Thatching contest at thge Heiva Festival on Bora Bora

DAY 6 — They look like they are hemming curtain rods. But actually, they are working with a kind of dried plant called Pandanus. We are again at the famous Polynesian Heiva festival that is held here in July. We first visited a Heiva on Raiatea and now on Bora Bora. Along with dancing and celebrating are competitions for dancing, canoe racing and this morning, thatch making.

In the old days, one young local woman named Heiata Tupahiroa explains, these were way all of the Polynesian roofs were made but “we’ve evolved.” Those thatched roofs need to be replaced every five years, hence many modern buildings have conventional shingled or metal roofs. The old people, she says, are “sad” that so few of the young people know the craft.

Click: PHOTO GALLERY Today, as Tahitian music blares, young tattooed men wearing sarongs wrapped around their waists and crowns of leaves in their hair work feverishly turning the dried palms into thatch, hemming the leaves together, hacking off the ends. Families are watching; children jump in the sand, babies snooze in their mothers’ arms. It’s kind of like a tailgate party before a high school homecoming game.

The prize — significant cash. The Mayor of Bora Bora is watching along with two other judges. A gentleman named Gaston Thomson watches impassively. The locals are so friendly. Though no one speaks English, they are very patient with my fractured French . Luckily the friends we are sailing with, Pam and Allan Roza, were raised in Canada and speak French.

“Downtown” Bora Bora is nothing like I expect — just a few tiny shops selling everything from expensive pearl necklaces to others selling the brightly colored sarongs for less than $20. The town is sleepy, not at all touristy. We buy a few little gifts but no black pearls. And we stopped in the market for some more baguettes, juice and the essential for this sailing trip – Hinano, the local beer.

Once we corral the girls — they had been at an internet café — we sail around the spectacular Bora Bora lagoon to an assignation with the sting rays — big, beautiful rays with their long tails. They ignore us as we swim above them and gawk and gawk some more as Turo feeds them some fish.

The girls say they like the sharks better than the rays. They scream and clamber back aboard the dinghy when a ran brushes against someone’s leg. “Ewwww!” Pam and I opt to swim back to the boat — not so easy we discover with the current going against us, I don’t think I’d make it on Survivor. At least I make it back to the boat, where a cold Hinano is waiting.

Next: Spa treatments in paradise