We caught the first shuttle to the main island on Wednesday so we could hike up the mountain!
Hiking was high on the list of things we wanted to do and we had done a little research before coming here. There was one specific guide, Azdine, who came highly recommended. Some of the comments we read suggested booking directly through him rather than through the hotel, so I figured out how to use the phone and called him. He had a heavy accent, but I have quite a bit of experience dealing with non-native English speakers and felt confident that our plans were confirmed to meet at 8:30 on the main dock.
Except when we were there, he was not. Our friends joined us for the trip, and I was feeling rather foolish. Also helpless, since our phones don’t work here and even if they did I was unsure how to dial a local number. Eventually The Husband and I walked to a local café where I looked up his number and then used an employee’s phone to call him while our friends waited at the dock. I’m still not quite sure what happened, but he ended up picking us up around 9:15. It seems like I always get ourselves into these adventures…but they make for good stories and they always turn out fine.
Azdine was a character! A native of France but descended from Moroccan parents, his skin matches the locals but he is much smaller. He moved to Tahiti at the age of 18 in pursuit of the ‘island life’, but found life in Papeete, the capital city, was fast-paced and comparable to European life. So after studying botany and archaeology at university, he settled in Bora Bora. He found that all of the land was privately owned, but talked to the family and got permission to study it. He got his machete and cleared paths. He soon found that his research was not profitable, so he began leading tourists on hikes. Now he leads hikes during the busy season and researches and explores during the off season. He has lead people from National Geographic, New York Times, and Disney (while researching Moana) on hikes, but I’m not sure he understands how huge these platforms are. He acted surprised that we already knew some basic information on him. He told us that he was most excited to give a tour to Barack Obama a few months ago, but the weather prevented them from going out. On that note, we were hoping to climb higher and explore the caves, but the recent rain made that trek impassable.
Azdine prefers his Bora Bora name, Tama, which means something like “child who comes from far away”. He is 5’5” of pure passion and didn’t hesitate to share his politics with us. He shared that the people of Bora Bora pay the same taxes as those in France, but they do not benefit from any of the services the French do. He, and those in his party, dreams of independence for Bora Bora, but admits that they are not yet ready. He says the locals come to him grumbling that they are poor, but that he tells them they need to “move their ass!” He explained that although the tourist industry here is set up to favor the French over the locals- French people come here for management and upper-tier jobs, while the locals do things like housekeeping and cooking- there are many untapped opportunities for the locals to capitalize on their beautiful island, if only they’d tap into their entrepreneur spirit and work. He goes to the local school weekly and teaches kids how to better use their natural resources.
Today the main island is settled around the coast line but completely uninhabited beyond that. I figured this was because the terrain was unforgiving, but Azdine/Tama explained that centuries ago it WAS inhabited. The predominant religion in Bora Bora is Christian, but their history includes a lot of folklore. At some point in the past, legends started that the hills were taboo and everyone left, afraid of the curses or bad luck they’d get by entering the taboo area. Azdine/Tama has been working hard to change that.
As he lead us on our journey, he stopped constantly to point out things that I would have otherwise missed. He showed us pineapple plants and my uneducated mind was blown to learn that pineapples grow out of the ground (I always thought they grew on trees). He showed us banana flowers and explained how each layer provides new bunches.
Each of those yellow buds becomes a banana, and under each leaf is a brand new bunch.
He dug up some fresh ginger growing in a dirt pile we were walking on. He cracked open one of the first passion fruits of the season, not quite ripe yet, and shared the juice with us- it was to die for! We ate a papaya fresh from the tree. He shared some honey he had made from his bee hive. We smelled coffee beans he had harvested. He shelled a fresh almond that had just fallen off the tree. He cracked open something that had cotton, or something resembling cotton, in it and explained how he used it to make pillows.
He talked incessantly about how the island has all these natural resources that were completely untapped. We don’t have any of the things above at the hotel; everything is imported from New Zealand, the States, or Europe. His passion is to help people farm the land and sell it to the resorts. According to him, there are only two farms on the island, both under his direction, and one of them just recently started selling exclusively to one of the big resorts here. He pointed out repeatedly but in an unoffensive way how the tourists live in a bubble while they’re here, unaware of the resources on the main island or the struggles the local people have.
We passed a WWII bunker. The United States used Bora Bora as a supply base, among other things, during the war. For that reason, the locals love Americans (Azdine joked that they are the only country in the world that loved Americans 😊 ). We helped build their streets and put infrastructure in place that is still here today. This bunker was once completely covered; Azdine discovered it while working on the land.
We hiked through uncleared areas, pushing vegetation out of the way. Eventually we got to an area he had cleared that looked like something out of a movie. With the mountain peaks in the background and native flowers all around it was simply beautiful.
Azdine explained how when he was clearing the area he came about some black stones that seemed to be in a pattern forming a floor. He kept clearing and clearing, discovering more and more of this, and eventually found a pile of rocks, surrounded by white (now gray) rocks pointing upwards. He believes it was an ancient temple.
We stopped in the area for a quick picnic before Azdine took us to see his little farm, including little piglets that had just been born the day before!
When a beautiful sight was about to come up, Azdine would stop us before it entered our view, instruct us to look down at our feet and not to cheat, and march us towards the sight. He would then tell us to look up- and although cheesy, it was really a great way to shock your senses with beauty. He did this as we walked toward a banyan tree.
I had never seen a banyan tree before and was simply amazed. Instead of the roots starting at the bottom of the tree, they start at the top and then hang down like giant vines before implanting themselves in the ground and becoming solid branches. Because of this the trees become absolutely huge- the biggest one in the world covers nearly 5 acres!! Azdine explained that ancient Polynesians did not bury or burn dead bodies because those things were associated with hell, so they embalmed them and put them in trees like this one. He has discovered the remains of 7 bodies in the internal part of this tree. Because of the way the tree has grown around them they are impossible to get out, and I didn’t try to squeeze myself into the tree to get a better look! He also told us that today they do bury their bodies…in their front yards! We had seen several tombs while walking/driving around and wondered why there were there. Apparently, when a baby is born its umbilical cord is buried in the yard as well, and when that person’s dead body is eventually placed there the circle of life is completed. At one time, they believed they would not be reincarnated if the circle of life was broken. There are no cemeteries on the island, but even if there were its doubtful people would use them over the traditional burials.
From here we walked up a steep uphill to the most beautiful view of all. The pictures do not even come close to doing it justice. We simply sat and took in the wonder.
Azdine asked us where we had eaten and when we told him Bloody Marys, he gagged and said that was the “Tahitian McDonalds”. He recommended Bora Bora Yacht Club, so we’ll try that later this week.
We went back downhill and after a quick stop at the grocery store for some coconut bread, we returned to our boat shuttle. We had to hurry to get back to the hotel because we had an all company dinner that night. After a quick shower we returned to the boat shuttle.
Two big boats of people from my company headed to the resort’s private island.
We were greeted by delicious smelling leis, wet towels, ukuleles, and cocktails. After a happy hour and photo shoot on the beach, we moved over to a large picnic area surrounded by tiki torches.
Our CEO gave a speech and I think everyone reflected on the unpredictable success the firm has had in its short 5.5 years, how very blessed we are to be here, and how lucky we are to all work together. It gave me all the feels!
After the speech we ate a FEAST. I mean, not even joking. There was a roasted pig leg someone was cutting pork off of, a seemingly unending fish selection, dozens of dessert choices, mini burgers, different kinds of rice, crab legs, the whole 9 yards. It was crazy.
After dinner these Polynesian dancers came out and performed an elaborate show for us. It was so fun, and it gave me the feels in a different way as we watched people put fire in the mouths and on their bodies!
After we went back The Husband and I got separated and I returned to the room. I was surprised not to find him here and started getting ready for bed when I saw something crawl out from under the sink. I did not have my contacts in and couldn’t tell if it was a small crab, a large spider, or something else, but it freaked me out. I climbed on the furniture, started messaging The Husband to come save me, and tried to not get eaten. He did eventually come, but wasn’t interested in finding the creature and now I am still scared I might become crab food.
Wednesday was non stop going from 7am-10:30 pm, but was so fun and informative. Definitely a great day!