Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Indian Ocean Islands Tour January 2014

Overview: I started 2014 with a two week expedition to rarely visited Sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand in the Southern Ocean and my next adventure was to fly to Perth, Australia and then visit two, rarely visited by Americans, Australian islands, in the Indian Ocean: Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island.
The Advantage Travel & Tours group I had started with on the expedition in the Southern Ocean to sub-Antarctic islands had dwindled to five of us to visit the Indian Ocean islands (Laurie Campbell, Bob Ihsen, Del and Linda McCuen).

Sunday, January 12, 2014: Fly Auckland to Perth, Australia

I woke at 07:00 and showered, shaved and packed and then logged on to my email and continued the effort to sort through read and delete up to the time I had to leave for the airport.  We took a Super Shuttle to the airport and I left the group of Bob Ihsen, Laurie and the McCuen’s to find a Bag Storage facility to leave my bag of cold weather gear until I came back through Auckland on the 26th from Vanuatu.  There was one next to the Air New Zealand Premier check in.  I checked in for the flight, dropped off the bag for storage and entered security through a special line for Premier’s.  It was a fancy setup.  From there I went to the Air New Zealand Lounge, ate breakfast and continued to process email until my flight was called.

The flight was full.  I had an aisle seat in the middle and was relatively comfortable.  I watch three movies: Rush, The Millers, and Runner Runner.  Rush was a Golden Globe nominee.  The meal was good not great and we landed ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately the gate was still occupied so we had to wait on the ramp about thirty minutes before we got to the gate.  The McCuen’s were in the section ahead of me and Laurie and Bob were sitting behind me.  I didn't see any of them as I walked to the Passport control hall.  There I saw a sign that said if you had a passport with a chip embedded you could use a kiosk to process through and not have to stand in line.  I used the kiosk but it said I still needed to see an agent but the line from the kiosk to the agent was short so I cleared in a short period of time.  Why ahead of the others.  I then went to baggage claim and saw that the bags from our flight were listed as arriving on belt 2.  I waited a long time it seemed and then the crowd around belt 2 moved to belt 1 and there I saw my bag.  I exited the hall and still didn’t see any members of my group so I exchanged money and inquired about transportation to the hotel.  A sign said for $18 you could take a bus to hotels.  I returned to the hall and waited for the group to come out.  When they did I told them about the bus.  Everyone exchanged money and we proceeded outside where there was a bus.  The driver told us he only shuttled between the International and Domestic Terminals.  The bus to the hotels only left from the Domestic Terminal and didn't leave until 18:00.  It was only 17:00 so we decided to take a cab.  We found a cab that would fit the five of us and our luggage and only cost $60.  We piled in and found it to be a sweat box.  It wasn't until we got almost to the hotel before we discovered an additional air conditioning vent to the back seat.

My room was large with an outlet next to the bed.  I setup and still could not connect to Judy.  At last I caught up on my emails and went to the hotel restaurant to have dinner.  I ordered a Caesar salad and Bob joined me.  When I returned to my room I watched some TV and went to bed at 22:00.

Monday, January 13, 2014: Tour Perth, Australia

The five time zone shift from New Zealand to Perth affected my sleep.  I first woke at 3Am, went back to sleep then woke every hour and went back to sleep until 7AM when I decided to getup.  I spent some time on the computer trying to contact Judy on Skype without success.   I did talk to Wendy and she told me that Judy had trouble with her Skype login.

At 08:00 I went down to breakfast and saw Laurie just finishing her breakfast.  We agreed to meet at 09:15 to take a bus to Fremantle for a tour.  Knowing Laurie would not want to stop for lunch I ate a larger breakfast than usual.

Bob Ihsen met me in the lobby at 09:15 and reported that the McCuen’s were not going to join us for the tour.  He had researched and found the bus number to take to Fremantle.  Laurie soon arrived and we walked to the bus stop and found we had just missed the bus to Fremantle by a couple of minutes.  They ran every ten minutes so we caught the next one around 09:30.  It was a pleasant ride to Fremantle.  A gentleman on the bus gave us some advice as to the best stop we should take to visit the Fremantle Prison, the main attraction of our Fremantle tour.

We exited the bus near Shuffry St and walked back to Ord Street which had a sign pointing to the prison.  We walked along Fremantle Park past the Fremantle Art Center until we reached the back side of the Prison and then down the street to the front entrance.  We bought tickets for the 11:00 tour at about 10:50.

The tour took a little over an hour.  It was fascinating to learn about the life of the convicts sent from England to serve their sentences for sometimes minor crimes of poverty in the Australia Penal System.  The Fremantle Prison was the largest in Western Australia and the source of labor to build the infrastructure of the region.  It was used up to 1991.

At the end of the tour we had a cold drink in the snack bar and plotted our next move.  We had several maps with different lists of places to see and we decided to walk down to the information center and get their walking tour advice and maps.  It was about a 15 minute walk down a slope to the town hall where the information center was located.  They were very helpful and provided us with walking tour maps and urged us to take the train back to Perth as an alternative to the bus so we would see another area of the two cities.
The walking tour had 27 points of interest and it took us about an hour and one half to complete the circuit.  Along the way we walked down the High Street Mall, past the coffee houses, the market, the Esplanade Hotel, the park, the water front, harbor, beach, the Round House (last of the original buildings in the settlement), the Submarine Ovens, and eventually the railway station.  It was a beautiful day and not as hot as it had been over the weekend.  I took a lot of pictures of buildings, some of which dated back to the 1800’s.
The train ride back to the city only took about 35 minutes.  We then walked down to the Bell Tower, the main attraction in the city.  Along the way we passed the Post Office which has a water jet in front that children were playing in.  It was great fun to watch.  From the Bell Tower we walked along the edge of the river until we were abeam of our hotel and turned to cross a park and up a street to the street our hotel was on.  It had been a great day of site seeing and walking.

Back in the room I logged on to my computer and saw the results of the Golden Globe Awards, wrote some emails and updated my journal until 18:30 when I met Laurie and Bob for dinner.  We walked down to an Irish Pub in the Novotel Hotel.  I ordered Fish and Chips, Bob Bangers and Mash, Laurie Salmon salad.  They messed up the order and my order didn’t arrive until after Bob had finished.  The waiter apologized and gave us another round of drinks but it was after 20:00 when Laurie and I left the Pub.
Back in the room I wrote in my journal and went to bed before 22:00.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014: Fly Perth to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands via Christmas Island

I woke at 03:40 and was able to connect with Judy via Skype.  Wendy had helped her get her Skype working again on her desk top but this morning’s call was done via her iPhone.  After the call I showered, shaved, packed and checked out.  Bob was already in the lobby.  The taxi service sent a van so the ride to the airport was more comfortable than we experienced arriving.

At the airport I checked in at the priority desk thinking that Virgin Australia was a Star Alliance Partner.  The agent thought it was and entered my United Mileage Plus number in the flight record and told me to go to the Singapore Airlines Lounge at the Departure level.  There were very few passengers in the terminal and the Passport and security check had no lines.  The passport control agent wanted to know how I found the heat over the weekend.  When I told him I was used to it in California he remarked that they weren’t used to it in Perth even though they have sunny days most of the year.

The Singapore Airlines Lounge agent rejected my entry.  It turned out that Virgin Australia is an Air New Zealand partner but is not a Star Alliance partner.

I hadn’t had any breakfast and the flight to the islands was going to be on an Embraer 190 and I didn’t think they would serve a hot meal on that size aircraft so I bought a grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwich.  Bob joined me and eventually Laurie.

The plane loaded on time.  I was assigned an aisle seat in row 12 and Linda and Del were across the aisle.  The plane looked full but later I learned that there were empty seats near the rear.  I was comfortable and didn’t move.  My seat companion was a nurse that had worked on both Cocos and Christmas Islands and gave me advice on what to do while I was visiting.  I had a hard time understanding her accent so I didn’t get all the details she provided.

The routing was kind of weird.  We flew to Christmas Island and disembarked with our carry-on, processed through security and then boarded the same aircraft but with a different flight number.  While we were waiting to board I talked with the nurse.  She had worked throughout Africa, India and Asia.  She wanted to know what was my favorite country and I think was disappointed when I told her it was the United States and that San Francisco was my favorite city to visit although it used to be Hong Kong.  She liked India which is not high on my list.  I told her I found it interesting to visit but not a place that I would want to live like London or Paris.  I think she was surprised.

When we boarded the aircraft I was assigned the same seat but as soon as we took off the passenger in the seat in front of me reclined the seat fully and I moved several rows back.  It was a shorter flight than the first leg.  The time zone in Cocos Island was one and a half hour earlier than Perth (same as Rangoon).
When we arrived we were greeted outside the arrival terminal by a lady from the Cocos Castaway Resort.  She led us across the road and down to buildings to the building Bob, Laurie and I were assigned.  It was 13:30 and she told us the pub would close at 14:00 and that it was a holiday and most everything was closed.  Dinner was scheduled for 18:00.

The room Bob and I would share was large with a kitchen and a washing machine.  Next to one of the beds was a power strip so I took that bed and Bob was happy because the other bed was closer to the bathroom.

We dumped our bags in the room and walked over to the pub for a cold drink before it closed.  The bartender was a character and we chatted until closing at 14:00.  Bob returned to our cabin but I went exploring.  It didn't take long to see all the buildings in the area of the airport.  Across from our cabin was the Information Center which was closed for the holiday.  I walked around it and then walked to the beach.  I was contemplating going swimming and returned to my cabin to unpack and change into my bathing suit.
When I unpacked my laptop I found that I could connect to the Internet but needed to purchase service.  It was a catch 22.  They only used PayPal to purchase the service and I couldn't connect to PayPal without having service.  I guessed that I would have to sign up at the Information Center.

Since I had set up my laptop I decided to update my journal and didn't go swimming.  At 17:00 I went for a walk and ran into Linda and Del.  They were just returning from a walk and reported that the jungle up the road was full of flies.  Laurie walked past and I walked over to the runway and discovered that a Navy P-3 was parked on the ramp.  Earlier we had heard a prop plane land so I guess that it was the P-3.  I then walked down to the beach and found terrific erosion.  There was about a ten foot drop and there was caution tape strung along the edge.  Several palm trees that had fallen looked like it was a recent event.  I walked along the edge, past the Castaway cabins and behind the clinic back to the road.

Across the road was Dory’s Cafe which was closed and I continued down the road looking for a place to access the beach.  A local named Jeff came out and introduced himself.  He told there was a swimming hole a little way down the road but it the area in back of the Castaway was not a place to swim.  It had a very rocky bottom and the beach was littered with downed palm trees and trash.  It was getting close to dinner so I thanked Jeff and returned to my cabin.  On the way I passed by the Supermarket which was closed.
Dinner was a little bit of a shock.  It was an all you can eat buffet of roast chicken pieces, beef casserole, fried fish, pasta, rice, salads, and steamed vegetables.  It cost $33 and their credit card machine was not working.  It wiped out my cash.  I had a piece of fish, some beef and a lot of salad.  We ate outside and hoped to catch a photo of the sun setting below the ocean but there was a cloud bank and the sun disappeared into it and the next thing we knew it was dark.

Back at our cabin Laurie had difficulty lowering her window shades.  I experimented on one of ours and it was tricky but I thought I could get it to work so I went over to her cabin and after several attempts we got her shades down and the sliding glass door blinds closed.  I returned to our cabin and I eventually got our shades down but I had to go outside to close the patio door blinds.

Bob was writing in his journal so after getting ready for bed I updated my journal.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014: Tour Cocos (Keeling) Islands

I slept rather well although Bob got up many times to go to the bathroom and the door slides on rollers that would wake me up.  A little after six Bob got up and took a shower.  I got up before 06:30 and showered and shaved.  At 07:00 we went for a walk.  Most everything opens at 08:00.  I was able to talk to a lady in an office and she was no help.  She just told me to wait until 08:00 for the ATM and the Internet voucher.  I walked down to the Restaurant and found Laurie and the McCuen’s eating breakfast.  Laurie was having the Continental breakfast for $19 and the McCuen’s the cooked breakfast for $24.  The credit card machine was still out of order and the cook said use the ATM machine.

I returned to my cabin and was not a happy camper.  We had not been warned that we could not use credit cards to buy our food on the island.  I think it is outrageous that the ATM is locked up and that nothing is open on a holiday when so few flights come in.  As far as I am concerned the first day was a bust because of the holiday.  I guess I am spoiled by living in California where at least ATM’s and Supermarkets are open on holidays.  The irony is the holiday was a Muslim Holiday on a Muslim Island in a Christian country and the one thing open was the restaurant which was staffed by Muslims.  The island atoll has been Muslim since its first inhabitants who were “Trading Malay”.  They mainly live on the Home Island whereas the airport and our cabins where on the West Island which is populated by Australians.  It is a thirty minute ferry ride between the two islands.  In the atoll there is also South Island, North Keeling Island, Horsburgh Island and Direction Island.

At 08:00 I crossed the street to the Information Center.  I was still grumpy and told the staff that they should have the ATM in the airport or at least open on holidays for a period when the bi-weekly flight arrives.  I withdrew $100 from the ATM and then talked to them about the crazy internet.  They never have tested the sign-in so they were not able to help me.  I purchased a 1 day voucher and then walked to Dory’s Café to have breakfast.

Dory’s Café’s credit card machine was working and I had a nice egg on toast with bacon and English Breakfast Tea for $25.50.  When I returned to the cabin, Bob told me that the island tour had been postponed until 11:00.  I then went to the Supermarket and bought some items for lunch, a can of tuna, a packet of flat bread, some crackers, fiber bars and iced tea.

With time to kill I tried to get my email.  It took a very long time before I got to the screen to enter my voucher code.  When I did I got a message that the internet service was down so I couldn’t connect to my email.  It was then time to walk back to Dory’s Café to meet the electric bus for our island tour at 11:00.
Ray Marshall, owner of AAA Cocos Tours picked us up in an open electric mini bus that sat 12 (a large golf cart would also describe it).  He started out driving us around the airport terminal area explaining that it was the center of the settlement on West Island.  He pointed out the Supermarket, Dive Shop, Fire House, the school, the Golf Course, and the school.  He then drove past the terminal, the Tropika Restaurant, the Pub, the various resort cabins, and the light industry area.  From there he drove north explaining the history of the island and stopped at “The Shack” where the surf boards are stored and used when the surf is up.  There is no fear that someone would steal a surfboard so rather than lug them from home and back they are just stored at “The Shack”.  The area had a wooden walkway to the beach and a small covered picnic table with solar powered lights and a brick BBQ.  Back in the bus he drove us through an area called the Cocos Tropical Food – Farm Project.  An area that was cleared and soil imported to grow fruits and vegetables and raise chickens goats and ducks.  Past a burned out area and the farm buildings we rode through a jungle trail and stopped to walk alone a path full of crab holes to a fresh water lagoon.  It had some chairs and a table and Ray told us it was a favorite spot for bird watchers.

Back on the paved road we drove to North Point, the end of the island where there is a long wooden wharf and the fuel tank farm.  All vehicles have to drive up to this point to refuel.  The area was also where they filled sand bags that are used to stop erosion of the coast.

The sand bags are not like I have commonly seen.  The sand bags where made of a thick felt material and stood 5 feet tall and were 3 by 3 feet wide.  They used a special sewing machine to stitch the top closed.  There were a hundred or so bags stored in the area.

Our next stop was Trannies Beach (Named after the nearby radio transmission tower), the best swimming beach on the island.  It had two picnic shelters, a brick BBQ and a restroom.  The edge of the beach was protected by three layers of sand bags.  A wide area was free of rocks and coral enabling swimmers to walk out to an area for snorkeling or for the kids and area protected from the waves were they could safely play in the water.

From the beach which was on the west or ocean side of the island we rode to the Rumah Baru Jetty on the east side of the island where the ferry to the other islands departs.  It was a new multi-million dollar structure of concrete with aluminum railings.  It was a very impressive site.
Ray continued to tell us the history of the island and the politics and differences between the mostly Malay Muslims that live on the Home Island and the mostly Caucasian Aussies that live on the West Island.  He mentioned that the USAF was rumored to want to establish a base on the island.  He also agreed with our observation that the island tourist administration does not appear to go out of its way to encourage and welcome tourists to the island.

He dropped us off so we could get ready for our afternoon ferry to Home Island.  He had not completed the tour and agreed to pick us up the next morning at 09:00 to complete the tour of the southern area of West Island and then drop us off at Trannies Beach for two hours so we could swim and snorkel and then pick us back up and deliver us to our cabins.

Since we hadn’t eaten lunch, I went to the supermarket and bought a can of tuna, some burrito bread, crackers, mayo, energy bars and some ice tea.  Back in the cabin I fixed some rolled tuna sandwiches for Bob and myself.

At 14:20 we caught the island bus for a $.50 ride to the Jetty.  The ferry arrived at 15:00.  It was also new, a catamaran hull, with a large seating area with a TV screen on the main deck and about thirty aluminum seats on the top deck.  It took less than thirty minutes to cross between the islands and ran every thirty minutes during daylight hours.  Wednesday was the one day of the week when it ran at night and that was why the tour we went on only was scheduled on Wednesdays.

The nurse that sat next to me on the flight from Perth to Christmas Island was on the ferry.  She told me she lives on Home Island and works two days a week at the clinic on West Island.

The Home Island wharf was nowhere near as fancy as the West Island Jetty and when we docked we were met by Osman 'Ozzie' Macrae, our guide for a tour of the Home Island.  In addition to the five of us a family of five joined us for the tour.  We walked off the wharf to a table under some trees along the water’s edge. 
Ozzie started by telling us the history of the Home Island, the island’s people and his family and personal history.  Some of his version of the history differed from Ray’s.  We immediately sensed that the people of Home Island and West Island have different views of history and how the islands have and should develop.
He started with the facts that in 1609 Captain William Keeling, a merchant seaman and adventurer exploring the East for the East India Company, discovered the islands during one of his voyages from Java to England, then in 1825 Captain John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish trader, lands on the islands on a homeward voyage from the East Indies.  He surveyed the islands, digs some wells and plants some fruit trees.  Captain John Clunies-Ross then contacts a friend in Borneo and asks him to bring some men to the island and harvest the coconuts.  So in 1826 Alexander Hare, and a group of his slaves are brought to the islands by the Captain’s brother Robert Clunies-Ross.  Hare sets up the first settlement on Home Island.  The following year Captain John Clunies-Ross and party arrive and settle on another of the islands in the group but later moves to South Island due to a falling out with Hare.  A couple of years later Hare exports the first coconut oil from islands to England.  Hare’s operation occupies Home, Horsburgh, Direction and Prison Islands with a total of 98 en-slaved persons, mainly of Malay decent.

By 1831 increasing disputes between Alexander Hare and John Clunies-Ross result in Hare leaving the islands and John Clunies-Ross assumes control of the islands and the slaves.  In 1886 Queen Victoria grants the islands to George Clunies-Ross and his descendants.  He built a mansion he called Oceania House using tiles and bricks from Scotland which was completed in 1893.  After his death his descendants continued to rule the island.

The coconut operation thrived and the number of workers increased to over 2,000 who lived and worked on the island in awful working conditions.  They were paid 700 Rupees in plastic ‘coins’ a month for collecting and husking 700 coconuts per day.  The men did the collecting and husking while the women did the processing of the coconuts into oil.  No outsiders were allowed on Home Island.

The islands had been a territory of Singapore but In 1955 Cocos (Keeling) Islands 'officially' become an Australian Territory and the Australian Government established a permanent presence on West Island.  In the late 1960’s John Cecil Clunies-Ross requested Home Rule (internal self-government) from the Australian government which resulted in the Australian government inviting a UN committee of 24 to visit and report on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.  The report documented the pay in fake money, the lack of schools, no electricity, and almost slave-like working conditions.  In reaction to the report, in 1978 the Australian Government purchased all of the Clunies-Ross land on Cocos Islands for Australian $6.25 million, less Oceania House and 5 hectares surrounding it.

Union organizers came in and the Cocos Islands Workers Co-Operative Society was established as the commercial arm of the community, to run the copra industry, building construction, maintenance and stevedoring.  The workers had been paid on the each coconut processed but were then salaried and the incentive to maximize the daily production diminished and by 1980 the island's copra industry ceased operation and many Malays left for Malaysia and the Australian mainland.

A second UN visiting mission was sent to the islands in 1980 resulting in legislation for compulsory education of Cocos residents.  Extensive preparations were then undertaken by the government of Australia to prepare the Cocos Malays to vote in a referendum of self-determination.  Discussions began in 1982, with an aim of holding the referendum, under United Nations supervision, in mid-1983.

Under guidelines developed by the UN Decolonization Committee, residents were offered 3 choices: full independence, free association, or integration with Australia.  The people were told that schools free medical, electricity, and typhoon resistant houses would be provided if they integrated with Australia.  The vote was held on 6 April 1984, with all 261 eligible islanders participating, including the Clunies-Ross family: 229 voted for integration, 21 for Free Association, 9 for independence, and 2 failed to indicate a preference.  So, in 1984, Home Islanders became Australian citizens.

Ozzie told us his father had left but returned and he had been born in Malaysia and had attended school in Australia where his mother now lives.  His father practiced the Muslim faith as did almost all the residence of Home Island did and had many wives and 21 children.

We had been told by Ray on the morning tour that there was a high rate of unemployment on Home Island implying that the locals were content to fish and live off the “dole”.  Ozzie was asked about it and he was very defensive claiming the Manager of Unemployment payments was the source of the information in a statement to the press without checking his facts.  He calculated the percentage of workers as a percentage of the total population of Home Island not factoring in children, mothers and the aged.  He claimed that there were very few able bodied locals that were not working.

I fact checked his statements and found that in May 2012 there was an article in an Australian TV station documenting abuse and fraud of welfare claims.  The CIA World Factbook lists the unemployment rate at 60% in their December 2013 list but it was based on a 2000 report.

After the lengthy background talk we started the tour.  We were supposed to be driven in an electric carts but he had a battery problem so he had two vehicles and asked the woman in the family group with us to drive and follow him.  I got in the Kawasaki “Mule” open vehicle (manufactured in Lincoln, Nebraska, city of my graduate school, the University of Nebraska).  Ozzie was driving along with Laurie, Bob and the two children from the family.  The McCuen’s rode in the other vehicle. 

We rode down concrete block paved streets past rows of identically constructed concrete cottages with metal roofs and front porches.  Some were very nicely decorated and some had their front yards full of plants and flowers.

We stopped at the new High School and walked around.  The term ‘High School’ did not mean the same as in the US.  The Home Island High School only teaches students in Kindergarten to year 6.  From year 7 to 10 they attend school on West Island.  For year 11 and 12 they have to go to Christmas Island or the main land.

The building has an open covered area between two rows of classrooms and offices.  At one end was a two story high mural with pictures of all the colorful fish found in the local waters painted by a local artist.  A picture of each student showed that 43 students attended last year.  The school was closed for the summer break. (Remember I was “down under”).

Leaving the school we also left the paved street and rode through the trees towards the Oceania House or as some call it the “Big House”.  Ozzie told us that members of the Clunies Ross family were in town and charge a $20 admission per person fee to tour the house so he drove to an open stoned fence field next door.  Through a door in the high fence we could see buildings that makeup the estate.  The closest building was two stories with a balcony running the length of the building and doors every 30 feet.  It reminded me of the servant’s quarters on the plantation I visited in November on the island of Principe in the country of Sao Tome and Principe.  Ozzie claims it was just a warehouse but it may now be used as one but it looked like it was built as a school, living quarters or an administration building.  From our vantage point all we could see of the Big House were windows and outside stairs.

We then rode to a jetty nearby.  As we walked to the dock we passed a large fiberglass object that looked like it might have once been a bathtub or a crude boat.  Ozzie told us it had washed up on shore and had been dragged to its current position.  A few feet away were two large round stones next to a pit of the same size.  A sign above them read:
These grinding wheels were used to make oil from the Jarak plant.  This oil was used to stop corrosion on tools and was painted on to wood to stop termites.  The wheels may also have been used to crush or grind shells and rocks to make bricks for the big house, watchtower, old school and other buildings.
               Year 3 and 4 class,
               Home Island Campus 2006

We got back in the vehicles and rode past a Mosque under construction next to the current Mosque.  Ozzie told us it had been under construct for a long time but the main prayer room was finished and in use.  I ask him where the Imam came from and he told me that there were several and that the position rotates among the elders of the community.

We stopped in the parking lot of the community center where we could use the facilities.  Then we walked across the street and into the back of a house belonging to an old couple.  The backyard addition to the house had an open air cover with a roof over a shop filled with wood working and metal working tools.  We were introduced to an old man who invited us to sit down while he served us a fruit punch drink and sweet bananas.

Ozzie explained the traditional trade of the islands while the old man sat weaving a basket with grass reeds.  It took him a little more than five minutes to weave a sturdy wine bottle size basket.  Above me handing in a tree were baskets he had woven that had dried from their green to a brown color but were just as strong.
Next the old man showed us how to husk a coconut, take the nut and open it.  He had the girl’s father try to husk a coconut.  Next he opened a nut and shed it to make coconut milk and coconut oil.  It was a great session.  He offered to sell cups fashioned from the coconut halves.  They would have been two large to fit in our luggage and we passed but the family bought some items.

The sun was beginning to set so we rode to Sunset Point.  We had an unobstructed view of the setting sun but a sea level cloud bank prevented us from seeing it sink below the horizon.  A short drive away was the ‘Pulu KoKos Museum Cultural and Heritage Precinct’ opened in 2008.  It contained local artifacts and a very detailed Historical Chronology of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands which I found very informative and helped validate Ozzies early recital of the islands history.  When he is not conducting tours he worked cleaning the museum so he has an almost daily opportunity to memorize the history.  One thing he had not mentioned in his introduction talk was Boat Building.  Captain John Clunies-Ross was a shipwright and passed on his skill to his decedents.  Boats were locally built to transport the coconuts between the islands and the processing plants and to the ships that would transport them to Singapore and England.  There also were displays that described the influence of outsiders brought to the islands by war.
The war historical events listed were:

·         1901 Eastern Extension Telegraph Station establishes a relay cable station on Direction Island. Cables go to Rodrigues, Mauritius, which then links to Durban, South Africa, also to Batavia, Java, which then links to Singapore and also to Fremantle, Western Australia.
·         1910 A Wireless Station is established to communicate with passing ships.
·         1914 Cocos Cable Station is attacked by the German raider SMS Emden. The Emden is defeated by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney and beached on the reef at North Keeling Island in what is now Pulu Keeling National Park.
·         1941 Ceylon Garrison Artillery establishes 2 x 6-inch guns on Horsburgh Island.
·         1942 February: a naval bombardment from a Japanese submarine causes slight damage to the Cable Station.
·         March: A Japanese warship shells Direction Island; false wireless message send 'Direction Island knocked out', shell holes are painted on side of buildings and huge decoy fires convince Japanese that the relay station is destroyed. Station continues to operate in secret.
·         1943 Qantas begins a non-stop service across the Indian Ocean between Perth and Colombo via Cocos Islands; they flew 5700 kms and averaged 27-30 hours in the air.  The service was terminated in 1946 after 824 crossings had been made.
·         A regular Japanese air raid from Java visits Cocos weekly, several Islanders are killed and Home Island homes destroyed.
·         1944 Major bombing raids kill two Islanders and destroys 27 Home Island houses.
·         1945 Several thousand British servicemen build and operate a RAF bomber base and Air Staging Post on West Island.  The bomber and fighter planes of 11 RAF squadrons are based on Cocos Islands until the end of WW2.
·         Operation Cockroach begins, an 1828-meter airstrip is constructed on West Island in two months.  During peak of runway construction 8300 military personnel are on Cocos.
·         1951 The Australian Government purchases 367 acres for an aerodrome on West Island.  500 RAAF commence airstrip construction.
·         1952 Qantas begins commercial flights through Cocos to Johannesburg and Singapore.
·         1954 The Queen visits Cocos Islands on Britannia.
·         1974 Despite the operation of the airport on West Island the Prime Minister of Australia stated: “There is no part of the world where things have changed so little.”

While we were touring the museum Ozzie was setting up our dinner in an open sided pavilion between the museum building and the shore, a short walk to the ferry terminal.  It was a fabulous Malay dinner with fish and meats with spices he told us that his wife and family members had contributed recipes.
After the meal we walked to the wharf and boarded the ferry for the ride back to West Island and the bus to our Resort.

It had been a long day and I didn't even attempt to write in my journal.

Thursday, January 16, 2014: Tour Cocos Island

I ate breakfast at 08:00 at Dory’s Café and then rented snorkeling fins and mask at the information center. 
We met with Ray at 08:30 to complete the rest of our West Island tour.  He drove us out to the Air Force Road which parallels the runway and then southeast along the golf course, past the school to a beautiful sandy beach bay at Scout Park.  There was a recreation center built there with picnic tables, BBQ pits and a stage.  Island parties are held there with live music on the stage.  Windsurfing is available and there was a children’s playground.  A little distance away was the Yacht Club where they had constructed a concrete brick boat ramp.

Ray then drove us back to our bungalows where the Bob got off and the McCuen’s put on their swim suits and got their snorkeling gear and rejoined Laurie and me for a drive north to Trannies Beach where he dropped us off to swim and snorkel for a couple of hours.

There were two mothers with their girls already in the water.  One of the mothers we had met.  She was from Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York, across Long Island Sound from Westport, Connecticut where I went to High School.  She is married to the island Meteorologist.  They had recently started a three year contract after living in Virginia.  There were two picnic tables and Laurie, the McCuens and I set up on one.  There was a drop to get down to the beach.  The wall was reinforced by sand bags so it was easy to walk down to the beach on the sand bags.  The beach wasn’t very wide to the water but there was a sandy path between coral rocks leading to a shallow area the kids could play in.  Beyond the shallow area there was a lot more coral which formed a buffer between the deep water and pounding surf and the “swimming hole”.
Laurie and I waded in past the pool area and started to snorkel in an area with lots of coral.  The coral was not very colorful with rare exceptions but the fish were with a large variety is size, type and colors.  I snorkeled around for almost an hour, rarely sticking my head above the water and generally in a depth where I could stand on smooth coral if I wanted to.  After a while the McCuens joined us and I think another couple was in the area but there was enough beautiful fish and coral formations where the fish swam in and out of that we didn’t run into each other.  After the hour I decided I was probably losing the sun screen on my back and my head which isn’t exposed to sun very often was probably getting sun burned so I got out.
Laurie quit about the same time and decide to walk on the “Bi-Centennial Trail” in the rain forest along the beach line towards the art center south of Trannies Beach.  I joined her and we walked for about thirty minutes and then returned.  The McCuens had stopped snorkeling and the tide was coming in with an increase in waves into the “swimming hole”.  In the deeper water we could see small harmless black-tip reef sharks swimming in the area we had been snorkeling.  It was 13:00 and Ray arrived to take us back to the Castaway.

I had a tuna lunch and an apple that I had bought at the Supermarket in the bungalow.  Bob was writing in his notebook so I went for a walk down past the golf course to take a close up picture of the Air Force Road sign.  Below the road name was an inscription that read:

This aerodrome originally established during the 1939-45 war by the R.A.F and reconstructed by No. 2 Airfield Construction Squadron R.A.A.F in 1952”.

I then walked past the school and past the Administrator’s house and back to the Castaway. 
At 17:30 Bob and I walked to the pub for the special ‘Malay Food Night’.  The Malay food on the menu was a choice of:

  • ·         Curry Puffs
  • ·         Spring Rolls
  • ·         Chicken Satays
  • ·         Sushi
  • ·         Peri Peri Chicken Burgers
  • ·         Peri Peri Chicken Salad
  • ·         Octopus Salad with Rice  PawPaw Salad
We had a drink at the bar waiting for the rest of our group to arrive.  Bob had a Diet Coke and I had a “James Squire One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale”.  It was pretty good.  When the group arrived I ordered the Peri Peri Chicken Burger.  (The salads just didn’t look like they were big enough for a meal).  The pub got busy and we met the Meteorologist and had a nice chat.  The food was sold out by 19:00 and we returned to our bungalows.

Friday, January 17, 2014: Fly Cocos Island to Christmas Island

I got up before the alarm went off, showered, shaved and packed.  Check in time for our flight to Christmas Island was 11:00.  Bob went to breakfast at Dory’s Café and I ate the last of my yogurt and fiber bars in the cabin.  I make tea in the microwave and I guess because the power is 220V it boiled over in two minutes.  Usually in the US I find 2 to 3 minutes brews a good cup of tea.  As we waited for check in time we read and wrote in our journals.

A few minutes before 11 Bob and I wheeled our bags over to the terminal across the road from our cabin.  They hadn't opened the counter.  The agent told me that the baggage handlers were on the 10:30 ferry from Home Island so she had to wait for them.  I had left my reading material in the cabin so I decided to walk back and get it to read while we waited for the baggage handlers to arrive.

On the way Ray drove by and stopped to show me the business card of the TCC member that had recently stayed at his place.  Her name was Helene Eckstein from Golden, Colorado.  He had told us earlier that she was a travel agent from New York City so we thought that Laurie may have met her at a New York TCC meeting.  It turned out that Laurie did know her, has traveled with her and still corresponds with her.  She had a traveling companion from New York who was probably with her in Cocos which we figured created the confusion in Ray’s mind.

I picked up my reading material and returned to the terminal.  People were starting to form a line so Bob and I got in the line and then the baggage handlers arrived as did dozens of other people from the ferry I guessed.  We got our boarding passes and returned to our cabin to wait until the boarding time of 13:30.
I still had some tuna, cheese, crackers and sandwich wraps, in the refrigerator so I used it make lunch.  We heard the plane land about 12:50 and decided to finally leave and go to the terminal again.  Just as we got there the doors opened and we went to the security check area.  I found it interesting that my knee didn’t set off any alarms and I breezed through and walked to the aircraft.  It was the same plane we had flown in on and since the crew stayed over we had the same flight crew flying us to Christmas Island.

The flight was uneventful and took an hour and a half.  When we landed at Christmas Island and entered the terminal the transit passengers were directed to the left and the small group of us stood waiting for them to open the door to the baggage pick up area stood on the right.

When the door was open we found our luggage was piled on a trailer and we removed it ourselves and walked out handing our arrival card to an agent.  Cocos (Keeling) Island and Christmas Island are Australian territories with addresses that list them as WA (Western Australia) but the administration requires that we fill out an entry card like we were entering Australia from a foreign country.  No one could explain it.

Outside the terminal we were met by Lisa Preston from Indian Ocean Experiences.  She had a Toyota Land Cruiser which held the five of us and most of our luggage with my carry on the roof rack.  She drove us to The Sunset Hotel, explaining the history of the island and pointing out places on the way.

The Territory of Christmas Island is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.  It is called Christmas Island because it was discovered on Christmas Day, 1643 by Captain William Mynors of the East India Company ship, the Royal Mary.  It had a population of 2,000 plus residents, the majority being Chinese Australian who live in a number of "Settlement areas" on the northern tip of the island.  We rode through the settlements of: Drumsite and Poon Saan, then by Silver City and down a steep curving road to Flying Fish Cove and finally to Settlement where The Sunset Hotel was located.

The island's isolation (it did not lay on any trade routes) and a history of minimal human disturbance have led to a high level of uniqueness among its flora and fauna, which is of significant interest to scientists and naturalists.  Over half the island is an Australian national park with are large areas of monsoonal forest.  Phosphate, deposited originally as guano, has been mined on the island since 1888 and has been the main revenue and work source since then.

One of the places Lisa drove us by was a restaurant she recommended a short walk from our hotel.  She then showed us to our rooms.  Bob and I had the room on the north end of the building on the second floor, Linda and Del next to us and Laurie next to them.

After we unpacked the five of us decided to walk to the Supermarket and buy groceries for our breakfast and lunches.  Next door and across a large parking lot from our hotel was the Golden Bosun Tavernt.  Lisa had told us it was closed but we saw people in it so we investigated and found that the restaurant was opening that night for the first time in several weeks.  We made a reservation and continued on our walk to the Supermarket.  Bob and I decided to buy a box of Cheerios, yogurt, bananas, apples and drinks.  For lunch we bought a box of Tuna lunches of four packages.

We arrived back at the little road to our hotel at 17:30 and there was a little Chinese man standing there with the Rental Car that was reserved for us.  It was in Del’s name so he signed for it.  When we polled the group it turned out that I was the only one we recent stick shift experience so I became the designated driver.  Del had a stick shift truck over ten years ago so he thought he could drive it but preferred that I do the driving.
We went to dinner at the Golden Bosun at 18:30.  I ordered their Fish and Chips and it was as good as I have ever had.  The dinners ranged from $30 to $45 so it was not cheap but everyone thought their dinner was great.

After dinner I connected to the Internet and it was very slow so I wasn't able to read all my emails and went to bed.

Saturday, January 18, 2014: Tour Christmas Island

I woke just before 06:30 and took a shower and shaved.  My computer had crashed during the night and it took me a while and several restarts before I could get running and connected to the internet.  I was then able to talk to Judy via Skype.

Bob and I then were setting up breakfast on the balcony when we saw a very frustrated Laurie down below.  She told us she had locked herself out of her room and there was nobody around from the hotel management to let her in.  I asked her if she had locked the door to the balcony and she replied that she didn't think so.  She then decided to come up to our room and climb over the low wall onto Linda and Del’s balcony and then across the roof to her balcony.  We let her in and she successfully got back in her apartment.  I wish I had thought of taking pictures of her crawling across the roof to the wall of her balcony.
I then had my breakfast of a bowl of Cheerios, yogurt, and tea out on the balcony.  After breakfast I went online with my laptop and read emails.  I still had not completely caught up to all the emails I received during the expedition when I was off line.

At 09:00 Lisa arrived and we started our tour of the island.  She started out driving east around North East Point stopping at the Phosphate Hill Cemetery where we took pictures of some beautiful Chinese shrines.  We then proceeded south to the Christmas Island Resort.

The Resort was built as a Casino Resort but no longer functions as a casino.  It has passed through several owners and renovations and was then rented primarily to government works.  The rate for tourists was over $200 per night so it is only used as overflow when the other hotels are full.  We didn’t go in but the lobby looked very nice.

From the resort we headed back north and stopped to see up close a red crab that still had eggs crawling toward the sea.  The island has tens of million red crabs.  Each year at the beginning of the wet season (which is usually October to November), the red crabs begin a migration to the coast from their holes in the rain forest, to breed.  They blanket the roads, rocks and anything in their way.  There are road signs cautioning drivers to not run over the crabs.  Roads are closed during the migration and many roads have paths for the crabs under them with metal grids on top for the light hoping the crabs would use them instead of the road.  The breeding day is determined by a phase of the moon and the migration takes place in a short period of time so it was unusual for us to see a crab still carrying eggs in mid-January.

Our next stop was at ‘The Grotto’ which was a short walk from the road to a hole in the rocks with crystal clear water and a white sandy bottom.  It would be difficult to swim in the beautifully inviting pool but a rope around a pinnacle of rock enables those that want to swim, to lower themselves into the pool.  Lisa said you could swim out to the open ocean from the hole but the coast is a rocky cliff so there would be nowhere to get back to dry land without a very long swim south to a beach.

Back on the tour we rode into the Rocky Point settlement where the island administrator lives in a nice home with a beautiful northern view of the sea.  The politically appointed island administrator was outside his house raking leaves.  We then rode past our hotel and the Flying Fish Cove where Lisa pointed out the Post Office, the Mosque, Kampong settlement, and then up a narrow winding road to Tai Jin House the original home of the Administrator of the Island.  It is affectionately known locally as "Buck House" and had expansive gardens and was used for community events.  The grounds provide excellent views overlooking Flying Fish Cove but a former Administrator thought it projected the wrong message living in a grand house overlooking the island settlements so he moved to a house in Rocky Point.

A little way past Tai Jin House was a restored gun installed by the British Navy in 1941 along with buildings that were used to defend the Cove during the Second World War.  Lisa told us it was used just once on a Japanese submarine.  There was a plaque on the wall near the gun that listed the six British solders that were killed in defense of the island in March 1942.

We then drove back past the cove and up the hill on Murray Road, turned off to drive through Silver City and back to Murray Road and on to Territory Day Park where there was a picnic spot, with BBQ and playground equipment and The Nursery lookout.  The lookout overlooked Flying Fish Cove, the Kampong, Settlement and the shipping operations.

Driving back down to the Settlement we had Lisa drop us off at the Information Center across from the Supermarket.  I picked up some guides and maps of the island and then walked back to the lodge.
We ate lunch in our room and at 13:00 set out to explore the island in the rental car.  Linda and Del decided to explore on their own so it was just Bob, Laurie and me.  I was the driver.  Laurie had planned the trip and served as the navigator.

We started out to Ethel Beach on the east side of the island past the Christmas Island Resort.  On the way we stopped to take pictures of caves in the rocks along the road.   Just before the Resort at the point we had seen the red crab carrying her eggs we turned up a winding hill and then down towards Lily Beach.  The road soon became a rocky track for four wheel drive vehicles and we stopped at the sign for Ethel Beach.  There was a boat landing nearby and a local was just towing a boat up the grade as we approach.  In the car park area a group of scuba divers were just returning from a dive and packing up to leave.  It was a short walk to the beach which I found a little unique because the stones on the beach were shaped like cigarettes.  While we were walking around taking pictures a young couple entered the surf with snorkeling gear and soon swam out of sight.

We walked back to the car and drove past the boat landing up the gravel road to the Lily Beach car park.  Lily Beach is a keyhole beach with cuts into sheer cliff on either side.  There was a gazebo with table and chairs and a BBQ.  There were large trees providing shade for a family and their little children playing in the sand.  There was a large sandy bottomed rock pool with a woman wearing a large hat sitting on a rock in the middle of the pool reading a newspaper.  Beyond the pool there was a ring of rocks and big waves were crashing on.  It was quite a scene with the crashing waves and then just a few yards away the woman sitting in the pool reading her scandal sheet and a little girl playing in the sand.  The bright sun reflecting off the sand bothered Bob’s eyes so he sat in the gazebo while Laurie and I walked the boardwalk along the cliff edge between Lilly Beach and Ethel Beach.  The walk provided a look at a variety of birds including Brown Boobys and Red Footed Boobys nesting on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Upon our return we drove off to Laurie’s next destination which was Martin Point at the extreme west side of the island.  To get there from Lily Beach which was the most Eastern point of the island we had to drive north around the north end of the airport to Murray Road then head southwest to North West Point Road which turned into Dale’s Road which was a four wheel drive gravel road to the Martin Point car park.  From the car park we walked to a viewing platform on the edge of the Seacliff which provided an excellent view of the western coast.  There was a picnic table on site and we saw a number of Robber Crabs along the walk.  We were back to the car by 16:00 and decided to call it a day and drove back to the Lodge.
We ate dinner at the Golden Bosun Tavern again.  I had the grilled Wahoo fish topped with lemon caper sauce which was outstanding.

Bob and I retired about 21:00.

Sunday, January 19, 2014: Tour Christmas Island

That morning I slept until the alarm woke us at 06:30.  The weather was a little overcast with a very pleasant temperature.  We had breakfast on the balcony of Cheerios, a banana, yogurt, and tea.  The internet was down.  At first I could connect to the modem but it couldn’t connect to the internet but after breakfast my laptop could not even see any wireless devices.

At 08:30 we all piled in the rental car and started out for an all day tour mapped out by Laurie.  The first stop had to be the Supermarket in Poon Saan to buy items for lunch.  It was just opening when we arrived and soon we were off on our adventure.

The first stop was Greta Beach which was reached by turning off the North-South Baseline and down an unsealed road that turned to a steep gravel road to the Greta Beach car park.  From the car park it was a three minute walk to a set of metal stairs that lead down to a rock above the sandy beach.  From the rock it was a short drop to the sand.  The beach was a collection point for interesting flotsam and jetsam washed ashore.  It was amazing how many children’s flip flops were scattered around.  It is described as home to thousands of tiny hermit crabs but we didn’t see any.  We had a little trouble getting back up to the steps.
Back in the car Linda told us she hurt her back when she jumped from the rock down to the sand.  We then drove down more gravel road which at times had running water.  I was thinking I wouldn’t want to drive back up in a rain storm.  In fifteen minutes of driving we reached the car park for Dolly Beach.  Linda and Del decided to stay in the car as the description stated that it was:

A 45 minute walk on a boardwalk to the beach and it was one of the prettiest and most secluded beaches on the island and is deserted much of the time.  It is a popular spot for camping among locals, as it has fresh water and a flat area behind the beach.

We started out and found that there were trees over the boardwalk in places that were difficult to climb over or under and the boardwalk would end and there were no clear markings to indicate where the boardwalk would start again.  Instead of 45 minutes it took us an hour to reach the beach.  Just as it came in sight we entered a clearing and Del arrived informing us that Linda’s pain had gotten worse and asking us to return.  Laurie and I quickly climbed down to the beach straddling a fresh water stream and mud to take a couple of pictures and started back.

Del had gone back and we soon caught up to Bob who was laboring in the heat and the strain.  I had picked up a sturdy pole on the beach to steady myself straddling the stream and I gave it to Bob and took his camera bag to lighten his load.  He felt he needed to hurry back to get Linda to a hospital but the strain was too great and we had to stop many times.  It took us an hour to reach the car park and just as we arrived we were approached by a couple who were on an outing.  He wore a Police ball cap.  She had a bottle of water and said to me “your wife sent us to give you your water”.  When I told her that neither Bob or I were Linda’s husband we discovered that he had set out again to get us to hurry and since we hadn’t seen him he must have gotten lost in one of the areas where the boardwalk ends and the path was not marked.
I was forming a plan of action with the couple where we would leave a note on the windshield of their Range Rover and I would drive Linda to the hospital, when Del arrived scratched and bloody from having been lost in the rain-forest between boardwalks.

We thanked the couple for their help piled in our rental and I drove like mad up the gravel road, through the wash and on to the hospital.  We had been gone over two hours and Linda was really hurting.  At the hospital we got her a wheelchair and left her and Del to be treated and we returned to our lodge.
At the lodge we ate our lunch, rested a bit and then got ready to set out again.  Del and Linda arrived, (the nurse drove them back) to tell us that there was no doctor or x-ray on duty but they had given Linda some pain pills.

Returning to Laurie’s plan we drove the length of the island to South Point, on the North-South Baseline mine haulage road.  South Point is the site of the major early settlement at the peak of the phosphate mining days.  Little evidence remains of this, except for two Chinese temples and a derelict, overgrown railway station at the end of the road.  The map indicated that we could drive on from the railway station but the road was very overgrown so we turned around and got out to take pictures of the area.  While we were walking around the station which was just an open air platform, a couple of rusty rails and a concrete building which appeared to at one time been associated with loading phosphate into rail cars, a truck driven by a young lady drove up.  She also turned around when she saw that the road was overgrown.  She stopped and told us she was a pharmacist from Melbourne on temporary duty at the Internment Camp Clinic and was spending the day exploring the island.

We left her and drove up to the South Point Chinese Temple.  It was the larger of the two temples and had impressive views of the ocean.  Someone had recently been there since we saw fresh fruit offerings and fresh bottles of water.  Lisa had told us that it was one of the main sites for the annual Chinese New Year’s ceremonies which may include fire walking, which was pictured on the walls of the temple.

The Melbourne pharmacist arrived to view the area as we were leaving to go to the stop that Laurie had planned for us.  She had been set back when we found we could not continue on the road past the railway station so we reversed our drive back to the north and turned off where the sign pointed to the Pink House.
The Pink House was an Education and Research Station located in the middle of the plateau rainforest.  It served as a base for scientific research and education programs.  It was also a work site for Parks Australia staff.  The building was at one time housing for railway workers during the period the South Point railway was in operation.

When we got to the house we were faced with ‘No Entry’ signs.  Reading the fine print in our guides we found that: “If you wish to visit the Pink House please call in to the Park Office at Drumsite to arrange a suitable time with Parks Australia staff”.   We took some pictures from the road and drove on to the next stop on Laurie’s list which was LB4 Lookout.
The guide stated:

LB4 Lookout:  A panoramic view over the north coast towards Settlement from an on-site gazebo, surrounded by recent plantings in the Rain-forest Rehabilitation Program.  Abbott's Boobies may be sighted flying to and from nearby nest sites.

What we saw was a shelter on top of a small hill next to the turn off from the road and next to it a road into the rain-forest.  We didn't think the shelter was the gazebo described because the growth around the shelter prevented a view of anything but close trees so we drove down the road expecting to come to a car park and the gazebo at some elevation.  Instead we keep going down a steep grade into the rain-forest.  Bob wanted me to turn back but there was no place to turn until we reached a fork in the road.  I took the trail to the left and soon my sense of direction told me I was heading back up the road and sure enough we soon were at the main road.

We had completed Laurie’s list (except for the road past the railway station) and decided to return to the lodge.

That night there was a very colorful sunset.  Unfortunately the North West Point of the island blocks the view from our lodge of the sun setting on the ocean but as it set below the North West Point there was an orange glow that reflecting off the clouds gave the appearance the point was on fire.

Monday, January 20, 2014: Tour Christmas Island

Again I slept until the alarm woke me.  We had the same breakfast as the morning before and as had been the morning before the internet was down.  The car was gone so I figured that Linda and Del had returned to the hospital for x-ray and check by the doctor.

Lisa picked us up at 09:00.  She told us that the baby red crabs had started their crawl to the rain forest from Flying Fish Cove so we rode there first.  The babies were just little red specks not much bigger than a fly but the tide line on the beach was marked with the little red creatures for about 25 yards.

We took some close up pictures and then climbed the two foot wall along the beach up to a grassy strip and back to Lisa’s car.  Driving past the settlements we came upon an arched structure that rose up over the road.  There were several on the island and I had wondered what they were when we were driving around the island.  Lisa told us that they were bridges for the crabs to crawl over.  They were more effective than the culverts because the crabs navigated by light during the migration even though they spent most of their life in dark burrows.  We stopped to take pictures.  Another unusual feature of the bridges is that at first they were covered with a carpet and the crabs didn't like it so they replaced the carpet with small stones glued to panels.

Our next stop was at the guard shack to the Detention Center.  Lisa couldn't drive into the area but we could take pictures from the road.  We rode on to the turn off to ‘The Dales Ramsar Site’ road and down a gravel road through the rain forest to a car park.

We started to walk through the rain forest to the ‘Hugh’s Dale Waterfall’ and ‘Anderson’s Dale’.(09:51).  Lisa pointed out the palm trees that were native to the island.  The grow very tall and when they die their tops fall off and the tall trucks remain.  Eventually robber crabs eat the inside of the dead trucks and the trucks collapse.  We saw many Planchonelin trees.

After a fifteen minute walk we arrived at a small dammed stream in Anderson’s Dale.  I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the small dam but it did create a large shallow wet area and there were numerous blue crabs and their burrows around.

From Dale we entered a boardwalk that wound its way up a hill.  It took Laurie and I about fifteen minutes to make the climb to Hugh’s Dale Waterfall.  It was unlike other waterfalls because there was not a rush of water falling down; more like a slow steady stream over out cropping’s of stone with moss on the stone into a pool ringed with moss.  The water flows out of the pool in many directions so there isn't a big stream but rather a number of small streams trickling down the Dale.

We hung around the area for over twenty minutes viewing things like a robber crab crawling up a tree up about 20 feet.  I wondered what he was after way up there.

On the way down Bob had trouble and it took him and Lisa about forty minutes to walk down.  We then drove to the turn off to the Blowholes.  The road was closed with a locked gate for the crab migration.  We parked in a car park.  It was noon and Lisa served us tea and cookies before we started out to walk to the blow hole viewing platform.  Bob stayed in the car. It was about a twenty minute walk to the viewing platform.

The Blowholes were a series of rock formations that hiss and spurt water when it is forced through from the ocean swell.  There were holes in two directions of the viewing platform and I never was able to get a good picture of a blow.  Most of the time the holes just had spray coming out and even then it wasn’t very often.  I noticed that there was a t-shirt on one of the rocks and Lisa told me that if I looked carefully I could see a cable around one of the pinnacles.  She said that the locals fish off the cliff and the cable is there to secure them after one of them fell several years ago.  We only stayed ten minutes and walked back.
Our last stop was ‘Margaret Knoll’, a great viewing spot of the east coast on a plateau beyond the airport.  It was a short walk and the views were spectacular.  If you were a bird watcher there were Frigate birds, tropic birds and pigeons gliding through the air around us.

After we returned to our room we ate lunch.  Linda and Del were back.  The doctor didn't think anything was broken or she would have pain down her leg.  He thought she must have twisted her body when she landed and pulled a muscle or ligament.  He gave her some Vicodin and she was sleeping.
We took the car and drove to the Supermarket to buy breakfast and drinks for the next day.  When I returned I found the internet was working and I was able to talk to Judy and read several emails about the extension to Myanmar and Laos to my April trip.

Lisa had thought the baby crabs would be bigger and possible be crawling up the beach in the late afternoon so at 17:00 I walked down to Flying Fish Cove to see.  They were larger but had not started the crawl to the wall.  I took some pictures and walked back stopping to make a reservation for dinner at the Golden Buson Tavern.

When I got to my room Bob showed me a note that was slipped under our door informing us that we had to vacate our room by 10:00.  Laurie received the same note.  She was very upset because she planned on long walk in the morning and didn't expect to return until 11 and would need to shower.

We checked with Del and his note read 15:00 so we told him we would need to store our luggage in his room until Lisa picked us up at 14:30.  He replied that it would be no problem but when Laurie told him that she would have to take a shower he looked alarmed.  I hustled Laurie out to dinner to try and calm her down.

Laurie Bob and I ate at 18:30.  They were out of the great fish we had had previously so we had the prawns in a cream sauce with rice and salad.  They were delicious.

When I returned to my room the internet was still down.  I wrote in my journal.  Bob was exhausted and went to bed at 20:30.  I still needed to wash my clothes and I finally retired about 21:30.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014: Fly Christmas Island to Perth, Australia

We got up early to drive down to Flying Fish Cove to see if the baby red crabs had started their crawl to the rain forest.  Along the way we picked up Laurie who had already started her morning walk.  When I got down on the beach I found that the crabs were not much bigger than the night before but there were larger groupings of them.  There were several people and children on the beach.  One little girl picked up a large rock and under where it had been there was a large grouping of the baby crabs.

Laurie and I took a number of pictures and Laurie took some with Bob’s camera.  There were no steps down to the beach from a grassy area that ran along a wall with a two to three foot drop to the beach.  Bob didn't want to try to climb down and get back.  Yesterday he had a tough time climbing back up.

We returned to the Lodge to eat breakfast.  Del got the keys to the car so he could drive down to see the baby crabs.  After breakfast I packed and wrote in my journal.  The internet was down which was frustrating.

We waited to move out until the maid needed to clean our room.  She cleaned Laurie’s room first and it was not until 10:45 that she knocked on our door.  I had earlier carried my big bag downstairs so all I had to do was pack up my laptop and move my backpack and carry-on.  I decided to not disturb Linda and I set up my laptop at the pool where there was a power outlet and had the landlady store my lunch in her refrigerator.  I still couldn't get an internet connection.  The land lady was there and told me the internet had been down.  As I was writing in my journal, poolside I saw that the men in the smaller rooms below us were moving into our rooms.  So the timing of our vacating our rooms was more of a function of the maid service than the need for someone to occupy the rooms.  The guy taking over our room had to leave work to make the move.

Laurie returned a little after 11 and I told her that Del would let her take a shower.  Bob was in Del’s room but I stayed at the pool side plugged in until noon when I retrieved my lunch and ate it with the gang in Del’s room.

After lunch I returned to the poolside to continue updating my journal until Lisa arrived to drive us to the airport.  At the airport we were surprised that Virgin Australia would not check our luggage past Perth.  They told us we would land at the International Terminal and retrieve our luggage and process through customs then take a bus for a 20 minute ride to the Domestic Terminal where we had to check-in, get our boarding pass and check our bag.  I was surprised and irritated that first that I couldn't check the bag all the way to Port Vila, second that since I couldn't do that then at least I should be able to check the bag at a Virgin Australia counter at the International Terminal and have them transport it to my plane going to Brisbane and third that they didn't arrange for transit passengers to get from the International to the Domestic Terminal.  All those operations are performed at other countries and other airports were the two terminals are a distance apart.

Our flight took off right on schedule and arrived at the gate in Perth five minutes early at 21:05.  We had fifty five minutes to check in at the Domestic terminal at 22:00.  At the baggage carousel it seemed to take forever for the baggage to arrive.  The flight crew was standing there and told me if we can get on a bus right away we should be able to make it but the bus takes 20 minutes.  If we missed the bus we would have to walk a block to the cab stand and take a cab which will take the same time to get to the other terminal on the opposite side of the runway.

Finally our bags came out and I ran pushing a trolley as fast as I could to the exit only to be told when we handed our customs form to the agent that we had to get in a long line to have our bags x-rayed since we had arrived from Christmas Island.  I protested loudly telling the Agent we had less than thirty minutes to check in for our connecting flight.  She was not sympathetic but another agent at an x-ray machine that was not being used lifted the line strap and motioned for me to wheel the trolley to her machine where she x-rayed our bags and sent us on our way.  Since we had arrived at the same terminal from Auckland ten days before I remembered where the shuttle bus was parked and ran to it with Bob trying to keep up.  I wheeled the trolley in front of the bus so it couldn't leave without us and off load our bags, loaded them on the bus and told the driver we had until on the hour to make our connection.  I then got out and moved the trolley up on the sidewalk and got on the bus.  A driver going off duty told us we should get there in time and which door to enter.  The bus left and made just one stop but it still took twenty agonizing minutes to arrive at the Domestic Terminal.  We got off several doors from the Virgin Australia check in door.  There was a fence between the sidewalk we exited the bus to and the roadway next to the terminal I wheeled my bag as fast as I could, looking for an opening to cross the road and enter the terminal.  When I got to an opening it was in front of the door to Virgin Australia.  I ran in and seeing a line at Economy check I ran to the VIP check in and showed her my passport and reservation.  It was 21:57!  We had made it by three minutes.  One agent checked in Bob and the other checked in me.  As we were being checked in the luggage belt in back of the counter jammed and as I left to go through security.  My agent was pulling my bag back and telling me not to worry she would take it to another baggage drop point.

At security my knee set off the alarm.  They made me go back and take off my shoes, watch, belt, and they argued with me when I told them my cloth belt was sewed in and couldn't be removed.  After I set off the alarm again they finally got the wand out and went over me with a find tooth comb.  They then swabbed my jacket, backpack, carry on and my body each time checking the swab in the explosive residue detection machine.  I could hear my name being paged to board my plane.  I pointed that out to the security agent but he continued to take his own sweet time going through his checks.

Finally he passed me and I put on my shoes, threw my belt over my shoulder, gathered my belongings and ran to the gate.  I was perspiring and panting when I boarded the plane and the flight attendant asked me if I was all right.  I told him I was but their airlines system wasn't and slowly loaded my bag in the overhead, got dressed and took my seat.  The attendants closed the door and we took off twenty minutes after the scheduled departure time.  It was a ‘red eye’ flight scheduled to land in Brisbane at 05:00.  I was exhausted and didn't have any trouble taking a nap.

My adventures in the Indian Ocean where over, and I liked what I saw and experienced on the islands and in Australia and want to return someday but I don’t like their airline and airport setup.  They really left a bad taste in my mouth and soured my experience.

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