Friday, February 28, 2014
You have all seen this island in the advertisements you are exposed to daily, you just might not know it is Bora Bora. It is the penultimate luxury hotel experience with thatched 'huts' , interconnected by wooden walkways, serving as your room, sitting in the middle of a lagoon.
The room rate per night is something like $5,000.00 to $6,000.00 US Dollars. Yes, that is for one night! Some of these resorts were destroyed in the 2009 hurricane that totally damaged large areas. Mother Nature might not have liked people encroaching on her creations. The total effect of Bora Bora is stunning with the clear, warm, turquoise water teeming with multicolored, tropical fish. Many call this island one of the best natural wonders of this earth and there are still resorts left in different spots around the island should you want to spend some time here.
Carol and I just came to visit via the cruise ship 'Marina' of the Oceania Cruise Line, a new ship built in 2010 in Italy. I recommend Oceania if you ever think of doing a cruise.
This is the rainy season in Polynesia and everything is very green and lush. The daily downpours are intense and create a steamy, high humidity environment favoured by the tropical fauna. Coconut trees lean precariously over the water's edge. Hammocks invite you to sit and contemplate life, piña colada in hand.
Can life be better? Flowers are in abundance, in many hues and shapes or forms that I have never seen before. Mango trees asking to be picked, also the bread fruit, taro and other exotic plants whose names I do not know. Coconut palms sway in the soft wind, laden with nuts. It is like a Garden of Eden.
People only live at the very perimeter of the island, the center is too steep for housing or agriculture. All of the center of the isle is covered with jungle-like greenery. A ring road, the only road on Bora Bora, hugs the coast.
Carol took a small boat to swim with the manta rays (sting rays) and the lemon sharks, snorkeling over a coral reef. She enjoyed feeling the velvety undersides of the rays but declined to touch the sharks even though they were only about three feet long.
While she was snorkeling, I took a 4x4 Land rover tour around the island visiting the former defense positions of the US Military during WW2 . My driver was a local man about 45 years old, who has travelled Europe and the US but came back to his birthplace because there is nothing better for him elsewhere. He loves his dormant volcano, surrounded by a ring of coral reef that acts like a buffer during storms. Only one opening in the ring of coral, just wide enough to allow our cruise ship to enter, creates a natural harbour. There is no large dock, ships must anchor within the old caldera and tender passengers to and from to the small town of Vaitape, which serves as the capital of Bora Bora. The total population of this jewel of an island is around 7000 inhabitants.
The old airport, created by the US military during the war years, is the fastest way to come or go. The airstrip, surrounded by water, was guarded by anti-ship canons, some of which are still in position, albeit now just relics of a time gone by. One must take a boat after landing in an aeroplane, it is the only way, since the runway literally sits smack in the middle of the Pacific. The entrance to the natural harbor was protected defensively with canons as well. The US was well prepared for an attack, yet there were no battles fought in Bora Bora. The island served mostly as a supply station for the battles in the Pacific theater.
Yet, with the GI's being here for some years, changes occurred within the Polynesian culture that until then had only experienced some colonial French government workers and/or missionaries. Some blue eyed or blond haired natives tell the stories even today. Polynesian culture still prevails though. When a man marries a woman she will always be his wife, there is no divorce. Even if he moves away or has several other women in his life, she will always be known as his wife. The island is small enough so that everybody knows everybody and all know what is going on. There are no great secrets in this society. Everybody knows everybody's business. While immediate family can be counted on for support and help in any situation, the whole of the island is one group or clan. The house, once you build it, will always be your house, even if you move away or abandon it, it will always be your house. It belongs to you forever. You will pass it on to your oldest son who will pass it on to his oldest forever going forward. It is your house, not to be sold but to be lived in, no matter the shape or condition of it. If you don't like it you can change it, but it is your house. Forever. Girls, after they marry, move to their husband's family, never going back to her birth family. She will adapt to her husbands view of life. She will, after marriage, be part of his family.
Those are the old rules in Polynesian society, going back millennia. Not that much has changed in today's age.
I visited a pearl farm, where the much wanted black pearls are being grown. This is a process I will write about in more detail later on.
I will provide more details too on how people started living in these small, yet beautiful spots in the world and how they got here.
Another later topic will be cannibalism, practised within most of Polynesia as recently as about one hundred years ago.
Come to Bora Bora, experience it yourself, not to worry, the cannibal fires have died down and those clay pots they used for cooking are broken. Today, as in most of the world, they prefer to lick an ice cream cone instead of a thigh bone.