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September 22, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Bora Bora

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I got two words for you: Bora Bora! Of course, I had to save the best for last, which you should when you visit the beautiful islands of Tahiti. If you want to learn all about this paradise and see the hotel that was recently featured in ABC's hit show The Bachelorette, then come with me on this virtual trip. We also are wrapping up Jerome Shaw's detailed account of his trip on the Aranui 3, a cargo ship that reaches the remote islands of French Polynesia. And you will never guess who was on my flight the other day: Ed Begley Jr., possibly the greenest person alive.

Since this is my final post about my trip to Tahiti and her islands, I thought I would do a quick recap: It all began with the flight down from L.A. on Air Tahiti Nui. Then we toured the island of Tahiti and its capital city of Papeete, and last week we explored the island of Moorea. Now, we hit what is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world: Bora Bora.

I always suggest to those visiting French Polynesia that they should either end their trip in Bora Bora or at a special hotel in Taha'a, the island next door, which I've visited on my previous two trips to French Polynesia. Both places are without a doubt jaw-dropping, and there's not a lot to do, so you get to fully unwind before making the long, sad trip home to reality.

Ideally, you will want to fly nonstop to Bora Bora, but I was on a press junket, so the airlines just gave us the seats they had available--and since it was high season, there weren't a lot. Instead of going directly from Moorea on a 40-minute flight, we first made a six-minute scenic flight back to Papeete on Air Moorea in a 19-seat DHC-6 Twin Otter 300.

The Moorea airport is about as laid-back as you can get. I didn't have to show identification, and there's no security at all--I love it. Since our flight wasn't full, they didn't weigh passengers as they have in the past--this time they weighed just the bags. We showed up 20 minutes beforehand, played with a smelly dog named Airport, and we were off. BTW: Someone seriously needs to step up and help get the dogs of French Polynesia neutered--they keep getting pregnant since no one can afford the US$400 it costs to fix them!

Air Moorea boards like Southwest Airlines used to--no paper tickets, just a plastic boarding card and no assigned seats. The views were spectacular from both sides of the plane, and the six-minute flight was smooth. (Thank God, because I hate these little planes.) What's neat is that at just six minutes long, it's one of world's shortest commercial flights (I believe it's the second shortest).

When we landed, our tour operator picked us and our bags up in a van and drove about 500 yards to the main airport. We checked in at Air Tahiti, and it was almost like being back in America. Passengers have to show their passports, they weigh not only checked bags but carry-ons too, and the latter can't weigh more than 5 kilograms (13.4 lbs). Then passengers have to schlep their bags to the checked baggage screening before going through security themselves. At least here you don't need to take laptops or liquids out, and you can keep shoes on. NOTE: You are welcome to bring liquids onto the plane.

Air Tahiti flies much bigger planes than Air Moorea (phew). They use ATR72 twin-turboprops that seat up to 78 passengers. Before boarding, I asked the pilot, who was standing planeside with one of the pretty flight attendants, which side of the plane I should sit on for the best views. He said the left side, but unfortunately his approach got changed at the last minute, so I didn't get to fly over "the most beautiful lagoon in the world" until the return trip to Papeete but I did see Taha'a! FYI: Bora Bora is located 149 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Papeete.

Speaking of the return trip, we weren't able to get on one of Bora Bora's many 45-minute nonstop flights to Papeete either, so we made stops in Huahine (HUH), Raiatea (RFP), and Moorea (MOZ). I thought it was going to be a long day, but the flights were all quick hops, smooth and really scenic. Besides, I love learning new airport codes, and Huahine (HUH) and Bora Bora (BOB) have to be two of the best. FYI: Since the flights were all so short, the flight attendants only served pineapple juice on the longest one, and I did see one passenger buy a couple of beers.

I love landing in Bora Bora. During the walk from the plane to the open-air arrivals area, you can literally feel yourself, and everyone else, begin to unwind. They made it to their final destination, and the worries are finally gone--until they check out and get the hotel bill. Every hotel has a booth set up inside, where guests get lei'd and check in for their boat transfers. That's right: The airport is on a small island, so everyone has to take a boat to wherever they are going.

I was a little bummed when the hotel asked if we and the other guests wouldn't mind waiting 25 minutes for the next flight to land, because the sun was going down and I wanted to get some sunset pictures from the water. But there's a reason for everything, and the wait turned out to be a blessing. Strolling around the airport, I ran into Denis, the GM of Le Meriden Bora Bora, and his daughter. I got to know Denis over breakfast in L.A. a few months ago while he was doing media visits. He's lived all around the world and has a ton of crazy travel stories. I also got to visit the airport bathroom, which has to be the best-looking regular old public restroom you've ever seen--it's decorated with fresh flowers.

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