Bora Bora calls out to people’s imaginations. High peaks of dormant volcanoes reach down to white sand beaches surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, a coral reef and small islands, known to the Polynesians as motu. Over-the-water bungalows attract honeymooners and tourists from around the world. In the dry season, a top-of-the-line one can be had for a mere $1500 – $1800 U.S. a night [or more].
A twenty-two mile long road encircles the entire island. The island is only twelve square miles. Our “jeep” tour went around the island and up steep narrow roads paved with only two concrete tracks for the wheels. We saw incredibly beautiful views.
During World War II, the United States ignored the protests of the Nazi puppet government in France and took possession of the island both as a military supply base and to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands. Eight seven-inch artillery pieces from a World War I era battleship were dismantled, lugged up the hills and reassembled to provide protection. But the island was never attacked and was returned to France at the end of the war.
We stopped at a distillery making liquors from local fruit, but our stop only took us into a gift shop.
More interesting was a small business specializing in colorful tie-dyed pareos. Pareos, worn by both men and women, are just large pieces of cloth wrapped around the body. You might be familiar with them as the Malay sarong. We were shown how they were made: natural vegetable dyes produce the colors; then stencils are placed on the still-wet cloth to soak up some of the dye leaving a print pattern of such things as fish, turtles and palms. Our guide, who was wearing a pareo, demonstrated multiple ways to tie one. We are using one as a table decoration.
At one point, we passed “Bloody Mary’s,” a restaurant whose name gives homage to James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific written in 1946. It was opened by a Polish count in 1979 and is well-known in the area. Actually, we didn’t see many other restaurants outside the resorts.
While there, Americans built the airport, roads, a power and water system and provided a hospital for locals. Our guide lamented “the French never gave us anything.” Indeed, today there is no hospital, just a clinic. A pregnant woman must fly to Papeete on Tahiti to have her baby. Our guide said he would prefer to be independent of France, but one wonders if he envied the relationship American Samoa [last week] has with the U.S.
But, as you will read in next week’s post, our guide in Papeete saw it quite differently.
Click on photos to enlarge.
P.S.: Bora Bora was a mispronunciation of the Polynesian “Pora Pora” which means “first one.”