Turks and Caicos - United Hub
rhapsody

Turks and Caicos

By The Hub team , March 22, 2017

Story by Richard Morgan | Photography by Michael George| Rhapsody, March 2017

At a yoga retreat on a private island, an exercise-averse writer finds his lotus operandi

I stood on the beach at sunset, as ordered, fretful and even fearful for my rendezvous. The sun, that glowing yolk, spilled across the shores and waves of Parrot Cay, a private island resort in Turks and Caicos, bathing white sands and coral-and-periwinkle clouds in sumptuous warmth. And there she was: a woman sitting cross-legged with her back to me, with the sun and the breeze and, hell, the whole universe swirling through her flowing brunette tresses and exotic floral clothes.

“Is that her?" asked a new friend, a six-packed blonde woman from San Francisco taking her first vacation in two years.

“I think so," I said, stroking my jaw as if to pull answers from it.

“It must be," the blonde said. “Look at her. She's so holy. Perfect. Isn't she just like you imagined?"

Even though this holy woman must've been 10 or 20 feet away from me, a voice filled my head as if coming from right next to me. “You must be Richard." Gentle and forceful, the way angels or flight attendants speak. It was cosmic.

The path to the ocean from the resortThe path to the ocean

Then, a force on my shoulder. A hand. I spun, and there she was: Elena Brower, the celebrity yogi I had come to meet, was standing beside me. The sunset woman, it turned out, was a case of mistaken identity. “Let's do this," said Brower, who has been teaching the likes of Eva Mendes and Naomi Watts since 1999. I cackled. It was the first of many times we would surprise each other that week.

We strolled along the beach. She cussed.She joked. She teased. In short, she shocked the hell out of me. But she also read the doubt in my face and smiled.

“Let me show you as we walk back," she said. “Think of five things you can hear. Your feet on the sand, the wind, the waves, my voice, but what else? Push your ears. Reach out around you. Welcome that fifth sound. That is meditation. That is yoga. Easier than you thought, isn't it?"

I hadn't known what to think. I did not come to this yoga retreat. I was sent. My editor sent me, frankly, because I didn't belong.

The author cools down after classThe author cools down after class

The most flexible and spiritual I get is when I cross my fingers. I lettered for three years on my high school track team as a statistician. In college, I took social dance as my P.E. requirement. I hadn't set foot in a gym in years. I'm even terrible at vacations—especially beach vacations, given that I don't know how to swim. On the shores of various paradises, I stare out into a cloudless Caribbean or perfect Pacific vista as if it were a Rothko of teals at a museum, full of anxiety about how long I have to look at the damn thing before moving on to the next exhibit without being scolded by the art lovers around me. Yoga, I thought, was for Himalayan splendor. Not for me, a man of I'm-a-layin' languor.

“This is the kind of paradise where the horizon does the exhaling for you."

But now I had been assigned to four and a half hours of yoga a day—two and a half at 9 a.m. and another two at 5 p.m. Yoga, for all its mellow mantras, was about to kick my butt.

I deflected my anxiety with dumb jokes. Before class started, I did a bunch of weird fake yoga positions. “Winner pose!" I cheered, mimicking the Heisman Trophy. “Stud pose!" (A bodybuilder pose.) “Star pose!" (Jazz hands.)

On top of all of Brower's en masse classes—thousands of practitioners in Central Park or under the Eiffel Tower—she also offers a handful of retreats each year (to Costa Rica, Germany, California). But the week at COMO Parrot Cay is special—the only one she returns to year after year. Next November's will be her ninth. And why not? It's the kind of paradise where the horizon does the exhaling for you. Even at peak capacity, tucked within its private banana and coconut plantations, the resort never feels full. It frees you to find your own fullness. It's not for getting trashed. It's for getting treasured. After the airport novels and self-help books and guru guides, the oasis whispers your own story to you. Bring a journal.

A yoga instructor leads a yoga class on the beachBrower leads a yoga class on the beach

Brower's 2012 book, The Art of Attention, has chapter prefaces written by Donna Karan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Christy Turlington Burns. She is a much more flexible version of Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart. She is their higher Brower, the Brower that be, and looks like she could be Rachel Weisz's 35-year-old hippie sister (even though Brower is actually 47).

She is everything to everyone. And who was I? This lumpy, rookie interloper. This impostor in never-before-worn Uniqlo activewear. This night owl pretending to be a morning person and trudging down to my first class—in a screened-in, stand-alone riverfront yoga studio where I'd be the only man among 20 ladies who lunge.

The human brain and heart are 73 percent water. Bones are 31 percent, skin 64 percent, muscles 79 percent, and lungs 83 percent. On the whole, babies are 78 percent water, and grown men are 60 percent. But in that first yoga lesson, I was 4,000 percent water. I was a human-shaped cloud that rained nonstop onto my yoga mat. I was so sweaty that my fingers pruned. My shirt splashed when it hit the mat. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, during which poses were held for as briefly as 30 seconds or as interminably as 10 minutes, I guzzled half a liter of water in one long swig. That “namaste" greeting yoga practitioners are always saying to each other? I'm pretty sure it means “don't forget to drink eight glasses of water a day."

“In honor of Richard, let's do a child's pose," Brower said halfway through that first class. I flopped to my knees and threw my arms forward, as if in prostrate prayer. A moment of relief! And suddenly, I was a child again.

“Yoga, I thought, was for Himalayan splendor. Not for me, a man of I'm-a-layin' languor"

I was in second grade, mocked for being unable to pat my head while rubbing my stomach in a circle. In fourth grade, falling off my bike, and in fifth grade, falling off my skateboard. In seventh grade, caught saying “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3" aloud during my first slow dance at my first boy-girl mixer. In ninth grade, diagnosed with a heart condition and put on the track team as a statistician instead of a runner.

When I told my friends I was going to a yoga retreat, one said, “No one will believe you"; another said, “No one will recognize you when you return." It's weird: There's an idea that yoga
transforms you but only if you're already pretty awesome—that it turns princes into kings but not frogs into princes.

Brower's Art of Attention yoga cards spread out, offering positive affirmations and yoga posesBrower's Art of Attention yoga cards, offering positive affirmations and yoga poses

And it was then, flat on my knees, that I realized that child's pose could easily be called frog's pose—and that I had remained in the pose far longer than the rest of the class. “Man down," joked Brower. I tried to mutter a pep talk to myself. If the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series, then surely I could do some yoga. But instead, under my breath, I muttered one simmering word: “Enough." I wanted to quit. I had quit swim lessons, guitar lessons, and French lessons. What was one more thing? One less thing, really.

It turns out Brower knows about quitting too. Before becoming a yogi in 1997, she was a self-described “loser stoner." Even until 2010—well into her yoga stardom—she was smoking up to half a pack of cigarettes a day. I mention it not to point fingers (Lord knows I've had my own vices) but to mention how it relates to Brower's best qualities. She's no wax-on-wax-off cryptic sensei. She wasn't the perfectly holy sunset woman. She's goofy and gentle, relatable, and candidly, unabashedly human. One night—at a group poolside dinner of jalapeño oysters, Indonesian gado gado salad, tomato sambal, fried red snapper, red lamb curry, and crab cakes with wasabi mayonnaise—she pointed at a star above us, near the moon, and claimed it was Mars because, she said, it looked red to her. Doubtful, I pulled out my phone and used an app to identify the star. It was Mars, even though it didn't look red to me. “How could you see that?" I asked. Without missing a beat, she replied: “I'm very farsighted." She rolled her eyes jokingly, a move not nearly enough yogis know how to do.

She'd stroll around during class commenting on how we were doing. Move your hand an inch to the left. Keep that heel touching the floor. Shoulders out. Chin up. Back arched. Some directions were almost purposely baffling. What does it mean to move your navel in? Or your armpits down? Or your spine forward? “I need a sassy tush from you, Richard." I broke the unspoken (unknown to me) rule: I talked back. “It's as sassy at it gets!" I said, my body trembling to keep the pose. “It's getting sassier by the minute," she joked.

One of Como Parrot Cay's rooms, which all feature four-post bedsOne of Como Parrot Cay's rooms, which all feature four-post beds

All this changed in my second lesson. She asked us to do a full lotus position. Wondering what this was, I asked the woman next to me, a practitioner of 10 years who confessed she couldn't do it but explained that it was both ankles on both thighs.

“Like this?" I asked, trying it. The woman stifled a surprised laugh. Brower suddenly sounded uncharacteristically schoolmarm-ish. “What is going on over there?" she asked. Tangled and embarrassed, I looked at her in silence and hoped she'd move on. But she didn't. She stopped the class. “Everyone! Everyone! This is Richard's second class, and he is in full lotus!" There was a smattering of oohs and aahs and applause. “You're 37 years old," she told me. “That doesn't happen. You must've been a yogi in a previous life."

“I didn't realize it was part of yoga," I said, “to put my age on blast like that."

The whole room laughed. Comic's pose!

As I looked around at them, I saw something I hadn't seen before—or had seen but not realized: Almost nobody was doing the same thing. Some had their ankles at their knees, some deep into their hips, others had just one ankle up or were just kneeling or finding their own version.

Elena Brower finds her centerElena Brower finds her center

For seemingly the first time at the retreat, despite breathing being so integral to yoga, I exhaled. I let it out. All the stress, all the pressure, all the wondering how I'm doing. Gone in a puff of hot, stale air.

My third eye opened. My lotus operandi.

“Will you do this when you go home?" people asked me all that week. “Probably not," I said, “but I have awakened something that I can only call my body's conscience."

I had seen that the obstacle course is also scenic. I had learned I couldn't get an A+ in yoga, that it wasn't even exercise, that it wasn't about building muscle but shedding ego. Here was my fairy-tale
ending: Yoga kisses frogs not in the hopes of them becoming princes but because frogs are amazing and deserving of love.

For me, at some bourgie point, vacations became a matter of acquisition over meditation, of getting more than being more, of bucket-list check marks as status objects. A vacation was something I could win.

Now I knew: It doesn't matter.

In my life, only three things have mattered. First, in my teens in North Carolina, I realized I was gay. Then, in my 20s in New York, I realized I was a writer. Lastly—finally—in my 30s in Turks and Caicos,I realized I was this one simmering word: enough.

Amazing destination

Porto: Portugal’s surprising second city

By Bob Cooper

“Second cities" or those that rank #2 in population often surprise world travelers. And second doesn't mean second-rate. Porto is Portugal's second city — so off-the-radar that many world travelers haven't even heard of it. Yet, Porto and nearby spots in northern Portugal can be delightful destinations even if you don't visit the more well-known city of Lisbon.

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Old city by day

The best place to get oriented, as in most European cities, is in the old city center. Porto's Old City is so well-preserved that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 12th-century cathedral and the 15th-century Church of St. Francis, notable for interior wood carvings gilded by hundreds of pounds of gold, are mixed in with a rich collection of imposing granite, red-roofed Baroque buildings. Add 225 stairs and a stirring view to your walking tour by ascending the 250-foot-high Clérigos Church bell tower, built in 1754, which dominates the Porto skyline. Historic bridges over the Douro River and Soares dos Reis National Museum, an art museum housed in a palace, are also excellent sites to see.

Food and music by night

Porto's youthful population has turned it into a lively city after dark. You might start off the evening in the Old City at Abadia do Porto, a 1939 restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like roasted lamb and grilled octopus, or at Astoria, with its modern Portuguese fare served inside a former palace. Whether you choose a Portuguese, French or fusion restaurant, seafood is likely to be highlighted, drawing on Porto's proximity to the Atlantic and the Douro. Then, you can head to the large collection of bars and nightclubs in the nearby Galerias district, which includes Radio Bar, inside a former court building, and Gare, a disco in a tunnel that stays open until 6 a.m.

Head west to the beaches

The closest Atlantic beaches to central Porto are at Foz do Douro (mouth of the Douro), just 20 minutes away by city bus. But why settle? In a rental car you can explore Atlantic beaches and beach towns that extend for hundreds of miles along Portugal's coastline. Two of the best are Foz do Minho, the nation's northernmost oceanic beach that's just across the Minho River from Spain, and Quiaios, a dune-fringed paradise of sand south of Porto. Many beaches in northern Portugal are cradled in coves protected by rocky promontories, similar to northern California and Oregon beaches.

Or east to the wine country

The Douro Valley wine region is another World Heritage Site and one of the world's best and most scenic wine regions. It's up the Douro River from Porto by boat or 90 minutes by road. Namesake port wines and other fortified wines are the region's signature beverages, which can be sampled at tasting rooms on the Douro along N-222, a wine road that's been called the world's most scenic drive. While you're in the area, check out the wine and anthropology museums in the wine towns and yet another World Heritage Site — Coa Valley Archaeological Park — known for its prehistoric rock carvings.

The basics

Portugal's Mediterranean climate and coastal breezes bless it with mild weather year round, as the average temperature ranges from 57 degrees (and rain) in January to 78 degrees (and a little rain) in August. Whenever you come, there's no need to learn Portuguese as English is spoken even more widely than elsewhere in Western Europe. Once you arrive, rent a car only if you don't mind ridiculous drivers. The trains are more relaxing — light-rail and subway trains crisscross the Porto area and funicular cable cars climb its steepest hills. There's even a scenic train that follows the Douro nearly to Spain, with a roundtrip fare of only about $30.

Getting there

Portugal requires that visitor passports don't expire until at least three months after the arrival date, so check that. Next, buy some Euros (for a great exchange rate) and reserve a flight. United Airlines flies nonstop from New York/Newark to Porto and MileagePlus® award miles can be redeemed to cover accommodations and Hertz rentals. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.

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Contributor

United 787-10 Dreamliner launch

By The Hub team

Story was contributed by: Jennifer Lake | Photography: Alicia of Aesthetica

It was a typical Monday morning. I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking coffee, reviewing my to-do list for the week. All around me, heels are clacking through the office and phones ring intermittently. However, this particular Monday morning was different. Ultimately, I would receive an offer from my favorite airline for a collaboration to participate in the United 787-10 Dreamliner launch from Los Angeles LAX to New York/Newark EWR. Read the full story here featured on Style Charade.

Featured story

Fit for the runway: We begin testing new uniforms

By The Hub team , January 16, 2019

Last year we announced new partnerships with Tracy Reese, Brooks Brothers and Carhartt — best-in-class fashion and apparel designers — to help reimagine uniforms for more than 70,000 of our employees. Focusing on high quality fabrics, improved breathability and overall enhanced fit, our goal is to design and develop a more cohesive collection that looks good, feels good and enables employees to perform at their best on behalf of our customers.


United employees can learn more on the uniform designs by visiting Flying Together.

An insider's guide to Boston

By Betsy Mikel

Boston is a pack-it-all-in kind of place. Founded in 1630, one of America's oldest cities does many things well. Boston's many claims to fame include many of America's oldest historic landmarks and one of its oldest ballparks. It's a destination for history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, sports fans, families and more. No matter who your travel companions are or what they're interested in, everyone will find something to pique their interest in Beantown.

Getting there & around town

Fly direct to Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) from many U.S. cities — visit united.com or use the United app to book your flight. Flights are 90 minutes from New York, two hours from Cleveland and five to six hours from California. From Logan International Airport, it's easy to hail a taxi, use ridesharing apps or take public transportation. If you want to take the scenic route, take a water taxi across Boston Harbor directly into downtown.

Downtown Boston is easy to navigate. It's walkable and taxis are plentiful. The MBTA, Boston's public transportation system, offers affordable access to Cambridge, many attractions and the suburbs. Keep in mind it's one of the oldest transportation systems in the country, so expect a few bumps. Because the city is dense, parking can be expensive or hard to find, so avoid driving if you can.

When to visit

Summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Summer is prime time to enjoy Boston's many parks, outdoor eateries, open-air concerts and baseball games at Fenway Park. Mild fall weather, beautiful autumn foliage and Halloween festivities in nearby Salem, Massachusetts make October one of Boston's busiest months. The city also sees an influx of visitors for the Boston Marathon in April. You'll find smaller crowds and more affordable prices in winter, but brace yourself for the cold.

What to do

There's so much to take in just by walking through Boston's cobblestoned streets. Downtown is quaint, compact and easy to explore by foot. The small city is packed with historic sites, New England's finest food, proud sports fans and friendly locals.

As the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston's historic sites are an attraction in themselves. Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to visit 16 of them around the city, including Revolutionary-era museums, churches, buildings and an impressive warship. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is on the trail, too, and is one of Boston's top attractions, with plentiful shopping, dining and live music. Not much of a walker? Boston Duck Tours operate land-and-water historic tours on World War II-inspired vehicles, which transform from truck to boat mid-tour.

Many museums and sites are tucked along Boston Harbor. The waterfront is always bustling with activity year-round. The harborwalk is the perfect place to meander and explore without a strict agenda. Plan to visit a major attraction or two, but leave time to enjoy the scenery or to pop into a café for a coffee and sweet treat (award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe is a local favorite).

Deemed the “Athens of America," Boston boasts not only some of the country's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings, but also a thriving arts and culture scene. You could spend your entire trip touring its dozens of world-class museums. Take in classical music at the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, or take a leisurely stroll through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, the city's most well-known public parks. Riding the giant Swan Boats through the Public Garden lagoon is a kitschy, yet delightful experience, especially for kids.

What to eat

What must you absolutely eat in Boston? In short, everything. Long ago the city was nicknamed Beantown, allegedly after slow-cooked molasses baked beans served to sailors and traders. Today, Boston continues its reputation as a great eating city. From clam chowder to cannoli, the most popular dishes here are often hearty and decadent. Boston is also known for fresh lobster rolls, roast beef sandwiches and, of course, Boston cream pie.

Ask any Bostonian where to find “the best" of anything, and everyone will recommend a different spot. Cannoli from Mike's Pastry, Boston cream pie from Omni Parker House (where it was invented) and the roast beef 1000 sandwich from Cutty's frequently top the must-try lists. If you make it to a ball game at Fenway Park, Fenway Franks are a Boston staple.

Featured story

Our role in ‘Spider-Man™: Far From Home’

By Matt Adams , January 15, 2019

In Columbia Pictures upcoming release in association with Marvel Studios, "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," our web-slinging hero finds himself – yep, you guessed it – far from his home in New York City. And since flying is one of the few superpowers Spider-Man doesn't possess, we gave him a little help, meaning United is featured in the film.

The scenes of Peter Parker and his pals traveling to Europe take place on one of our Boeing 777s with the all-new United Polaris® business class, and several of our employees – including members of our Tech Ops, Inflight, Flight Operations and Airport Operations teams – served as actors and production support during shoots at New York/Newark (EWR) and London-Stansted (STN).

London-Heathrow (LHR) Customer Service Representative Manjit Heer and LHR Cargo Warehouse Operations Manager Richard Miller were background extras on board, and multiple flight attendants had a role, including San Francisco (SFO) Flight Attendant Tammy Harris.

"It was extremely surreal," said Tammy. "I was in my element because I was on the plane in uniform, but not really, because I'm not an actor."

Tammy said she hit her mark and delivered her line with gusto, and she's excited to see if she made the final cut when "Spider-Man™: Far From Home" hits worldwide theaters this summer.

"Hopefully, I'll have my two seconds of fame and all will be well," she joked.

Los Angeles (LAX) Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor Fernando Melendez is a veteran of several film shoots but said this one was his favorite. When the production went to London, he was one of five members of LAX Tech Ops who went over to look after our airplane and make adjustments to its interior based on the filmmaker's needs.

"When we parked the plane at Stanstead, there were lights and cameras surrounding us. It was like the plane was the star of the movie," he said. "Each day, we would work with the assistant director; he would go through and say, 'Okay, for this shoot we need these seats, or these panels removed,' so they could get the camera angles. Pretty much, the airplane was our responsibility; we opened it in the morning and closed it at night. We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every day."

Fernando said the actors were all very gracious and engaging, and said the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. It also earned him a little cooler cred with his 18-year-old son, who is a massive Marvel fan.

Leading up to the film's premiere this year, there will be plenty of ways for employees and customers to get into the Spidey spirit in anticipation of our cameo. Stay tuned for more details.

---

Peter Parker returns in "Spider-Man™: Far From Home," the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter's plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!

Directed by Jon Watts, the film is written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film is produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Thomas M. Hammel, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Stan Lee, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach serve as executive producers. The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.

"Spider-Man™: Far From Home" makes its way to North American theaters on July 5, 2019.

What to expect from our improved app

By United Airlines , January 15, 2019


"Talking Points," host Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines to discuss what passengers can expect from our improved app.

Read more about the improvements to the United app here.

20 million miles and counting...

By The Hub team

On November 7, while flying from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, United customer Tom Stuker made history when he reached 20 million miles flown on a single airline. We were fortunate enough to capture the milestone he reached with us.

To mark the special occasion, we hosted a celebration in Mr. Stuker's honor at the United Polaris lounge at O'Hare International Airport on Saturday. The celebration was delayed a couple of months, so Mr. Stuker could celebrate the event with his family.

The party included a room full of employees, media members and Mr. Stuker's friends and family enjoying food, cocktails, stories and laughs. To thank him for his long-standing loyalty to United, we also presented Mr. Stuker with gifts made specially for him.

"United makes my dreams come true," Mr. Stuker said to the room full of people.

He also praised United's MileagePlus program, the United Polaris lounges across our system and Oscar's leadership of the airline but, most of all, he praised the service he receives from our employees.

"My favorite part of United is the people. United is such a big part of my life…you are a family to me," he said addressing the United employees. "It would take me days and days and days to say thank you in the right way to the right people. They all know me by now and know how much I care about them as people, how much I care about this airline and its success, and how much I care about the greatest leader this airline has ever had, Oscar."
Amazing destination

Bora Bora: The most beautiful island in the world

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Chicago-based United Club Customer Service Representative Amile Ribeiro.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know it can be very subjective but, once you set your eyes on it, I'm sure you'll agree with me: Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.

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There are very few things that can get me out of bed early in the morning, and airplanes are one of those things. We were already in Tahiti and woke up at the crack of dawn to catch our quick flight to Bora Bora. After checking in at the airport and getting a quick breakfast, we headed over to the gate to line up for our flight. Air Tahiti has an open seating arrangement, and we wanted to make sure we got the best possible seats. We were able to secure two windows seats. Travel tip: Sit on the left side of the plane when landing in Bora Bora. We took off from Papeete and within minutes we were flying over Mo'orea. Then we flew around Ra'i ātea and Taha'a, and finally arrived in Bora Bora, the island that Polynesians call "First Born." Pora Pora is the actual local pronunciation, but the first explorers misunderstood it and 'Bora Bora' stuck. Though after setting foot on the island, I've come to call it "Paradise on Earth."

At the airport we were met by a representative of our resort, given flower leis and directed to our high-speed boat. I couldn't believe the color of the water; it was as if Paul Gauguin himself had painted it. After a thrilling ride, we reached our hotel's dock, where a local playing the ukulele welcomed us. We were then given a tour of the astonishing property and were taken by golf cart to our overwater bungalow. We have stayed in many beautiful properties around the world, but when we opened the door of our bungalow our jaws dropped. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that all should have at least once in their lifetimes. And worth every penny. The view of majestic Mount Otemanu is something right out of a fairy tale. After the sun set, the nighttime dance show was equally enchanting.

Employee and her husband at local ball

We had planned to be in Bora Bora during the final leg of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe competition, which happens to be a major event in the cultural life of French Polynesia and has the reputation for being the toughest canoe race in the world. The center stage was at the island's most beautiful beach, Matira. We stood in awe as the winners reached the finish line after several hours (and days before that) of frantic paddling from island to island, showcasing the power of human strength and endurance. Besides being an incredible sporting challenge, it is also a colorful spectacle that filled the beach with flower-clad women and the air with the pulsating beat of drums. We were also able to celebrate and dance with them later that night at the local ball in Vaitape (Bora Bora's largest city). It was a marvelous way to get a deeper understanding of another culture!

Besides having the time of our lives at the resort's infinity pools, inner lagoons and beach, we also went to the Turtle Center and had a chance to feed these amazing creatures while they're being rehabilitated to go back into open waters. From there, we took a boat tour of the main lagoon and went swimming with stingrays and sharks. Few things scare me in life, and sharks are on the very top of that short list, but I mustered the courage and what a thrill it was! To commemorate my bravery on the last day of our trip, I got my very first tattoo: a hammerhead shark. Polynesians believe that such sharks act as guardian angels to humans and protect us from the Great White. My husband got a Polynesian design that was custom made just for him, and it represents travel, freedom and courage. We also got a set of matching Polynesian wedding bands. Since the art of tattoo originated in Polynesia, this is the most enduring souvenir one can get from such an amazing culture, but I'm sure the memories of our trip will also stay with us forever!

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