It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.
After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!
I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.
As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are huge fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields. As the train hugs the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.
I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline, transitioning into huge tracts of range land.
We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies.
We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.
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!
Coral and fish, Remora
Eclipse Butterflyfish and coral
Big Parrot fish with orange lips & multi-coloured fins and coral
Red anenome growning on the coral
Blue fish and coral
Silver coloured schooling fish and coral
Coral and fish
Coral and fish
Coral and fish
Coral and fish
Coral and fish
Coral & fish
Long-nosed fish in the coral
Coral & fish
Coral & fish
Surgeon fish in the coral
Little blue fish in the coral
Long-nosed fish in the coral
Long-nosed fish in the coral
Octopus clinging to a rock on the bottom
Fish and coral
Toadstool Grouper in the coral
Dwarf-spotted Grouper and coral
Striped Surgeon fish among the coral
Yellowtail Emperor fish and coral
Yellowtail Emperor fish and coral
School of big fish in the coral shallows
Big clam among the coral
Striped Sea Snake in the coral
Yellow and black striped fish and coral
Multi-coloured striped fish and coral
Orange and yellow fish and Blue-tipped Staghorn coral
Purple and yellow anenomeas growning on the coral
Blue fish and coral
Snout nosed fish with big black spot and Brain coral
Snout nosed fish with big black spot and coral
Fish with brick coloured body and fluted white coral
Coral and fish
Coral and fish
Yellowtail Emperor fish and coral
Oval Butterflyfish feeding on the coral
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. 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
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 tasty, 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!
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 sling 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, bringing them to shore, and then struggling to roll the 500lb barrels up the beach and onto high ground.
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
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
It rains last night off and on, but 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.
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 individual, and I spot a bright red fish I would call a Red Snapper if I was back home, but it 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.
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.
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 them 20 minutes, 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).
The 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.
We 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 to travel to the Blue Lagoon Resort – a 30 minute trip.
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 after only 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.
November 10, 2012 – Saturday – First Landing Resort, then board the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka, Fiji
I 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 I’m disappointed that so very few passengers go out on deck to enjoy the beautiful 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.
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.
I arrive from Nadi airport 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. 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.
Before 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 enjoying a lazy day 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 (see banner image above). This is a sublime place.
I walk over to Vuda Marina, where my friends Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey a few years ago. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji in 2004. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today, which 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 while I stand under its shadow while aboard the Paul Gaugin, observing this apparition from the Coral Sea.
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.
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 (see banner photo above). 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 our next port-of-call: Manta, Ecuador.
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).
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.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Day 16 – Cusco to Lima, then to General San Martin/Pisco, Peru to embark Rotterdam
We are up at 6AM for a 7:20AM transfer to the airport for our 9AM flight to Lima. These early mornings will come to an end after today, once we return to the ship (thank goodness). Our LAN Peru flight arrives in Lima on time at about 10:30AM, but the checked bags take awhile to show up on the belt before we go to meet our driver in the Arrivals area. He only speaks Spanish and there appears to be an issue with something, so he calls the office so I can talk to them in English. They explain it is a 3.5 hour drive, and they want to ensure we arrive on time, so want to know if skipping the lunch stop along the way is OK with us. I readily agree and hand the cellphone back to our driver, so he can be told of our decision in Spanish.
We are out of the airport parking area by 11:00AM, which gives us plenty of time to drive south on the Pan American highway to the deep-water port of General San Martin, where Rotterdam is docked until a 6PM scheduled departure. All three of us are out of bottled water, so we know the Spanish word is “agua” and the driver understands we need to purchase some water before we go too far. Clearing the worse of the traffic snarls in Callao and then heading south through the coastal area of Lima takes the better part of an hour before we hit the toll road where our speed increases to 90 kmh.
After picking up some bottled water at a gas station convenience store, we are ready for the next 3 hours in the Hyundai minivan. The air conditioning is on, and we are all in good spirits as we head south down this toll road, which is a freeway most of the route we take down the Pan American Highway.
Just south of Lima is the high-class areas of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Beautiful, mostly empty beaches dominate this area, with lots of beach facilities available. The changing scenery outside is amazing: huge mountains of sand I have not encountered since my trip to the Libyan Sahara. There is sand everywhere…dunes, beaches, hills and mountains, conglomerate ridges, and lots of beautiful colours. Further south along the coastline are numerous communities near the beaches, which are obviously vacation homes since they are within an easy commute from Lima. I see three vultures and one hawk sitting quite close together on a gravelly hill, which is odd to see these predators together.
Winding our way through the town of Pisco is tricky, since the main road along the shoreline is closed for repair. The big trucks are all turning tight corners in city streets, which aren’t designed for heavy traffic. Once we leave that congestion behind, we drive along the coastal road south of Pisco, and soon spot Rotterdam in the distance across the bay! This area is called Paracas, and is very sandy. A tsunami would do some serious damage, since the bay is shallow, the land is flat, and it is exposed to the open Pacific Ocean. Even with a warning, it would be virtually impossible for residents to escape a tsunami, since there are no elevated areas for many kilometers inland. There are refineries on the inland side of the road, and there are also fish processing plants in this area. The stink takes awhile to clear out of our vehicle as we proceed around the bay, heading for the ship.
We arrive at the ship by 3:30PM, so we are early, since the ship departs from Terminal Portuario Gral. San Martín at 6PM. Our driver did a great job manoeuvring through all the traffic today…he must be exhausted. We are very glad to be back aboard the Rotterdam – our home away from home. We are looking forward to exploring new ports as she sails northward up the Pacific coast of South and Central America during the last half of our trip.
Oct 29, 2010 – Friday – Whangamata, Coromandel Peninsula
After breakfast this morning, we decide that today will be a “beach day“, borrowing a term used on cruise ships. Peter lends us some beach towels, and we sunbathe on the beach, wandering back and forth, and generally soak it all in for an hour or two. Nobody wants to burn, so we reluctantly return to the B&B to get cleaned up a bit.
We go to town for a coffee and a snack from one of the local bakeries, and after a bit of window shopping in town, we spend most of the afternoon at the B&B relaxing and having tea with Peter around 4pm. For dinner, Peter suggests we try a Thai restaurant in town. We order the deep fried Snapper, which is good but not very big. We also order some vegetables to go with it, and share the platters, however even with rice, the meal was a bit too small for three people. Oh well, it won’t hurt us to go away a bit hungry for once on this trip, especially after all the food we consumed on board the Volendam!
Oct 30, 2010 – Saturday – Whangamata, Hot Water Beach, Onemana Beach, Coromandel Peninsula
After breakfast, we drive up to Hot Water Beach, which is spectacular with the surf crashing along the kilometer or so long sandy beach. Getting there however was stressful, since soon after we left Whangamata we encountered the K2 Cycle Race – a huge bicycle race going on along the highway. There were hundreds of bicyclists racing along the road in huge groups. New Zealand roads are so narrow and generally there are no paved shoulders, so the bicyclists took the lane, which held up traffic and caused some near accidents. That said, Hot Water Beach was worth seeing, and the trip back was less stressful since we were driving against the flow of bicycles, which were still being dispatched down the road.
We stop at Onemana Beach on the way back, which is yet another spectacular beach along the Coromandel Peninsula. There is a small community here, and the beach is virtually deserted at this time of year. After returning to the B&B and having a bit of a rest, Peter serves us tea at 4pm. Afterward, we go back to Oceana’s restaurant for dinner and have their specials again. Good food at a great price.
Oct 24, 2010 – Sunday – Kerikeri – Ahipara and Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand
After having poached eggs and toast for breakfast, and doing a load of laundry at the B&B, we drive north from Kerikeri. First stop is Mangonui; a very picturesque harbour town with fish boats on the dock, an old hotel, post office, and courthouse. Next stop is Cable Bay, which has a nice rough sand beach and some lovely homes overlooking the beautiful bay.
We then drive over to the Tasman Sea side of New Zealand and see the southerly part of the famous Ninety Mile Beach at the little community of Ahipara. This will have to do, since we decided the 90-mile drive to the northern tip was going to be too much for us.
We then drive back south, taking a secondary road, which goes through Broadmead and re-joins Highway 1 at the Mangamuka Bridge. This section of road is paved, but very narrow, and seems to be an endless series of hills and curves. It is slow going until we are back on Highway 1 heading east. We then re-join Highway 10 north to Kerikeri. It is an interesting day, but we are tired by the time we get back to the B&B later in the afternoon after filling up the rental car with NZ$100 worth of gasoline. New Zealand gasoline prices are about 25% higher than what we pay in Canada.
We decide to have a steak dinner at the B&B this evening, so we go to the supermarket to purchase four New Zealand steaks, some ready-made salads, and some New Zealand wine. We prepare everything, and Keith volunteers to cook the steaks. The meal is pulled together in short order, and we all sit down on the back patio by the pool to enjoy the delicious food. Keith pulls out some Taylor’s Port – Rich Old Tawny 1981 to finish the meal with. The Rich Old Tawny was twenty years old in 1981, so it goes down nicely – a very fine port indeed!
As we leave Cape Town, we drive past millionaire’s paradise: Camps Bay, Clifton Beach, and Llandudno. We stop at Hout Bay and take the boat tour to see the Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island (60 Rand, US$7 each). There is a five man band serenading us as we disembark. Since Chapman’s Peak Drive is closed due to slides, we drive through Constantia and go past the prison where Nelson Mandela was held while he was treated for TB.
We then loop back to the outer coast and see parasail surfers at Witsand Bay before entering the Cape of Good Hope Preserve. Our driver spots 12 Eland and 6 Bontebok, and some wild Ostrich. The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point of land in Africa, and certainly qualifies as a landmark. It is madness as tour buses arrive and everyone scrambles to get their photo taken. I manage to get my photo taken before the crowd gets in there!
Cape Point is at the end of the peninsula, and has both the original lighthouse (decommissioned after the Portuguese liner Lusitania was lost on the rocks) and the new lighthouse (located lower down so it’s not obscured by fog). I hike up the very steep trail to the top of Cape Point where the old lighthouse is located (see banner image above). There is also a funicular railway running to the top. Our guide called ahead and reserved a table for us in the restaurant at Cape Point – a very busy place!
After lunch, we drive back along False Bay, stopping at a very nice public campground and picnic area. Next stop is the African Penguin colony at The Boulders, where we nearly get blown to bits by flying sand and strong winds. As we drive through Simon’s Town, our guide points out the shark warning system that is in place for this strikingly beautiful beach area.
As we return to Cape Town, our guide talks about the apartheid years and how Cape Town was segregated. He is of Indian descent, and describes how his family was forced to move several times during that dark period of South Africa’s history.