Friday, October 10, 2014

Recife & Fernando de Noronha Journal – September & October 2014

My tour of Recife and Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, was scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California.  The trip was scheduled to meet with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Lorraine Voskanian in Recife, Brazil who were touring South America with visits to Paraguay and Bolivia and finishing with a visit to the islands of Fernando de Noronha 200 mile off the coast of Brazil.
I have traveled with Lynn and Mary on many trips in the past.

Thursday, September 25, 2014: Fly LAX to Houston

My driver arrived on time for my noon pickup.  He was one of the several Armenians that live in Glendale, CA and work as limo drivers that have driven me in the past.  We did not encounter any heavy traffic on the drive and we arrived in thirty five minutes to find that United had changed the door for the Premier check-in from Terminal 6 to the last door in Terminal 7.  They had porters in front of the doors with signs pointing to the new entrance.  Once inside the area was as empty as I had found the old location except the TSA check point was just a few feet away and it had a full body scanner so I was able to process through in just a few minutes and proceeded up the old Terminal 8 escalator.  It was the quickest check-in I had had since TSA was in operation.
Upstairs I walked to the United Lounge and again was surprised that they didn’t swipe my card and just scanned my ticket to prove who I was and that I was authorized to use the lounge.  I was receiving text messages every few minutes with gate changes for my flight and then that the flight was going to be delayed due to late arriving aircraft.  I started to get concerned since I had just an hour and fifteen minute connection in Houston and my gates were as far apart as the physically could be.  My arrival was scheduled to park at gate C30 and my departure gate was E18, a distance of over 0.6miles.

I walked to my gate at 14:30 my original departure time and found no aircraft but they were announcing that it was on the ground.  They hustled us aboard and we actually broke ground at 15:15 and parked at the gate in Houston at 20:10.  I was relieved since my departure to Brazil was scheduled for 21:05.

I walked at a brisk rate and when I entered terminal E I was able to board an electric cart which delivered me to the gate just as they started boarding.  I was using ‘Miles’ on the flight and had a good deal to fly in Business Class on a Thursday.  The plane was a B-767 and the Business Class section had a 2-1-2 configuration and I was assigned to seat 4D in the middle with aisles on both sides.

The seats fully reclined but it was somewhat frustrating to find a place to store reading material and my day bag.  The flight was scheduled to fly to Sao Paulo where I had to change airports for Azul Airlines a Star Alliance partner to fly to Recife.

I settled in and plugged in my cell phone and attempted to plug in my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet which I had used to the previous flight to watch an episode of ‘The Roosevelt’s’.  I discovered that I hadn’t brought the correct connection for the tablet.  It was an early model and required a 30 pin connector that looks like an iPod connector which is what I had.  I started to watch the aircraft in-flight entertainment but the meal was served very quickly and cranked the seat down flat and went to sleep.

Friday, September 26, 2014: Arrive Sao Paulo (GRC), transfer to (VCP) and fly to Recife

I don’t remember how long I slept before my feet started to swell and I kicked off my shoes (the laces had been loosned before take-off).  I found that the flat bed configuration on the United B-767 had a very narrow space for feet to reside and not enough room for both empty shoes and feet.  I had to move the seat into the upright configuration to be able to store the shoes out of the way.  Once that was done I fell back to sleep until I was awakened by a flight attendant to be served breakfast.  I guess I was able to sleep for six hours on the flight.

When we landed in Sao Paulo I was surprised to find only one person in front of me in the Foreign Passport check line.  I guess most of my fellow Business Class passengers were Brazilians and their line was quite long.  The quick processing at Passport Control didn’t do me much good since my luggage took a long time to arrive.  One of my baggage Id tags had been ripped off and the other which had a steel cable looked like it was dragged on the pavement.

Once I got my bag I proceeded to a taxi stand to hire a taxi for the long ride to the Viracopos International Airport which is 70 miles away.  Fortunately I had almost five hours between flights since the notorious Sao Paulo traffic caused the taxi to take two hours to cover the distance.  It cost me R$408.22 (US$193.36) for the trip.  I could have flown between the airports for less but the schedule didn’t line up correctly.

As we approached the Viracopos airport it rained!  The first rain this LA based traveler had seen in months, but alas, it stopped before we entered the airport so I didn’t get the feel of it.  Check-in went quickly.  Azul had a lot of check-in stations and there was no one in line.  I was handed off at the first station to another station where the agent spoke excellent English.  Security was a breeze and once in the terminal I found they had free WiFi which allowed me to catch up on my email.

The plane was full and I had a window seat which turned out to be the wrong side to view Recife on approach.  They had free TV in the backrests and I watched and listened to CNN during the trip.  No meal was served but they did pass out chips, nuts, cookies and cupcakes.

When I landed in Recife I took a taxi to the hotel.  The hotel was south of the city center on the main land (the city proper is made up by three islands).  The beach was two blocks west of the hotel.
At check-in I asked the desk clerk if they could arrange for a tour of Olinda and Recife the next day with an English speaking guide.  He told me he thought he could arrange it.  The room was nice, a little on the small side and the electrical outlets next to the bed were in use with a clock radio and a lamp.  I figured the lamp would shut off when the key card was withdrawn at the door but the clock radio would stay hot all the time so I plugged into the clock radio socket and plugged the clock radio into my power strip.  Once I had unpacked I left the hotel to scout the neighborhood.  Not too many blocks away I came upon a Subway so I decided to have a six-inch tuna sub for dinner.  I then walked along the beach.  It was a pretty area but I had missed the sun setting and it was dark by the time I reached the hotel.

When I returned to the hotel the desk clerk told me the tour had been arranged with an English speaking guide at no extra cost for 13:45 the next day.  After washing out my underwear, I retired.

Saturday, September 27, 2014: Tour Recife

I slept through breakfast and when I did get going I went to the receptionist to find out where I might be able to purchase a power cord for my tablet.  They told me the most likely place would be the big mall.  I obtained a map and they showed me where it was located but told me due to construction I couldn’t walk to it and a taxi would only be R$10 (US$4).  I took a taxi and found the mall to be huge.  The first store I found that sold adapters had one that would fit all three of my devices (smart phone, tablet and iPod) so I bought it.  It had a short cord, so later on as I was exploring the mall I purchased a long cord just for the tablet.  I ate an early lunch in the food court and took a taxi back to the hotel.

Back in my room I attempted to charge my tablet but a message flashed on the screen that the device wouldn’t charge and I should use the adapter that was supplied with the unit.  Both adapter cords drained the tablet battery so I returned to the mall with the two cords and the tablet and went to the Samsung store.  There I discovered that it wasn’t the cords but the computer USB was not supplying the correct voltage and I need the electrical outlet adapter.  I really didn’t want to have to purchase a Brazilian two pin adapter but I wanted to recharge my tablet so I purchased it and rushed back to the hotel to take the tour.

Back in my room I plugged in the new adapter and both cords would work so I left the tablet charging and went down to the lobby to take the tour.  The guide showed up and didn’t speak English.  I told the receptionist to cancel the tour.  He called the company and was told the English speaking guide had switched assignments and would be taking the morning tour so I agreed to go on that one.

I spent the afternoon walking the neighborhood and in my room watching an episode of The Roosevelts on my laptop.

I retired early vowing not to sleep through a paid for in advance breakfast again.

Sunday, September 28, 2014: Tour Recife and Olinda

I awoke to my alarm at 06:00, showered shaved and went to breakfast at 07:00.  It was a decent buffet and I was able to eat, return to my room and pack a day bag for my tour.  I went down to the lobby at 08:30 and as I got there my tour guide arrived.  She was a short middle aged blond lady named Sylvia.  Her English was excellent and I later learned that she had lived in London, England for a while.

The tour bus had 18 seats but there were just three others, a lady and two male brothers taking the tour, all from the Sao Paulo area.  Sylvia would describe the scene in Portuguese and then English.  The tour left the hotel at 08:45 and drove through Recife to Olinda.  It was the start of the two day João Pessoa Tourism Festival in Recife and the roads were being set up with traffic cones to enable people on bicycles to ride around the city.  Sylvia explained that normally the tour would visit Recife first and then tour in Olinda but they were reversing the schedule to visit Recife last after the cones had been setup and the driver would know which streets he could use.

The first landmark we passed was the El Casino Americano which was the building g used by the US Navy during WWII when they stationed ships in the harbor.  From there we passed over the bridge of Mauricio de Nassau, one of the many bridges with a view of the shopping mall I had visited the day before.  The bridge had beautiful statues at each end.  One lane of traffic was reserved for the bicyclists participating in the festival.  We soon reached the historical center of Olinda, a UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage Monument.

The designation as a World Natural and Cultural Heritage Monument has kept the charm of a city museum of the colonial period.  Olinda was founded in 1537 by the Portuguese Duarte Coelho Pereira and owed its rapid rise to the cultivation of sugar cane in the region of Pernambuco using slave labor.

From the 16th century, churches and convents, of which only rare examples such as the Church of São João exist today, were built by religious missions.  The Dutch occupied the region from 1630 to 1654 and during the occupation a well-planned town was built where present-day Recife is located.  Pernambuco was ably governed by the Dutch and prospered with the production of sugar in the plantations located in the rich alluvial soil along the coast.  However, the invaders burned down Olinda, although they created a pacific and developed administration centered in Recife.

Portuguese rule replaced that of the Dutch in Pernambuco in 1654, and Olinda recovered; once again it was an important Brazilian village, as a developed and cultural center.  In the early 18th century a bitter rivalry developed between Olinda, the administrative capital of the Captaincy and the residence of rich aristocratic plantation owners, and Recife, which was the commercial center, largely inhabited by traders, ship's chandlers and warehouse workers.
Recife continued to prosper, however, while Olinda declined, and in 1827 it was made the capital of the province.  In 1817 Pernambuco was the scene of a local armed rebellion against Portuguese rule.  It remained for years a hotbed of republicanism and revolutionary agitation, and it was the site of unsuccessful insurrections against Portuguese rule in 1821-22, 1824, 1831 and 1848.  Pernambuco became a state of the Brazilian Republic in 1891.

The essential urban fabric of Olinda dates from the 18th century, although it incorporates some older monuments.  Among the more important of the buildings of Olinda are the Episcopal Church, the Jesuit College and Church (now the Church of Graça), the Franciscan, Carmelite, Benedictine and other monasteries and convents, and the Misericórdia, Amparo and São João Batista churches.

The unique quality of the Historic Center arises from the balance, which has generally been maintained, between the private and public buildings and the gardens of the early land allotment.  It is a town of unexpected views: one of the numerous Baroque churches and convents or the numerous passos (chapels and oratories) will appear unexpectedly as one turns a corner.  The studied refinements of the decor of these conscious architectural structures contrasts with the charming simplicity of the houses, which are painted in vivid colors or faced with ceramic tiles.

Over recent decades, Olinda - a city of art, much appreciated by artists - has been the object of numerous preservation measures. Outstanding buildings such as the Church of Graça, with the former Jesuit College, the Convent do Carmo and the Episcopal Palace has all been more or less completely restored.  The construction of new complexes is regulated by a master plan and the zone of protection was extended in 1979.

Our first stop was at the Sao Bento church.  The plaque outside described it as follows:

The church was built by the Benedictines, in the 16th Century.  It took 200 years to complete and was the second Benedictine monastery in Brazil.  In 1631 it was burned by the Dutch and restoration started in 1654 and went through various periods and styles.  The date carved in the façade, 1761, indicates the last refurbishment.  At one time it housed the first law school in Brazil.  It had a unique front with a simple entrance and an eye window in the middle of the choir windows, prominent doors and scrolls with an amazing coat of arms of the Benedictine Order.  It also has a bell tower covered by a dome.  The main church is traditional and strict and its interior has only one aisle and a ceiling painted in floral ornaments.  The choir is a stone slab leaned on columns on bases, with richly worked pulpits and the cross arch has columns among altars.  The main chapel is in Baroque style and the ceiling is painted with convent scenes.  The main alter has a retable with Baroque, Neoclassic and Rococo influence, in wood covered in gold.  In the main throne of the altar there is the image of the patriarch, Saint Benedict.  The convent sacristy is the richest one among the churches of Olinda with elaborate golden carves, crystal mirrors and paintings showing the penitent life of Saint Benedict.  Apart from a stone washstand and various oil paintings there is an image of the Christ Crucified, in human scale.  It is in the choir, with the back to the main chapel because of the slaves who were not allowed to enter the church.

Sylvia told us the altar is the richest in Olinda, with many gold pieces.  In 2003, the altar was exhibited by the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.  The disassembling of the altar was made by a team of specialists, and took months.  The church is the only one in Olinda with a mezzanino.  During colonial times, the rich people would attend the mass in the mezzanino, the other free people would stay in the floor, inside the church, and the slaves would stay outside.

In the building beside the church the first Faculty of Law was established in Brazil, on May 15th 1828.  In 1852, the Faculty was transferred to the Palace of Governors, in Olinda, and in 1854 it was again transferred to Recife.

When I entered the church to take pictures, Sylvia showed me the walls near the entrance where restoration is starting and one could see that the original marble had been painted over and was then being uncovered.

The streets were cobbled stones from the 16th/17th century.  The stones vary in color that indicates that the stones came from different parts, and fixed in different epochs.  Most of the streets were repaved in Olinda, but the original stones may be recognized by their irregular laying.

Another feature that Sylvia pointed out to us was the difference is the roof tiles of the Olinda houses.  Rich people had a roof with three layers of tiles, the middle class had two layers, the poorer had only one.  These three houses styles were called Eira, Beira and Tribeira; a popular saying in Brazil refers to poor people as being "sem eira nem beira", meaning that, like in the old Olinda, their houses would have only one layer of tiles.

We walked around the area visiting the old structures, most of which housed tourist shops.  Some had beautiful tile or brick floors.  The giant puppet figures worn in Carnival Parades were displayed in many of the shops. A lot of local art was for sale in the shops and at one point we came upon an art class with six boys painting very colorful designs under the watchful eye of their teacher.

We spent an hour touring the center of Olinda and then boarded our bus for a ride down the steep hill to Recife.  The flow of bicyclists was thinning out as we approached the center of the city and stopped at Republic Square.  It was one of the most beautiful and ancient squares in the city.  It was located where once stood a Dutch Palace which was demolished in 1769 and then the first Brazilian Zoo and Botanic Gardens.  Facing the square were the Palace of the Princesses Field, home of the state government; Teatro Santa Isabel Theater; the Court of Justice of the State; and the School of Arts and Crafts.  A giant baobab tree grows in one corner of the square.

We toured the square and then drove on to Casa da Cultura, a large three story building dating back to the 19th century.  Originally built as a prison, it has been transformed into a culture center, with craft stores and tourist shops occupying the former prison cells.  One cell (#106) remains in its original configuration as a display.

From the Cultural Center we rode to site of the João Pessoa Tourism Festival center.  There we saw the food booths being set.  Close by we walked past the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue which dated back to the 17th century and was the first formal Synagogue in all Americas.  In 2001 it was reformed and holds the Judaic Culture Center of Pernambuco.

A short distance further along we entered the Plaza de Marco Zero - Km Zero.  In the middle of the plaza is a small 'Km 0' marker.  It marks the place where the Portuguese founded Recife in 1537.  A stage faced the square where music was playing and people were dancing in front of the stage.   Along the edge of the plaza were the water front and a string of ten foot tall letters spelling out RECIFE.  Young people were climbing on the letters, taking ‘selfies’ with their smart phones and posing for their friends to take their pictures.  I was surprised how few cameras were used and how many iPads were used.

Another thing that surprised me was how clean the city was and the number of men in uniform that were maintaining the streets and sidewalks.

From the plaza we returned to my hotel.  The tour was over.  Sylvia recommended some restaurants in my neighborhood to eat lunch.  I walked to the one she highly recommended and found a long line waiting so a walked further on to a restaurant she also recommended where I ordered from a menu with pictures of each entree at a cashier.  Once I paid for my meal my receipt had a number on it much like a fast food joint.  I ordered a fish salad that was delicious.

It was 13:00 hours when I finished my lunch so I took a stroll along the beach.  It was covered with beach umbrellas and young men in speedos and young girls in string bikinis.  Between the sidewalk and the sand there were areas where there were tennis courts and very large Life Guard stands.  It was an interesting stroll.

When I returned to my room I watched an episode of the Roosevelt’s and processed email.  For dinner I ate in the hotel and retired early.

Monday, September 29, 204: Fly from Recife to Fernando de Noronha

I didn’t set an alarm and slept a little over 8 hours.  After taking a shower I went down for breakfast.  Back in my room I packed for the flight and then processed email.

Check-in took longer than Friday.  Azul didn’t have as many check-in stations and there was a line.  When it was my turn I discovered the agent spoke English and asked me if I had visited the island before and when I replied it would be my first time he told me I would enjoy it.  He assigned me a window seat on the side of the plane were I could take good pictures of Recife on climb out and of Fernando de Noronha on landing.

Security was another issue.  There they did not have an efficient way to check me for setting off the x-ray alarm and once they got their act together and found a male agent with a hand wand that worked and checked me they then made me dump my carry-on to see my little box of batteries.  Eventually I was cleared to proceed.

I had not had lunch so I purchased a tuna sandwich and an iced tea in the lounge area.  When it came time for my flight they had three lines at the gate.  The middle line had a young lady in a walking case and her husband.  Something was announced in Portuguese and the man in back of me in line motioned for me to stand behind the couple.  When the agent was given the OK to process the passengers the couple and I were the first ones processed.  It was a long route to the aircraft.  We had to walk at the second level past five gates and then down a long ramp which switched back to another long ramp to the air bridge and on to the plane.  I had passed the limping lady and was the first to board the plane and I row 4 or 5 I greeted Lynn and Mary.  They had flown in from Sao Paulo on the plane.  I was assigned to 9A so I wasn’t able say much more than hello because the rest of the passengers were right behind me.

It was a short flight and I was able to take some good pictures of Recife and the famous reef on the climb out and some pictures of Fernando de Noronha on approach to the island.  When we deplaned we were met by a young man and handed a form which we needed to fill out and then pay an environmental preservation fee of R$144.60 or US$59.51 per person for stays up to 10 days.  There was no flat surface to write on so I joined the line and completed the form as I waited to pay the fee.  Once I paid the fee a paper was printed and using hi-tech the clerk used a metal ruler to tear the paper into to several forms.  

On exit from the arrivals room I had to present one of the forms and then entered a crowded baggage claim room.  When my bag arrived, Lynn, Mary and Lorraine had not exited so I proceeded out to the waiting area and found a young lady with a list and I told her my name.  She found my name on her list and directed me to a baggage trailer attracted to a bus where I loaded my big bag.  They wanted me to take my carry-on into the bus.  I loaded it on the bus and returned to look for my fellow travelers.  They still were not in baggage claim and I saw through a window that they were just then paying their environmental preservation fee.  I waited for them to exit baggage claim and directed them to the lady with the list.

When all passengers were on the bus we started out and the lady explained that her company would pick us up at 08:00 the next morning for a ten hour tour of the island with opportunities to snorkel and swim with turtles.  I asked about dolphins and she said they no longer allow swimming with the dolphins but certain times of the year they can be seen if we take the boat tour.  This was not the time of year when then were plentiful.  We were told we needed to purchase a ticket to enter the Nation Park which covers 75 per cent of the island and which we will be visiting on our tour.  The bus stopped at several of the small bed and breakfasts so on the ride I was able to meet Lorraine Voskanian whom I had never traveled with before.  She was a retired grade school teacher from San Francisco and commuted from San Rafael.

Our Pousada (Hotel) Estrela do Mar was one of only three hotels on the island, there are over 300 bed and breakfasts homes on the island.  It was located at the end of a dirt road behind the TV-FM station and had a view of the runway and the ocean beyond.  The TV-FM tower served as a good landmark.  At check-in we found the lady didn’t speak any English she did draw on a map I received at the airport the route to obtain the National Park ticket.

The room was of fair size with air conditioning, internet (very poor bandwidth), TV (only Portuguese stations, a small refrigerator stocked and with prices comparable to the grocery store.  There were able electrical outlets.  After settling in my room and hooking up my CPAP, I walked over to Lynn and Mary’s room.  Lorraine soon joined us and I told them I would scout out the ticket office and restaurants.  They were concerned that there was no money exchange at the airport and the guide on the bus told them there was no money exchange on the island.

I left and it took me about fifteen minutes to stroll down hill to the ticket booth.  There I found they had to show them my passport and they took my picture.  It cost R$150 for a card.  The agent gave me some recommendations for restaurants and I started walking back.  There was quite a hill to walk up and I guessed the others would find it a little challenging.  On the way I came upon a small grocery where I purchased two bottles of water for the tour the next day.

I reported back to the group that they could pay for the ticket with a credit card or US$ but they needed to bring their passport and would have their picture taken.  We agreed to leave for dinner about 18:30.

I returned to my room and was able to call both Judy and Cathy on Vonage.  Mary had told me Cathy’s mother had just died in Vancouver.  The connections were poor but I was able to get my condolence message through to Cathy.

At 18:30 we walked down to the ticket office where they purchased their Park Pass and then we went to Sao Miguel a Pizzeria for dinner.  They ordered pizza and I ordered a fish salad.  It was very tasty and Lorraine offered me one slice of her pizza and I found it to also be very good.  I had guessed right and on the walk back up the hill the group had to stop to rest a little.  We stopped at the grocery store where they stocked up and then continued to the hotel.  It was dark and the turn off the gravel street to the hotel was not marked.  I guided them to the hotel.

Since breakfast started at 06:45, I set my alarm for 05:30 and went to bed at 21:30.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014: Tour Fernando de Noronha.

I awoke to the alarm and showered (good strong hot water) and shaved.  I could see the breakfast area from my side window and when people started to arrive I joined them even though it was before 06:45.  Lorraine joined me.  They had delicious scrambled eggs with cheese.  The best I have had in a long time.  When I usually try to make it is either too dry or has too much cheese.  I returned to my room and packed a day bag for the tour.  I wore a long sleeve snorkeling shirt to guard against sunburn.  I have learned that snorkeling for twenty minutes face down with a bare back can produce a tender back for the rest of the trip.

At 08:00 I turned in my key and purchased a beach towel for R$5 from the front desk.  A four door pick-up truck arrived with an English speaking guide “Samuel”.  We all elected to sit on bench seats under a cover in the back.  There was room to store our gear under the seats and there were seat belts which I discovered later were necessary due to the rough roads.

Samuel explained - Fernando de Noronha (“The Brazilian Fantasy Island”) is an archipelago of 21 islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, around 220 miles offshore from the Brazilian coast.  The main island has an area of 7.1 square miles and a population of around 3, 000.  The area is a special municipality of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where Recife is the state capital (despite being closer to the state of Rio Grande do Norte) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was claimed by Americo Vespucio for the Portuguese in 1503, and early settlers built a fortress, now in ruins, at Vila dos Remedios, the largest populated town.  The islands were a prison, then a convenient stopover point for early flights to Europe, and the facilities used by one European airline gave the name Air France to a local community.  There was also a WW II US Army air base used as a refueling stop for aircraft flying to Africa and a US Missile Tracking site in the 1950’s.  The Brazilian Air Force maintains a base on the island.

Although the islands support a large variety of wildlife species, they are relatively unpopulated and tourism is restricted to 420 visitors at a time.  The longer you stay, the higher your permit fee will be.  Visitors must arrive with a scheduled package tour.

There were only two villages worthy of any size in Noronha: Vila dos Remedios and Vila do Trinta.  There was one paved road, Brazil's shortest national highway.

We bounced down the dirt road from the hotel and past the grocery store to a place that rented life vests which I would need to snorkel Sueste Bay where I could swim with turtles.  The rental place was on a cul-de-sac and was busy renting snorkeling equipment to dozens of people.  From the rental shack we drove past the area of the ticket office to the Palace of Sao Miguel and stopped by the church of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios.  There was a Dive Shop there that exchanged money.  Unfortunately it didn’t open until 09:30 so Samuel disappeared and return with a young lady who had a fist full of cash and was able to exchange money for Lynn, Mary and Lorraine.  As they were waiting I was able to tour the church which was built in 1929.  On a hill overlooking the area was the Remedios Fort flying the flag of Brazil and below it the flag of Fernando de Noronha.  The wind was blowing so the flags were straight out enabling me to take a nicely framed picture from within the church.

When everyone exchanged money we boarded the truck again and rode to the Sancho entrance to the National Park.  We passed through a small shop where our pass card was scanned and we were allowed to enter the area.  We walked on a raised boardwalk to a cliff overlooking Sancho Beach.  It was an absolutely beautiful wide sandy beach.  From there we walked north to the end of the boardwalk to the area of Fort of Sao Joao Baptista dos Dois Irmaos.  Along the way we saw several bird nests.

We returned to Sancho Beach overlook where Samuel and I climbed down a vertical stainless steel 20 rung latter in a craves between boulders to a flat area and then down 150 stairs to the beach.  We donned our snorkeling gear and snorkeled off the beach where I saw many colorful fish.  There was a fair amount of rocks but few coral and what coral I saw was not very colorful but the fish were more abundant in the vicinity of the rocks and coral.  We snorkeled for about thirty minutes and then I felt guilty because the others were just sitting at the entry shop so I swam back in.

Our next stop was at Praia da Cacimba do Padre beach where we ordered lunch and walked to another beautiful sandy beach.  The snorkeling was not as rewarding as the previous beach but it was easy entry and exit and more of just a refreshing swim.  Lorraine joined us for a swim.  After our swim we ate lunch.  We had fish fried on a grill.  It was tasty but a little more than I usually eat for lunch.

After lunch we drove to another wide beautiful beach but due to a strong undertow, swimming was not allowed.  It was a good stop for pictures of the rocky points just off the coast.  We stopped at several other picture taking spots and then drove around the end of the runway to Sueste Bay.  It was another entry point where we had to have our card scanned to get in.  At this beach I had to wear a life vest.  The bay is on the south side of the island and the sea is darker with more waves than the north side.

Samuel and I took to the water and snorkeled out a long way but the tide was out and in most of the area I could touch the bottom.  Eventually he found a large turtle and I swam along and around it for about ten minutes as it fed itself.  When we started back to shore Samuel spotted a sting ray but I didn’t get a sharp view of it before it swam out of sight.  I don’t recall how long we were in the water but the others were waiting at a snack bar with a lot of activity so I don’t think they minded very much.

Back in the truck we rode around the end of the runway to the northeast end of the island where there was a little chapel and a view of St Antonio Harbor, Fort St Antonio and two small islands.  The area was called Air France.  Our next stop was a short distance away at the Buraco da Raquel.  A large rock shaped like an elephant with a cave at the bottom.  It was named after the daughter of one of the former commanders of the island.  From the point overlooking the rock we walked across a large lawn with a row of metal statues at one end and the Shark Museum at the other end.  Inside the museum were displays of various types of sharks and explanations of the different breeds.  Some signage was in English but most was just in Portuguese.

We spent around twenty minutes in the museum and then drove on to the Turtle Museum where Samuel first worked when he came to the island to research the effects of tourists on turtles.  In back of the museum was the WWII US Army base.  The Quonset huts were still in use but the large building that most likely was a repair shop had fallen into disrepair.  I was able to take a few pictures of the area.

Just down the road from the Turtle Museum we stopped at Fort Sao Pedro Do Boldro.  There was a snack bar and a large lawn extending to a cliff that overlooked the beautiful Americano Beach.  I was surprised to learn that the old fort (now nothing but the foundation remains) was the location of a US missile surveillance installation.

The area is known as the best place on the island to view the sunset and as it got closer to sunset crowds of people arrived until the lawn was full.  I found it interesting that few people had cameras and most of the people were using cell phones with many attempting to take selfies with the setting sun in the background.  We were there for an hour and finally the setting sun was engulfed in clouds before it passed below the horizon.

Our tour was over and on the drive back to the hotel the gang decided that lunch was so much they were just going to snack for dinner and asked Samuel to dropped us off at the grocery store.  They seemed to know what they wanted to buy but I took a little longer to find that they had readymade sandwiches and cashews that I bought for supper so by the time I exited the store in the dark the others had left.  As I walked up to the turn off the paved highway towards the hotel I saw Lorraine near the TV-FM building realizing she had missed the turn off to the hotel but she was reversing directions and turned up the right road, I thought.  I walked to the hotel and didn’t see any of the group.

Back in my room I called Judy.  It was a very poor connection.  I received some emails on my smart phone but couldn’t process them on my laptop.  Very frustrating!

I decided to write in my journal and found my laptop very sluggish with a lot of activity in the background.  I started checking to see was applications were running and found Dropbox was trying to index my Outlook files.  Somehow the “My Documents” folder had been copied into a sub file in my Dropbox.  It took an hour to delete the folder from Dropbox.  It sure freed up a lot of space on my disk drive but it delayed my writing in my journal.  I went to bed at 23:00 somewhat exhausted from the snorkeling.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014: Free Day in Fernando de Noronha

I awoke at 07:00 after a sound eight hour’s sleep.  People started arriving at the breakfast room outside my window so I decided to eat before I showered and shaved.  The great scrambled eggs were a little too salty but still were good.

After breakfast I laid my snorkeling gear out in the sun to dry.  The reef shoes were stubborn until I pulled out the innersole and discovered trapped water in little indentations.  Once I pulled out the innersole and washed them and laid them out separately the shoes started to dry.
My right hamstring was tight from the snorkeling so I decided to not go to the beach and attempt to snorkel or swim and instead to walk around the island.  At lunch time I invited Loraine to join me to walk into the village for a light lunch.

Loraine told me that the night before the gang had gotten lost walking to the hotel before I left the store.  I told her I had seen her up the road in front of the TV-FM station and that I saw her turn around and walk back to the correct exit.  What I didn’t know was at the exit she and Mary walked straight instead of veering to the right and they were so lost they stopped for assistance and found a Doctor who spoke English.  He did not know the location of the hotel so he called the number Mary had for the hotel and the receptionist directed him to the hotel.  He led them towards the hotel and started down the wrong path again and had to call a second time to steer in the right direction.  I am so glad I took the first trip to scout out the ticket office in the light of day.  They found Lynn waiting for them since Mary had the key to their room.  He had walked around the TV-FM station and a man watering a garden spoke English and had directed him to the hotel.

After walking around the village for almost an hour we stopped at the Flamboyant Restaurant that Samuel had recommended.  It had a self-service buffet where they charged by the weight of the food you selected.  We both had a small salad which is what I wanted, so we were satisfied we picked the right place to eat.  On the way back to the hotel we discovered the grocery store closed for lunch.  We didn’t need to buy anything but being from California we were surprised that a grocery store would ever close.

My snorkeling equipment had finally dried by the time I returned from lunch and I packed it away.  I then wrote in my journal and called Judy on Vonage.  It was still a bad connection but we were able to communicate.

The walking had not helped my hamstring so I spent the afternoon at the hotel.  Loraine and Lynn were taking advantage of the hammocks that hung outside our rooms.  I wrote a lot in my journal.
At 18:00 we decided to walk to the village for dinner.  The ladies remembered to take their flashlights.  We stopped at Xica Da Siva, the first restaurant past the grocery store where the hotel receptionist had recommended.  Samuel had not endorsed the recommendation but we were very impressed with our meals I had fish filet covered with butter sauce, capers, mushrooms, shrimp and parsley; grated mashed potato and a salad.  It was one of the finest meals I have ever had.  Lynn and Mary had beef and raved about their meal.  Samuel was wrong and the hotel receptionist was right.
Back in the room (no one got lost walking home) I updated my journal and retired.

Thursday, October 2, 2014: Fly from Fernando de Noronha to Recife

I had not set my alarm but I woke at 07:00 to the noise of the first couples eating breakfast across from my side window.  I postponed taking a shower and walked over to have breakfast first.  The great scrambled eggs that I described on Tuesday had been a little too salty on Wednesday and Loraine told us she had told the cook so on Thursday they were back to the same delicious taste.
After breakfast I returned to my room, showered, shaved and packed.  Check out time was scheduled for noon but our transfer was not scheduled until 13:00.  I processed email and wrote in my journal.
When we checked out at noon we sat in the air conditioned reception office and waited for Samuel to pick us up.  It was 14:00 when he arrived with a bus pulling a trailer for the luggage.  We were the first pickups on his route.  We stopped at several small hotels picking up additional passengers until the bus was full.  When we reached the airport and retrieved our luggage we found the airport terminal to be packed.  As we started to stand in line everyone motioned for us to enter the special line where a sign hung stating that in Brazil people over 60 years old were given special priority.  We checked in rather quickly and breezed through the exit process where we had to surrender the forms they gave us on entry and security.

The plane took off on schedule and arrived at the gate in Recife at 16:00.  A Gray Line Tours agent met us outside baggage claim and provided a bus to take us to our hotel.  I was assigned a room on the fifth floor and was surprised to discover an outlet on each side of the bed with American style.  Since we had not had lunch the group decided to leave for dinner at 17:30.  The hotel recommended some restaurants which were the same my guide had recommended on Sunday.  I lead the group to Entre Amigos that faced the beach.  We had a good meal but the waiter did not follow our instructions for one check for Lynn and Mary and separate checks for Lorraine and me.  At first he gave Lynn one check for all of us, then one for Lynn and Mary and another for Lorraine and me.  It took the head waiter to sort it out.

We stopped at a delicatessen on the way back to the hotel to purchase water.  Back in my room I wrote in my journal and retired at 23:00.

Friday, October 3, 2014: Fly from Recife to VCP, transfer to GRU and fly to IAD

The group were scheduled for a 08:00 Gray Line tour of Recife and Olinda.  I woke at 07:00 and went to breakfast before taking a shower so I could bid them good by.  I may not see Lorraine and Mary again since my next trip will be with just Lynn on the repeat and completion of the Antarctic Expedition in March 2015.

After seeing them off on their tour I returned to my room, showered and packed for my flight home.  My flight was scheduled for 13:30 so I checked out at 11:00 and took a taxi to the airport.  I was the only one in line at the check-in counter so I asked them for advice on how to economically transfer from the Viracopos Airport (VCP) to the Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) in Sao Paula.  They told me that Azul Airlines provided a free bus service to Campinas the city closes to VCP and from there is a bus to Guarulhos.  Since I had four hours between flights I should have been able to make it.  Security was a bit of a hassle.  I had to dump my carry-on again but everything was OK and I entered the departure hall and discovered that there was a lounge for American Express card holders.  It was nice and not very crowded.  As it got close to departure I walked to the gate and stopped to eat a tuna sandwich.  The flight took off on schedule and arrived in Viracopos twenty minutes early.
When I exited baggage claim I searched for the Azul counter where I could find out about the bus.  I couldn’t find an Azul office so I stopped at the information desk.  After a bit of discussion they recommend that I take a bus and pointed me to the bus line ticket office.  There I purchased a ticket to Guarulhos for US$14 for a bus immediately departing.  A flight attendant that was also taking the bus led me to it.  It took fifteen minutes to get to the Campinas bus station where I had to wait another fifteen minutes for the bus to Guarulhos.

The ride to Guarulhos started out fairly quickly but when we exited the toll road and entered into the highway from Sao Paula central to the airport it slowed down as we were caught in Friday night rush hour traffic.   I finally reached the airport at 20:00 and my flight was scheduled for 21:00.  Unfortunately the bus ended at terminal 2 and I had to take a shuttle bus to terminal 3 where United operated.

I didn’t get to the United counters until 20:20 and they told me they cut off the check in for my flight at 20:15 and had me rebooked on a 22:00 flight to Washington and on to LAX arriving just an hour later.

After checking in I went to the United Lounge and attempted to connect to WiFi and call Judy on Vonage.  For some reason my smart phone would not display the login screen for me to use the Lounge password.  As it got closer to departure I just called Judy on the cell phone and told her of my new arrival time and asked her to call the car service.

I had a very good seat on a middle aisle with no one next to me.  The plan departed on schedule.  I watched the movie “Chef” while I had dinner and then was able to sleep.

Saturday, October 4, 2014: Fly from IAD to LAX

A flight attendant woke me for breakfast after sleeping over five hours.  The plane landed at Dulles at 06:25 and I breezed through Passport Control using a Global Entry kiosk.  I had just one hour between flights and the IAD to LAX flight left on time and arrived at 10:40, one and a half hours later than my original schedule.  The car service driver was there to greet me and I was home before noon.  The quick trip was over.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wallis Island Tour Journal – June 2014


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:
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


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.