Bora Bora: what a gorgeous atoll

Bora Bora: what a gorgeous atoll

July 14, 2001

I've been in Bora Bora for the past two weeks with Luke Wojewoda, my graphic designer friend. We were recruited to redesign and implement TOPdive's web site by a friend whom I had met earlier this year in Palau. will be live in a week or two (the old site is still up as of today), after the remainder of the content is "magically" generated. If it doesn't look like the screenshot to the left, it's not live yet. :) It is fully internationalized, supporting German, English, and French, and was also designed so that it could be maintained by someone non-technical (the content is fully abstracted from the code that generates the site, and new content is pulled into it without the need for more code). Neat-o. That sort of stuff happens automatically when you come from an enterprise application design background, which can make it hard to compromise sometimes when trying to decide between a 100% generic solution (which takes longer to implement, but is cleaner) and a quick 'n dirty solution that solves only the one specific problem at hand (faster to implement, but harder to change/enhance later).

Bora Bora is amazing. Even after two weeks, I would look out into the lagoon in the mornings and sort of shake my head in disbelief. There is a strange calming effect -- something indescribable -- that is always present there. For me, it was almost tangible: a pleasant, settling um... energy that would sort of tug at my heart to slow its beat. Angel has tried to explain this feeling to me in the past, but it's something that must be felt to really be understood. Even during the last couple of days when we were pushing to finish the site (working 14-16 hour days), nothing could shake that wonderful calm.

July 10, 2001

Helicopters are so cool! We went up in one today to photograph the island, and I managed to get some pretty neat shots from the air. At one point I must have stuck my camera too far out of the little window because my lens cap (which was dangling from a lenskeeper elastic string) was ripped off of the lens, doomed to a 3600' drop to the ocean below. So sad! Gotta get another one somewhere.

The heart-shaped island of Tupai

The heart-shaped island of Tupai

It's amazing. You can see the sharks swimming around the reef -- they're really BIG. The clarity of the water makes it easy to spot rays, sharks, and schools of fish from the air. We even found TOPdive 1 (the dive boat) and followed it back to the resort -- flying sideways -- so I could photograph it.

In the morning we dove Toopua and were treated to a little dance with a juvenile manta ray, who was flying around the sandy channel in the middle. She glided beneath and above us, allowing us to get very close to her...

July 9, 2001

Guess who is in a black-and-white mood? Yep: me. Why is it that Yahoo! dies at the most inopportune times? Yahoo! and MSN Messenger down at the same time? Hrmph.

Anyway, I'm not convinced that the above photos are "better" in black and white than they were in color, but... oh well. It's different. They match today's mood. I wish I had more to say, but I don't. It rained today, and both Luke and I were sort of in a BLAH mood. Our helicopter ride to photograph the island was canceled, but we're supposed to go tomorrow. Luke slept all day, and I worked, both inside on this little mattress thing I sit on in the hut, and out in front of the pool. People must think I'm a big nerd, working on a notebook out here in Bora Bora. Hah! They're right.

I dove Hapiti today, which was pretty neat. I was totally narc'ed out at 42 meters in depth, and my Ikelite housing failed, as it has been doing at depth. The ISO button gets stuck pressed in (only while deep), so I can't change the aperture anymore. Actually, it prevented me from shooting anything. Hapiti dive site was a huge, open, sloped coral garden. There weren't a lot of large fish, but there were tons of little guys swimming around. We saw a hiding lionfish, some lone tuna, a huge napolean wrasse, and a couple of sharks (a white-tip was scared by us, shooting off at an incredible, awe-inspiring speed).

I figured out that if I don't ground myself here in the hut, I don't get shocked as much. Getting shocked sucks. I don't mind a bit of static every once in awhile, but alternating current blows.

July 7, 2001

Luke and I spent almost seven hours today on a speedboat ("Taxi Motu") with Olivier, jetting around the island taking photographs of various tourist activities here in Bora Bora. Unfortunately, all of the underwater activities were plagued with murky water, perhaps as a result of the brief rain that hit the island two days ago. This made shooting photographs difficult, but I think I managed to get a few that are publication quality.

It was really neat to shoot the "Spirit of the Pacific" submarine from the outside (we were at almost 80 feet in depth). The visibility wasn't the best today, so it seemed that we were the main attractions for the guests inside the submarine. Because I was shooting with a digital camera, I could snap photos and immediately turn the camera around to show the submarine guests what I had taken. It seemed to excite them. :)

The shark feeding was pretty interesting as well. The people doing the feeding chummed the water and started throwing around chunks of raw fish when the sharks and rays arrived. Feeding sharks seem very nervous! They swim quickly and turn sporadically. It's strange to see, because most of the time when you see them in the water they swim in a very relaxed manner, often hanging motionless in current while divers struggle to stay in one place. Amazing fishies.

July 6, 2001

It appears that manta rays are common here. The visibility at Anua wasn't the best, but four mantas swam by and around us. The mantas would just emerge out of the cloudiness, often only ten feet away by the time one of us spotted them. These things are really big. I mean, it's hard to get a sense of scale from the photos, but the largest one we saw was about eight feet from wing to wing, and it was considered a small specimen.

The second dive was back at Toopua again. This time, the current was fairly strong, and we flew along the sandy bottom, following a squadron of three eagle rays. One was very big. Eagle rays are neat looking because they look like they're smiling all the time. I found another large rock with multiple bubble-tip anemones on it. They were hosts to a bunch of domino damsels and sebae clownfish. I saw the my first juvenile sebae clownfish today, which was neat too. It was roughly half-inch in size, and was hiding within the tentacles of one of the anemones.

Luke's talking about jumping spiders. "It's bullshit, man. It's not fair. They hide in bananas, and can jump!" He's scared of them.

We were looking up at the stars tonight (just before dinner), and noticed that one of them was moving -- very quickly. It's the fastest moving satellite I've seen, drifting impatiently across the sky with a motion that is indescribably perfect. It's amazing that something that small can reflect enough sunlight to be bright from the surface of the earth.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit on the railing at the front of a fast-moving speedboat. In a lagoon, it can often feel like you are coasting on a plane of dimpled turquoise glass because the water is so calm. The only things that disrupt its glassy smoothness are the milky froth that is flung out to either side of the boat, and flying fish jetting out, coasting almost parallel to the surface of the water for what must seem (for a fish) to be an eternity, before abruptly disappearing back into the blue.

July 5, 2001

This morning we were coaxed by Olivier into going on a safari around the island in a Land Rover Defender 110 driven by a cool local named Fan-Fan (pronounced nasally: "Fohn-Fohn"). Fan-Fan is from Faanui, and even took us to his house to check out local living. It was a pretty neat trip, especially because neither Luke nor I had stepped foot off of TOPdive resort since arriving a few days ago. Some of the views were to DIE for. Fan-Fan also stopped at every citrus tree we passed and picked fruit for us to eat. :)

The bad thing about leaving the womb was that we were thrust into the reality of tourist Bora Bora. There were horribly stereotypical "ugly Americans" everywhere. Argh. I talked to some guy at Bloody Mary's (the most famous bar/restaurant here) for 30 seconds because I saw that he was wearing a T-shirt that said, "Encinitas, CA". In those 30 seconds, I learned that he spends 29 days a year in Bora Bora with the people that run Bloody Mary's (he mentioned their names, but I didn't catch them), and that he has a new Jeep and Harley Davidson in the States, so he feels tied down there and can't stay in Bora Bora forever. Man. I really didn't care about any of that. It's ok, though. I don't ever have to talk to that guy again. I only don't like being American when I've overseas. Anyway, but TOPdive is as sheltered from that as a resort can be, so life is good here. I took some photos for the resort tonight. Why is it that video tripods are all so flimsy? They're plastic and stuff. So frustrating. I wish I had my tripod and remote shutter release.

Oh, the other thing is that I'm getting shocked by my Thinkpad when I touch certain plastic parts of the case. It's not a static-like shock... it's like the sustained drilling of alternating current, so I know it's coming from the wall. Olivier told me that it was because my euro-to-U.S. wall plug converter doesn't have a grounding prong, so he rigged one up with some wire. Now I no longer get shocked as badly, but when I rest the notebook on my bare thighs I still get a pretty nasty bite. When it first started happening, I was really confused. Actually, I still am confused. I'm not touching anything that conducts... yet, I still get shocked. Can anyone out there enlighten me? :)

July 4, 2001

Hmmm... photos not as good today. :(

Our first dive was at Muri Muri, which is Lucien's favorite dive spot. The current was strong, and as usual, my big acrylic camera housing and strobe acted like a big sail, making it very difficult to make any progress in the water, especially with my rented fins, which are not as efficient as the ones I normally use. I was also sort of preoccupied because I was trying to conserve battery life (my camera died at the beginning of the second dive today, which is why I don't have as many flashy photos to present today). I really wanted to photograph this group of enormous bubble-tip sea anemones which are found near the end of the Toopua drift dive. They are roughly 3' in diameter each, and have lovely purple undersides. Sooo beautiful! Oh well.

I met a guy named Reinhart (a baker) and a woman named Helen on the dives today. They work on the big Renaissance cruise ship that is parked in the lagoon for two days every week. The mayor of Bora Bora came to eat at the restaurant at TOPdive this evening. Neat-o.

Also, my calling our journaling foursome "incenstuous" seems to have stuck. AdamAmabelle, and Dardy are all referring to it that way now. They all met up for a 4th of July BBQ without me. :(

July 3, 2001

What decadence! I'm working to exercise my mind, diving and spending time outdoors to exercise my body, spirit and fish nature, and chatting with friends (sometimes, and briefly) through a modem connection from the JUNGLE. Everytime I dial up to check email (which is necessary for work. uh... yeah. :), Kenny pings me immediately. I was also fortunate enough to grab some of Peter andVienna's time today as well.

Kenny should really be here with us, since he was there in Palau when we all were introduced to each other. Lucien and Olivier have been wonderful hosts.

Oh. One thing did go wrong today. My NiMH AA charger died because I sent 220 volts coursing through it's circuitry. This is very very bad. My underwater camera runs on AA batteries. I may have to flush money down the toilet (or, the ocean, in this case) to buy imported AA batteries -- 4 for every two dives! That sounds snooty, but it's not, because everything here is imported -- even the eggs. Argh. So sad.

July 2, 2001

I'm alive, and I'm in paradise. This place rocks! It's work/play for the next two weeks! :)

My schedule:

7:15 - wake up
7:30 - eat breakfast
8:30 - dive
10:00 - dive
12:30 - eat lunch
13:30 - work
19:00 - eat a fancy dinner, drink a lot of red wine
22:00 - work some more
sometime between 0:00 and 1:00 - go to sleep

Man. I'm soooo spoiled. I went on two dives when I arrived from Tahiti this morning, just after 7am. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any sunlight while in Tahiti, but I was just happy to have a place to sleep for the night. I'm using steel tanks here, so I don't need to wear any weight while in the water. That's so novel, especially coming from a cold water diving background.

To my friends and family: sorry I haven't been in touch yet. It's been a crazy and tiring few days.

Sunday, July 1, 2001 - 11:59AM

I'm sitting with Luke in LAX's International Terminal, waiting for our flight to Papeete, Tahiti. The airplane has two Bora Bora flags painted on it, adjacent to the cockpit windows on both sides. This morning was sort of hectic because my flight out of San Diego was cancelled due to mechanical reasons. Another passenger and I hopped onto a Cloud 9 shuttle up to Palomar Airport in Carlsbad and boarded a last minute United Express flight. I had to run out to the little airplane from the terminal building because I was so late -- the flight attendant was already going through her safety spiel. So stressful, especially because I was flying international. The United personnel didn't know what to do with so little time before the plane was going to leave, so they ended up checking my baggage to LAX. When I arrived, I claimed my bags, took a shuttle to the international terminal (driven by a disguntled hispanic guy) and checked them in again at the Air Tahiti counter, where I happened to be checking in at the same time Luke was.

Tuesday, July 3, 1:31am

Bora Bora is amazing. It's like paradise here! We tried to get up this morning at 4:30am to get to the Tahiti airport, but our wake up call came at 3:00am instead. I got up, took a shower, packed, woke up Luke... and discovered that it was 3:20 -- when I called the front desk (I have no watch here. :). heh... so that pretty much sucked. Anyway, when we finally arrived into Bora Bora, it was 7am. Our take-off was delayed because this plume of white smoke came shooting out of the right propeller (I was sitting right next to it). That sucked, too. But anyway, so we arrived in Bora Bora, and a guy was waiting there with my name on a sign! That did NOT suck. He collected our bags, loaded them onto the boat, and whisked us off, leaving behind tourists who waved futilely at us to come back and ferry them to their respective destinations. We picked up Olivier and Miva (sp?) at their house (I recognized him from photos), and continued onward to the TOPdive resort to meet up with Lucien. I would write more, but I'm really tired. We went on a couple dives, spend some quality time just hanging out and chatting, and got a lot of work done. Angel was in Bora Bora last week (again!), and he told me a few days ago that time slows to a crawl here. I am fully experiencing that. It's amazing how long the day drags on (pleasurably) here! It's winter, which means that the weather is only perfect and light for 12 hours a day instead of 14. It's really just... amazing.

Special thanks to my gracious host, Lucien Schmidlin! (Oliver Mueller, on the right)

Special thanks to my gracious host, Lucien Schmidlin! (Oliver Mueller, on the right)