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Flight: San Diego to Victoria

March 16, 2014 – Sunday – Disembark & flight from San Diego to Victoria

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

I wake up before my 6:00AM alarm when the Pilot boat shines his light on the side of the ship my cabin is on. The pilot is scheduled to come aboard at 5:15AM, but it is a bit later than that I think. As I peek out the windows, I see Venus shining through the clouds above the shoreline, which is visible since we are quite close to shore in the navigation lane to San Diego. I take a few photos in the pre-dawn with my dSLR.

The ship arrives about 15 minutes early and I am one of the first group to disembark the ship, since I enrolled for Expedited Disembarkation. I roll my big bag, with my briefcase on top and walk out of the ship and down the ramps with my camera bag over my shoulder. The U.S. Immigration agent doesn’t ask any questions, stamps my passport, and I’m free to go. I am one of the first to grab a taxi, and I’m at the airport about a half hour before I expected.

San Diego airport is great because it is located right on the harbour and in the city, so it is easy to get to. United Airlines check-in is now automated, so I’m forced to check myself in. Thank goodness there are people there to help with the process and to tag my bag. The TSA must have been listening to their clients, because the security check is all over in a couple of minutes, thanks to TSA Pre-check. I didn’t have to remove shoes, belts or watches, and I didn’t have to remove my notebook computer from my bag. I just had to take my cellphone out of my pocket and put it in my camera bag, put the two carry-on bags on the scanner belt and walk through the scanner archway. That was it…I just picked up my bags and continued on my way. The terminal where my flight leaves from is brand new, and really nicely done. The airport offers free Wi-Fi and there are power and USB outlets at every seat. I update the apps on my MacBook Air while I wait three hours for my flight to leave from San Diego airport.

The flight to San Francisco starts off with a bit of conflict in the cabin, since seat assignments seem to be a big issue with several people involved. Eventually everyone is seated and we roll away from the gate. Shortly after takeoff, the guy behind me and one seat over starts ranting very loudly about something. All three of us seated ahead of him ignore his outburst and he seems to calm down for the rest of the flight. When we arrive in San Francisco, we are a bit late, but as it turns out, I stay on the same aircraft as it continues to Vancouver. So I don’t have to go looking for a gate…it’s right here! Just as well, since the boarding for the onward flight starts about 20 minutes after our arrival. Our passports have to be checked before we can board, so that adds a bit of a complication, but everyone eventually is processed and seated on the aircraft.

We pull away on time, and the pilot reports at the start of the flight he expects our arrival to be 10 minutes early, so the flight takes two hours flat.

After landing in Vancouver Airport, here is possibly the most convoluted disembarking procedure I have ever encountered:

  1. Disembark aircraft.
  2. Walk along an overhead glassed-in walkway to Canada Customs, which is a very long distance away.
  3. Directed to self-reporting kiosks for customs and immigration, where my passport and declaration form is scanned.
  4. Wait for bag to arrive on the carousel.
  5. Walk to the far corner of the huge baggage claim floor, take an elevator up to the 4th floor, and walk half way across the terminal, schlepping my bag.
  6. Check in with an Air Canada clerk, and put my bag on a conveyor belt. There is an Air Canada agent at the belt, but he doesn’t offer to help.
  7. Walk out to the main entrance to the terminal.
  8. Clear security again.
  9. Walk the rest of the way to the domestic terminal to find my gate and board my final flight to Victoria.

The weather in Vancouver is cold and rainy – welcome home!

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Flight: Victoria to San Diego & departure

Victoria to San Diego flights, and departure from San Diego aboard ms Statendam

February 14, 2014 – Friday – Victoria, BC, Canada to San Diego, CA, USA

It is a stressful day flying from Victoria to San Diego. First of all, my alarm awakes me at 3AM, and I am out the door and in a taxi to the airport. After check-in at the United counter at Victoria Airport, I pass through security and then have time for a cappuccino from the new Spinnakers on the fly in the holding lounge at the gates while I wait for my flight to leave at 6:30AM. After we board, the aircraft sits on the apron for about 15 minutes, but the pilot finally announces we are ready for departure. Apparently the delay was caused from San Francisco, where there was some doubt we would get a slot for landing due to fog. The weather cleared enough for landings in San Francisco, so we take off from Victoria. The first hurdle is cleared, and I’m on my way! This flight is very odd: there are no children or babies aboard, and everyone is very quiet…a bonus for me since is so early, and I’m not a morning person.

The flight down is very scenic once the Sun rises. We fly inland from Victoria to San Francisco. It certainly is very foggy in San Francisco as we approach, however there are clear patches and the pilots bring the aircraft down perfectly and everyone leaves the aircraft quickly. I’m thankful for this, because I’m still nervous about all I have to endure before boarding my next flight to San Diego. As soon as I leave the gate, I can see the airport is being renovated…never a good sign for someone not familiar with a large airport.

Before I can claim my bag, I have to clear US immigration. Two large aircraft from China have just arrived at the same time as our little aircraft. For some inexplicable reason, we have to go through security again before we can get to US immigration. There is a woman in uniform at the crossroads of a major intersection inside the airport that insists on directing all of us to the busiest security checkpoint with hundreds of those Chinese passengers waiting in line. As I reluctantly follow her bad advise, I stop to ask a man with a badge if this is the best way to get to my gate. He immediately says “no”, and thank goodness he volunteers to lead me and some of the other passengers from the Victoria flight in the opposite direction to another, less busy security checkpoint. He also points out that some of our tickets are marked “TSA PRE”, which means we are pre-cleared and entitled to use a priority line. Although we still have to go through the security checkpoint, he probably saves us a half hour of waiting!

It ends up taking me about 10 minutes to clear security. At that point, I can go through US immigration, but wait…there are those hundreds of Chinese passengers ahead of us again! After about 20 minutes of waiting, they open up additional immigration agents, so I finally get processed for entry to the USA. Now I go to the baggage carousels and find my bag, and proceed through yet another US inspection. I re-check my bag for the next flight, and I’m off to find the boarding gate.

As it turns out, the gate for my San Diego flight is only the third gate past the baggage checkpoint I’m already at, so I arrive 45 minutes early! This flight only has a few empty seats, and we are back to the typical flying bus scenario: crying babies, sneezing and coughing kids, old folks who struggle down the isle to their seats, and the rest of us, who just want the flight to end.

We take off northward from San Francisco, and then circle around and fly down the coast to San Diego. The urban development between San Francisco and San Diego is impressive. This is a very crowded patch of the USA. We touchdown in San Diego at 12:25PM, arriving on time! Thankfully, the cruise terminal is a short taxi ride from the airport, so after I deal with the surely Russian cabbie, I present myself at the check-in for the ship. It is fairly well organized, but with over a thousand passengers checking in, it takes a bit under an hour to wind my way through the various lineups before I am issued my Holland America ID card and walk on board the Statendam.

I knew ahead of time that this day would be stressful, and it was, but ultimately everything worked out fine. I’m safely aboard the ship, and I still have time for a late lunch in the Lido buffet before I unpack my bags. I have a quick look around the ship’s outer decks, then go back to my cabin for a well-earned shower and nap. By this time, it is nearing departure time, but as per Holland America’s policy, there is a mandatory lifeboat drill before we leave.

San Diego photos map

San Diego photos map

Once that is over, the ship slips away from the dock, turns around in the harbour and heads out past the city as the sun sets off our bow. San Diego has a beautiful harbour, and the setting Sun gives the place a wonderful glow, so we have great views of the marinas, city centre, airport, and naval base as we sail away. A lovely Moon rises from the California hills behind the city as the pilot leaves our ship. There is a dense fog bank waiting for us as we clear the entrance to the harbour and head off across the Pacific Ocean, bound for Hawaii.

After spending an interesting hour on deck during our departure, I drop off my camera gear in the cabin and get dressed for dinner. The Rotterdam Dining Room offers classic table service with a 4-course menu, which I always look forward to. Since I am traveling solo, I always make a point of asking to join a large table, where there are many people to meet and talk with. It is so interesting to hear their stories and tell them mine as we work our way through our fine meals.

I have five days at sea to look forward to before we arrive in Hawaii.

Departure from Fiji to Victoria, Canada

November 27, 2012 – Tuesday – Blue Lagoon Resort to Nadi

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort, Fiji

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort

Today starts off as usual with my view of the beautiful lagoon and coral reef right outside the front of my villa on my last day at the Blue Lagoon Resort. I go down to the restaurant to have some coffee and some yummy toasted homemade bread and a coconut muffin. Before I pack this morning, I go for my last snorkel in the lagoon. I think the fish know I’m leaving today, because they all crowd around me, and I spot two angelfish for the first time. I take some underwater photos, when I didn’t really expect to see anything new this morning. After having a shower, put on fresh clothes, pack and check out.

The Turtle Island Airways seaplane flight doesn’t leave Turtle Island until 4PM, so I have some time to kill before the resort launch takes me over there at 3:30PM. The Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane invited me to stay at their villa until I have to leave, so after lunch I take them up on their offer. It’s great to sit back on their front porch away from the noise in the restaurant. I snooze for a while until it is time to begin my journey home.

The launch ride to Turtle Island hits some choppy water, so it is a bit rough, but we arrive with perfect timing. I spot the seaplane coming over the ridge of the neighbouring island and landing no more than 10 minutes after our arrival at the dock. We have another barefoot pilot, and this one has a distinct Montreal accent. He is Oli (Oliver), and he tells me the South American pilot that flew us up to Turtle Island last week actually lived in Montreal for 10 years prior to coming down to Fiji to fly seaplanes. The flight down to Nadi is uneventful, but the view over the ocean and islands is not as good as when I flew up a week ago, since we are on a southerly course, so the Sun is reflecting off the water much of the time. I do get a good photo of First Landing’s Left Foot Island and the Vuda Marina on our approach. The seaplane dock is out of commission at the Nadi Bay terminal, so we have to make a wet landing on the beach.

My first inkling that my departure from Fiji is about to go all wrong is when the passengers from the seaplane finally have time to talk with each other after the flight. Apparently some received email messages from Air Pacific that the flight to LA is delayed until 7AM the following morning. They were instructed to go directly to a hotel to check in. I didn’t get an email notification, and the airline didn’t call me. Since I wasn’t notified to do otherwise, I take a taxi to the airport. My taxi driver decides to wait for me, since he “has nothing else to do”. Chaos greets me as I line up at the check-in counter with the other hapless passengers. We all commiserate with each other, since everyone now knows the flight is not leaving this evening. Despite the crowds, there is only one check-in clerk, so it takes me about an hour to find out I need to talk with someone else to assign me a hotel to stay the night. After I have my hotel assignment and vouchers, Peter my taxi driver takes me to the Grand West Villas, a Best Western hotel near the Nadi airport.

So I arrived at Nadi airport around 5:30PM this afternoon, and here I sit at 8:30PM still in Nadi in a hotel room, when I should be in the waiting lounge at Nadi airport about to board the 10PM flight to Los Angeles. I found out at the airport that Air Pacific cancelled the flight due to mechanical breakdown of their Boeing 747-400 in Sydney, Australia. I hear there are passengers who have been waiting in Nadi for three days to leave on flights to LA, so I can expect the worst when I show up tomorrow morning to check in for my flight. It is scheduled to depart Nadi at 7AM, with check-in starting at 3:30AM, so I plan to be at the airport by 2:45AM in order to get to the front of the line to obtain that all-important boarding pass. I want to be on my way home tomorrow, not sitting around in a Nadi hotel for days on end, waiting for something to happen.

The Grand West Villas is no prize of a hotel. The restaurant is open until 10PM to serve dinner to all their unexpected guests from the airline. The food is absolutely dreadful: frozen fish grilled, and french fries, pop or water, and zero service. This is the worst meal I have eaten in Fiji, and the meals in Fiji have been first rate everywhere else I have stayed until now. The rooms are very basic, but clean. At least the air-conditioning is working, so I can sleep for a few hours and then see what tomorrow brings. I call home to let them know to not pick me up at the airport, and that I will update them when I know more.

Needless to say, I’m very upset with Air Pacific, and I will avoid flying with them in future. I’m not too happy with Air New Zealand either. As the ticketing airline for my flights, they have dropped the ball big time by trusting their passengers to an airline partner who is obviously unreliable.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday –Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

My alarm goes off at 2AM and my taxi driver Peter is ready for me at 2:15AM when I schlep my bag down the stairs into the lobby. I am #3 in line for the check in counters; waiting from 2:45AM to 4AM. Check in is complicated, since I have to be rebooked on my connecting flights. The good news is that I have a seat and a boarding pass! The bad news is that I have to overnight in San Francisco, which apparently Air Pacific will pay for.

I pass through security and explain to Fiji Immigration I arrived on Nov 8th by air, departed Fiji on the 10th by ship, re-entered Fiji on the 20th by ship, and am now departing on the 28th by air. They key all this into their computer system, and stamp my passport and boarding pass. As I take the escalator to the departure lounge Air Pacific is announcing they have overbooked the flight, and appeal to passengers to relinquish their seat for a US$500 cash payment, hotel accommodation, and guaranteed boarding on tomorrow’s flight. I’m glad I have an assigned seat…I’m certainly not giving it up! There is a huge amount of anxiety among those of us waiting in the departure lounge, but eventually after a few false starts, Air Pacific loads passengers onto the aircraft.

We are on a Boeing 777-200ER, which is a Euro Atlantic Airways aircraft, operated by a Portugal-based charter company. Air Pacific has obviously hired to fill the gap for their downed 747. I greet the young Portuguese crew as I board, and there is one Fijian flight attendant aboard. I tease her about this fact as I board…she giggles. Unfortunately, this aircraft is about 100 passengers smaller than a 747, which explains why Air Pacific is constantly struggling on the ground to cope with the extra bookings it has. The couple seated beside me waited three days for this flight, showing up at the airport each day only to be denied boarding. Their situation makes my flight delay look easy, although I’m still not happy about Air Pacific’s poor performance.

The bonus is that that there is much more leg room in this aircraft, there are less people aboard, and the air in the cabin is much better than what I encountered on Air New Zealand’s 747-400 on the way down to Fiji. I still blame that flight for causing the nasty throat infection I suffered from while aboard the ship. Both the male and female Euro Atlantic Airways cabin attendants are really cute, so I forgive their inexperience with delivery of some of the in-flight service.

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

The flight departure is delayed an hour and a half from 7AM to 8:30AM, when we finally push away from the jet way. This is going to screw up all the connecting flights for all passengers who don’t terminate in LA, since our arrival time with be late as well. Once we are airborne, I can feel the motion of the aircraft change with the change of flight crews in the cockpit every few hours. It’s pretty obvious when they start playing with the trim and power levels, although they maintain a 35,000’ cruising altitude, and it is generally a smooth flight with only occasional bumpy sections. The older passengers have found the free wine available from the galley. They wander the isles with their glasses of red or white.

I split my time aboard the aircraft between snoozing and working on my MacBook Air editing photos and writing my travel journal. It’s nice to have a notebook that fits on the aircraft fold-down tray, and I can listen to music from my iTunes at the same time. I also browse some magazines using my iPad, but the aircraft is shaking side to side in the rear section I’m seated in, which makes it uncomfortable to read for long periods of time.

We arrive late, despite the flight only taking 9 hours and 35 minutes – quite a bit faster than expected. I clear US customs and immigration and retrieve my bag, but then I have to wait in line to get my flights home rebooked yet again! As it turns out, when my connecting flights were rebooked in Nadi, everything was screwed up badly to the point it would have taken me two days to get home from LA! The guy who does the rebooking for me here in LAX knows what he is doing, and has proper flights put in place for me in no time.

Of course, all this waiting around takes up more time, so it is now 11PM by the time I get to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, which is where Air Pacific is putting up everyone from the flight I arrived on who is experiencing flight delays. I run into a friend in the hotel lobby as we both check in, so after a quick cleanup, we both go downstairs for the dinner provided by the airline. By this time, it is coming up to midnight, and my friend has an early morning flight to catch to Vancouver, so we bid adieu.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday – Los Angeles to Victoria

Since my flight yesterday flew eastward and crossed the International Date Line, I get to live Wednesday over again.

I go downstairs in the hotel to have breakfast, which is provided by the airline. I call home to let them know I’ll be arriving at Victoria airport at 10PM today. I catch the shuttle to the airport just before noon. Because I have paper tickets, I am redirected to the re-ticketing check-in and am issued boarding passes for both LAX and SFO. My bag is checked through to Victoria, so I go through security and then upstairs to find my gate.

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

I have over two hours before my flight leaves at 3:25PM, so I connect to the free Internet service at LAX. I didn’t expect free Internet in this airport – bonus! I update my status on facebook and work on a blog entry. United flight 1253 leaves a few minutes late, it is full, and I’m in an aisle seat on this Airbus A319 regional jet. It takes a surprisingly long time to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco – an hour and a half. Since I’m not in my usual window seat, all I can do is sit back and listen to music. There is essentially no in-flight service other than soft drinks and water.

After arrival in San Franscisco, I find my gate at the very end of Terminal 1 for the flight to Victoria. This is the oldest part of the airport, however to my good fortune, Klein’s Deli is located right next to my gate. I have a great tasting Cobb Salad for dinner while I wait several hours for my flight home to depart at 8PM. United Express flight 6494 departs on time and is using a Canadair Regional Jet. It strikes me as ironic that I’m ending this venture on a Canadian-made jet, operated by an American company to my final destination in Canada. In any case, we arrive on time, I retrieve my checked bag and quickly clear Canadian Customs and Immigration. It’s good to be home!

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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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Cusco to Lima to Pisco

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Day 16 – Cusco to Lima, then to General San Martin/Pisco, Peru to embark Rotterdam

We are up at 6AM for a 7:20AM transfer to the airport for our 9AM flight to Lima. These early mornings will come to an end after today, once we return to the ship (thank goodness). Our LAN Peru flight arrives in Lima on time at about 10:30AM, but the checked bags take awhile to show up on the belt before we go to meet our driver in the Arrivals area. He only speaks Spanish and there appears to be an issue with something, so he calls the office so I can talk to them in English. They explain it is a 3.5 hour drive, and they want to ensure we arrive on time, so want to know if skipping the lunch stop along the way is OK with us. I readily agree and hand the cellphone back to our driver, so he can be told of our decision in Spanish.

JoeTourist: Lima to Pisco &emdash; Heading south on the freewayWe are out of the airport parking area by 11:00AM, which gives us plenty of time to drive south on the Pan American highway to the deep-water port of General San Martin, where Rotterdam is docked until a 6PM scheduled departure. All three of us are out of bottled water, so we know the Spanish word is “agua” and the driver understands we need to purchase some water before we go too far. Clearing the worse of the traffic snarls in Callao and then heading south through the coastal area of Lima takes the better part of an hour before we hit the toll road where our speed increases to 90 kmh. After picking up some bottled water at a gas station convenience store, we are ready for the next 3 hours in the Hyundai minivan. The air conditioning is on, and we are all in good spirits as we head south down this toll road, which is a freeway most of the route we take.

Just south of Lima is the high-class areas of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Beautiful, mostly empty beaches dominate this area, with lots of beach facilities available. The changing scenery outside is amazing: huge mountains of sand I have not encountered since my trip to the Libyan Sahara. There is sand everywhere…dunes, beaches, hills and mountains, conglomerate ridges, and lots of beautiful colours. Further south along the coastline are numerous communities near the beaches, which are obviously vacation homes since they are within an easy commute from Lima. I see three vultures and one hawk sitting quite close together on a gravelly hill, which is odd to see these predators together.

Winding our way through Pisco is tricky, since the main road along the shoreline is closed for repair. All the big trucks are all turning tight corners in city streets, which aren’t designed for heavy traffic. Once we leave that congestion behind, we drive along the coastal road south of Pisco, and soon spot Rotterdam in the distance across the bay! This area is called Paracas, and is very sandy and incredibly flat. A tsunami would do some serious damage, since the bay is shallow and the land is flat. Even with a warning, it would be virtually impossible for residents to escape a tsunami since there are no elevated areas for many kilometers inland. There are refineries on the inland side of the road, and there are also fish processing plants in this area. The stink takes awhile to clear out of our vehicle as we proceed around the bay, heading for the ship.

We arrive at the ship by 3:30PM, so we are early, since the ship departs at 6PM. Our driver did a great job manoeuvring through all the traffic today…he must be exhausted. We are very glad to be back aboard the Rotterdam – our home away from home. We are looking forward to exploring new ports as she sails northward up the Pacific coast of South and Central America during the last half of our trip.

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Lima to Cusco

Saturday, December 03, 2011 – Day 13 – Lima to Cusco, Peru

I am seated with an Ecuadorian couple (who live in San Diego) at breakfast this morning in the dining room. The man is very impressed that I am on a self-booked tour to Machu Picchu, and validates my expectation that this site will be the highlight of the trip. He tells me Machu Picchu is actually in a tropical climate, which will be wetter and warmer than Cusco, and which will also be cool in the mornings but pleasantly warm by afternoon. I have my trusty Hally Hansen sailing jacket with me, which has an outer rainproof coat and an inner fleece jacket, so I should be able to cope with changing conditions, including rain, which is common at Machu Picchu this time of year.

Rotterdam arrives on time at 10AM despite being delayed by a Peruvian navy ship that had priority in the harbour. It’s exciting to finally be in Callao and on our way. I debark the ship and immediately see my name on a placard, and meet the young woman who will guide us to the airport and help us find our flight to Cusco. Although I’m sure we would have managed on our own taking a taxi, it is so much easier to have someone else deal with the transfer and check-in using Spanish. This is the start of our private group tour (just my two friends and myself) which I booked through Bestway Tours and Safaris.

Since the port and the Lima airport are both located in Callao, we don’t have to drive through Lima proper, so the transfer to the airport takes less than a half hour. We have about three hours to kill in the airport before our flight departs, so we settle into the food fair area outside the secure gate area – Starbucks and MacDonalds are both available, as well as chicken and sandwich places. We eat our own snacks instead. I spot quite a few passengers from the Rotterdam in the airport. Flight announcements are in Spanish and English. We find this area of the airport to be very noisy, so we move through security to the boarding gate waiting area, which has nice padded seats and is a bit quieter.

Our LANPeru flight to Cusco leaves on time, and it is not full. The scenery outside the window is nothing short of spectacular. As we climb away from Lima, we can appreciate just how huge the city is. The flight across Peru on our way to Cusco takes us over the Andes mountains, which are simply amazing. As we approach the valley where Cusco is located, there is beautiful scenery at every turn the aircraft makes on approach. After landing and retrieving our bags, we find the bonus outside – the weather is warm and sunny in Cusco, unlike the coastal cities of Lima and Trujillo, which were cold, foggy, and overcast.

Our guide and driver meet us at the Cusco airport and take us to our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection – an amazing hotel right in the centre of the city. Although we haven’t had a chance to explore it fully since it is so labyrinthine, what we have experienced is very nice indeed. Our three nights here will be very comfortable. Our rooms have king beds and all rooms look over courtyards, which means they are very quiet. The hotel was created from an 18th century manor house. Having free access to high speed Internet is a real bonus for me…hopefully I will have time to catch up on blogs and email while I’m here.

We all are a bit wobbly and not feeling 100%, although it is hard to tell if the cause is spending the last 11 days on board a ship, or the high altitude, or a combination of the two. In any case, we are coping well, since the symptoms aren’t preventing us from exploring this interesting city. Cusco is a safe city to wander around day or night, since it is so tourist-oriented. We have a wonderful wood fired pizza for dinner at a little pizzeria only a block from the hotel called La Pizza Carlo – recommended by our guide, TripAdvisor, and me too!

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

After dinner, I buy a watercolour painting from an artist hawking his wares outside the hotel. It is an abstract of an Inca, an Indian, a puma and Machu Picchu, which I find out later depicts the Chakana or Inca Cross (see Inca mythology). I sometimes purchase small paintings as mementos while traveling, since I routinely pass by all the other souvenirs.

It is time for bed and some rest, since we have a full day tour of the Sacred Valley tomorrow, and I want to be ready for it. I wake up at 3AM and decide to get up for awhile. By then I’m feeling considerably better than I was earlier, which is encouraging. I use my time to update my blog and drill through a bunch of emails. After an hour, I crawl back into bed and rest for an hour or so before arising again as the morning starts.

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Auckland to Victoria

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Victoria, Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave Te Kuiti for Auckland airport by 8:30am. Graham suggests using the bypass around Hamilton, which proves to be valuable advice since I expect the traffic from all the activity around the World Rowing competitions being held in nearby Cambridge would hold us up. Our drive up to Auckland airport goes smoothly. We return the rental car to the lot by 11am and roll our bags across the lot to the front entrance to the airport. I find the Hertz counter and finish my business with them, so we’re done with the car. We then check in at the Qantas counter, and proceed upstairs to the departure area since we are now free of our checked bags

We have to fill in a departure form for New Zealand immigration. I guess they want to make sure we depart the country as we promised earlier. We then have to clear security twice – once through the normal airport security, and then again just before the gate. We speculate it might be caused by the USA demands for tighter security on US-bound flights. Qantas flight 25 pushes away from the gate on time at 2:10pm local time, and we are on our way back home. The captain says we will arrive about an hour earlier than scheduled, but we will hit some bumps along the way, especially at the start and end of the flight. We leave Auckland at 2:10pm local time.

Although the flight is an hour shorter, it is still 11 hours flying time. Being stuck in an aircraft seat for that long is pretty nasty, especially since I can’t sleep while flying. I get some good rests, however I’m pretty tired by the end of the flight. Dinner is served after departure and breakfast is served before arrival. Both meals are excellent, as I have come to expect from Qantas. They also supply free beer and wine with dinner and afterwards. Although I don’t indulge, many take advantage. We are given a personal kit containing a bottle of water and some snacks before the cabin lights are turned off. The woman beside me is a Dutch national who resides in New Zealand. She is meeting her husband in LA, and they plan to see the Grand Canyon in a rented motor home. I encourage her by saying I saw the Grand Canyon in January, so experiencing it in the winter time can be a great idea

We arrive in LA at 6am local time. I retrieve my checked bag and clear customs and immigration. As a Canadian, I get preferential treatment – no fingerprinting or photos are required and quick clearance (thank goodness). I get to wait in the LA airport for almost six hours before the Alaska Airlines departure to Seattle at 11:45am. I hate LAX. It is the worst airport – it’s dirty, confusing, there is a distinct lack of services, and the staff are hostile…and that’s just for starters. Qantas arrives in the Tom Bradley International airport, however Alaska flights depart from the domestic Terminal 3, so I have to walk over to the terminal, and then go through security again, despite being in transit. Since this is the good ol’ USA, security is special: take off your shoes and outer clothing in addition to the usual stuff we are all used to. The airport was being renovated in 2004 when I flew through here before from New Zealand, and it is still being renovated in 2010! Internet access for 24 hours costs US$7.99 from t-Mobile…there is no free Internet at LAX, unlike in Seatac and Vancouver airports.

Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon

Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon

Despite having to kill six hours here, I can at least mark each hour off knowing I’m getting closer to my departure from this awful place. I meet some nice people, and I am astounded at how productive Alaska Airlines gates are as I watch them move flights through each gate in under an hour! Eventually my flight to Seatac appears on the board for my gate; they load everyone aboard, and we depart on time. Ta da!

I have learned from past flight with Alaska Airlines that the in-flight meals are quite nice now that they charge for them. I have a grilled Panini deli sandwich and a Coca Cola to go with it for US$6. It hit the spot, since my last meal was the breakfast served aboard the Qantas flight before our arrival at LAX over six hours ago. I take a nice photo of Crater Lake in Oregon as we fly north.

We arrive at Seatac on time, and I manage to navigate from one terminal to another using those dreadful trains. The Horizon Airlines gate is just as entertaining as last time I traveled through here. Horizon provides connections to so many small airports in the sparsely populated parts of the USA: eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, and who know where else? Of course, they also fly to another little town: Victoria, BC, Canada – where I am heading.

My flight leaves about 15 minutes late, which is typical for Horizon, however when we arrive in Victoria, my bag is the first on the carousel – wonderful! The Canadian immigration officer greets me jovially and waves me through once he hears the story of my travels. I am met in the departure area and we drive home in the cold, dark rain. I am greeted by three animals as I enter through the front door. It is good to finally be home!

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Johannesburg to Livingston and Victoria Falls

October 16, 2008 – Thursday – Johannesburg, South Africa to Livingston, Zambia

I am up at 6am this morning, since I really didn’t sleep much last night. I sort out the repacking of my bags once again. Breakfast is included in the room tariff at the Mondior hotel, and is sumptuous in their Oriana Restaurant. South Africans sure know to eat!

When I check out this morning, I ask about storing my big bag at the hotel until my return on October 25th, they refuse since I’m not staying with them when I return to Johannesburg. So that was bad advice from Derek at Wilderness Safaris, however the front desk manager verifies that I can store my bag at the airport.

Johannesburg airport is being expanded, so it is chaotic and very noisy. They are gearing up for the FIFA 2010 International Soccer match. I find the baggage storage office and leave my big bag there – praying as I leave that it will still be there when I return on the 25th, and that my notebook computer will still be inside.

JoeTourist: Livingston &emdash; Zambian Airways Boeing 737-219 aircraft tail

Zambian Airways Boeing 737-219 aircraft tail at the gate in Johannesburg airport

There is some high drama at the gate next to where I board my flight. A young couple show up extremely late for their flight to Mauritius and they are told the gate is closed, so they are refused entry. Lots of yelling and crying ensues, however the gate staff prevail, and eventually shut everything down and walk away. I do love people watching!

I’m really early for my flight on Zambian Airways to Livingston, but that’s me: leave lots of time. It was a good thing, since despite this morning’s confusion with the bag storage; I still had time to deal with it.

I just experienced my first oh shit moment. I realize that I left my expensive Canon binoculars tucked into an outside pocket on the bag I checked at the airline counter. It will be a minor miracle if it appears at the other end…sigh!

JoeTourist: Victoria Falls &emdash; Cataract islands in the Zambezi River above Victoria Falls

Cataract islands in the Zambezi River above Victoria Falls as viewed from the flight into Livingston

Zambian Airways departs about five minutes late without incident. I say a small prayer for my binoculars as we take off. The aircraft is a Boeing 737-200, which appears to be in pretty good shape. The in-flight meal is a “beef” sandwich, which turns out to be pork deli meat. This is certainly an International flight: there are two large groups aboard (Czechs and Israelis). There is thick air pollution obscuring the view outside for most of the flight, however I manage to pick out the lake behind the Shashe Dam in Botswana near our midway point. I take some good photos of the Zambezi River above Victoria Falls on our final approach to Livingston Airport.

After we arrive at Livingston Airport, I retrieve my bag, and to my immense relief my binoculars are still tucked into the pocket I left them in, no worse for wear! I pay the US$50 Zambian Visa single entry fee and meet Victor, our Botswana guide in the waiting area. There is a female guard with an AK47 rifle in the Zambia National Commercial Bank office in the airport!

We wait for the the second safari participant Ernst (from Austria), who arrives on the next flight a half hour after me. Apparently he paid no Zambian entry fee since he is a European. It seems the Zambians charge U.S. citizens even more than I paid for the fee – so the fee charged depends what country you are from! Jacob is our driver and guide while we are in Zambia, since Victor is not a certified Zambian guide, so he is just along for the ride until we cross into Botswana.

Victoria Falls viewpoint map

Victoria Falls viewpoint map

Jacob drives us to Victoria Falls where we go on a walking tour in the midday heat (about 38°C in the shade). Since this is the dry season, the water on the Zambian side of the falls is almost completely dried up, however the Zimbabwe side (in the distance) has lots of water.

As we walk the trail along the top of the gorge, we get good views of both sides of the falls . We encounter a troop of baboons along the way which I am wary of, however Jacob assures me they are not aggressive as we pass by. I get Jacob to take a photo and video of me standing against the rail with Victoria Falls in the background – two I was there moments.

I find it a bit surreal as I walk along the gorge. It’s as though I’m not really here…I can’t explain the feeling further.

100 Billion Dollar Zimbabwe bank note

100 Billion Dollar Zimbabwe bank note

Ernst and I each buy a 100 billion dollar Zimbabwe bank note from some young men hanging around the border crossing at the Victoria Falls bridge. Cost is US$5. The Zimbabwe government can’t afford to print the bills (which are virtually worthless anyway), so they use recycled paper from cheques. The bills have an expiry date of only a few months after their issue date!

We drive westward for about an hour on a good paved road. Along the way I see a roadside stand near selling fish from a nearby stream, and we pass many Zambian villages along the way. Most people still live in round grass huts and keep their domestic animals in pens made from grass and sticks. After we pass Mwandi, we turn off on a sandy track that leads to Shackletons Lodge, located on the Zambezi River.

My cottage overlooks a beautiful river vista. Ernst and I are the only guests, so we are treated royally. The lodge has two Jack Russell Terriers, so I feel right at home. Shackeltons is one of those places you file away, promising yourself you will return to one day.

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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!