11 June 2018
When we last signed off, we had just splashed Athanor and entered the "settling-in" phase. We sailed over to Bora Bora with our friends Clare and Andrew on S/Y Eye Candy and ended up spending nearly a month snorkeling, working on projects, exploring the island, and just living life aboard. And settle in we did.
What images come to mind when you think of Bora Bora? Honeymooner's destination? Palm trees? Turquoise water? Cruise ships? Yep - all of that. It took us several weeks, including a week on the less inhabited south east corner and two bike rides, to develop a deeper appreciation and fondness for the island. There exists a strong contrast between the exquisite raw beauty of the island, the calm protected waters of the lagoon surrounding majestic peaks, a history with the US that dates back to WWII, and a modern economy that is based largely (solely?) on tourism. This economy appears, on one hand, to provide a decent living for the people that live here; at the same time, the economy and culture of tourism has replaced much of the rich Tahitian culture with a more fabricated one.
Wherever we travel, Rob and I like to experience the comings and goings of the people who make it their home. Some of our favorite moments in Bora were at the wharf in Viatape - the rather non-descript (some say charmless) main village where residents do their daily business and where the cruise ships shuttle in passengers to buy pearls. One very early Sunday morning we sat on a bench at the wharf, striking up conversations with cruise ship passengers (people more senior than us-lol) as the strolling yukele player provided a choreographed taste of island music and passengers then embarked upon their daily excursions. As a sample of an excursion, check out the image of the panga boat with everyone hunched over. When they arrived next to us at our anchorage near coral, at first we couldn't figure out what the heck they were doing. Rob nailed it - a glass bottom boat!
One Saturday morning while anchored on a sand shelf near to the famous Bloody Mary's restaurant (coral to snorkel within 50 strokes of the boat) we heard an amplified voice (in French) -- clearly festivities in the works. So we jumped in our dinghy and followed the voice around the bend to Matira beach - the only natural beach on the island*. We came upon two beautiful sites - each the polar opposite of the other. The first came into view as our dinghy got closer to shore. It was a sea of older "non-residents" from the cruise ships - all shapes and sizes, men with big tummies - shirts off and hats on - women in various versions of swim attire, all wading waist high in the ice-blue colored water. Remember the movie "cocoon?" The second was a large group of beautiful (and buff) residents about to embark on a canoe race. The latter - and their canoes - were adorned in palm fronds and bright red flowers. We think the event was sponsored by local hotels, and the prizes were meals from the hotel. Hmmm. We people watched for several hours.
We took two rides on our bikes, one around the north end and one around the south end of the island - again, in striking contrast to one another. To the south, the hotels occupy much of the waterfront. As we rode along, we took note that the landscape (not to mention the road) was vastly more improved in the areas surrounding the hotels. The public areas near where the residents lived, not so much. We wondered just how much the residents benefit from all of the hotels. Natural coral beaches are a rarity here. But that doesn't mean there aren't beaches -- we once watched a large barge arrive with a dozen "power-lifters" on board. They literally dig sand from shallow water and loaded it onto the barge until it was full. Then off the barge went to one of the hotels to create a beach-like experience. Crazy!
The north end of the island is where we felt the soul of the island. Sparsely populated, we meandered around the bays, with few cars/motor scooters passing us by. We wandered off the main road into what felt like a quintessential neighborhood - a sweet open air elementary school included. It is here, our jaws dropped when we came upon a marine museum. The owner, a French man living in Bora for some 50 years now, had nearly 20 display cases of painstakingly hand made - to scale - replicas of famous ships (Kon Tiki, Santa Maria, The Bounty, etc.). When I asked why he built the museum, he replied that it was his hobby. He shared that he used to have the models all over the house, but his wife asked him to build some place to put them - voila! A museum!
We also made our way to the WWII site. We found it mind-blowing to imagine 6,000 young Americans arriving here in 1945 prepared to fight Japan. As we hiked up the significant hill to see the canons, we were bemoaning how hot we were. That is until we saw these giant pieces of machinery. Not only was it eerie, we couldn't imagine how they got them up there! Whilst eavesdropping on a private tour happening while we were there, we learned that the airport built in Bora - specifically as a military base - was the 1st airport in all of French Polynesia (the main airport is now in Tahiti and wasn't built until the early 1960's). Thus concludes today's history lesson.
The SE corner of the lagoon was our favorite. We navigated some extremely shallow water to get there, at times with less than a foot of water under our keel. Eye Candy led the way. We passed scores of "over the water bungalows", all part of significant hotel developments -- potentially very romantic, but most of which looked entirely vacant. The SE corner was magical -- very few boats, clear water, lots of sea life, and an awesome drift snorkel that we did several times with Andrew and Clare. A few days later we made our way north again, spent some time with Andrew and Clare before they checked out of French Polynesia to head off to points West, hung out at the Bora Bora Yacht Club, and then returned to Raiatea.
We were both shocked at how quickly the time, almost a full month, had passed. There's so much more that we could write about -- On one hand, we had a done a lot; but on the other hand, we really hadn't done much at all. But we've definitely settled back into being aboard Athanor and appreciating all of the subtleties of living life in French Polynesia.
Susan & Rob