Posts Tagged ‘French Polynesia’

Bora Bora

November 6th, 2007 at 6:57 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Day 7 of our Pacific Journey – Bora Bora
October 26, 2007

Our second full day aboard the Pacific Princess commenced with anchoring at Bora Bora, a larger atoll and island located some hundreds of miles northwest of Moorea – we sailed (if moving under propeller power can aptly be called sailing) about 15 hours to get here.

One of the geological differences between the atoll of Bora Bora and that of Moorea was that Bora Bora had many things in the atoll lagoon referred to as a “Motu”, or motus in plural. A motu is a small piece of land between the barrier reef of the atoll and the main island at the center of the atoll. The motu land is typically a volcanic substrate with some exposed coralline rock, and because of the volcanic soil, can be covered with lush vegetation, as was the case with the motus around the island of Bora Bora.

The Hawaiki Outrigger Race

Outrigger on Bora BoraAfter breakfast and the now-usual tour group congregation, we were ferried over by tender to Vituape, the nearest port. Port traffic was hopping, as was island traffic in general, and we only learned later that this was because today was the final day of the Hawaiki Outrigger Race, in which many contenders in outrigger canoes (a long canoe with a pontoon on one side and about a half dozen rowers) had been rowing diligently for the last three days between several islands. It was kind of like the Tour de France, but with outriggers and teams instead of bicycles and individual riders and held in the water instead of the lands and mountains of France. Okay, so maybe not quite like the Tour de France, but the local populace was pretty excited about the whole thing – so much so that people cut out early from work and clogged the sole around-the-island road.

The Island Circle Tour

Our tour bus stops for the church photo opportunityAnyhow, we were guided to a set of three vehicles that at first glance looked like buses, but in fact were trucks onto which bus-like structure had been added on. This structure featured rows of office chairs bolted onto wood frames, and also had a woven reed roof. Very innovative, but not particularly comfortable. We ended up in bus 2, with Virge (“Vihr-zheh”) as our driver and tour guide Enua (“Enn-ooh-ah”). Enua was quite an interesting character – a blend of French arrogance, island charm, scolding parent, and I’m-Big-Mama-don’t-mess-with-me (and she was a big woman too – that helped support that attitude). I don’t believe I liked her much. And, while I felt she was talking down to us during a fair bit of the tour, there was never any one thing I could point to to support that feeling on my part. Linda’s take is that Enua exuded a not-so-subtle sense of having better things to do than shepherd a bunch of cruise cattle. I certainly enjoyed Sandy’s more down-to-earth tour guide style on Moorea. That’s for sure.

This was my first experience in a long time of being in a large bus (or bus-like-thing) with a large group of people, and I did not really enjoy it much at all. Enua kept having us stop in various places for 5 minute breaks – I’m not sure if that was for us as tourists (because the places we tended to stop did not seem particularly noteworthy for the most part) or for her so she could take a cigarette break. Something, like her lighting up as soon as we had all removed ourselves from the bus, leads me to believe it was the latter. The part I really did not care for was that with all of the older folks on board, it took longer to get off and back on the bus than we actually spent at a particular 5-minute break location.

Our first real non-break/photo stop was at a pareo “factory” – basically someone’s house with a big backyard where the pareos were made. A pareo, as I pointed out in my previous post on Moorea, is much like a sarong. While the pareos on Moorea were basically just tie-dye-like patterns on cloth, on Bora Bora they had come up with an interesting way of incorporating recognizable designs, such as shells, sea turtles, and the words “Bora Bora”.

Bas observes the application of the linoleum shapes on the freshly dyed pareoThis was accomplished by taking the freshly dyed (and still damp) pareos, laying them out on a flat surface, and then putting linoleum forms and shapes over them. These linoleum forms would be cut in the shapes of shells, sea turtles, and the words “Bora Bora”, for example. As the sun dried the exposed parts of the pareo and faded it a bit in the process, the parts under the linoleum would dry more slowly and not fade, thereby highlighting the pareo with the shape of the linoleum forms. A human analogue would be when people are sunbathing, the parts of their bodies that are exposed to the sun turn one color (brown, but more often pink and red), while the parts that are covered by bathing suits, bikini tops, or thongs, remain relatively pale. We call the intersection of such burned tanned areas and the untouched areas a tan line. What the Bora Bora pareo makers do, in effect, is give their pareos tan lines too.

The ladies at the pareo “factory” greeted us with fresh fruit – pineapple, grapefruit, coconut (not really a fruit – it’s a seed, I guess), and papaya, and then proceeded to demonstrate pareo-making and pareo-tying. They also had a nice special of “buy five, get one free”, so we did, and got a couple of small tridacna clam shells as a bonus. This made the kids happy, and Bas was so thrilled with the pareo that he picked out that he wore it as a cape for much of the rest of the day.

Along the way, we did learn a few things from Enua. First was that the major export of Bora Bora, and in fact, many of the surrounding islands, was something called “copra”. Copra is dried coconut meat (the white part of the coconut), and when it was a major trade item in the Pacific, starting back in the 1800s, it was used to make coconut oil. Copra continued to be actively made from harvested coconuts until the end of the 1900s, with the coconut husks being used to fuel Bora Bora’s power generation, but as the pay for work in the service industries, especially in tourism, improved, copra production became less attractive as a means of livelihood and has since faded away as a cash crop. And the power plant is now fueled by diesel instead.

A Marae featuring a carving of a turtle on Bora BoraWe also saw a Marae – a sacred place of power for those who believed in the so-called old Gods of the Polynesians. Enua told us that human sacrifices used to be made there. The marae we saw, indicated by a stone with a carving of a turtle on it, still stands because it is “tapu” (taboo) to build anything on the land where it resides.

Land crabs were another feature of our tour – we saw them lured out with green leaves and fighting over that leaf. There were holes all over the shoreline where these crabs live. The crabs will eat most anything they can get their claws on, which means that island residents have to take extra measures to prevent the crabs from destroying their crops. That includes putting metal bands on palm trees (which keeps the rats away from the coconuts too). The land crabs are edible, but only once they have been “cleaned” for two weeks with a diet of coconut, mango, and papaya.

Enua also made sure to tell us about every hotel we passed by. For some reason, hotels and resorts were perceived to be tourist landmarks, a thing we found both curious and annoying at the same time. Sandy back on Moorea did the same thing, but as they only have three big resorts, it didn’t grate upon us as much.

One of the sights we did enjoy, but from afar, were the multitude of motus surrounding Bora Bora. The turquoise waters around the motus were stunningly beautiful. But almost all of the motus were privately owned, and only accessible by boat. Interestingly, Bora Bora’s airport also sits on a motu.

A partial list of celebrities which are to have graced Bloody Mary's in Bora BoraAfter several more “breaks” – which were actually sorely needed because the road conditions were horrific as a result of lots of pot holes and no real suspension in the bus to speak of, we ended up at a tourist trap fine local bar and restaurant called “Bloody Mary’s”. We assumed it was a great place, because lots of world-renowned celebrities who likely knew nothing at all about Bora Bora had visited the establishment and had apparently agreed to have their names listed on a board of patrons. The $12 house special strawberry daiquiri was a real treat, and worth at least one-sixth that price.

We had to bypass one final stop, namely at a pretty beach, because it was intensely crowded with people awaiting the arrival of the outrigger canoes in the aforementioned Hawaiki Outrigger Race, returning instead to the small village of Vituape.

Fine Dining on Bora Bora

While our search for local cuisine was not quite as thwarted on Bora Bora as on Moorea, our choices were still rather limited, at least within walking distance of Vituape (and we really did not care to go back and eat over-priced burgers at Bloody Mary’s either). The Richters wait for lunch at Fare Poulet, a Snack in Vaitape on Bora BoraAfter some wandering about we settled on a local “snack”. Much as on Bonaire, a snack is a local eatery where food is typically ordered at a counter for take-away. Some snacks have a larger counter where one can also eat the purchased food on site, much as we did at a little place called Fare Poulet. Fare Poulet featured mostly modified oriental fare, using some local ingredients. Krystyana had a fish dish, I had pork in oyster sauce, and both Linda and Bas had chicken in tamarind sauce. All quite tasty and filling (and no ill results the next day either).

While we enjoyed our snack fare, we found the lack of nice sit-down restaurants a bit troubling. As best we can figure is that most of the resorts are either all-inclusives or make it very difficult for their guests to leave by being on private motus, and as such demand for fine dining is too low to support a breadth of fine dining establishments. Again, for us this was a stark contrast to Bonaire, which, while having an abundance of snacks, also has a great selection of sit-down eateries within easy walking distance of the piers where cruise ships would dock.

We wandered about the various tourist-oriented shops in Vituape for a bit, and also checked out the local grocery store where we encountered a geriatric stock boy dusting the shelves as he filled them, wearing nothing more than sandals, shorts, and a duster (he wasn’t actually wearing the latter, but did have it in hand).

Diving Dry

We were supposed to return to the dock for a 1:50pm pick-up to go on our afternoon excursion aboard a submarine, but it turns out that that time was a typo on our tickets, and in fact were supposed to show up at 2:50pm. We were a bit disgruntled, but ended up using our time to view the outrigger canoes which had finished the race and were being packed up to be taken back to their homes – locally and on other islands) and followed that up by some ice cream and a French puff pastry at a little cafĂ© we had stumbled across.

At just before 3pm we found ourselves with Sebastian, the pilot of a small, fast boat heading out beyond the barrier reef encircling Bora Bora. We approached what at first appeared to be a yellow spot on the horizon, but soon grew to be the submarine we had reserved space on. Along with us was an older couple, for a grand total of six passengers – the maximum the submarine could hold.

We boarded the submarine with the assistance of its captain, Alan, a Frenchman filled with enthusiasm for his job (truly!), and embarked for our journey into the depth’s of Bora Bora’s waters. Awaiting us, on the other side of 9 centimeters of plexiglass, were a bevy of remoras. Remoras are the fish which are usually seen clinging to large marine creatures, like sharks, whales, and manta rays. They are also known as shark suckers.

After the submarine’s hatch closed, and our ballast tanks were loaded with sea water, we started to slowly descend in a rocking motion, first pitching forward for a while, then backwards, until we had descended to nearly 20 meters (66 feet) below the water’s surface. Alan waxed on with infectious glee about the various fish we were seeing outside the submarine, providing an on-going commentary about how the submarine operated, where to look for the most interesting fish, and what we might expect next.

A fisheye view of the submarine's interiorBas, who was initially rather filled with trepidation by the whole concept of going underwater in a submarine lost all his worries and started joining Alan in pointing out various fish species (he and Linda had been studying some fish guides we brought along with us after they snorkeled briefly in Tahiti at our hotel there).

One thing that attracted the fish to the submarine was a small exterior hatch that was well stocked with frozen, aged (stinky) fish. The opening to the hatch could be popped open temporarily, and Alan used this feature to create small feeding frenzies for our viewing pleasure.

Over the course of the 45 minute dive, we saw dozens of species of jacks, snappers, butterfly fish, angelfish, several coronet fish, a trumpet fish, black tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks, a school of young barracuda, triggerfish, and many more. And the mildly eerie cyan lighting permeating the interior of the sub as the colors of sunlight were filtered by the depth of the water in which we found ourselves only made the experience more interesting.

All in all, the enjoyment of our submarine ride far outshone our disappointment with the morning’s circle island tour, and Bas stated he would love to go down in a submarine anytime the opportunity arose again. Definitely a convert to the underwater life. Now we just need to remind him he can see all the same things and more when he goes scuba diving with us.

We returned to the pier at 4pm to catch the penultimate tender back to the Pacific Princess. Once on board I headed off for another spa treatment (this time with Karen and a men’s facial). And at 6pm we took our first “formal night” in stride with the best clothes we had brought with us, and dined in Sterling Steakhouse Grill, one of the two specialty restaurants on board. The meal was good, as was the service.

After dinner, Krystyana and I went to see the evening show put on by the ship’s entertainment staff. The show was entitled “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”, featuring rock music of the 60s – clearly targeted at the median age demographic of our fellow passengers. But we knew most of the music as well and enjoyed ourselves. I was pleased to find virtually no lip-syncing going on (a contrast to my first and only prior big-ship cruise on Carnival about 20 years ago) – the performers actually did their own singing (and dancing, of course). That show got Krystyana hooked on attending the evening performances as well, much to our amusement.


As might be apparent from the above, we were less than charmed by Bora Bora. It seemed overly busy, and not particularly friendly to visitors (other than wanting to part them with their money at places like Bloody Mary’s). Others who had visited Bora Bora before told us that our day was unusual, mostly because of the Hawaiki Outrigger Race, and normally Bora Bora was a sleepy, quiet place. Bora Bora might be worth a return visit at some point, but it’s definitely not very high on our list, especially in contrast with Moorea. I will note that first impressions, when you have but a part of a day to experience a new destination, are critical, and our bus tour was our first (and negative) impression. If the people giving you your tour don’t exude enthusiasm and delight over their own lands (or island), how can visitors expect to be delighted with their visit? Food for thought, even for our friends back on Bonaire, which is seeing an influx of cruise tourism itself even as I write this.

And so ends day 7 of our Pacific Journey.

Photos from this day can be found here.