After 22 hours of travel, 6000 miles, 8 take-offs and departures, a boat ride, and stops at Los Angeles, Tahiti, Moorea, and Raiatea, we finally arrived at the motu or islet Tautau, just off the main island of Taha'a. The water glistened with at least six shades of blue. Hot and sticky, all I wanted was to jump into one of them. The baby blue color at the shoreline looked more than satisfactory. However, it's customary and a bit unfortunate, that when you arrive on a motu in the middle of the South Pacific someone expects you to check in with them. For the next 45 minutes, as I got hotter and stickier by the word, we learned about every amenity the resort had to offer, including the tennis courts, volleyball net, and horseshoe pits. Perhaps though, I shouldn't be so tongue in cheek; surely, the possibility existed that we would have an urge to throw iron horseshoes at sticks in the sand. There is a first for everything.
Finally, after a quick viewing of the ice maker on our dock, we arrived at our overwater bungalow. We were down to mere formalities now- sign here, initial there. Quite literally, the tennis courts were behind us. The big blue stretched in all directions. I was already picturing where in my suitcase I packed my bathing suit.
"Now, let me show you your bungalow......." What? The words teased more than the water rippling below our feet. I mean, the bungalow was one room with a shower and bathroom area. I felt confident in our ability to find the toilet when needed. Apparently, our hostess believed differently. So, a tour around the bed and bathroom it was. I guess it was a good thing though because without the tour, I'm not sure I would have spotted the bath towel sitting so close to the tub. I kept my impatience in check, however, and even managed to portray an acceptable wonder for the location of the TV remote tucked away in the most novel of places- the top drawer of the desk. Thankfully, the universe recognized good effort that day, and soon I was rewarded with the sweetest of words: "Maaruru. Enjoy your stay." I was free. Free to throw my cares to the sky. Free to let them drift out to sea with the soft Tahitian clouds. Free to do nothing with my time but think lazy thoughts and dream lazy dreams. "Na na, bye-bye" I said to my cares already floating with the clouds, "Don't come back with the tide." And from my experience in the South Pacific, they don't.
After swimming until waterlogged, Kimi and I caught some rays on the deck while our eyes caught rays in the water. Stingrays, one of the most graceful fish in the sea, were swimming along the lagoon floor right next to our bungalow. They would continue to do so the four days we were there. After a few failed attempts with timing and my camera, I finally got smart and set my gear in one place by the ladder.
Later, another fish came to say hello. This one had sharper teeth and more cartilage than the rays. Also a dorsal fin. About 25 feet from where I stood, a Black Tip Reef Shark passed through the shallows. I called to Kimi to look, "That's a reef shark, right?" "Yep," she confirmed, "a black tip." Interesting. I didn't expect to have them for neighbors. I've seen, even snorkeled with reef sharks before, but always after a boat ride, a comfortably long boat ride, to reach them. Taha'a suddenly became a lot more exciting. My gear stood ready at the ladder.
Excitement is not usually the draw to Taha'a. It is off the beaten Polynesian path without even an airport of its own. The island has two resorts- one on the main island, and ours situated on the motu. There is a water taxi that will take you from our motu to the main island, but unless you have one of the two excursions Taha'a offers, your outing will be exploring the dock on which you were left. There are no taxis, restaurants, or malls. No movie theaters or shopping unless you want to buy fuel. Apparently, there is a gas station near the pier. Simply put, Taha'a welcomes tourists, but doesn't exist for them. And why would it? Of the 50 overwater bungalows at our resort, only 15 are occupied. Assuming two to a bungalow with a couple of kids scattered throughout, we are on a motu with perhaps 35 others. If Bora Bora is considered sleepy, Taha'a is comotose. Yet, the voice of the wild earth is awake. And awakens. Birds squawk at each other high over the lagoon, the distant surf pounds the sand, fish jump, and the ocean water will lap at your soul if you let it. In Taha'a, there is no other sound and no other moment. I'm not very Zen-like and even I understood that.
A stingray moving below the current caught my eye. Always in search of the one great picture, I slid into the water armed with mask, snorkel, and camera. There wasn't time for fins. I turned on the camera and looked for the ray. Instead, I saw a fin. A shark moved right in front of me. Surprised (just a bit!), I somehow managed to push the shutter button before it darted for deeper waters.
I'm reminded of another time in the islands when I was facetiming with my family in New York. My niece enjoyed giving me different directives as I jumped into the water. Jump backwards, Aunt Lisa, do a flip, put your mask on she instructed, but the cutest and most memorable was when she yelled in her sweet, excitement-filled four year old voice, "Catch a shark, Aunt Lisa!" Oh, how I wanted to catch a shark for my niece that day. I wanted to ride it into her heart so she knew deep in the place where things like this are stored, that I would do anything for her. However, the resorts in Bora Bora are crowded (at least compared to Taha'a standards) and the sharks know better than to hang around them. I did a few more jumps and said good-bye to my family sans shark, but those words became a part of my Bora Bora story. I don't think of my trips here without hearing their sweet music. So this picture is for Hayley: Aunt Lisa caught a shark!
Our four days on Taha'a were some of the most beautiful. The days stretched long and time was measured like this: time to wake, time to sleep, time to eat, time to swim, time to read, time to write. Time to be.
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