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The Louvre & farewell dinner in Paris

September 19, 2014 – Friday – The Louvre, Paris, France

After breakfast in the hotel, we take the Metro to see The Louvre this morning. After connecting with our guide Vincent shortly after 9AM, we walk through the expansive foyer and through security. The place is huge, so Vincent has selected some highlights for us, and has also included some of his personal favourites, since we only have a couple of hours.

The Mona Lisa is not too impressive, and we can’t get close to it since there is such a crush of people in the gallery. We have better luck seeing the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite) statue, although both galleries are known to be frequented by pickpockets. I’m thankful that Vincent is guiding us through the endless galleries, since I’m really not into museums, per se. The crowds are hard to cope with, even at this early hour – many are loud, rude, and pushy. As with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, I find the display of wealth stolen by Napoleon and the Louis dynasty to be completely over the top. Despite my negative feelings, The Louvre is a place that needs a return visit. I have a feeling that spending a day in the less popular galleries would be more rewarding than our quick visit. After taking a coffee break in the foyer mall, we return to our hotel using the Paris Metro on our own.

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Our group’s farewell dinner is held at La Terrasse du 7ème restaurant, which is only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. The meal is wonderful, and the wine is very nice. We start with Kir, which is a cocktail made with crème de cassis (black current liquor) and white wine, and then we have a three course dinner. We finish our farewell on the rooftop patio with some bubbly…a lovely way to end things and say our goodbyes.

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Rome

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome

Upon our arrival in Rome, our driver Sylvain has to maneuver through some pretty challenging turns and narrow streets to get us to the drop off point in the city at Repubblica Square. Driving a vehicle that large in Rome is a real challenge! After we schlepp our bags a few blocks to Hotel Nardizzi Americana in sprinkling rain, a bunch of us have lunch on our own at a nearby salad bar deli. I have a delicious prosciutto panino (we say Panini in North America, which is actually the plural form of panino in Italian).

We go on an extensive walking tour of Rome this afternoon from with a local guide. She succeeds in bringing the Colliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon alive for us all. Several of us are tired after all the walking this afternoon, so we return to the hotel on our own using the Rome subway. Jennifer taught us well earlier in the day when we started our tour by taking the subway, so we have no problem reversing the route.

Three of us have dinner at Ristorante Esperia, which is a trattoria only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. I have Spaghetti Carbonara, which is very rich and tasty. We all enjoy our meals, although the wine is a bit expensive.

September 12, 2014 – Friday – Vatican City

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we take the subway to the Vatican to take an escorted tour of the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, and other amazing displays. I missed the Vatican Museum last time I was in Rome in 2006 due to a screw up with the arrangements, so it is great to finally see this astounding collection of friezes, tapestries, and paintings. Actually, I find the opulence to be obscene. I am fascinated with the painted maps of Italy in one hallway, since they were created so long ago and yet are very detailed.

Bernini's Baldachino in St. Peter's Basilica

Bernini’s Baldachino in St. Peter’s Basilica

We are then led through a side entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, where we are on our own for the rest of the day. I think there is more lighting than the last time I was in St. Peter’s in 2006, which makes taking photos easier. I still find the place rather creepy, especially seeing the popes and cardinals who are embalmed and on display in crypts with glass windows in the side so they can be viewed. There are several worship services going on as I walk through the basilica taking photos.

I meet up with several members of my tour group in St. Peter’s Square, and we return to the hotel on our own using the subway ticket Jennifer gave us earlier. I’m completely bagged, so I have a two-hour nap this afternoon. I had great plans to work on my travel journal, but that doesn’t happen!

Nine of us go to the Oratorio Bistrot for dinner this evening, which is in the same block as our hotel. They have a wine bar downstairs and they have an upstairs patio where lunch and dinner is served. It is very nice on the covered patio, and the meals are very tasty. I have rolled veal with bacon as a main, and start with grilled zucchini, which turns out to be more of an omelet. I have an Italian beer with dinner, but the rest of the group order two glasses of wine each, since they don’t seem to have house wines served in jugs like the other restaurants we have eaten at up to now.

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

We have breakfast in our hotel and then everyone walks a couple of blocks to the bus, which is waiting for us at Repubblica Square with the beautiful fountain and the metro station beneath. We drive by St. Peter’s on our way out of the city, and pass Civitavecchia as we drive up the coast. This is where the cruise ships dock, and then the passengers are transferred by bus to Rome for the day.

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Open Air Museum in Arnhem

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people didn’t show up to start with. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM. Sylvain is our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by! The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.

We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.

We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, which reminds me very much of the Fort William historic site in Ontario, Canada (photos). We have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park, which showcases the cultural history of the Netherlands, complete with windmills, recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.

I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our stop in Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.

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Cruise: French Polynesia to San Diego

Cruising from Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia to San Diego, USA aboard ms Statendam

“Sea days” are a necessary part of most cruises, where the ship is at sea for a day or two (or longer sometimes) while traveling between ports-of-call. Some passengers pick cruises with the most sea days because they obviously enjoy the isolation and routine that inevitably occurs during these days. I have met passengers on previous voyages that don’t get off the ship, even when it is in port – they enjoy shipboard life so much! Others dread the sea days, and constantly complain they are bored and dwell on the next port-of-call. I am somewhere in the middle…I like sea days, but not too many in a row. This final leg of the voyage from Nuku Hiva to San Diego takes six days, which I know will test my patience after the first couple of days into it. I ensure I have projects I can do during these “sea days”, which keep the boredom at bay, and ensure I accomplish something during this down time.

Of course the ship’s entertainment staff are fully prepared to keep everyone occupied with dozens of activities each day the ship is at sea. The casino goes full out during these days, and I suspect they get customers they otherwise wouldn’t see, simply because passengers are looking for something to do. The staff running the shops aboard ship can also be counted on to put on product presentations, free draws, and serve champagne at their special sales events reserved for these days at sea when they are guaranteed a captive audience. Lots of passengers read books – sitting out on deck for hours at a time. Some passengers get into some serious drinking, especially during the afternoon Happy Hour, when the bars come alive. Others take workshops to learn about computers, digital cameras, food, dancing, playing musical instruments, wine appreciation, making jewelry, keeping fit, playing bridge, and dozens of other activities.


Ship's position - March 10, 2014

Ship’s position – March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014 – Monday – Day 1 Sea Day

I wake up about 4AM and look out the window to see Venus drilling through the clouds, and then go back to sleep. This is our first full sea day of six enroute to San Diego and the end of the cruise. I have a full day planned, with enrichment talks and other activities. I received my Mariner Society Brunch invitation for the 12th, which I plan to attend, mainly so I can see the captain. I have yet to spot him on this long voyage!

  • 11:30AM – Discover SkyDrive Connect to SkyDrive.com – Digital Workshop – “Explore different ways to access, manage, and share your files on SkyDrive.” I use SkyDrive (now called OneDrive) and learned a few tips by attending this tech workshop.
  • 3PM – Hubble”s Greatest Hits – Showroom at Sea – Jonathan Nally – “It’s the most famous telescope in the world … or more accurately, in space! Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced many of the most amazing images of the cosmos ever taken. Jonathan Nally takes you on a colorful journey through more than 20 years of Hubble’s most incredible discoveries and awe-inspiring images.” This presentation is mostly astronomical eye candy, but it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour.

I am the only person swimming in the Ocean View Pool just before noon. The water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal as the ship is buffeted by strong winds. By this afternoon, we are being hit with 35kt winds as we proceed on our NE course across the Equator. There are whitecaps out on the water as I negotiate the windy Promenade Deck for my usual walk I take each day.

It is formal night this evening, so I get into my dark jacket, pants and tie before going to the Rotterdam dining room for dinner. I have a seafood dinner, starting with cold Lobster with mayonnaise, then Manhattan clam chowder, and Alaska King Crab and drawn butter for an entrée. The lobster and crab were very good, but the chowder was not inspiring. I had a chocolate espresso soufflé with warm raspberry sauce for dessert, which was excellent!

Jonathan Nalley leads a stargazing session from the Sea View Pool stern deck again tonight, and points out the Southern Cross to the crowd of about 50 people. I enjoy looking at M42 the Orion Nebula and Jupiter and its moons.

March 11, 2014 – Tuesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 2 Sea Day

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

I have breakfast this morning with the dialysis doctor and his wife. He has a few dialysis patients aboard, one of which became unstable and had to be taken ashore in Nuku Hiva and onward to the hospital in Papeete. There are some rain showers while we have breakfast and during the day, however the Sun comes out for the King Neptune Ceremony held this morning on the stern deck at the Ocean View Pool. Several pollywogs are duly initiated by the shellbacks. Despite having photos from similar ceremonies on two previous Holland America cruises, I take a few more photos, since this is always a fun event.

The wind is strong at 35kts from the NE, so with us steering a course of 028, we are taking the wind just off the bow. They close the decks, but passengers continue to sit on the loungers and walk the decks, putting up with some sea spray and being blown around a bit. The ship is maintaining a speed of 18 knots as we head north to San Diego.

March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 3 Sea Day

I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light since I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM. The Mariners Brunch is where virtually everyone aboard is recognized for our loyalty to Holland America with a gift of a Delft ceramic tile. The Captain and Hotel Manager are on hand to greet everyone, and the Cruise Director emcees the proceedings. We have a lunch menu to choose from, and we are out of there by noon.

I go to Jonathan Nalley’s presentation on Mars and the missions sent there. I spend a few minutes online this afternoon in order to finish what I was doing yesterday when the connection to the Internet broke. I had to ask for a credit, since I couldn’t log back on to log off properly yesterday. This morning the connection wasn’t solid, so that’s why I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to facebook, and download some email.

2014 Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

After dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening, I go to see the show Marcus Terrell & The Serenades, which is a Motown trio with some soul mixed in. I enjoyed their show a few nights ago, and this one is even better. They mix it up by adding in some pop/opera with “The Promise”, and pretty well nail it. They get a standing ovation and give the appreciative audience an encore. Their Facebook page.

March 13, 2014 – Thursday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 4 Sea Day

As expected, the last few days of this cruise are becoming a bit tedious. I don’t really participate in many of the activities that are listed in the newsletter each day. I attend about half the shows in the Showroom, which are generally well done, and sometimes exceptional. I attend all the enrichment lectures, and really appreciate the astronomy speaker Jonathan Nalley. I’m glad I have my MacBook Air notebook computer with me, since I spend about an hour each day working on my travel journal, and extracting material every few days to post on my JoeTourist blog.

Taking photographs is probably my main diversion on this trip. The subsequent task of filling in the metadata for each photo takes considerable time and effort, but at least it keeps me busy while we are at sea, and it makes the job of updating my main JoeTourist.ca website much easier after I return home. I purchase another 100 minutes of Internet time this morning for $55, to give me lots of online time until our arrival in San Diego. There is a bonus 20 minutes offered for this deal for today only. I decide this is better value than purchasing the ship’s DVD videos of the trip at $80 for the set of four. Last cruise I purchased the DVDs, and they just sit on the shelf at home after I watched them once.

9:30AM – To Pluto and Beyond – Jonathan Nally “details three space missions currently underway-one that’s heading for a landing on a comet. another that will investigate the giant planet Jupiter, and one that will give us our first close-up pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and other icy worlds beyond. All three spacecraft have been zooming through space for years now, and excitement is mounting as they begin to close in on their destinations.” I enjoy this lecture very much, despite knowing a fair bit about all three missions previously.

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

There is a great deal of hacking and coughing on the ship right now. I’m hoping to not catch a cold before I board my flight home, otherwise flying will be a painful experience. I give my two Indonesian cabin stewards a tip this morning, since they have worked so well to keep my cabin neat and tidy. Dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening has a Filipino and Indonesian theme. The waiters are in costume, the room is decorated, and the menu has both ethnic foods featured, making things very festive.

After dinner, I decide to skip the show and do laundry one more time, since I want to wear clean blue jeans on my flight home. The washer only takes 25 cents before starting, so that saves me from the usual $2 charge – bonus!

March 14, 2014 – Friday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 5 Sea Day

I check on my flights home on the United Airlines website and find they are on schedule. I always check in at the counter when I arrive at the airport, since I have to check my big bag and get seat assignments. It is too complicated and time-consuming to do this online while aboard ship, although many passengers will do this, no doubt.

I attend two talks put on by ship’s officers today.

  • 10AM – Virtual Engine Room Tour with Chief Engineer Silbert Whyte, the Chief Engineer talks about the engines, power, and other infrastructure systems in the ship, gives the first presentation.
  • 2PM Virtual Bridge Tour with Statendam’s Navigational and Safety Officer who is also the First Officer talks about the bridge, navigation and other bridge functions. Both are informative, and there are lots of questions from the audience.

We have our last formal night this evening, and it is also the Black and White Ball later this evening, so the Rotterdam dining room is decorated once again. The tenor and the soprano from the ship’s troupe sing classic songs this evening in the Showroom, and an orchestra is assembled from the various musicians aboard the ship to back them up. It was well done, and I enjoyed it.

Ship's position - one day out of San Diego

Ship’s position – one day out of San Diego

March 15, 2014 – Saturday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 6 Sea Day

Today is a strange and melancholy day for me. I went to a couple of events this morning, but I’m restless and anxious to leave the ship to return home. The entertainment staff is doing their best to keep us all busy with lots of events scheduled, but I just don’t have the patience for it. I’m not even interested in working on my journal or photos today.

I try to watch a movie this afternoon, but I just can’t stand the slow pace of the story, so I walk out. I catch the end of the Hula & Ukulele rehearsal by the passengers who have been learning how to dance and play during the cruise. They did very well! I actually came to the Showroom to hear the Third Officer Mikko talk about Icebreakers in his native Finland, which I find closer to my interest. Obviously I’m a techie guy at heart!

There is a parade of serving staff  in the Rotterdam dining room this evening. It is truly amazing to see the hundreds of serving staff who make the passengers life aboard ship so wonderful. They get a well-deserved ovation, as they are recognized for all their dedication and hard work. Some may say this is simply a pitch for tips, however I can see the pride in the faces of the men and women as they parade through the room.

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

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Cruise: San Diego to Hawaii

Cruising from San Diego, California, USA to Hawaii aboard ms Statendam

February 15, 2014 – Saturday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 1

I wake up too early at 7AM and need my morning coffee, so I go to the Explorers Café for a cappuccino. After sitting in the leather recliner looking out at the calm Pacific Ocean from the quiet library, I am feeling much better, and then go for breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room, which opens at 8AM. I have a cup of tea and a frittata as I chat with my fellow passengers.

Since this is a day at sea, the entertainment staff have a full slate of activities scheduled. All is revealed in the daily newsletter published each morning. I’m big on enrichment talks, so I go to all of them:

11AM Showroom – Pacific People: How the Islanders Arrived – Charlie Urbanowicz explains how the original inhabitants of the islands crossed the Pacific Ocean and where they came from. I learn that human migrations used cloud tops over the island groups for navigation. I already knew they used wave patterns, the Sun and stars to navigate.

3PM Showroom – The Wildlife of Remote Pacific Islands – Hawaii and Tahiti – Clive Catchpole presents some of the fascinating and unusual creatures that inhabit these isolated islands. Clive points out that the Pacific Islands we will be visiting have very few endemic species. Most species were imported. He points out that the Humpback whale migration is in full swing right now, and we will likely see them in Maui. He also talks about the big seabirds, such as Albatross (offshore), Boobies, Gannets and Frigate birds found near shore.

Catch A Wave group

Catch A Wave group

After dinner, I enjoy a Benedictine liqueur while listening to Catch A Wave, a Beach Boys tribute band this evening in the Showroom. The tunes are very well done, with a near-perfect 5-part harmony, and they are dressed in the early striped shirts and white pants the Beach Boys originally performed in. However they just stand there – no movement or dancing around during their performance.

After the show, I go to the office to check that they know about my departure from the ship in Hilo, and re-boarding in the following day in Kailua-Kona. The young woman tells me my plans are contrary to the US Merchant Marine Act (successor to the Jones Act), and I will be subject to a $300 charge by the US government for contravening this maritime law. She points out that the cruise line has no problem with me leaving and rejoining the ship on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the US government does.

This means I have to cancel my plans to see Mauna Kea at night, so I send an email to the Old Hawaiian B&B to cancel my night’s stay in Hilo. I will also have to contact Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, but I can wait until we arrive in Honolulu so I don’t have to pay the expensive per minute rates while aboard ship.

This is very disappointing, since I was looking forward to seeing the night sky from Mauna Kea. Perhaps I’ll drive up there during the day, since my rental car is a proper 4×4 Ford Explorer truck. I will have to decide very soon how best to use my day in Hilo, and the following day in Kona.

February 16, 2014 – Sunday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 2

I wake up at 8AM this morning, which is a bit late for me, so at least I’m starting to get into “holiday mode”. I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a cappuccino, and Eggs Royal (2 poached eggs on an English muffin with smoked salmon and some home fries), hold the Hollandaise sauce.

I am starting to know the layout of the ship. The Statendam is the oldest ship in this series, and it is showing its age a bit, however as with other Holland America ships, it is kept up-to-date and spotlessly clean, and has a rich-looking décor without being “over the top”. My cabin is mid-ships on Main Deck. Since my cabins on my two previous Holland America cruises were near the bow, I have to learn the most efficient way to get to the places I most want to go to: the Showroom At Sea, the Explorers Lounge, the Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and the Sea View pool.

It is formal wear tonight so I dress in my blue blazer jacket, dark grey dress pants and white shirt and tie. The Maître ‘d seats me at a large 8 seat oval table in the middle of the dining room. I order Rack of Lamb and have a glass of white wine…a very nice dinner indeed.

Bob Mackie costume

Bob Mackie costume

I go to the Showroom tonight to see Bob Mackie’s Broadway, which is a song and dance show well performed by the ship’s resident troupe of entertainers. The Bob Mackie costumes look great, and I always enjoy the singing and dancing of the resident entertainment troupe.

February 17, 2014 – Monday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 3

This is another day at sea, so I take in more enrichment speakers. Kainoa is a Hawaiian man aboard the ship as the Location Guide. Strictly speaking, he works for the Excursions Department, and his job is to sell passengers the ship’s excursions. Kainoa takes it up a notch, and gives very interesting talks on the ports, and is more like another enrichment speaker in my books.

Charles Darwin portrait

Charles Darwin

9AM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Honolulu & Oahu – Kainoa recommends going to the Ala Moana Beach & Magic Island, which are between the cruise ship dock and Waikiki, about 2 miles from the cruise dock. This sounds like a good plan for me, since I’m going on a North Shore tour one day, but I have the second day we’re in port to myself. He also mentions the Foster Botanical Gardens. Apparently they are both 2 miles from cruise dock.

2PM Showroom – Amazing Voyage of Charles Darwin – Clive Catchpole – Darwin’s work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle was nothing short of amazing. Keep in mind; Darwin was trained in both theology (which he hated) and botany (which he loved). The ship discovered Beagle Passage, an easier alternative to going ‘around the Horn’ of South America. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds and finches differed from island to island in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin predicted the decline of the Aboriginals in Australia, and waited 20 years to publish his famous work On the Origin of Species in 1859. Clive is an outstanding speaker, with a dry sense of British humour.

3PM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Kingdom to State – Kainoa describes how the US annexed Hawaii, over the objections of the Hawaiian monarchy. Business interests drove this annexation. Now there is a “Nation within a nation” – Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

I saw an old guy in the casino yesterday with a t-shirt slogan that simply said “I’ve been there…”. When Kainoa recently asked people in one of his talks who were first time cruisers, nobody raised their hands! That speaks volumes about the demographic on this cruise. Arman the Cruise Director mentioned in a previous session in the Showroom At Sea that one passenger has spent something like 10,000 days on board Holland America ships…more than 27 years, which exceeds Arman’s age!

February 18, 2014 – Tuesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 4

I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a Southwest Omelet and a cappuccino. One couple is from Connecticut and another couple is from Toronto, so they both have storm stories to tell – ice and hurricanes. The Toronto couple were aboard the Prinsindam when she sailed around South America and further south near Antarctica. Apparently the ship nearly capsized when it was hit with a double wave. According to them she was heeled over 60 degrees, they lost 80% of the crockery, and there were several injuries among crew and passengers. I may reconsider my plans to do that cruise!

As in past cruises, the older folks are about evenly split between reading paperbacks and using various brands of electronic readers. I’m using my iPad for occasions when I feel like reading. I have a 650 page book I’m working on, and I also loaded a couple of year’s worth of magazines on it, so I have lots of reading material. My music is on my iPhone, and my documents are on my MacBook Air, so I’m well equipped to entertain myself with my high-tech gear.

There is only one enrichment talk today:

10AM Showroom – The evolution of life on planet Earth – Clive Catchpole – Clive has turned out to be a real treasure on this cruise. He is witty, has a dry sense of English humour, and presents the most interesting lectures. I always take lots of notes at his presentations.

There are no presentations this afternoon that appeal to me, and I have nothing planned. Several passengers and Clive have mentioned there is a Lysan Albatross flying with the ship, so I grab my camera and circle the outside decks looking for this bird to no avail. As usual, I skip lunch in favor of having a cappuccino and a couple of cookies in the early afternoon around 2PM. I take my iPad and read my book for an hour while I have my coffee.

The ship has been lurching a bit in large 8’ swells, which are apparently coming from a couple of storms north of the Hawaiian Islands, where the captain tells us the swells are 20’. Weather reports are apparently good for when we arrive in Hawaii, but at the moment they have overcast skies and rain. We also have had overcast skies but no rain since we left sunny San Diego. The outside temperature is a mild 21°C during the day…not exactly time for swimming in the outside pool, but pleasant enough.

I go to dinner this evening at 6PM, my usual time. I am seated with two couples that are both from Burnaby, so our table isn’t just Canadian…it’s British Columbian! One couple booked the cruise three weeks before departure date, and paid half fare. Obviously they didn’t get their choice of cabins, but they were upgraded from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, so they did pretty well. His luggage was lost by Air Canada/United in Denver, so he only has one pair of pants to wear, and had to rent a tuxedo for formal night, as well as buy spare socks and underwear in the shop. Apparently United will be paying them $300 for the inconvenience, and will ship his bag to Honolulu.

February 19, 2014 – Wednesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 5

I wake up at 6:30AM, which is too early, but setting the clocks back an hour last night has screwed me up. I head up to the Explorations Café for a cappuccino at 7AM. Yesterday the captain reported we were moving clear of the big swells and would experience confused seas, and that’s exactly what I see out the windows this morning. We still have overcast skies, and the sea is grey just like at home during the winter months. The ship is making 17.7 knots this morning, and we are within a day’s sail of Hawaii, so I’m sure the captain is pleased to be on schedule (as am I).

I’m looking forward to the end of these days at sea. At day 5, I’m finding it a bit tedious, although I am certainly catching up on my rest! Breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room this morning was very pleasant. I was seated at a table for six: 2 Brits (SE England), 2 Americans (S central WA), and a Canadian woman (Calgary). We discuss the XL oil pipeline proposal. Of course the Americans are all in favour of the pipeline, and hate Obama. The English complain about the long tags on their clothing and other goods, which now have to accommodate all the languages in the EU.

I decide it is time to do laundry this morning since I’m not interested in any of the morning presentations, and we are experiencing a tropical downpour outside. It costs $2 to wash (including detergent), and $1 for the dryer. I buy a roll of quarters from the front desk, so I’m set for the trip. While I wait for my laundry, there is a balloon toss game being played in the Atrium. It’s called “keep the guests busy” on their fifth day at sea!

By Noon the Sun is out and the clouds are mostly cleared in favour of blue sky. People are out on deck sunning themselves almost immediately! I decide to have some lunch in the Lido and eat out on the Lido pool deck where the HAL-cat band is playing. Now this is the typical cruise ship experience…all I need is a beer! It’s formal night tonight, so perhaps I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner.

1PM Showroom – The social life of animals – Clive Catchpole – Clive talks about Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, who defends Darwin’s views about individual selection theories, but proposes that Evolution is all about genes being passed on, and believes that genes are immortal, unlike human bodies, Dawkins Book: The Selfish Gene 1978. This was another first-rate talk by Clive! He won’t be back until we leave Hawaii.

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

I was going to listen to Kainoa’s talk on the History of the Hula after Clive’s presentation, but decide to skip it in favour of going for a swim in the Sea View Pool. The water is cool, but it is great to swim a bit – a refreshing break from all my inactivity so far on the cruise.

I dress for dinner and am seated with the couple from Atlanta, and the couple from Burnaby I previously met, and one other woman. After dinner, I go to the Showroom to see a magician and comedian act, but he is less than entertaining, so I leave mid-way through the performance.

Since it is clear outside, I go up to Deck 14, the Sky Deck to measure the sky darkness with my Sky Quality Meter and to observe the stars. The lights are on up there, but I get an exceedingly dark reading. I also see the Orion (the Warrior) constellation on his side and Cygnus (the Swan) constellation, which is also flying on her side.

Tomorrow morning we land in Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I think it’s safe to say everyone aboard is looking forward to it. I know I am!

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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.

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Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

Arranging a stay in the Yasawa Group of Islands

Rather than return home after disembarking the Solar Eclipse Cruise 2012, when planning this trip, I decided to make arrangements to stay in Fiji a further week. I had always wanted to experience the Yasawa Group of Islands, located just off the NW coast of Viti Levu. Lautoka is the jumping off point for these beautiful islands, so this was an ideal opportunity to make some arrangements to experience that part of Fiji.

After much research, I decided to spend a week at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island in the Yasawas. I love to snorkel in tropical waters, and this resort offers a beautiful lagoon literally steps outside my beachfront bure (cottage or villa). I’m also really looking forward to meeting all the friendly Fijians on the island. Never in all my travels have I encountered more genuinely friendly people than the Fijians. This is one of the main reasons I seem to keep returning to these islands.

The resort life – day by day

November 21, 2012 – Wednesday – Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

I wake up a bit before 7AM on my first full day at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, and by the time I get dressed and cleaned up, it is time to go to the restaurant for breakfast at 7:30AM. The coffee is ready, so I start with that, and then have some yummy homemade bread toasted, and a cereal cup with fruit. They offer eggs cooked to order, so no doubt I will have some scrambled eggs another morning.

I walk the beach right to the end where there is a point with black and red volcanic rocks. This island’s origin is obviously old volcanic, since it has quite high hills, and some have sharp peaks. Later in the morning after the tide comes in, I go for my first snorkel on the reef. It is nothing short of fantastic. I only have to swim a few metres from the beach in front of my villa to see the reef, which is very much alive. When I stop and float in the water, there are multitudes of fish swarming around me. There are lots of opportunities for taking good underwater photos and video, and I even set my camera for macro mode, since I can get so close to the wildlife. This is what I came here for!

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

The Yasawa Flyer passenger boat arrives from Lautoka at 1:15PM, and a couple of boatloads of people get off. They are greeted with the staff singing them a song, which I record. We didn’t get such a greeting upon our arrival yesterday…I guess we were too small a group.

The young couple in Villa 1 (beside me) is obviously having a romantic dinner in front of their villa instead of the usual dinner with the group in the restaurant. The staff setup a table for them in front of their villa, and they start dinner shortly after 5PM, instead of the usual 7:30PM. She is dressed in a fetching white slinky evening dress and he has a black shirt on. They decide to take a sunset photo of the two of them on the beach, and attempt to use the automatic mode and a camera timer. I know this simply doesn’t work, so I volunteer to take their photo with their camera. I put it in non-automatic mode, manually turn the flash on, and get much closer to them so the flash can light them up and they are visible. My good deed for the day.

It is seafood night for dinner in the restaurant, and what a spread! There are mussels baked in a spicy sauce, breaded whitefish, calamari, snapper baked in coconut sauce, a seafood casserole, rice, homemade cheese & onion buns, two nice salads, and a banana pastry with chocolate sauce for dessert. I sat with the same Australian/Chinese couple as last night, another Chinese couple, and a young couple from Melbourne. The young man from Melbourne will be traveling to Montreal on business, and asked me about the “French question”. I had to ask him to clarify, and he indicated he knew a bit of French, and was wondering if he should speak French or English in Montreal. Given his weak skills in French, I advised him to stick with English. In any case, I suggested his Quebec business associates would be taking good care of him.

At 7AM this morning the temperature is 27ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 31ºC, with a slight breeze off the interior of Nacula Island. By 5PM it warms to 29ºC, 75% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and we still have a slight breeze accompanied with a rain shower. By 9PM the temperature is 28ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and a very slight breeze. I sleep comfortably with just a light sheet as a cover and no blanket every night I’m here. There is no air conditioning in my bure, which I wouldn’t use even if it was available.

November 22, 2012 – Thursday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

I get up with the Sun again this morning, and go to the restaurant a bit after 7AM. I have some scrambled eggs on toast this morning. Then it is time to work off my breakfast, so I walk down the beach to the north, past the other resort (run by the local chief) and around the point to another section of the beach to the north. I meet several Fijians walking down the beach who work in our resort. Everyone is so friendly here.

I meet my neighbours Tasha and Eric from Ohio, who are staying in Villa 3 for 10 days. Eric wasn’t impressed with the two excursions they have taken over the last couple of days. I don’t plan to take any of the excursions offered by the resort during my stay, since I came here for one thing: the snorkelling. The wind kicks up at 5PM from an offshore direction (NW), and then the rain starts coming down. We are hit with 25kmh winds and heavy rain. I retreat inside my bure and close the shore side shutters. By 5:50PM, the rain stops, the winds subside to 12kmh, and I open the shutters again.

This evening’s dinner menu starts with a lovely seafood salad served in a big papadam with Romaine leaf, followed by two pork cutlets topped with a mild and creamy chili sauce, served with rice and vegetables. The cutlets are actually cheap shoulder chops, so they are full of bones and fat. Otherwise, the meal is tastey, and a nice cheesecake is served for dessert. I sit at a table with a young German woman and her South American boyfriend; a very young Scottish woman, and two Chinese couples. The Chinese people speak very little English, so they talk among themselves. The German woman speaks good English, but she is sitting too far away from me to converse with.

The young Scottish woman and I have a good conversation since she is sitting right beside me. She was on a camping trip in late summer that took her from New York to Los Angeles, and back to New York in a giant loop across the USA. It was a group tour where a driver, van and camping equipment were provided, but the group did the cooking and washing up. She also explored Ecuador, Peru and Chile before finding her way to Fiji. After Fiji, she will be traveling in New Zealand for a few weeks on a bus tour before returning home. She admits to being homesick sometimes, but keeps herself busy to ensure she enjoys wherever she finds herself.

I observe a fireball streak across the NW sky, from NNW to WNW under the Moon at about 35º altitude. It disappears into a cloudbank, and I don’t hear any sounds. There was a distinct fiery head, yellow colour.

November 23, 2012 – Friday – Blue Lagoon Resort

The sound of the surf last night keeps getting louder as morning approaches. Sure enough, when I get up, the waves are crashing on the beach. I have my usual breakfast this morning at 7AM: coffee, toast, and add a piece of homemade cake. The wind is strong and the seas are rough this morning. After I return to my villa, the wind picks up to 25kmh and the rain comes down. I get out my binoculars to watch the storm from under the cover of my patio. There are 3-5m waves shooting straight up at the outer reef about a kilometre offshore, and rollers breaking over the inner reef. I didn’t come to Fiji to storm watch, but there it is!

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

My astronomy friend from Victoria, Canada arrives this afternoon around 2PM on the Yasawa Flyer. She is ready for solid ground after enduring the rough seas this morning in the catamaran. She felt really sorry for the people who had to endure the rough weather all the way from Lautoka. She was already staying at Octopus Resort on an adjacent island, so her trip on board the boat was relatively short.

My beach palapa finally succumbs to the waves and the high tide this afternoon, and is now leaning over on its side in the sand. Next door, Tasha and Eric’s palapa keeled over much earlier than mine, and the huge surf mostly smashes it up.

Since there is no snorkelling or swimming today because of the rough seas, my entertainment this afternoon is to watch the unloading of supplies from the small boats that picked up freight from the Yasawa Flyer. They are bobbing around in the surf and are being tossed about in the crashing waves on shore as the resort staff slung bags of produce, beer and other beverages into shore. The cooks and barmen will have to wash all the salt water and sand off their new supplies before they use them! The fuel barge supplies the other entertainment this afternoon. Since it can’t come in close to shore to unload using their ramp onto the beach, they simply dump 45-gallon drums of fuel overboard. The resort staff spends most of the afternoon corralling these barrels from the sea, bringing them to shore, and then struggling to roll the 500lb barrels up the beach and onto high ground.

Fijian group at Lovo Night

Fijian group at Lovo Night

It is Lovo Night at the resort, so a ground oven was heated up this afternoon, and the food was baked underground against the hot rocks, wrapped in palm leaves. This evening we have roasted chicken, pork and Black Snapper, along with Dalo (Taro) and sweet potato, salads and Kokoda (Ceviche). Everyone is raving about the starter, a Green Papaya soup…it tastes wonderful. It isn’t sweet, since they use pulverized green papaya, and add chili to spice it up, and coconut milk to make it smooth and creamy. There is a lovely homemade coconut cake with caramel sauce for dessert. All in all a lovely meal, followed by some entertainment from a local group of Fijians singing and dancing.

November 24, 2012 – Saturday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Although the storm has passed today, there are still pretty strong wave surges coming up onto the beach. I don’t accomplish a great deal today, preferring to lounge in the hammock in front of my villa watching the activities as the staff clean up the mess left by yesterday’s storm. I go for a swim in the sandy part of the lagoon, since swimming too close to the coral when I can’t see exactly where the coral heads are would risk me getting coral cuts. The water is the temperature of bath water, so it is easy swimming, and good exercise for me to work off all the lovely meals I’m eating, and Fiji Bitter beer I’m drinking.

November 25, 2012 – Sunday – Blue Lagoon Resort

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

I go snorkelling twice today, but the water is still cloudy from the storm. I take some underwater photos this morning, just to show the water conditions. It is fine visually, since there is about 3-4 metres visibility, I can navigate around the coral heads. This afternoon, the water is cloudier, so I just have fun watching the fish dart in and out of the coral. There is a tropical rainstorm this afternoon, which I’m told the resort desperately needs, since they run on rainwater. The rain storm lasts until dinnertime.

My friend from Victoria brought a bottle of white wine from New Zealand with her, so we visit with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. We have to dash through the rain to get to their villa, but we have a good conversation, learning about all their travels through the South Pacific. They regale us with stories of a close encounter with a Grizzly bear on a wilderness adventure they took to Alaska and the Yukon.

Since it is Sunday, the Nacula Island church choir serenades us with hymns before dinner. They have fine voices and deliver strong harmonies. All Fijians seem to have wonderful singing abilities. Dinner this evening is a regular BBQ with ham, grilled fish, and lamb cutlets, along with salads and chocolate cake with chocolate sauce for dessert. My friend and I have dinner with a group of young Australians who mostly have just graduated from medical school. They are here in Fiji for a week or so after finishing their final university term.

Tomorrow is my last full day here at Blue Lagoon Resort before returning home on the 27th. I have really enjoyed this trip, but it is time to leave paradise and return home.

November 26, 2012 – Monday – Blue Lagoon Resort

We have rain last night off and on. When I get up at 6AM, I see clear sky and stars from my “observatory”, aka the open roofed shower in my bure. I go back to bed and sleep for another hour and a half before getting dressed for breakfast.

I ask at the office about my check out tomorrow, especially how the seaplane flight will work. I am confirmed on a 4PM flight from Turtle Island to Nadi. They will take me from Nacula Island to Turtle Island for FJ$20. I should arrive at the seaplane terminal in Nadi an hour later, and get to Nadi airport a half hour after that, so we are talking 6:30PM. This will be good timing for my 10PM Air Pacific flight departure to LA and onward home.

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Eric and Tasha from next door are taking the Noon seaplane flight to Nadi tomorrow and will be on the same 10PM Air Pacific flight as me. He is planning to purchase an upgrade to either Bula Class or First Class, since he says the legroom on the Air Pacific flight they took down from LA was virtually non-existent. He had to keep his legs splayed when the person in front of him reclined their seat, and Tasha and he both ended up with oedema in their ankles after the 11 hour flight since they basically couldn’t move all that time. I’m thinking Bula Class is sounding like a good idea for me as well. Eric says it can’t be reserved ahead of time; it is offered on a first-come-first-served basis for FJ$600 (CDN$300). Hopefully there will still be some seats left when I check in.

The snorkelling is wonderful right outside my villa this morning, since the water has cleared considerably since yesterday. There are huge numbers of fish, both schooling and individuals, and I spot a bright red fish I would call a Red Snapper if I was back home, but is apparently a Toadstool Grouper. There is also a small octopus clinging to a rock, and I manage to take some video and photos.

I have the Chicken Curry for lunch: a big bowl of curry made with coconut milk, rice, two small salads, papadams and roti. It is delicious with a Fiji Bitter beer, but it’s such a big portion! All I feel like doing is lazing in the hammock, so that’s what I do until I lose the shade. There is a nice breeze this afternoon, however the Sun is brutal, so I retreat to the full cover of my bure patio. There are people and dogs chasing some pigs down the beach at the next resort, so perhaps the pigs will be dinner for someone!

At 5PM today the temperature is 30ºC, 70% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, 6kmh wind offshore from NE, some cloud, but mainly sunny. My friend from Victoria and I have dinner this evening with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. I have enjoyed sitting at a variety of tables for dinner, meeting new people each night. I find the stories everyone tells to be fascinating.

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Departing Lautoka, Fiji aboard the Paul Gauguin

November 10, 2012 – Saturday – First Landing Resort, then board the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka, Fiji

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Left Foot Island at First Landing ResortI fell asleep at the computer last night while composing my first JoeTourist blog entry, so I finish that entry this morning, finalize the photos for a new Lautoka album on my JoeTourist photo hosting service, and then log into the Internet service to use my allotted one hour connect time before I leave. Of course, once I upload all the photos and do the other online work, there is only a bit of time remaining to browse facebook, and send a couple of emails. Internet aboard the ship will be low speed and expensive, so I’m glad to take advantage of the shore-side connections this morning.

I will board the Paul Gauguin this afternoon in Lautoka, so I pack up this morning, and my porter Koso comes at 11AM to pick up my big bag, which he will store until I leave for the ship at 2PM. I have arranged with the front desk to take their shuttle for FJ$20. In the meantime, I find a table between the bar and restaurant under the shade trees, and settle in for a while. I have a Coca Cola to start, and then later have a delicious roasted chicken salad for lunch. It is garnished with strips of something preserved in soy sauce, which gives it a nice flavour. That takes me to 1PM, while I work on my travel journal off and on.

I talk with a group of Road Scholars who just disembarked the ship this morning. They are being shown around the area, doing village visits, and having lunch at the resort. Some of them stop to chat with me, and they seem to know all about the solar eclipse group boarding the ship this afternoon.

It is soon time for me to leave, so Koso pulls my bag from storage and I take the First Landing Resort shuttle to the Lautoka wharf. The driver is Indian, and once he knows I am going on a cruise to see a Total Solar Eclipse, he tells me Indian women who are pregnant have to stay indoors that day, and can’t watch the event. I’ve heard of this before in other cultures, most notably the Arabs. It is a bit inconvenient when we arrive at the gates to the wharf, since security won’t let any vehicles through without a clearance sticker. So I have to walk through the gate and pass security with my cruise ticket and passport, rolling my bag behind me. Once they check me off the list, I’m good to go. It is a short walk to the gangway, but I have no luggage tags once I get there, so a porter helps me lug my big bag up the gangway to the main lobby area. I’m about a half hour early, so they are still getting organized for boarding passengers. The cruise director ushers us into Le Grand Salon, where they are all setup to check in guests and take security photos. They also take our passports – to be returned when we disembark.

My cabin is very nicely appointed, despite being on one of the lower decks. The ship was refurbished a few months ago, so all the fittings look fresh and new. It is certainly a smaller ship than the Holland America ships I was on previously, and the decor is not as opulent as the HAL ships. The pool is tiny, but there is lots of space on the top two decks, so observing the eclipse should be no problem. The Promenade Deck below the lifeboats doesn’t go all the way around the ship, and isn’t used much. In fact, there aren’t any deck chairs on this deck, which is kind of odd.

We are serenaded by a group of Fijian men with traditional songs on the dock as the ship leaves, but it isn’t announced on board the ship, and so very few passengers go out on deck to enjoy the sendoff. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room this evening, and I request to be seated at a large table. Since I’m traveling alone, this is a good way for me to socialize with people I might not otherwise meet. As it turns out, I know a couple seated at the same table this evening from a few years back when we both were on one of TravelQuest’s Costa Rican Southern Sky Fiesta tours.

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First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Restaurant patio areaI arrive a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.

After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door (where Craig & Barbara stayed while sailing on Sequoia back in 2004). After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further. There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Sunset with palm treesBefore supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible. I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!

After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow in the tropics.

November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.

I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach. This is a sublime place.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Hot Pot: Fish Curry in coconut sauce with riceI walk over to Vuda Marina, where Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today before lunch. It goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.

I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.

Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment.

I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.

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Peru to Ecuador – at sea

Days 17 & 18 – At sea – Peru to Ecuador

Dec 7, 2011 – Wednesday – Day 17 – At sea

Cruise ships are a study in contrasts. This morning as I walk through the casino where the bells are ringing and the smokers are puffing; I hear hymns being sung in the next room; people are quietly reading or playing board games in the library; and finally the jewellery store is having a 40% off sale and draw, so crowds are gathering for that event in the retail area. I see a single dolphin jumping in the ocean this morning as I walk the Lower Promenade Deck for exercise.

There is a beautiful sunset this evening, however sea fog obscures any possibility of seeing the green flash. It is Formal Night, so we have a late dinner in La Fontaine main dining room. My friends and I enjoy some Robert Mondavi white wine, and I have a rack of lamb done to perfection. The service is impeccable. As we finish our desserts, the captain announces that we are diverting to Salaverry/Trujillo for a medical emergency for someone needing shore-based treatment. We will dock at 11PM this evening, and then resume our course to Ecuador. He does not foresee any problems arriving in Guayaquil on time the day after tomorrow.

Dec 8, 2011 – Thursday – Day 18 – At sea

I go to breakfast in La Fontaine the main dining room and am seated with a couple from San Diego, who have taken many cruises with Holland America. Their last cruise was 65 days around the Pacific Rim on the Amsterdam, which is a ship they prefer over the other Holland America ships – “better run” is their comment. There are many people aboard who prefer the longer cruises.

After breakfast, I go for a walk around the Lower Promenade Deck, but the air temperature is cool so I duck back inside. The cold Humboldt Current (aka the Peru Current) off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador keeps the air temperature cool, despite being located so close to the Equator. I find a good seat in the Show Lounge, since there are two back-to-back presentations I want to listen to this morning highlighting Nicaragua and Manta, Ecuador, our next ports-of-call.

I work on my photos in the Explorers Lounge, adding a caption and location to each photo. While I am working, the fire alarm sounds and the crew is dispatched to investigate. As it turns out, someone was doing some welding in a work area below decks, and the fumes got into the crew quarters, setting off multiple alarms. The captain comes on the PA system shortly after explaining what happened and assures us it was a false alarm (thank goodness).

Mark Donoghue

Mark Donoghue

We go to the show lounge this evening to see Mark Donoghue, a performer who plays the violin, guitar, piano, harmonica, and he also sings. He is very good, playing favourites from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. My favourites are the TV themes he performs. Riverboat and Bonanza both bring back childhood memories of watching these shows on our black and white Philco TV.