I returned from the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora just a couple of days ago. Since, I’ve been writing away to meet my deadlines and feeling jet-legged. Hence my blog silence.
But Bora Bora’s still on my mind. Words fail to describe the ultimate tropical beauty of this South Seas hideaway so here are a few photos to illustrate.
During my seven-day sojourn for a magazine assignment, I had the privilege of staying in overwater bungalows of the island’s most beautiful hotels and resorts. And not only that – I had spa treatments every single day! Not just any ole spa treatments; we’re talking Polynesian taurumi massage with monoï (scented coconut oil); volcanic sand and black pearl body wraps; and holistic facials with plant extracts. On top of spa delights, I enjoyed three heavenly gourmet meals daily and had my first Jean-Georges dining experience at Lagoon Restaurant, St Regis Bora Bora Resort.
The luxury experiences aside (that I wouldn’t be able to afford were it not for my fantastic job), a highlight stands out: the stingray and shark feeding excursion that our small group of journalists was signed up for one sunny morning. Sharks tap into some unexplained but deep-seated fear of mine so I was seriously nervous when we hopped on a tiny boat for a ride out to the ocean.
We first stopped onshore to pick up a bag of fish heads from our guide’s brother and then headed off into Bora Bora’s legendary turquoise lagoon. Stingrays were first on the itinerary. As our guide started to lure the rays with the fish, I jumped into the shallow water. All of a sudden, rays started to approach from all sides, coming up and rubbing against my skin with ballet-like movements. It was a feeling akin to nothing I’ve experienced before – a slippery, slimy massage by a sea creature that has the power to harm you if you make a wrong move. Standing in that water was a definite test of courage. I can say I did it. It was short-lived.
Back on the boat, I tried to prepare for what really wrecked my nerves – swimming with sharks. We drove further out to sea and then stopped. Our guide threw the fish entrails off the boat and jumped into the deep waters. I sat on the edge of the boat with my snorkeling gear on for a few minutes, taking deep breaths and mustering the audacity to just do it. And then I jumped in. Below me circling around were small black-tipped sharks and a multitude of colorful fish. When I looked deep down at the sea floor, I noticed large more menacing-looking lemon sharks. My heart definitely beat faster, in a rush of sorts: I was swimming with sharks!! I really never thought I’d say that.
With the rays and the sharks out of the way – phew! – it was time for our Polynesian picnic on a motu. A string of these coral islets circle the island of Bora Bora. Many are home to exclusive resorts and private homes. Others are deserted. The motu we visited belonged to Marona, our charismatic Tahitian guide. When we arrived to Marona’s motu, we were greeted by two huge pit bulls, one of them called Honey. When I laid my eyes on Honey, I seriously questioned the appropriateness of the name. But she turned out to be a honey. As Marona prepared a Polynesian feast and the dogs were fishing (I had never seen a canine at it until that afternoon), we had an impromptu photo shoot inside the giant head of a whale that Marona found on a beach. And then the food was ready. Our plates were made of palm leaves, serving spoons were seashells and everything tasted delectable – from the grilled tuna with fresh pineapple to poisson cru (Tahiti’s national dish, similar to ceviche).
Talking to Marona felt like a glimpse of what real life is like in French Polynesia, beyond the luxe resorts and fancy restaurants. This man of all trades runs a tour outfit, cooks, plays a ukulele and teaches Polynesian culture to local children. I could have stayed for hours listening to Marona with stories and stories up his sleeve, to learn more about this fabled place smack in the middle of the South Pacific. If one day you find yourself in Bora Bora, make sure you sign up for a ray and shark feeding plus a Polynesian picnic with Marona’s Temanava Tours (cell number 6126.96.36.199). You’ll be glad you did.