Friday 4 November 2016

Row, row, row your boat...

Ours was the party boat. Anchored in the shallow lagoon off Matira Beach, the speakers were lifted onto the roof and the music was shared – no need to turn up the volume, since it had been cranked up to the max from the very beginning of our cruise down the lagoon from Le Méridien to where the finish line was for today’s big boat race. 
Pirogues, or outrigger canoes – about 100 of them, including some international teams (Japan and China as well as more predictable places like Hawaii, and also with a New Zealand entrant) – were taking part in Hawaiki Nui Va'a 2016 and completing the third and final stage of a 129km race between islands that started in Huahine. Today's section was 58.2km long and the teams of 6 rowers took between 4¼ and 5½ hours to complete it, dipping and pulling, dipping and pulling in the hot sun. When they finished, some were too tired even to tip out into the lagoon to cool off.
It was a huge day, locally, an unofficial public holiday, and the lagoon was filled with boats of all sorts as well as – would you call them pedestrians? wandering around with their phones held above their heads, many of the women wearing flowery headdresses. Gendarmes brought in specially for the occasion cruised around on jetskis, officially curbing the off-boat drinking of alcohol but generally seeming to be having as good a time as everyone else.
Me? I would have had a better time had our DJ turned the volume down a bit – that cranked-up beat box music can get a bit overwhelming after 3 or 4 hours. But the people on the surrounding boats and in the water were all enjoying the show, and it was a colourful, crowded and cheerful affair, with so many boats in the water, the blue and the turquoise, the kite surfer catching air, the enviably cool-looking motorised surfboards skimming past, and above it all, Otemanu looming impressively.
Transferred by jetski to the beach, we joined a 4WD tour around the island, travelling every one of the single loop road’s 20 miles, some of them several times. We went up three hills on incredibly steep and crumbling concrete tracks, and the two Americans on the tour smugly sucked up all the GI gratitude liberally dished out by the guide, local man Frank. During the war, they built the runway, the wharf, the road, installed some cannons, one of which we visited, and left behind plenty of DNA – so their influence is still strong on Bora Bora.
There were lots of cannibal jokes (it was outlawed only in 1826), the obligatory craft workshop visit to observe pareu tie-dyeing, some eating of fruit, and a wealth of information about culture, history and beliefs, only some of which seemed reliable. The soursap fruit cures cancer, everybody! But it’s a local secret because the world’s governments have too much money invested in drug companies…
For the rest, the island was the usual Pacific mix of coconut and banana palms, mango and papaya trees, frangipani bushes, feathery casuarinas, some litter, many dogs, flimsy-looking turquoise-painted houses with louvre windows and gravestones in the front yard, fancy hotels, cheerful people sitting and walking and wallowing, workaday boats hauled out of the water on simple wind-up racks, Protestant churches, Gendarmerie, busy port.
Back at Le Méridien, we were greeted by name, fed well, and wandered along the pontoon back to our bungalow in the warm dark, bucking the apparent resort rule by not holding hands.

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