BORA BORA, French Polynesia — As author Gertrude Stein might have put it, Bora Bora is romantic is romantic--the epitome, the essence of escapist togetherness. As James Michener did put it, Bora Bora is the island you always want to come back to.
My husband and I first came to Tahiti and Bora Bora to escape our three teen-agers and, of course, to rediscover romance. But because the aforementioned trio were going to the orthodontist every week and wearing out three pairs of tennis shoes a month, we came here the first time, by necessity, on the cheap.
True to Michener, we had always wanted to come back, and do it with a certain amount of style. Not necessarily to wallow in opulence, but certainly not feel guilty because a day's stay cost as much as our daughter's flute lessons for six months.
I wanted to stay at the world-famous Hotel Bora Bora in an over-water bungalow, watching extravagant sunsets from our private balcony, and order fine French cuisine without comparing it to the price of homemade meat loaf.
After 15 years, I finally made it back.
Few Forgotten Things
But before I go any further, much as I hate to nit-pick, I must tell you about a few things I forgot to bring that would have made the return trip total perfection: canvas sneakers for walking on the reef; a small backpack, handy for bike and scooter rides; insect repellent.
And my husband.
I don't want to go into details; it's too complicated and embarrassing. It's enough to say that he didn't join me (I had left earlier on business) because I made a colossal faux pas with his passport.
So there I was, alone, on romantic Bora Bora where everyone is half of a couple, each one just oozing with romance. Honeymooners, second honeymooners, lovers of all ages rekindling the magic.
They snuggle together while lying on the soft white sand. They hold hands walking slowly along the beach. They giggle over private jokes on sunset cruises. They take picnic baskets and go off to secluded motus (little islands). They gaze into one another's eyes and exchange secret knowing smiles over candlelit dinners.
I'm not being paranoid, but I don't think any one of the amorous couples wanted my company.
Sure, singles come here (Club Med, for example), but they just didn't happen to be at the Hotel Bora Bora when I was. The only mateless people I saw were three young single men with their parents. They ogled the tanned lovelies on the beach (who had their own handsome companions) and looked even gloomier than I.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't hankering for hanky-panky, just some platonic company other than "Bess W. Truman," Margaret's biography of her mother. Bess was a wonderful lady, but a homebody--not a Bora Bora companion at all.
I had some adjusting to do if I wanted to be happy in paradise as a lonesome. First I had to stop wallowing in self-pity; then quit worrying that my husband might have started divorce proceedings.
Mostly it worked out OK, but sometimes I got lonely. Whacking a tennis ball on the hotel court's backboard isn't really a fun afternoon.
Your Point of View
Has success spoiled Bora Bora? Has progress during the past 15 years brought more negative than positive changes to this secluded island of awe? It depends on your point of view. The most important thing hasn't changed: The incomparable beauty described by Gauguin and Maugham and Stevenson and Michener remains untouched.
Emerald volcanic peaks soar above a vivid blue and green lagoon crowded with brilliant multicolored fish. Orchids, gardenias, hibiscus and frangipani still grow wild. Tahitian fishermen still paddle outrigger canoes into melodramatically red sunsets.
The bicycle and motor scooter remain the best way to get around, and getting around is considerably more comfortable than 15 years ago. The 17-mile road around the island, once the world's longest pothole designed for fast land crabs and slow pigs, is paved.
Even the rental vehicles have improved. Bora Bora Auto Rent provides sporty red Peugeot motor scooters with automatic shifts and thick, cushioned seats. Fifteen years ago our pained posteriors bumped along on motorized bikes with seats about as comfortable as the benches at Hollywood Bowl.
On that trip the front tire of one of our bikes expired with a defeated sigh halfway around the island. It took us half the day to be rescued by a 14-year-old Polynesian girl, the rental company's chief mechanic and master giggler. Our suggestion that perhaps we deserved a slight refund for lost time was met with gales of giggles.
This time, once I remembered to use the hand brakes and stopped dragging my feet to stop the scooter, I got along just fine. But you still have to keep an eye out for land crabs, fallen coconuts and chickens (alive and dead) in the road.