VALENTINE’S DAY IN PARADISE

Fran Solomon

Reprinted from the magazine Beyond 2oo2.

On Valentine’s Day 1992 I awakened in my lover’s arms in the Hotel Royal Bora Bora. The previous year we had been bumped from a flight to Hawaii in exchange for free tickets to anywhere Air Hawaii flew. We chose the farthest, most exotic destination available and spent two weeks in Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Maupiti. Colonialism has produced a strange economic situation in French Polynesia: third world amenities at first world prices. Our $40 per night room at the Royal Bora Bora was very basic but clean and comfortable; similar to what you would get in Mexico for $5 to $10. The Hotel Bora Bora was the luxury destination, but $300 per night is way beyond our budget.

Tyler and I breakfasted on French bread and tropical fruit, then exchanged Valentine’s Day cards that we had purchased in Seattle. Tyler’s card to me was exceptionally romantic and appropriate for the occasion. The front of the card read "Valentine Greetings from Tahiti!" and had a picture of a swimsuit and sunglasses clad Sandra Boynton pig on a sandy beach with a palm tree, turquoise sea, and bright sun. The inside of the card read "Hey! No fair checking the post mark on the envelope!". To this my husband had added "OK, so it’s really Bora Bora. Paradise wouldn’t be paradise without Fran. Lots of love, Tyler."

Underwater in Moorea

James Michener has described Bora Bora as "the most beautiful island on earth." The resulting tourism development has left the island less pristine. Bora Bora is beautiful, but for the ultimate in south seas romance, it is surpassed by its little sister of Maupiti. We flew there on Valentine’s Day afternoon.

What is special about Maupiti? Everything! For starters, there’s the scenery, which is similar to Bora Bora but on a smaller scale. A high volcanic central mountain clad in lush, tropical foliage is surrounded by a lagoon of warm, calm, turquoise waters. In its turn, the lagoon is bordered by motus (smaller coral reef islands) with miles of clean, uninhabited sandy beaches. What makes Maupiti exquisite is its lack of development. The 900 people inhabiting the one village on the island made the wise decision to not allow hotels or restaurants. Tourists who visit Maupiti board with local families, many of whom have lived on the island for generations reaching back centuries. Maupitians have retained many elements of their traditional culture; most people earn their living by harvesting fish from the sea and fruit from the trees. The people are gentle, genuinely friendly, and the pace of life is very relaxed.

The Maupiti airport is on one of the offshore motus with transportation to the village provided by small private boats. Since the inner island is only seven miles around, people are more likely to own an outrigger motor boat than a car or motor scooter. At the airport we boarded the boat of a particularly kind man for a scenic ride to the motu where he and his lovely wife accommodate visitors in cabins on the beach. This was a bit out of our price range, so we hopped a ride to the main island on a boatload of copra (dried coconut which is processed into soaps and cosmetics). The copra sacks were transferred to a pickup truck. Tyler and I climbed on top of the copra sacks and thus made an appropriate entrance into Maupiti village.

The truck driver dropped us off at Mareta’s house (the one with the blue roof). Everyone in Maupiti knew where everyone else lived; there was no need for street names or addresses. We stayed at Mareta’s house on Valentine’s Day night and had a tasty seafood dinner on her patio with the other guests - a French couple and a musician from India. After dinner, we strolled through town and chatted in French with the friendly local people who were out and about. We watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and strolled through the village under a beautiful, starlit sky. The passion of our love has burned with a strong flame over the years, but this is a Valentine’s Day that will always be special.

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All photos copyright Ó Tyler Folsom