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We Found Paradise and It's Bora Bora!

Travels to Hawaii and So. Pacific, part 14

By Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: May 29, 2014

We Found Paradise and It's Bora Bora!

We arrived to Bora Bora on Easter Sunday. Many of us were on the top decks in order to see the ocean entrance into the lagoon. It was early morning and we soon realized that this was going to be the best island to visit.

Any way you turned was a gorgeous isle. Bora Bora is an extinct volcano almost completely surrounded by a coral barrier reef. Layers of dead coral are what makes the lagoon bottom white. The ocean water in the lagoon is exceptionally clear and it has a slight green and blue turquoise reflection. It seemed that each island we visited the population kept getting smaller. This island only has 8,000 inhabitants and dependent primarily on tourism. It is also known for producing and exporting the world famous Tahitian black pearls.

As we prepared to drop anchor we could see at a distance the aquatic-centric luxury resort rooms one sees often in the media. I can understand how the resorts can provide a romantic setting. They can also provide a private and exclusive setting for the rich and famous.

We had to be tendered from the ship to the dock. We had reserved from home to do an excursion with the Bora Bora Aqua Safari Helmet Dive company on shore. The dock is small and we were immediately contacted by them and got on their boat. We went out into the lagoon for about 15-minutes. They had a platform where they kept their equipment.

After receiving a few safety tips we were ready to jump in. We were all glad that we had come in our bathing suits because there was no where to change. Trini and I were at the rear of the boat and the first to get into the water. As you are walking down the boat ladder they swing a small crane over you that is holding the helmet. As it lands on your shoulders, you realize that it's quite heavy. I let go of the ladder and it seemed that I was sinking quickly and would crash into the bottom. I landed at the bottom and it was not a rough landing. As I was going down the air in the helmet made it buoyant and thus lighter and comfortable. What was a surprise sensation is that one moment you are above water and then, all of the sudden, you are standing on the floor around 5 meters (15 feet). The air in the helmet is being pumped from the surface into your head gear. The air inside keeps the water level right below your neck and you breathe normally. The water temperature was very comfortable.

I wanted to do a helmet dive since I read about it as a child in the stories by Jules Verne. I still recall being mesmerized when I watched the men walking at the bottom in the Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. For several persons on this exploration, who happened to be older than me, it was the first time in their life that they had ever been underwater in the ocean. What an experienced it must have been for them! We were not aware that on the helmet was a small mesh bag that had bread crumbs in it. We didn't know about it, but the fish did and they quickly swarm all around us. At the bottom was a rope that we could grab onto in order to help us walk around. Everyone seemed to have a big grin on their faces. After a few moments a large sting ray was swimming around us. We would touch it as it made several passes around us.

We were never in any danger since there were divers from the company constantly swimming around us. Once we settled in, they started to take pictures of us in different poses. We, of course, bought all the pictures. I posted some of them on FB.

After the dive, Trini asked me if I had been bored on this excursion being that I had been scuba diving the last two days. I shared that it was great being once again under water. It was a different experience since I didn't have to constantly concentrate on my diving equipment and safety. Here, Trini and I, could hold hands and stroll leisurely along the bottom. In the park, the birds pass by and here it's the wide variety of fish and marine life that you enjoy looking at.

Once we returned to port we wondered what we would do next. There were a few outdoor booths that offer excursions on the atoll. We decided to take a tour of the reef that included snorkeling with the sharks, feeding the sting rays, visiting a small coral reef and getting a tour around the island. We went out with two couples from Germany, that were also passengers on the cruise,

Our first stop was the shark adventure. As soon as the dropped anchor a black tip shark appeared and started to circle the boat. All of the sudden, another one appeared. As time passed, more were appearing. The boat hands jumped into the water and invited us to join them. We, of course, thought they were crazy and that there was no way we would join them. They told us it was safe to jump in and we started to believe them. Actually Trini went in first and I did manage to take a picture of her, from the boat, as it began to swim around her. I could hear her making loud sounds through her snorkel tube. Clearly, she spotted the shark.

It was quite odd, but although more sharks were congregating around us, we were more determined to jump into the water with them. It was quite an experience to see the number of sharks growing. Other small boats with other passengers also anchored next to us and now the number of sharks was rapidly increasing. Trini and I counted around 20 just around our boat. Each time another boat would anchor nearby, the number of sharks increased in the vicinity.

We were so busy taking in the experience that we somehow forgot our fear. At one point, one of the ship hands on the other boat went deep and embraced, from behind, a large lemon shark as it moved slowly at the bottom. He held it right behind its fins and it took him a few feet before he released it and had to return to the surface. We were informed that it was time to go to the next site and as we started to talk amongst ourselves, we agreed that we were perhaps a bit crazy having jumped in and we agreed that we would, given the chance, to be willing to do it again. Thus, we had concrete proof, that we were certifiably crazy. We had a great laugh about it.

We traveled to another area of the calm lagoon. We stopped in an area where the ocean water was only waist high. Again, as soon as he set the anchor, now stingrays were starting to appear. Again, the crew simply jumped into the water first and started to play with them. They were feeding them with small pieces of tuna. We immediately jump in and started touching them as they swam past us. The crew hands invited us to touch and "hold them" as they were feeding them. The top area of the stingrays was gray and felt like we were touching velvet fabric. Underneath near the tips of their fins you could feel bumps on their skin. Apparently, they use them to sense food under the sandy bottom. We each took turns feeding the rays and it felt like you had put your hand into a strong vacuum cleaner. They don't have teeth so there was no danger of being bitten. It was time to move on to the next area.

We entered an area that had a few small hotels. There was quite a bit of aquatic sport activity nearby. Near the shore was an area for snorkeling and near a very small reef area. As we swam around it, I noticed that the coral had some small clams on it. They were perhaps about the size of my hand.

The opening area of the clam's had very bright colors. They looked like velvet in a deep blue or purple color. They were scattered throughout the coral mounds. I asked the ship hand, if there were still some large clams to be found in these waters. He said that there were around, but only on the other remote islands. Giant clam shells have been known to weigh up to 500 pounds and live around 100 years. I understand that in historical times when there were many giant clams in the area that some local divers would accidentally step into the clams mouth and it would snap shut. Thus, the diver would drown.

Clams are stationary and can only open and close so the diver was the one that had to be very careful about where he lowered his leg and foot. Well, no actual large clams to be found here, but I at least did get to see many small ones. It was time to move to the next location.

Next stop was a very small private island that had a lookout and a place to taste some local fruit. We were the only ones on the island and no, the boat we came on was not named the "Minnow". The coconut and grapefruit were cut up, cold and refreshing. We walked up to the lookout and the view from there was spectacular. We took a countless number of pictures from there. We walked back down and sat in chairs right under the palm trees.

We took time to introduce ourselves and we couldn't stop talking about how wonderful our experiences had been swimming with the sharks and stingrays. The weather on the islands had made a huge impact on them being that they still had freezing temperatures back home in Germany. I remembered we had a huge laugh while we were wondering if the sharks would have prefer German or Mexican meat. Our response was that we didn't think that sharks liked the taste of hot sauce and would thus prefer a German dish. We went on to share many other personal stories and prior to leaving, we all shared the thought that we had been very blessed to be able to come here and enjoy this part of the world. We also agreed that the best had been kept for last since we would begin our journey back to Los Angeles in the afternoon. I don't think anyone wanted this wonderful day to end and return home. Someone in the group said, "why leave paradise?" I had to agree with them.

Our final stop was the dock where we had started. We had in fact traveled half way around the island and we were about to see the rest. On this final leg of the boat ride we past very near the hotels that had the bungalows above the water. Our ship hand pointed out that he recommended the Ritz Carlton or the 4 Seasons. Starting room rates were once again in the $1k+ per night. The round trip flight from Los Angeles to Bora Bora is approximately $2,500 and thus staying here for a week would run a pretty penny. It would be worth it.

[b]A recommendation for some of the ladies that are planning their quinca??era party. Instead of spending on the party, consider come to Bora Bora with your parents for a week. You will save money and have an experience that you will never forget.[/i] Better yet, take the money of the quince??era, save it and pay for college. Once you graduate, you will then most likely be able to afford to come here many times.

When we ended our tour we walked in the tiny town. This trip was part of us celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary and I suggested that she pick out a jewelry piece with local black pearls on it and that it would be my gift to her. She found a beautiful pair of earrings and a matching bracelet. For me, I bought a t-shirt and a cap at the local shop. It may seem a small item, but I had the experiences and memory of this fantastic trip to enjoy the rest of my life. Trini and I had another experience together that we would never forget and will treasure.

We boarded our cruise ship and stayed on the top open deck until we could no longer see the island that truly encompassed the mental image of paradise. We fell in love with Bora Bora and look forward to returning.

We started to settle back to living on the ship. We would be traveling in the Pacific Ocean for eight consecutive days until we reached the port to disembark in San Pedro, California.

About Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer:
Armando F Sanchez is an author and CEO of Armando F Sanchez Production. His organization produces global digital media programming and is an avid traveler.
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