Story and photos by Krisha Chachra
There are some places in the world that you save, and for me, it was Bora Bora. I had several opportunities to escape to French Polynesia, but I didn’t want to spoil my romanticized dream location on a spontaneous trip with a friend. So, when I married my husband, he knew where we would be honeymooning. Months after our summer wedding and autumn Indian reception, it was time for our winter honeymoon to Tahiti and Bora Bora. The thing about paradise is that you never want to leave. The airlines know this, and they design flights schedules so you stay as long as possible. Air Tahiti Nui from LAX flies every third and seventh day. No one goes to Tahiti for three days but if you are going for seven days, you might as well stay for 10.
From LAX you land in Tahiti’s capital, Pape’ete in Fa’aa Airport. Don’t worry if it takes a few times to hit the airstrip (our plane made it on the third try). Tailwinds are rough, especially during the island’s rainy season between November and April. What you learn immediately stepping off the plane – warm air and the scent of tiare flower brushing over you – is that it doesn’t matter that your luggage is on island time. You’ll get everything you need in time as long as you embrace the island motto: Just Stay Calm.
Remember the mantra after your first night in Tahiti as you prepare to catch one of six daily flights to Bora Bora. Your plane is going to be late. But that’s okay – your resort will hold all reservations, and tourists are treated like royalty. The locals, who pretty much all work in tourism, are constantly handing you drinks or cold towels, greeting you with a friendly “Iorana!” (hello/good morning) and making sure you have such a splendid time, you’ll dream about them and the islands after you leave (we still do!). During your stay, ask for anything. Our balance included champagne bottles served poolside, breakfast delivered by canoe to our overwater bungalow, mountain facing views every time we dined, befriending a local and then having a fresh-catch dinner at her house on her balcony, and a diver who swam down to the ocean floor to pick out the oyster I wanted for the signature black pearl.
In Bora Bora, our eyes were assaulted by every shade of blue and green imaginable; the teal ocean was so bright it almost made me cry. If you chose a resort that is on the motu (small island) that surrounds Bora Bora, you’ll have the best view of the stunning Mt. Otemanu. Also, choosing a resort on the motu means you’ll have deeper water around your bungalow so you can do a back-flip into the Pacific to start the day – my husband’s morning ritual.
If you’ve seen the movie Couples Retreat, then you know what our resort looked like. The St. Regis Bora Bora was so proud it was the chosen location for the film, they play it non-stop in all the rooms. But who’s in Bora Bora to watch TV? Instead, look down. In every floating bungalow there is a glass floor. Make sure you snorkel around your new house and meet your aquatic neighbors. The occasional stingray might make an appearance, but as soon as you try to approach, it disappears. The nearby lagoonarium is filled with underwater wonders in every color of the rainbow. Find out when the fish feeding is and make sure you’re in the water – it’s an amazing experience of marine life darting through giant coral forms including huge clam shells with lips the color of deep purple, turquoise and spotted brown.
While you explore the grounds, your personal butler (every bungalow has one) offers to unpack and iron your clothes.
Take advantage of that VIP service – you have more important things to do like sign up for a lomi-lomi style couples massage right on the ocean. All the restaurants on property are included in your stay but make sure you book a reservation at The Lagoon by Jean-Georges and request a seat on the terrace facing Mt. Otemanu – not sure what’s more impressive, the sun setting behind the majestic mountain or the steak-like stack of foie gras presented as an appetizer. Return to your room for a break on your balcony with a whirlpool tub and tea service waiting. If you want, your host will pull out a saber and chop off the head of a champagne bottle only to pour you a glass.
Wallowing in pristine beauty and over-the-top luxury is permissible on a honeymoon. But it is also important to hitch a water taxi or jet ski to explore the island. Things are quite different if you are living in Bora Bora. People go days without running water and electricity. They spent hours farming oysters, tending vanilla beans or herding cattle imported from Europe. One of the locals taught us to shave a coconut with a machete and make an island hotdog – split a banana length-wise and sprinkle with coconut shavings in between.
The Polynesians are extremely tolerant people; they embrace all cultures and walks of life. They have a deep-seeded tradition of including and hiring men called “mahus” who tend to wear women’s clothing and make-up and work in the service industry. The mahus are respected by everyone – sometimes families train their sons at a very early age to cook, clean and operate the flow of a working kitchen in order to access employment. It’s an interesting part of the indigenous culture.
Right before Christmas we saw something we’ll never forget. Taking a quick flight to another nearby island of Taha’a (meaning Vanilla in Tahitian), we checked into the Le Taha’a resort which was much more rustic than the St. Regis. Outdoor rain-showers, decorations made of palm leaves and food served in a treehouse on slits of giant bamboo sticks instead of plates. As we were sunning ourselves on the beach, “Papa Christmas” paddled up in a decorated canoe, his face full of tattoos wearing a worn-out Santa suit that had holes in places. The canoe had two cut out reindeer attached to the front of the outrigger that delighted the few young children nearby. “No Ouch!” tattooed Santa told me when I inquired about the ink application on his face and then he paused and said smiling, “You just stay calm, yeah. You on an island, since when does that ever hurt?”
Krisha Chachra serves on the Town Council of Blacksburg and is a regular columnist and author. She has traveled to over 40 countries in 6 continents and reported and hosted shows for public radio and television. Her columns are taken from her journals and personal insights from traveling nationally and internationally throughout her life. Her book about returning to Blacksburg, Homecoming Journals, may be found online or in local bookstores. Email her at email@example.com