The best favor a visitor can do himself and the islands is to leave his mainland habits at home, particularly the penchant for collecting and accreting, rather than traveling light. Any souvenir, whether it is a pair of American-made socks, a bottle of cut-rate rum, a pandanus basket or the scalp of a native girl, becomes in time a ball and chain.
The Polynesian residents now involved in tourism shake their heads pityingly at the waves of tourists now coming ashore who take snapshots or a bike ride and hardly even get into a boat, much less into the water. Irene Michili, a Polynesian-Italian lady who has been taking tourists around for seven years, says, "They do not come here until they can afford to. That is the trouble." This past fall, while riding in a canoe up a river on the island of Raiatea, a lady visitor stopped clicking her camera long enough to exclaim, "It is just like Disneyland."
"No, madam," the river guide said. "The wild animals on this river are real. For example, in that pasture over there, you can photograph a real, wild dairy cow."
Erwin Christian remembers a German writer who came to Bora-Bora: "The writer said, 'It is all so beautiful—the white beach, the water, the mountain, so what in hell am I going to write about?' And I said to him, 'Look, take my bicycle and pedal around the island. Go to Anau, the poorest village, but before you come to the first house, let the air out of a tire and walk in with the bicycle.' And he did this, because I followed on my Vespa to see. The natives ran out. They helped him with the tire. They gave him food and drink. They gave him a pareu. I do not know if he found anything to write about, but he came back to the hotel roaring drunk and happy."
Erwin Christian's early life was the sort that would make any sensitive, growing creature believe that paradise, at most, is only a contrivance of the mind. He grew up in Silesia, a European area of great doubt and insecurity. His part of Silesia was sometimes German and sometimes Polish, depending on whose heavy feet had marched over it triumphantly most recently. He played as a boy under the black flak puffs that filled the sky in World War II. Still today, when he opens a new underwater camera housing, his nose wrinkles, for the acrylic smell is the same he remembers from the melting canopies of the fallen planes. His first boat was a crude kayak that he fashioned out of a wing tank jettisoned by an American plane. He started at the bottom of the hotel business, not so much to escape the distress of flattened Germany as to find out what the French, English and American sides of the world were like. After serving in a number of strict European hotels—notably Claridge's in London—he went to the resort islands because he became fascinated with the sea and wanted to find out what was happening on the other side of the interface. He is a fit man to help people enjoy the island, primarily because he has the inner resources to enjoy it himself and a capacity to infect even the most Babbitty man with some of his own curiosity.
While discussing the deceptive largess of Bora-Bora recently, Christian tossed his head toward the island's dramatic volcanic remnant, Mt. Temanu. "I always know that mountain is there," he said, "and that it is always changing, but I sometimes will not look at it, simply because it is so beautiful. It is important to remember that these islands are fragile things, though they have certain stern requirements."
Hiqh Island and Fringing Reef, a South Pacific combination nowhere more splendidly formed than at Bora-Bora, provide a vast water-sports playground safe enough for the timid, adventurous enough for the bold. In the calm, clear lagoon there are outrigger sailing canoes, snorkling classes, water skiing and glass-bottom boats. The coral garden of the lagoon is a world of hypnotic beauty. Shell collectors comb the reef for cowries and Tridacna. Bigger game lies outside—to be dived for, trolled for, or cast for by fishermen in sneakers at the ocean's very edge.