Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia
January 30, 2017
Eight days at sea and we are ready to get off the ship! The storm in California kept us from the planned itinerary, which was to journey to Honolulu after five sea days. We will also miss Pago Pago, which is unfortunate because we’ve never been there.
However, the new additions to the itinerary are Bora Bora and Papeete. Not too damn bad at all! We had a chance to visit these ports a few years ago on the Sapphire Princess, but to paraphrase, “He who is tired of French Polynesia is tired of life.”
The approach to the island is stunning, the blue of the sea changes colors as you approach the reef and the peaks are lush green. Puffs of white clouds hula across the sky. It is a small island, only six miles long by two and a half miles wide. It is also hot. The tropical sun is not to be messed with. We ride the tender to the dock and then scurry from shady patch to shady patch until we duck into a “local artists shop”. It’s mostly tourist souvenirs, but we have to look. We repeat, scurry, shop, scurry, shop.
The local school is letting out. Maybe it’s an early release day?i. I think it’s fun to see the Polynesian middle school aged kids who are plugging in iPods, dodging pedestrians on their skateboards and chatting and giggling just as California kids do. Parents are competing for the best spots to pick up their kids and they yell, “over here”, mostly in French. It is so, so familiar, but also so crazy different.
The Polynesian parents are in late model used cars filled with smaller kids. The homes along this area are very modest. There are very large homes on the hillside they must have fantastic views and I would guess that they are very expensive.
Barry and I read somewhere that more tourists visit Hawaii in one day than during a year in French Polynesia. It is small island living here. There are very expensive resorts. There are hotel rooms over the water, little huts often with windows in the floor to see the fish go by. They are very pricey. One of of our fellow passengers said they were $35,000 a week. These are often seen in travel magazines, I will check the rates when I have better wifi.
Bora Bora (there is no B in the Tahitian language, the early white invaders misheard Pora Pora) was one of the most important islands during ancient times. The name means first born, believed to be given this name because it was controlled by the first born son of the king. In 1770 James Cook arrived and things began take a dramatic turn for the worse for the Tahitians. In 1842 Bora Bora became a French colony. During World War II it served as an oil depot and and military supply base. So it’s had its share of outside influences.
Barry and I enjoy a restorative beer then head off for our excursion. Bora Bora aqua safari helmet dive advertises “Experience an underwater adventure without getting your hair wet!”. Though I fully intend to get my hair wet in that heavenly water, we’ve never tried these aqua helmets before. Fresh air is piped into a helmet and we can go down deeper and longer than were we snorkeling.
A lithe, young French woman named Elise (whom I soon learn moved here from Paris a few years ago), collects eight of us in a smallish motorboat. Glorious! The feel of the sea air and the bumping over the waves relieves us from the burden of the now oppressive heat. Then we spy the apparatus that we will try for the first time.
There are eight square glass helmets arranged on the deck of another motorboat. Each helmet has rubber tubing from the top to a big box. There are gauges and valves on a panel where a deeply suntanned Frenchman is smiling at us. Elise explains that we will step down the boat’s ladder until the sea is up to our shoulders and she will help the man get the helmet on us. Another young, lithe French woman (this one from Montpelier in the south of France) has scuba gear on and helps us drop to the sea floor. It is comfortingly only about 15 feet. I do feel a bit like “DiverDan”. The helmet is weighted and keeps us down. I keep yawning vigorously to clear my ears. I was concerned that I may feel claustrophobic, but feet fine. The regular hiss of the air being pumped in is quite reassuring and I am thoroughly loving this. Ironically, Barry is the one who is a little panicked. He tells me later that he had to remind himself to relax and breathe. Then he was ok.
Well, this is the closest thing to taking a stroll in an aquarium that I can think of. Vast numbers of reef fishes are attracted to the food that the crew puts in nets around our necks. (Thankfully no chub, no sharks….). A ray who is well know to the crew stays to play the entire time we are submerged. I love that I can just stay underwater and enjoy all these fishes. When snorkeling, you are limited to how long you can. Hold your breath and can be pushed by the current as well. In this gear, I feel solidly footed and giddy to just stand there and have a good eye to eye chat with all sorts of sea creatures.
Quite an excellent visit!