Ed's Experiences

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wallis Island Tour Journal – June 2014

Overview:

My tour of Wallis Island, Wallis & Futuna was the fifth stop on the Pacific Island Nations tour scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California.  The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer.  I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen with whom I just had visited Kiribati, Samoa, Niue and New Caledonia.

This journal starts as I leave New Caledonia to fly to Wallis Island via Fiji.

Saturday, June, 28, 2014:  Fly Noumea, New Caledonia to Mata-Utu, Wallis Island via Nadi, Fiji

I awoke to my alarm at 04:30 to shower before Bob got up.  I packed and we went down to the lobby at 06:00 to settle the bill.  Our airport transfer driver arrived a few minutes later.  He told us it was his first day on the job.  Lynn and Mary came down at 06:15 and we departed to the airport shortly thereafter.

It took an hour to arrive at the airport.  Our flight on Aircalin to Wallis stopped in Nadi so it had a lot of passengers in line to check in.  We checked in as a group and as a result my overweight bag was offset by the other’s lighter bags.  After check in we stopped at a coffee shop for a small bit to eat since we had not had breakfast.  We then proceeded to Passport Control and Security.

When I got to the gate I sat near the boarding check desk so when they called the flight and they called in by row number which I was in the first group I was one of the first to board.  I had an aisle seat with an open seat next to me.  The flight took off on time, breakfast was served and I read on the hour and forty minute flight to Nadi.  When we landed in Nadi the pilot welcomed us to New Caledonia before he corrected himself. Before he turned off the seat belt sign half the passengers got up and were getting their bags from the overhead when a flight attendant started down the aisle with bug spray.  Stupid timing and they should have told everyone to stay in their seat until after the spray.  They had not informed us if the Wallis passengers were to stay on the aircraft or get off.  When she reached my seat with the spray I asked her if Wallis passengers had to get off or stay on and I guess she really didn’t comprehend my English so I didn’t get a straight answer and asked her again.  She looked confused and finally after asking her a third time she said everyone had to depart with their carry-ons.

Inside we got in the Transit line and I was issued a new boarding pass and then went through Security again.  At Security I had to remove my belt and watch and they squeezed me down then when over me with the wand and then squeezed my leg again.  They also went through my day pack.  Needless to say it was a longer time than I had been experiencing on the trip.  I was not happy since I thought the whole thing was ridiculous.  At Christmas Island where I would have liked to get off they wouldn’t let us leave the ramp area and in Nadi we had to get off.  I guess they hoped we would purchase something in their shops.

I used the rest room and then wandered to the gate about the time they started loading.  I was the first one and when I reached the air bridge a young lady stopped me to wait until the wheelchairs had come back out of the aircraft.  While we were waiting she told me that her good friend had been shot and killed in Sacramento by a gang.  He was on an athletic scholarship and was wearing his high school colors which was the same as a gangs color and was shot trying to assist a friend who was shot first.  Senseless!  She told me the body had just been returned that Monday.

I had the same open seat next to me as one the first leg.  They served a tuna sandwich and I read on the little over one hour flight.

When we landed at Wallis Island it was pouring rain and the pilot touched down on the right wheel and bounced to the left wheel before he got both sets of wheels on the ground.  As we waited to deplane I put on my rain jacket.  At the exit I found they had a covered stairway and at the bottom they were handing each passenger an umbrella to use as they walked across the ramp.  I had the hood up on my rain jacket and didn’t take an umbrella.  There was only one agent checking passports so it was a little slow but the bags were just starting to be loaded on the belt.  We could see through open brick lacing the aircraft and the baggage handlers at work.  They were emptying the aft cargo hold first which had very few passenger bags.  We waited and waited and then when all the cargo was off loaded they moved to the front cargo compartment and started off loading passenger bags.  Bob’s bag came on the first cart and Mary and mine on the second cart.  I was concerned they might inspect mine so I exited the baggage area and proceeded to Customs where they were inspecting bags.  They passed me without inspection and I exited into a sea of people.  No one had a sign with our names on it nor was there a sign for the hotel.  I moved out of the crowd and a young man came up to me and said he was Chris, a friend of Bob and Cathy Prada and he was taking us to the hotel.

The other’s exited (Lynn’s bag was the last off) and met Chris.  For a small island there sure were a lot of people at the airport.  Chris told me it was for a group of students from the Catholic School returning from a trip to New Caledonia.  He told us to wait and he would bring the van around. It took a while but we finally loaded our bags in a dilapidated van.  He had arranged for us to stay at the Hotel Moana Hou on the water front on the east side of the island in the village of Liku near, Mata-Utu the capital of the Territory.
The ride to the hotel took us down and along the waterfront along the east shore.  The wind was still blowing from the storm when we turned into the courtyard of a three story building.  The ground floor was one big open room with a dining area to the east end the reception desk on the south wall next to the entrance and a bar on the north wall.

There was no registration and we seemed to be just waiting for someone to do something so I asked if they had Wi-Fi and they started to help me log in.  That appeared to get things rolling and they announced that they were ready to take our bags to our rooms.  We exited the front door and climbed up steeps.  Lynn and Mary were in a room on the second floor.  Bob and I had separate rooms on the third floor.  My room had a balcony that faced the ocean and it was right over Lynn and Mary’s room.  Bob was across the hall and his balcony faced the courtyard and had a view of the ocean.

The TVs didn’t work.  I unplugged mine to use the outlet for my laptop.  I had to use the refrigerator outlet for my CPAP machine and plug the refrigerator into an outlet in the closet.

We set up our rooms until Chris was taking us on a tour at 17:00.  The Wi-Fi signal was poor in my room so I went down to the lobby at 16:00 to call Judy and process email on my smart phone.  The others came down at 17:00 and Chris arrived at few minutes later and we departed at 17:20 riding south along the coast to Mata-Utu.

Mata-Utu is the capital of the volcanic island group of Wallis & Futuna, officially the French Territory of Wallis and Futuna Islands.  Smaller islands in the group were first sighted by the Dutch in 1616 but the main island was not found until 1767 by British Captain Samuel Wallis who gave the island its name.  It was the French who settled the islands in 1837.  A treaty established the islands as a French Protectorate in 1887.  In 1962 it became a French Territory and in 2003, the islands' status was changed to a French Overseas Collectivity (each collectivity has its own statutory laws similar to French Polynesia, Mayotte and Saint Pierre & Miquelon).  Besides Wallis and Futuna, there is one other island, Alofi, whose inhabitants were eaten by the Futuna cannibals during a 19th Century raid plus 20 uninhabited islets.  The population numbers only about 15,500 with only 1,000 living in the Mata-Utu.  There were about 17 villages on Wallis Island.  Wallis has a King and on Futuna there are two Kings.  There is a French High Commissioner and a unicameral Territorial Assembly with 20 members.

Chris drove us to the Supermarket where Lynn and Mary could buy snacks and Bob and I could buy water.  We then rode to a large shopping mall where Chris had a museum dedicated to the USMC stationed on Wallis Island during WWII.  When we entered the one room I was immediately impressed by the display on the back wall of a banner that read:
WELCOME
FORMER MARINES
8TH AAA DEFENSE
BATTLION
The banner was flanked on the left by an American flag and on the right by the 8th AAA BN flag.  Along both walls and in the center were display cases of memorabilia.  On top of the back wall display cases were blue colored Coke bottles on the left and clear bottles on the right.  The blue bottles were shipped from the US and had the name of the US city on the bottom and the date the bottle was made on the side.  The clear bottles were manufactured outside the US.

On top of other display cases were rows of beer bottles.  In the display case were items from the area that Chris had collected from around the island.  He had two jeep grills and a jeep engine on display plus models of jeeps and ambulances in the cases.  Below some of the cases were crates filled with bullets and others filled with shell casings.

On the wall were pictures of the Marines landing, the two air fields they constructed, the Marines plowing a field, their tent camp, Marines marching and the Wallis King shaking the hand of the Marine Commander.  Chris also had scrap books of pictures that Marine veterans had sent him.  He has had several veterans visit the island and he had attended a unit reunion in the US.

One page in a scrap book described the Marine operation as follows:
The 8th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion was originally activated as the 8th Defense Battalion on 1 April 1942 at Tutuila, Samoa.  On 25 May 1942 the advanced echelon of the battalion sailed on board the USS SWAIN for Wallis Island, arriving on 27 May 1942.  The second echelon arrived at Wallis Island on 31 May and the third echelon on 4 June 1942.  On 28 May 1942 the 8th Defense Battalion (Reinforced) was attached to Defense Force, Wallis Islands.

That page also had a map that showed the current airport as the Bomber runway and near the south end of the island was a fighter runway.  Chris told me that nothing remains of the fighter runway.  He also told us the French High Commissioner for the island was loyal to the Vichy French government so the USMC was expecting resistance when they landed.  What they did not know was the Free French officials in Noumea had sent a ship to Wallis and arrested the High Commissioner and replaced him with an official loyal to Free French a short time before the USMC arrival.

Chris was a wealth of information on the USMC operation on Wallis.  He was such a fanatic that he named his daughter Marine.

From his museum we rode to dinner at a restaurant in a home setting called Una-Una.  It was 18:50 and we were the first ones to arrive for the evening meal.  (Those Americans eat too early for the French!).  The served a starter of a delicious scallop and lobster bisque with fresh French bread.  The main was a half a large lobster.  Chris and I split a bottle of Alsace Pinot Gris.  I also had a beer.  For dessert they served us a strawberry sundae.  It was a great meal for such a small island.  Chris continued to tell us about the island and his relationship with Cathy and Bob Prada.  He has visited their house in Poway, California.  He had entertained the group on the trip I had to leave due to an infected leg in 2008 and also Terry and Linda, two of our traveling colleagues when they visited the island so we shared stories about our travel with Cathy and Bob.

Even though we started early it was after 22:00 when we left the restaurant.  I retired shortly after returning to my room.

Sunday, June, 29, 2014:  Tour Wallis Island

I woke before 07:00 and after a tepid shower I went down to the lobby for breakfast.  I called Judy on Vonage and after the call the rest of our group arrived and they served us a continental breakfast of pieces of French bread and a croissant with tea and orange juice.  After breakfast I returned to my room and prepared for a day of touring the island.

Chris picked us up in the van a few minutes after 09:00 and we headed north to the Saint Pierre church which was a large church at the north end of the island.  It was St. Peter and Paul (Saint Pierre et Paul) Day on the island and two of the churches had ceremonial dances.  The church had a four story square tower with balconies on each floor and a cone shaped top.  When we got out of the van it started to rain.  We took a few pictures of the dancers and a field full of dead hogs on their backs on a bead of coconuts in a basket made of banana leaves.  The hog’s feet were sticking straight up in the air high and each one had a name on a piece of paper at the hole where they were stuffed.  The dancers were sitting under a shelter waiting for the rain to stop.  Chris decided we should visit the festival at the other end of the island so we climbed aboard the van and returned down the same Rt 1 highway with a brief stop at the Supermarket for Chris to purchase fresh bread and then on to Tepa Village’s Church of the Sacred Heart.  That church had the five stories with balconies but the first two stories were half round and only the top three round.  It looked like a lighthouse with the first two stories ringed with louver windows.

It had stopped raining and the dancing had started.  I counted 50 dead hogs and one huge dead sow. the sow was as large as a pickup truck and must have weight over 1,000 lbs.  The pigs were being loaded into the back of pickup trucks during the dancing and delivered to the various villages and families around the island.  We watched the ceremonies for an hour.

During the fest, the singer of the band dancing would say a name of a village chief, for example Mata-Utu's chief and the chief would then give money to the dancers.  Then another singer would say the name of another village chief and everyone would sing and dance for a few minutes and then stop.  Then another announcement again and they would sing and dance for a few minutes.  None of the dances were very long.  During the lulls between dances people were moving through the dancers and pinning money in the girl’s hair or down the front of the men’s shirts.  Chris said the money was a fund raiser for the villages.

We watched from the west side for a while and then moved over to the east side near the church,  There was a long building running east and west with a porch that was lined with dignitaries.  The dancers were facing that building.  The church had a wide walkway circling it up several steps.  The walkway was full of spectators.  When we moved to the west side we were standing between the church and the dancers.  The one TV station on the island was set up taping the dancing and in between dances, interviewing old ladies.
A well-dressed in European style blond haired lady in her sixties approached Chris and then was introduced to us.  She was German and married to a relative of the King.  She was as out of place as we were in the festivities where everyone was in bright colored Hawaiian style shirts and skirts.  The dancers also had flower leis and color ribbons attached to their clothing.  It was colorful sight!

We left after an hour and rode to the spot where the USMC landed.   Some ramps they constructed still remain.  Chris showed us the spots where some of the pictures on the wall of his museum were taken.  We walked around the area past a chapel that was being expanded into a church to a beach of racing canoes.  A group of boys were playing in the water and snorkeling around a concrete pillar used to moor a boat.  As we headed back to the van pickup trucks were arriving with food for a feast in the village meeting hall across from the chapel.  A pig was delivered and the truck rode off to drop another pig somewhere else.
A woman ran up to Chis with a package of food wrapped in a banana leaf and a coconut for each one of us.  We thanked the ladies and boarded the van.  

Our next stop was a view point of a cluster of islets.  Chris told us those islets were ones that Club Med wanted to build a resort on but the islanders did not want the tourist trade and the King denied their request.  Wallis and Futuna is an unusual territory in they do not generate any revenue for France.  It is not clear why the kept the islands and kept funding them.  They have no tourist infrastructure and don’t want any.

We then stopped at Chris’s house where he delivered the bread and returned to the van with a bag of paper plates and forks.  Resuming our tour we rode for about 10 minutes and turned off the highway to Talietumu, the island’s archeological site.  It was a huge area fortified with lava rock dating back to 1450.  There we opened the banana leaf package and found it contained a native root plant cooked in coconut milk.  It was not to our liking.  The coconuts we couldn’t open.  Thank goodness I had an energy bar in my day pack.  The French bread was delicious.

After our lunch Chris, Bob and I walked around the grounds.  There was a large plateau surrounded by a large area of lava rock which was difficult to walk on.  I read in the Lonely Planet that the King did not have his feet touch the ground.  I had pity for the poor men that had to carry him across the area.  In front of the area was the remains of several guard posts.  Down from the bed of lava rocks Chris said was the area were they roasted humans.  The natives that resided in Talietumu were thought to be cannibals.  I found a way in back of the patio where I could walk around the lava rock area.  The grass was a little high and wet in some spots but it was easier on my feet.

Our next site to visit was the Lausikula Church which was a large church under construction on a point away from any populated area.  Chris said it was a sort of make work project all done by volunteers ‘buying’ their way into heaven.  It had a strange architecture and the top floors appeared to be completed and painted but the bottom floors were still under construction.  Chris said when completed it would be the largest church on the island but will only conduct services once a year.  The tide was out and it was not a pretty sight.  After a few minutes looking around and taking pictures we continued our journey.

The next stop was at Lake Lalolalo a spectacular sight.  The lake is a circle with sheer rocky cliffs 100 feet high with colorful streaks of brown and gold in the cliffs.  The Lonely Planet stated that it was believed that the USMC dumped equipment in the lake when they left the island at the end of WWII.  Chris has scuba dove in the lake and found no evidence of military equipment.  In his conversations with the veterans stationed on the island they told him that equipment was loaded on barges and dumped in the sea beyond the reef that circles the island.  Chris has dived in areas outside the reef where he has found USMC equipment.

From the lake we returned to the main road around the island.  It was interesting to note that Rt 1 on the east side of the island is a well paved two lane road with a white line down the middle whereas Rt 1 on the west side of the island is a dirt road.  It is an indicator that the vast majority of the inhabitants reside on the east side.

We branch to the center of the island to drive up Mt. Lulu Fakahega, the highest point on the island.  On the way up the mountain we passed the only high school on the island.  It had a large campus with many buildings.  We stopped at a view point with a large white cross.  There we walked around and took pictures of the east side of the island and the islets.  When we rode down the mountain we stopped at the entrance of the high school to take pictures.

Our tour was over and on the way back to the hotel Chris drove past the Post Office to show Bob if he wanted to walk to it in the morning.  Chris dropped us at the hotel at 14:00.

I spent the afternoon writing in my journal and processing emails.  At 19:00 we gathered for dinner in the hotel dining area.  They served us baked fish and a mound of rice.  For dessert they served two scoops of ice cream.  It was my last dinner with the group.  They will continue on their visits to islands while I return to LA.

After dinner I returned to my room, wrote in my journal, washed my underwear and at first tried to hang them on the air conditioner unit on the balcony to dry but the wind was so strong I was afraid they would be blown away so I hung them in the bathroom.

I retired about 23:00.

Monday, June, 30, 2014:  Fly Wallis Island to LAX via Nadi, Fiji

I had set my alarm for 07:30 but woke at 06:30 and decided to get up and go down to the lobby before taking a shower.  I called Judy on Vonage and processed email.  They served me breakfast at 07:00 and after I finished I returned to my room.

My underwear had not thoroughly dried in the bath room so in the day light I found a place to hang them outside with no fear of their blowing away.  I then took my laptop down to the lobby to get it in sync with my smartphone.  The others arrived and I sat next to them as they had breakfast.  Nobody had real hot water, I guess because of the cloudy conditions the previous days.  The hotel uses solar hot water heaters.

When they finished breakfast we all returned to our rooms and I showered and packed.  I used my own washcloth and hung it out to dry when I retrieved my underwear which had dried in the strong wind and sunshine.  At 10:00 I found my washcloth had already dried so I finished packing and closed down my computer at 10:45.  I carried my bags down to reception and sat with others as we waited for Chris to drive us to the airport.

Chris arrived about 11:10 with his daughter, Marine, and a playmate.  I loaded everyone’s bags into the van and sat in the front seat.  We then departed and on the way stopped at the post office for Bob to purchase a post card, write a message, purchase a stamp and mail it.  It required Bob to visit two buildings in the complex to accomplish the task.

When Bob and Chris returned to the van Chris’s wife arrived.  We were introduced and I took a family picture of Chris, his wife, daughter and playmate.  She was a beautiful woman.  She then took the two children and we departed for the airport.

There was no one checking in when we reached the counter.  The agent did not have baggage tags for Nandi and had to tag our bags with a Noumea tag and scratch through the NOU and write Nandi by hand on the tag.  She told me my bag was overweight and Chris talked her into not charging me for excess baggage.  He cautioned me that Fiji Airways would not be forgiving.

The passport check went fast but Security was a hassle.  They would not let Lynn carry empty beer cans on board and made him return to the counter retrieve his bag and pack them in his checked bag.  They went through all my bags and took a bottle of sanitizer in the pocket of my vest and put it in a plastic bag.  They put Lynn’s Chap Stick in a plastic bag.

When we were waiting for the aircraft we were talking about all the craziness and the fact everyone’s baggage tag said Noumea.  I searched for mine and realized in all the discussion about excess weight I failed to get my copy of the baggage tag.  I tried to return to the check in counter but the Security Agent said I could get the tag at the gate.

Soon a ticket agent arrived and I told her of my dilemma.  She called someone and wrote the baggage tag number on the back of my boarding pass.

We boarded the plane late and took off late.  For some reason we sat at the end for ten minutes and the crew never gave us an explanation.  I had a whole row to myself and was able to take some pictures of the island, the outer reef and the channel through the reef during climb out.  We were served a meal during the flight.  I was wearing my retired USAF hat and the older male flight attendant stopped to talk to me.  When I told him I was from LA he told me that he had visited it many times and had toured the Vintage Aircraft Museum in Chino and the aircraft storage facility at the Mojave Air and Space Port.  He also had visited the USAF Museum in Ohio and the Air and Space Museums in Washington DC.

We landed at Fiji thirty minutes late at 15:15 and I had a long layover before my 21:40 flight to LAX so I didn’t mind.  I walked slowly to the passport check.  The agent questioned why I wasn’t going through the transit lane.  I told them I might take tour of the city.  He told me that they would not be processing the LAX flight until 18:00 and sent me on my way.

When I exited the Baggage and Customs area a Taxi Coordinator talked to me.  I asked about a city tour and what sites to see.  He told me the main site was the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple and I could check my bag at a Hold Baggage counter in the Domestic Terminal and return.  He would then set me up with a driver.  The rest of our group needed to go to the Domestic Terminal because they were flying on to Suva for the night and then on to Tuvalu the next day.  I had visited Tuvalu in 2008 so I was returning home.
When we entered the Departure Terminal I saw that the Fiji Airways for LAX check in counter and it had a sign that they would accept early check in at 16:30 which is less than an hour away so I decided to setup my laptop at a café to wait and skip the site seeing trip.

The others sat with me.  Mary checked to see if they could take an earlier flight and was told they would have to pay a rebooking fee which they decided to change.  They then sat with me for a while and watched my carry on and laptop as I checked in at 16:30.  After the 17:00 flight to Suva departed Mary tried again and that time they let them change without the extra fee.  So we bid farewell and I packed up and walked to Security.  They had me pass through the x-ray twice, remove my belt and watch and even though I showed them the scar on my knee they moved the wand up and down and around my knee several time and then squeezed my leg.  I finely was cleared to go.

The International departure area is a little different in Nandi.  It has two levels and the departure gates are on the upper level which is one big room with a snack bar in the middle and one in a corner.  The sides of the room have shops and the seats ring around the center snack bar.  I went to the corner snack bar and ordered a drink and hot dog with the last Fiji money I had.  When I finished I searched for an electrical outlet to plug in my laptop and update my journal.  The only one that I found that was not in use was near the entrance to the toilets.  I had to string my power cord across the path to the toilets to the bench where I could setup my laptop.  I laid my carry-on bag across the power cord to warn people to dot trip on the cord.  They had to step over the bag to get to the toilet on that side of the room.

When my flight was called I packed up and found that they had several lines and the one closest to me had only a few people lined up so I was able to board fairly quickly.  It was an A-330 twin aisle and I had an aisle seat in the middle four seats.  A Fijian woman and her two children from Sacramento occupied the other seats in the row.  The young boy sat next to me.

The flight pushed back near the scheduled departure time and took off 25 minutes after.  I watched the movie Muppets Most Wanted during the meal service.  When the movie ended and my tray was removed I donned my sun glasses and closed my eyes and fell asleep.  I had re set my watch to LA time and the last I remember it was 03:50.  Although the young boy squirmed in his seat and woke me a few times I would immediately fall back to sleep until I saw that it was 10:50.  I couldn’t believe I slept for seven hours.  They served a breakfast and we landed in LA at 13:45.

I called Judy and she told me she had a doctor’s appointment when I would arrive at the house while we were taxiing to the gate knowing they don’t let you use your cell phone in the passport control and customs areas.

I love Global Entry.  It was my first time to process through Passport Control at the remodeled Tom Bradley International Terminal and although there were a lot of Agents on duty the lines were long at all their stations.  They had many Global Entry kiosks so I just walked up to one, slid in my passport, answered the questions on the screen and out came a printed form to take to Customs.  When I retrieved my bag from the baggage carousel I walked down a Global Entry lane to the Customs agent and was outdoors in no time.

I turned on my cell phone and saw that the car service driver had called so I called him back and couldn’t understand half of what he was saying except to wait at the Prime Time Shuttle stop.  The signage to the shuttle pick up areas is not very clear at the remodeled terminal but I eventually found the place and the car arrived.  On the way home I called my daughter and brother.  As I got close to Woodland Hills I found out that the driver was from Armenia but that he was a proud Russian and didn’t consider himself an Armenian.  He had a very thick accent and I had difficulty understanding him even in the car.  When he exited the 101 he took a wrong turn and got very defensive when I told him the correct way.  Eventually he got me home.

It had been an interesting trip.

I am still pinching myself in disbelief that I am one of less than one hundred people in the world that has visited all the countries in the UN.  It has been an adventure to say the least.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Caledonia Tour Journal – June 2014

Overview:

My tour of New Caledonia was the fourth stop on the Pacific Island Nations tour scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California.  The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer.  I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen with whom I just had visited Kiribati, Samoa and Niue.

This journal starts as I arrive in Auckland, New Zealand from Niue, to layover waiting for my flight to New Caledonia.

Wednesday, June, 25, 2014:  In flight from Niue to Auckland, New Zealand

When we landed in Auckland we had crossed the International Date Line so it was Wednesday.  We checked into the Novotel Airport, a short walk in the rain from the International Arrivals Terminal.  They assigned us a room with twin beds on the Premier Floor.

For diner I walked back to the terminal Food Court.  It had stopped raining.  I ate a three piece KFC chicken dinner.  It was the first time I had had KFC chicken in years since they had closed the two near our house that we used to sometimes purchase for the Sunday Concerts in the Park.  I liked the chicken and their coleslaw at the food court.

After dinner I returned to my room and processed email and wrote in my journal until 22:30.

Thursday, June, 26, 2014: Fly Auckland, New Zealand to Noumea, New Caledonia

It felt nice to not have to rise to an alarm and I slept until 07:30.  Bob had already risen and was taking a shower so I called Judy on Vonage while I waited for my turn in the bathroom.  We went down to breakfast around 08:30.  Lynn and Mary were just finishing.  It was a buffet with some interesting offerings.  One hot dish was small cubes of steak which enabled me to have steak and eggs.  They also had a machine that turned oranges into juice which enabled me to get a whole orange from the top of the machine.  We returned to our room to pack and update our journals.

At 11:00 we checked out and walked across the road to the terminal.  I saw on the departures board that the flight to Noumea was a code share with Air New Zealand.  I tried to check in at the Air New Zealand Premier Counter but since I was flying on an Air Caledonia or Airclain as they liked to be called ticket I had to go to counter 25.  At that counter there was no line and the four of us got checked in.  The agent tried to enter my Star Alliance Gold number in the reservation but it would not accept it for miles but would accept it for service.

Bob and I then walked over to the Air New Zealand Premier room and took the elevator to Immigration and Security.  We passed through security quickly and walked to the Air New Zealand Lounge.  They rejected my access since I was not on the Air New Zealand ticket so we returned to the Departure Hall to wait for our gate to be listed.  I found a counter near Burger King that had electrical outlets where I plugged in my laptop and cellphone and wrote in my journal until an hour before boarding.  Bob arrived and we ate a Burger King cheeseburger.  I then packed up and walked to the boarding area.  They were just boarding Business Class.  I took a picture of the aircraft tail registration and boarded the plane with the Economy Class passengers.

The plane was an A-330-200 twin aisle and I had a whole middle row to myself.  It took a while to load the plane and all the announcements were first spoken in French and then in English.  I was able to watch a couple of TV shows waiting for takeoff and then a lousy movie ‘He's Just Not That Into You’ after takeoff.  They served a hot meal with free booze.

Upon landing in Noumea we encountered a little wait at the passport check because of the large load of passengers.  When I got to the luggage belt my bag was already on it.  I was the first through Customs and outside the terminal greeted with my name on a sign.  The driver didn’t speak much English and we were crammed into a Kia minivan.  Lynn sat in front with Mary squeezed between Bob and I in the back seat.  The driver was a retired French cop and insisted we wear seat belts in the back which were difficult for the three of us to attach.

We were booked into the Le Meriden hotel on the point of the island over 40 km from the airport.  It took 55 minutes to drive to the hotel.  Our room was adequate.  There was a glass window between the shower and the room but shutters were in the room to close over the window.  Below the window was a small shelf that could be used for my laptop.  Next to it was a wall outlet so I took the bed next to that arrangement.  I had difficulty using the wall outlet and a hotel Engineer had to come it to show me how to get around the safety feature of the outlet.

At 19:00 Bob and I went to dinner.  They were serving a buffet and it was one of the best I have ever experienced but it was also one of the most expensive.  After dinner we returned to the room and wrote in our journals.

Friday, June, 27, 2014:  Tour Noumea, New Caledonia

I had set my alarm for 07:30 but woke before then and showered and shave before then.  Bob and I went to breakfast at 07:15.  It was an extensive buffet and after over eating I went for a walk around the hotel grounds.  They had a large beautiful pool and a nice sandy beach but the buildings along the beach were fenced off for renovations.  I returned to the hotel, called Judy on Vonage and got ready to go on tour.
At 09:00 our local guide, Franck arrived.  He spoke with a French accent but we could understand him.
Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia which is a "special Collectivity" of France but the currency is the CFP franc.  French is the official language, although English is common and the Melanesian languages are still used in the villages.

New Caledonia's capital is a bastion of French culture.  Yet just down the road, the indigenous Kanaks dress in colorful ankle-length dresses while their sarong-clad husbands fish the reef with spears for the evening's meal.  The stark contrast of modern and ancient cultures illustrates the dichotomy of paradise: the natives who have survived a century of repression, and the French settlers who represent the last surviving stronghold of white colonialism in Melanesia.  Just off the coast, one of the longest barrier reef in the world shelters 350 species of coral and 1,500 species of fish. Inland, a full third of the world's reserves of nickel is mined, as well as other minerals such as tungsten, cobalt, copper and manganese.

Captain Cook was the first European on the island, arriving in 1774.  Later Napoleon annexed New Caledonia to house a penal colony.  The importation of foreign disease, however, virtually devastated the Kanak population which declined by two-thirds.

Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island became a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.  Modern history has been dominated by WWII, the discovery of nickel, and the Kanak struggle for self-rule.  The territory was an important Allied base in 1942, and after the war the Kanaks were given French citizenship.

Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s ended in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which over a period of 15 to 20 years will transfer an increasing amount of governing responsibility from France to New Caledonia.  The agreement also commits France to conduct a referendum between 2014 and 2018 to decide whether New Caledonia should assume full sovereignty and independence.  The population is estimated as 267,840.

Franck drove us in a Renault Trafic Van, up the east side of the island past the Domestic Airport that serves the outer islands, to the Tjibaou Cultural Center, located on the Tina peninsula.  It was architectural site to see.  It was designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano in a very modern shape that gave the look of the Melanesian style.  We took an hour to tour the center and the grounds which included a Melanesian village with very tall cone shaped thatched roofs.  Throughout the rooms, hallways and the grounds were Melanesian statues and art work.

Leaving the Culture Center we rode to Ouen Toro Hill for a panoramic view over Noumea and seawards to the tropical islets and blue waters protected by the barrier reef.  Two cannon from WW II sit on top of the hill.

Leaving the hill we rode through the city and up to the Saint Joseph Cathedral built at the beginning of the 1900’s it sits on top of a hill and has beautiful stained glass windows.  In the plaza alongside the church stands a statute of Saint Joseph erected in 1901.  We then rode to the ‘FOL’ Art Theater which was adorned with graffiti, some artfully done but it my eye a tasteless ruination of art.  We stopped to take in the view below of a bay.

Outside the three Melanesian thatched roof buildings we saw at the culture center, Noumea looks and feels like a French Riviera city.  All the buildings are of French architecture.  We even rode through the old section of the city and stopped to tour several colonial homes with beautiful gardens on both sides of the walk from the gate on the street to the steps of the front porch.   The city even has a Latin Quarter, China Town and a Vietnamese area.  It has casinos, and European shops.  The local ethnic people are called Kanaks and are descendants of European and North Africans that were set to the island as prisoners and given land to settle after they completed their sentences.

In the harbor were large high speed ferries to take people and vehicles to the outer islands of Mare, Isle of Pines, Lifou and Ouvea.  We stopped at a Supermarket to purchase water and snacks and were delivered back to the hotel by 13:00.

Bob and I decided to venture out for lunch.  We walked out the front of the hotel and up a steep driveway.  Along the driveway was a Casino that I remembered bordered on the street so we walked through the Casino as a short cut.  On the street we walked down a hill to the waterfront and along the seawall to a group of restaurants.  We stopped at Le Fare Palm Beach where we ate a sandwich.

I had noticed that when we reached the beach that looking up the beach the distance to our hotel was a lot shorter than the route we took up and down a hill.  After lunch Bob decided to walk along the beach to the north of the bay while I decided to return to the hotel.  I walked on the beach, past a topless sunbather and came upon a woman and her two children that had been on our flight into New Caledonia and had been in front of me at the passport checkpoint.  At the time I had noticed she had a Canadian passport.  She recognized me also and we talked a bit while her kids played in the sand.  A short distance on was a path to my hotel pool.

Back in our room I wrote in my journal until dinner.  Bob and I met Lynn and Mary and we ate in the a la carte restaurant.  I had the beef fillet.  The dinner was very French with a small soup before the main course.  The meal was good but not as good as Brandywine, the local French restaurant that I eat at in Woodland Hills.

After dinner we returned to our room and retired by 22:00.


It had been a short visit to New Caledonia but I had visited a few places that I had not visited on my previous stops in New Caledonia.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Samoas Tour Journal – June 2014

Overview:

My tour of the Samoas was the second stop on the Pacific Island Nations tour scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in the UN.  The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer.  I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen with whom I just had visited Tarawa.

The Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa was the last UN country for me to visit to complete my goal of visiting every member country of the United Nations.

This journal starts as I arrive in Apia, Samoa, from Fiji.

Tuesday, June, 17, 2014:  Arrive Apia and take a ferry to and tour Savaii Island, Samoa

We landed in Apia, Samoa at 01:40.  I had accomplished my goal of visiting every country in the UN!

Apia had a little larger airport than Suva but not as large as Nadi.  Immigration processing was fast since we were the only passengers in the building.  When we entered the baggage claim I was surprised to see and hear a band welcoming us to the country at the late hour and the small flight.  My bag was the first off and Customs selected it for inspection so I ended up being the last of our group to exit baggage claim.  We were met by a representative of the local tour agency and loaded in a bus for a forty five minute ride to our hotel.
It was 03:40 before I got to bed.  We had a 06:15 scheduled departure by ferry to Savaii Island, so I only got ninety minutes sleep.  The hotel restaurant was not scheduled to start until 06:30 but the desk staff gave us a full ‘English Breakfast’ (eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans and toast) on a tray which were able to eat before the tour bus arrived.  The ferry terminal was near the airport so it was another forty five minute ride including a stop to pick up additional tourists at a hotel near the Mulifanua Wharf ferry terminal.

The ferry was large with over three decks.  The walk on passengers had to sit on the top deck.  Our scheduled departure was listed as 08:00 but they departed early and arrived at the Salelologa, Savaii Island ferry terminal a few minutes after 09:00.  Salelologa is the only township on the island.

Savaii is the largest of the Samoan Islands and ranks the largest Polynesian island outside of Hawaii or New Zealand.  It was also the highest with Mt. Sikisili in the Samoa chain of islands.  The island is home to 43,142 people (2006 Census) who make up 24% of the country's population.  The island has the largest shield volcano in the South Pacific with recent eruptions in the early 1900s.  The central region forms the largest continuous patch of rainforest in Polynesia.  It is dotted with more than 100 volcanic craters.

As we were disembarking I saw three school buses with no side widows and painted bright colors like a Philippine bus would be decorated.  They served as the public transportation on the island.  We rode in a more conventional Toyota HIACS van.

Our first stop was at an ANZ Bank so some of the group could exchange money.  From there we rode past what used to be the market to a new market on the other side of the wharf road.  It was a very large building with open sides and I would estimate at least 100 stalls.  We were given time to tour the stalls.  Many were selling colorful clothes and wraps.  Others were selling makeup and household items.  There were a few selling handicrafts which were made of wood or sea shells.  A few of the group bought table mats weaved from coconut leaves.  The more unusual items included items made of tapa cloth.  Across the parking lot was another market which specialized in fish.  I guess they don’t want the fish smell to get in the clothes sold in the main market.

We left the market and headed north along the cost but first we had to stop at the one traffic light on the island.  The coastal drive was very picturesque with many churches, houses and meeting houses called fale tele set back from the road with green lawns.

We stopped to tour one of the fale tele.  Our guide told us the the fale tele means big house, is the most important house in the settlement.  It was usually round in shape, and served as a meeting house for chief council meetings, family gatherings, funerals or chief title investitures.  The fale tele is always situated at the front of all other houses in an extended family complex.  The houses behind it serve as living quarters, with an outdoor cooking area at the rear of the compound.  At the front of the fale tele was an open area, called a malae.  The malae, was usually a well-kept, grassy lawn or sandy area.  The malae is an important cultural space where interactions between visitors and hosts or outdoor formal gatherings take place.

Our guide went to great lengths to describe the construction of the fale tele.

The main supporting posts, erected first, vary in number, size and length depending on the shape and dimensions of the house.  Usually they are between 16 and 25 feet in length and six to 12 inches in diameter, and are buried about four feet in the ground.  The term for these posts is poutu (standing posts); they are erected in the middle of the house, forming central pillars.
Attached to the poutu are cross pieces of wood of a substantial size called so'a. The so'a extend from the poutu to the outside circumference of the fale and their ends are fastened to further supporting pieces called la'au fa'alava.
The la'au fa'alava, placed horizontally, are attached at their ends to wide strips of wood continuing from the faulalo to the auau.  These wide strips are called ivi'ivi.  The faulalo is a tubular piece (or pieces) of wood about four inches in diameter running around the circumference of the house at the lower extremity of the roof, and is supported on the poulalo.  The auau is one or more pieces of wood of substantial size resting on the top of the poutu.  At a distance of about two feet between each are circular pieces of wood running around the house and extending from the faulalo to the top of the building. They are similar to the faulalo.
The poulalo are spaced about three to four feet apart and are sunk about two feet in the ground.  They average three to four inches in diameter, and extend about five feet above the floor of the fale.  The height of the poulalo above the floor determines the height of the lower extremity of the roof from the ground.
On the framework are attached innumerable aso, thin strips of timber (about half an inch by a quarter by 12 to 25 feet in length). They extend from the faulalo to the ivi'ivi, and are spaced from one to two inches apart. Attached to these strips at right angles are further strips, paeaso, the same size as aso.  As a result, the roof of the fale is divided into an enormous number of small squares.

Across the road from the fale tele we toured was the entrance to the Savaiian Hotel where we were scheduled to have lunch.  We stopped briefly to give them the head count and then returned riding north along the coast.  We passed several fancy two store mansions built with commanding views of the sea.
Our next stop was at the monument marking the landing of John Williams the pioneer missionary of the London Missionary Society in the Pacific on August 24, 1830..  He was the first to really convert the Samoans to Christianity.  Across the road from the monument was a London Missionary Society Congregational Church high on a hill.  John Williams was commissioned by the London Missionary Society to perform missionary work in the South Pacific.  Although he was very successful in Samoa he and fellow missionary James Harris were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromango during an attempt to bring them the Gospel.

Our next stop was down a gravel road off the highway to the Satioalepai Wetland with its large concrete sided pond full of turtles.  Several of us changed into swimming suits and swam with the turtles.  The water was very refreshing and was interesting in that it had bands of warm water in between cooler waters.  I swam handing on to turtles and had fish come right up to me.  I was the only one of the group wearing googles so I saw many fish in addition to the turtles.  The pond was not very deep and had a rocky base where in places it was only waist deep.  One of the men in our group kept picking up the turtles so his wife could take pictures of the turtle struggling to get free.  Although I grabbed the turtles under the water I let them drag me along and didn’t attempt to lift the out of the water or hold them so they struggled to shake me off.  It was a fun experience.

Unfortunately both Bob and Lynn slipped and fell on the slippery group leading to the swimming hole.  One of the ladies dropped her camera in the water but it was retrieved.

We returned to the main road and started back south.  We stopped at the Saleaula village lava fields and walked over the lava to the “Virgins Grave”.  It was a spot were a young girl was buried and when the lava flowed through the area it formed a cave around her burial site and didn’t flow over her grave.  In the area was also a Catholic church that the lava flowed into and burned the roof and windows so all that is left is the walls and a floor of lava.  The lava was very slippery and a gentleman from Italy slipped and fell on the walk and scrapping his skin so it bled.  Our guide was a Samoan who grew up in Bell Gardens, Los Angeles.  After graduation from high school she visited her relatives in Samoa and stayed.

Where we parked the van for the walk there was a fale tele with ladies making tapa cloth from the bark of the mulberry tree.  A process very like what I had seen in Myanmar.  There was also a woman weaving mats from the coconut leafs.  She was a delight to watch how quickly she wove the strips of leaves.
Our next stop was back at the Savaiian Hotel for a buffet lunch.  They served BBQ chicken, rice and cold slaw.  Our original itinerary had time to swim at the hotel but the Tour Guide told us the ferry schedule had changed and we had to leave right after the lunch to catch the ferry back.

When we dropped off the other members of our tour group at their hotel I realized it was the Aggie Grey Resort which was one of the fanciest resorts in the country.  It had a large golf course and was situated close to both the ferry terminal and the International Airport.

It took us forty five minutes to ride back to our hotel.  That drive was in day light and provided good views of the country side which we hadn’t seen at the ride in from the airport or the ride to the ferry because I slept most of that trip.

We were very tired and met for dinner in the bar before 19:00 and all ordered their pizza.  It wasn’t bad.  After dinner we arranged with the hotel to get us a taxi to the Domestic Airport and to provide an early breakfast.  They said that we didn’t need to get to the airport until 90 minutes before our scheduled 07:30 flight because the terminal would not open before then.  So we agreed to have the taxi pick us up at 05:30.
We then returned to our room and retired early since we had another early morning departure scheduled to fly to American Samoa.

Wednesday, June, 18, 2014:  Fly Apia, Samoa to Pago Pago, American Samoa and fly back

I woke to my alarm at 04:00 to shower and packed a day pack for a flight to American Samoa.  The hotel provided us with a hot English breakfast again before our taxi arrived at 05:15.  We started out traveling the same route we had taken the day before to go to the ferry.  It didn’t seem right to me so I took out my smart phone and called up a GPS map of our location.  I was right the taxi was headed in the wrong direction planning on driving us to the Faleolo International Airport forty five minutes away.  I asked him to stop and told him we needed to go to the Domestic Airport.  He was confused since there were Domestic flights from the Faleolo International Airport.  We showed him a copy of our ticket which spelled out the name of the airport as the Fagali’I Airport which Google Maps showed was only a 9 minute drive from our hotel.  The taxi turned around and I started to track his progress on my smart phone GPS.  He wandered all around back streets instead of taking what looked like would be a more direct route but eventually he delivered us to the small terminal which was still closed.

I couldn’t determine if it was the hotel’s fault or the Taxi companies fault.  I know the hotel receptionist knew were we were going and described that the terminal was small and would not open until ninety minutes before the flight.  She had estimated that it would cost 15 Samoan Tala.  I had used the ATM to withdraw 50 tala the night before to pay for the taxi.  The taxi driver tried to charge me 50 Tala and I was at a disadvantage since I only had a 50 Tala bill.  We argued and finally settled on 20 Tala since he was driving a van.  He admitted a smaller taxi would charge 15 Tala but since he was driving a van he charged more.  He didn’t have change and had to get it from one of the taxis that were being to arrive.

The check-in counter opened at 06:00 and we were weighted with our hand carry and got our boarding pass.  We had to fill out a departure card and get our passport stamped but didn’t have to go through a security check.

The plane flew in at 07:00.  It was a 19-passenger STOL utility de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter.  We were assigned seats and I had a row 4 window seat.  When I boarded the plane a very, very large Samoan was sitting in row 4 and I panic thinking I was going to be squashed against the side of the aircraft until I realized I had the window across the aisle from him.

We took off on Wednesday the 18th at 07:35 and landed in Pago Pago at 08:10 on Tuesday the 17th.  We were met on landing by Rory West, a very interesting guide.  He was American from Oklahoma and moved to the island in 1980 to marry a local girl he met in college in San Francisco.  He had a wealth of knowledge that he passed on to us.

In 1898 Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over who should have control over the Samoa Islands which resulted in the Samoa Tripartite Convention.  The Convention gave control of the islands west of 171 degrees west longitude to Germany, (later known as Western Samoa), containing Upolu and Savaii (the current Samoa) and other adjoining islands.  These islands became known as German Samoa.  The United States accepted the eastern islands of Tutuila and Manu'a, (present-day American Samoa).  In exchange for United Kingdom ceding claims in Samoa, Germany transferred their protectorates in the North Solomon Islands and other territories in West Africa.

During World War I New Zealand took control over German Samoa and after the war Germany gave up claims to the islands.  The International Date Line should sit on the 180º line of longitude but it bends to include all of Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Tokelau in the Eastern Hemisphere to align with Fiji, New Zealand and Australia which those islands have close ties.  Thus American Samoa is in the Western Hemisphere is a day earlier than Samoa although the time is the same.  Very confusing to people traveling between the two and GPS based location devices in smart cameras, cell phones and watches.  The dates on my camera were very confused by the shift.

Pago Pago was on Tutuila is the largest of the seven islands that comprise American Samoa.  The harbor considered one of the finest in the South Pacific, was the main reason for American interest at the turn of the century.  During many years it was administered by the US Navy and during WWII served as a training base for US Army and Marines.

Physically the island is beautiful and entirely South Pacific.  The entire eastern half is crowded with rugged jungle-clad mountains that continue westward into a high broken plateau.  It is pitted with lush green craters of extinct volcanoes.  Fjord like Pago Pago harbor, nearly bisecting the island is a submerged crater.  Tutuila is at the eastern end of the Samoa archipelago, about midway between the larger islands of Samoa and the smaller Manu'a group.  In 1988 the US Congress created the National Park of American Samoa, (the most remote of the U.S. Park Service locations), which includes part of Tutuila, and Ofu and Tau in the Manu'a group.  Its population was estimated at a little fewer than 200,000 in the last census.

Rory drove us along the coast from the airport to the center of Pago Pago.  The coast had some stunning small islands which we stopped to photograph and I then noticed they were the symbol on the license plates.  When we reached town we stopped at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center for presentations and displays of the reef and coral formations throughout the islands.  The Center provided outstanding displays and presentations.  It rained very hard while we were in the Center but it stopped before we exited.

Leaving the Center Rory drove us over a mountain range to an inlet.  Along the way he described the damage that occurred on the island by the 2009 earthquake and resulting tsunami.  Thirty four people lost their life.  He showed us areas that were still damaged and described the problems and corruption that took place in rebuilding the destroyed and damaged areas.  Throughout our tour we saw new buildings and homes mixed with abandoned buildings.  Many of the islands schools were on the low level and were hit by the waves.

One of the places we stopped to take pictures was near a new hotel that had no customers.  It was built with FEMA money under the provision it would be low cost houses but was manipulated to build the hotel.
We rode past the tuna canneries and saw a large statue of Charlie Tuna.  They are the major employer on the island.  One of the canneries is now owned by a Korean firm.

The US Army has a Reserve unit on the island and Rory said there was talked that the US military presence was going to increase for jungle training.

Our next stop was the National Park of American Samoa Visitor Center.  It was up a flight of stairs and had some great displays of the park’s scenery and exhibits.  Bob got a stamp to put in his National Park Passport.

It was then time for lunch and we stopped at the Goat Island Café where I had a delicious fish and chips lunch.  After lunch we visited the museum.  It had some nice displays and descriptions of the islands history. 
Driving back to the airport we stopped at a memorial for a crew that crash in April 1980.  In the 1970's American Samoa operated a cable car from Solo Hill above Utulei Beach Park to the top of Mount Alava to supply a research station on Mount Alava.  The cable car was the scene of a horrific accident on April 17, 1980 when seven American military servicemen and one civilian were killed during an airshow for the 80th anniversary of American Samoa as a US territory.  Their aircraft involved in the airshow clipped the cable for the tram and crashed into the Rainmaker Hotel.  Two tourists staying in the hotel also died in the crash on Pago Pago Harbor.

Our next stop was at Tia Seu Lupe (pigeon catching mound).  A plaque describes the mounds as follows:

Tia (mounds) were once scattered across the Tafuna plain and today are found on many ridge tops throughout Samoa.  The often have a star like shape with rays or ‘arms’ projecting from a central mound area.  Many people believe that star mounds were used for the chiefly sport of pigeon catching as recently as 100 to 250 years ago.

We continued on to the airport.  There we were told we were supposed to be on the 15:00 back to Samoa and the staff at Samoa had neglected to inform us when we checked in.  There was room on the next flight and we departed at 16:40 and landed back in Samoa on the 18th at 17:10.

When we exited the terminal after clearing Immigration and Customs (same guy doing both jobs) I was greeted by a taxi coordinator.  I told him we were a party of four and he assigned a van driver to take us back to the hotel.  He took a more direct route and we were at the hotel in less than 15 minutes.  I paid him 20 Tala.
We had dinner at 19:00 and retired early to catch up on our sleep.

Thursday, June, 19, 2014:  Tour Apia, Samoa and then fly to Auckland, New Zealand

We slept a little later since our tour was not scheduled until 09:30.  After sleeping eight hours I got up and took a shower and then Bob got up.  We went to breakfast at 07:30.  It was a buffet but I had pretty much the same breakfast as every morning on the trip: Eggs, bacon, beans, toast, fruit, juice and tea.

As we were leaving the dining room Lynn and Mary arrived.  Bob and I returned to our room, packed and wrote in our journals.  Lynn and Mary moved their luggage to our room.  Hotel check out was 10:00 but we paid extra to extend the room to 18:00 so the four of us could share the room and the cost after our tour.

At 09:15 we went to the lobby and Lynn and Mary checked out.  When 09:30 passed and the tour bus had not arrived I checked the voucher and discovered it was for a 10:30 pick up.  We returned to the room and I continued writing.  Lynn and Mary joined us in our room.  About 10:10 Bob left to wait in the lobby and soon returned to inform us the bus had arrived.  I shut down the laptop and proceeded to the lobby.

The tour started along the same route we had ridden to the ferry and the airport.  This time the driver/guide named Tom told us a little about the buildings we were passing including the Parliament House.  One of the most impressive buildings was the new Catholic Cathedral which was just completed the previous month.  It was a massive white with blue trim structure and was built is 18 months to replace the cathedral that had been damaged in the 2009 tsunami.

We turned off the highway and rode up the mountain past the area of Embassies, and wealthy people’s homes to Vailima, the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.  There we turned up a long driveway lined with flowering trees and bushes to large area of grass with an imposing two story poached mansion at the back of the green lawn area.  The bus stopped at the front stairs.  The landscaping had been very cleaver with small square stones embedded in the lawn so the vehicle tire marks don’t kill the grass and until you look very close there is no trace of vehicles driving across the lawn.  It was a beautiful setting.

At the top of the stairs was a gift shop where we could purchase tickets to take a guided tour of the house.  Bob and I bought the tour and had to remove our shoes.  Lynn and Mary decided to skip the tour.
We had an enthusiastic guide.  She started out describing a wood panel room with a fire place that was designed as the parlor.  The museum had attempted to furnish the room as it looked in photographs but only the fireplace was original although never used because of the warm climate it was built to remind the family of their Scotland and Northern California background.  The room had photographs taken on Stevenson’s birthday with his family and servants gathered on the front steps of the house.  Robert Louis Stevenson never had any children but his wife had a son and daughter from a previous marriage and a grandson living in Samoa.  The step son had his own cottage in back of the main house.  The daughter, son and Robert Louis Stevenson’s mother lived in the house.  The daughter’s husband left Samoa after a short period and divorced the step daughter.

We then moved to the dining room with more pictures on the walls documenting his life, portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson, and a piano his mother played.  The stairs to the second floor was at the end of the room and at the head of the stairs was Robert Louis Stevenson’s sick room with a bed and cabinet of medicines.  Our guide sang a song with the words from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about death.  She had a beautiful voice but got very emotional singing and taking about his sickness and his death. Next to his room were rooms for his wife, grandson, step-daughter and a suite for his mother.  She had a sitting room with a view of the harbor.  Trees have grown up to block the view.

His study with a bed, his desk, and library were next to his wife’s room.  In the study were more pictures documenting his life a museum collection of his books printed in various foreign language.  One of the pictures I liked was Robert Louis Stevenson sitting on a park bench with Mark Twain in Washington Square, New York City.

The tour took almost an hour so we left as soon as it was over although we could have tour the house on our own once we had taken the official tour.  Not very many locals take the tour.  After Robert Louis Stevenson died his wife sold the home to a German merchant who added a wing on the right side to balance the look of the building.  When the Germans ruled the island the German High Commissioner lived in the house.  Later other High Commissioners and leaders lived in the house.  One leader forbade anyone to set foot on the grounds without permission or they would be fined a $1,000.  So even today locals are not sure they can visit the museum.

The house was in disrepair when a wealthy Mormon ex-missionary who was a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan decided to fund the museum.  Three Mormon Missionaries form the museum’s oversight.  It was in excellent condition when we were there and there was even a crew repainting parts of the balcony.

From the museum we rode up a hill to the Shrine of the Three Hearts Church where we stopped to see the panoramic view of the town below and toured the interior of the church which had beautiful stained glass windows.  From that church and view point we rode even further up the hill to stop at Moamoa Theological College.  There we toured their St. Anthony Church which had even more beautiful stained glass windows than the Three Hearts Church.  The outside of the windows were protected from Cyclone weather by heavy screens.  The church ceiling had an interesting blue and white design.

Our next stop was to be at the University of the South Pacific Agricultural Campus where cross breeding of varieties of crops are experimented with.  When we arrived on the Campus we encountered a ‘No Entrance Exams In Progress’ sign and had to turn around.

We returned to the township passing the large Mormon Temple and stopped for pictures at the Parliament House, Independence Monument, and Lands & Titles Court, to finish our tour.

Back at the hotel we ate lunch and returned to our room.  Bob and I wrote in our journals while Lynn and Mary watched TV and snoozed.

We had to check out at 18:00.  Just as I had done in Kiribati I had to analyze each line item in the bill to determine a fair split with Bob.  My calculations balanced and everyone was happy.  We had to sit in the open sided reception area to wait for our transfer to the airport which was scheduled for 19:10.  The bus arrived early and we were on our way.  The driver was also a tour guide and he asked us if Tom had told us much about village life on our tour earlier in the day.  When we told him Tom hadn’t told us very much about village life, he proceeded to describe the village structure in greater detail than Tom had told us during the morning tour.  It killed the time during the forty five minute drive to the airport.

He told us there were three structures in each village:

  • ·         The chiefs’ council which is comprised of the village chief and a chief from each family in the village.  They met to discuss and decide issues affecting the village.  They can hand out punishment including banishing a resident from the village for life.  When that happens the offender’s family has to leave with him.  The Police are only called in when it is a capital crime and the chiefs can still handout rulings in addition or instead of the court system.

  • ·         The women’s council which are usually the chief’s wives.  They establish a lot of the organization in the village.  Our driver told us he could tell by visiting a village if the woman got along or back stabbed each other by just the look of the village.

  • ·         The workers.  He had a name for it but I didn’t understand what he said.  He included himself in that group.  He said they did all the heavy lifting, the farming and gathering of food for their families.  What surprised me is they also do the cooking (not the women) and serve themselves last.

When we reached the airport I helped the driver unload the bags through a window in the back of the bus.  I had the group’s revised ticket numbers in an email from Cathy on my cell phone so we all checked in together.  When we got our boarding pass Mary handed out tags for our carry-ons.  I asked for two and put one on my laptop carry on and then looked around to put one on my day pack.  It wasn’t there and I realized that I had left it on the bus.  I panicked and went around the terminal to find a representative from the tour company.  As I was looking in the arrival end of the terminal Bob called out that Mary had found a representative.  Across from the terminal there was a row of buses from the company and one of the drivers was the one that had picked us up when we had flown in on the 17th.  I walked over and he called the driver but got no answer.  He told me that he was at Aggie Grey’s Resort near the airport waiting to transport the crew to the airport.  After a few minutes they connected and the driver reported he had found my bag.  They then had me get in a van and I was driven out to the resort and retrieved my bag and returned to the airport.  It was a close call!

Our aircraft was a little late arriving so we were late boarding.  I was in row 19 and they had rows 1 to 15 board using the front stairs and the rest the back stairs.  I was the first one to board the rear stairs.  I settled in after a woman sat in the window seat.  I wanted to take my evening pills and needed water so I was waiting for the aisle to clear when a flight attendant came down the aisle with large bottles of water and handed some to a couple of flight attendants that were dead heading on the flight.  As she approached me I asked her if I could have a bottle and she said “sure Happy Birthday” and gave me one.  I took my pills and put on my sun glasses and tried to sleep.

We took off at 23:00 and when we reached altitude a flight attendant came down the aisle with a cart full of iPads.  Virgin Australia B-737-800 aircraft are configured with Wi-Fi and transmit the inflight entertainment via Wi-Fi.  I had thought of using my smart phone to watch a movie but when I saw the list I didn’t see a movie I really wanted to see so I shut my smart phone off.  When the flight attendant got to my seat she handed me an iPad I told her I didn’t need it and she said it was free for me and put it on my tray.  I turned in on and decided to watch a TV comedy before the service.  When they wheeled the service cart down the aisle they handed me a sandwich but didn’t give one to the others in the group.  I think they had me mixed up with one of their Frequent Flyers.  It was a ham and cheese wrap.  They then wanted to give me a drink but I already had the large bottle of water and stuck with that.  I watched another TV show as I ate and then when they picked up the trash I shut down the iPad and went to sleep.


I had achieved my goal of visiting every UN country but there was a lot more places in the world to visit and experience so I continued on to visit two islands rarely visited b Americans: Niue and Wallis & Futuna.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kiribati Tour Journal – June 2014

Overview:

My tour of Kiribati was the first of two Pacific Island Nations I scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in the UN.  The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer.  I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen whom I have taken many trips with in the past.  In January 2014 Bob and I roomed together on my Sub Anarchic Expedition, Cocos (Keeling) Island, Christmas Island and Vanuatu trip.  I just traveled with Lynn and Mary in April 2014 on my Sri Lanka, Maldives Islands, India and Bangladesh trip.

Kiribati was the 192 of 193 UN member countries for me to visit.

Monday, June, 09, 2014: Fly LAX to Honolulu, Hawaii

My flight to Honolulu was scheduled for 13:00 so I was able to get a normal night’s sleep and eat breakfast with Judy.  My car service arrived a few minutes before 10:00.  It was the first time I had ridden with the driver.  He described himself as an Armenian Persian who left Tehran, Iran when the Shah left and grew up in the US.  As we approached the connection between the 101 to the 405 the traffic stopped so he turned off at Haskell Avenue and drove Sepulveda Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard before he entered the 405.  It was an interesting trip down memory lane since I used to drive that route when I worked in Culver City in the early 1990’s and had rarely driven the route since then.  It took us forty five minutes to reach the airport.
Check in and Security processing was a breeze.  The scheduled gate was next to the United Lounge and I waited in the lounge until noon.  They boarded the plane at 12:15 and I settled in my seat with a woman and her daughter sitting next to me.  They lived on the big island and were returning from a visit to their former home in Boston.  The plane was a former Continental B-757-300 with Direct TV which meant that I would have to pay $7.99 to watch TV, a movie or even listen to music.  I can’t tell you how much I dislike that configuration.

As the departure time of 13:00 approached the Second Officer announced that the departure would be delayed because the Captain was flying in to LAX and his plane was delayed.  I sat there watching CNN with no sound, just reading the captions streaming by on the bottom of the screen.  When the pilot had still not arrived at 13:30 a Flight Attendant announced that the Direct TV fee would be waived for the flight.  We still had to swipe a credit card to activate the service but they would cancel the charges when we landed in Hawaii.

I tried to activate my screen to no avail I used every credit card in my wallet and one a flight attendant had.  The unit would not read a card so I switched to reading.  I had not caught up on reading my Time magazines and Sports Illustrated from my April trip and had brought them along.

The Captain finally arrived at 14:00 and announced that in addition to his late connecting flight the flight plan for our flight had not been filed correctly and he had to spend time getting that straightened out.  I had just read that morning an article in the Wall Street Journal about how United was still having problems integrating the old United and Continental systems and crews.  I could see why they were ranked near the bottom in customer satisfaction.

After we finally took off at 14:30 they served lunch which was not free.  The flight attendant that had tried to get my TV to work gave me a free lunch and beer.

One of the features on the United Hawaii flights was the “Halfway to Hawaii Game”.  Passengers are asked to determine the exact time the flight would reach the geographical midpoint using flight plan information provided by the flight crew.  I decided to play the game.  After takeoff the Second Officer announced that the distance in the flight plan was 2,299nm with airspeed of 468kts and a headwind of 29kts.  We had taken off at 14:31 and they wanted the answer in Hawaii local time.  I estimated the halfway time to be 14:07 and the actual time ended up as 14:04:35.  I was announced as the winner of the Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii.  It was fun to think I still remember how to do basic dead reckoning navigation.  As a former winner of Navigation Competitions in the USAF I would have been embarrassed if I hadn’t won.

We landed exactly an hour late which played havoc with my seat mates and others connecting to flights to the other islands.  United dropped the ball on our arrival by not announcing our luggage area.  I wandered around the terminal with a group from our flight before we found someone to direct us to the United baggage claim area.  Once I found the correct carousel my bag was one of the first off and I proceeded to call my hotel and get the instructions on where to meet their shuttle bus.

I checked into the Airport Honolulu Hotel, unpacked and decided to visit the Navy Exchange about a mile away.  The taxi cost me $10 for the short distance.  The items I was hoping to purchase were not available at the Navy Exchange and it was too late in the day to take a taxi to the USAF exchange, so I walked over to a strip mall near the exchange and visited the Verizon store to get help in the Global features of my new Samsung Galaxy 5 smart phone.  After they found that Kiribati and most of the other locations I was going to visit on the trip would not have cell coverage I elected to not purchase the Global Data Plan.

When I left the Verizon store I stopped in the Subway next door, ate a tuna sandwich and decided to walk back to the hotel.  I watched the Interview of Hillary Clinton by Diane Sawyer, and wrote in my journal and waited for my roommate on this trip, Bob Ihsen, to arrive.  I went to bed at 22:00 and was asleep when Bob finally arrived a little before mid-night.  His flight, also on United, was delayed four hours because of maintenance problems.

Tuesday, June, 10, 2014:  Fly Honolulu, Hawaii to Christmas Island, Kiribati

I awoke from a sound sleep to my alarm at 06:00.  I showered and let Bob sleep a little longer.  We went to breakfast at 07:00.  We ate with Lynn and Mary and returned to the room at 08:00 to finish packing.  At 08:30 we took the shuttle bus to the airport.  We were a little early because Fiji Airways did not start checking in passengers until 09:00.  Due to last minute schedule changes by Fiji Airways I had lost my assigned seats but was able to get an exit row aisle seat all the way to Nadi.  Originally I was scheduled to change seats at Christmas Island so I felt pretty good about the new assignment.  My bag weighted over the 50lb. limit so I removed my snorkeling gear which was in a carry-on bag anyway and hit the limit.

At the Security check point I passed through a full body scanner but I had neglected to remove a large container of sunscreen lotion from my snorkeling gear and it was confiscated by the TSA Agent.  The assigned gate for my flight was a very long walk from the Security check point and as I took the walk I was surprised that none of the airport shops sold suntan lotion.  When I reached the gate I called Judy and Cathy.  Cathy was having problems with the computer that access the airline network and gave me instructions on what we should do if she can’t complete the re-issue of all our tickets.

We boarded the aircraft on time and departed for Christmas Island, Kiribati.  My exit row seat didn’t turn out as good as I expected.  I had a very heavy man sitting next to me wearing a tank top and had a little underarm order at my nose level.  I could not store my day pack under the seat in front of me and I asked the flight attendant if I could move to a row where I could stow the day pack with all my reading material in it under a seat.  She stowed the day pack under the seat in a vacant row several rows in front of my seat and after takeoff I moved to that row for the duration of the flight to Christmas Island.

The movie they showed was the Lego movie so I skipped it and read my Time magazines.  They served a meal which had no meat in it and free drinks during the three hour flight.
 
Wednesday, June, 11, 2014:  Fly Christmas Island, Kiribati to Nadi, Fiji

It was the same time but Wednesday when we landed at Christmas Island.  I couldn’t find a way to set my watch so I kept it on Honolulu time.  My camera was even more confused.

After we landed, the passengers flying on to Nadi were told to stay on the aircraft but Bob Ihsen talked the flight crew into letting the four of us get off and take pictures of the terminal.  It marked country number 192 for me of the 193 UN countries.

When we departed Christmas Island I had to return to my exit row seat but this time the heavy set man had switched places with his wife and was sitting by the window so he could take pictures of the island on climb out.  They were a couple from Sidney that had visited friends in Honolulu and we had a pleasant conversation about travel, especially around Australia.

The movie was not worth watching and I was able to read some more magazines.  It was almost a five hour flight and it was full of workers from Korea and Ecuador that work on the fishing boats in Christmas Island.
When we landed in Nadi we encountered a very long line at Immigration.  A wide body flight must have arrived just before our flight.  Eventually we got though at the same time our bags were coming on the carousel.  My bag arrived just as I wheeled a trolley up to the belt.  I exited Customs and asked where to get the hotel shuttle bus and then waited for the others and led them to the pickup point.  The hotel was a short drive away, actually just across the road from the airport entrance.  Bob and I were assigned a two room suite.  I took the room that had an outlet where I thought I could use an extension cord to plug in my power strip for my CPAP machine and cell phone.

After dumping our bags we went down to the restaurant and ate a salad.  Lynn and Mary skipped the meal.  I discovered that Wi-Fi was not free and I purchased an hour.  It was too late to call Judy so I planned on using the hour in the morning to call her and receive email.

When we returned to the room I attempted to hook up my CPAP machine.  My adapter for the Australian style electrical outlet kept falling out of the outlet.  I tried taping it up but it eventually would drop down enough to lose the connection.  I was getting frustrated so I went down to the front desk to see if they had an adaptor.  The desk clerk couldn’t find one but gave me an extension cord.  I returned to my room only to find that the end of the extension cord was recessed so I couldn’t plug my adapter in.  I returned to the desk and gave them back the extension cord and they told me they has found an adapter and gave me that.  Using an adapter I still couldn’t maintain a connection and determined it was a faulty outlet.  I returned to the front desk and got the extension cord back and with the extension cord I carry and their adapter plugged in to the coffee machine outlet in Bob’s room.

I finally retired about 23:00.

Thursday, June, 12, 2014:  Fly Nadi, Fiji to Tarawa, Kiribati

I had set my alarm for 04:00 with intention of using my one hour of internet time before we had to go to the airport at 06:00.  I woke at 03:55 and turned off the alarm so as not to wake Bob.  I showered and packed and connected to the Wi-Fi at 04:30 only to find the band width would not support Vonage calls.

I wasted so much time trying to connect on Vonage that I didn’t have enough time when I switched to my laptop to send a message.  I wrote one to Judy and received a message on the screen that my connection had timed out.  A porter came to take our bags down to the reception and I finished up on my laptop and went down.  The gang had already boarded the van before 06:00 so I quickly put my carry on in the back when Lynn discovered he had left a bag in his room.  When he went back to get his bag the front desk came out to inform me I hadn’t paid for my internet service.  We resolved both issues and were soon on our way to the airport.

When I checked it I asked to see a manager to obtain a voucher for our Sunday night stay in Tarawa due to their moving our Sunday flight to Monday.  He told me to obtain the voucher from the Tarawa Station Agent.  We still had a voucher for breakfast at the hotel so as soon as we checked in we returned to the curb to find the hotel shuttle bus arriving with another load of passengers.  We jumped in and returned to the hotel for breakfast and then caught the 07:00 shuttle back to the airport.

At Security they objected to my having a can of insect repellant outside a sealed bag.  I had a bag of toilet paper and wipes in a plastic bag in my day bag and stuffed it in there to make them happy.  The silly rules imposed on us since 911 really annoy me.  That reminded me to purchase some sun screen.  I couldn’t believe that in neither the Honolulu nor Nadi Airport no shop sold sunscreen.  After visiting all the stops I wandered to the gate just as they decided to call the flight so I was the first one on board and discovered it was the same aircraft we had flown on the day before.

We didn’t depart on time because flights to Tarawa required a certified mechanic on board and the one assigned to our flight was late getting to the aircraft.  A fact I found unbelievable.  It was not like he had to fly in from another location since Nadi was the headquarters for the airline.  Anyway we took off thirty minutes late.  I was asleep when we took off and didn’t wake until they served a meal an hour after takeoff.  After the meal I attempted to read but fell asleep again.  My naps made the three hour flight appear short.

We arrived in Tarawa at 11:30 and found only two Immigration Officers processing our flight.  It took a while to have my passport stamped but then I had a very long wait for my bag to arrive.  The others in the group were waiting in a non-air conditioned bus while I waited for my bag to arrive on the last cart from the aircraft.  They were six customs agents and they were being very thorough checking bags for foodstuffs.  I had indicated I had some snack bars in my bag but they passed me without opening the bag.

The road to the hotel was full of pot holes and caused us to drive slow and bounce around.  It took about thirty minutes to reach the Otintaai Hotel.  It was not what I expected.  The entrance road had rather nice two story structures facing the water but the reception office was in a small building across the road from the rooms.  I discovered later that the building between the buildings with the rooms was being remodeled and that was where the reception used to be.  Behind the old reception area was the restaurant.

Our assigned room had a double and single bed.  An outlet was next to the head of the single bed so I took that and let Bob have the double bed.  There was one desk and a small table.  I had the maid bring us another small table that I set between the two beds to hold my CPAP machine.  After we arranged the room and did some unpacking Bob and I went to lunch.  We ordered fish and chips and while waiting I retrieved my Lonely Planet guide and we read about the island.

The description of our hotel recommended the fish and chips.  They were good!  It also mentioned that we should not swim in the area because of sewage runoff.  Diving and snorkeling was reserved for an area you have to take a boat to get too.  Another caution was not to drink the water.
The islands are mostly 33 scattered coral atolls with a population of 104,488.  The history of Kiribati (pronounced Ki-ri-bas) dates back to the string of islands known as the Gilbert Islands and became a British protectorate in 1892 with Tarawa as the capital.  In 1900 high grade phosphate was discovered on Banada then named Ocean Island and it was added to the protectorate and made the administrative capital in 1908.  The phosphate mining provided a great source of revenue to the protectorate.  In 1915 they were granted colony status. And in 1919 the Christmas Islands and the rest of the Line Islands were joined to the colony.  The Phoenix Islands were added in1937.
In December 1941 the Japanese bombed Banada and Tarawa, captured Butaritari, Makin and Tarawa, the three most northern islands.  The Japanese built an airfield on Betio, Tarawa and a seaplane base on Butaritari.  They held a strategic position to attack US supply ships sailing from Hawaii to Australia, the Solomon and Vanuatu Islands.
In November 1943 the US Marines attacked the airfield on Betio, Tarawa using amphibious tractors (Amtracs) to storm the beach in a bloody battle that cost the lives of over 1,000 marines (about one fifth of the landing force) but resulted in a US victory.
After the war the administrative capital was moved back to Tarawa and the Gilbert Islands were granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979 under the new name of Kiribati.  The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati.
Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted at the time of independence from the UK in 1979.  Copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports.  The economy has fluctuated widely in recent years. Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, weak infrastructure, and remoteness from international markets.  Tourism provides more than one-fifth of GDP.  Private sector initiatives and a financial sector are in the early stages of development.  Foreign financial aid from the EU, UK, US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UN agencies, and Taiwan accounts for 20-25% of GDP.  Remittances from seamen on merchant ships abroad account for more than $5 million each year.  Kiribati receives around $15 million annually for the government budget from an Australian trust fund.

After lunch we tried to contact Molly Brown, our local guide recommended in the Lonely Planet, to let her know we had arrived and schedule a time for our tour the next day.  The number we were given had been disconnected.  It was the same number that was in the Lonely Planet guide.  Fortunately the reception clerk knew the guide’s daughter and told us she would contact her for a correct number.  We then had the clerk contact Fiji Airways to get the Sunday night voucher.  They told her we would have to pay for the room and get reimbursed when we returned to Nadi.  I found that unacceptable since we were only in Nadi for two hours and in transit to Suva which meant changing terminals from International to Domestic and would not have time to find someone at Fiji Airways to pay us.  I tried to call Cathy and could get through to her but she couldn’t hear me.  I also tried to call Judy and couldn’t get a good connection.  It was going to be a frustrating four days with spotty Wi-Fi connection.

The receptionist told me the Fiji Airways office was just a short walk from the hotel so I decided to talk to the manager face to face and get him to resolve the payment with corporate.  The clerk told me the Fiji Airways office was across from the gas station.

I took off walking and didn’t see a Fiji Airways sign or a gas station for quite a distance.  A car stopped and asked if I needed a ride.  When I told him where I was headed he told me I had passed it so I reversed direction and again didn’t see any sign.  As I got close to the hotel entrance I stopped to ask a man if he could direct me to Fiji Airways and he pointed to across from where we were standing to a Travel Agency and Café.  There was a large pile of sand and a collapsed concrete structure behind it that was once a gas station.   He said the Fiji Airways office was in the new building next door behind a chain link fence.  I walked into a nice office and Café and asked for the Fiji Manager.  They had me sit down and after a while a woman came up and told me they didn’t work for Fiji Airways, they were just their local agent.  They would try to contact the Station Agent and get back to me.  I thanked them and as I left I noticed they advertised Wi-Fi for $5 per thirty minutes.

When I returned to the hotel the receptionist told me she had gotten in contact with our local guide.  We and the Lonely Planet had an outdated number.  She planned on meeting us at 17:00 to go over the next two day’s schedule.  I reported that to Lynn and Bob and then went to the bar to purchase a bottle of water.  I also had a refreshing cold beer.  No one else was around.  The hotel looks as though it was pretty nice but had fallen into hard times.  Many of the tiles on the floor of the bar which was a very large area were missing like the area was once under water.  In back of the building are rooms were in there was a row of picnic tables with a shade structure.  They were all tipped on their side.  A high chain link fence ran along the edge to the water.

Back in my room the maid knocked on our door to inform us that our local guide had delayed her visit to 19:00.  I wrote some in my journal and attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi with spotty success.  At 18:00 I went to the reception area to try to connect to the internet with a stronger signal.  I was able to receive some emails and apparently Cathy had heard some of my conversation when I had connected on Vonage and heard we were having trouble reaching the local guide so she contacted the guide by phone and email.

I was still trying to process email and attempting to contact Judy on Vonage when Bob arrived a few minutes before 19:00.  Shortly after he arrived the receptionist told us we had a phone call from Molly.  She was suffering from the ‘trots’ she speculated that was caused by dust kicked up by road construction in her area.  She apologized and told him she would not be able to meet with us until the morning.

We informed Lynn and Mary and went to dinner.  I had fried fish and a baked potato.  After dinner I returned to the room and retired early.

Friday, June, 13, 2014:  Tour Tarawa, Kiribati

I awoke a few minutes before 06:00 when my alarm was set to ring so I turned it off and took a cold shower.  The Wi-Fi was spotty but I was able to get some emails and received a disturbing email that my son-in-law Robert had been attacked while jogging in a park along the river in Sacramento and had received a gash in his right arm that was so severe he lost the ability to move his fingers.  I jumped up from the breakfast table, we had ordered our food but it hadn’t been served, and ran over to the Reception Office to see if I could connect on a call.  I was able to contact with my daughter Wendy but she didn’t have much more to report other than he was being operated on in the hospital.

It took forty minutes to serve our breakfast so I was back at the table before the food arrived.  I had a fried egg, bacon, sausage, three pieces of toast and a slice of papaya.  I made a sandwich out of two pieces of toast, the egg and the bacon.  It was tasty.

Molly arrived just after eight.  She handed us a schedule for the next two days.  We gathered our raincoats, hats, sunglasses and cameras and departed at 08:30 in her Toyota Harrier station wagon.  Leaving the hotel gate we turned right to head west to the village of Betio at the very end of a chain of small islands connected by roads and causeways.  The islands were not very wide (north to south) and we could often see both the lagoon to the north and the ocean to the south at the same time.  The road was terrible.  Molly explained that Wednesday night a rare violent thunder storm hit the islands and left large puddles of water and downed trees.  The puddles further enlarged the pot holes in the road.  On the lagoon side the sand came right up to the roadway in many places.  It was very picturesque with the blue lagoon, palm trees and white sand.  But the thatched covered huts sometimes added to the picture but the bumpy road and many rusty wrecked vehicles pulled me back to reality.

We passed the Parliament Building which was scheduled on the next day and after a forty minute drive stopped at the Catholic OLSH Convent in Bairiki, the last island before Betio.  The side road to the convent had several trees and broken limbs down.  At the convent Molly scheduled a time for us to meet Sister Margaret Sullivan keeper of the World War II archives and an authority on the history of the Gilbert Islands and the USMC ‘Operation Galvanic’ that rid the islands of the Japanese.

After Molly scheduled our visit we stopped at the ANZ Bank in Bairiki to change money.  I did the exchange for the group and it was an interesting process.  Only one teller in the bank handled Foreign Exchange and she also processed withdrawals.  There were four rows of three chairs in front of her window and I was instructed to sit in the first unoccupied chair.  Every time someone was waited on we got up and moved to the next chair.  Eventually I got the money and we continued on to Betio.

We had to pay a toll to cross the causeway into Betio.  On the south side of the causeway we saw several concert Japanese bunkers and large guns.  Over two hours after leaving the hotel we reached the Betio War Memorial erected by the Australians on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese killing a group of Coast Watchers and local foreigners in October 1942.  The people were killed in retaliation to the US bombing the island.

We walked around the area which was designated Black beach in ‘Operation Galvanic’.  There were still a lot of rusty war relics, metal pillboxes, square concert bunkers and ammunition storage bunkers with dome tops, and guns pointing out to sea.  The Japanese thought that any invasion would come from the ocean on the south because it would be difficult for invasion ships to pass through the narrow opening to the lagoon on the north side.  There were several 8inch guns along the beach that ironically were manufactured by the British and moved by the Japanese from Singapore to defend Tarawa.  We spent about twenty minutes walking the area.  Molly told me the paved road we had driven on to the Memorial was once one of the Japanese airfield runways.

We continued riding west to Green Beach which was the west facing end of the island and the location of several 8 inch guns.  Next we stopped at Red Beach 1 facing the lagoon.  The Red Beaches was where the main invasion took place.  The USMC used the Amtracs to drive over the outer coral reef and across the shallow lagoon to the beach.  There we walked across the flat and coral sand through puddles to the remains of Amtracs and tanks.  In one of the remains we discovered a CD.  I didn’t realize the Marines had CR players in their invasion vehicles.  The label had worn off so I couldn’t tell if it was Glen Miller or Bing Crosby.

We returned to the station wagon, stopping to wash our feet in a village.  Molly then took us on a tour of another village which had built their houses on top of bunkers.  We saw how the villagers washed their clothes and took pictures of young girls giggling in a hammock and little naked boys and girls running around the village.  The area behind the village was Red Beach 2 where there was a rusty landing craft and a Sherman Tank buried in the sand up to the turret.  Molly had taken one of the decedents of the men that had escaped the tank on his visit to Tarawa several years ago.  He told her that most of the crew lost their lives on Iwo Jima.  The tide was low and we could see the hulls of large ships rusting on their side out in the lagoon.  It was a depressing sight and hard to believe that it had been cleaned up in 70 years.

We walked back to the station wagon through a settlement of huts.  It was lunch time and Molly drove us to a Chinese Restaurant.  We walked in and saw no tables and a young man came running from the back to tell us they were closed for a party.  Molly then drove us to Aboy’s Kitchen, another Chinese restaurant where I had a delicious lunch of sweet and sour pork, the best I had tasted in a long time.

After lunch we stopped at the Japanese War memorial which had a fence around it and Molly told us the care taker had lost the key so we couldn’t get close.  Next to it was the Kiribati Customs Service building.
Our next stop was the American War Memorial on the grounds of the Sports Complex.  It was not as impressive as the one on Guadalcanal.  On one side was a plaque to the people of Kiribati below a larger plaque that read:
“Follow Me”
2nd Marine Division
United States Marine Corps.

BATTLE of TARAWA
November 20, 1943
To our fellow Marines who gave their all!
The world is free because of you!
GOD REST YOUR SOULS
1,113 KILLED                       2,290 WOUNDED

The Central Pacific Spearhead
To world victory in World War II
‘Semper Fidelis’

On the side was a red plaque from the Second Marine Division Association on the 65th Anniversary of Operation Galvanic, dated November 2008.  On the back side was the United States Navy memorial plaque that listed 30 Killed and 59 wounded.  Below that was a brass plate sealed on Nov. 20, 1987, Camp Lejeune, NC to be opened Nov. 20, 2143.  With inscription: From our world to yours: Freedom above all.
We then rode over to the local police station to see next to it the Japanese Armory bunker.  Across a courtyard from the bunker was the jail and we observed two policeman talking to one of the prisoners.  Back in the vehicle we rode to the Japanese Command Bunker.  It was a multistory square concrete building with many holes blown in its side which showed had thick and reinforced with steel it was.  Over 300 bodies were found in the building after it was captured by the Marines.  In one of the large holes a young man was sitting and laughing.  Molly suspected he was high from sniffing benzene he had in a bag he kept sniffing.
We rode back to the beach and stopped at an 8 inch gun which was in good condition.  Four boys were climbing and playing on the gun.  Down the beach from the gun were the rusty remains of the temporary bridge used to ferry vehicles and materials ashore across the beach.  Our next stop was behind a warehouse where Molly showed us the remains of an aircraft cockpit and propeller.  The instrument panel was there and the hose to the oxygen mask.
Molly then took us to a friend’s house to view a DVD video on the battle.  Unfortunately the DVD was so scratched it wouldn’t play.  It was time anyway for our meeting with Sister Margret Sullivan.

Sister Margret was in her eighties and had been assigned to Tarawa since the 1950s.  She had an interest in history and started to study and record initially the Catholic Church’s activities in the Gilbert Islands and then expanded her studies to the people of the islands and the country of Kiribati.  Since WWII had such a big impact on the history of the islands and the people she became the world authority on the Japanese occupation and the US invasion.  Many veterans and military history buffs have visited her and provided her with books and papers on the war.  She has edited several documents for accuracy herself.  She gave us a briefing that included a Power Point presentation and videos on the war and her activities.  It was by far the highlight of the tour and may go down in my mind as the highlight of the trip.  She was a fascinating individual and a credit to the Church.

It was after 17:00 when we left her fascinating meeting.  It was a long, eventful day and we had dinner at 19:00 and retired at 22:00.

Saturday, June, 14, 2014:  Tour Kiribati

It was party night at the hotel.  I was awakened several times and especially around 05:00 when someone was laughing continuously and a motor was being gunned.  I finally got up about 05:50 and showered.  There was still no hot water and this time when I tried with just the hot water faucet on the water stopped running so I know they have a serious problem.  After getting dressed I attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi to call Judy.  I was not successful but I was able to receive some emails Facebook which had a picture of Christine with Robert in the hospital and he was smiling so I guess he was on the road to recovery.

I joined the gang at breakfast.  There was no waitress around and another guest went looking for her and found her.  We ordered about 07:05.  Lynn announced that he was not going on the tour.  He said the rough roads made the riding so unpleasant he was going to stay at the hotel and have Mary report to him what we saw.  I then tasked him to bird dog the hotel about the hot water situation.  At 07:50 our breakfast finally arrived and the orders were not correct but we went with what they delivered.

I finished up rather quickly and again attempted to call Judy on Vonage I was able to connect for a few minutes and then the line dropped.  About that time our guide arrived so I returned to the room and got my day pack and a bottle of water I had in the freezer.  That time I also packed a rain jacket and umbrella.
We departed the hotel about 08:30 and headed east towards the airport.  Our guide stopped to at the museum manager’s house to find out if it would be open.  I don’t think she got a straight answer and we continued on.  A few minutes later we came upon a wrecked car.  Since the road is so full of pot holes the drive had to be very drunk to even get up to the speed that would cause the wreck.  People were transferring items from the wreck to another vehicle.  I am amazed at the number of wrecked vehicles I had seen on the island.  Of course there were hundreds of broken down vehicles that could be attributed to the bad roads but the wrecks I didn’t understand although there were stretches of smooth roads that drivers, probably out of frustration of the slow pace would speed up to create a wreak.  Someone in the wreck, most likely the driver got hurt since the windshield was smashed on the driver’s side.

When were reached the airport we asked our guide to stop so we could meet with the Fiji Station Agent that I was told was not going to pay our hotel for Sunday night.  The terminal was locked up but our guide was able to talk to a man through the fence that opened the Departure Terminal and told us that the Fiji authority in Tarawa was at the Tobaraoi Travel agency that I had visited on Thursday.  We were getting the run-around!  There was nothing more we could do at the airport so we got back in the car and continued the tour of Tarawa.

We continued on, driving up the runway toward North Island.  Bob questioned if that was safe but our guide told us she did it all the time and she could see in the sky that no aircraft were approaching the runway.  We were then headed north and soon reached a military style steel bridge where our guide stopped.

Tarawa is shaped like a backward letter L or a letter Z with the top removed.  The bottom land is called the South Island and it is a narrow strip running east to west.  The airport is at the extreme east end and the battlefield at the extreme west end.  North of the airfield the land is a series of small islands linked in a northwest direction and called North Island.

The bridge we stopped at connects the south island to the north island.  Our guide told us that they used to use a ferry to cross the narrow channel.  Then they used a causeway constructed of sand bags.  It was still there just northeast of the bridge.  The water was flowing over the sand bags in places and a group of boys were running on the causeway and sliding on the water covered surface.  They appeared to be having a great time with some sliding on their feet and others on their stomachs.

On the southwest side the channel flowed into a large shallow lagoon.  The tide was out and we could see people out on the mud flats walking, digging for clams and catching fish trapped in the pools of water.  There was a point of land with some huts on it.  Our guide told us she was going to take us out there so we got back in the car and crossed the bridge and turned into a small group of huts and parked careful not to be under a coconut tree.  We walked through a settlement of huts toward the hut on the point.

Along the way our guide pointed out the living conditions, cooking and kitchen setups.  One “kitchen” had a large bunch of bananas hanging from a rafter, a two plate Bunsen burner and a sink for washing dishes.  They used a lot of buckets filled with water, many for washing clothes.  The settlement had two large meeting pavilions.  The first one we walked through had a grass roof and a small stage with three microphones hanging on a rack.  I guess they sing karaoke.  There were men and teen age boys sprawled on the floor sleeping off the night before party.  We encountered one young man that was climbing the coconut trees with a knife but for the most part we only saw women awake.  Another “kitchen” had a large pizza style oven and in another hut a woman was frying flat bread in a large skillet over a wood fire.  The bottom line was there was a large variety in the setup of the huts and cooking areas.

The settlement also had a small store with cans of spam, corn beef, and fish on one shelf and soy sauce, catsup, curry powder, oil, vinegar and noodles on another shelf.  We continued on to the hut on the point.  Just before it there were a half dozen grass roofed huts around one cinderblock building.

At the point we encountered a group of young boys that posed for pictures with silly faces and hi-fived us.  Inside the hut which was a platform about three feet off the ground, corrugated metal sides and roof with several old tires to keep it from blowing off in a storm was the old Grandpa.  He was in his eighties and was happy to see us and pose for a picture.

Our guide explained the living arrangements and cooking setup.  We then started back and encountered the Grandma and her daughter returning to the hut.  They stopped and talked to our guide and posed for pictures.  As we walked past the cinder block building we saw that it was under construction and next to it was a large meeting hall with a corrugated metal roof and a tile floor.  Both men and woman were sprawled on the floor passed out or sleeping in very uncomfortable positions.  In a corner of the structure was a small altar with a Happy Birthday banner, a statute of the Virgin Mary and a row of flowers.  It must have been a wild party from the condition of those lying about the settlement.

When we reached the car our guide told us she had made arrangements for a young man to show us how he husked coconuts.  He used a strong pointed piece of wood stuck in the ground and pushed the coconut down tearing off the husk.  When he reached the nut he opened a small hole and handed it to me to drink.  I have drunken a lot of coconut water in my travels but that was about the best and the most I have found in one coconut.

We returned to the car and drove back over the bridge to the airport.  That time we did not drive down the runway because a military C-130J had just landed and was at the ramp.  I couldn’t see the side markings but the tail was plain so it wasn’t a US military aircraft.

Just past the airport we visited a fish farm and a young man threw flour in one of the fish holding areas to attract the fish so we could take pictures.  They were Milkfish about eight inches long.

Our next stop was the chicken farm.  There we saw three large buildings.  Two of the builds were full off chickens free to walk around with feeding circles in the center of an area.  We entered the third building where a man was grading eggs.  He would bring the eggs in from the chicken houses and lay them on a table placing the eggs in waffle cradles and entered data in a large ledger.

From the chicken farm we rode to the village of Bikenibeu and stopped to tour the Catholic Church.  It was decorated with colorful balloons because a wedding was being held inside.  The church had no pews, just an open floor where the people sat.  Next to the church was a pond our guide called the Virgin Mary pond.  It had a statue of the Virgin Mary with a large star on top on a platform in the center of the pond.

Leaving the church we rode a short distance to the Bikenibeu Chinese Restaurant for lunch.  I ordered sweet and sour pork again and found it not as good as the lunch I had the previous day.  The museum was next door and our guide thought they were going to open it for us at noon but it was locked and she called someone who told her that it was not going to be open that day.

We then continued on and stopped at the Tobaraoi Travel agency to meet with the Fiji Station Manager.  He was very pleasant and told us he was aware of our situation.  He took some time to find the correspondence authorizing the hotel to bill Fiji Airways for our Sunday night stay.  He finally gave us a copy of an email message he sent to the agent at the airport to pay the hotel.  Since the Tobaraoi Travel agency was next door to the hotel we stopped for a bio break and I gave the copy of the message to the hotel receptionist.
When Mary returned to the car she reported that Lynn had been told the hot water system was beyond repair and a new system was on order but not in time for our stay.

Our next stop was to tour the Ambo Aquarium which was a project of the Taiwanese to raise fish and clams.  A young man gave us a tour.  Starting with a large concrete pool of mother fish where they collect the eggs and have them hatch in other tanks.  It was fascinating to see a tank full of fish that were a quarter of an inch long.  Next he showed us a tank of clams that were very colorful.  Most were purple but some were gold and green.

A short distance from the Aquarium was the Parliament buildings.  We stopped to tour the outside.  Several buildings were in the compound.  In front was a large oval circle with a map of the nation’s islands and atolls set in concrete.  The Equator and boundaries for the various island groups were marked and each island group which included the Gilbert, Phoenix, Northern Line and Southern Line Islands had their islands/atolls labeled.  In my mind it was an impressive display.  Behind the circle was the Parliament Main Chamber building with a triangle shaped roof.  Its entrance was flanked on both sides by in their words canoe shaped (in my view sail shaped) display buildings.  The circle which was tilted so the map could be seen and the three buildings behind was an impressive site.  Behind the main chamber and on both sides were the Cabinet and other administrative office buildings.

We circled the complex and rode on to the Handicraft Market.  The handcrafts on display were mainly necklaces, ear rings, broaches and other items made of small sea shell.  They were very attractive if you like that type of jewelry.  There were also some very good wood carvings.

That was our last stop for the day.  Molly told us she would meet us at 08:00 on Monday to take us to the museum.  We bid her farewell and retired to our rooms.  Lynn reported that he had investigated the lack of hot water situation and was told the system was busted and a replacement unit was on order but it was going to take some time before the hotel would provide hot water.

Bob and I wrote in our journals until dinner at 19:00.  We invited the other Caucasian guest to dine with us.  His name was Edward but goes by Ted.  He was from Australia, a school teacher, administrator and consultant under contract to UNESCO to assist third world countries with their education systems.  He had lived a colorful life and his daughter had followed in his footsteps, working in foreign countries for IMF.  We had great conversation.  He had been to the island several times but had not gone on formal tours like we had taken so he was interested in what we saw.

After dinner I walked over to reception to try to get a stronger Wi-Fi signal.  I met the owner of the hotel and during our conversation learned he was a member of the Most Traveled People (MTP) and that several TCC and MTP members have stayed at the hotel to visit Kiribati.  His name was Emil Schutz.  I looked up his MTP record and he had recorded visiting 72 locations out of the 875 locations listed.

I returned to my room and retired at 22:00.

Sunday, June, 15, 2014:  Tarawa, Kiribati

I set no alarm and the partying didn’t make too much noise, so I was able to sleep until almost 07:00.  Bob and I went to breakfast at 08:00 and afterward I was able to connect briefly with Judy via Voage but she couldn’t hear every word I was saying so we terminated the call.

I returned to the room and wrote in my journal until noon when I carried the laptop to reception to get it updated.  The connection was so poor I wasn’t even able to delete all the messages in the Delete folder so I returned to the room and Bob and I went to lunch.  Lynn and Mary passed but Ted joined us.  We ordered sandwiches.  I had tuna and Bob had a grilled cheese.

After lunch I put my laptop in my day pack and walked over to the Tobaraoi Travel agency to see if I could purchase some fast Wi-Fi time.  Carrier, the Fiji Manager did not appear to be around so I walked back and sat in the Reception office for over an hour slowly processing the emails on my laptop.  It was really frustrating and time consuming but eventually I cleaned them up.  When I returned to my room I wrote in my journal.
At 18:00 we met at reception to calculate our bills.  Since I had beer with some of my meals and Bob had sometimes two cans of soda, a simple 50/50 split was not fair to Bob so I analyzed each charge slip to determine a fair accounting for Bob.  We were surprised to learn they were charging us for breakfast because Cathy had stated in her document that it would be included.

After the meeting we went to dinner.  I ordered the crumbled Chicken which had a coating more like KFC than the harder crust they had on their fried chicken.  Ted joined us and we talked about his report.  One of the issues he needed to calculate was the percentage of literacy in the students and on the island in general.  He felt that the way the Kiribati government calculated literacy was over stated based on his analysis of student enrollment and test scores.  He thought the only accurate way would during the census that a simple test be given each person that would score their ability to read and write.  He said Kiribati was not alone in overstating the literacy in his analysis in other third world countries.  Ted was an interesting dinner companion.

After dinner I called Judy with great difficulty but was able to briefly connect.  When I returned to my room I started packing for the trip the next day and retired at 22:00.

Monday, June, 16, 2014:  Leave Tarawa, Kiribati

I woke to my alarm at 05:00, showered and packed.  Just before 7:00 I went to the reception area and called Judy on Vonage and then went to the restaurant to order breakfast.  As usual it took about forty minutes to be served.  I had the same breakfast as the last three mornings: an egg, bacon, sausage link, and toast.

We finished just before 08:00.  Molly was waiting for us outside the dining area and we departed at 08:10 to visit the Culture Center and Museum.  It didn’t have a lot on display.  I liked their display “A chronology of key events: Kiribati Timeline” and the warrior armor constructed from coconut fiber.  The helmet was something to see with sharp prongs sticking out.

We returned to the hotel before 09:00.  I went to reception to coordinate our ride to the airport.  The clerk on duty called Fiji Airways and was told we needed to check in between 09:30 and 10:00.  I questioned why we needed to be at the airport over three hours before the scheduled departure of 13:05.  The clerk then told me check in was not at the airport it was just next door at the Fiji agent’s office.  I scheduled the bus for 09:40 and informed the rest of the group.  They couldn’t believe we didn’t have to go to the airport to check in but Molly was still there and confirmed it was done at the Tobaraoi Travel agency.  We said our ‘good-bye’s’ to Molly and went to our room to get our bags.

It only took a few minutes to ride to the Tobaraoi Travel agency.  There we lined up on the porch and the check in station was setup next to an open window.  It was a little confusing and when I checked in they told me my carryon was too heavy.  I transferred my laptop and Lonely Planet books to my day pack and cleared the weight.  I was given a baggage tag and then had to go inside to the café to get my boarding passes.  They charged $3.00 to take our bag to the airport and another $3.00 US exchange fee.  I got the others to pool our baggage fees and then only one bank fee would be needed.

They couldn’t find Lynn and Mary’s reservation at first so I went searching through my correspondence from Cathy to find their ticket number.  They finally found their record.  They were told that for $7 per head they could get a ride to the airport.  Carrier, the Fiji Manager, told me that usually the hotel takes its guests to the airport because they need to meet the arriving plane and he would call for them to pick us up when it would be time for the Departure Terminal to open at the airport.

I purchase thirty minutes of Wi-Fi and called Judy and only used half the time.  Carrier told me I could use the rest at the airport.  The hotel bus arrived and we rode to the airport.  There we processed through Immigration and had to pay a 20 AUD departure tax.  My bags had no trouble at the security but they gave Bob some static on his bag’s toilet articles and Lynn and Mary had to be checked twice.

We finally boarded the aircraft at 12:45 and departed at 13:15.  The flight was not full and I moved to a row where I had no one in the middle seat.  The hassle at check in left me a little exhausted and I slept on the most of the flight.  They served a nice chicken stir fry lunch.



My visit to the country of Kiribati was over.  I only had one more UN member country to visit to reach my goal of visiting every country in the UN.