Joan Larsen’s Travel Stories: A Glimpse of Paradise

Posted on October 17, 2012


By Joan Larsen

It was a personal letter from the long-ago best-selling author James Michener – a letter I still hold dear – that said I must go to Bora Bora.  “The most beautiful island in the world”, he wrote, “and one that he wished he could go along to see once again”.  When I returned from French Polynesia, I remember writing him at his Maryland home, saying that God must have personally placed this island in the ocean after He finished the rest of the world – carefully, like a floating candle, after having touched up its rain forest and mountains once again with a gentle brush.  This island stands alone – absolutely alone – in its spectacular beauty.

Polynesia – the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora especially – once seen, are never ever to be forgotten.  We stepped off a small plane onto a runway that seemed the size of a beach towel from the air.  We may have gasped at the tropical heat for a moment, but soon that was forgotten as the sight of the green-mantled hills and threads of waterfalls falling from the mountain peaks made us feel that we had stepped into a piece of heaven on this earth.

The “hotels” aren’t Hiltons.  No way.  Instead, now barefoot, we were taken to a grass hut on the beach – or, for a night or two, as we wanted that ultimate experience – we had our own grass hut, with amenities to dream about, on the end of our own private pier over the clear turquoise waters  below.  Romantic??  All I will say is that I am still floating on my memories… always to be remembered… very fondly.

There’s more.  A portion of the floor of our grass hut over water was glass.  The glass trap door in the floor was at first puzzling.  But then we discovered that the entire area under the floor could be lit up at night.  Smuggling in French bread from our meals, we found that they could become gourmet tidbits to what seemed to be a rainbow of tropical fish that made the sea beneath the hut into our own private aquarium in the evenings.   You know how we always ask at hotels for “a room with a view”?  This one is yet to be matched.   It couldn’t be.

A ladder outside descended into the lagoon.  What we now considered “our own” tropical fish delicately nibbled on our legs – or so it felt – as we descended into the perfectly clear warm waters.  Floating and looking up at the mountains above?  We found we couldn’t get enough.  Snorkeling?  Of course.  Easy to master and sure to become an addiction.  With no one in sight, you could swim “au natural” if you dared.  (There is nothing like a “first”!)

I still remember my mother – a woman so like me – quoting one of her favorite sexy actresses, Mae West, as saying:  “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful”.   During those times – not that long ago – when I lived for that overall sexy tan, the sun and the sand, the underwater close-up encounters with the natural world living in the deep, my memories are the “forever” ones.

Today, seemingly more so than ever, we need getaways, large or small.  “Let the world go away”  is how I put those times.  We all have our favorite places close in for a little change of scene.  Caribbean cruises and Hawaii still seem doable for those who love “the warm”.

But when we can once again enjoy this whole wonderful world in all its natural glories, Polynesia is sure to be waiting:  the frosting on any cake.


Writer Joan Larsen has travelled the world for a lifetime, particularly in search of its most remote places.  But it is the polar regions that have become not only her field of expertise but have been the special places that she is drawn back to again and again.