Friday, April 6, 2012

Tahiti Redux

On our way out of town to Tahiti this month, our second trip there in the past few months, a friend sighed and said "Tahiti. That's what we thought we were getting when we moved to Hawaii." There's a lot of truth in that statement. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but there's no denying it...the water is bluer and warmer, the air is cleaner, the French wine is cheaper and more plentiful, the fishing is easier (you don't even have to use BAIT!), the sharks are nicer, and, well, yes, the grass is greener.


First up this trip was Bora Bora. The Tahiti Tourism board has done a bang-up job of marketing Bora Bora. It's the iconic Tahiti destination, it's almost synonymous with Tahiti, and for good reason. I can't even start to write about the colors in the lagoon because people who have cruise ships and university wings named after them have tried before me and failed.


The Four Seasons shuttles everyone around in cute little vintage boats.


And then there's THE mountain.


Mount Otemanu is mesmerizing. The locals say it's sacred and talk ominously about the idiot foreigners that have attempted to climb it and died trying. It's everywhere you look, and there aren't even condos crawling up its spectacular flanks. Bora Bora has a rep for being "overdeveloped", and this is where those of us who live in Hawaii laugh and laugh. But it is true that the myraid of five star resorts ringing it change the feel of the place. For better or worse, French Polynesia is omnipresently...French...and resort chains like the Four Seasons, Intercontinental, and the St. Regis have their European managers and front of the house staff, oh-so-hip sunset sushi bars playing techno or French jazz, and over the top pool cabanas and spritzers.


For those hesitant to set foot in, ya know, the actual OCEAN, there are even man-made lagoons stocked with friendly and well-behaved fish and coral-graftings.



video

 It's all a little weird. But stunningly so.  It rained some and there were clouds, which seemed to absolutely horrify the other Four Seasons guests who apparently holed up in their bungalows. We felt like we had the property to ourselves.  It was like post-apocalypse Tahiti. We swam in the lagoons for hours around "Teen Island", a brilliant plan conceived by the Four Seasons to isolate all of the pimply faced, awkward offspring of the filty rich guests. The island was completely jungly and deserted, but with scary looking treehouses and scattered artificats...it kind of reminded me of Lord of the Flies and I seriously thought maybe some long abandoned teens were going to jump out and drown us. Or beg us to bring them Evian and clean their sunglasses.


The spa has a steam room with tiny lights all across the tile ceiling, so it's like you're gazing up at the stars. Outside, a shower plays showerhead themes like "Tropical Breeze" and "Polar Mist" with accompanying music and jungle and bird sounds. I'm almost embarassed to be in it. Ha, who am I kidding, I push all of the theme buttons and giggle like a little kid. I want one.





One day an outrigger with a ridiculously hot fire dancer and jolly, ukulele-playing Polynesian picked us up and took us out to the open ocean where we jumped in with three 8 foot lemon sharks and about two dozen circling blacktips.





 Rapa played his ukuklele and Ralph, well, looked hot.


He declined to dive down and ride the lemon shark like the Frenchman in the next boat. Ralph was apparently smarter than he looked. We then did the obligatory shark and stingray feeding where hordes of very large, shrieking tourists stand around and pretend they are grossed out by touching the slimy stingrays but who in truth can't wait to kiss them repeatedly.


The ladies on the other tour boats all hang off the rails and sigh after Ralph longingly as we outrigger away to the tune of Rapa's ukulele.



Back at the Four Seasons bubble, *EVEN I* suffer sticker shock wandering through the pearl boutique. Really, the pieces are uniquely stunning, but I had to keep doing the conversions in my head over and over to make sure that yes, there really are that many zeroes. Y I K E S.


After four nights, we say aloha to the ginormous OWB and surreal island of Bora Bora and fly an hour to a destination I never even heard of until a year ago...the Tuamotus. After landing at Tikehau, an adorable kid named Kaena picks us up in a nice little motorboat and in about ten minutes we're at Ninamu. 


A jewel of an island with pink sand beaches, six bungalows made from coral and wood from the island, an all solar eco lodge owned by an awesome Aussie, and a few young and wonderful staff, this place was CRAZY BEAUTIFUL! I mean, are you KIDDING me?



The next five days are filled with swimming eyeball to eyeball with huge manta rays




And snorkeling through reefs full of sharks and unusual golden organ coral






Two beautiful young women, one from France, one from Tahiti, who I call the Bond girls, make great desserts, ride jetskis around, free dive, bring us drinks, and look lovely. Not a single person calls me Mrs. anything and I LOVE IT. Instead, we jump into the little boat, take a seat on the floor, drink cans of Hinano while floating off the back of the boat, race across miles of open ocean with thunder and lightning chasing us, and fall asleep to driving rain in our shell hut.


We eat fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, usually the same ones we had caught the day before. 



I feel a brief pang once for the steam room and musical shower at the Four Seasons spa, and then it's gone, washed away in the dawn of our own Middle-Age Island.


The bungalows built by Chris and friends are a reflection of the spirit of the place. Doors and windows don't fit their frames. Coral and shell walls don't meet the ceiling. The thatched roofs are made by women in the village. There are no drawers or closets, instead we hang our swimsuits on the branches of the logs that form beams, a staircase, and roof supports. It's Bilbo Baggins for Architectural Digest.

We visit the magical Bird Island where red-footed boobies, Tuamotu sandpipers, bristle-thighed curlews, and white terns all nest.



Chris has stocked the island with coconut crabs, which are huge, multicolored beauties that apparently make good eating. But Chris likes to keep his crabs alive for the viewing pleasure of his guests. The locals kept coming and stealing 'em, so for that and other good reasons, Ninamu has pit bulls. They're perfectly lovely and are much more interested in chasing the reef sharks than anything else. I'm going to write Cesar Millan and tell  him my great show idea..."Pitbulls in Paradise". It would be huge.



Anyway, man, we hate leaving Ninamu, but next up we head to Rangiroa in search of some of the best diving and big animal encounters in French Polynesia. It doesn't disappoint. We drift through the famed Tiputa pass, and it's like flying.






Huge bottlenose dolphins, moray eels bigger than us that battle dog-size trigger fish, rays, sharks, it's all here, with the characteristic kaleidoscope lagoon and luxurious OWB.



Our local captain and his ten-year old son, Nova, show off their free diving and spearfishing skills as we explore the rich waters of Rangiroa. In my head I marry off my ten-year old daughter to Nova and text her to tell her so. I'm pretty sure I can score a French Polynesian passport easier with some Rangi grandbabies...right? Twenty or so years from now, of course....



For about the third time this trip, a creepy remora tried to attach itself to me. Yeah, yeah, no comments from the peanut gallery.



The time flies, washed down with Provencal rose and poisson cru and Bordeaux and bacon-wrapped mahi mahi. Too soon, it's time to return to reality, which maybe is absent the OWBs and blue lagoons, but is, still, Hawaii after all.



Tahiti still calls, though, and with entire archipelagos and thousands of islands left to explore, well, yeah, we'll be back.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daisy

In 2010, on the eve of a Very Important Birthday (you know, one of the ones ending in zero that when you're in highschool you imagine will find you on the steps of the retirement home. Or worse.), we headed off to an amazing adventure to southern Africa. We spent time in the stunning city of Cape Town which is perhaps the most beautiful city I've ever seen.




It is a place unlike any other, where the spirit of the the extraordinary Nelson Mandela is omnipresent, a city of fantastic restaurants and hotels that rival the best in Europe, in a country drenched in sun and wine and oh yes, lions.


And fantastic safari villas


Where monkeys share your deck. And your breakfast.



We saw the big five, we ate fantastic food, and by the time we left South Africa, I was thinking, what could possibly top all this? Then we landed in Botswana.





OK, So you got lots of lions. But can you do....rhino??


Sure. Ok. Leopard?


Nice! Zebra?


Herds of 'em! And elephant?



Cute baby animals?




Awwwww! And to round out the Big Five...




Wait...what's that you say? Wild dog? Whatever. Dogs? Seriously? Yawn. I get plenty of wild dog walking in my neighborhood.

And then in the marvelous tented camp of Little Vumbura, we saw these stunning painted wolves, hunting an impala.



We followed the blood trail and the aftermath as the pack merrily cleaned up in rain puddles. They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.




After Vumbura, we arrived at the remarkable Little Mombo Camp. We learned there would be no sightings of a pack of wild dogs, but rather one lone wild dog. What? One dog? Lame.

Tsile, our guide, told us somberly of an alpha female who had given birth and then had her pups stolen by a sub-alpha female who had absconded with them and the alpha male and the entire pack, leaving one sad, lone painted wolf behind, to an almost certain death, as, we were told, wild dogs couldn't survive without a pack. But this wild dog had already astounded observers, as she not only had been successful hunting alone, but she was being trailed by area jackals, who she appeared to be encouraging and even feeding.


On the day we left Mombo camp, she was limping badly, and our guide seemed to have written her off.


We returned home dejected. Z christened her "Daisy" and we began obsessively watching for news of this lone dog's race against the odds. And then, Daisy became a celebrity. Not only building a first-of-its-kind inter-species pack with black backed jackals, but creating an uneasy alliance with hyenas.


And then, mama Daisy did something even more extraordinary. She attempted to poach jackal puppies.

Twice.

And somewhat successfully!


We are headed back to southern Africa and Mombo camp in eight months, in no small measure due to Daisy, who is an extraordinary example of preservence and courage. This small dog, no bigger than an average family's medium pound mix, dodges the Delta's top predators every day, and not only feeds herself but has sought out the most unlikely of alliances, all in the name of being a part of a pack. She is absolutely inspirational and a tribute to all that is good and right in a species, the embodiment of love and the drive for family and togetherness.