Our sailing itinerary has changed yet again thanks to weather that has gone from dicey to downright unsafe. We had to give up on venturing out to relatively uninhabited areas where I was looking forward to exploring the land and talking with the islanders about what was happening in their corner of the world. Weather conditions dictated that we stick to the beaten path, so we passed on visiting more isolated atolls in the Tuamotus and set a course for the Society Islands. Our first stop: Bora Bora.
A beautiful island takes a beating
During my first visit to Bora Bora in the late 1970s, the island was simply beautiful, more beautiful than James Michener’s description in his classic Tales of the South Pacific. I remember evenings spent under bright stars and an almost magical moon; clear, clean water teaming with fish; and land free of congestion.
This time around, I am sad to report, it is a different story. Bora Bora is now a tourist town. Cruise ships come in regularly, unloading thousands of passengers into crowded streets where vendors hawk trinkets and pearls on just about every corner. Jet skis, rather than colorful fish, fill waters that are now so murky the visibility is only 10 to 15 feet, a small fraction of the 100-foot visibility that I remember. Francesca thought the island was beautiful, but did agree it was too crowded. And Els simply called it, “Paradise Lost.” Needless to say, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Tahaa to the rescue
We headed for Tahaa, a much less populated island. After seeing the effects of overdevelopment on Bora Bora, it was just what I needed to renew my faith in what is possible.
Tahaa is very much like Hawaii was in the 1950s or Moorea was in the 1970s. It only has one hotel that I would consider semi-large, and it’s not even on the main island. Although a lot of people have moved to Tahaa, they love that there are no major towns and that it is quiet, and they are trying to keep it that way.
On tour with an islander (and old friend)
We met up with my old friend Richard, who lives on Tahaa and just loves the place. He was the perfect host, sharing his knowledge as he took us on wonderful trips around the island to meet the people.
Richard actually relocated from Bora Bora where he was quite vested, working on their fishing programs and actively involved with the Bora Bora Hotel. He had every intention of living out his life there, but became so disillusioned with what was happening on the island that he moved to Tahaa. Interestingly, the Bora Bora Hotel, once known as the finest hotel in the world, is now closed and shuttered, unlikely to open again.
|While on Tahaa, we visited a local church where parishioners filled the air with spectacular signing. Here’s an audio clip:
With Richard’s help, we pretty much covered the island of Tahaa. We visited a local church to hear singing that was spectacular. We did some diving and snorkeling that was absolutely too beautiful for words.
We even visited a pearl farm owned by famous kite surfers. They have a tree house that looked much like the one owned by Bernard Moitessier, the famous sailor I met in Ahe back in the 1970s. In fact, their daughter told us that Bernard lived on Tahaa many years ago.
All things vanilla
We also visited one of the many vanilla farms on Tahaa. The island is the largest producer of French Polynesian vanilla, considered the best in the world, so it’s often called Vanilla Island. We learned how the vanilla plants are cultivated and cared for and how to make a vanilla-inspired Tahitian punch that will knock your socks off.
Being a product of the product
After spending time with Richard, I have come away with even a stronger belief that the way to truly effect positive change is to be a Product of the Product.
Richard and I talked about ways to help keep the environment sustainable while enjoying a fulfilling life. When people visit Tahaa, he explains, he likes to show them a great time, but also the fauna and other interesting highlights of the island. Richard not only knows all about this wonderful island, but happily shares his knowledge. And, he has fostered great relationships in the community. It was a joy to see him in action as a product of the product.
Well, with my spirit renewed, I’m ready for our next stop: Raiatea. I’ll check in when I can. In the meantime, I would love to hear your ideas about making changes for the better.
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P.S.S. Don’t forget to check out our photos on the Society Islands from 40-plus years ago (Firebird Album 3: Tuamotus & Society Islands) and recently (Double X Photo Album 8: Society Islands). I hope you enjoy!