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!

Disembark the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka and travel to the Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

November 20, 2012 – Tuesday – disembark the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka and travel to the Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

I have my last breakfast aboard ship at 6:45AM: my usual cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry at La Palette. The ship is still underway to Lautoka as I sit on the stern deck watching the Fijian coastline go by. The Sleeping Giant is part of the rugged mountains found in the Lautoka-Nadi area, and it takes on some beautiful pastel colours in the early morning light. As we approach the port of Lautoka, I spot Holland America’s Amsterdam cruise ship docked in the port. I take a photo for old time’s sake, since she is the sister ship of the Rotterdam, which I cruised to South America on last year.

Turtle Airways route map of the Yasawa Islands

Turtle Airways route map of the Yasawa Islands

I check my cabin for anything I haven’t packed, and then roll my bags to the lobby area of Deck 4, which is just a short way from my cabin. There are surprisingly few people waiting here, so I’m encouraged that those of us who have to disembark early will actually be able to do so. The ship is running late, but docks at 8AM and is cleared a few minutes later. The holdup is the ship’s crew attempting to assemble the gangway stairs. It takes then a full 20 minutes longer, which brings us to 8:30AM. The couple sitting beside me are pretty anxious, since they have to catch a ferry boat which leaves at 8:45AM, giving them a mere 15 minutes to get there. While I wait, I call Turtle Airways to confirm my reservation. It takes two call backs, but eventually they confirm my flight is leaving at 11AM. That gives me more time to spare than I originally thought I had.

I am one of the first to disembark the ship, and I find a taxi in short order, and we drive out of the port gates. The taxi driver isn’t entirely sure where Turtle Airways is located in Nadi, but he manages to take the correct roads based on the directions I have from Turtle Airways. Once we are approaching the little terminal building, he says he remembers he has been here once before. I am early and the staff are waiting to check me in. My bags are overweight, which I expected, since their limit is 15kg. They want to charge me FJ$90, but after I complain a bit, they agree to a FJ$70 charge (cash only).

JoeTourist: Yasawa Islands &emdash; Turtle Airways' DeHavilland Beaver seaplane at the dock in NadiThe plane we are taking is a Canadian-built DeHavilland Beaver 7 seat seaplane. The maintenance crew are running the aircraft’s engine up outside in the adjacent field, and towing it with a tractor. They eventually satisfy themselves, and then Chris, the young and barefoot South American pilot gets in, and they ease it into the water from the nearby beach. An Australian couple and I are the only passengers for this first leg. We walk out to the dock, the crew briefs us on safety procedures; we put on a compact life preserver, and then climb aboard. I sit in the co-pilot’s seat, so I have an open window beside me, and get great views all the way.

JoeTourist: Yasawa Islands &emdash; Tropical islets off the eastern coast Naviti Island and coral reefWe take off a few minutes before 11AM, and after about 20 minutes of flight, set down at Plantation Island Resort to pick up two more passengers. We then fly direct to Turtle Island, arriving at 12 Noon. There are some terrific views of the Yasawa Group of islands along the way, so I take lots of photos out of my open cockpit window. We are transferred to a launch from the Blue Lagoon Resort, and 30 minutes later we arrive at our destination!

It is a wet landing on the resort’s beach, since there is no wharf, so I take off my socks and shoes, roll up my jeans and jump ashore. The guys from the resort take care of my bags, and I am checked in in a few minutes. My big bag is waiting for me at Villa 2 – my beachfront home for the next week. We arrive in time for lunch, which is a fixed menu as well as a special board. I have the Nasi Goreng special with a sunny side egg on top – very tasty and filling, albeit a bit unorthodox with the egg on top. I spend the afternoon unpacking and getting settled. At 3PM I measure the temperature at 30ºC, 67% humidity, Heat Index 37ºC, with a slight breeze off the interior of Nacula Island. By 9PM this evening, the temperature is still high at 28.3ºC, 77% humidity, Heat Index 33ºC, and we still have the slight breeze off the island.

This evening’s dinner menu is nothing too inspiring, but it is tasty and nutritious: roasted chicken with a sweet chili sauce and vegetables with an appetizer to start and chocolate pie for dessert. I sit at a table with two young German guys and a newly wed Chinese couple from Brisbane, Australia, who I assume are naturalized Australians. He works for a Chinese commercial bank in Sydney. One of the young Germans has just finished studying law in Hamilton, New Zealand for the better part of a year. The other German guy is looking for work after getting his business degree, but obviously he isn’t looking too hard while they do the beach here in Fiji before returning home to Germany.