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Flying to Fiji from Victoria, Canada

November 6, 2012 – My first flight leaves from Victoria (YYJ) at 11AM to Vancouver aboard an Air Canada Jazz Dash 8 turboprop aircraft. This is a standard aircraft used for these short haul flights, which typically take about 20 minutes. My next flight leaves Vancouver at 1PM to San Francisco, so I don’t have much time to find my gate. I get lost in this rat’s maze – I never would have found the tiny door everyone flying to the USA has to go through without some help from a policeman. I have a few minutes to grab a sandwich from Tim Horton’s for lunch, since there are no meals served or available on this fully booked United Airbus A319 – a small regional jet. We depart on time and arrive a few minutes early in San Francisco (SFO) at 3:30PM.

JoeTourist: To/from Canada & Fiji &emdash; Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400I easily find the gate for my next flight this time. Now I wait three hours for the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 flight to Auckland to depart. There is free Internet available – way to go SFO…land of the geeks, so I feel right at home! The young man at the podium checks me in, and assures me they will be serving both dinner and breakfast, as well as a mid-flight snack, so I should be well-fed!

I can see the flight is going to be late departing as the huge waiting lounge fills up with passengers. This flight is mostly full, so there are over 300 passengers to deal with. There are seven groups for embarkation, and guess which group I’m in? The last one – #7. The flight departs almost an hour late. It seems to take forever to get people to sit down so the doors can be closed. Once that happens, there are yet more delays once we pull away from the gate. We sit there on the apron just off the gate before we finally start taxiing to the runway. It takes a full 20 minutes to reach the button before we takeoff. I’m relieved when we are in the air and on our way, although at the same time I’m dreading sitting in the same airline seat for some 13 hours.

I have a window seat, however since the flight is at night, this doesn’t do me much good. Air New Zealand provides very good service during the long flight: a lovely dinner after we are a couple of hours out of SFO complete with complimentary wine and drinks. There are well over 300 passengers with few seats for us to stretch out on this fairly full flight, so I don’t sleep much on the long flight. In the early hours I have a look outside to view the southern sky stars, and later on, the Milky Way comes into view straight up and down just off the wing tip. The flight grinds on. We are served breakfast about 3 hours before our arrival in Auckland (AKL). They leave the lights on at this stage. I suppose the crew want to encourage the passengers to get all their fussing about done before arrival, so the deplaning process will happen smoothly. To my great relief, the deplaning process does indeed proceed quickly.

November 8, 2012 – This is the same 24 hour period (“day”) but we have crossed the International Date Line, so Nov 7th is a lost day for me. When I make the return trip home in three week’s time, I will get to live the same day twice

I still have another two-hour flight to Fiji before my journey is complete. This is another Air New Zealand flight aboard an Airbus A320. Departure time is stated as 6:05AM, so needless to say I’m worried I won’t make the connection due to our late arrival from San Francisco at 5:30AM. After disembarking the aircraft quickly, finding the gate in short order, and after talking with the check-in clerk, I can relax. The flight crew only arrives at the stated departure time, and the flight leaves almost an hour late. I guess the crew are operating on “Fiji time”! Of course, it doesn’t matter to me if we arrive late in Nadi, since this is the last segment of my long journey, and I have nothing planned after arrival except getting some sleep as soon as possible.

JoeTourist: To/from Canada & Fiji &emdash; Nadi airport runway, terminal buildings and aircraftThe Air New Zealand flight to Nadi is full, and takes the full two hours flight time to fly virtually due north of Auckland to Fiji. There is no time difference between Auckland and Fiji – both are in the first time zone on the other side of the International Date Line. Our landing at Nadi was “hard” in my books, although it wasn’t officially “hard”, since I doubt the pilots broke any undercarriage! It is a relief to get back on solid ground, and feel the warm tropical air hit my face as we leave the aircraft in Nadi and walk along the open air ramps to the main terminal building. My checked bag arrives none the worse for wear; I clear Fijian customs and immigration in a few minutes; hit the bank machine for some Fijian Dollars; and I’m off in a taxi for the half hour drive to Lautoka and First Landing Beach Resort and Villas, arriving a bit after Noon.


Booking my flights

My flights to Fiji from my home on the west coast of Canada entailed an end to end duration of some 26 hours going to Fiji, so I will be ready for some down time upon my arrival in Nadi, Fiji. I have arranged to arrive a couple of days before the Solar Eclipse Cruise leaves, so I can relax at a resort nearby to Lautoka, the departure port for the Paul Gauguin cruise ship. The return trip home isn’t much better, with a duration of some 24 hours end to end. This is the price to pay for experiencing paradise – and a total solar eclipse observed from a luxury cruise ship sailing in warm South Pacific waters!

When I first booked my flights to Fiji about six months before departure, total elapsed time (from Canada to Fiji) was about 19 hours. After Skywest (United Express) cancelled my flight on the first leg of the journey from Victoria to San Francisco, I was automatically rebooked, and the elapsed time zoomed up to about 28 hours. I called my travel agent to complain, and they found another routing through Vancouver which reduced the flight time to 26 hours end to end, despite adding a stop. I spent many hours are spent in airport waiting lounges. The airlines obviously want fewer flights which are more fully-booked.

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Departing Vancouver aboard Volendam

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 – the start of the South Pacific Cruise

Leaving Lions Gate Bridge behind as we depart Vancouver

Leaving Lions Gate Bridge behind as we depart Vancouver

Pacific Coach Lines (now the BC Ferries Connector) takes us from Victoria across the water to the mainland on BC Ferries to the Canada Place Cruise Terminal in Vancouver without a hitch. They drop us off right inside the terminal, and our bags are delivered to our cabin aboard ship…what terrific service!

Boarding the Volendam is pretty easy, despite having to go through three stages before actually stepping aboard: security screening (like airports), US Customs and Immigration, then Holland America’s own check-in.

Somehow I manage to leave my dress jacket at home, so once I’m settled in my cabin, I leave the ship and make a quick dash to Dunn’s Tailors on lower Georgia Street where I buy a new dress jacket. So now I will be ready for the seven formal nights we have scheduled while on board this cruise. I arrive back on board in time for the compulsory lifejacket drill just before our departure.

The Volendam slips away from the dock at 5PM, and we are on our way! There are some folks who boarded today in Vancouver and who will leave the ship tomorrow in Seattle – a one day overnight cruise! No doubt they will party hard tonight to take advantage of all the fun stuff aboard.

Sailing under Lions Gate Bridge is spectacular this evening, with great views of the North Shore Mountains, the harbour, and Stanley Park. It brings back memories of when I sailed under the same bridge in 1981 aboard the Cunard Princess bound for the Caribbean. Everyone is very excited as we pass under the bridge, but then it is time for dinner. We opt for a BBQ dinner served alfresco on the (covered) Lido deck beside the pool. We watch the sun set over Georgia Strait and Vancouver Island as the ship slowly makes its way overnight to Seattle.

Vancouver Departure of the Volendam 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.
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Cape Town to Victoria

November 9, 2008 – Sunday – Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria, BC, Canada

I kill time in my hotel room until it is time for my 4:30pm transfer to Cape Town airport. The hotel insists that I pay 450 Rand (US$54) for a late departure, and I have to change rooms, so I feel entitled to take full advantage of the facilities before I depart. I use the time to catch up on my travel journal, annotate photos, have a couple of naps, and have a shower before leaving for the airport. I will be traveling for over 30 hours before I arrive back home!

I have a panic attack after going through security at the Cape Town airport. I can’t find my passport and boarding pass! As it turns out, I put it in a different pocket as I prepare to walk through the security scanner! The South African Airways flight from Cape Town to London/Heathrow is 12 hours long. SAA serves a wonderful dinner and complimentary wine after we leave Cape Town, and then the cabin lights are shut off until a couple of hours before our arrival. As usual I don’t sleep during the flight. We are in a holding pattern over Heathrow since we arrive a bit early. Apparently they have a 6am curfew at Heathrow – no doubt to give the surrounding neighbourhoods a bit of respite overnight.

South African Airways uses Terminal 1 at Heathrow and Air Canada uses Terminal 3, so I catch the shuttle. At least Terminal 3 is a more modern and civilized place to wait five hours for my 12:05pm departure, although I still can’t find any Wi-Fi networks. This is a prime people-watching place, since Heathrow is probably the busiest transfer point in the world. After boarding my Air Canada flight to Vancouver, I notice right away the more “basic” service provided as compared with the full service provided by SAA on my previous flight. The Air Canada flight departs on time and goes smoothly. I don’t see any aurora over the polar region this time, like I did on the Victoria to London flight.

I only have an hour and forty minutes connection time in Vancouver, but manage to clear customs and immigration and board my flight for Victoria with time to spare. I’m home by dinner time on November 10th, having gained 10 hours as I cross so many time zones traveling in a westerly direction for some 32 hours elapsed time. The marathon flights are over!

Southern Africa 2008

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Victoria to Johannesburg

October 13, 2008 – Monday – Victoria, BC, Canada to Johannesburg, South Africa

JoeTourist: Victoria to Johannesburg &emdash; Native scupture in the secure departures waiting area

Native scupture in the secure departures waiting area at Vancouver airport

Today is my 56th birthday, and it is also the day I leave for Africa – what a birthday present this is! I am writing this entry as I sit in Vancouver Airport waiting for my flight to London/Heathrow. I had to take a 1:30pm flight from Victoria; however I don’t depart for Heathrow until 7:50pm, so I have five hours to kill. I also have another five hours to wait in Heathrow before I depart for Johannesburg. I left Victoria at 1:30pm on the 13th and I should arrive in Johannesburg at 7:10pm on the 15th!

At least I don’t have to clear security again here in Vancouver, however I’m in the area where Air Canada’s flight leaves and there are no shops open. At the moment, it is completely empty except for the odd passer-by. It looks like the Vancouver airport is being expanded in a fairly major way. Unfortunately, they have turned it into a maze of corridors.

People watching – I spot a woman packing her own pillow. I have to wonder if she is really going to drag that thing along with her wherever she is going. Another woman is wearing a small backpack which has a teddy bear in it. There appears to be nothing else in the backpack. She is busy on the Internet terminal doing her email. Perhaps the teddy bear has a large circle of friends?

It was drizzling when we left Victoria Airport, and it is raining pretty hard outside Vancouver Airport right now. It will be a welcome change to experience the hot and dry climate of Northern Botswana. By the looks of the climate tables, it should cool down a bit from the 40°C in Northern Botswana to the 25°C range by the time I travel down the South African coast to Cape Town.

I have a hot meatball sub from Subway for an appetizer around 4:30pm this afternoon after finding a food court about five minutes’ walk from where I had setup beside the gate. I am still in a secure area, so at least I don’t have to go through another security check just to have a meal. I’m not sure what Air Canada will serve after we are onboard, since our 7:50pm departure is well past the dinner hour. We are scheduled to arrive at London/Heathrow at 1:25pm local time, so I expect they will serve us a meal before our arrival. The stories about how Air Canada has cut back on in-flight services and meals makes me wonder what to expect on the upcoming flight.

There are a few dozen people in this area with the food court and shops, but the airport still looks pretty empty to me. There are only seven international departures up on the notice board for this evening: Amsterdam, two to London, JFK New York, Sydney, Taipei, and Hong Kong. I’m bored already, and I really haven’t started my journey. It seems everyone else is in the same situation: bored and killing time until their evening flights depart. One bonus: there is free Wireless Internet in the airport, so I can read and send email and browse some news and other online sources. I check my weather website: it is raining at home.

It is now 6:00pm and I’m back at the gate. There are sensible stout women waiting for the flight “home” to England (I assume). Almost all of them have a bag of duty free goods, and some of their feet are already swollen. The shops in the gate area are now open, so they obviously know there is little business when there are no flights scheduled (like this afternoon). It looks like the rain is settling in, so I will be glad to soon escape from this grey, cold and wet dreariness.

My time spent traveling is precious to me.

The holding lounge fills up by departure time. People are constantly after the gate staff to change their seat assignments, and they seem to good-naturedly put up with this endless parade. When I board there are no spare seats. I have a window seat and the seat beside me is occupied by a woman from Victoria. I’m happy she is quite small build, so we both have room to move. We will be over nine hours in the same seat.

The aircraft pulls away from the terminal and then just sits there for about 20 minutes. The pilot finally tells us there is a mechanical problem, so we pull back into another gate at the terminal and spend the next two hours sitting around while they fix the aircraft. The crew and pilot keep us informed along the way, and we finally depart two hours late. It’s not a problem for me, since I have a five hour layover in London/Heathrow, but other passengers with tighter connections are justifiably worried.

JoeTourist: Victoria to Johannesburg &emdash; Aurora over the North polar region

Aurora over the North polar region out the aircraft window

Once we level out at cruising altitude, a nice dinner is served with drinks included. I am peeking out the window regularly, and I notice a nice aurora visible over the wing as we fly over the polar region. A couple of hours before we arrive, a nice breakfast is served. Thank goodness I managed to get a couple of hours sleep in-between.

We have a 100 knot tailwind for most of the flight which saves us a full 45 minutes, so we end up arriving just over an hour late at 2:00pm local time.

October 14, 2008 – Tuesday – enroute Vancouver to London/Heathrow to Johannesburg

It is 3:45pm as I write this in Terminal 1 at Heathrow. We arrived at Terminal 3, so I had to catch a shuttle bus to Terminal 1 and clear security again. Terminal 3 is modern, but Terminal 1 is decrepit by comparison. I can’t find any Internet connections – even if I am willing to pay. All I can do is wait around. They don’t post the gate numbers until 30 minutes before boarding time. When I’m in strange airports, I like to find a gate early so I’m not rushed, but I can’t do that here. Posting to my blog will have to wait until I get to the hotel in Johannesburg.

JoeTourist: Victoria to Johannesburg &emdash; SAA A340 tail fin

SAA A340 tail fin at the gate at Johannesburg airport

The woman with the teddy bear shows up at the gate for my flight to Johannesburg. I hope she’s not on my safari! There are a few empty seats on this flight; however most people have spread out to take advantage of the extra space so they can stretch out and sleep. The rest of us make do with trying to get some rest in a single seat. South African Airways in-flight service is very good – the meals are tasty, the cabin crew gives us good service, and the aircraft appears to be brand new (unlike Air Canada). We depart on time, and arrive early – what more could one ask for from an airline?

I rest fitfully throughout the flight, but I flip open the window shade regularly to see what is visible outside. The Orion constellation is lying on its side and is a pretty sight despite the illumination from the full Moon. Toward dawn there is a beautiful sunrise over Southern Africa as I am served breakfast just before our landing. The man sitting beside me is from Mozambique, and regularly travels to/from Johannesburg since he is involved with airport equipment. He is returning from a training trip to London.

October 15, 2008 – Wednesday – Johannesburg

Despite arriving at Johannesburg airport a bit ahead of schedule, Derek from Wilderness Safaris is there to meet me this morning. He suggests I get some South African Rand currency from the ABM in the terminal, and then he puts me on the shuttle to the Mondior Concorde Hotel. It is only a 15 minute drive from the airport. This hotel is part of a larger gambling complex called The Emperors Palace, which is obviously a direct copy of Las Vegas – including all the shops, the fancy concourses, and of course the noise! The hotel is nice and quiet, and although they don’t have any non-smoking rooms available at 8:30am, I take a smoking room in the interest of getting to bed as quickly as possible.

JoeTourist: Johnannesburg &emdash; Emperors Palace Casino interior

Emperors Palace Casino interior

I sleep for four hours and then get up to walk around the casino this afternoon – they obviously took liberal use of the designs of Caesars Palace or the Venetian in Las Vegas. I have dinner this evening at Squisto Ristorante in the casino mall area. It is recommended by the desk clerk, since their own Oriana restaurant is closed. I ordered a Spanikopita (spinach & feta pie) to start and Pescatore (seafood) pasta as a main. They only have a red house wine – no selection, but it was good (not too dry). This place reminds me of the Venetian in Las Vegas, except the prices are about a third of the Venetian’s. This evening’s dinner cost about 180 Rand (CD$23) including two glasses of wine and tip.

This evening I have to repack my two bags, since I will be storing the large one at the Mondior Concorde hotel here in Johannesburg while I take the small bag on the Botswana Safari. I’ll leave my notebook computer and some of the bulkier stuff here. All I need is cameras, clothes and my more compact electronic technology while I’m off on safari. When I’m traveling in Northern Botswana we will be transferred between camps in small aircraft. The maximum dimension for a bag is only 9″x12″x24″ due to the small cargo holds of these aircraft. It’s a good thing I purchased a new backpack MEC Fast-Track Roller from Mountain Equipment Co-op. It is actually two bags in one: a rolling bag with a handle that also has shoulder straps, and a smaller over-the-shoulder bag that is…you guessed it, only 9″ high. The small bag is is the one I’m taking to Botswana.

Speaking of technology, my power adapters all work here on the 220v 50Hz power. The 2 prong conversion plug I brought along works fine. My Rogers cellphone works from here – I call home successfully to check in with the family. I expect the next time I can use my cellphone will be when I return to Johannesburg on Oct 25th, since I’ll be staying in remote bush camps most of the next 12 days. Internet is not free from the Mondior Concorde hotel, but I purchase a low cost plan and the wireless connection works fine from my room. I post an update to my JoeTourist blog, and I also post a few preliminary photos on my Flickr space before going back to bed.

Tomorrow I start my safari adventure by flying to Livingston, Zambia!