Bora Bora evokes paradise and romance and the images that normally come to mind when people hear about it are the luxurious overwater bungalows, the mesmerizing cerulean lagoon, and the spectacular motus (islets) that surround the main island. They are exactly what greeted us when we arrived in the private motu where our resort was situated. It was every inch a paradise – exactly how we saw it in magazine and brochure photos, only more beautiful.
But what about the mainland of Bora Bora where majority of the population resides? Is it as much a paradise as its surrounding islets?
Most visitors to Bora Bora stay on the motus and only venture to main island to dine at some of its fine restaurants. The visitors are ferried by hotel shuttle to the pier, where restaurant staff pick them up and drop them back. It does not give them much chance to explore the mainland and to have insights about its villages and the residents.
We wanted to explore beyond the confines of our resort to learn more about the villages, the sights, the history and the people of the main island. We were curious if the people were as warm and hospitable as the people we met in the neighboring islands. We expected so, hospitality after all is the hallmark of Polynesian culture.
We signed up for a 4×4 jeep safari in the main island to explore its nook and crannies and we went back another day to do some exploration of our own.
Bora Bora is consists of three villages with a population of about 9,000 permanent residents. Most of Bora Bora residents live in flat coastal strip that circles the main island. There’s only one main road which skirts around the shore lines. It’s only about 19 miles (32km) long and can easily be explored within a day.
We found the vegetation lush in most part of the island. Bora Bora is a volcanic island after all, thus, its soil is very fertile for farming. We saw wealth of fruit bearing trees, flowering plants and vegetable fields. Copra and vanilla are the main produce of the island.
As tourism is the main industry of the island, we shouldn’t have been surprised that Bloody Mary’s Restaurant was part of the tour highlight. We knew it was very popular but didn’t realized that the locals consider it as an island landmark. Apparently, it is legendary and what makes it so is the legion of rich and famous people who have dined here throughout the years. It boasts a long board with list of luminaries whom they hosted.
Our names were not on the list (yet) but we did dine here one evening. We found its most charming feature was the sandy floor. We loved our tuna sashimi appetizer. It was absolutely fresh and flavorful. The rest of the meal? Not too remarkable. Food wise, we didn’t get the hype. But we thought it was remarkable to dine where very remarkable people had dined (We read the Kardarshians dined and filmed here but their names didn’t make it to “the board.” What a snob!)
During World War II, the US military used the Bora Bora as a supply base in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They built defenses along the coast to protect the island against a possible surprise attack by Japan. They also built the coastal road and the island’s first airport on Motu Mute, which is being used as commercial airport today.
Our jeep climbed to a very steep hill (no wonder we needed a 4×4) where one of the seven U.S. military’s canons, and the only remaining one, was strategically positioned. A bunker is also located nearby.
We found something unique in most homes. They are a bit obscure in the photos below but you can see those smaller structures built next to the houses. Would you believe that they are family cemeteries?
We learned that there were no public cemeteries in Bora Bora, so the people bury their love ones in their own backyard. Our guide said that it was really tough to sell one’s land in Bora Bora, because people can’t sell the land without selling their grandparents.
We stopped by this seemingly row of ordinary rocks, but they are remains of an ancient temple called “marae” that was used by Polynesians for religious and cultural ceremonies. There are several of such ruins within the island.
I guess we were surprised because its neighboring islands were pretty well-kept, especially in Huahine where the locals we met reminded us not to throw anything on the ground even fruit peels. I guess we just expected that this kind of care for the surrounding was true in very island.
We saw a defunct hotel project (that would have been a Hyatt) that was just sitting there like a sore thumb amidst the spectacular lagoon scenery. We also saw relics of several resorts (Club Med was one of them) that closed down as a result of economic crash. There are still some resorts in the main island but they are not as upscale as those situated on the surrounding motus.
And we were entering Vaitape, the main town of Bora Bora.
About half of Bora Bora’s population leave In Vaitape. We found the town pretty much devoid of charm.
But the town is functional. It has the essential businesses such as supermarkets, a pharmacy, a gas station, a bank, and a post office. It is also lined with pearl shops, souvenir stalls, some cafes and restaurants. It also has a harbor where cruise ships dock few times a year.
We went back another day to explore Vaitape on our own. We felt that we had an unfinished business – a good interaction with the locals. We felt that the jeep safari didn’t allow us much chance to meet up with them. We did a lot of walking around when we returned. We tried to interact with the locals but they were pretty much nonchalant about our presence.
In the neighboring islands, especially in Huahine, we would walk the streets or enter a restaurant and we would instantly make friends with the locals. Here in Bora Bora, we found that the locals were very much jaded by tourism.
The island itself is potentially a paradise. We don’t think the locals here take pride of their surrounding, like the locals in their neighboring islands do. We think its sad that the motus where most tourists stay are kept so pristine …but they don’t maintain the same standard in the area where local residents live. They live in such special, extraordinary beautiful island and we hope they realize and appreciate it.
More about Bora Bora:
- Bora Bora is one of the islands that make up French Polynesia. As the name denotes, the island group is a French territory. The group of island is also called Society Islands.
- Bora Bora is located 160 miles northwest of Tahiti and 2,600 miles south of Hawaii.
- There are not direct flights into Bora Bora from outside French Polynesia. One must fly to Tahiti and take one hour flight from there to Bora Bora.
- The currency is called French Pacific Francs. US$1 = XPF 86.
- Official language is French but Polynesian is still widely spoken.
Linking to Travel Photo Thursday.