A Haute Polynesian Fire Dance

A Haute Polynesian Fire Dance
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I finally got the green flash. I'm near Bora Bora, on a private "motu" -- an untrammeled island that gracefully peppers the Pacific -- staring at the ocean's horizon and a low, candy orange sun. A Florida native, I've spent countless sunsets on the beach anxiously awaiting the sun's brilliant curtsy. If you're lucky, when it finally dips and bends, a brilliant, fleeting spark of green light, like lightning, can flash as an elusive encore. It took me traveling more than 4000 miles across the Pacific via Air Tahiti Nui, then island hopping in French Polynesia with Philip Anschutz's Windstar Cruises to glimpse this phenomenon. But oh my, was it worth the wait.

Surrounded by fellow passengers of the Wind Spirit, a sailing yacht that hosts just 148 guests -- the green flash demanded celebration. Champagne. High fives. Hugs. And after, fire dancing. I was traveling alone yet stood with a family from Mexico -- new friends made just a few days prior while scuba diving off Moorea. During the dive, we'd been surrounded by a school of barracuda so dense that it whipped up a silver current, while black-tip reef sharks curiously darted back and forth. The dive instantly bonded a group of strangers; once back on the dive boat, satisfied smiles and lively chatter about the ocean's incredible bounty. Afterward, I hot-tubbed with a San Diego mom--part of my dive group and the family originally from Mexico. We sipped margaritas and quickly found ourselves trading divorce stories, divulging our own dives into murky personal waters. "You should meet my brother," she mentions casually. "Recently divorced. Kinda similar situation to yours." She nonchalantly adds, "He's on the ship."

I took note, but over the next few days, adventure was the order of the day. For a woman who cringes at the word "cruise," this boutique sailing ship fast becomes a favorite mode of transport to navigate French Polynesia. No inter-island flights could offer the same experience as waking up daily in a new port of call. Six magical islands -- Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine, Tahiti -- are revealed in seven days. Windstar has created a sailing experience defined by stealth service, customized itineraries, and an onboard ambiance akin to a boutique hotel -- the anti-cruise, in most regards. No mega buffets. Rather, trips to the local fish markets with the ship's executive chef, who handcrafts dinner inspired by the day's catch. The lounge musicians, a gorgeous young South African couple, deliver Coldplay covers as deftly as the requisite yacht rock.

On Raiatea, I hike to the summit of Mount Temehani, an extinct volcano and the only place on the planet where the Tiare Apetahi flower grows. Temehani's summit spies one of the best views in all of Polynesia; its undulating switchbacks respectfully walked by fit locals and in-the-know tourists. That afternoon I dive for my own Tahitian black pearl at the Anapaperles Pearl Farm. A swim-to hut sits off a reef about a half-mile offshore. After a tiny skiff whisks me to the hut, fins become my transportation. I dive for a fat oyster on the ocean floor, while giant blue clams open and close in water so clear it's as if being dropped in a private fish bowl. I hand my oyster to the pearl "surgeon," who extracts a stunning black pearl, and voila, I leave wearing it around my neck. Biking the island of Bora Bora becomes a trip highlight. A stop at the seaside Snack Shack for French rose and quiche is must, as is a private lunch tour with Tanoa, which serves raw fish in coconut milk from a table immersed in the ocean.

On Taha'a, the Vanilla Island, the scent of local monoi oil is a welcomed tease prior to a stand-up paddle around Motu Mahaea. And ah, Huahine. According to island lore its curves, as glimpsed by ship, are akin to a pregnant woman. Home to the largest amount of sacred, communal "marae" temples in French Polynesia, Huahine's ancient stonefish traps at Lake Fauna Nui are equally of note.

So as I'm standing next to the Mexican family on the night of the green flash, the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime sunset is followed by a private fire-dancing ceremony. The evening is charged with energy -- authentic island rhythms celebrated by chanting, sweat, and dance. The "brother" is among the onlookers, and as the fire dancers shake and writhe, I find myself eyeing him more than the yoked Polynesian men. The locals celebrate with fire and finesse, and I think about the green flash as my eyes dance toward new potential. It, too, may be fleeting, but in the moment--boom--radiantly lit with wonder and possibility.

Erin Lentz, a travel and lifestyle writer based in Aspen, Colorado, is the editor in chief of Curated Magazine by Exclusive Resorts, owner of Tag Media, and serves on the board of the Aspen Institute's Aspen Words.

Photo of Anapaperles Pearl Farm by Erin Lentz

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