14 Dec French Polynesia – Bora Bora
This is my second installment in my series about our weddingmoon to French Polynesia. If you haven’t done so already, go back and read about our first stop in the Tahitian Islands – Moorea. After spending an amazing four days (and getting married!) on Moorea, we headed to the airport for a 45 minute flight to Bora Bora. Our travel agent made all of the arrangements for us, but essentially, you buy an inter-island plane ticket, which covers the cost of all of your air transfers during your visit to French Polynesia. Did you know that there are 47 airports in French Polynesia – and over a hundred islands? So many more places to visit! The airport in Bora Bora sits on its own motu – once you land at the airport, you locate the boat associated with your hotel for the final leg of the journey. Most of the hotels in Bora Bora are located on the tiny sand motus which surround the main island. Initially, I thought this would be annoying, but it is actually really nice – it gives you phenomenal views of the island and Otemanu, which is the massive mountain centerpiece of Bora Bora. Each hotel offers a boat taxi, and the main island is a quick 15 minute jaunt from the hotel.
We stayed at the Hilton again on Bora Bora, and when we got into the boat, the concierge handed us a map of the hotel and our room key. We had splurged on staying in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora (our travel agent told us that this island was the place to do it!) Anxiously, I looked through the map and located our bungalow. Instantly, I noticed that something was wrong – there must be a mistake… the silhouette layout of our bungalow on the map appeared larger than all of the other bungalows. I looked at Aaron, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I didn’t pay for a bigger room!”
Once we arrived at the hotel, we were quickly whisked to our bungalow with our luggage on a golf cart by one of the staff members. The resort was absolutely breathtaking – the water was so turquoise that it didn’t seem real! Our little golf cart bumped along the dock to the overwater bungalows, until finally we got to a bungalow at the very end of the row. The gentleman driving the cart smiled, “This is a very nice room!” Sure enough, our bungalow had its own private walkway off the dock and a massive set of double doors. We walked into the bungalow, and I think that both of our jaws simultaneously hit the floor. This was, quite possibly, the most incredible “hotel room” that I have ever seen! As it turns out, we had somehow been situated in what the hotel calls a, “Royal Overwater Villa”. To put it into perspective, it was more than 3 times the size of the studio apartment that I had been living in prior to moving in with Aaron. There was champagne, cake and french macaroons waiting for us on a coffee table that was made of glass – peering through the coffee table you could look down into the ocean below our bungalow. There were also some glass tiles in the bathroom floor so that you could look down into the water. It. Was. Ridiculous.
Let me first say that I am definitely not used to this type of luxury. I am not one of those people who just “expects” to stay in a room like this – I am just as happy camping in a tent for 10 days and digging a hole to bury my poop, so this was by far the most spoiled I have ever felt in my entire life. I certainly don’t take it for granted that we had the opportunity to stay in this amazingly spectacular place, and it is definitely an experience that we will both remember for the rest of our lives. That being said, staying in a room like this … well, it changes you. Or, at least, it changed Aaron. Within minutes of entering the room, he developed a completely different persona – his eyes were constantly elevated in a somewhat aloof expression and the glass of champagne and the skin on his hand literally fused together. I’ve heard of champagne glass enmeshment happening on rare occasions before, but I’d never actually witnessed it in real life – I have to say, it was horrifying. I tried my best to document all of Aaron’s symptoms, in the hopes that my photographs might be used for scientific research and/or medical treatment of similarly afflicted patients. Subsequent research by myself on the ailment describes the dramatic symptoms of BoraBoratitis as, “a sudden and overwhelming desire to act extremely snooty and elite; inability to consume any liquid other than champagne that is actually from the Champagne region of France, not that fake sparking wine stuff; instant superiority complex over hotel guests staying in the “normal” overwater bungalows”. Needless to say, Aaron was severely overtaken by this devastating illness.
Attempting to ignore Aaron’s symptoms, we tried to decide on a plan for our first full day on the Island. I am not very good at relaxing, but for our second day in Bora Bora, we decided to do just that. We read on our private deck all day, and spent the day snorkeling off the bungalow. The water off our bungalow was the color of teal toothpaste – we spent hours in the water exploring the coral and looking at stingrays and the most spectacular tropical fish. We even saw a massive moray eel hiding in a round grove of coral. In the evening, we went to the mainland for dinner at the infamous Bloody Mary’s restaurant. This is a really famous restaurant, because, according to the restaurant, almost every celebrity in the entire world has eaten there. I do have about 7.5 fans of this blog, so I am pretty sure that counts as celebrity status – although I was surprised when the staff didn’t ask me to autograph their celebrity wall. The food was amazing and fresh – when you walk in the door, all of the fish that was caught that day by local fisherman is displayed before you, and you get to pick which piece and type of fish that you want, and how you want it cooked. I have no clue what I picked, but I do know that it was absolutely delicious. The only thing I didn’t like about the restaurant is that you sit on awkwardly shaped wooden stools, which very nearly require cushioned underwear to prevent severe soreness. Maybe, if my blog had more like 30 fans, they would have seated me at a more luxurious wooden stool. Otherwise, it was perfect.
Since Aaron was still suffering from BoraBoratitis after the first two days in the bungalow, I decided that we needed to work on finding a remedy for his condition. Fortunately, there is a cure for BoraBoratitis – and, naturally, it involves going on a ridiculously brutal hike, which helps to coax the soul of the afflicted individual back to reality. In an effort to heal Aaron, on day three, we headed to the main island in a water taxi to rent a car for the day and explore. We had looked at the activities guide at the hotel, but the hiking guides wanted $300 for a 2 hour guided hike – insanely crazy! So, I used what little maps we had and some strategic google searching to “sort of” locate a trailhead, which was allegedly going to lead us on a hike to a cave. Again, I use the term “trailhead” lightly – basically, we saw a semi-trail-looking-thing going up an embankment off the side of the road around the island in the “general” area of where I thought the trail to the cave might be located. In retrospect, this was blatantly and extremely obviously not a trail. We parked our tiny rental car in a wide pull-out area, and headed up into the brush, hoping that we were going to end up somewhere remotely interesting.
We hiked on faint trail for a decent distance, before we were deposited in what appeared to be a neighborhood and/or a family building a house. We waved at the family extremely awkwardly and asked them if we were allowed to walk through the area – they didn’t speak much english, but they happily waved us on. I couldn’t help but think what a bunch of goofballs we probably looked like to them – two tourists wandering through the absolute middle of nowhere in Bora Bora with hiking backpacks and poles – it made me wonder how often that happened. Considering that we were hiking on a “trail”, I’m guessing it was not a common occurrence. Important note: at this point in the hike, we should have paid more attention to how we accessed the ridge that the house was located on – the trail seemed obvious at the time, but as we would later learn, it was not quite as easy to follow as we originally believed.
Once beyond the house, we ascended a steep slope to a ridgeline that looked out over Otemanu and the rest of Bora Bora. We were definitely on a trail at this point, and I was convinced that we were heading to the cave. Naturally, after the fact, I saw a few photos of people hiking on the actual trail to the cave – it was a wide, gently sloping trail. Yah, we were decidedly not on the right trail. But, I didn’t realize that now, and the views were absolutely breathtaking. As a bonus prize, the hike was a lot more tame (at this point) than the Mt. Rotui hike on Moorea. The heat was something that we were decidedly not used to, but overall we felt great. Aaron happily posed for a photo in a small lean-to…while he initially experienced a strong yearning for the Royal Bungalow, he did manage to force a smile. I was extremely hopeful that his symptoms were starting to subside.
We continued following the narrow path along a beautiful ridge, and gradually the path led us towards the Otemanu massif. Surely, I incorrectly thought, we should be nearing the cave any minute! As we continued walking, the “trail” started to deteriorate, even more than its already extremely low standard of “trail-ishness”. We found ourselves scrambling across steep, somewhat precarious traverses as we moved along under the massive, crumbling rocky cliffs of Otemanu. “Where in the heck is the cave???”, I foolishly wondered to myself. Because, of course, we were absolutely not on the trail to the cave. In fact, to this day, I do not know what trail we were on, and why the trail was even there, or how we found it. What I do know, is that after downclimbing a small cliff and nearly falling, were it not for some strategically placed foliage, we were halted in our tracks by a (more) dangerous rocky slab. We stood, staring at the rock, deciding whether or not to traverse across it – it was a crumbly slab of loose rock that was sloping downward into an abyss with a sheer 200ft drop. At moments like this, you can choose one of two options: 1) attempt to continue, risking serious bodily harm and/or death, or 2) realize that you are in the middle of Bora Bora, that nobody has a clue where you are and you have no way of calling for help in the event of an emergency, and decide that stopping for lunch, enjoying the view, and turning around is probably the best option available. As difficult as the decision was, we opted for choice #2.
I truly believed that after the harrowing cliff shimmy, we were finished with the “epic” part of this hike. However, I had yet to realize that finding the path back down to our car would be slightly more difficult than we anticipated. We easily followed the trail back to the house building project that we had previously passed – again, we waved to the stunned homeowners who clearly thought that we must be crazy (wait… are we??). At this point in the hike, we were on the spine of a ridge. We somehow overshot the trail and/or followed a social trail, and within about 20 minutes we realized that we were ascending again, when we should have been descending. Not wanting to overreact and panic, we backtracked to look for the trail. We thought that we spotted it, and we started our descent – very quickly we ended up in an area that we clearly did not recognize – we stumbled across what appeared to be some sort of sketchy farmer’s shanty built into the woods. I took a deep breath, “Do not think about the Blair Witch Project”, I whispered soothingly to myself. Again, we backtracked and descended down the opposite side of the ridge – absolutely no sign of a trail – just thick, steep, nearly impassable rocks and brush. I looked at Aaron, “Well, if we have to spend the night out, at least it’s warm here.” This was, of course, hardly a consolation when you have a Royal Overwater Villa waiting for you back at the hotel. And, really, we were on an island! Realistically, all we needed to do was hike down, and it was inevitable that we would run into the road. So, that’s pretty much what we did. We went back to the area where we had seen the shanty – because, clearly at least somebody had hiked through that area. We slowly picked our way down through the woods and eventually came out into a neighborhood, where we completely shocked a bunch of locals by randomly popping out of the woods. I am almost positive that this sort of thing does not happen to “normal” visitors in Bora Bora, and so the locals took pity on our (stupidly) adventurous spirits. They were very helpful directing us to the road, which was wonderful, except that once we arrived at the road, we didn’t know which way to go. We could only turn left or right to get back to the car, so we picked the direction that “felt right”, and started walking.
Very quickly, I realized that we truly had no clue where our vehicle was. We had walked for about 20 minutes, like forlorn hitchhikers wandering aimlessly, when I spotted a vehicle that looked like it might be associated with a business. I approached the female driver, and tried miserably to explain our completely ridiculous situation – she kindly directed me to a small house directly adjacent to where we were standing. She told me that it was a small Pension, and that the owners might be able to call a taxi. We walked to the Pension and knocked on the door – the Pension was basically a home with rooms for rent, and we were awkwardly ushered into the living room, where a few kids were watching TV. We stood there, feeling slightly sheepish as we explained our plight to the young man who greeted us. He was, mercifully, a wonderful human being – he graciously loaded us into his minivan and drove us 15 minutes to our vehicle, which was still parked on the side of the road. “You saved us!”, we exclaimed, “That would have been another hour of walking!” We were exhausted after the long hike already, and saving an hour of walking in 80 degrees heat felt like a small miracle. Even though he protested, we gave the young man $15 for the ride – he gleefully exclaimed that he was going to buy himself a burger (no joke – burgers are at least $15 in Bora Bora). We loaded up our hiking gear and headed back to the rental car facility – passing the burger restaurant on the way, and happily noticing that the Pension minivan was parked in the lot. He really was buying a burger.
After the ridiculousness of the hike, we returned the vehicle and called for a shuttle from a restaurant called the Yacht Club to pick us up. We arrived at this stunningly beautiful restaurant on the water looking like we had just been puked out of a dumpster. As if sensing our inferiority, a bee promptly flew out of a tree and stung Aaron in the head. I wanted to yell, “Hey, Bee! We’re staying in the Royal Overwater Villa!”, but I feared that my words might fall on deaf ears and/or result in extremely strange looks from the restaurant staff. Of course, our original plan had not included an extra 3 hours of getting lost in the weeds, so even a change of clothes and some deodorant were unable to hide the fact that we were a bit “ragged”. A few of the extremely well-dressed restaurant guests must have noticed, because they cautiously asked us what we had, “been up to” – possibly, in an attempt to hint that we either A) smelled, or B) did not belong. When we explained our adventure, they gasped – apparently, and quite shockingly, most people do not go hiking and get lost for 7 hours on the island of Bora Bora.
After the previous day’s adventure, we were both thrilled that we had an excursion planned for our final day in Bora Bora. Included in our package was a day trip to a tiny island called Motu Tapu. This little island is actually owned by the Hilton, and if you are exceedingly wealthy, you can rent the entire island for a wedding. It is one of the most photographed locations in all of Bora Bora, because the views of the mainland and Otemanu are so outrageously spectacular. We left the hotel at 9am, and headed out on a very short boat ride to the island. Once there, the hotel staff told us that we had the entire morning to snorkel and relax, and that lunch would be served around 11 am. There were 8 other people with us on this excursion, but very quickly each couple found their own nook of the island. Aaron and I located a spot that looked perfect for snorkeling, and we spent an hour swimming in the crystalline water, watching reef sharks and tropical fish dart and dash through the colorful coral. For the next hour, we circumnavigated the tiny motu, collecting shells and taking in the view.
At 11:00 we ventured to the picnic area for our lunch. I was expecting a bag of chips, a soda and a limp PB&J sandwich – what we were served instead were gourmet sandwiches, a salad, gourmet deserts and full bottle of wine. I am not much of a drinker, and I can now count on one finger the time that I have consumed alcohol before noon on a Monday, but hey – we were on a private island in Bora Bora. With full bellies, and feeling slightly tipsy from drinking the (entire) bottle of wine, we sauntered back to our little cove. We found a shady spot, nestled under the branches of the sparse pine trees on the island, we we both drifted away into the most relaxing sleep I have ever experienced. I truly expected to wake up and realize that this whole experience was a dream – how could it not be a dream? This was the stuff out of travel magazines and TV shows about annoying people that do this sort of thing on a regular basis – this certainly was not my reality. And yet, when we opened our eyes, the turquoise water was still there – gleaming as deeply and as richly as before. We dove into the water one last time before heading back to the hotel – wishing desperately that there was a way to make moments like this last forever.
We headed back to the hotel for our final <insert sobbing noise here> night in Bora Bora. We decided to stay at the hotel that night for dinner so that we didn’t have to bother with catching a water taxi back and forth to the mainland again. To say that we loved Bora Bora is a little bit of an understatement. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to stay in a Royal Overwater Villa for 4 nights – truly, something that I won’t forget. I’m also glad that we got to experience some of the interior of Bora Bora – obviously, “resort life” is quite different from the lives of the people that live on the island, but the resorts are the primary source of income for the economy, so it is a very symbiotic relationship. We had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who lived on the island – Lydia, who worked at the pearl shop (and helped me pick out my first Tahitian pearl necklace – for the record, it is a single pearl, not the $150k strand), the locals who helped us find our way out of the jungle, the boy who gave us a ride back to our car, and all of the hotel staff who dedicate their lives to sharing the experience of this remarkable place with the people who visit, seeking a glimpse of its natural beauty. I was originally hesitant to visit Bora Bora, since I thought it would be, “too touristy”, but I am so glad that we decided to go. Yes, it was expensive, but there is a reason that so many people want to visit Bora Bora, and that is simply because it is absolutely stunning – there is no place on earth like it, and if you ever have the opportunity to visit, I would not miss a chance!
Reluctantly, we packed our bags and sadly left our beautiful Royal Overwater Villa. We ultimately discovered that we had been upgraded to that room because our incredible travel agent had called the hotel and asked them for a favor, since we had just been married at the Hilton Moorea – how incredible is that? There is absolutely no way that we could have afforded to stay in the Royal Villa otherwise, and I feel so fortunate and lucky that we were able to spend those four nights in such a beautiful place. There are certain times in your life, when you feel so abundantly blessed that you care barely handle the feeling – this was one of those times. The time that we spent together on this island was indeed magical – the snorkeling, the dinners, the hiking, getting lost, getting found, relaxing and sharing experiences – while money is indeed required to travel to French Polynesia, it is so hard for me to put a pricetag on spending time with somebody that I love. You could spend a million dollars on a vacation, but if you don’t fill the time with meaningful experiences, then what is its true value? Given the opportunity, I seize every possible chance to make lasting memories – love is an investment worth making, and time with people that we care about is the only guarantee in life to truly bring you the riches that really matter.