Friday, October 28, 2011

Bidding Adieu to Bora Bora

October 27, 2011.... I had decided to wake up really early to go catch the sunrise today. So I was out with my tripod and cam at 5:10 am. Sunrise was around 5:30. I walked to the east shore of the motu...there isn't much of a shoreline or beach here so I didn't expect anything dramatic. It was mostly for my photography experience and coz I'm in love with my Canon 7d! ....

Sunrise at Bora Bora...
The setting was so peaceful...waves rushing to the shore, not one soul around, the sun starting to peak from the horizon.... one with nature! I tried several shots before the sun came out including several sets to try HDR on. Excited! Then as the sun came up a dense cloud came right in front of the sun covering it and spreading the rays out! It was fantastic... I was very excited to take pictures...can't wait to see if I did justice to the majesty of the scenery. I was there for a good 20 mins after the which point my cam complained "memory full" ...sigh! And of course my spare memory card was in the room! I had to delete a few shots so I could shoot some pics of other vantage points on my walk back to the room.

Back in the room, I decided to go for a swim from our hut to the shore (DH had challenged me earlier)... it was an invigorating swim, the water was perfect...this should be life...jump into water right outside ur room and go for a swim! ;-) after that refreshing swim we headed to the breakfast buffet. Since we had to checkout at 11, we took our own sweet time having a leisurely breakfast... packed sandwiches for later in the day and headed back. Finally got to enjoy the mango I had packed during the biking trip...yummy! It was amazingly sweet. DH checked if we could do a late checkout..we were good till 1:30!!! We should have checked earlier coz by then I was showered and ready to go! But since we had the time, we just chilled in the room. When it was time to checkout we headed over to the reception, got lovely shell leis from the staff, then went over to the bar to enjoy some drinks.

Our boat to the airport was at 2 pm. Note: the hotel charges for the boat service to and from theairport. Le Meridien charged 7000 cfp (~$85) each way.

Check in to Air Tahiti was smooth. Our flight took off at around 3:10 pm. Everyone at the airport seemed a wee bit sad! :-( and all those folks arriving at the airport had a big smile on their faces...seemed like only yesterday that we were there with a big smile on our faces! Sigh!

Le Meridien in Papeete
We landed at Tahiti Fa'aa airport a little after 4. We were booked into the  Le Meridien in Tahiti. Surprisingly the hotel does not provide a shuttle from the airport. We decided to exchange some dollars before getting a taxi to the airport. the exchange rate seemed to be better than that at the hotel - approx 80 cfp for a dollar but once we went into the bank we realized they charge 580 cfp as commission bringing the exchange rate lower than the one at the hotel!! The taxi cost us about 2000 cfp and driving through Papeete, we were glad that we decided to stay in Bora Bora the whole time instead of Tahiti. Le Meridien in Tahiti is quite nice and the hotel faces west, so there is lovely view of the sun setting over the ocean. The hotel has a pool with a sandy beach like setting around it. We got a room on the 6th floor facing the ocean. I set up my tripod in the balcony hoping to get some sunset pics. We went down to the beach bar to have some drinks.
Sunset at Papeete as seen from Le Meridien
I got some cool shots of the beach, ocean, and the over water bungalows...which we realized were not half as nice as the ones in Le Meridien in Bora Bora...score for picking that over this. These huts did not have direct access to the lagoon, which made the whole OWB concept pointless! We really enjoyed the drinks while the sun set over the ocean . I headed back to the room to try and get some sunset pics from our balcony.
We then headed over to 'Le Plantation' restaurant in the hotel for dinner. The food - hot goat cheese salad, tomato soup, bami goreng (Indonesian noodles) and Polynesian tuna platter - was very good and went well with the red wine we had! Creme brulee was very good too! All in all a wonderful end to a very relaxing and excellent vacation. We retired early since we had to wake up at 4 am to get to the airport by 5 for our 7:30 am flight to LA.

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Diving in Bora Bora

Heading out to the dive sites on Yvan's boat
October 26, 2011... its Diwali for Indians every where...Happy Diwali to all our friends and family! We are far far away from any festivities, lights, sweets and celebrations... but today we are celebrating in our own way. We have 2 tank dives scheduled in the morning with Bora diving center!!! :D We booked the trip thru our hotel but they also have a dive shop on the hotel premises. Pick up is at 8:45 am every day for the tank dives. We finished the usual hearty breakfast, packed our fins/masks, I took dramamine for sea sickness and wore my wetsuit. Yvan (who is also the owner of Bora Diving center) showed up promptly at 8:45. He recommended that I change into a full wet suit instead of the half size I was wearing (he called it "shortie") coz he said it would get cold during the two back to back dives. We were 7 people on the dive with two dive masters. DH, myself and Travis (from Alberta, Canada) were going to dive with Yvan and the rest were with the other dive master whose name I didn't catch. We headed out from our hotel to this site called Anau, located in the lagoon between Le Meridien and St. Regis. After a 3 min boat ride, we anchored and put on our BCDs...everything was setup for us - regulators connected to BCD, weights already set, BWARF check done...all we had to do was put on our masks, fins and strap into our BCDs!!! Much easier than our certification dives in La Jolla! We did a back roll from the boat into the water, and lowered ourselves into the water. The descent was smooth and visibility probably 60-70 ft. We were greeted by coral and tons of tropical fish. We descended past the coral into what looked like a canyon pass, called Te Ava Nui pass - this is actually a Manta ray cleaning station (info here) ...around 60 ft. under water. Giant Manta Rays come in here to allow cleaner wrasse to remove parasites from their skin and gill cavities. Yvan told us to lay low and still if we spot the rays. As soon as we descended and touched the sandy bottom we saw 3 rays glide by....what a majestic sight! There are no words to describe the beauty of these creatures...they glide magnificently...and they went right by us! We were lucky that Travis had an under water camera (at that moment I regretted not making the investment in buying an underwater cam... its going to be my universal advise to anyone going diving here) and caught the rays on video! The 3 rays just made it past us and we were about to move when Yvan pointed out 2 more and asked us to lay still. When those 2 went by a few more came around... I lost count but Yvan had started to move...he suddenly became still on his knees and started waving his arms like he was flying (or gliding in water), sort of mimicking the rays movements. I thought I saw a ray move towards him, almost like it was checking us out then it moved on. We slowly made our way towards the other side of the canyon. As we reached the other side Yvan told us to lay still coz he spotted more rays. This time we saw 9 or 10  of them glide by...the biggest one was almost 10-12 ft wide at the wings! They were huge! Yvan said this was his 2nd or 3rd time in all his diving in Bora Bora where he saw so many rays at once!!!! Joy oh joy for us! While the rays went around us a few times, we learned to control our buoyancy. It was good practice to learn to stay horizontal, and raise and lower our body only by using our breathing. Once the Manta rays passed us, we swam around a bit, checked out some more coral and fish, then started ascending. As we ascended a few feet, we saw another Manta ray pass below us...we got another viewing from a different perspective. These looked a lot bigger then the ones we saw during our ray feeding snorkeling experience....while I didn't understand the difference then, I now know that they were two different types of rays...we saw stingrays during our snorkeling trip, and these are much smaller than Manta rays. We did a safety stop about 5m below the surface. Once my tank almost emptied, I was having a hard time staying below the water surface. Had to discuss techniques with Yvan about that!:-)

We got into the boat, Yvan helped us out of the BCD (this is what's so good about diving at resorts! :D) and we rested before heading to our next dive site. Our bottom time was approx. 40 mins. We had some water n cookies while Yvan steered the boat towards Tapu...this was the same site where we went snorkeling during shark feeding...that was a little disappointing that it was the same site but at least we were gonna see the sharks up close. The visibility here was 100 ft, clear blue skies (after a brief spell of showers)....during our surface interval, Yvan had already changed the tanks and set us up for the next dive!!!! We were loving this...expensive dives but no work for us at all! ;) while we geared up for the dive, Yvan started humming the 'Jaws' theme music!!! LOL!! Lemon sharks n black tipped sharks are mostly harmless...we were back in water after a back flip...this time we descended using the anchor rope. We were greeted by thousands of colorful tropical fish....different kinds of triggerfish (redtooth, black), lemonpeel Angelfish, longfin bannerfish, scissor-tail sargeant, forcepsfish and many many more.. black tipped sharks swam around us. It was similar to the day we went snorkeling except this time we were in the middle of the action! Yeehaw! It wasn't long before we spotted a lemon shark, probably 9 ft long... swimming along gracefully. It had a remora swimming underneath, this is a parasitic fish that attaches itself to the host - in this case to the lemon shark....looked magnificent and surprising didn't terrify me even though it was pretty close. We continued gliding along the ocean floor till we reached about 66 ft depth...more coral and bright tropical fish greeted us. We explored the coral reef, Yvan tried to coax a spotted eel out of its cave so Travis could take a pic. He was experimenting with his strobe light and taking shots...was interesting to watch. Then Yvan swam along side thousands of bright fish so Travis could practice his photography skills...I certainly missed having a cam! We got to pose for pics hopefully we'll have some virtual memories that can be posted here soon. We spotted another lemon shark and many more black tipped sharks before we ascended. Again we did a safety stop, then got into the boat and headed to the dive shop on Vaitape. We were greeeted by Yvan's wife Sarah at the shop...we were very happy with the whole dive experience and would certainly recommend Bora diving center. After a brief stop there, we were dropped back to our hotel by boat. We got back to our room, had the sandwiches we had packed in the morning and took a nice long nap.

Sunset at Matira Beach
We had decided to head to Matira beach today to see the sunset and capture pics. So we booked a taxi (3000 cfp or ~$40) to go one way to Matira beach. We reached there around 6 pm, sunset was a little after 6. We stayed there till 6:50 or quite a few shots, I got to experiment quite a bit but the sunset wasn't anything to write home about. I've seen more dramatic and gorgeous sunset in San Diego. Sigh! But at least we got there and tried to take pics, plus we had fun doing so.

We had dinner reservations at Bloody Marys, which according to my fabulous sense of direction was less than a mile away. We decided to walk over....this wasn't the best idea coz it was pitch black when we started walking. It took us a good 30 mins to reach the restaurant! We had to get in quickly since we had to be on the 9pm shuttle back to the boat dock! Bloody Marys has a seafood market type menu...they had cuts of fish and meat all laid out in a bar, you get to pick ur meat for appetizer and entrée and they'll cook it and bring it out to you...I chose tuna sashimi for appetizer and white tuna in a chipotle sauce for entrée. DH had a tuna kabob and red tuna grilled...we started off with a Bloody Mary (which according to DH was excellent) and a blue lagoon (also very good). We got glasses of Merlot to go with our food. We thoroughly enjoyed the ambience - sand floor, wooden tables, etc. And our food.
The restroom at Bloody Marys
The restroom was worth a look (someone had mentioned on Trip advisor)...the faucet was actually a waterfall!!! Very interesting! I got lots of pics coz the place was so interesting. We ran into Travis here! :-)  also met this other couple from Tennessee staying at Le Meridien....seemed like a popular place from the number of people there. We topped off dinner with chocolate cake and another bloody Mary

Headed back to the hotel and to a well deserved slumber!

Biking in Vaitape

Oct 25, 2011 - we had originally planned on doing an introductory dive today followed by a 2 tank dive tomorrow. The afternoon dive was all booked plus it didn't seem worth the money so we decided to go biking instead. We booked a bike tour thru our hotel concierge. They work with Avis (yeah, the car company but they rent bicycles here). Note: its better to ask for bikes with baskets while making the reservation. We didn't get bikes with baskets and that would have been very useful when we shopped for things along our bike ride. After the usual hearty breakfast at the hotel we headed out by boat to Vaitape. A car whisked us off to the Avis office which is close to Matira beach. After signing the requisite papers, we started off on the bikes (no gears, no brakes...these r beach cruisers) towards Matira beach and Vaitape downtown. A single road runs the loop around the island and the entire loop is about 32 kms. Downtown Vaitape was about 10-12 kms from our start point. We stopped on the way to buy a tee for DS & DH and an island necklace for myself...then onto Matira beach. Its as beautiful as I'd heard it to be, with soft white sand, picturesque views of the blue water till the horizon. I really want to be here for sunset. Hopefully tomorrow. After the usual picture-taking, we headed on. Stopped at a pearl shop while it suddenly poured, saw pearls worth $500...quickly made an exit and biked on. :-) we soon reached downtown Vaitape. We were hoping to exchange some dollars here coz the exchange rate was almost 10% higher here than the hotel. But alas! We forgot our passport! Note: all banks in Vaitape need your passport to exchange money and it is better to get money exchanged in town than in the hotel. After pointlessly going around a few banks we went to a supermarket, got ourselves water, a bottle of wine for later, some snacks to go with it and some beer n a vodka drink for lunch. We then grabbed some pork or beef (couldn't tell what it was!!) Fried rice at this shack called 'snack roti' and biked on. Past downtown we found a spot to park the bikes and sit by the beach to have the rice and drinks! Impromptu was brilliant! The rice was yummy and it was one of the cheapest meals we had! ;-) Got some cool snaps of the place and of us swinging on a tree! Was a lot of fun...the rest of the bike ride wasn't as picturesque but we rode past many mango trees chock full of mangoes. Of course i had to stop to take pics prompting an exasperated sigh and comment from DH....something to the effect that i was forgetting that i grew up in India among mango trees! matter, i got some snaps of a local house, mangoes and had a local woman offer me a mango... score!!!! :-) ...I packed the mango for later and we biked on...We hit a steep hill past the dock for four seasons resort. The hill was a bit$h for me but DH made it uphill all the way riding on the bike. Then it was downhill with crazy speed, no gears and no real brakes! Was a roller coaster ride! We made it back to the Le Meridien dock just before 2pm, which was the time we had to turn in our bikes. After heading back to our room, we swam/snorkeled near our bungalow, I sun bathed for a bit and took a restful nap on the deck, then got ready, sat on the deck while enjoying our wine and snacks. The view was very good...tried taking some sunset time pics from the deck but because the sun sets behing Mt. Otemanu, Le meridien does not get good sunset views. Nevertheless we enjoyed the moment. We had dinner reservations at La Bounty. Food, wine and dessert turned out to be excellent. We had tomato & mozzarella with cabbage slaw in olive oil as an appetizer. It was good. Then we had tuna marinated in coconut milk (apparently island specialty)... we decided tuna doesn't really go well with was just OK. Dinner also consisted of tuna tartar and tuna sashimi...all good but certainly not the best. I had the dessert sampler which was totally worth it but also might be a good option for sharing ( it had samples of creme brulee, tiramisu, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and mango sorbet).... When we got back to the hotel there was a Polynesian dance show going on. We watched it for a few mins, I tried taking some shots but without a tripod proved a bit tough. Then we headed back to retire for the night. Tomorrow is need the sleep! :-)

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Snorkeling etc

October 24, 2011... snorkeling day! We decided to book the snorkeling excursion thru our hotel. Pick up was scheduled from the hotel at 830 am, so we had a hearty breakfast buffet, packed some sandwiches and pastries for the trip (the hotel staff was very accommodating about that) and headed to the dock. We got into a traditional Polynesian boat and were greeted by our hosts: Steven, Louie and papi - we never got to know their real names but they were amazing entertainers throughout the trip and kept us in splits! I couldn't stop laughing! We headed out from Le Meridian over to Sofitel Marara, then Sofitel Motu to pick up more couples...yeah, that's the thing...there are only couples everywhere in FP...its like no other tourists ever come to this place! DH and I wondered how out of place we would have been had we tagged our 5 yr old DS along...oh, well, good thing we didn't. Once all the passengers were on board, we headed to the open passage where the motus of Bora Bora opens up to the ocean. The snorkeling site we went to is called Tapu. We used our own snorkeling equipment but others were provided with the requisite snorkeling gear. I was so glad I took my wet suit along! For tropical weather, the water is still pretty cold! I was completely unprepared for the sight that awaited me once I got into water. Thousands of tropical fish - mostly black but also blue, yellow etc swimming around..they looked stunning against the turquoise blue water! Steven and Louie were feeding the fish so we kept seeing schools of these fish swim by. There were also black tipped sharks swimming right next to us! It felt like someone had dropped us into an aquarium! Then there were 10 ft lemon sharks swimming right below us. Louie would keep diving down, holding the fin of the shark and swimming right was so amazing. Once we finished our fill of viewing the sharks and tropical fish, we headed back into the boat and onto another site to see the stingrays. This was in very shallow water.... 4-5 ft deep only. We skipped the fins and got into water in our booties. Again tons of rays came gliding by...the first time a ray slid by me, touching my skin, I screamed ...but quickly got used to the idea. Their tails feel rough (the barbs are removed) but their body is smooth and slithery. Louie, in fact, showed us a french kiss with a ray! Yikes! We saw some more black tipped sharks and some tuna. From there we headed to another site called the coral garden. The water here was very choppy, so it wasn't my favorite snorkeling site but we saw thousands of more tropical fish and a huge moray eel. After spending 20 mins looking at the beautiful corals and fish we headed back. The hosts kept us thoroughly entertained with music, jokes and plenty of tomfoolery. We even got to eat some coconut and watermelon (delicious!) Once back at the hotel we grabbed beers ( only because every other drink was way too expensive), some fries and headed back to our room to chill in the balcony. After another beer, stroll by the beach, many more picture-taking moments later we showered and got ready to head to Vaitape by boat. We wanted to go to La Bounty tonight but it was closed. Villa Mahana was booked till Friday (boy-o-boy), so we picked Bora Kaina Hut. Turned out to be a fairly good choice. The place resembles a Goan shack with sand floors and rustic wooden tables n chairs. Taking advise from a Trip advisor review we asked our hotel concierge if she could request the best table for us....we got what we asked for - the best table in the was a private hut by the corner....extremely romantic and very nice. We ordered some cocktails, again based on some reviews we had read. This was the only bad choice we made. Wine would have been a better option. Our drinks were terrible, mostly coz I am not a huge fan of coconut milk and yet I chose a coconut based cocktail, so that was my bad. The food more than made up for it though. I got the grapefruit gnocchi (excellent) and DH got the grilled Mahi Mahi cooked n served on a hot volcanic lava rock. We ended the meal with the lava cake which turned out to be better than the one we had at Fare Manuia. Again excellent but expensive meal! Ride back to hotel was uneventful. We got a couple of Bailey's to wash off our cocktail experience and sat by the pool. I got some interesting night time shots. Another lovely day ending with a lovely meal and drinks.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Le Meridien Bora Bora

After a 3 hour wait in Tahiti Faaa airport, we boarded the Air Tahiti Nui propeller plane to Bora Bora. The flight was about an hour over picturesque turquoise water. Absolutely breathtaking postcard perfect. I managed to get a couple of shots (sitting on the left side of the plane was a smart move) of the islands and the over-water bungalows (that I'd only seen in pictures up until now)!!!! The view from every angle at the Bora Bora airport is nothing short of stunning. Inside the airport we were greeted by a couple of Le Meridien employees. We got our luggage tags, picked up our bags and were escorted to a waiting boat to be whisked off to the hotel. The ride was about 15-20 mins and we were supplied with water while we enjoyed more breathtaking views of the surroundings. We got our first view of the over water bungalow as we docked at the Le Meridien hotel dock. It was pretty exciting to walk through the hotel glimpsing the infinity pool, lotus pond and the lagoon to get to the reception. The staff was extremely courteous. Every where I looked a photo opportunity awaited! :-)

We were checked in right away while we sipped on some complimentary tropical juice. While DH sorted through our room arrangements, I took the opp to take some pics with my new 7d (super excited!!).... one of the staff, Jonathan, then took us on a tour of the property. We got our room right away (probably due to DH's preferred status coz others had to wait for 2-3 hours).... we were taken to our room in a golf cart... again, the room did not disappoint. It was everything I expected and more....over water bungalow with glass bottom, balcony with a view of Mt. otemanu...beautiful! We had to hurry to catch the breakfast buffet, so we headed back to the hotel lobby. Breakfast buffet at the hotel is till 10 am - we just made it in time - and freaking expensive .. about $45 pp (3800 xpf)...our eyes have been popping out getting used to prices in 4 digits! :D after a hearty breakfast, a good relaxing shower, we headed back to the activity center hoping to figure out how to get to the main island of Viatape to do some biking. Alas! Every thing here is kinda dead on Sunday, so we headed back to change into our swim clothes and went snorkeling at the hotel lagoon. We spotted some fairly mid-sized and smaller fish... the water wasn't as warmed as I had hoped. Then I got nibbled by an extremely energetic yellow fish which looked very playful but freaked me out! I all but yelled into my snorkel....:P..that was it for me! I soaked in the infinity pool for a bit, then headed back to our bungalow. While I sun bathed in the balcony with some complimentary champagne, DH went swimming around the bungalow...

We booked dinner at Fare Manuia thru our hotel concierge. There is free drop off at 630 pm from the hotel to Viatape, where a taxi picks you up and drops you off to the restaurant. All of this is complimentary only if you book it thru the concierge for that time. I had read good reviews about this place but unfortunately they were out of tuna for the evening! So all the best/recommended dishes were not available. I ordered a salad with mashed potato with goat cheese which turned out to be excellent and DH got the grilled fish of the day which was quite decent. Folks at our neighboring table got the seafood platter and steak, which made them very unhappy! We had a nice glass of wine, topped off with some great dessert - chocolate leave cake...yummm! As with everything dinner was expensive...over $100 but we were getting used to sticker shock!

We had to wait for the ride back to the dock. Boat was waiting to bring us back to the hotel. We retired by around 1030 pm. The night sky looked stunning and I really wanted to get a star trails picture...maybe tomorrow! :-)
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Headed to Tahiti

On board Air France from LA to Tahiti, FP. Reached lax by 730 pm for our 1030 pm flt - way too early as I soon realized. We parked in Park Air Express near the airport. Online reservation got us a lower rate than the regular rate. The only hitch with the parking is that if you block another car while parking you have to leave the keys there. Check-in at the airport went smoothly. The wait to board the flight was annoying but DH gave his business class seat to me and all was well in the world!!!:-) Air France business class might be good - I wouldn't know coz I slept all 8 hours of the flight! :-P Arrival and immigration through Tahiti Faaa airport was smooth. At 4 am they had local singers greeting us at the entrance! Our bags arrived without any issues. We had to wait for about half hour before the Air Tahiti counter opened for our check-in to Bora Bora.
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