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Club Outposts in Tahiti

December 14, 1986|KARIN WINEGAR | Winegar is a feature writer at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune

BORA BORA, French Polynesia — "Hokay! Today we gonna learn the tamure! Is sexy Tahitian dance! You gonna love it, my darlings!"

The chef de village at Club Med on Bora Bora resembles Sean Connery with perhaps 40 pounds and 20 years of naughtiness attached. And a gold earring. And a bandanna wrapped pirate-style around his balding head.

"Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap!" he shouts, swinging a brown Buddha-belly and twitching narrow hips wrapped in an orange and white cotton Polynesian pareu from side to side.

The occasion is the club's twice-weekly picnic on a motu, a small island along a reef off of a larger island. The chef takes the stage flanked by a couple of thatch shelters that shield an array of barbecued chicken and fish, a dozen salads, platters of fruit, kegs of wine and punch from the sun.

A chorus of flower-crowned Tahitian singing grandmothers and insufferably handsome young Tahitian men on drums and ukuleles supply the music. The sand is supernaturally pure white and soft. Dolphins cavort in the curls of the reef nearby. The peaks and buttes of Bora Bora brood in the background.

Can this much beauty and pleasure be legal?

At Club Med it's not only legal, it's inescapable.

Particularly at the club's outposts on Bora Bora and Moorea in French Polynesia.

First, Club Med Moorea: Tropical flowers in bamboo holders deck the open-air Club Med bus that meets arrivals at the Moorea airport, the air is moist and warm, the sea dazzling tones of blue. After an 8 1/2-hour night flight from Los Angeles, arriving at dawn in Polynesia is like awaking in Eden.

The ride to the club winds past tranquil lagoons, hand-carved outriggers, mist-topped pinnacles and wetly green canyons. The road passes near Moorea's two deep harbors, Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay, where the 1984 remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" was filmed and where the real sea dogs, Capt. James Cook and Capt. William Bligh, are said to have anchored more than 200 years ago.

Arrivals (and departures) are a big deal at Club Med. Incoming G.M.s (gentil membres) are decked with a fresh flower lei, and assorted Tahitian G.O.s (gentil organisateurs) with fern and flower crowns and ukuleles belt out a Tahitian song of welcome.

Tropical Gardens

Set among gardens of oleander, croton, ti and coconut palm, the new fares (Polynesian-style cabins) are green-log cabins with cedar shake roofs, wood floors, ceiling fans, wooden louvers and extra large twin beds (if you don't arrive with a roommate, the club may assign you one of the same sex).

The bathroom features a high-pressure hot-water shower and a louvered door that allows you to dry in the trade wind, a big improvement over the steep A-frame huts of the original club in Moorea, where breezes couldn't enter but bugs often did.

The dining pavilion is a thatched, open-air affair decorated with garlands of dried wild fern, cowrie shell chandeliers and wooden fish traps, surrounding a lily pond.

The main complex consists of office, bar, boutique, library and theater surrounded by a moat filled with water hyacinth and fish, the entrance a dramatic porte-cochere with columns of Chinese lacquer red.

Luscious ropes of tiny white cowrie shells form the chandeliers, and mynah birds dip and yak among the open beams of the ceiling.

Because of distance, the Moorea club attracts many New Zealanders, Australians, Japanese and Americans and proportionately fewer Europeans. New routes from Argentina have just opened, however, and on this visit several dozen middle-aged and elderly Argentinians were whooping it up everywhere from the water ski pier to the disco.

The water is so shallow that it's possible to walk part way out to the motus. Swim the rest of the way or catch one of the frequent outriggers from the club. (On the far side of one of the motus is a nude beach.)

On Bora Bora as well as Moorea, herons and sandpipers stroll the soft cornmeal-sand shores, and a reef keeps the cobalt blue sea at bay from the gradations of turquoise inside it.

Scuba and snorkeling are not to be missed at the clubs in French Polynesia, but fair-skinned visitors should wear a T-shirt even in the water because the tropical ultraviolet rays are intense. It's a good idea to take along a pareu (wraparound) for sun protection everywhere.

Ride to the Reef

At the Moorea Club Med you may take out a pirogue (canoe), ride out to the reef on the club's big catamaran, bring in a marlin or barracuda on the deep-sea fishing boat, water ski, play tennis (day or night), enjoy a quiet board game in the shade or read up on nature and the history of the islands from books in the Tiki (the old headquarters, now a waterside restaurant).

You may watch sea life through the hull of the glass-bottom boat, strike post-card poses in your bikini on one of the club's amiable Polynesian horses or gallop through the surf and sand. But the best activity of all may be to loaf and marvel at the land and sea, especially at sunset.

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