8 months have passed since I last posted about our big Tahiti trip. Wow! One year ago tonight (at least when I started typing this, but the kids wanted to go to the fireworks and then watch a movie, so…), Teen and I boarded Alaska Airlines flight 66 and 30 hours later, we were standing in line at the Papeete Inter-Continental hotel. I had to go back and reread the earlier posts to figure out what the heck I was saying, so if you want a refresher too…
Post #1: How About Something Nice to Read About… (trip prep and planning)
Post #2: Vacation 2020 – Part 2 (Yakutat to Papeete)
Post #3: Vacation 2020 – Part 3 (Windstar Cruise from Papeete to Moorea, Raiatea and Tahaa)
And now for part 4 – Bora Bora!
Photo swiped from the web…
First off, Bora Bora is more than the stereotypical tropical destination… It is the perfect one. Every fantasy ideal of paradise is just a rip-off of the real thing (including the tropical paradise in The Incredibles). On almost every top 10 list of best islands, best destinations, best whatever… Bora Bora is usually #1. No other place on earth can genuinely compare. Sound overblown and exaggerated? Nope.
Another photo swiped from the web… One of several outer atoll resorts
The perfect volcanic peak completely surrounded by a ring of motus (islands). Incredible white, or pink sandy beaches. Spectacular resorts with their famous over-water bungalows. Aquatic wildlife so plentiful and diverse that you can’t fully appreciate unless you have been there. Probably more than once. Visiting Bora Bora is like being in a perfect virtual reality. It is almost like no way it could be real. How’s that for an endorsement?
The trip from Tahaa to Bora Bora was another short one. They depart the first atoll each night around 6pm and are anchored before midnight usually.
Most famous for it’s overwater bungalows, we spent most of our time on a cruise ship. Not the best way to experience Bora Bora, but as a small 148 pax sail boat/diesel hybrid, it wasn’t a bad way either. Throughout the trip, we didn’t take very many shore excursions. Between the fly shop, fueling airplanes and ground-handling the mail plane every morning (except Sunday) – PLUS hangar construction – I don’t get ANY days off. Even if I’m no longer also squeezing in commercial fishing and guiding… An occasional nap is a cherished holiday. This first vacation in nearly two decades was all about relaxing, not running around doing a bunch of activities. That said, we missed out on a LOT of incredible things to do, especially here. No, I did NOT go fishing!
Paradise! The atoll is a nearly perfect complete protective circle. Other than a few shallow spillways, the only navigable entrance is on the west side with 7 remaining WWII cannons overlooking it. Our military blew the entrance deeper 80ish years ago, but any “damage” to the coral, or aquatic life definitely recovered. The air base (3-letter identifier airport code “BOB”) is at the very north tip of the atoll. Most of the resorts are also spread out along the outer atoll, with only a couple smaller ones on the main island. You can easily see the bungalows along the upper right side of the atoll.
The one thing I really wanted to do though was take their WWII tour. I’d almost call that a “work day”, since I give a dozen WWII tours myself each week through the summer, but those tend to be more a labor of love than actual work… The cruise scheduled two full days in Bora Bora and we didn’t have anything planned for day-1. Slept in late, over-ate again for breakfast and over-ate again again for lunch. In the afternoon, we took the shuttle to shore and wandered around the town of Vaitape for a couple hours in the very hot sun, then went back to the ship to relax.
I’m starting the realize I need to dial it back at breakfast
Taking a rest at the dock in Vaitape
One of the MANY churches throughout the islands
They have a couple small grocery stores like this one with easy walking distance of the dock
Like I need yet another ice cream bar
Pretty clear that these big international hotel chain resorts don’t have a lot of financial impact on the local economy, or lifestyle. Yes, they employ locals and locals do conduct most of the shore excursions, but the communities around the main island live VERY modestly. One of our shipmates remarked that he was shocked by the poverty. Yes, they are poor – especially by our standards – but I also saw contentment… They don’t have much, but they also don’t need much! They aren’t chasing after the “American dream” which seems to be 4 new cars in the driveway and a big plasma screen in every bathroom. A lot of the houses looked like depression-era Hooverville tin shacks, but they looked like they cared for what they had and everyone was busy mowing grass, or hacking back the ever encroaching jungle. Leave your yard unattended here for a little while and it quickly becomes an impenetrable salmon-berry thicket. We got nothin’ on them in the tropics! On our drive around the island, it must have been the annual yard debris pick-up day. EVERYONE was out working on cleaning their yards and piling the debris neatly on the roadside.
Maybe my perspective is skewed a bit having grown up in a one-room shack on the beach during my formative years… Family of five, no plumbing, an outhouse out back, drinking water from the river (Giardia and all), no electricity, or phone, washing laundry in the river… Eating a LOT of fish because we couldn’t afford many groceries in town. Then choosing to raise my kids in the same environment…
Here is a video of a guy going to a villager’s “house”. If they wanted to live more affluently, they can… They could get a job for one of the resorts and have more money, but they are living a lifestyle they choose on their own terms. He owns the land he lives on and has few bills. They catch fish and eat their own fruit. Bread, milk and a few other grocery items are subsidized by the French government. Everything else I saw in the stores pretty much matched Yakutat prices. I dare you to find happier kids in an American city no matter how much crap their parents just bought them for Christmas…
On our second day in Bora Bora, we ate breakfast, then headed to the boat to go ashore. The guys at Bora Bora Tupuna Safari met us and loaded everyone into the back of three 4-wheel drive pick-ups. Safety rules don’t seem to apply, so you find yourself on a bench seat along the side of the bed with no cushion, or seat belt. It felt like growing up in the 70’s... Canvas canopy over the top, open sides and back. Hold on tight to the frame, or you’ll be pitched out and limping back to the boat alone.
Operation Bobcat was intended to be a new coastal artillery and air base in England. They loaded up the ships and headed… south. The brass decided at the last minute they wanted that base in the South Pacific, so to Bora Bora it headed. The location was so picturesque, it would have made an incredible 50’s romantic musical…
The US Army’s 13th Coast Artillery Regiment was sent to man the eight 7″ guns on Bora Bora. Seven of those guns remain. They are actually pre-WWI guns, built in 1911 according to our guide. They are Mark 2 7″/45 caliber guns. The Mark 2 was delivered to the Army as a non-self-propelled/towed-by-a-tractor field artillery piece, although none were shipped to France. They were also installed on the battleships of the day as the largest “rapid-fire” gun because they were the heaviest shell one man could handle alone.
There are 12 remaining survivors of the Mark 2 in the world. Seven of which are in Bora Bora. No one knows what happened to the eight gun… Two of them originally came off the USS Louisiana and one came from the USS New Hampshire. We drove up the mountainside on a wild ride, holding on for dear life, to see two of the guns.
There were also some remaining bunkers and sheds that hadn’t completely disappeared into the jungle. The guns looked like you’d need a little WD-40 only to get them working again, unlike our rusted blobs of former 5″ guns on Cannon Beach.
Back in the early 1940’s, the view from these gun emplacements was mighty useful for keeping an eye out for the approaching Japanese fleet (which never appeared in these waters). Today, it is a breathtaking sight to behold, looking down on the indescribable deep-blue water, pure white sand, vivid green jungle and light blue reef. On the way back down the mountain, we stopped at a couple different vantage points to see different sides of the atoll.
One last stop on the hillside drive was at a small plantation owned by the family of our guide. They had fresh fruit and coconut for us to eat, hand-painted and dyed wraps for chicks to wear and some more incredible history. The site has some sort of old Polynesian religious ruin which undoubtedly hosted human cannibalistic rituals. Our host shared a fascinating history of the early missionaries that came through Polynesia and attempted to convert the cannibals to Christ. Talk about a tough job! Many became buffet-fodder.
On the way back to the dock, they drove us on a complete circle of the island. Holy cow! The drivers there are nuts! Lots of mopeds and small motorcycles weaving between cars on the narrow 2-lane road built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. We were supposed to stop at the famous “Bloody Mary’s” restaurant and bar, but it was closed for the Christmas holiday that lasts through most of January. In fact, most of the smaller local businesses were closed, so hardly anywhere to buy souvenirs off-resort.
Briefly back on the ship, before we loaded onto catamarans for the trip to Motu Tapu (which means Sacred Island) for a big buffet dinner and jiggling naked dancers show. Beautiful little motu featuring palm trees with all their coconuts removed so you won’t get bonked, meticulously raked white sand (so you won’t break your leg stepping into a coconut crab hole and lots of tables set up in the middle. We enjoyed the dinner (again, probably a little too much except no ice cream), but skipped the show. Living in a native village, I’ve kind of had my fill of the dance shows, plus our local St Elias Dancers are probably more realistic than what they do down in Polynesia. Everyone else enjoyed it though. Instead, we had the beach completely to ourselves for the sunset and then watching the aquarium show off the dock. The pictures of the fish didn’t turn out well enough to post because of the bright red light illuminating them, but we had fun feeding them the bread from the buffet tables nearby. And eating more and more myself…
On our way back to the ship, they had it all lighted up.
I was told repeatedly that the two best excursions of the entire trip were 1) to the pearl farm – the farm and shop was boring, but it had the best snorkeling anywhere… #2 was the ’round the island snorkeling trip. They took a boat all the way around, stopping at a few locations to swim with the sharks and sting rays. Apparently all the rays get their stingers clipped off as babies, so they won’t hurt the tourists by accident…
It was a long day and getting to sleep was nice. That night, we departed Bora Bora and headed for our last atoll, Huahine. Huahine is cool. It is two large islands within their atoll ring with a bridge connecting them. This is where Tahitians go when they want to get away from all the tourists. But… Teen and I didn’t leave the ship. Spent the day relaxing. And eating. On a small ship like the Windstar, staying behind is really nice when most of the other passengers go ashore. Almost like you have your own private mega-yacht. This was our first experience with Polynesian rain. Bone dry for our entire trip up until now. In Huahine, we were hit by a few showers, which helped to cool things down a bit, until the sun came back out and then the humidity shot up to about 478%.
The Huahine-Tahiti trip was the longest, but we were still back into port long before breakfast was served. Most of the passengers had packages that included a day room at the Papeete Inter-Continental, so many from the ship spent their day hanging around the hotel before their flight in the evening. We hung out with our favorite excursion buddies while they waited for their bus to the airport. We all took a taxi to the Carrefore store south of the hotel. I loitered for as long as they would let me in the ice cream section just savoring the freezers. Had to open every door to see which ice cream I wasn’t buying just to cool off.
Last meal aboard the ship
On the bus from the ship to the hotel
Nothing but metric??? About mid-trip I realized it was MUCH easier to just wear my Yakutat shirt instead of trying to explain where we were from over and over…
Only Skippy. No Jif ANYWHERE!!!
Tanis has a Ranch fetish. Eden – Top Ramen. You can see where the “american” section ends and the “artisan” bread begins…
Great store with just about anything you could need. Your French Polynesian version of Walmart. They had an “american” section with giant vats of mayonnaise, cheese-puff balls, Coffee-Mate, Frosted Flakes and peanut butter. Either they don’t eat this stuff in paradise, or they don’t think much of the American diet…
Great lunch at the hotel restaurant by the way… First meal we had to pay extra for all week. My double-bacon cheese burger with cheddar AND brie was delicious! So was my half of Teen’s sirloin sandwich.
Just wasting time now, waiting for our flight to Rangiroa the next day. Like I said several posts before, the Papeete Inter-Continental was built a long time ago before there was a whole lot of high-end tourism. The majority of the rooms are in these big, old multi-story buildings, with just a dozen or so over-water bungalows. They have tennis courts and multiple bars and restaurants and would be a great place to spend a week, if not for the fact that Tahiti is surrounded by actual paradise on all the other atolls.
Breakfast before we fly to Rangiroa… Can you please cook an egg till the whites are done???
Jabba the Bob
Bridge over the salt pool to the second set of bungalows
No beach along the shore. Just rocks.
Overcast for the first time before we head to the airport.
I’d compare Tahiti to wanting to see Alaska, so you spend a week in Anchorage… We’ll be seeing it in our next installment…