Friday, February 28, 2014

Touring Bora Bora by truck

Circling Bora Bora, the most scenic of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, on a speedboat gave us a good overview of the volcanic landscape. And after checking out the lagoon’s beautiful coral and fish through our snorkels, we decided to explore this tropical island by land—on a covered open air truck.
Looking out at the lagoon of Bora Bora
 Le Trucks,” as these vehicles are called, are a main means of transportation for locals, but those have no set schedules. Fortunately, our 3.5 hour tour did have a set itinerary that would get us back to the ship before happy hour.

Starting from Vaitape, the most populous town on the island (the population of Bora Bora is only about 8,000 people), we headed through the district of Fa’anui, stopping at the church there for pictures.  We stopped again at Fa’anui Bay, a great spot for photos of the two prominent mountains--Otemanu and Pahia. The truck continued on to the ancient ceremonial site of Fa’anui Marae, designated by an ancient carved boulder—and then on to see bunkers constructed by American GIs during World War II.
Creating beautiful pareos with intricate designs
Having noticed so many colorful pareos, the sarong-like cloths worn by locals, hanging in shops, we appreciated the opportunity to observe how these are created at Mama Ruta’s outdoor shop.  We watched a local craftsperson create a unique design on cotton cloth she had wet in water then folded and twisted. She dipped the wet fabric into several separate paint pots, each containing a different color. The art of creating a beautiful design comes in how the material is folded and dipped, a process that must be done quickly before the fabric dries.  When the design is completed, the pareo is spread out to dry in the sun.

Refreshing island fruits
Many of the pareos have the name of the island, Bora Bora spelled out. This is achieved by placing stencils on the fabric and allowing the sun to bleach out the words or to create new designs. The lightweight fabric is a local wardrobe mainstay because it can be twisted and crossed hundreds of ways into many garments. Our guide demonstrated how to make a skirt, dress, or jacket—worn by men as well as women. Then we sampled local fruits such as breadfruit, banana, coconut, grapefruit, and passion fruit, and I purchased a hand-painted pareo--wearable art--to take home.

Crabs scamper to retrieve flowers that are dragged into their holes
Flowers, mostly hibiscus, hung by each seat of the truck. Nice touch, I thought, not knowing that there was a purpose beyond decoration. At a sandy area, dozens of holes—homes for sand crabs—made walking around tricky. Told to throw the flowers on the ground, we did and watched in amazement as the voracious critters scurried out of their holes, grabbed the flowers (which were much bigger than they were), and dragged these prizes back into their holes.
Bora Bora has beautiful white sand beaches.
After going up the island’s only driveable hill, we stopped at a lookout point to take in splendid vistas. At Matira Beach, Bora Bora's most popular public beach, locals and visitors enjoyed swimming and snorkeling in the protected lagoon.

Sandy floor at Bloody Mary's restaurant and bar
Our final stop was Bloody Mary’s, a famous restaurant and bar visited by dozens of celebrities and sports stars, whose names are painted on signs out front. Inside, the floor is simply sand, so guests check their shoes and claim them again when leaving. The restaurant features a large open dining area and log seats at the bar. This well-known watering hole epitomizes South Pacific ambience, and it’s the perfect spot to savor at least one island drink.

Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bora Bora--paradise in the South Pacific

Our first look at the mountains of tropical Bora Bora
Bora Bora is everyone’s picture of a romantic South Pacific Island. Upon arrival by cruise ship, we see castle-like Mt. Otemanu jutting up into the sky. Green tropical slopes greet us as the ship docks just offshore of Vaitape, the island’s main settlement.
Bora Bora is an island in the Leeward group of Society Islands of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by a lagoon and barrier reef, Bora Bora’s landscape is dominated by two prominent peaks, Mt. Pahia and Mt. Otemanu (which has the highest point at 2,385 feet). These mountains are remnants of the extinct volcano which created the island, now an international tourist destination.

Bungalows over the water provide an excellent escape into paradise.

Between the peaks are valleys filled with 50 varieties of hibiscus blossoms in orange, white, yellow, pink, red, and more. Plentiful coconut trees, pineapple plants, and small but very sweet bananas grow on the main island and smaller islands called motus. White sand beaches and emerald waters, along with colorful fish and giant manta rays swimming among the coral gardens, attract visitors to this tropical paradise.
Dependent on tourism, the island is famous for its luxury resorts, some of which feature bungalows built on stilts over the water. Lagoon trips to snorkel, picnic on a private motu, cruise at sunset, or view the perimeter of the island by speedboat or motorized canoe, are very popular. There’s no public transportation, but you can rent cars or bicycles to get around. If you’re not in a hurry, try one of the trucks that the locals use—which run on island time.

Splashing along on our speedboat ride around Bora Bora
The island’s original name was Pora Pora, meaning “first born.” There is no B sound in Polynesian language, but early visitors misunderstood the pronunciation. Polynesians settled on the island in the 4th century, and the famous explorer James Cook landed and mapped the island in 1770.  London missionaries arrived in 1820 and established Protestant churches, still the most prominent religion today.
After the Oceania Marina docked, Larry and I took the three-minute tender ride to shore and wandered around until time for our speed boat excursion circumnavigating the island. The front section of the boat had bench seats, but back where we sat were saddle seats that reminded us of riding a horse. As we circled Bora Bora, streams of water splashed beside the boat shining like sparklers in the sunlight. I got soaked when the jet boat captain opened up the throttle to give us an exhilarating ride.

Snorkeling at the coral garden in the lagoon was outstanding.
We stopped at a magnificent coral garden in the lagoon, one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. The reef teemed with colorful tropical fish flitting among dozens of coral species in the pleasant water. With sunlight gleaming, we were able to take many stunning photos of undersea life. Back on the boat, one guide entertained us with songs on his ukulele, while the other guide served a refreshing plate of tropical fruits.
I can't name all the fish, but they were really beautiful.
As the journey continued, the guide slowed down to point out a huge cannon on the side of Matira Point, a rusty remnant of America’s role in helping defend Bora Bora from the Japanese during WWII.

Nearby Matira Beach is Bora Bora's most famous public beach because of its long stretch of gleaming white sand as fine as powdered sugar. Palms swayed in the sea breeze as we stopped on a sandbar just off Matira Beach for a short swim before completing our boat ride around the island. It was a lovely way to view Bora Bora and left no doubt why visitors come to relax and rejuvenate among spectacular island scenery.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Snorkeling at the Society Islands in the South Pacific

Colorful fish swim around coral reefs in the Society Islands

When traveling, I enjoy water activities, so that made a trip to the South Pacific a no-brainer. With coral reefs surrounding most of the islands, and protected lagoons available for snorkeling, we were guaranteed to see beautiful natural formations and a good variety of fish.

Coral is found in variety of colors, shapes, and formations.

After arriving in Papeete, Tahiti by plane, we boarded the Oceania Marina for a 10-day cruise that took us to several of the Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, and Tuomoto Archipelago, where we visited two atolls (narrow strips of land surrounded by reefs).

These photos provide just a small sample of the outstanding opportunities we discovered to watch, enjoy, and record flora and fauna off the coasts of several Society Islands.  

Our first stop was Moorea, second most popular tourist attraction in the Society Islands.where we snorkeled in clear turquoise water with stingrays, sharks, and fish. No, they won’t hurt you, although if a ray slides up your back it could startle you. This heart-shaped island features dramatic interior mountains and lots of Polynesian history and lore.

Speedboat ride around Bora Bora

, we spent two days at Bora Bora, perhaps the best known of the Leeward group of Society Islands in French Polynesia. A major international tourist destination, the mountainous landscape, lush tropical vegetation, and beautiful beaches make Bora Bora  the ideal South Pacific island. We took a speed boat ride around the island before stopping to snorkel just short of the reef.
Fish were plentiful as we dove down wearing helmets.

The following day we did a helmet dive in a lagoon that is one of the most beautiful dive spots anywhere in the world. With the heavy helmet in place on my shoulders, I was able to wander along the bottom of the lagoon (about 10 feet deep) while breathing normally.  Fish swam so close we could actually reach out and touch them.
What a grand photo opportunity!

At Raitea, second largest of the Society Islands after Tahiti, we took a boat ride along the west coast of its sister island, Taha’a. These islands are unusual because they are enclosed by the same coral reef. Our boat stopped at an uninhabited motu (small island), from which we took moderate walk on a rocky path to the spot where we would
We could even touch soft coral and watch fish swim by.
enter the water and ride the current back to the boat (no swimming or paddling necessary).

Too many fish species for me to name!
Our guide plucked a hibiscus flower to rub
on masks.

It was called a “drift” snorkel, but the current was so strong that we moved very quickly through the water, trying our best not to bump into other people or catch a fin in the face. Since clearance over the coral was low and the channels narrow, we really had to pay attention to our surroundings to avoid getting tossed into sharp coral formations. Still, I was up for the challenge and made a second run through the coral reef.
Coral was incredibly beautiful in clear water.

The strong current carried us over the coral.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cuba is now open for U.S. visitors

Cubans love their 1950s era cars and keep them running--
because new cars are very hard to get.
For more than 50 years Cuba has been off-limits for U.S. visitors (unless they were willing to come in through Canada, Mexico, or other countries, which could be a bit risky). But in 2012 travel restrictions were loosened, so tour companies and universities were allowed to organize trips to this mysterious island country. While restrictions are still in place for individual tourists, it's now possible to travel on designated people-to-people, cultural, or arts tours.
Vinales Valley is green and beautiful, an agricultural region.

If you're curious about Cuba--and possibly considering a visit--read my article in Arizona Highroads for a more complete description of the tour I took through International Expeditions in March 2013.

Tourists--mostly from Europe or South America--enjoy Cuba's
Caribbean beaches
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

In rural areas, most Cubans do not have cars, so they travel
by horse and cart.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Don't miss Cirque du Soleil Varekai production

Nymph in Cirque du Soleil Varekai
Aerial hoops performers defy gravity.
Cirque du Soleil is coming to the Austin area! Don't miss the fabulous performance of Varekai, a show that premiered in 2002 and is currently making a multi-city tour. Based in Quebec, Canada, this fabulous acrobatic troupe started with a group of 20 street performers gathered into an artistic company by Guy Laliberte in 1984. Performances are scheduled for February 26-March 2 (daytime and evening) at Cedar Park Center.

Click on the link below to read more. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster or by calling 800-745-3000.

Flight of Icarus, amazing journey
Flight of Icarus requires acrobatic skills
and strength.
Check out these fabulous photos courtesy of Paula Munervar, Intuitive PR for Cirque du Soleil
Clowns add humor to the performance

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wilson's Ice Cream Parlor is a Door County traditions

Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor is a Door County tradition.

I’m slurping the most delicious root beer float at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Home-brewed draft root beer makes the difference at this Door County,Wisconsin, old-fashioned soda shop. For more the 107 years, Wilson’s has been serving dozens of ice cream varieties, extra thick malts and shakes, and super sundaes made from local Wisconsin ingredients.

A two-scoop serving of ice cream

My mouth is watering just thinking about a dish of Mocha Almond Fudge, Caramel Collision, Peppermint Stick, or Chocolate Peanut Butter Explosion ice cream. For those with really big appetites, (or a friend to share the concoction with), the specialty called Wilson’s Banquet serves up five flavors of ice cream and three toppings of your choice, topped with loads of whipped cream, cherries, and pecans.

Located in the center of Ephraim, Wilson’s is one mile from Scenic Peninsula Sate Park, a well-known vacation destination. It is a landmark that has earned its reputation for fine comfort food served in a friendly atmosphere. Even more, it’s a trip down memory lane for those who remember such establishments and a wonderful experience for those who are just discovering them. Long-time visitors now bring children and grandchildren to experience offerings like flame-broiled burgers, Reuben sandwiches, nachos supreme, homemade tomato vegetable soup with basil, and much more that have made the restaurant a first stop when they return.
Sarah serves specialty ice cream dishes

Started by Oscar and Mattie Wilson in 1906 as an ice cream and candy store, it soon expanded to serve food as well. The family, which included four sons, lived upstairs over the shop. Although the restaurant has passed through several owners over the years (each one enhancing the facility and adding more space), present owners Roy and Diane Elquist plan to keep the fun format and delicious food that have been successful. Sarah Martin, daughter of the Elquists and now manager of Wilson’s says, “We are happy to be keepers of Wilson’s tradition.”

Seated in a comfortable booth, we tarry awhile, savoring our burgers and ice cream—and listening to old 45s on the original jukebox. It’s another way the restaurant invokes memories of an earlier time. Meanwhile, dozens of visitors simply stop to get a flavorful ice cream cone to lick as they meander along the shores of Lake Michigan, just across the street.

Artists frequently come to paint this iconic building.
Outside, we watch an artist painting the iconic building on his canvas, with its easily recognizable red and white striped canopy. It reminds me of the cherries for which Door County is known, although that probably didn’t have anything to do with choosing the decorative scheme in the beginning. Now the canopy provides shade for guests sitting on the covered porch enjoying people watching and the scenery. Just being here means we are taking part in a century-old Door County tradition.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier