets blown offshore. And gentle Trade Winds deliver moist, 78 degree air.
While researching this post I found out that a season of Survivor was shot in the Marquesas a few years ago, which somehow lessens the attractiveness of the place. But not by that much, because it actually underscores the fact that the Marquesas are one of the most remote places on earth. There is simply no place in Hawaii or even Tahiti where they could have shot a show like that.

Part of every Polynesian dream is the idea of leaving one's cares behind. But another traditional part of the dream has been the beautiful native girls. Polynesian women, especially with a little Caucasian admixture, can be beautiful when young. But that window tends to be quite narrow: by the age of 35 or 40, most are obese. A Marquesan woman:
I'm generally not one to be influenced by a woman's wardrobe. But if I saw the Marquesan above in tight Western clothing hanging out in a bar in South Norwalk, I probably wouldn't give her a second look. I might even think, yecch. But in that sarong, with that flower behind her ear, in that Polynesian setting, she evokes dreams of paradise. Silly me.

Realistically, I'll probably die without ever having visited the Marquesas.

Still, it's nice to know such a place still exists.