It was raining when we arrived at the Vaitape port once again. Some older gentlemen were sitting and chatting while music played on a handheld radio. After a very friendly attempt to call a ride for us and our assurances we didn’t need one, our Airbnb host pulled up with a huge smile. She gave us fragrant orchid leis and we set off in her car for the market and her place, Bora Bora Fishing Paradise Lodge. The car was clean and smelled like fresh laundry, a good omen that this would be a better experience than our last time on the main island.
We drove North toward the lodge, winding around bays and inlets in the rainstorm. By the time we arrived, it had kindly stopped and our host showed us to our room. She led us up a few steps to a covered porch and into an open-air kitchen and living room. Three bedrooms surrounded the living area, one of which was ours. Another couple was in the bedroom at the opposite end.
White walls and floors were trimmed in blue. Curtains and upholstery in the typical Polynesian patterns made for a bright contrast. The place had the feel of a summer camp for adults. Our hosts, Loana and Daniel, invited us to dinner at the local Chinese restaurant with themselves and the other couple. We happily accepted. First, though, Loana said there would be a walk at four o’clock if we wanted to join. There would still be time to shower before dinner, she had thought of everything! Loana was very organized and direct in a warm way, it felt like an inn out of a book.
Our walk passed pleasantly. We stopped at a marae, a Polynesian ruin, and soon headed up a very old steep stone track. The track turned and we emerged at the remains of a very large cannon and associated bunker. Defensive cannons dot the main island of Bora Bora, remnants of World War Two when the US used the island as a supply base. When the US forces left in 1946, the guns were left behind, having never been used. The fueling depot built on Bora Bora during the war supplied the planes and ships that fought in the Battle of Coral Sea and the airstrip built then served as the only international airport in the islands until the opening of Faa’a airport in Tahiti in 1960.
After we returned from our walk, we showered and all piled into the car together for dinner. Our hosts had run this fishing lodge for years; Loana is from the islands and Daniel from France. The other couple was Australian, he originally from France (and often served the translator) and she originally from England. At the Chinese restaurant, it was quickly determined that Daniel would simply order a sampling of many dishes and a bottle of red wine for the table. So, a Polynesian/French couple, an Australian/French/English couple, and an American couple dined on Chinese food and French wine in Bora Bora, a small island in the vast South Pacific. Another bottle of wine? Chocolate dessert? Oui, Oui. It was a great evening of sharing experiences and trading stories, the kind that we imagined before we set off on this world tour.
As we drove back, I looked up to the Southern sky tired and satisfied. One of our new friends pointed out the Southern Cross to me once we returned. The following day, Zack and I hung around the house video chatting and blogging. After our exercise, we took a dip in the small pool. Somehow, we ended up wearing Loana’s flower crowns while Daniel snapped pictures. Many Polynesians wear beautiful full crowns of tropical flowers. I loved seeing the many different styles and they are usually very fragrant as well, no need for perfume!
When our new friends returned in the evening, they invited us to join them for dinner in the common area. We had planned to walk to the nearby snack restaurant for dinner and so had nothing to contribute. Undisturbed, they shared everything with us, even splitting a beer three ways. Now that is generosity! Perhaps one of the things we miss most while traveling is getting together with friends for a meal or a drink and passing an evening in good conversation. Sitting and chatting all evening was a real treat for us. And if you are reading this, we will be finding you in Melbourne!
Loana asked if we wanted to join her on a hike over the pass and we eagerly agreed. There isn’t much hiking in Bora Bora, but there is some and we were interested in seeing another side of the island other than the lagoon. We set off in the morning. As we walked through neighborhoods to reach the trailhead, we spotted a dog that looked emaciated and ill which spurred Loana to speak about some of the issues of the island. She passionately cared about her community.
It is easy to think of life in tropical islands as an everyday holiday for all, an easy idyllic life. Of course, this is rarely the case. While food grows abundantly, other problems persist. In our travels, we have seen many a stray and mangy dog. Bora Bora had some of the worst wandering the streets. Animals that look so awful, so far gone, our first thoughts were that they should be put out of their misery.
Poverty is an issue and school dropout rates can be high. Unemployment hovers around a fifth in French Polynesia. Every house has a solar powered hot water heater on the roof to take advantage of the ample sunlight yet electricity still comes from a massive diesel-powered generator, and it is very expensive. There is no graveyard on Bora Bora. People bury loved ones in their own front yard. The relationship with France is contentious.
Some of these things are true throughout French Polynesia and some just on Bora Bora. Of course, everywhere in the world has issues. And luxury resorts next to abject poverty to a degree far worse than in French Polynesia are a common sight in many countries. For us, though, seeing these things and hearing about them was a reminder for our own thoughts. Based on our previous limited experience of staying on a motu resort, we had often thought of Bora Bora as an oasis where everything was wonderful. Although that sounds like a compliment, we essentially dismissed the islands as a place for vacation, but not real life. Like admiring a beautiful woman for her beauty alone, we missed the realness, the edges, the complexity. Just like every person has more to her/him than we see, so does every place.
Back to our hike! After we made it through the neighborhood, we began ascending on a dirt track surrounded by lush tropical plants. Loana pointed out local plants and their uses, even stopping to show us how to tell a male papaya tree from a female (fruit-bearing) one. The morning was warm and humid, but thankfully a bit cloudy and with frequent cool breezes. We walked through a working farm (our route was not a public one so we were glad Loana likes hiking) and climbed higher to a clearing, the pass.
From the pass, we had a close-up view of Mt. Otemanu shrouded in floating mist. Tiny purple and white flowers sprouted up among the tall grasses, one or both of which smelled sweet and fresh. I couldn’t figure out which there were so many. In the opposite direction, the lagoon shimmered and the motus lay with their outstretched dotted arms of overwater bungalows. Loana pointed out every hotel: Four Seasons, St. Regis, Le Meridien, Intercontinental Thalasso; they all seemed a world away. Behind the motus, the darker Pacific stretched out to the horizon and we could just barely see some other islands and atolls.
We made our way down the opposite side of the mountain and as we did so Loana pointed out a prominent cave in the mountain. The cave was used as a burial site for royalty. We marveled at the task of carrying a body up such steep and difficult terrain. As final resting places go, it looked like a nice one. Although the peak is one of our favorite parts of the island, we had never noticed or been able to see the cave, and it added another dimension to our fondness. Otemanu is a beautiful and unique peak, and it’s small enough to be able to easily see each different angle in detail, and they are extremely different!
As we picked our way down the slope Loana and I discussed the mental benefits of exercise in addition to its physical necessity. I shared how when I feel down or have a problem, a run or hike often helps me to see a way through it and she responded vigorously, “You see then that there are no problems, only solutions.” She impressed us both with her positive attitude and high energy. As usual, we find that those who appreciate the value of physical exercise often have a happy disposition and generally sunny outlook on life.
Our hike left the forest and continued down the main road and up a hill. We paid the owner of the land 500 Francs each (about 5 USD) and continued up the hill to a prominent outcropping. Up a black lava rock path were two more old cannons, an ammunition bunker, and a square cement lookout (like the “pill boxes” in Hawaii). Today the cannons point out to the lagoon and the luxury resorts. The grounds around them are filled with tropical plants: plumeria trees, birds of paradise, and coconut trees to name a few. It’s hard to picture them manned with servicemen at the ready.
We explored a bit and sat down in the shade of a large rock to wait for Daniel to pick us up in the car. Finally, we said Mauruuru, thank-you, to the owner and headed back up the road. The landowners maintain the grounds and allow access for the fee we paid. Land is traditionally handed down through generations, “From the mountain to the motu.” We had wondered why the beach side of the road is often fenced or roped off, and this explains it – it is private land!
On our last day, we rented the lodge’s car, an old Peugeot, and ventured down to Bora Bora’s only beach, Matira. We lounged, stood, sat, and swam in the water. Not far from the shore, we found tiny bits of coral which were home to baby fish! They were very tiny and very cute darting around their miniature homes. After a bit of swimming, we returned to Snack Matira, the restaurant we stumbled upon the previous week. It was delicious again, and a beautiful afternoon. The weather was clear and as we drove back I noticed another cool rock crag on the majestic Mt. Otemanu.
Before we left Bora Bora we met another lovely person, a young French woman traveling solo around the islands with whom we traded tips and experiences before saying so long. In keeping with Polynesian tradition, Loana and Daniel gave us shell leis upon our departure. Now, we have a very different and more real perspective on the famous Bora Bora, and it will still always be a special place to us. At the airport, we sipped iced lattes and happily watched the boat and crab traffic as we awaited our flight to explore yet another island.
© Cheers Life Partners 2017