Bora Bora, just saying the name has a lingering effect as if the resonance of the words inside your head somehow trigger pheromones, and instantly the people around you will be drawn in, wanting to get closer so they can hear what comes next: you were there? What was it like? Well, actually I can't say just yet because, for now at least, we are viewing Bora Bora's Matterhorn-like peak from a distance, its mostly shrouded in clouds at the moment but it does indeed look fabulously captivating from here. Where we actually are is anchored off a small private island inside the coral atoll that is home to the much larger twin islands of Tahaa and Raiatea. Saying these names out loud makes you feel kinda special too I must admit. This is the heart of a magical part of the planet, tiny specs of joy surrounded by the world's largest ocean.
Eighteenth century England, yeah I know, just mentioning it kinda leaves one a bit depressed. The life of a conscripted Royal Navy seaman in those days was pretty harsh, brief and brutish. "worse than prison" by some accounts if that can be imagined, because in prison at least, "the odds of drowning are quite low". So it's easy to sympathize with the Bounty's mutineers, just think how it must have felt to be suddenly surrounded by gorgeous topless women, graciously draping you with flowers and freely lavishing affections of all sorts, in a place so warm, sunny, fragrant, and unbelievably beautiful, that all thought of returning to stinky old England is permanently vanquished. I mean, honestly folks, after spending the past few months here, I'd mutiny too.
Casting eyes for the first time on the islands of Polynesia from the deck of a sailing vessel is an extraordinary privilege, and I can tell you the magic is still potent, if you let them, these islands will change you in a way that can never be extinguished. The first European to explore this region was Magellan who arrived in the Tuamotus in 1521. That event awakened the rest of the world to this hidden paradise and they've been coming ever since. Just for perspective, by the time the infamous HMS Bounty dropped anchor off Tahiti, these islands had been visited and mapped by various foreign explorers for more than two centuries. Some one hundred fifty years after the Bounty arrived, another Navy seaman, this one an American stationed in Polynesia during WWII named James A Michener, would write a collection of short stories that inspired the Broadway Musical and 1958 movie "South Pacific", enthralling ordinary Americans to the point that Tiki bars suddenly appeared in every corner of the U.S.
A famous quote states: "Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled." Polynesia is a place where the well traveled often find themselves hanging around for a while. The ultimate muse, these islands have inspired many a famous writer, artist and poet. The who's who list is a long one, but for anyone who might think that after all this time, the mojo must be waning, just this past February a Polynesian scene depicting, you guessed it, topless beauties, by the French painter Paul Gauguin set a record at auction, selling for nearly $300 million; like I said, the magic is still potent, or at least boobs are at any rate.
When Marlin Brando came to Polynesia in 1961 to film "Mutiny on The Bounty", the third of five feature films made on the subject so far, and just for the record, my favorite Captain Bligh is definitely Anthony Hopkins, if he could have starred opposite Brando instead of Mel Gibson, I don't think another MOTB movie would ever need to be made. In Brando's case, he was so enamored by la Nouvelle Cythère and his Polynesian costar, that he married her, bought an island near Tahiti, and lived there for the rest of his life. His decedents are still here today, as are descendants of Mr. Christian, the mutineer Brando played in the movie. Brando's island is now an exclusive resort called, appropriately enough, "The Brando". Meanwhile Fletcher Christian's island Pitcairn, although much more famous historically, hasn't fared nearly as well. Sadly there's no airport, no "Bounty" resort and these days only about fifty people still live there.
It's early morning and the clouds have cleared, Bora Bora's imposing peak is fully visible, a beacon of exotic pleasures real and imagined. These days the island is a Mecca of high-end resorts, where honeymooners and tourists by the planeload arrive all day every day, eager to take up brief residence in the now ubiquitous over-water-bungalows that have sprouted like clusters of mushrooms everywhere... but that's not going to be us, we will arrive by sailing vessel. At the moment I'm sitting on the sofa in the saloon, coffee in hand, watching through the window as the morning light teases the mountain's powerful profile, amazed that I'm indeed actually here, after all the miles and all the vast expanse of open sea we've sailed to get here, actually living this moment, what an extraordinary privilege, what an extraordinary place.
If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share it!