Heiva is a month long Tahitian celebration with old pagan roots marking the southern hemisphere solstice. Unfortunately in the 1820’s Protestant Missionaries banned dancing on the islands. Later in the 19th century French colonial administration forbade any performances that disturbed Victorian decorum. It wasn’t until 1908 that these restrictions were removed. Over 100 years later the celebration lives on as a month long party with dancing, singing, canoe races, and feasting. Heiva also happens to coincide with Bastille Day (July 14th), marking the height of the French Revolution. With the promise of one hell of a party we rushed through Huahine and Raiatea to make it to Bora Bora by Bastille Day.
Bora Bora is one of those places that everyone has heard of. It’s the exotic honeymoon capital of the world with stilted bungalows overlooking a picturesque lagoon. Dramatic peaks rise from sea level to over 2,200 feet in the center of the island. For such an exotic and expensive destination we weren’t sure what to expect. The last thing we wanted was a manufactured, sterile experience catering to the hotel guests and tourists. After setting our hook in the bay just off the village of Vaitape we headed in to explore the village and grab a bite to eat. We weren’t disappointed. We were greeted to the rhythmic sound of drums and a celebration in full swing. In the center of the village a large sandy dance area, about 300 feet by 100 feet, was set up surrounded by rope fences and viewing stands. Bordering one side was a makeshift bar and discotheque club, constructed of bamboo and palm fronds just for the Heiva celebration. The scene had the flavor of a local county fair, if your county happens to be on south pacific tropical island like Bora Bora.
We ate chow mein and steak frites at one of the roulettes on the street (French Polynesia’s version of the taco truck) and joined the local crowd to watch the dancing. The dancing goes on all month with judging by a panel during each performance. The competition culminates on the last night of Heiva with a massive performance complete with elaborate costumes, staged props, and dance platforms that shoot fire. After the dancing we partied pretty late into the night at the discotheque and mixed with the local crowd.
We rose bright and early to be in town by 7:30 AM for the Bastille Day parade. All businesses on the island participate in a parade through the village. As honorary employees of the Bora Bora Yacht Club for the day all the cruisers were asked to participate dressed in pirate garb.
The parade finished in the center of the dance area, directly in front of the judging area which happened to have the French Polynesian president, Vice President, and his aides in attendance. Alex from Bubbles wasted no time letting his pirate colors show by pushing an open rum bottle towards the VP. With only a slight hesitation he took a long pull from the bottle, never mind it was still before 9AM. The crowd loved it! Not sure the VP could get away with this in any other country.
The celebration ended with fruit carrying competitions, obviously a time honored tradition. Basically, 30 KG (60 lbs) of fruit was tied to sticks. The participants then ran from the dance area, to the end of town, and back again.
We ended Bastille Day with a birthday party in honor of Eric’s 60th (from Oso Blanco) at the Bora Bora Yacht Club. As the night wore on greenman joined the Polynesian girls dancing for the party. At first they were freaked out by a guy in a skin-tight green suit and didn’t know what to make of the situation. After a few minutes of giggling one of the girls finally got up the courage to approach greenman for a dance.
Over the next two weeks we spent our time exploring the lagoon, hiking, diving, snorkeling, and playing beach cricket with our friends from Ghost and Sunboy. We ran across 3 large resorts, completely abandoned and left in disrepair. The stories ranged from low tourism due to the economy to being wiped out by the last cyclone that rolled through.
Like most of French Polynesia most of the coral in the lagoon is dead, however at the south end of the island there there is a great snorkeling spot that seems to be in good health. The coral was beautiful and the fish abounded.
We prepared to say goodbye to Jay from Ghost with a BBQ and beach cricket on our private motu. Jay was heading back home to the UK, with a stop in the US for a few weeks to meet up with friends.
One highlight was our lunch at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant, visited by celebrities and cruisers alike. Brady recognized the singer Carrie Underwood so we even had our own celebrity sighting. The burgers and bloody mary’s were fantastic and reasonably priced. Check out what you need to pull to flush the urinal. Yep, they’re circumcised here in Bora Bora!