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.

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