We sure had. After all, it does have the reputation of being the most beautiful island in the world. Bora Bora was another one of those lagoons fringed by coral islands that Rob and I had fondled virtually via Google Earth before we ever set sail, and a definite “must see” on our list of tropical ports. A local told us that the original Tahitian name is actually “po po ra,” which means island of applause. It’s worth applauding, for sure.
But Bora Bora also has a reputation for being hoity-toity, a playground for rich people who fly in, jet around in power boats, and spend $1,000 per night for over-water bungalows and luxurious spas. Rob and I are about as far from hoity-toity as dog poop, especially after four months at sea. For example, I just finished my monthly leg shave from a metal bucket full of sea water on the bow (and enjoyed it). The resort guests would gasp.
We’d heard from a few cruisers that Bora Bora wasn’t anything to write home about, unless you could afford one of the exclusive resorts on a private island. Several said the town was their least favorite. “It’s a dump,” said one friend, eloquently. We went anyway. And ended up staying two weeks. You know how some places just feel a little more magical than others? A little older or wiser or just plain more mystical? We felt that magic in Bora.
Part of the magic is the setting. The other part is the people. We’ll start with the backdrop: Bora is distinct from other Society Islands because it has a big mountain on the island in the middle of the lagoon, which is surrounded by a chain of smaller islands, called “motus.” We climbed to the peak alongside 14 friends from other boats, using old ropes tied to rocks and roots to ascend 700 meters (2,100 feet for those non-metric readers). As you can see, Rob wore his safety headwear even though he also climbed the whole thing barefoot — it’s important to prioritize which end of your body deserves protection.
Oddly, a fire broke out at the heiva fairgrounds as we descended the hike. We heard explosions, and watched from above as cars exploded and mushroom clouds of fire soared off thatched roofs about a football-field length from where our boat was anchored. Crazy. After hurrying down the last of the trail, we joined the crowds of locals to watch the firefighters put out the last of the flames. The local dive instructor, who we met in Fakarava, told us dismissively, “This happens all the time during heiva.” Huh. I guess if you build a party venue with sticks and dried-out palm fronds to host all-night dance fests for a month, fires are to be expected.
In addition to the mountain, Bora Bora is famous for its clear turquoise waters, which we explored happily with our caravan of friends. We swam with eagle rays and manta rays, marveling at their grace flying between coral. We splashed and dove and did somersaults and headstands in the glowing green “swimming pool” at anchor.
I had an intimate experience with my first octopus. She and I watched each other for about 20 minutes, playing hide and seek in coral. I’ve never seen anything more magical than an octopus. She changed color faster than I could blink, stretching and contracting to swim, leading an entourage of curious fish who also watched her curious color changes. Her big eyes blinked, tracking me as I hovered 15 feet above on the surface. I fell in love, but couldn’t find her the next few days.
We met Patrick, a local who opened up his lovely property and invited us to use his lawn for yoga. He guided us on a trek along the motu’s ridge, pointing out fruits, beehives, and — randomly — 10 WWII bunkers built by U.S. soldiers. Turns out the U.S. had thousands of soldiers stationed in Bora, expecting the Japanese to push into Polynesia.
On the way back to our sailboats, we walked through the Hilton’s resort. It was kind of like going to a zoo, since the creatures who were sweating on treadmills, driving in golf carts, and walking around in makeup and high heels seemed as foreign from our cruising lifestyle as a pack of wild baboons. Ok, maybe more foreign than a pack of wild baboons! Lovely resort, though. A few days later, we took a girls’ trip in to the St. Regis resort on its own private motu. We snuck in to lounge by the pool, and used their hot water showers. Pure bliss, I tell you.
The weather window to head out on our 5-day passage to the Cook Islands kept getting pushed later, as light winds and rainstorms circled overhead. We didn’t mind, though. Bora is a wonderful place to wait, made more wonderful by all the fun friends who congregated here the past couple of weeks. We met new cruisers our age, and hung out with people we hadn’t seen in weeks — enough friends to warrant using our own VHF channel to coordinate all of the social events. Yoga every morning, afternoon tea chats, game nights, potlucks, a jam session, spearfishing expeditions.
Bora was our last stop in French Polynesia, after visiting eight islands that were all special in their own way. We’re heading to the Cook Islands next. Bora felt like a crossroads, a place to launch new beginnings and a gathering place for people from all points of the globe. We left feeling full to the brim of Polynesian magic, open and ready to find the next adventure, the next country, the next crossroads in this vast blue sea.