Bora Bora, French Polynesia: Honeymoons and exotic dreams

Approaching Bora Bora

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].

Bora Bora: photo by M. Rossman

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.

Bora Bora

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.”

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Take a taxi ride around American Samoa

Ata, “Smiling One”, our guide

We hired a taxi for our day in Samoa.  For a moment, it became problematic when the engine began to overheat climbing a mountain and we wondered if we would get back to the ship before it sailed.  But the taxi kept running.  It was a great decision.

Our driver’s name was “Ata,” the shortened version of a name that went on and on with multiple vowels.  He said it meant “smiling one,” and lived up to his name.  In addition to showing us the sights, he shared Fa’a Samoa, Samoan way of life, with us.  He pointed out unlike Hawaii, they don’t harvest coconuts.  They let them hang on the trees until they fall.  But, as noted in my last post, there is far more to it than just a “laid back” culture.

Ata bought us fresh coconuts.

We first went up to the rusting ruins of a cable car that went across the harbor until a plane struck the cable in 1980, killing eight.  The harbor, the crater of an extinct volcano, is one of the deepest and most protected in the Pacific.  An important World War II supply point, it was protected by gun emplacements on the surrounding hills

As we rode around the island, Ata told us a little about the island culture, himself and his family.  He stopped and bought us each a coconut so we could drink the fresh milk.  Later, he cracked one open so we could eat the fresh meat/pulp inside.

Perhaps because he loved flowers, he seemed to know the names of many and would stop to pick one now and then so we could see it up close.  He reminisced about how his grandmother made a lotion from a flower and coconut oil and slathered it on the children to protect them from the sun: “Perhaps that is why we Samoans have such smooth skin.”

They caught part of a typhoon in February.  Western Samoa caught the worst of it, but you could still see blue tarps on roofs in American Samoa.

More disturbing was a memorial to people who lost their lives to a February 2012 tsunami.  The memorial includes photos of the victims.  Birth dates are labeled “sunrise.” They were all ages.

Flying foxes, a.k.a., fruit bats, the only native mammals on the island.

Ata complained fruit bats ate mangos before they could ripen.  Also known as flying foxes, they are large with a two-foot wing span and were easy to see in  the trees.

Samoa is a small island but much to our surprise, we learned few Samoans swim.  They regard the sea as a workplace, not as a recreation spot.  Canoeing, however, is a popular sport.  On April 17, their Flag Day, 48-rower canoes compete over a ten mile race for a $10,000 prize.

Competiton rowing boat

Our taxi strained up a hill because Ata took us to the only U.S. National Park south of the equator, one more in our quest to see them all.  Also, for the last two years, we have been collecting National Park pins  When he learned it, he turned around so we could buy one at the park headquarters.

When we saw an Oakland Raiders banner hanging from a house,  Ata told us his sister’s moods swung depending on the fate of the New England Patriots.  Last week, I explained the huge impact this little island has had on the NFL.  But the way they follow NFL teams also says something about their ties to the U.S.

American Samoa agreed to be under the protection of the U.S. Navy in 1899.  It has a non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress [I met their representative in the 1980s.]  Hilo, Hawaii is 2458 miles from Los Angeles and Samoa is another 2581 miles from Honolulu.  It is hard to believe they will want to continue this relationship forever, but our taxi driver pointed out they have no state or local taxes, and the U.S. gives them significant help every year  [Alie says when she worked for state governments, most federal programs such as those for highways had minimum allotments regardless of population size.]

“Charlie the Tuna”

But U.S. laws can hurt as well.  Tuna canning has been the principle industry on the island since 1954.  But loss of certain tax benefits and increases in the minimum wage have made them uncompetitive with Asian factories.  One large operation closed in 2016.  The remaining StarKist factory sharply reduced its labor force.  Most workers are from other islands, but the factory contributes significantly to the Samoan economy, and its loss will be felt.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Samoa, the least traditional part of the United States — or perhaps the most.

Pago Pago’s harbor is around the hill to the left.

American Samoa, population just under 60,000, is a territory of the United States and does most of its business with the United States.  Western Samoa, population 250,000 is independent and is on the other side of the International Dateline which takes a curve to include them because they do most of their trade with Australia.

American Samoa has a very different culture from the mainland U.S.  Fa’a Samoa [Samoan way of life] centers on the family.  It is the oldest culture in Polynesia, arriving from Southeast Asia, generally in the area of Thailand, over a thousand years ago.

A family-owned beach

Almost all land is held by individual families, often from the mountains to the sea including most beaches.  They have held it for generations.  Private land that can be passed from individual to individual [or for commercial development] is scarce.

Families are led by a Matai, a chief.  Male or female, the Matai makes all decisions for the family.  Traditionally, if you wanted to get a job, to get married or whatever a family member might want to do, it had to be cleared with the Matai.  Resources were shared with the family.  The family eats together.  Homes include an open pavilion for family get-togethers.

Samoans are very religious.  Churches of every denomination seemed to be everywhere.  They go to church every morning, and Sa is a period of prayer every evening around dusk.  No one works on Sunday.  They even cook on Saturday so that they don’t have to cook on Sunday.

Samoan dances are different from the hula.  Women make very small movements with their hands and feet.  Much of their dancing is performed sitting with just hand and arm movements.  The men move more vigorously around the women trying to get their attention.  Samoan men are noted throughout the Pacific for their fire dances.  But in recent times, women have started to fire dance.

A family home with open air pavillion

Women wear long skirts with a shirt.  Men often also wear a lava lava, their version of a kilt.  Both men and women might have a flower in their hair.  A flower above the left ear means the individual is taken; a flower above the right ear means the wearer is available.

Children must wear a uniform to school and cannot wear just part of a uniform.  For example, after school, they could not change shirts but keep on the school skirt.

There is a strict curfew.  Small children must be in their homes by six o’clock in the evening.  The curfew is later for older children, but everyone, unless they are working, must be home by ten.  No one idles on the street at night.

American Samoa has no large resorts.  It is unlikely to be attractive to people seeking time on a beach, fine dining or exuberant night life.  But it is ideal for someone looking for a quiet retreat amidst beautiful scenery and wonderfully friendly people.

Not everyone plays American football

American Samoa is a good place to find a football player.  They like other sports and have a “national football [soccer] team,” but that team holds the dubious record of the greatest international loss: 31-0.  Lately they have been doing better, winning in the 2018 World Cup qualifying round.

On the other hand, they follow American professional football faithfully.  Remember, there are less than sixty thousand people on the island.  In 2010, the island was home to 28 men who played in the National Football League.   By 2015, it was 30.  Wikipedia lists 127 players, although not all are currently playing.

In May, 2015, Forbes Magazine published an article How can tiny Samoa dominate the NFL?  The author noted a Samoan male was 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than an American non-Samoan.  He speculated it was not only because Samoans are often big men.  He noted they “It starts with a culture that emphasizes community, self-discipline, respect, and spirituality. Families are close and supportive. The athletes tend to be humble, it may be the last bastion of youth outside the American South that says “Yes, Sir”. There is pride instead of jealousy for the accomplishments of other athletes. Passion for every activity is bred into young Samoans.”  Perhaps that is reason enough to visit American Samoa.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Next week: a taxi ride around the island.

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A visit to “Jurassic Park”: Kauai, Hawaii

A 52 foot lighthouse guards the entrance to Nawiliwili, Kauai.

Napali means cliffs in Hawaiian.  The northwest coast of Kauai is barely 17 miles long, but it is so rugged, it only can be reached on foot, by boat or by helicopter.  Although we spent ten days on Kauai in 1991, we never saw it.  It was time to “get ‘er done.”

Kauai is geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and the fourth largest.  In 2010, it had 67,091 people.  Known as the Garden Isle, flowers and fruit are everywhere.  There are even fruit trees along the roads where someone in the past discarded leftovers from lunch.  Wild orchids grow in the jungle.

A large cruise ship entering Nawiliwili must make a sharp left turn followed by a sharp right turn.

1992’s Hurricane Iniki set pigs and chickens free.  With few predators, now they run wild over the island as do parrots and parakeets released by their owners.

You probably have seen some of the Napali Coast.  It was featured in Jurassic Park, Raiders of the lost Ark, Blue Hawaii, South Pacific, and Donovan’s Reef among other films.

Our small group had rain on the way to and from our Zodiac inflatable boat and clouds hung low in the sky, but it did not actually rain on us as we went up the coast.  We saw Hawaiian spinner dolphins, a bottle-nose dolphin, the spectacular cliffs and jungle covered valleys.

In the 1930s, archaeologists found a mass grave with very small skeletons.  Known as the Valley of the Lost Tribe, for a long time many thought it was the source of the legendary tiny people, the Menehune, sort of Hawaiian Leprechauns. Later it was determined it was a children’s mass grave.  Now once each year, Hawaiians make the trek to the valley to remember and honor them.

Click on photos to enlarge.

NOTE:  The Big Island, Hawai’i, is the only Hawaiian Island with active volcanoes.  Please do not let recent eruptions prevent you from visiting.  Remember, mass media focuses on the worst of any situation, not the typical experience.

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The Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii

Lahaina, Maui

Maui is the second largest island district in the state of Hawaii.  It has a little over 160,000 people.  Twin volcanoes, now dormant, formed Maui.  These in turn eroded into four islands.  The passage between the two main islands is relatively shallow for the Pacific, about 300 feet deep.  Whales come to these warm waters in winter to give birth to their young.  Lahaina, where we anchored, was once a major stop for nineteenth century whaling ships.  They hunted whales, however, in summer in Alaska’s cold waters because the whales had the most blubber then.  Lahaina was just a place to rest and resupply

From Lahaina down the west coast of Maui to Ma’alaaa [there really are three a’s at the end] and across the middle of the island is relatively flat and straight.  I was surprised at how much flat farm land there was in the center.  It was formerly used for sugar, and we passed a recently abandoned sugar mill.  But Maui’s north and south are dominated by two mountains, many steep valleys and few roads.  Translated from the Hawaiian, the mountains are the “Home of the Sun” and the “Home of the Moon.”  75% of the island is isolated and inaccessible.  The road down the southeast coast to Hana from Haiku has 617 bends and 54 one-lane bridges – and it isn’t a very long road.

It was a bright sunny day in Lahaina, but Hana is in the rain forest.  We drove through a light to moderate rain the entire way.  I didn’t take a hat, so whenever we stopped, I wore a towel over my head to protect my hearing aids.  Alie said she could always spot me.  I was the only Arab.

Photos taken through rainy windows don’t show much, but it was a pleasure to drive through the lush forest by the sea and look at the many streams and waterfalls.  We stopped at a roadside stand recommended by our guide and bought some delicious banana bread.  I ate it despite knowing we had box lunches waiting.  We chose to eat those on the bus at a park, but the rain let up enough we could walk to the beach, home to large sea turtles.

Click on photos to enlarge.

As pointed out before, most Hawaiian volcanoes are dormant, and Kilauea’s eruption should not deter you from visiting.

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Iolani Palace: Oahu, Hawaii

Iolani Royal Palace

There are many larger and grander homes in the United States, but there is only one royal palace.  It is the Iolani Palace in Honolulu on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawai`i, the home of a king and queen.

King Kamehameha I [1758-1819] united the various Hawaiian islands under one rule. He is revered as a wise ruler and astute statesman.  His “law of the splintered paddle” provided every man and woman could travel the islands’ roads freely and lie down at night by the roadside without fear of harm.

King Kalᾱkaua and his Queen

In 1819, his son defied the tradition of men and women eating separately, which led to the abolishment of the system of  kapu, taboos.

In 1845, the capital was moved to Honolulu.  When the ruling king died in 1873, his successor, Lunalilo, declared the King should be elected, and he was elected. But he died a year later and was succeeded by David Kalᾱkaua.

Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Kalᾱkaua dynasty that ruled Hawai`i from 1874 to 1893.  King Kalᾱkaua, who ruled 17 years and had travelled to the U.S. and Europe, built the palace in 1882 as a symbol that Hawai`i’s leaders were civilized and enlightened. He actually led the way in some respects, installing electric lights, indoor plumbing and a telephone.

“Order of Kal?kaua Knights” — the King mimiced European royalty.

Although Kalᾱkaua sought to restore and promote native Hawaiian culture including the creation of a secret society to do so, he adopted the trappings of a European King.  He created Royal Orders.  He was a Mason. Despite his admiration of Europe, he was quite pro-American.  His 1885 treaty brought prosperity to the nation, but in 1887 he also gave complete control of Pearl Harbor to the U.S.  He died in 1891 in San Francisco among rumors he planned to sell Hawai’i.

Kalᾱkaua’s successor, Queen Liliuokalani ruled just two years before being deposed [illegally] by an provisional government established by American residents in January 1893.  She was made a prisoner in the palace in 1895 by the Republic of Hawai`i and held there eight months.

Tomb of King Charles Lunalilo [1835-1874], a king who chose to be elected.

After a nine-year restoration project, the palace was opened to the public in 1978.  It is square, with a large central hallway and stairs to the second floor.  Stairway, paneling, banisters, doors and trim are made of Hawaiian koa wood.  They have been able to reproduce many carpets and furniture to look as they were while the king and queen were in residence.  Our guide clearly still felt the injustice of Liliuokalani’s overthrow.


Click on photos to enlarge.

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Honolulu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor when we visited 7 Dec 70.

Seventy five percent of the people in the state of Hawaii live in Honolulu.  Honolulu means sheltered bay in the Hawaiian language.  King Kamehameha, who united all the Hawaiian Islands lived on the Big Island and established his capital on Maui.  But his successors realized the value of a good harbor and moved their capital to Honolulu in the early 1800s.

The United States realized the value of a good harbor and made Pearl Harbor the center of its Pacific forces in 1887.

Note the empty space between the high rises and Diamond Head. Waikiki in 1970 was not nearly as built up as now.

Honolulu, Hawaii and Juneau, Alaska are the only state capitals that cannot be reached from the rest of the country by road.

When I was on R & R from Vietnam in 1970, Alie and I met in Honolulu.  It was a once in a lifetime experience.  So now, a bit more than 47 years later, we went back for dinner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach under the shadow of Diamond Head.  Where there was once a classic old hotel on a huge lawn next to the beach, there is now the Royal Hawaiian shopping mall and a huge resort.  On the street where we bought a dollar-ninety eight mask and snorkel in Woolworths, there are now Rodeo Drive-like stores such as Gucci and Bulgari.  We couldn’t have found our way into the old portion of the hotel without our cab driver’s help.

The experience wasn’t the same, but sometimes nostalgia is enough – we loved it.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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