Small palm-thatched bungalows are standing on stilts about 60 cm over the water, linked by a wooden footpath. Beneath, the water of the lagoon shimmers in a tropical shade of turquoise. The small infinity-pool behind the beach bar in Bora Bora is tiled in the same turquoise blue, and we realise that this is the standard colour of pools everywhere around the world. We are very close to paradise, apparently. And that’s although we are backpacking on Bora Bora.
The Polynesian “Mamas Show” on Bora Bora
On the terrace, a group of elderly women is preparing for the “Mamas Show” at 7 pm. They are wearing ankle-length flowery dresses and flower wreaths around their head, neck and hips. The five dancers are accompanied by a small band of drums and ukuleles.
One of the musicians, a gaunt grandmother with a stern face, does not sing like the others, and often stops playing altogether, staring morosely into the distance. With vigorous hip-shaking the dancers try to engage their small, moderately enthusiastic audience in the traditional Polynesian dances. Even Isa is compelled to a few steps on the terrace and gets a tiare wreath that will fill our room with a heavy sweet fragrance. After a demonstration of basket weaving the women march every obvious couple (i.e. everyone except us) on stage to wrap them in a flowery orange-yellow sheet, encouraging them to kiss. Apparently a variation of some kind of Polynesian marriage ceremony.
How to live in paradise
“Oh, the diving is not overwhelming, but ok. And the job is a good opportunity to visit the different islands here,” Delphine from Southern France tells us. She has found work as a diving instructor and is happy to live on Bora-Bora for a couple of months. That’s the most feasible alternative to backpacking on Bora Bora if you don’t have the money to stay a bit longer.
Bora-Bora, with its blue lagoon, the palms, and the overwater bungalows in the posh hotels, is like the stereotype of a South Sea paradise. It feels artificial and real at the same time, like strolling through a never-ending theme park. Paradise comes with a price tag, though: hotels, restaurants and tours a even more expensive than elsewhere in French Polynesia, and most tourists stay only for a few days in the picture postcard setting.
Maupiti – Bora Bora’s sleepy sister
From Bora-Bora we take the ferry over to Maupiti. “Maupiti is like Bora-Bora 20 years ago,” several locals had assured us. It was perhaps more fitting for backpackers like us than Bora Bora, it seemed.
And indeed sleepy Maupiti is lacking big chain hotels and tacky beach bars, and we never meet more than a handful of people on its one road, which circles the island. Gasoline for the motor boats is scarce, and the cheapest way to move to our campsite on an outlying spit of sand is to borrow a kayak, load it with our backpacks and wade through the shallow water of the lagoon, the kayak between us.
Here, on Motu Auira there is nothing more than sandy beach, a lot of coconut palms, and some scattered houses with their own wind generators and solar panels. Right in front of our tent, swarms of tropical fish crowd around the corals in the lagoon. The water is so clear that Natascha can look at them from above, without taking her glasses off (and thus actually see them!). We spend most of our days in wet swim wear, snorkelling mask at hand, lazily fighting off the mosquitoes – and feeling Robinsonesque. In between respites, we practice sea kayaking and opening coconuts with a meat cleaver. Although we have always considered ourselves as mountain persons, to our surprise we are discovering our beach person side.