Bora Bora, Ten Years Later

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Sorry we haven’t gotten a blog post in for a couple of weeks, but Sophie is now in Bora Bora, the site of Jenna’s and my honeymoon exactly 10 years ago, and we’ve been busy.

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Last night we attended the opening of a month-long cultural festival/dance competition involving groups representing villages from across Bora Bora. The highlight for me was most definitely the group from Faanui, above, which featured over eighty dancers backed by a chorus of fifty singers and drummers. They claimed their performance was an original interpretive work titled “Land: Proof of My Existence” (I wish Max was still here to help me parse that one), but I knew the dance was really just one big collective booty shake in celebration of my nephew Danny’s birthday, which is today, and is celebrated throughout the world with similar dances.

The Island put a great deal of work into preparing the venue for the cultural celebration/birthday party, and the results are impressive. The main performance area is a quad of packed sand 50 meters a side with a viewing stand on one end and a decorative tiki platform on the other, all surrounded by a village of palm huts used as game rooms, changing rooms, band rooms, and facilities for the 250 people who help administer the event (we assume this is subsidized by the French government). Off to the side is another collection of huts that have been turned into a street of 15 restaurants and bars that we’ve been told stay open until 3:00 AM. The whole area is lit up with Christmas lights and is filled with smiling families and tourists from the hotels, a cruise ship, and les bateaux. It was all built in the last week, and we plan to come here every day we remain in Bora Bora. It’s that cool.

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Earlier this week we went swimming out by the reef and anchored next to a tour boat that was feeding the sharks and rays. We were anchored in 3-4 feet of water, and one could simply stand there and watch the sharks and sting rays happily swim right up to you and say hello. Jenna was in heaven shooting a lot of photos and video. Hazel absolutely refused to get out of the dinghy. She is still recovering from having a moray eel lick her leg a week ago. Leo swam right up to the sharks but got his fill within a few minutes. Me? I was mostly looking out to the other (ocean) side of the reef for signs of birds indicating the presence of tuna and Mahi Mahi.


While anchored off the motu Topua here, the Mahina Tiare III motored by and said hello. This sailboat is a well-known Hallberg Rassy 46 sloop and is owned by John Neal and Amanda Swan-Neal, who operate a cruising school that takes students on offshore legs throughout the world. John is originally from Seattle, and he and Amanda spend a couple of months a year in the Pacific Northwest and speak frequently on the west coast boat show circuit. I first toured the Mahina Tiare III at a Seattle boat show in 1999, and I liked the boat so much I bought a similar model and named it Sarita after my daughter Sara. They currently have 6 students and are on a 3 weeks trip from Papeete to the Cook Islands. We invited all of them over to Sophie for a glass of wine and a tour of the boat, which they all seemed to enjoy a great deal. This meant a lot to me and Jenna, because John and Amanda have been a big inspiration to us over the years.

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The visit was a lot of fun, and they countered by graciously asking us to join their crew the following evening for dinner at Bloody Mary’s, the famous Polynesian bar and restaurant on the south side of the island. The restaurant has its own dock, mooring balls, and 33 year history. Jenna and I ate there twice during our honeymoon 10 years ago and were eager to return.

The restaurant hasn’t changed during that time: sand floors, topical décor, and a menu laid out on an ice table as you walk in. It was a great dinner with a fun crowd. Our fish was excellent.

Bloody Mary’s is right up the street from the Hotel Bora Bora, the place where Jenna and I stayed during our first visit to the island. Sadly that hotel has changed a great deal since our honeymoon. It’s basically destroyed, the victim of business disputes, cyclones, and overbuilding. We heard that tourism in French Polynesia right now is at the same level it was in 1981.  There are several waterfront hotel complexes on Bora Bora that are similarly abandoned, and the rest either have caretakers or operate at half-capacity. Apparently the hotels in the Cook Islands and Fiji are doing quite well, but that is not the case here. It’s too bad tourism hasn’t fully resumed, regardless of the reason, given how beautiful it is here.

I’ve gone fishing twice in the last week, both times trolling in the dinghy outside the reef. The first time was with Leo, and we used a GPS to track our location as we headed 5 miles out. After a couple of hours we finally found the flock of birds, and there were even 2 local commercial boats trolling right where we were. Unfortunately, the wind picked up when we got there, and Leo and I decided to head back in. Safety first, especially in the dinghy! For the second time I went out by myself and after 90 minutes spotted hundreds of birds feeding on a fast moving school of bait. I raced around for an hour chasing them with my lines in. I didn’t catch anything but have to say it was one of my best fishing experiences ever. It was amazing.

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This morning our friends the Riebelings arrived for a 3 week stay. We are so excited! They’ll be joining us as we head from Bora Bora to the Cooks. This marks the beginning of a 6 month stint where we have friends from Seattle visiting us every month. That’s Tanya and Jenna and Sophie, all in the water together, hanging out. It’s what we frequently do.

We kicked off the Riebeling visit with lunch at the Bora Bora Yacht Club where we presented the staff with a Seattle Yacht club burgee, which they promptly hung directly over the center of their bar.

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Anyone from Seattle who visits this part of the world definitely needs to check it out.

Finally, I flew back to Papeete this week for a follow-up visit with the doctors. Everything looks good from their end. The trip continues. Like I’ve said before on these pages, we’re blessed. There will be plenty to write about as we continue on our journey, so stay tuned. We’ll keep rolling along.

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4 thoughts on “Bora Bora, Ten Years Later

  1. What an adventure! So wonderful to learn about new places through your words and pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It’s 88 degrees here today, so I can almost imagine I’m right there in the tropics with you! Love your blogs. Love you! Mom/Sarah/Grandma

  3. Hi, James & Jenna. After I missed seeing you at the Mary Gates Dinner for United Way earlier this month, Wendy Norman told me about your adventure and blog. Great stuff! I am following it now from the most inland large city in the world. I read many pages of the blog today from Novosibirsk, Russia – smack dab in the middle of Asia. Sounds like you guys are having an amazing experience! It was very special to sail on Sophie in one of those Thursday night races. It helps me picture your life on the boat a bit. Best wishes, Craig Bartholomew

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