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Bora Bora: Sharks, Stingrays, and Eels

This morning was actually a slow start morning, as our tour didn’t depart from the tender dock until 9am.  Given that we arrived into Bora Bora’s tiny tender point of Vaitape at 7am, some people were actually coming back from shore when we boarded our tender at 8:30am.  When we arrived to the Vaitape pier, we exited the tender, walked 6 feet to the left, and saw on the waterfront benches as our boat for the day, the Maohi Nui II arrived.  This boat was brightly painted in yellow, jade green, and red, and was covered in a yellow canopy, with an old style wooden outrigger for additional balance.  The support beams of the canopy were wrapped in palm fronds and beautiful local flowers of reds and yellows.  A nice woman gathered our group of 12 together, collected payment, and we began to board.

As we pulled away from the tender port in our boat, we were introduced to our guide for the day Matiro, or “Mark,” and this guy was something that no one could possibly forget.  Long, dark island hair, wavy, with a streak of bleached or gray, very dark Polynesian skin, probably much more so from all of the time out in the sun on the tours, island tattoos running from top of his shoulders to his ankles, a beautiful cord and shell necklace that looked like a stingray, and a bright red pareu around his waist.  He had an infectious laugh, and kept his commentary minimal — focused on our enjoyment of the day and answering our questions versus blah, blah, blahing all day long.  And so, off we went to our first stop, asking simply if anyone wanted a soft drink or a local Hinano beer.  A few folks on the boat had a beer, to which he replied, “Good…  The sharks like beer…”, as a huge smile crossed his face and we all started to laugh.  Today was going to be an awesome day.

Just outside the edges of the reef surrounding Bora Bora, Mark brought the boat to a stop and cast out the anchor for our first experience of the day.  As everyone began to lather on the first of many applications of sunblock and pulled out their snorkel gear, we all proceeded into the water (which was about 20 feet deep) and we “swam” with black-tipped sharks.  These sharks, exceptionally mellow and docile, were still initially terrifying measuring more than 6 feet long in some cases, as more than a dozen of them circled and swam around our boat.  We were permitted to swim anywhere we wanted around the Maohi Nui II, and though many stayed close to the boat, a few folks ventured further away.  We actually found most of the sharks were close by the boat and we could watch them get to within a foot or two of us in some cases, but for the most part stayed several feet away.  It became clear pretty quick that we were far more interested in they than they were in us.

As we were all in the water, Mark put on his snorkel and mask, grabbed a spear gun, and hopped off the back of the boat into the water and began some shallow diving of his own.  Watching him as he interacted directly with the fish/sharks/whatever was in the water, was just as much fun as the sights we were seeing.  After about an hour at this location, everyone was permitted to return to the boat anytime they were ready, and once the group was back, Mark climbed back on-board and we headed to our next stop.

This time around, the water was very, very light green, as we were only in water about 3-4 feet deep.  We were advised to wear our water shoes as we would be walking on the reef for our next experience.  We all jumped out, and gathered with Mark in a circle as the stingrays began to circle all around us.  I’m quite certain that the bag of fish he had in his pocket helped, but the number and sizes of the stingrays were just mind boggling.  Some of them were nearly 5 feet across, had a very slimy texture, and were for the most part very mellow as well.  Mark introduced us to the rays, identifying their eyes and ears (on the top of their body) and their mouth and nose (on the bottom).  Along with that key information, he showed us how to feed them to get the full experience as he handed out small white fish to each of us.  Placing the fish in between their eyes and ears, the rays could actually suck the fish through their ears (yes, you read that right) and it moves into their mouths (on the bottom of the the ray).  It was an amazing experience feeding the rays, petting them, and having them swim by us in the shallow water.  In our group alone, there must have been at least two dozen rays and everyone was basically able to have a ray (or two) to themselves.  We spent another 45 minutes here and returned to the boat for our next stop.

After more leisurely boat riding through the reefs, we arrived at our first snorkeling stop in about 12-15 feet of water.  Here we all were able to float around and watch as fish of all colors floated by.  Gray, blue, yellow, black, and even a few with pink and green just added to the day.

On this particular stop, our good guide Mark again hopped into the water with his spear gun and took off on another adventure, this time in search of a moray eel.  He didn’t disappoint as Natalie watched through the water as Mark, using a little fish as bait, coaxed out an eel nearly 8 feet long.  Natalie used another passenger’s waterproof camera to capture the action and just added another fun element to the day.

From here, we traveled to another snorkel spot and spent another 30 minutes or so enjoying the water around Bora Bora.  All the while, the group of 12 on-board got to know one another and we had a great day sharing stories and just having fun.

As we started a longer boat ride to our final stop of the day, Mark took over with the entertainment, and as he pulled out his ukelele and began to play, he serenaded us with local songs, as well as a Ukelele cover of “Stand By Me.”  He received a huge round of applause, not only for his excellent playing abilities, but also for the fact that we was staring the boat with his foot while he played and sang…

We finally arrived at a private motu for lunch, and this meal did not disappoint.  We docked out boat at a location with a private lagoon, covered huts with tables, and even two tables with huge umbrellas that were right in the water a few feet offshore.  Natalie and I took a seat in the submerged tables and watched small fish swimming all around our feet as we watched the final preparation of the meal coming together.

A few minutes later, we were served a Polynesian banquet:  BBQ chicken and fish, chicken and spinach stew with coconut milk, roast pork in an underground oven, breadfruit, tapioca, taro, poisson cru, fresh watermelon, and a local dessert called poe.  All of this was served in traditional palm frond plates with banana leaves (Read:  No utensils)  The food was excellent and had a quiet and relaxing meal and the water lapped up against the shoreline.  This truly was paradise and we were privileged to be here.

After the long lunchtime meal, people walked in the shallow water surrounding the lagoon or enjoyed the shade of the palm frond huts before we re-boarded our boat to return to the tender pier.  The final 45 minute boat stretch was mellow with Mark playing ukelele, singing, and just enjoying the breeze as we watched the jagged green peaks of Bora Bora float by.  We arrived back into the tender pier around 3:10pm and boarded the 3:15pm tender back to the ship.

It was an amazing day and one that highlighted our trip to the islands.  Patrick Tours and our guide Mark (Matiro) were exceptional.

By now, the Polynesian sun had thoroughly cooked us and we headed back to our air conditioned room to partake in several coverings of aloe vera and cool showers.

Dinner was again excellent this evening and we headed off to bed.

Tomorrow — First sea day!

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