Bora Bora – April 22, 2009

This may be French Polynesia, but the currency of choice is the American dollar. We found that out when we arrived on shore with local currency and needed more money, preferably American dollars, if we wanted to take a local tour.

The volcanic cone of Mount Otemanu looms over Bora Bora
The volcanic cone of Mount Otemanu looms over Bora Bora

A brief wander around the port town of Vaitape told us just hanging out would be less attractive than in Raiatea. So we hopped back on the tender, took dollars out of the room safe, and motored back to town.

On such a hot day, we figured a water trip would cool us, even though we’ve been on water more than land since April 13th. We settled on a Mata Tour for no particular reason. All the small companies offer the same route for the same price.

Tour boat driver for the first half of our lagoon trip
Tour boat driver for the first half of our lagoon trip

Shortly after eleven about fifteen of us piled onto a motorboat and headed out through the Teavanui Pass and into open water. The Polynesian woman who drove us handled the boat reasonably well. It stalled once, but she had a cell phone so we weren’t overly worried. Another time, we looked back to see her climbing back in, soaking wet. Woman overboard?

Lemon sharks circle the boat, waiting for a fishy handout
Lemon sharks circle the boat, waiting for a fishy handout

As promised, she took us out to where we could swim with lemon sharks. Robin and I didn’t have our bathers so watched from the boat as about a dozen of the light brown sharks wove around the swimmers. They appear to average about two metres, with a dorsal fin that has a band of white and a dark tip. The tour boats all bring fish to them so they don’t bother with the two-legged prey. The only heart-stopping moment was when a three-metre shark swam right up to a young woman.

Tevairoa Motu
Tevairoa Motu

The next destination was the Tevairoa Motu. The motu have been left like a string of stone pearls, ringing the eroded volcanic center of Bora Bora. In the eons since they were formed, they have become covered with tropical vegetation. The one we visited is one of the larger ones and has a small number of inhabitants around its perimeter.

The open-sided hut in the trees was the home of our host, who prepared treats for us
The open-sided hut in the trees was the home of our host, who prepared treats for us

After navigating the rocky beach (thanks to the Crocs of one of our fellow passengers) to reach gritty white sand, several people headed for the tables, benches and welcome shade of an open-sided hut. The “Propriété privé. Tabu” sign was on the opposite side, and most of the English-speaking visitors wouldn’t have recognized it meant “Private property. Keep out” anyway. That didn’t keep them from getting a scolding and being shooed out.

I wandered up the beach, past several more huts, and watched little crabs scuttle along the crushed-shell sand. The little guy in the photo was one of the larger of these creatures, and he was no larger than the end of my little finger, shell and all.

Basket of coconut and ripe pineapples and bananas
Basket of coconut and ripe pineapples and bananas

By the time I got back to the private-property hut, the owner and our driver had prepared a snack for us. In baskets of woven palm leaves, they had heaped chunks of banana, sliced pineapple, and spears of coconut. The bananas were ripe and sweet, the coconut crunch and refreshing, but best of all – and first to disappear – was the bright yellow, luscious pineapple, more succulent than any I’ve tasted since 1970, when I met my first husband in Hawaii, where he had a two-week break from the war in Viet Nam.

Our second driver was a ukulele-playing, good-natured fellow
Our second driver was a ukulele-playing, good-natured fellow

We switched boats and drivers on the motu since some people wanted to get back to the ship, while the rest of us wanted to go to the area in the lagoon where the stingrays hang out. Steve Irwin’s name was mentioned repeatedly. Hard to forget that the animal lover died when a stingray speared him in the heart.

Our boat driver getting up close and personal with a stingray
Our boat driver getting up close and personal with a stingray

When the boat dropped anchor and we looked over the side, stingrays a metre in diameter with tails that looked twice that in length came gliding around the boat. Anticipating the fish they knew the boats would bring, they weren’t shy about bumping up against the swimmers, who described them as rubbery and rough. One of the rays either mistook a finger for a fish or took offense when the finger’s owner had nothing to offer. Either way, the young woman came back onto the boat dripping blood.

Fellow passenger cuddling a stingray
Fellow passenger cuddling a stingray

That was the only mishap, and the boat drivers and one of the passengers gave the stingrays plenty of opportunities to nip or sting. They would grab hold of the stingrays and handle them or slip them some fish. One guy – the passenger – kept rubbing them with his knuckles. They seemed to like it and would let him pull them around.

After watching these grey, graceful beasts for an hour, I have a different sense of them. Although I have a healthy respect for their capacity to kill, I’ve seen them at their gentle best and have a new admiration for them.

Time for the last tender back to the ship was nearing so our driver turned the boat back toward the wharf.

Tiny crab walking along the beach of Tevairoa Motu
Tiny crab walking along the beach of Tevairoa Motu

This was our last stop in Polynesia’s paradise islands. If it weren’t so hot and humid, I could be lured by the tranquility, the beauty, the peace. But if it weren’t so hot and humid, Bora Bora and the other islands would not be the beautiful, seductive places they are.

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