Cruise West

Day 1, Saturday, December 27, (2008) Depart Houston
With a 9:35 international departure, I have to get up about 4:00 for a 5:30AM Shuttle pickup to be at the airport by 6:30 (3 hours early for an international flight). Its two fairly long flights but I have a break in between. When I check online for the flight (boarding pass, gate, etc.) Continental.com has the flight listed as delayed 2+ hours. At first I think that it's due to weather in the northern US, but it turns out to be that in Hawaii, there was a bad storm that knocked out power to the whole island with the Honolulu airport being totally blacked out and shut down. "My" plane was trapped there until power was restored. Nothing could fly with no lights, no traffic control, etc. One nice thing this morning at the airport: Continental brought in a refreshments cart and served (free) soft drinks and snacks. American AwfulLines wouldn't have done that!

There is a 1:25 layover in Honolulu but we stay on the same plane so no problem.

Continental CO 0001Houston - Honolulu9:35 AM - 2:05 PM8:301:25
.12:08 PM- 4:13 PM8:051:07
Continental CO 0001Honolulu - Guam3:30 PM - 7:10 PM7:4017:35
.5:20 PM - 8:45 PM 7:2516:37+2

Day 2 (1), Sunday, December 28 Arrive Guam
This flight crosses the International Date Line so it isn't really that much over a day long. 8:45 PM Sunday, local time, is 4:45 AM Sunday back home. There's a 16 hour time difference. Two nice light meals on the first flight, and a nice dinner and 2nd meal on the second flight. Not at all like American AwfulLines.

It takes about 20 minutes for the ground crew to manage to attach the flight-way and by then most of our luggage is already on the carousel. We have to wait on the transfer coach a while for another flight and more passengers. Finally drive to the Hyatt Regency (our only shore-side overnight stay of the whole trip), where we can relax and (not) stretch our legs on the white-sand beach of Tumon Bay - but it's extremely late and I'm tired. No chance for the supposedly included dinner. In bed by 10:30 after being up and awake for a long 26:30 day. (D)

Day 3 (2), Monday, December 29 Guam
Three times the size of Washington, DC. The Island of Guam is the Western most territory of the United States and one of the leading tourist destinations in the Western Pacific. Although located in the Northern Pacific, Guam is truly a tropical island paradise. The beaches offer gleaming white sand and crystal clear, calm waters for swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing and enjoying the fantastic sunsets over the Philippine Sea. The Island of Guam has an ancient history and rich cultural heritage with 118 sites listed on the National and 155 listed on the Guam Registers of Historical Sites. The original inhabitants of Guam, the ancient Chamorro, are widely believed to have been of Indo-Malaya descent with linguistic and cultural similarities to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The first known contact with West occurred with the visit of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Spanish influence may be seen in Guam to this day in the mestiza, a style of women's clothing, and in the architecture of Guam's southern villages. We enjoy a tour of Guam including Plaza de Espana, Isla Center for the Arts, and the War in the Pacific National Historic Park Visitor Center.

In the afternoon we're loaded onto coaches for a 5-hour tour that does a nice drive around the southernmost of the Mariana Islands. First visited by Magellan in 1521, Guam's culture has a significant Spanish influence: notice the colorful mastizas worn by the women and in the architecture of the southern villages. The best stop was at the Battles of the Pacific National Park.

After the coach has to go through three different checkpoints getting into the port, we have to go through a 4th - much like the airport security: wand scanning and x-ray our carry-on luggage. Board the Spirit of Oceanus about 5:30 (not 3:45) and sail at 10PM (not 6PM).This was all delayed about 4 hours (3:45 -> 5:30 and 6 -> 10) due to a surprise Coast Guard inspection of the ship which delayed refueling and re-provisioning. This evening settle into my stateroom (258 on the Main -lower- deck; what a difference from that "dog house" on the Clipper) and meet the Exploration Team' Alastair Newton (England) and Stephen Weston (Costa Rica). We also have two onboard Guest Speakers, Maradel Gale (Washington) and Jennifer McKillop (Australia). Several activities are delayed until tomorrow due to the boarding delay. Very nice (buffet since they didn't have all the provisions loaded yet) dinner which makes up for not getting any lunch. Due to the delay in boarding, Cruise West had our local tour stop at a local place and gave us free drinks. Nice tour today. They are sailing with a very light load - only 34 passengers (capacity is 120). The westbound version of this trip in a few weeks is fully booked. Several of the passengers are doing two or three back-to-back trips and will be onboard for a month or more. (BD)

Day 4 (3), Tuesday, December 30 Gaferut Atoll, Yap
Overnight there is quite a bit of wave action. I'm glad that my large (at least 8 times as big as that (censored) dog-house) cabin/mini-suite is on a lower deck. The roll, if it were up 3 or 4 decks, would have been VERY evident and NO fun. There's very light attendance at breakfast this morning. After this morning, for most of the rest of the trip, I take my breakfast up on deck 5 aft. It's an hour earlier than in the restaurant, and there is often lots to see from there.

A tiny, shimmering isle rising out of an azure sea, Gaferut is the archetypal South Pacific atoll. This tiny atoll is only 0.2 miles long! Like many atolls, uninhabited Gaferut is an important and isolated site for bird and turtle nesting. While its sliver of white-sand beach is barely visible above water, its isolation makes it a perfect sanctuary for hundreds of nesting birds. Birders can expect to see three species of boobies, two species of noddies, and three species of terns, including the elegant Fairy Tern. Spectacular snorkeling can be had right from the shore as we step from the apricot sand into the balmy Pacific. If we're lucky, we may see some of Yap's many manta rays.

According to Alastair, we won't be able to do a landing today; the waves are just too rough for the zodiacs and would probably be washing over a significant part of the small, low-lying sand atoll. We circle it a bit to see if we can see many birds. In the afternoon we have more orientation/instruction meetings. (BLD each day except the last day)

Day 5 (4), Wednesday, December 31 Ifaluk, Yap
The westernmost state of Micronesia is, made up of four large and seven small islands plus another 134 Islets. There are four indigenous languages in Yap: Yapese, Ulithian, Woleian and Satawalese. English is the common language of the FSM and is commonly spoken and understood. Many elderly Yapese are fluent in Japanese. Home to approximately 650 people, the island of Ifaluk is powerfully traditional. In their cooperative culture, the men fish to supply the entire island, and there is no word for "anger." Dance is an art form in Yap. Through dance, legends are passed down, history is recorded and entertainment is created. The dances of Yap are raucous, colorful and well orchestrated. Men and women both start at an early age to learn this special Yap tradition. This traditional life carries into the villages where fishing, sailing and weaving are still important parts of everyday life. Grass skirts for the women and thu'us, a type of loincloth, for the men are the basic garbs in the small towns that sit in tranquil settings around the island. The inhabitants of Ifaluk are the most traditional of all the Eastern Caroline Islands, and the inner lagoon is shallow and breathtakingly beautiful. The island's hard coral reefs and colorful drop-offs are enchanting. Sea anemones, soft corals and colorful gorgonian sea fans dot the walls. Sea turtles are seen at many sites around Ifaluk. The reefs here are alive with colorful fish that will delight snorkelers. As we visit with villagers, we learn of their unique methods of fishing, and see them perform some of the dances that constitute their highest art form.

As we make our way by inflatable excursion craft from the ship to the island (ankle deep wet landing after a bouncy ride with a fair amount of spray), we are greeted by singing villagers, adorned in shell necklaces, exotic flowers and colorful body paint. They greet each of us with leis. We receive (will receive) leis or mwar-mwars (head wreaths) at each island we visit. We experience our first ceremonial dances (3). We then take another Zodiac ride back to the ship, getting soaked while trying to tie up to come back on board. After lunch, we can either take a plunge into Ifaluk's shallow lagoon filled with tropical fish and vivid sea fans, or we can have the experience of sailing in one of their canoes (neat!) We have a New Years Eve Party from 9 until Midnight tonight.

Day 6 (5), Thursday, January 1, (2009) Satawal Island, Yap
New Years Day. The Federated States of Micronesia comprise Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap, four island states of more than 600 tiny islands and atolls, stretch almost the entire width of Micronesia, 1,800 miles across the western Pacific from east to west. Each speaks its own language with its own distinctive culture, traditions and history. Resident population close of 500 speak their native language, Satawalese. In addition, there are many Satawalese on Yap proper. The island of Satawal is the home of one of Micronesia's most legendary figures, master star navigator Mau Pialug. He was responsible for starting the revival of traditional Polynesian voyaging 20 years ago, and today, giant canoe houses once more dot the shore. Without charts or compasses, these mariners rely on their knowledge of star positions, ocean swells and other natural phenomenon to navigate immense stretches of the Pacific in their traditional canoes. Some of the most skilled traditional Pacific navigators can be found on Satawal traveling phenomenal distances in outrigger canoes, navigating by the stars and the ocean's waves.

It's too deep to anchor so when we arrive the ship has to keep in motion to hold position against the wave action. We have to stop outside the reef, take a WET zodiac ride to the reef, then more wet with about about 200 yards of walking in knee-deep water across a (dead) coral reef to get ashore. Both directions, boarding and exiting the zodiac is a challenge. We have a short visit to the village where these "ancient mariners" live and examine the giant canoe houses. Arrive on the island about 10; depart about 11:30.

We visit their village and feel the energy and rhythm of a traditional dance. One-of-a-kind canoe houses dot the shore and underwater, a snorkeler's paradise awaits. Take a nature walk and perhaps see the Caroline reed warbler and other native species of birds.The tour description says that we see more dancing. But they didn't know we were coming until they saw the ship on the horizon. Anyway, it's their New Year's Day and the entire island population is gathered for a huge "pot-luck" (their version) feast. They share some of the food with us. It was really a lucky break for us - not the usual "show" they put on for the ship visit, but the "real thing" - their New Year's Celebration. We also got to meet, and talk with, Mau Pialug. Lunch today is a BBQ on the aft deck near the Bistro lounge.

This is one of several occasions that I don't take my own camera ashore - due to either rain or probability of getting it soaked in the surf while landing. I rely on pictures on the CD given me by Brian Cripe (one of the Expedition Leaders on the Gold Rush cruise - thanks Brian), and the pictures on the CD we can buy at the end of this trip.

Day 7 (6), Friday, January 2 Tonoas Island, Chuuk
Nice calm waters this morning - very little swell, and it's a beautiful day as well so a great time for breakfast on deck. When we get into Chuuk lagoon, the water is so calm that there's no problem at all getting onboard the Zodiacs, and we land at a small pier so it's a totally "dry" landing (except for the very high humidity).

Chuuk (also known as Truk, pronounced Truck), fringed in mangroves in a picturesque lagoon, was the center for the Japanese Navy during World War II. Explore the remains of the battle known as Operation Hailstorm.

The many islands within this huge atoll are crowned with natural beauty. The outer barrier reef is punctuated with idyllic sand spits dotted with coconut palms. The high islands in the central lagoon rise into the blue island skies. Wild orchids and other flora are found in the scenic and sometimes rugged terrain of the islands. Lush vegetation and simple living punctuate the lives of the lagoon. Fishing, weaving and tending garden supplant the subsistence lives that many sustain on their individual islands. It is not unusual to see women waist deep in the mangroves hunting for a special delicacy or men walking the reefs by torchlight at night looking for baby octopus. Boat makers create vessels high in the hills of the inner islands and take them down to sea when finished. Open-hearth fires are still used to cook the daily meals. Life here is close to nature and lived in conjunction with the land and the sea. Local carvers are also famous for using beautiful local woods to carve warrior masks and busts. And the Chuukese love stick is part of a legendary practice of courtship unique to this island group.

Chuuk with its vast, shallow, beautiful lagoon is a Mecca for wreck divers. A major shipwreck site from WWII, with Truk Lagoon is unquestionably the world's best shipwreck diving destination. The villagers here still build seagoing canoes using traditional methods, and are adept at celestial navigation. We have a chance to visit their village and snorkel in the clear waters. Today it offers excellent snorkeling and friendly villagers who will share their traditional dances and handicrafts with us.

For those of us who chose the local walks, we have about an hour and a quarter on one island, then take Zodiacs across to another island for a shorter walk. Although there is very little left of the Japanese installations, we do get to see some of the sites, and there is a bit of the main airfield installations left. The tour is an afternoon tour and we are greeted by a performance by several of the local children (very nice) and a chance to buy some of the local handicrafts. On the tour, the highlight was watching the kids. Great!

Day8 (7), Saturday, January 3 At Sea #1 / Oroluk Atoll
It's really Day 2 at sea since we didn't get to land at Gaferut. The crew "throw in" a drifting-snorkel stop at Oroluk Atoll for those who are interested. The pictures in my photo set are from the Cruise West photo CD.

Otherwise, Maradel and Stephan tell us about the natural history and cultures of upcoming islands.

Day 9 (8), Sunday, January 4 Pohnpei Island, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)
Pohnpei offers rushing rivers and tranquil fresh water pools as well as some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Micronesia. Bird watchers will want to keep their eyes peeled for the endemic Pohnpei fantail and Pohnpei flycatcher. But the highlight of the island is the 'city' ruins of Nan Madol, once home to the ancient Saudeleur kings. Called the "Venice of the Pacific", this manmade city with ocean-filled channels once housed a thriving, royal civilization. Said to be over 700 years old, this Venice-like community built on 100 artificial islets was once complete with canals, stone towers, and bridges. Huge basalt pillars form the residences of kings and sorcerers. These remnants of an ancient Pohnpeian civilization are still being studied and explored. Pohnpei is the largest and tallest island in the FSM. Its peaks get plenty of rainfall annually and this creates more than 40 rivers that feed the lush upper rain forest. Pohnpei's waterfalls range from pleasant to spectacular, creating a refreshing and breathtaking experience for those venturing to the base of the falls. Pohnpei is famous for its energetic dances and also for the relaxing drink sakau, a kava-like brew. Pohnpei's people offer a look at family life island style. Communities come together to weave a new boathouse or just wash the daily clothes. Kids frolic in the water of the many rivers that flow from the mountains and down past the villages.

Visit the ancient ruins of Nan Madol, said to be over 700 years old. Savor an authentic hot lunch - served on a giant leaf - keeping our eyes peeled for the endemic Pohnpei fantail and flycatcher in the trees above.

Phonpei is the capital of the FSM. It's a fairly large, modern city with a large, active port. The setting with the cliffs and mountains around it is spectacular. The ship can do a hard-dock at a regular pier.

As for the special guided walk, well, it's an hour and a half ride over questionable roads in an "air conditioned" van. The a/c hasn't worked for some time, but since it's still installed, they call the vans "air conditioned." After that, since it will be a high tide, we would have a half mile or so walk through muddy paths and murky swamp water up to our knees (or higher) into dense jungle overgrown ruins. Unlike most other World Heritage sites, this one is not cleared or maintained. Then after some other planned activities, it would be that same long "air conditioned" ride back in hot, humid weather. So several of us decide to "pass" on the special walk and instead just explore the town. Since it's Sunday, there won't be that much open, but there will be things to see and do, and a few shops will be open. Those of us who take the taxi tour with Maradel miss the included lunch on the tour, but that's all right. When we get back to the ship, there are dances and a special ceremony. We were very lucky with the weather today: no rain even though Phonpei averages over 400" of rain a year.

Tonight we turn our clocks forward one hour as we cross a time line.

Day 10 (9), Monday, January 5 At Sea #2 / Cross the Equator
It's a very nice morning today with just a light shower to greet us. Our course is due south (180 degrees) at a speed of 13 knots. One of our Tour Leaders (Stephen) was running quite late this morning: last night he set his watch back one hour instead of ahead one hour.

As we sail, its water, water everywhere and not an island to see. Stephen, Maradel and Jennifer brief us on natural history and cultures we visit in the following days.

Day 11 (10), Tuesday, January 6 At Sea #3 ;/ Ceremony
We crossed the Equator last night at 9:38 PM. This morning, there's a special ceremony with "King Neptune" for "polywogs" (first timers) which is a lot of fun. Otherwise more of the same as above. Ho-Hum. At least we begin to see islands later in the day.

Day 12 (11), Wednesday, January 7 Santa Isabela Island, Solomon Islands
In the far north are the Arnarvon Islands, protected as a conservation area noted for a breeding area of rare green and leatherback turtles. To the southwest, the island of San Jorge is known as a place of the dead, where spirits reside, and overnight visitors observe strange phenomena. I think this trip should have been labeled as "Snorkeling the hot, humid, South Pacific" as we make yet another stop for them. I didn't go ashore, but was told by at least 4 or 5 people the "you didn't miss anything."

The rich history here includes a legacy of matrilineal inheritance, developed during headhunting days when women were usually spared but men were not. There is very little development on the island and no roads beyond a short stretch in the Provincial Capital Buala, and the town of Kaevanga on the south coast. Villages are all traditional, with beautifully kept leaf houses and gardens. The village of Kia in the north is of special interest, as it is built mainly on stilts over the clear lagoon waters. All transport is by canoe, outboard or dugout and there are crocodiles in the many deep rivers.

We anchored off Kia village this afternoon and traveled by Zodiacs three miles up an inlet (in intermittent rain, not sprinkles) to the village of Kia Then follow a trail to the village center, once home to headhunters. There we see women making tapa cloth from the bark of the paper-mulberry tree and color it pale blue with a dye of crushed orchid leaves. Then after seeing a traditional dance performance, and shopping for handicrafts, its back to the ship (another 3 miles in intermittent rain). Due to the rain, I didn't take my camera. I rely on photos from the CW photo CD.

Day 13 (12), Thursday, January 8 Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
The Solomons remained relatively unexplored except during World War II when all sides valued their strategic position. The Solomon Islands were the site of the 6-month Guadalcanal Campaign, one of the most fiercely fought battles during the Pacific War in 1942-1943. The Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942-3 is regarded as one of the most crucial Allied victories, if not the actual turning point of the war in the Pacific. The evidence of this campaign can be seen in many sights on and around Guadalcanal. Many relics are still found scattered both on land and sea. Visit the battlefields of Bloody Ridge and Henderson Field (now the Solomon's international airport), or explore a sunken Japanese freighter with mask and snorkel. It's difficult to believe that Guadalcanal's white-sand beaches and sparkling, clear lagoons were once the site of fierce fighting. In addition to being the subject of numerous books, the battle featured in the recent film "The Thin Red Line", which was shot partly on Guadalcanal.

Guadalcanal is the largest island in the Solomon Islands. It hosts the nation's largest city and Capitol of the Solomon Islands, Honiara. Honiara city is a port and commercial centre on the northern coast of Guadalcanal Island, which sprang up during World War II. The port primarily trades in coconuts, palm products, and timber both locally and internationally.

The poor weather that started yesterday with the rain at Kia is now worse. We had an extensive lightning storm with lots of rain last night, and it's very overcast and gloomy this morning with rain. The Deck 5 (outdoor) Bistro is closed this morning due to weather (and will be closed at noon also). We dock in Honiara and take either a bus tour of the battle area or yet another of those snorkeling excursions but the snorkeling got cancelled because of the weather. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain, I decide to leave my camera behind and rely (again) on pictures from the CD.

On the bus tour, we stop at the American War Memorial on a hill-top above Honiara, Henderson Field (now Honiara International Airport with it's one runway), almost to the top of "Bloody Ridge" climbing the last 250' on muddy feet. Each time we stop, we get off the bus in a light mist, then shortly have to make a dash back to shelter on the bus when the heavy rain starts up again. After the three stops, we make a couple of shopping stops (in the rain) on the way to a very late arrival back at the ship for a delayed lunch. After that, it's off on the long cruise to Tikopia. Not much planned this afternoon on board.

Day 14 (13), Friday, January 9 At Sea #4 / Tinakula
More time to relax and maybe learn something about the next island visit. The only thing to break the monotony was that about noon we sail past Tinakula, an active volcano rising straight from the sea: no island, just the cone of the volcano. We came close enough to see details on the side of the cone and some of the ejecta coming down the side and falling into the sea. The seas/wave action is running pretty rough with lots of spray coming over the bow. Alastair is concerned whether we get ashore on Tikopia tomorrow.

As the day goes on, the waves get bigger. By late afternoon, they are breaking as high as the portholes of my cabin. Yes, it's on the lower deck, but that's still high.

Day 15 (14), Saturday, January 10 Tikopia, Solomon Islands
Early arrival at Tikopia. It's another case like Satawal: anchor well outside the reef, take Zodiacs to the reef, then a very wet walk over the reef to the beach. However, the wave action has increased substantially overnight. There are heavy waves breaking over the reef on our primary landing site. So we sail around to the other side where the waves aren't breaking directly on the reef. But we still have a problem with sea surge sweeping around the ends of the island. The crew manages to launch one zodiac to carry supplies and medical stuff ashore for the inhabitants, but almost lose it while loading. Due to the swells and the relative motion of the ship and zodiac, there is as much as 8-10 feet rise / fall difference between the two. Loading is very risky. So although the shore is relatively safe, loading passengers would be very dangerous so the landing is cancelled. Rats!

So what did we miss?

The island is actually part of the British Solomon Islands, yet culturally as well as linguistically, Tikopia is classified with Western Polynesia. Tikopia is a small, volcanic island, about six square miles in size. This Island is home to approximately 1120 people (they have a population limit set by the chiefs). The Tikopians are distributed into 21 villages located along the coastline. The island is still ruled by four clans, each with a chief. The villages are divided into two major social-geographical districts, named Ravenga and Faea. Relations between villages of the same district are characterized by mutual interest and cooperation; while relations between villages of different districts are marked by rivalry and hostility. The Solomon Islands have long been known for their fierce headhunting tribes, which have led to the islands' isolation until only recently. Islanders still follow a traditional lifestyle. Women wear tapa cloth skirts, catch fish with handmade nets from ancient fish traps, and cook in communal ovens. Men catch flying fish with airborne nets resembling tennis rackets, wear tribal tattoos, and chew betel nuts.

The weather continues relatively clear (skies) but major wave action which is forecast to continue to at least 10PM tonight. Dining on the upper deck Bistro is cancelled due to weather/waves/etc as tables are sliding all over the deck and dishes sliding and crashing. Some of the passengers who have the nice, large cabins on the upper decks (5 & 6) have asked to be moved to cabins on lower decks. They said that it's just too risky to try to move around with all the rolling and with the ship also "fishtailing." At lunch, there are several crashes from the galley - both pots and pans, and dishes. Even with the dining room on the lower deck, some of the passengers get all their dishes (and some food) dumped in their lap as the ship does a "rock and roll."

Day 16 (15), Sunday, January 11 Ambrym, Vanuatu
I woke up about 3AM and noticed immediately that the ship's "rock and roll" motion is absent - just a minor sway. Not only that, but its clear and a beautiful scene with the moon and stars. Hooray. In fact, this is about the only clear night sky of the entire trip. The storm system we've been trailing has moved on to the east. Hopefully it will clear Fiji by the time we get there Tuesday morning.

The landscape of Ambrym, the Island of Mysteries, is beyond description: a primeval world of seething active lava lakes, ancient tree ferns, eerie mist-shrouded jungle, and jagged black moonscape. An enormous ash plain about 12km across occupies the centre of the island plain, representing the crater of the ancient volcano. The home of Mt Marum and Mt Benbow volcanoes, Ambrym holds a reputation for major sorcery in Vanuatu. Ambrym is famous for its drums with vertical slits and for its tree fern carvings, sand drawings and Rom Dance, an outstanding expression of the prevailing influence of spirits. The ni-Vanuatu world, as islanders are known, is still inhabited by spirits and demons, despite the missionaries' best efforts to expel them. Anything tabu is sacred or holy, and the word is in common use - on signs it can mean simply 'no entry'. Captain James Cook explored and chartered the Vanuatu archipelago, consisting an slightly larger area than Connecticut, and 80 islands in 1774, which he named the New Hebrides. Exploited, kidnapped, proselytized and robbed for a century and a half under the benevolence of a wobbly colonial administration, the ni-Vanuatu, have bounced back since independence in 1980. Today they are among the friendliest and most welcoming people in the Pacific. Vanuatu's fractured terrain produces a kaleidoscope of cultures and more than 100 indigenous languages.

We get to Ambrym about 7 with the sea being calm. This proves to be deceptively tantalizing. There are heavy breakers at our proposed landing site. Some of the crew go ashore and the word comes back: this will be one of the bumpiest and definitely the wettest landings we have. It's the last few yards and the waves breaking on shore that will be the problem, both in the shore landings, and particularly when departing the shore. This is definitely a time when my camera does NOT go ashore. Alastair and Stephen come back on board totally drenched. Alastair said that this is one of the most difficult landing situations he has had to handle due to the massive swells breaking on the beach. There's no reef - the waves come directly ashore. Then it's time for our baptism by drenching. When ashore we meet with the chief and a local medicine man, and watch the incredible dances.

This evening we have both our Disembarkation (in Fiji) briefing, and also a special "Chocaholics Gala Buffet." So much for skipping deserts on this trip. At the briefing, we find out that Fiji is mostly underwater due to the storm. The scheduled activities may or may not take place. It may clear, or we may just be confined to the hotel, assuming we even get to it. One report says that they are using helicopters to transfer guests. We won't know more until late tomorrow.

It looks like we're catching up with that storm tonight - lots of lightning (it seems like someone is setting off massive strobe lights just outside the windows and portholes) and the wind and waves are picking up again. Its getting pretty rough out. That deceptively tantalizingly calm morning has proved to be VERY deceptive. We have lots more rain as well. Also tonight we cross into another time zone so its turn the clocks forward another hour.

Day 17 (16), Monday, January 12 At Sea #5
The trip notes say: "Soak up the majesty of a brilliant yellow sun (what sun? It's out of sight!) as it blazes (?) over the horizon". There's very little sunlight this morning and the swells are still tossing us around. However the rain has stopped, at least for the time being. We still worry about the weather we are going to have in Fiji but very preliminary info says that it might be clearing by the time we get there. By late afternoon, the word is that we can do most of the scheduled tour except for Nadi which is impassable due to flooding and/or flood debris. This plan gets shot down due to new/continuing heavy rains. Tonight the seas get rougher again and there are some major rain / lightning storms. As it turns out, we do some of the drive but not many people will get out of the bus to do any looking around. In the Nadi area, the devastation from the cyclone is very obvious - debris and damaged homes, businesses, downed fences and utilities, etc. everywhere.

Day 18 (17), Tuesday/Wednesday/Tuesday, January 13/14/13 Storm Ravaged Fiji - Trip Home
Legend has it that within the bounds of today's Lautoka town there lived two tribes each with a chief. As a result of an argument one day, a fight broke out between the two chiefs at a spot, which is now known as "Farquhar's point." As one chief speared the other he screamed "LAU-TOKA" meaning "spear-hit" or 'hit to win". And so, Lautoka acquired a name. Lautoka is the sugar city as many people describe. Sugar cane has been the major industry of Fiji and Lautoka is the Base. Here, one finds the industries, head quarters, the largest sugar mill, central sugar bulk, modern loading facilities and a large wharf. The Lautoka Sugar Mill itself employs about 1300 people and majority of them are the ratepayers and residents of Lautoka. Apart from this there are a number of other industries such as timber, pine chips, garment, distillery, brewery, jewelry, steel, fishing, hatchery, and many more. The blue Pacific Ocean on the western side and green-gold sugar cane and pine trees on the others surround Lautoka, known as the Sugar City. Centuries-old banyan trees and colonial residences line Mill View Road.

With all the rains and flooding here, this could almost be called another day "at sea."

We finally get to Fiji after cruising 3960 miles. Disembarkation is delayed this morning due to both a late arrival and slow Customs clearance. Overnight it was some heavy rain and it's still raining. Finally depart the Spirit of Oceanus in Lautoka, and spend the morning trying to explore the sites. After the cyclone and 2 weeks of heavy rain, the roads are mostly a random collection of large pot-holes somewhat connected by smaller ones. Our bus drive is excellent - he actually manages to miss a few of them. Parts of the island have been under as much as 8 - 10 feet of water: some homes and businesses totally flooded. Then a visit (very brief - it's pouring down rain) to the original village of Fiji, Viseisei, and a nice overlook (but we can see only about 100 feet in the rain). Tour (not in the rain) the delicate orchids of the Garden of the Sleeping Giant where we take part in a traditional Kava ceremony before eventually checking into a day room at the Westin Denarurau Resort for some downtime. When we arrive, it's still raining and I decide to just stay in the lobby rather than get stranded in my room with a long walk in the rain with my luggage. They have carts to take us to our rooms (well scattered out over the property), but how would I get back. This proves to be a good idea. Sometimes the rain slackens a bit, but it just keeps raining and lots more is due in the next days. No chance at all for pictures on Fiji - just TOO MUCH rain. I didn't even take my camera out of the bag.

For many, it gets worse. There are 5 people on the local tour from our boat who will be going on: our doctor and nurse, and 3 passengers (one passenger stayed on the boat). Due to the heavy rains, the island Port-Master closed the port and the boat has to leave or probably be held in port for 4 or 5 days until the weather clears enough to continue. It seems that another low-pressure/depression/cyclone is due to hit here tomorrow.

There are also about 30 passengers here for the next part of the cruise. So now what? The ship is not docked anymore; it's holding place somewhere just outside of the port as part of a (doomed) plan to move from the original port (roads to there are now impassable) to a closer smaller port, but that's now impossible with all ports closed. The decision is made (about 6:30) to have the ship sail on to Suva, the capital of Fiji, on the other side of the island. The local tour service will provide dinner (at CW expense, of course) if they can find some place with food. Due to the weather, supplies are limited and our Westin hotel is out. The restaurants are now closed. They find a Sheraton a few blocks away with some food so off for dinner. Then they (5 + 30) will have a long, approximately 4-hour drive over those "roads" (or what's left of them) over the local mountains in the dark. When they get to Suva, they will have a few hours in a hotel, hopefully, then transfer to the ship tomorrow morning. Maybe. (Late report: they made it!)

Transfer to the airport (taking a long way around since the roads are now flooded, again) for a 18 hour overnight flight home. Considering that I've already been up for 17 hours or so, that's a LONG day. (B)

Air Pacific FJ 0810 Fiji - Los Angeles 11:20 PM - 1:25 PM 10:05 (3:20)

It looks like an overnight flight to arrive on the 14th, but actually it's still the 13th since we cross the International Date Line going east and "gain" a day that we lost going west. It is actually an interesting situation since Fiji is close to the Date Line and we have such a late departure. We start out very late on the 13th, still flying west of the date line at midnight so it's now the 14th, then cross the date line and we're back to the 13th again. Three "different" days in about 3 or so hours. 3:20 connection time so getting through Customs, etc. should be no problem.

Continental CO 0541 Los Angeles - Houston 4:45 PM - 9:54 PM 3:09 (16:34)

Finally arrive home at almost midnight (11:45) after a very LONG pair of flights. Fortunately I'm using the SuperShuttle - tomorrow morning when I try to start my car, the battery is Totally dead. I'm glad it happened at home and not at midnight in an airport parking lot! AAA came out and installed a new one for me. It's been a huge temperature change - temps in the 80s on the cruise; low tonight will turn out to be 27.

I'm glad I took this cruise this year since Cruise West won't be offering these South Pacific cruises any more. They are shifting the Oceanus to Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia even more next year. I did do an "On-Board Booking" for another cruise to Alaska in 2011: Inside Passage (B option) which I have done only parts of before.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

1Continental CO 0001Houston - Honolulu9:35 AM - 2:05 PM8:301:25
.12:08 PM- 4:13 PM8:051:07
2Continental CO 0001Honolulu - Guam3:30 PM - 7:10 PM7:4017:35
.5:20 PM - 8:45 PM 7:2516:37+2
3Air Pacific FJ 0810Fiji - Los Angeles11:20 PM - 1:25 PM10:053:20
4Continental CO 0541Los Angeles - Houston4:45 PM - 9:54 PM3:0916:34

295 feet in length, Cruising speed of 14.5 knots, English-speaking multinational crew, All cabins feature private facilities, Elevator to all passenger decks, TV monitor/VCR in each cabin, 120 guests, Satellite phone, email and Internet capability. My cabin is #258 on the "Main" deck.