by H.O. Santos
BY the time I got to Bora Bora I wasn’t shy anymore about asking strangers for favors. I always offered something in return and almost everyone seemed to appreciate that although I knew they mostly didn’t need what I had to offer. Like yesterday. I spent a wonderful day on Motu Moute as the guest of a couple who tended a small watermelon patch on that barrier island, one of the many motus that surround Bora Bora. When I heard they were going to work on their farm, I offered to help for free. They thought I was nuts—the dry season was over, they said, and there’d be mosquitoes and gnats on the island. They laughed but finally said okay, undoubtedly to humor a fool as much as they needed help. They weren’t kidding. There were lots of gnats and the mosquitoes were only waiting to take over at night. There wasn’t much work—there wasn’t enough weeds for three people to pull out and the plants were doing well. It was quite an enjoyable day for the island was beautiful and pristine—very few people go there to mess it up. For lunch we ate fish caught on the way over, broiled over charcoal from the coconut leaves I collected. I even managed to do some swimming in the calm lagoon waters. I was on my third day in Vaitape, the main town in Bora Bora. It had a pier which wasn’t very busy—only little boats and small cruise ships docked there. For the third day in a row, I saw the brown dog that seemed to have made the pier his home. He would meet every ship that came in and look at the faces of everyone who disembarked, as if looking for a long-lost master who had sailed away one day and never came back. I wondered if his master had left his island home for the same reasons I left mine when I was twenty-one. I felt sorry for the dog because I had already learned what “you can never come home again” meant. I worried about what I was going to do the rest of the day when I saw a le truck that looked like it might be a tour bus. I went to the driver and asked. Her name was Teróo and yes, she was waiting to take tourists from a cruise ship on a circle island tour. “Can I help? I speak English.”
“What do I need you for, I speak English myself. Everyone in the tour industry does.” “I don’t want any money—I just want to help you round your passengers up after each stop. Surely, you don’t want to lose any of them.” She laughed loud in such an infectious manner I thought perhaps I had told a good joke. “I haven’t lost anyone yet. This is a very small island. How can anyone get lost?” “Oh, come on. I’m sure you can find something for me to do to make your life easier. Besides, how can I get to see this island if you don’t let me help?” “Where are you from, Chile or Castille?”
“Non, je suis philippin.” I wanted to impress her with my French. “Well, well—I’ve never met a Filipino before,” she said with that beautiful laughter she had. “You can come with me but promise to tell me about your country.” A LAUNCH from Wind Song, the high-tech French luxury sailing ship anchored in the bay, arrived at the pier to let passengers off for the tour. There was a dozen of them, mostly old Americans. As soon as they got aboard, we started on our way. There were already people from Club Med in the bus and we stopped at Bloody Mary’s to pick up another couple. Teróo was driving a regular le truck painted light blue and red, with wooden benches and open windows. I sat in the front with her. We went in a clockwise direction along the road that circled the island. Our first stop was on a relatively high point just a few miles out of Vaitape. To the left we had a good view of the small bay, to the right were concrete bunkers and fortifications. Teróo explained the area used to be a submarine base in World War II. None of the old buildings existed anymore—they had either been torn down or reclaimed by the jungle. I figured this was where James Michener was stationed during the war—the place where he wrote many of the stories...