Monday, May 4, 2015

Travelogue 5 - Bora Bora!

Bora Bora  •  January 15-23, 2015
One of the beach resorts whose name escapes me now.
Main island in the background
When I told friends and family that I was going to Bora Bora for my next trip, I have to admit I drew some pleasure in the announcement. I heard the response so often that I was able to mentally mouth the words, "You're going to Bora Bora!? I hate you, that's on my bucket list".

It was an expensive trip, but not nearly as expensive as some would think. The huts floating over those powder blue waters are Bora Bora's visual calling card. Mostly located on the motus (islets) that surround the main island proper, the huts snake into the waters like bacteria sprouting in a petri dish (it's an awful simile, but if you ever see an aerial view, that's exactly what it looks like). Instead of lounging for a week in one of these hovering fantasies, my friends and I decided to rent one just for an afternoon.
Huts over the clear waters of Bora Bora - Le Meridien Resort

Still, it was generally agreed that the choice to rent a modest condo on the main island proved more rewarding. Saving a ton of money was the residual benefit for having the actual privilege to live among the locals. Bundled in the apartment rental agreement was a beat-up Hyundai with balding tires. We drove along the perimeter of the entire island on a single, pock-marked road, and experienced a lived-in Bora Bora that we would have otherwise been denied.

Without sugar coating or alternately sounding too harsh, the people of Bora Bora are poor and the living conditions reflect this status. While it shouldn't suggest visions of third-world hovels or crime-ridden tropical ghettos, it's still a dramatic contrast to the sprawling and luxurious resorts built for the vacationing jet-set. It's a very simple and somewhat stripped way of living. I also never met a friendlier people; a small, generally content populace that welcomes visitors, travelers, vagabonds and honeymooners alike. Io Orana is the Tahitian salutation and I must have been warmly greeted with this phrase dozens of times a day.

Jack Aiello Photography
Woman selling tropical fruits and vegetables on the side of the road © Jack Aiello Photography
With no cemeteries, the locals honor their dead with mausoleums stationed in the front yard or at the side of the house. As we drove along, it was Mike who first noticed the curious structures that resembled mini-houses.

Rows of silvery tuna freshly plucked from the waters hung in rows like shimmering scale armor on the side of the road. It was on sale for passersby to inspect.

At dusk, it was common to find people gathering on the shores with jerry-built barbecues, the comforting smell of burning wood complementing the sight of a fiery sunset.

Bora Bora's answer to Shop Rite and CVS was Chin Lee Supermarket. I'm so accustomed to supermarkets being sterile aisle after aisle of product arranged in Warholian allure, that I didn't know what to make of Chin Lee's scattershot and grey arrangement. Weirdly now, I miss the sticks of freshly baked baguettes stationed at the entrance.

Chin Lee Supermarket, Bora Bora

So what else did we do?

Swim with the sharks?
Check.

Swim with the manta rays?
Check.

Swim the turtles?
Check.

Was I awestruck by the coral reefs?
Taken with my iPhone camera and waterproof case.©Jack Aiello Photography www.jackaiello.com
...you get the picture.

For me, travel destinations always beg a second visit. It's just the way my mind works. I process experiences more slowly, my impressions always maturing and becoming more fully realized after the fact. It's not a good thing for my wallet, for sure. The real Bora Bora didn't didn't veer too far from those glossy brochure photos. The turquoise lagoon shimmered with so many shades of blue and green it broke my heart. And living on the main island, we were afforded a view behind the curtain, and I have to say it was a privilege to experience how the island locals really live.

Will I go back? I can't say. Do I want to go back? With all my heart.

Main Port at Bora Bora
Mike and Rachel, my partners in crime, enjoying drinks at Bloody Mary's
jackaiello.com
Boy diving off main pier, Bora Bora, ©Jack Aiello Photography