After the jet ski and poisson cru madness (which never really ended, but who needs to hear about that anymore?), the adventures really began.
First, I want to point out that while Couples Retreat obviously did very well at the box office, I think there’s a lot more cinematically to Bora Bora than just the resort. For instance, Mount Otemanu. It looms up and over the lagoon, typically peaking somewhere in the clouds. What’s inside that thing? Probably just more rock, but in my imagination, there’s a whole temple to explore. So hey, that’s at least a few shooting days I’m going to try and arrange for on location. Naturally, whatever’s inside is gonna be built on some stage…
Second, as I went on my adventures, I was accompanied not just by my fellow screenwriters and our French hosts (and Jonathan), but also by the French Polynesians themselves.
I love these people, and I really don’t like people in general, so that’s saying something.
They’re proud. And while it’s true that they are colonized by the French, there are vast areas of little assimilation, because there’s no reason to assimilate in the first place. There are no natural resources to strip mine, no military bases to control. In fact, what French Polynesia really has going for it are the very things that aren’t French. The landscape, the people, the traditions, etc.
Like steering a boat with your feet. Mmm…maybe that’s not a tradition, but this guy did it. He was awesome. When he took his wrap off to reveal a thong, maybe not as awesome. But with wrap on and foot-boating? Yeah. Loved him.
The Tahitians and Marquesians move easily between French and Polynesian, sometimes within the same sentence. I was honestly surprised how quickly my high school French came back to me; if people spoke slowly and simply, I was able to understand 80%, and by the end of the week, I could communicate haltingly, but enough to get along in French. Not so with Tahitian (I can say “Hello” and “Thank you” and “Breadfruit” and “Transsexual”).
(Pro Tip: “Oui” is yes, but “Wheh” or “Weigh” is yup or yeah…and that’s what the cool kids say).
After learning how to crack open a coconut with a just stick and a rock--and it’s both harder and more satisfying than you’d think--we made our way to a part of the lagoon where you can pet manta rays and snorkel with sharks.
Funny thing about Bora Bora…people say “go snorkel with some sharks” and for whatever reason, you shrug and say, “Sure, sounds like a decent idea.” Happily, the rays and sharks and one very evil-eyed barracuda were all so well-fed by the time we got there that they were completely disinterested in eating us. The barracuda did devour one smaller fish right in front of my face, but I think that was just emotional eating…
As beautiful as that was, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the splendor (yeah, it’s a mushy word, but whatever) of the Coral Garden. To be honest, I’m not a big marine life kind of guy. And coral is just…what the hell is coral anyway?
I think it’s alive, partially, but also dead…you know, I’m not going to look it up. I’ll keep it a mystery.
When I got in the water to frolic with the manta rays, I made the bad choice of not properly closing the battery hatch on my underwater camera. On the other hand, that meant I could just steal photos from Chris Markus and Jeff Lowell. I could even be in some of those photos.
The coral garden was full of fish that didn’t seem quite real. Oh, and there were oysters? Clams? I can’t tell the difference. I called them “whore mouths” because, well…look at the colors. Those lips border on obscene. I do know that, at the very least, those things were alive, because I would slowly extend a finger toward them, and they would pucker up in fear.
Shortly after returning to the boat, it was patiently explained to me that I should not have done that, because, you know, they can bite your finger off. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but then again…I think the entire point of having clam lips the color of Prince’s wardrobe is to entice things like fish…or fingers…to wander near the biting zone.
The next adventure I had was probably the only one I’d call “life-changing,” inasmuch as I experienced something that has been seared into my brain.
We went whale watching.
Now, when I heard the words “whale-watching,” here’s what I free-associated: boring, water, watching, waiting, lesbians.
I don’t know why. In the back of my head, there’s a serious overlap between the venn diagram ovals for “lesbians” and “whale-watchers.”
Well, if it’s at all so, then I congratulate my lesbian sisters for being right.
We headed out into the open waters between Bora Bora and Moorea on a pretty big boat…45-footer, I’m guessing. Joining us for the trip was a marine biologist (from Berkeley, I think) who was stationed in French Polynesia. After a lengthy and choppy ride in waters that would have surely made me…
Wait, have I talked about The Patch yet?
Ah, I see I haven’t. Okay, so here’s my deal. If you put me on a big boat in choppy ocean waters, I throw up. If you put me on a small boat in calm waters, I throw up. If you put me on a docked ferry, I may throw up. I’ve thrown up from sitting in the back seat of a limo. Dig? So in advance of this trip, I called my doctor and got a prescription for the Patch, otherwise known as Transderm Scop. The “scop” is for “scopolamine,” which is an alkaloid derived from the belladonna plant, so that’s +1 for medieval witches knowing what the hell they were doing.
By the way, do you know why we get motion sickness? When we are in situations like the deck of a pitching boat, the visual input from our eyes doesn’t match the balance input from our inner ears. Well, okay, but why does that make us hurl? Turns out there’s something else that often causes the exact same differential between visual and balance cues: being poisoned.
Yup. The body presumes that the dizzy feeling you’re experiencing is the result of ingesting something toxic, and so it cues the brain to make you whistle carrots. And as everyone knows, it’s a terrible, terrible, vacation-ruining feeling.
Sartre was wrong. L’enfer, ce n’est pas les autres. L’enfer, c’est le mal de mer.
I had never tried the patch. Instead, I’d been sticking with a more traditional remedy known as “don’t get on a frickin’ boat.” In French Polynesia, though, you have to get on a boat. You have to get on a boat to get to breakfast. Or your room. Or another island. Unless you’re getting on a tiny plane (more on that later). You have no choice.
Dear people at the Novartis Pharmaceutical Company:
I love you.
The Patch transformed me from a upchucking puke machine into a seafaring soul. Waves? Rocking? HA! I will not lie down or turn green. I will stand at the pitchiest part of the deck, and laugh into the wind! For lo, I am Nautilus!
Seriously, it felt like that.
So…I and my trusty patch are on the boat, and we’re heading out to “where the whales are.” We finally spot one. For the next thirty minutes, we circle around a mother humpback and her calf…or at least the parts of them we can see. Jeff Lowell snapped a picture, which is impressive, because they would only come up for seconds at a time…
But the truth is, it was really boring. We’d watch the shadowy thing come up, it would go down, we’d circle around, I’d smugly remind myself that I wasn’t puking, then we’d do it again, over and over…
The whole time, the marine biologist kept saying, “If we get close enough, we’ll snorkel in and swim over to the whales.” He said that a lot. But we didn’t do it. Ever. We just kept boating around in a circle. For whatever reason, after the 12th time he mentioned it, I decided to take my shirt off, grab my mask and snorkel and wait.
The 13th time he said it, it went like this. “Okay, we’re close enough. Let’s go.” And he immediately jumped off the boat. Our Man Jonathan In Tahiti made a “whoa, okay” face, and then jumped in as well.
A small voice in the back of my head said, “Hold on, should we even--?” but another voice said, “JUMP IN THE OCEAN, DICK,” and I jumped.
Boats are really tall. I think I fell for about three months. Finally, I hit the water, came back up…and saw that the marine biologist was swimming like frickin’ Aquaman toward a distant point. Jonathan went after him, and I went after Jonathan.
We basically sprint-swam for a quarter mile, which is weird when you’re snorkeling, because your own breath makes you sound like Darth Vader. Jonathan and I took a three-second breather at one point (enough for me to say “This is exhausting!”…which he will not let me forget), and then we swam swam swam as hard as we could through the current until we arrived at a spot where the marine biologist had met up with some other French snorkelers.
We dip under the water, and they point to a murky shadow in the depths below.
A very big murky shadow. But honestly…if that had been it, I would have been pretty annoyed, because the swim back wasn’t gonna be any easier.
A humpback whale…the calf…swam up from the depths, and then slowly circled around me…maybe 10 feet under the surface, and maybe thirty feet away from me. It swam slowly in a circle, as if presenting itself. I just turned slowly to follow it with my eyes, attempting to process the impossibility of it all.
It was religious. Like seeing an alien. An alien the size of a schoolbus moving gracefully around me. Its body, which appears nearly black above water, looked blue and turquoise and striated and bioluminescent under water.
I looked into its eye.
That’s one I get to keep for the rest of my life.
This video, right around the 2:00 mark, is about the right distance in terms of where I was vis a vis the whale. As a movie, it’s cool. In real life, it’s absurd.
Up next, the final installment…Danger on the High Seas! And the saga of Death Island!
Between work and baseball and something viral in my lungs that wasn’t swine-derived, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for blogging. I’ve got the final installment of the Tahiti trip stuff, plus my thoughts on the WGA election and the recent foreign levies settlement…all coming up.
Or not! That’s the fun of blogging fer free.