George and Sandy's 2003 Trip to Bora Bora

Monday, October 20, 2003 about 1600 local time (GMT -11)

Its been a busy day. After 17 hours of travel, we made it to the Club Med in Bora Bora. I've just come back from snorkeling and overall I'm pretty beat considering that I got almost zero sleep during the trip and that we left LA after a long weekend of moving furniture after a carpet install last Friday.

Sandy and I left the house at about 2100 PDT on Oct 19, 2003 to head to LAX for Air France flight 70 to Papeete. The flight was scheduled to leave at 0055 on Oct 20. We got to the Bradley International Terminal at about 2145, 15 minutes ahead of the time recommended by Club Med. There was total confusion at the Air France counters because nobody from the airline was there. This was the only Air France flight on the schedule board but there were about 20 other flights on other airlines leaving in an hour period starting about midnight. This means that the terminal was jam packed. The TSA folks weren't there either nor was a Club Med representative. However, there were a lot of passengers there and nobody knew what was going on. Eventually, the players filtered in and we went through the normal (confused and inefficient) baggage screening process. We weren't allowed to touch our bags after they had been screened so that they were hauled over to the ticket counter by a nice young woman who seemed to be the only person there that seemed to know what was going on. After we checked in, we were directed to the gate. However, the line to get thorough the gate screening went halfway down the backside of the building and then split into a second line that went to the gates on the other side and then the two lines merged and went out to out to the street. It took just over an hour to get through that line. When the TSA folks screened my carry on, they saw something that they didn't like and took my whole bag apart and screened it in pieces. They found nothing on the rescreen so they left me with several gray plastic tubs of my stuff and an empty bag to repack. We still got to the gate about an hour and a half before the flight left. The plane, a 747-400, was already there, in from Paris. The flight itself was uneventful but very long, about 8 hours.

society islands Papeete is the capital of a group of islands collectively and historically known as the Society Islands, politically known as French Polynesia and popularly known as Tahiti even though "Tahiti" is the name of only one, but the largest, of the islands.

ocean mapThe island group sits in the South Pacific nearly due south of Hawaii and about 4000 air miles from LA, about 3500 air miles from Australia and 3000 miles New Zealand.

We got to Papeete at about 0600 local time and had to wait there for our connection to Bora Bora for almost 3 hours. The Air Tahiti aircraft was an AR72, a twin turboprop that probably seated 72 people. This thing was a short take off model that literally leapt off the runway. I have never been on an airplane that lifted off with such high vertical acceleration. This flight took about 45 minutes to get to the Bora Bora airport which is on the barrier island which partially surrounds the main island. From there, we took a boat to the main burg on this island and then a local bus to the Club Med. We arrived at 1100 local time. All told, it took 17 elapsed hours to get here.

bora boraThis is Bora Bora looking generally from the north. The island itself is an extinct volcano that has partially sunken. At its original shoreline, a reef formed. As the island sunk, the reef continued to grow to reach the surface and stay there. Eventually, the whole island will sink beneath the sea and only the reef will remain as an atoll.

The airport is in the lower left out on the barrier reef. The main town of Viatape is on the right side in the smaller bay. The Club Med is on the far side, just to the right of the cloud. The two little islands on the far side are just off shore from the village are inside the barrier reef. The Hotel Bora Bora where we stayed in 1986 is at the point in the far upper right of the photo.

club medThis is the Club Med. Our room is the upstairs half of the middle section of the three part building in the lower extreme right. The two small islands can been seen in the previous picture also. The club is squeezed in between the road and the beach. Even though the road is quite close, we don't hear any traffic on it.

In contrast to the performances at LAX, the folks at Club Med were quite organized. Right when we got there they herded about 10 of us into the theater and gave us our room keys and the times of some important upcoming events, such as lunch. We were led to our room (which is quite nice) and we had about an hour to get situated before another orientation meeting and then lunch. I signed up for a snorkel session scheduled for 1445 that afternoon. Sandy crashed.

room and bedThe room has a king sized bed, a nice ocean view and A/C. It is pretty typically sized.

balcony viewThis room was a "garden view" room which was a little less expensive than the rooms closer to the beach, but it still had a nice view from the balcony.

room viewThere is a TV in our room, but it gets only one English speaking channel, ABC Asia Pacific, out of Australia. They have an odd sort of programming, but there is some news with a heavy business slant once in a while. There is no radio probably because there are no radio stations. Internet access is possible but I'm not sure if we can get this PDA's modem to work with the in-room access. There is a computer in the lobby, but it was broken today. Access costs 450cfp for 15 minutes. The current exchange rate is about 100cfp to the dollar. A cfp is also known as a "pacific franc."

geckoBesides the occasional mosquito, we had other visitors to the room as well. Geckos like these were running up and down the walls quite often. Since these guys eat mosquitos, we left them completely alone.

We found during the orientation that for US and Canadian visitors, all beverages were gratis. Others have to pay. I'm not sure why this is but to qualify we have to wear a wristband for the whole time were are here. Even though I don't drink, I could get all the bar drinks that I wanted for no additional charge.

I was impressed by our first meal. There was lots of food of many varieties and most of it was pretty good but the fish was generally marginal. So much food and so few meals..... After roaming around to get some photos of the place, I got ready for the snorkel trip which is provided by the village.

Since I flattened the battery on my iPod on the way here, I needed to find a way to recharge it. Bora Bora, being a French protectorate, uses French conventions for AC power. This is 220 volts on 4 mm round plugs which is also the standard for much of continental Europe. There was also a outlet that looked like 110 volts in our room, but it wouldn't accept a standard US plug. Fortunately I had brought along an adapter kit and Sandy's step down transformer. This is a real transformer that does real voltage conversion but is limited in its power handling capability. It fit into the 220 volt outlet, then we had one good 110 volt source to charge the iPod and Sandy's old NEC MobilePro 800 subnotebook. We didn't bring a full up computer, the old NEC is just enough to write these web pages on and to back up the pictures from the digital camera. This Windows CE based PDA doesn't have a disk but does have a nearly full sized keyboard and a reasonable color display, It will accept two CF cards so that we could copy images from one to the other. It is also light and rugged (no disk materially improves shock resistance).

At the appointed time, I got on a dive boat and they took us out to the edge of the reef to a pretty good spot. A local guy called Papa was managing this trip. Papa turned out to manage a lot of the guest activities. He speaks French, Tahitian, Italian, English and a little Japanese so he can communicate with most of the guests here.

I have only seen more fish in one place at one time on a dive trip off Redondo Beach were I ran into a school of perhaps a million fish. There were only thousands here, but of maybe 50 types. We also located a Moray eel. This guy was one big eel. He had to have been 4 feet long (taking into account that things look bigger underwater) and 6 inches in diameter. He was pretty tame as he allowed the dive guide to pet and feed him.

I'm pretty beat right now so I'll probably nap until dinner which is scheduled for 1930. Sandy is already snoring. She had been working on scenes for a book while I was out playing in the water.

I expected the atmosphere here to be pretty laid back with things happening sort of when they happen. I call this Fiji time because on Fiji we never could be sure when or if some "scheduled" event was going to happen. The Club Med runs by the clock. Things happen on the published schedule.

Monday, October 20, 2003 about 1900 local time

I wandered up the reception desk and I found that the one computer there that had internet access was working again so I spent 450cfp for 15 minutes of access. This works out to $18/hour so we won't be using it much. The in-room rate is the same. The guide book in the room indicated that the connection was DSL, but the jack was an RJ11 and the instructions looked a whole lot like dial up. It turns out that here "DSL" means ANY kind of internet access. Before we left LA, I had sent a note to my whole family including myself so all I had to do was reply all to that message and it went to everybody. It took nearly the whole 15 minute period to type the two line message because the French keyboard layout was very different from a US QWERTY layout. Many of the critical keys are in strange places including some vowels and punctuation. Numbers have to be shifted to access them. Plus, IE was in French. This was even harder than using the terminal in Italy with an Italian version of IE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 about 0715 local time

It rained hard last night, but by morning the weather was clear and breezy. I slept better than I have slept in a very long time. Today or plan is to go on a picnic for on the motu (island) about half a mile off shore from the village and otherwise generally unwind even more. I may snorkel again in the afternoon although this time, I'll have an underwater camera with me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 about 1000 local time

We've been through one full meal cycle. There is routinely way too much food to even sample, much less eat any reasonable quantity of any given thing. There about 5 times as many kinds of food as one could reasonably want during any given meal. Again, the fish has been mediocre, but everything else has been excellent.

After breakfast Sandy settled down on a couch in the bar to write and I found a hammock by the beach to nap in. While I was there, the tide washed in under me but I didn't even know it until I put my food down and got wet. There is virtually zero surf because of the barrier reef. The "waves" wash about a foot back and forth, just like on the shore of a medium sized lake.

I stopped by the boutique and bought a wallet ($5) because my old one was simply falling apart. I also bought a light duty underwater camera for much more than it was really worth ($49) for shooting pictures while snorkeling. It has a fixed focus wide-angle lens (28mm) and is good only to 15 feet but that's ok because deeper than that and the light is starting to degrade. At least it is reloadable.

The village isn't set up to deal in cash. The bar drinks that aren't covered in the "all inclusive" rate are purchased with coupons that are in turn purchased at the desk. Since our bar tab is fully covered, we don't need those. The rest of the charges, such as at the boutique or for non-included items are purchased with a club "white card" that works like a credit card. For example, if you wanted to rent a jet ski, you would use the card. However, I don't think that I'm going to do that because the jet skis are really expensive, 17,750cfp (about $180) for two hours. Include in the rate are the snorkeling trips, the boat trips to the motu, kayaking, sailboarding, some land sports (soccer, volleyball) and all the meals. Excluded and the higher value items such as scuba, the jet skis, water skis, lagoon fishing, sailing, massages, internet access and discretionary purchases. All activities outside the village are also not in the rate. These are normal tourist stuff such as helicopter rides, transportation around the island (bicycle, rental car, moped or bus rides), shark feedings, submarine or glass bottom boat trips and horseback riding.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 about 1430 local time

We went out to the motu (island) for a picnic lunch. Papa was in charge of this activity too. It was pretty good except that, again, the fish was overcooked and dry. The motu is the south end of the east barrier island. The airport is on the northern end, the Club Med rents a lot sized chunk at the very south end. There is a nice beach and some huts, but no bathrooms or water. A free shuttle boat makes several round trips every day so that guests can go out there to play. I was planning on snorkeling there but a tropical depression about 500 miles away made it pretty rough and the staff recommended against it. Even the regularly scheduled afternoon snorkeling trip to the reef was cancelled.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 about 2230 local time

After napping most of the afternoon we went to dinner which had a seafood theme this time. They had pretty much everything from the sea except a steamer of clams. The lobsters were from Cuba but they tasted just like local ones. I passed on the oysters on the half shell but the rest of the crowd kept two guys busy shucking oysters the whole time we were there. At least this time, some of the fish was better prepared. I noticed that several tables had wine bottles. I hadn't noticed before, but there is a cold case in the restaurant that is loaded with wine. If somebody wants wine, they just go get a bottle or two or three to go with dinner. Some tables were going through quite a number of bottles. All the meals are buffet style, you just go get what you want and as much as you want.

After dinner we checked our email and the report from home was no problem. Sandy made a serious mistake and checked her work email. The was some kind of a crisis going and she got dragged back to reality until I convinced her to let it go and let the folks there deal with it. She calmed down and after a short stay in the bar we went to the evening show which was entitled "No Sense." It made no sense at all and we left part way through. It was just a disconnected series of short skits and dances.

After two days of listening to and speaking with the other guests, I would guess that about 50% of the guests are French, about 25% are Italian and the balance are a mix of Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Japanese and a few others. When the staff speak to a group, they usually start in French and then mix in sentences in English and Italian. Only a few of the staff speak Japanese, there will sometimes be a Japanese staff member there to announce to the Japanese guests as well. Most of the staff seem fluent in French, Italian and English.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 about 1100 local time

The spread for the second breakfast was identical to the first. I suspect that lunch will be a standard affair also. Dinners are themed. Tonight or tomorrow will be a Tahitian Feast. The fire pit outside the restaurant is being made ready so I suspect that there will be a roast pig at dinner.

At 0900 there was supposed to be a group hike to a local viewpoint called Belvedere. The trailhead is just outside our room. A locked gate leads to a tunnel under the road and then the trail proceeds up from there. We waited at the trailhead sign and when nobody came, I phoned the desk and the attendant said that the group met at the desk and that they had already left. We didn't have the key to the gate so we walked to the hotel entrance and then back down the road to where the other side of the tunnel was and started up. The trail was steep and rough for the 462 foot climb. When we got to the top, there was a little hut there but no people. There apparently wasn't a group walk this day. From the summit, we could see over the other side of the island to Viatape and back toward the Club Med.

There are mosquitoes here however there not very many and they are pretty wimpy as mosquitoes go. They don't attack aggressively and when they do bite, they don't leave much of a welt and the itching is minor and short lived. However, Sandy would disagree with this assessment. One evening when Sandy was waiting for me to come back from snorkeling, she got attacked just before dusk. There has been a pretty stiff breeze blowing onshore for most of the time that we have been here. That night, there was no breeze and the mosquitoes were apparently able to make it down to the shore instead of being blown back into the jungle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 about 1600 local time

Lunch was about 50% standard stuff and 50% unique for that day. It was all good. After lunch, Sandy and I settled in a nice couch in the bar. She was writing, I was just slumming enjoying the breeze and waiting for the snorkel trip at 1445.

the motu shuttleWe went out to the same place as on Monday on the little shuttle boat. The current was pretty strong today so it was hard to stay in one place. None the less, I was able to get some pictures. I found the Moray again, but we couldn't entice him out of his hole. I didn't even try to get a picture because it would have just been a dark spot at the bottom of the reef. The guide, Charlie, who fed the Moray on Monday found a small octopus and brought it around for show and touch. It was kind of slimy and it wrapped its suckers around my hand. It felt very odd. Due to the current, we didn't stay out as long as before and another boat of snorkelers came in. The drove their boat right across our group showing very poor judgement and form. Then they threw a line right across my back and I got my snorkel tangled up in it. Our group leader, Papa, got pretty irritated and called us all back in and we left.

small fishMy camera apparently worked. It didn't leak and its a pretty simple camera so I expect that I'll get a few pictures from the 18 frames thatI shot. The color was printed too well but it's marginally acceptable. This concentration of fish was pretty typical for areas where we were chmming them with stale bread.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 about 2125 local time

I got back to the room and Sandy wasn't there so I showered and rested a bit....for two hours. I was more tired that I thought. The fish at dinner was not overcooked this evening, it was sushi which is not cooked at all. I also signed up for a Scuba trip tomorrow. Based on the show last night, we elected to skip the show tonight.

Thursday, October 23, 2003 about 1635 local time

I just got back from my first scuba dive in 17 years. It went pretty well. Since it had been so long since I dove last, I took a "refresher" dive which was just a cut above an initial dive. We dove in fairly shallow (up to 20') water but there was still a lot to see. It got cloudy and overcast just before we went in so the light was not real good but good enough in such shallow water. I didn't bring the camera with me as I didn't want the distraction and I didn't know how deep we might go. The camera is "waterproof" only down to 15 feet. I didn't use a lot of air but the other guy that came along with this instructor consumed his like crazy so I went back in with half a tank left. By the time we came up, it was raining pretty hard. This is no big deal because scuba in the rain is sort of like cave exploring at night.

Friday, October 24, 2003 about 0645 local time

Even though we could sleep in, we tend to wake up at about the same time as usual, 0600. Last night the dinner theme was Tahitian. This means that they had some local specialties including the standard roast pig. There is a fire pit near the restaurant where the pig was cooked for a good piece of the day. For once, there was a cooked fish that was done properly. They must have screwed up.

There are chickens, cats and dogs running around the grounds. In particular, the cats are a bother because they prowl the restaurant looking for handouts. The dogs seem pretty well behaved. They will hang out near the restaurant, but they won't go in. The chickens seem to stay out of the way and they are particularly partial to the hillside near our room. One of the roosters must have jet lag because he likes to crow starting at 0200. I don't think that these animals are sanctioned by the hotel, but the hotel doesn't seem to mind them being there either. The chickens keep the soil loose with their scratching and probably help keep the bug count down. There aren't that many bugs here considering that this is the tropics. We've had a few lizards in the room. One particularly large one climbed up the wall and vanished behind the curtain. I have no idea where he went and I didn't see him again.

Sometime yesterday, the one and only English speaking TV channel went out. Now we don't have any news at all, not that what we was much good, but I don't seem to be missing it much.

Friday, October 24, 2003 about 1420 local time

We spent the morning out on the motu on the little shuttle boat. The beach wraps completely around the south end of motu but the current was too strong on the outside facing beach to snorkel. We moved back toward the inside and the current had become much less. I went out for 15 minutes or so but there wasn't much to see. There were tropical fish out there, but they were few and far between. I came back in and Sandy and I stretched out on beach towels in the shade of a coconut tree. This part of the beach was clearly topless so Sandy took advantage of the situation. At noon, we got back on the boat to the Club so that we could get lunch and I could get ready to snorkel off the 1445 boat.

Friday, October 24, 2003 about 1630 local time

moray eelI'm back from snorkeling again. I looked around for the eel in the two holes that I had seen him in before, but he wasn't there. Then I was just swimming around and a girl, maybe 12 years old, popped out of the water screaming frantically in French. She was clearly terrified by something. Her mother was nearby and took charge but I figured that she had seen the eel and I was right. He was all the way out and swimming along the bottom which was maybe 10 feet deep. By the time I got the camera out of my pocket, the eel had vanished into another hole. The guides eventually lured him out with some pieces of fish and I got some pictures. I think that this is the same eel that I had seen before as he was about the same size. The guides said that he had been measured at 1.6 meters, or about 5 feet. One of the guides found another small octopus and was showing it everybody. One young French woman was obviously repelled. Then he handed it to another young French woman and she didn't seemed bothered at all. Then the 2nd woman tried to hand it to the 1st woman and the 1st woman REALLY freaked out. Some people don't like slimy things with hundreds of suckers.

Friday, October 24, 2003 about 1850 local time

At 1700 this afternoon, there was a barbecue scheduled at the beach. Papa had some sausages going on the grill and a bowl of spiked punch. Sandy had some of the punch and she thought it was quite good. Neither of us were hungry enough to eat a sausage. They have these sausages every day at lunch and they are excellent. I wish I could find this kind in LA. After that we checked our email. A message from Charlie indicted that all was well. We saw a note on about a wildfire in LA but it was nowhere near our cabin. The news that we get from the Australian channel is so abbreviated that we don't know much about what is going on in the world. Further, the feed of that station has been down for two days. Our only source of news is a quick scan of yahoo or once every couple of days.

Saturday, October 25, 2003 about 1150 local time

I walked around the village this morning and took some more pictures of the facilities. I noticed that the departure information was posted for Monday and we were on the list. Breakfast is a 0330 Monday morning so that we can make AF flight 71 back to LAX. This is the same aircraft that comes in as AF flight 70 at 0600 and it turns around and leaves about about 0730. This aircraft probably cycles between Papeete and Paris every other day. There are probably two aircraft that cycle back and forth every day to make a once a day departure from any given airport.

hammockAs I was walking along the beach looking for more photo opportunities, I happened across an unoccupied hammock that was in the shade. It was calling me and I couldn't resist. An hour or so swaying gently in a hammock in the South Pacific breeze is sufficient to melt anybody.

Then I got ambitious and took a wind surfing lesson. I learned that I am not cut out for wind surfing. Being tall doesn't help and the fact that it was pretty windy didn't help either. Add that to a 53 year old back and generally poor balance and disaster is certain. I fell from the board about 10 times in shallow water before I managed to get the sail up. I then got about 5 feet before a gust blew me back down. That was enough and I hung it up.

When I got back to the room, housekeeping had just got there to clean up so I took a quick shower to wash the salt off and went in search of another hammock. I found one in the shade and spend the rest of the morning there.

Saturday, October 25, 2003 about 2050 local time

We just got back from dinner and checking our email. The news from the home front was that all was well. Dinner was Italian tonight and, typically, very good. I've been pretty selective lately about the food I take, but I still eat way too much. This is NOT somewhere that you want to go if you're on a diet other than Atkins although there is plenty for a vegetarian or even a vegan here.

After my little episode with the wind surfing this morning, I didn't do too much all day except spend quite a bit of quality time in several different hammocks.

Sunday, October 26, 2003 about 0950 local time

Today is out last full day here. The weather has been excellent for most of the time we've been here, but this morning was overcast and had the look of rain. Just after breakfast, I went to the start of the pier to try to photograph the school of fish that hangs out there all the time and it started to rain lightly. I went back in the restaurant to see Sandy and discuss the plan for the day and it started to rain a little harder. We decided to go back to the room and it was raining hard enough to get a little wet. Just after we got there, it really started to come down, but it then cleared in just a few minutes.

The rain comes and goes in bands. It looks like it might keep this up all day.

Sunday, October 26, 2003 about 1050 local time

I just came back from a kayak trip out to the point just north of the Club Med. The water is very shallow in this part of the lagoon, no more than 2 feet deep. Just as I got there, it started to rain again. Since my arms were getting tired anyway, I turned around and came back in. By the time I got back to the water sports beach, it was raining pretty hard. As I walked back to my room, it was just pouring. I got my shower for no extra charge. I don't plan to do much else this morning. After lunch I am going to go out on the 1445 snorkel boat. After that, it'll be nap time and then dinner and then to bed as we have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to return home.

Sunday, October 26, 2003 about 1615 local time

I'm back from my last snorkel trip here. The Moray was there but wouldn't come very far out of his hole. There is a Tahitian fire dance tonight in the theater. If were still conscious at that time, we'll take in that show, then hit the hay. Our trip back will start very early tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003 about 1400 PDT

We've been back for a couple of days and I am finally getting around to finishing this diary. I caught a cold on the last day we were in Bora Bora and it hit me pretty hard on the flight back. I went to work for half a day on Tuesday, but I got so exhausted, I came home and stayed home today.

Our trip back started at 0300 when the alarm went off. We had a half hour to finish packing and put our bags outside the door and get to breakfast which was a truncated regular breakfast (continental style). At 0415, the bus came and we got in to ride to the harbor in Viatape. It started to rain on the way there. It was raining pretty hard when we transferred to the boat and it was still raining when we got off the boat. After checking in at the airline counter we went to the departure lounge which turned out to be FULL of mosquitos. These weren't like the ones at the Club Med. These guys were hungry. I put on my rain jacket primarily to ward off the mosquitos and in the process, I left my hat in the terminal.

After the 45 minute flight, we recovered our bags at Papeete and there on the luggage belt was my hat. Apparently, the airport staff scans the departure lounge and anything left behind gets tossed on the plane. Since there is only one plane there at a time, it is pretty obvious that somebody on the plane left anything that is found there.

At Papeete, we checked in again at the Air France counter. The inspectors there AGAIN wanted to see what was in my carry on, this time all they were interested in were the Bose noise cancelling headphones. They waved us through and we got our boarding passes. Sandy then cruised every gift store in the airport.

AF flight 71 made it back with no difficulty but we learned that the flight the day before had been diverted to Las Vegas due to smoke in LA from the fires that were burning all over. As of today, Wednesday, the Old Fire is burning very near my cabin and we could lose it.

This page has been accessed hit counter times since Oct 28, 2003

© 2003-2005 George Schreyer
Created Oct 20, 2003
Last Updated January 30, 2005