I’d just become engaged in Tahiti, and my fiance had left for the rest of his round-the-world business trip via Fiji.
I had two days in which to join my group of travel agents’ familiarization tour. The Inter Continental’s front desk checked me in. The hotel’s atmosphere was an American’s concept of what Tahiti should be – indoor/outdoor carpeting, a lanai spilling over with flowers, an upside down bit of architecture with the lobby on the top floor and the rooms below, piped in music and all the comforts.
That evening I relaxed in the Discovery Bar for my first Mai Tai followed by dinner of delicious marinated fish.
Early the next morning I swam in the pool at Lahaa. The setting is one of the most breathtaking in the area. Barry Milliken was my guide around the island. He was originally from California when he came to Tahiti to retire, and in order to extend his visa, he had to be “gainfully employed” and became a tour guide.
Through Barry’s eyes I saw a lush, colorful Garden of Eden… Lunch consisted of many delicious, local dishes – the names of which I forget, not that I could spell them! We walked to the Gauguin Museum, and I met Gile the curator. Gile mentioned being very impressed by a local painter, Frank Fay. Some of his work had been done with a palate knife, very modern with the paint often thick on the canvas, but alive with pattern and color. A great deal of space in the museum had been given to his work.
The restaurant was named “Restaurant de Musee Gaugin, and the manager welcomed us with rum punch. He was from England and had also spent some time in Rhodesia where I have relatives whom, much to my amazement, he knew. The assistant manager was from China. The restaurant is open-aired, seating about 80 people for dinner and drinks. I noticed that many of the seats are made from rough hewn logs and could be uncomfortable.
There is a bar-b-que pit which has been converted to a salad bar. The bar-b-que concept did not go over in Polynesia.
It had been a long day, and I’d experienced a great blow hole on the windward side of the island. Before bed I stood on my balcony, the air caressing me, and the sky magnificent with pastel hues. No pollution, no fog or haze dampened the impact of sunset. This, truly, was paradise.
The next morning I boarded my flight to Bora Bora which, from everything I had read and heard was the most beautiful island in French Polynesia – perhaps in the world.
My plane was a twin engine, high winged, 19 passenger made in Canada. It flew low over the hundreds of islands, mostly uninhabited. We landed on a field in a coral atoll. Bora Bora’s airport consisted of an army-made runway and a small building for a waiting room. I boarded “Le Truck, an open air bus which bounced without benefit of springs, across to a pier where large boats carry passengers to the three hotels: The Bora Boar, The Noa Noa (more like a Club Med) and the Moana Nui.
I was booked into the Bora Bora Hotel. On the trip over we enjoyed the clear water, variegated from light green (the shallow, reef portion) to a deep green, and then a sapphire blue so intense as to dazzle the senses. Beyond, were the reefs with great, foamy waves bursting over them, exploding in fantastic magnitude.
Above it all – the powder blue sky and a brilliant, burning sun. I stood on the aft deck with a group of French and Italian visitors. Top deck, where the luggage was stored, were several male passengers in various seated and standing positions – all taking pictures and/or movies.
It was here that I met Hermann Amrhiem of Kuoni Tours – a tour company I had used for years. Hermann had an open smile, and an almost boyish charm. It was his group with whom I’d been chatting in French and limited Italian.
Hermann wasn’t pleased with his group as they were demanding and difficult. When the boat docked about a half an hour later, we were a windburned and sunburned group. We all admitted that we’d enjoyed the trip over.
Along the path from the pier were thatched bungalows on stilts over the water. We saw a large collection of turtles near the pier, and in a cove. The beach beyond the bungalows was perfection.
Moored, on the side of the pier, were several outrigger catamarans. At the end of the path was a main building housing the offices, bar and dining room as well as a reception lobby.
My bungalow was #13, beyond the lobby, on the other side. The bungalow wasn’t on stilts, nor on the beach, but it was only a short stroll from one of the most superlative beaches that I’ve seen so far in the world. Only Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, or perhaps Paradise Beach many years ago, could have competed.
Miles of soft, white coral sand where one could walk for hours, beckoned me. The bungalow had a terrace area with snorkeling equipment awaiting me…fins, mask and air tube. My bedroom had a table, single and double beds and comfortable furnishings. There was a dressing room with vanity, and a good lighting, as well as sufficient hangers in the closet. Within the bathroom was a large shower and the water was warmed by an individual heater such as I have seen in England. It was all “island clean” and functional.
My luggage had not been delivered. After almost an hour I went to the reception lobby where I met the head housekeeper “Dolly” from Raiatea. She had just taken over the job, and the Polynesian girls didn’t like her – there was no laughter or singing. Hermann came over and took my hand. “Have lunch. It will be here then, “ Dolly agreed. So I had lunch in a dining room with one of the most breathtaking views I’d had. The food was delicious, especially the fish which was so fresh I could have sworn I saw it wiggle. After lunch my luggage somehow found its way to my bungalow, and I had a chance to try out my snorkeling equipment. Fish near the coral formations and the reefs take your breath away, and this was no exception. The salt water lends buoyancy, the fins add speed and a good swimmer can keep up with all but the most jet-propelled fish.
It is exciting to plunge below, and collide with a school of fish silently darting and gliding through the waters. To reach out, touch this beauty for only an instant, can take your breath away.