We leave Dragoon Mountain Ranch just after 7AM with three of my friends in the Tesla Model 3, heading to Phoenix airport. We make a couple of quick stops along the way, arriving right on time at 10:30AM. I find the Terminal 4 doors where I return the Tesla to its owner. At this point, we split up to find our flights, with one friend going to Sedona for time with family.
I’m incredibly early for my 5:30PM flight to Calgary, so end up waiting around in the ticketing area, since I can’t even check my bag until two hours before the flight. After finally checking my bag with WestJet, I have a late lunch downstairs and then go upstairs through security and into the gate area. My flight is delayed from 5:25PM to 5:40PM, but the boarding goes quickly. We takeoff at 5:47PM, and the flight duration aboard our Boeing 737-700 is 2:43 instead of 3:06, so WestJet is obviously trying to make up some time.
Time is tight to clear Canadian Customs & Immigration and find my next gate in Calgary, but full credit to the WestJet staff in the airport, since they have expedited the way for those of us with tight connections. Our Boeing 737-600 takes off at 11:15PM and the flight duration will be 1:14 to Victoria. Once we are airborne, the flight attendant dedicated to our dozen-seat Plus Economy section serves us drinks and snacks more-or-less continuously. I have a gin and tonic, and snarf down as many snacks as I can before we start our descent!
After arriving just after midnight, I take a taxi from Victoria airport to home – a very long and stressful day, but a wonderful trip overall!
My friend and I take a taxi to Victoria airport several hours before our 6:30AM flight leaves – WestJet flight from Victoria to Vancouver on a Bombardier Q400 regional jet. The pre-dawn light on the scenery out the window is nothing short of spectacular over Georgia Strait, so I take lots of photos of the islands before landing. (see banner image above)
After we arrive at Vancouver airport, we have two hours between flights, and it takes most of that time to walk kilometres to the US-bound gates (E-series), and to pre-clear US Customs & Immigration. I have to remove my drone and my notebook computer when clearing airport security at both Victoria and Vancouver. I still haven’t had a coffee by the time we board our flight to Phoenix!
We are number five for takeoff at 9:38am from Vancouver. The WestJet captain announces that we will be flying at 33,000’ with a 2:39 flight time on the Boeing 737-800. The flight is not full, and the legroom where I’m sitting in Economy is amazing! I have my usual hummus and crackers when food service is offered aboard the flight, and have some Coca Cola as well.
It is a spectacular sunny day as we climb out of Vancouver bound for Phoenix, so I take photos with both my iPhone XS and my Sony a7 III. I don’t bother with the in-flight Internet at $10.99 for 90 minutes, since the duration of the flight is only 2.5 hours. I read some workshop material on my iPad since there are no views today as we fly over the Grand Canyon enroute to Phoenix..
After landing, we retrieve our bags and since we pre-cleared US Customs and Immigration, we are free to be on our way. I make contact with the Turo rental guy for the Tesla Model 3 I’ve rented, and he meets us curb-side in the airport arrivals area. My friends and I manage to squeeze all our bags, gear and ourselves in to the Model 3, which is a bit smaller than the Model S I rented last year. Getting out of the Phoenix airport proves to be a bit of a challenge, even with the in-vehicle navigation, however eventually we are on I-10 heading south to Tucson and onward to Dragoon Ranch.
I decide to stop at the Florence Tesla Supercharger midway between Phoenix and Tucson, not because the vehicle needs a charge, but because I want to have a few minutes to have a look at the Model 3’s controls and find out how it charges, since this is my first time driving this vehicle. Since I haven’t had a coffee all day, it would also be nice to have a cappuccino or even a regular coffee, but the food places near the Supercharger don’t serve coffee! I pull out of there once the car has 50 miles of extra charge and drive about a half hour further down I-10 until I see an interchange with a McDonald’s sign. We pull into the parking area and have a proper rest stop, where I finally have my first cappuccino of the day! My friends and I also have some lunch and take advantage of the restrooms before we continue down I-10 through Tucson.
My last stop for about a half hour is at the Tucson Tesla Supercharger at Rita Road east of the city, since I want a decent level of charge by the time I get to our friend’s place on Dragoon Mountain Ranch, so we don’t have to rely on slow charging when we drive out of the ranch to see the sights. We also stop at the Safeway in Benson to stock up on food and beverages before completing the drive, arriving after sunset. Two more in our group arrived earlier today, so they have dinner ready for us. I’m very tired after the flying and driving, and starting the day at 4AM this morning, but I have a good sleep tonight.
Dec 19, 2018 – Flying from Barbados to Calgary, Canada
I’m looking at 24 hours of elapsed time between leaving Barbados and arriving home in Victoria, Canada. I have a midnight to 7AM layover in Calgary, so this whole flying home trip will be an endurance contest. I know I’ll settle down once I return the rental car and find my gate at the Barbados airport, but I’m experiencing pre-trip jitters this morning.
I have a shower mid-morning and a snack before loading my big bag in the trunk of the car. I check out at Noon, drive to the airport and have the car filled up at the Esso gas station before dropping it off in front of the terminal. The Stoute’s car jockey gives an enthusiastic wave to the woman behind the counter, so I’m free to go!
I’m first in line for the bag check at the WestJet counter – a nice young man tags my big bag through to Victoria and prints out my boarding passes for me. I have already checked in online and have the electronic boarding passes on my iPhone, but I’ve found the paper ones are still the best to use, and scan quicker at the gate. Before I enter the secure area, I have to exit Barbados by giving the immigration officer my Departure Card, which was issued previously when I entered Barbados after debarking the Royal Clipper in Bridgetown.
Barbados to Toronto – Although I’m over two hours early, it isn’t long before the WestJet Boeing 737-800 arrives at the gate and passengers from Toronto enter the terminal. Our aircraft boards passengers from the front and rear doors using stairways from the apron (see banner image above), since Grantley Adams International airport doesn’t have jetways. Just after takeoff, there is a gorgeous view of the old Moon in the blue sky during the day over the south coast of Barbados as we make the turn to the north.
I’m in seat 5A – the same seat I flew down in on all three flights to Jamaica, and ditto on my return flights home. Hey, I like a window seat just forward of the wing, I’m only a row away from the Premium cabin, and I get to use the forward washroom.
I splurge and purchase 24 hours of in-flight Internet service for $35 with WestJet Connect Internet, so I won’t be bored on these tedious flights home. I enjoy myself using the Internet while flying to Toronto. It certainly has some latency, but is usable for most of the flight. It does cut out once in awhile and then has to reacquire a signal.
Once we are levelled off, I order the Butter Chicken dinner, which is not too big, but very tasty, costing $9. The flight crew on this flight give everyone much better service than on my flight to Jamaica. There is a beautiful display of colours over the Atlantic to the east as we fly offshore from the Bahamas at sunset. We are flying at 36,000′ according to the flight map displayed on the WestJet app on my iPhone.
The aircraft makes a wide, sweeping approach over Toronto before landing, affording beautiful nighttime views of the city. However, after landing at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the marathon starts. I have only an hour to go through Canadian immigration and customs, retrieve my checked bag, find the WestJet transfer desk to put my checked bag back in the system, go through security again, and find my gate. Finding the single elevator that takes us to Departures is a challenge, however I arrive at my gate five minutes before boarding begins. I’m in a real state by the time I sit down for a few minutes to calm down before my group is called!
Toronto to Calgary – After all that stress, the flight is late leaving. Flight duration is estimated to be 3:35, and the flight level 36,000’. The Internet access isn’t working since we took off about a half hour ago, so I raise my concern with the head flight attendant. She promises to “check with the guys”, which I take to mean she will talk with the pilots about the problem. Nothing comes of it, and the Internet is not available for the whole flight. We fly for what seems endlessly across the frozen prairie, which is visible tonight due to the bright illumination from the Moon.
I wake up at 6:30AM as the Royal Clipper enters Bridgetown harbour and docks. It takes until 8:30AM for the ship to be cleared by customs and immigration. I don’t have to rush, since my airport transfer is scheduled between 9:30AM and 10AM. I go to the dining room and have an omelette and coffee with my friends, and say my goodbyes to them. I then leave the ship for the last time, retrieve my big bag in the cruise ship terminal, and clear customs and immigration.
There are three big cruise ships in port in addition to our tiny ship: P&O Azura, Seaborn Odyssey and Norwegian Escape, so there are lots of people in the terminal, and it’s a bit chaotic. That said, the Barbadians are well-organized, and keep people moving onto their tour buses. I have pre-booked a van transfer direct to the airport, so I can pick up my rental car for the next few days I’m spending on Barbados. Once everyone checks in for the van, we are away from the crowds and down the new highways that have been built since I was last here in the mid-1980s.
I’m dropped off at the end of the airport terminal where Stoute’s Car Rentals is located, and sign for my rental car – a Mazda 3, which is considered a full-sized car in Barbados! I drive to the Lantern’s Mall on the main road in Hastings to hang out for a couple of hours, since I’m too early to check into my vacation rental. There is a Royal Bank ATM in the mall so I withdraw some Barbados Dollars, have a small pizza for lunch, and also have a cappuccino later on while I catch up on social media using the coffee shop Wi-fi. I also purchase a few snacks and some beverages at a convenience store to take with me.
I drive the short distance to the vacation rental using Google Maps navigation on my iPhone, but it still takes me a couple of tries to find the place. Street number addresses are not often used in Barbados, but I eventually find the 10 Springcourt vacation rental after asking a man walking the New Rockley Road for directions. I meet the rental representative there, and pay for the 4-nights. After I unpack and get settled, I have a beer and some chips while I run some clothes through the in-suite washing machine. It’s a nicely-configured studio suite that meets my needs perfectly.
My Tesla Model S rental car (Turo.com) is delivered to me mid-morning in the hotel parking lot. Both the owner of the car and I inspect it for damage, using the Turo app to document and photograph for the handover process. After the formalities are completed, I am handed the fob and the car is mine for the next two weeks. I then drive my friends to the downtown car rental location so they can pick up their rental car. We then go to the old part of Tucson to walk around the El Presidio area and have some lunch at La Cocina Restaurant & Cantina. We take a few photos in the area and we then split up. I find the Tesla Supercharger east of Tucson, since the car needs to be charged up. We buy a few things in the adjacent convenience store, and then leave for the Tucson Airport to pick up another friend arriving on a later flight.
We drive about 45 minutes from Tucson east on the I-10 freeway to Benson, where we pick up a few groceries and other supplies from Safeway. Our friend at the Dragoon Mountain Ranch calls ahead to advise us that there is a wildfire near his place, however the danger level is low since the prevailing wind is blowing the fire further away. There are road blocks into the area, but he has asked the officers to let us through. Needless to say we are all concerned since the flames and smoke from the wildfires are clearly visible in the area we are heading towards! The officers let us through the roadblocks and we arrive at our friend’s place before dark, which I’m thankful for.
I park the Tesla Model S in my friend’s garage, so we can plug it into a 115 volt 15 amp outlet. The car starts charging slowly at 12 amps, which means about a 20 hour charge time to 90% state-of-charge. This isn’t an issue, since I don’t expect to be driving anywhere close to the maximum range of the car – about 210 miles at 90% SoC. We have some pizza and salad for dinner, and get settled in after our travels. After dinner, we all go out to see the wildfire in the distance, and then go to the observatory for a quick look through the 25” telescope. There is a beautiful sunset with an arched cloud formation in the west, but ultimately there are too many clouds for observing tonight, so we call it an early night and go to bed.
After my arrival this morning in Tucson aboard the Amtrak Sunset Limited train from Los Angeles, I rent a car from Enterprise for the next two weeks and then drive to my friend’s ranch. I drive east out of Tucson on the I-10 freeway, stopping in Benson to pick up a few groceries before driving the rest of the way to the ranch. It takes me about a half hour driving on dirt & gravel roads through the Dragoon Mountain Ranch, which is 8,400 acres (13 sqmi) in total.
As I arrive, it is overcast and raining lightly, but I hope it will clear off for the coming week when my astronomy buddies will be here. We go over to his neighbour’s place, which is where I am staying along with some other friends, who are already settled in.
As it turns out, I have a bedroom in the adjacent garage, which is massive, and has an apartment with a kitchen, great room, bedroom and bathroom. I am quite comfortable once I turn up the heat to get the place warmed up. The temperatures in this part of the high range land plateau can get close to freezing at night, and daytime temperatures are not hot, although the Sun can be intense. The reason I’m here? The very dark skies, of course!
The ms Statendam arrives early in Hilo, and docks at the pier in the harbour. I have some breakfast and gather up my cold weather gear for my big trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I disembark, find the shuttle to Harper’s Car & Truck Rental. and rent a 4×4 Ford Ranger truck, which Harper’s allow on the Mauna Kea access roads.
Once I’m off in my little truck, I work my way out of Hilo and drive up the Puainko Street Extension, which becomes the H200/H2000 Saddle Road. I stop to pick up some refreshments from a corner store, since I will skip lunch. I’m glad I brought along my vehicle GPS from home, which guides me through several complicated twists and turns until I get out of the city. The first half of the 45-mile drive to the summit takes me along the Saddle Road Highway (2000), a paved 3-lane road all the way to the Mauna Kea Access Road turn-off, and then up to the Visitors Information Station (VIS) on a good (but steep) 2-lane paved road all the way through ranch country.
I stay at the VIS for 45 minutes in order to acclimatize myself to the elevation change (sea level to 9,000′), and then put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and start up the gravel road to the summit. The road surface is washboard, so having 4WD is great to keep traction and stability. A few miles before the summit, the road returns to a paved surface, since dust control is a big factor with these expensive observatories.
There is snow on top, and the air is clear and cold. I pull on my winter coat, which I have been dragging around with me on this trip just for today’s adventure. It is wonderful to finally see all these observatories in person, especially the ones Canada is involved with. The Canada-France-Hawaii (CFHT) observatory has a prime location on the end of the north ridge, and is a beautiful, brilliant white structure. The Gemini North observatory is next to CFHT, and is a silver structure with bulging air vents all around the lower part of the dome…again, a very beautiful design.
I drive around to see all the observatories up close, but unfortunately I can’t stay for the VIS’ tours inside some of the facilities. The sky is a deep blue and crystal clear, and the observatories are stark white or silver, so I use the High Dynamic Range feature of my Canon 6D dSLR. This allows me to capture the scenes much more successfully. I shoot lots of photos, since I probably won’t return to Mauna Kea again. I can see the summit of the mountain and the trail leading to it from Gemini North, but I have to be careful to not exert myself too much while at 4,205 metres (13,792′) elevation, since the amount of oxygen available up here is less than half than at sea level.
Reluctantly, I have to return to my cruise ship, so I start the drive down the mountain, with my vehicle in low range 4WD and in 2nd gear as well. I barely touch the brakes for the whole way down the mountain until I shift out of 4WD at the VIS before returning to paved roads. The return trip to Hilo and sea level goes without a hitch. I return the vehicle to the rental company, and I’m back on board the ship a couple of hours before departure time.
February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.
I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.
We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.
Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.
We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing (see banner image above). There are lots of surfers riding the waves.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.
The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.
February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.
I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course as missionaries, converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.
I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.
Sep 29, 2010 – Wednesday – Volendam arrives in Kaua’i
I get up around 8:30am and go for breakfast in the Lido. I have an omelette made to order, and have my breakfast on the outside deck; the first al fresco dining for me on this trip, since it is now 24°C in the morning.
We dock in Nawiliwili this afternoon at 5:20pm, and we don’t leave port until tomorrow afternoon. The Rotterdam is also docked in the harbour as we arrive. She departs about an hour later – a lovely sight. As our gangway is put in place, complete with red carpet, a rain shower starts up – “welcome to Kauai”. We all stay aboard the ship this evening.
As we dine in the Canaletto, an Italian menu restaurant on the Lido Deck, we are a couple of tables away from the Captain. Afterward, we go to the Frans Hals Lounge, where Lance Ringnald is doing an acrobatic performance. He is a past Olympic gymnast winner for the USA and is now 40 years old, but is still in great shape and puts on a very entertaining show. He uses hanging silks like Cirque de Soleil does, along with some jokes and banter to the audience (he is wearing a microphone). I shoot some video, since he says he has no problem with flash photos or video. Normally neither are allowed during performances in the show lounge.
Sep 30, 2010 – Thursday – Kaua’i
I set my alarm last night to get up at 7:30am, since I want to beat the crowds disembarking today. I am out of my cabin and up to the Lido for breakfast: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and toast. My friends and I then catch the Hertz shuttle to the airport, where I have reserved a very nice Nissan Altima. We decide to drive up the eastern and northern coasts of Kauai to a bit past the Hanalei Valley. We stop to see the Kilauea Lighthouse and for a swim near Anini Beach, and we are back into town to return our rental car by 3PM. We are back onboard the ship by 3:30pm…well ahead of the 4:30pm “All Aboard” deadline.
My friends and I have visited Kaua’i before, so this visit brings back good memories for all of us – it was a most enjoyable day!
The Grand Nawiliwili Sail Away party is hosted by Holland America as Volendam sailed out of Nawiliwili Harbour. In order to compensate for the missed stop in Maui there are free drinks and snacks, so I have a couple of gin and tonics. The headlands of Kauai are beautiful as we sail away while the sun sets. I sure didn’t need any wine with dinner when we dined later at the Italian restaurant Canaletto.