In December 2009, I had a wonderful adventure exploring the beautiful island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Let me back up a bit. My adventure officially began when I embarked the Pacific Princess cruise ship in Papeete, Tahiti with my mother and aunt for a 10-day voyage around the French Polynesia islands.
I use a power chair for mobility and a communication device for speech since I have cerebral palsy. I find that cruising on cruise ships is the easiest way for me to travel once I am onboard. Flying is a hassle but it’s all worth it once I wheel myself onboard the magnificent ship. Also, I have to consider ground transportation from the airport to the port for my power chair. Considering the number of cruises taken, I haven’t had too many problems with the airlines luckily. Just a few. Just recently, I learned that the airline ground personnel often unplugs the batteries for my power chair. So, when we re-assemble my chair at our destination, I find no power upon turning on my joystick. We remove the battery cover and plug in the cords. I’m back up and going again!
Onboard, I find most everything accessible for wheelchair users. For the few inaccessible issues, the crew is always eager to assist in any way possible, including assisting me in my power chair getting in and out of the tender. Luckily, on this particular ship there was a lift from the main deck to the tender deck. I have been on older ships where there wasn’t a lift to the tender. So, I had to stay on the ship at a few ports of call. Since the French Polynesia islands are small, cruise ships have to anchor in the bay. On this particular cruise, I didn’t mind the tender rides since I loved the French Polynesian waters with many gorgeous shades of blue and turquoise.
The ship stopped on the islands of Huahine, Rangiroa, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Moorea, and back to Papeete. We had an overnight stay in Bora Bora and arrived early in the morning. The first morning in Bora Bora we took the usual tender ride from the ship to the dock. My mother and aunt went to book a taxi to a beautiful beach for some snorkeling. Several years ago, we went on a Tahiti-Hawaii cruise and also stopped in Bora Bora. We had rented a car then and drove around the island. Soon, we realized we drove around the island in less than an hour.
After my mother and aunt took off snorkeling, I went around the dock and enjoyed the beautiful waters and scenery. I love to just sit by the water and take it all in. So beautiful and peaceful. I found that island life is slow and easy-going.
I continued up the island road for a bit and stopped to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. I went up a bit farther along the somewhat quiet road. There were a few cars in between, so it was an easy drive for me and the road was nicely paved. Absolutely no potholes!
I stopped at a scenic beach where a family was swimming in the cool crystal clear water and enjoying themselves. The weather was very warm and humid, but I thought it wasn’t too bad. I felt an occasional breeze here and there. After going farther along the road with the beautiful waters on my right, I thought I must have gone halfway around the island by now. At that point, I figured I might as well continue along instead of turning around since it would be the same distance either way. The power gauge on my chair was still on green so that was a good sign. Luckily, I had charged it the night before. I had no idea how far the chair could go on a charge. I would soon find out.
I continued my own island tour along the main road. I found the people during my tour were very friendly and waved to me. Very nice! The road was flat for the most part with one incline. Needless to say, I enjoyed the ride going downhill. While I was going along, someone driving in his tour vehicle came beside me and asked if I was alright. I assured him I was fine and he continued along.
Many miles later, I was getting a bit concerned and wondered how much farther. I knew I had a few more hours of daylight and wasn’t too concerned; the ship was due to stay at bay overnight. I stopped and asked a couple people but they couldn’t read or understand English. At this point, the last red light on the gauge was blinking! Not a good sign. Some boys saw me going slowly along the road and started walking with me. They didn’t speak English, but one of the boys figured I was running out of juice. I didn’t want to stop since I wanted to go as far as I could. They walked with me for about a mile and we parted ways.
Awhile later, the tour guide who saw me earlier stopped and gave me some water. I asked him how much further to the harbor since I was running out of juice, and he told me about 5-7 kilometers. I told him I didn’t think I was going to make it that far since my chair was already going slow. He said he will inform the ship’s crew and he will be back.
By this time, I was going very slowly. A few minutes later, a woman and a teenage girl stopped and asked if I needed help. Using my communication device, I told the woman I was running out of power and needed to get to the harbor. She called the girl to come comprehend since she didn’t understand English. The girl could understand some English and translated. Then another vehicle stopped with two women. They offered to give me a ride to the harbor. I informed them the wheelchair is very heavy to lift even though she had a van with space.
Luckily, a few minutes later, the tour guide came back. The next thing I knew he had found a man to help lift me in my power chair into the back of the van! We were on our way to the harbor with the back door open and the female passenger holding my chair. The tour guide followed us to the harbor. It ended up being about 2-3 more miles to the harbor.
We arrived at the harbor with the sun shining brightly towards us, about an hour before sunset. The ship’s crew came to help me get out of the van. I thanked them for the ride and went towards the tender. Needless to say, I was glad to be back at the harbor even though it didn’t take long for help to come. I must have gone a little over 20 miles in my power chair during my four-hour island tour. It’s 24 miles total around the beautiful island.
The next day I went on the island again even though it was raining. I bumped into the tour guide who helped me and he acted like an old friend. The other guides had all heard about my travels around the island. One informed me that this was the first time anybody in a power chair went around the island, and she was going to submit the story in the local newspaper. When I got back on the ship later that day, I heard many of the passengers somehow heard about my island adventure. Overall, it was a wonderful and memorable cruise around French Polynesia and I highly recommend a cruise vacation for anybody.
Gordon Cardona lives in Long Beach, California and is the Communications Director for The Unrecables, a non-profit, volunteer-based disabled sports organization offering sports and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. He has previously served as President, Vice President and Membership Director on the organization’s board. He currently serves on the Community Advisory Committee for Access Services, the paratransit service for Los Angeles County. He is a graduate of California State University, Los Angeles and enjoys traveling, taking cruises, learning about different cultures, snow skiing, and river rafting.