16:29.35S 151:45.16W Over the reef around Bora Bora.
16:29.35S 151:45.16W Over the reef around Bora Bora.
The next day was Sunday and we walked the 2.2km along the shore road, puddle dodging, into the town Vaitape to find most people just leaving their church service amidst much bonhomie.
“Ia Orana” is the French Polynesian for “Hello” and we strained ourselves to use it in return to the friendly greetings we received everywhere.
In the neat front gardens of many of the small single storey homes family members would be lying in their final repose in roofed graves, some so big and containing up to four deceased folk they would take up a quarter of the garden.
We located the bank, gendarmerie, supermarkets, chandlery and bike shop and then returned to the ‘yacht club’ for a restorative drink before lunching aboard and a relaxing afternoon.
A quick telephone call to a lady whose family run
daily adventure trips with sharks and rays and we were booked for the next day with them. Me swim with sharks and rays, we’ll see!
At the allotted time, in fact nearly an hour before we were ready in the cockpit, armed with our waterproof bag of dry clothes, towels, camera,sun cream etc and a panga style canoe with outrigger came whizzing around into the bay. Already full with fellow adventurers, all young enough to be our children, Papa carefully manoeuvred the aluminium beasty alongside for us to jump aboard.
Saying general hi’s to everyone we moved to the stern where there was enough space for us and met young Tim, his uncle Crazy, (named as he was!) and his grandfather Papa. Tim briefed us as we sped towards deep water just outside the Passe where we had entered a couple of days before. He supplied me with flippers which I thought I would try for the first time. Crazy picked up a tiny plastic bottle which held their mooring line while Tim lowered the aluminium steps for those, like us, who didn’t want to leap over the side.
In no time there we were, with the sharks. Just imagine a shark with a black tip to its top fin and another at least three metres long and with a broader rounded head and you have our companions, black tipped reef sharks and lemon sharks. They were well mannered and our occasional inevitable head-on meetings were a little scary at first but proved to be benign close encounters.
Crazy started feeding them which brought a host of other fishes too. Rob was taking photos while I was watching, along with the rest of us as Tim and Crazy dived into the depths, their healthy brown bodies, clothed only with loin clothes, swam around the lemon sharks lower down and encouraged them to come up and see us.
We stayed for what seemed a long time, reluctant to leave this amazing other world of wild marine life, but eventually clambered back on board to find thick soft warm blue towels in our places, what luxury.
While Papa sped us along Tim on his hour glass drum and Crazy on his ukulele sang in lovely harmony lots of songs, some local and some we knew so could join in. Their joviality and sense of fun soon relaxed the group into a gang of friends out for a day’s fun.
Next stop was on top of the reef near the 43’ post we passed at the final corner of the reef on our approach. Since we were only waist deep in water we didn’t have to use snorkels, although it would have been useful for underwater shots.
The stingrays had had their stings removed and liked being handled. Unlike the more demure sharks, they came to us and would swim between us, their wings touching us around the waist which caused much screaming (not us!) and laughter as they tickled like crazy (!).
Their skin was so soft in places but had rough areas too. We could let their tails run through our fingers and they were quite hard with small sharp barbs. They feed by sucking through their lipped mouth underneath and when Crazy started feeding them they became excited and would try to latch on to us and suck shoulders or arms. Their suck was really strong, like my brothers calves when I let them suck my fingers before feeding.
Terns and a young frigate bird came to chance their luck for some food and seeing them so close was an unexpected treat.
There was one female who would lie placidly in our arms, facing us, while we were photographed, her raised eyes watching us and seawater shooting out of the hollow beneath her eyes as she breathed. She was lovely, heavy and placid in our arms. I know they were attracted by the food but apart from that they were non aggressive and genuinely curious.
One of the things I love about snorkelling is how peaceful it is when one’s head is facing down and seeing so much marine life all around and living in such harmony in its groups. Spending so much time looking above water, this made a real change.
More singing as we sped over the reef, where it was too shallow to take Zoonie, and we arrived at the best snorkelling site on Bora Bora, the Coral Garden.
There was no greater variety of fish than we had seen at other sites but only here did we watch Tim and Crazy swimming to the bottom to see what they could find. Suddenly the camera was taken from me and next I watched as Crazy took it to the mouth of a small seabed cave to capture a shot of the moray eel in there.
Tim dislodged an octopus for us to watch and photograph wrapped around his hand while Papa fed the terns and fish from a bucket while sitting at the stern of the boat.
Back aboard the boys were busy in the stern with knives, coconuts, pamplemousse and coconut cake while Papa took us on around the southern end of the reef, slowly this time as the water was only inches deep and the boys were using very sharp knives.
Soon Tim emerged with a long wooden dish pilled with finger food. We all took chunks of fruit, coconut and cake washed down with iced drinks from the cooler I thought this was lunch and then Papa said to me, “Don’t eat too much there is lunch to come.”
Hotels out here are usually a main thatched building with thatched chalets built either along the beach or on stilts out over the reef or both. The chalets at one hotel each had their own swimming pool! You can pay $5000 per night at the Hilton if you wish and Tim reeled off the famous names who have done just that. But for us we came alongside at the more moderately priced Meridien to drop off the half day punters and go for a wee, walking past the infinity pool and through some pretty gardens, bodies everywhere stretched out on recliners.
In the middle of this island, Piti uru Uta, there is a lagoon where turtles peacefully live, but it wasn’t always so. People from the hotel would go into the water to swim with them while unknowingly their suntan cream would be shed and form a film on the water surface. When the turtles raised their heads aloft to breathe the film would coat their eyes and after a time make them blind. Not being able to see to feed they died. I wondered what extraordinarily thorough scientific analysis had discovered this problem and thus saved them.
Our next stop was on the same island and Papa raised the outboard and let the boat drift in towards the shore where his daughter, Tim’s mum and Crazy’s sister had prepared a typical Polynesian buffet of thin fried tuna and beef strips, poisson cru and salads, ably assisted by three of her seven bulldogs including the pup who had the cutest wrinkly face.
Papa wheeled a wheel barrow to a nearby patch of level ground and promptly went to sleep in it while Tim gave us a demonstration on how to process coconut.
He showed us the soft end and then promptly rammed it onto a wooden spike wedged in a tree trunk. With a quick twist a chunk of husk rasped off. Repeat the process a few times and all the husk lay on the ground ready for burning.
Next he showed us the face at one end of the nut, two slanty eyes and a round mouth. By whacking the line between the eyes at right angles the nut started to split around the middle in a clean line. Quickly turning it upright to preserve the juice in the lower half he could then open it up.
The guys were invited to have a go with the warning that too much pressure could result in not only the coco’nut’ being damaged!
Tim then used a sharp knife to cut from the centre of the half nut at an angle towards the cut edge. Strips could then be easily removed for eating.
To grate the flesh into soft pulp he sat on the table with a lethal looking round flat disc with a serrated edge that was screwed to the table, between his legs. Holding the cut edge towards him he ran the white flesh interior over the serrations and lovely fine white grated pulp fell into a wooden bowl.
This could then be eaten raw, used in cooking or squeezed from the palm of the hand down the thumb and into the mouth. Delicious fresh, sweet milk.
Naturally our efforts to get it into our mouths met with various degrees of success, which just added to the fun. I mopped Rob up and the local dogs were ready and waiting under the table for any left overs.
To wash the stickiness off we lay back in the few inches of seawater while the biggest bulldog, and he was big, was carried out to the little boat used by Tim’s mum for all her catering stuff. Tim’s brother told us he was just lazy, the puppy then bounced through the water as if showing off to his lazy dad.
The rest of the punters were then dropped back at the Meridien and we watched them walking tired and happy back to their chalets while Crazy and Tim shared the load of all the towels, over their shoulders to the hotel laundry.
“They won’t be long,” Papa said as the three of us chatted. Just for a change they were as curious about us as we were about them and as Papa took us on around the island to complete our mini circumnavigation we all chatted in English and French. Tim showed us some hotels that had been damaged by hurricanes, devoid of their thatch roofs. They don’t have enough money for repairs and insurance doesn’t appear to happen out here. The first hotel on the island was the first to be destroyed and that was years ago.
Crazy did a wonderful final act of hanging between the canoe and Zoonie and all too soon it was final waves and farewells to this warm family group. What a day!