Bora Bora, French Polynesia
I woke at 6:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep. Chris was still asleep, so I slipped out to La Palette and got tea. Dixie (from the Motu Mahana lunch) was there hemming a pareo. I chatted with her and some of the other early birds.
About 6:30, I brought coffee back to the room for Chris. She got up and noticed she was hungry. It was too early for breakfast at Le Grill, so we walked around the deck and watched our approach to Bora Bora until 7:00. Once the buffet was open, we got breakfast.
We gathered with other shore excursion tourists in the Grand Salon at 8:45. Soon we were at the pier in the tiny town of Vaitape on Bora Bora. We were guided to a Land Rover that had a canopied bed with padded benches down both sides. We climbed in with six other passengers: Fred, Wendy, and Katherine Salter from LA; John and Marion from Bern, Switzerland; and Marilyn , whose home town we didn’t catch. There was also a second Land Rover that took six or seven other passengers.
Our driver introduced himself as Philip and mentioned that he owned a boutique across the road from the pier. He assured us it was the only boutique we would need to go to on Bora Bora. He was a native of Bora Bora but had left the island for his education. He said that most young people do the same thing, but 99% of them return to Bora Bora after seeing other parts of the world.
With introductions out of the way, we headed north along the paved road behind the other Land Rover. After a couple of miles, we turned right onto a dirt track that quickly became steep, rocky, and very bumpy. We all marveled at the state of the road and the ability of the Land Rover to stay upright as we held on for dear life. Phillip told us the road had been constructed by American soldiers in 1942 and hadn’t really ever been maintained.
After an eternity, we came to a stop on a rare flat spot. The view was wonderful. We could see Mt. Hue inland and the coastline to our west. After a brief stop for photos, we climbed back into the truck and continued up more horrible roads to a WWII cannon emplacement. The guns were deactivated and left there after the war, since they were hardly state of the art even in 1942. They were left over from the First World War and had been manufactured in 1906.
The guns were installed when 5,000 American soldiers turned Bora Bora into a base for sending supplies to Allied forces fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. The guns were never fired in battle. Before the soldiers arrived, there were only 700 people living on Bora Bora. Talk about culture shock. The U. S. Army did not invade or occupy Bora Bora. They were granted access by the French government in exile. The condition of the grant was that all the soldiers would leave the island after the war. After the war, the soldiers did leave. They left behind the guns, the horrible roads leading to them, and about 150 of their children.
The guns were covered in brown oxidation and white graffiti. Many tourists had commemorated their visits with their names, dates, and occasional messages. From the gun site we could see our ship and lots of motus with over-water bungalows.
After we had taken pictures and listened to the history of the U. S. involvement at Bora Bora, we reluctantly climbed back into the truck for the descent back down that same crappy excuse for a road. Even though it was horrendously bumpy, we laughed all the way.
We drove on pavement through a couple more small towns as Phillip expounded on Bora Bora culture, geography, and history. One surprise was the presence of graves in the front gardens of private residences. It is fairly common to bury family members at a family home.
Our next stop was at a pareo-painting studio called Paarara Mountain Artist. The studio and the artist’s home were in a scenic valley surrounded by jagged, green peaks. The artist was a beautiful Polynesian woman who hand-painted pareos in bright, saturated colors. Chris watched a short demonstration of the technique, and then the artist had to get busy helping shoppers buy her pareos. They were priced from $25 to over $100.
After another steep ascent to an overlook and subsequent descent, we were back in Vaitape. We had driven all the way around the island. After Phillip dropped us off at the pier, Chris and I walked across the street to his boutique. It was a fairly standard tourist shop with logo-ed clothing, tikis, and jewelry. We hadn’t brought any cash or credit cards with us. We would have bought something if we had, because we had $30 worth of francs. We were about to leave French Polynesia, so there would be nowhere else to spend them.
We took the next tender back to the Paul Gauguin. It was nearly 2:00, and we were starving. Le Grill would stop serving lunch at 2:00, so we needed to hurry. We did stop by our room to wash our hands and faces. When we were done, the washcloth was brown from the dust that had settled on us.
We managed to make it to Le Grill in time to grab some lunch. Afterward we went back to the room, cleaned up properly and napped for an hour.
Saving Coral and a Dance Performance
At 4:00 we went to a lecture given by a local oceanographer who is working to save the coral reefs. Coral reefs are disappearing due to global warming and through damage done to them directly by humans. He explained how his organization works with local resorts to plant new coral in natural and artificial reefs in the resort waters. The resorts fund the work because the reefs draw fish that the resort guests like to see. The organization also works to make the public more aware of how fragile the coral is, so they won’t stand on it or use it as an anchor for boats.
Near the end of the lecture, the PA system interrupted the speaker to announce a Polynesian dance on deck eight. The speaker took that as his queue to wrap up the presentation. He was also concerned about missing his ride back to the island from the ship.
After the lecture, we grabbed our video camera went to watch the dancers. The show was nowhere near as elaborate as the one at the Intercontinental, but the dancers looked like they were having great fun. Their stage area was much too small, but they adapted and put on an enthusiastic performance.
We returned to our stateroom and Chris ordered a bottle of wine from room service. It arrived within minutes. As we drank a glass, we reviewed the photos we had taken so far and watched the video tapes we had recorded.
I filled out a room-service breakfast request for the next day. We had been waking up very early, so I requested delivery between 6:30 and 7:00.
By dinner time, the Paul Gauguin had raised anchor and was heading at full steam out to the open ocean. We were heading to the Cook Islands and would be at sea all the next day. With the engines going at speed and open water swells, the ship was rolling more than usual. We weren’t alone in our inability to walk in a straight line as we went to dinner.
Dinner was at a group table at L’Etoile. We were seated with Pat and Tom from Cape Cod. We had met them on one of our visits to the piano bar. Soon the host filled out our table with a third couple. Bob and Sondra were from Laguna Beach. He’s an ophthalmologist, but that’s about all we learned. He was not chatty. His wife was nice, though, and we enjoyed talking with her, Pat, and Tom.
We finished dinner around 9:00 and accompanied Pat and Tom to the piano bar where Kemble was leading a sing-along. The songs were pretty old and none were our favorites. But Chris had a great time chatting with Pat. Tom knew all the songs and sang along with most of them. I sipped my Scotch and enjoyed the opportunity for people-watching.
We didn’t get back to our room until around 11:00. Our heads were spinning from the motion of the ship, the pre-dinner wine, the dinner wine, and the after-dinner drinks. That 6:30 breakfast order was looking like a mistake, but the request had already been picked up, and we weren’t thinking clearly enough to call room service to change it.