Archive for August, 2010

A Delightful Transit Lounge, and the Long Flight Home

August 5th, 2010 1:48 am by Dave from here

We only had a 18-hour layover in Tonga, from about midnight to 6 pm.  Compared with sitting in a transit lounge for a few hours, it was quite a nice time though much too short.  It would be nice to go back to Tonga sometime and to check it out in much more detail, including some other islands.

We spent the night at Keleti International Resort, a humble beachside string of bungalows about halfway from the airport to town.  The shoreline here is absolutely stunning, a series of overlapping cylindrical rock formations that extends about half the south shore of the island.  They look like Mammoth Hot Springs, except they’re about 10 meters off the beach.  As the waves crash into them, water jets up from various nooks and crannies.  The effect is even more intense at high tide.

We had a day to explore Nuku’alofa before our evening flight back home.  It was mostly a shopping opportunity with various souvenirs and some bright shirts.  Dinner back at our little hotel was delicious, the last raw fish and coconut milk of the trip, as well as some cooked fish served with some native leaf (grown at the chef’s house) with taro as a starch (the other hotels generally never served that).  It was nice to have a little more actually local food.

The flight back was a little annoying.  The plane arrived about an hour late, and then everyone arriving from New Zealand deplaned, regardless of whether or not they were continuing on.  Finally we boarded and flew the short distance to Apia in Western Samoa.  Once again we were all herded off the plane so that we could go through security and that they could check the empty plane cabin, which apparently is required before any leg ending in the United States.  After another wait, we got back on and flew to Los Angeles, about a nine-hour flight.  The inflight entertainment system on the Air New Zealand 767 was definitely the most advanced one I’d ever seen, with the largest widescreen displays and random access to 32 movies (several old ones included) and scads of music, New Zealand television shows, and games.  It functioned quite well (except for one gentleman a few rows up from me:  I saw a little penguin at the top of a screenful of text, presumably some version of Linux completely rebooting).  The flight-tracking map application was a little stupid, though — a system which was otherwise that good should have had a map with fewer flaws and much more configurability (language, what views to see, etc.).  Arriving at Terminal 2 Border Inspection at LAX took 40 minutes in line before reaching the passport guy, but things went very quickly after that.

Now we’re spending a few days in LA, so far mostly around Venice.  Maybe we’ll see the Getty Center tomorrow; we got close this afternoon after using a real laundromat washing machine for the first time in a while, but $15 for parking for two hours seemed a little pricey.  We’ll try to spread it over more hours tomorrow.  We felt a little baited and switched, because its website says the museum is free.

Return to Fiji

August 2nd, 2010 7:29 pm by Dave from here

When we stayed in Fiji in 2005, we struck up a friendship with a young member of the staff of our hotel. He has been quite a good correspondent over the years, and we arranged to spend time with him as we passed through Fiji this time. He met us at the airport. Our late arrival was further delayed because the record of our car rental was in their notebook, but the actual car wasn’t there, and it took about an hour to round up another car from someone else. We climbed in the rickety little station wagon, and drove to the Outrigger resort near Sigatoka, arriving just after midnight.

These resorts are a lot like cruise ships which don’t move. There was a special rate on Expedia, stay two nights, get the third free, which would not have happened if there wasn’t a global economic downturn hurting tourism just generally. But once you’re there, everything is an opportunity for additional charges: the restaurants are expensive, the Internet is expensive, the shops are expensive. In general, we’ve found the fancier the hotel, the worse the breakfasts, and this is no exception. Our dinner here was all right, particularly the appetizers. There’s a spa. Mostly, we’ve just spent time relaxing. We haven’t snorkeled in the lagoon because it’s been windy but today we will anyway; at least it’s sunny and anything out there will be well illuminated. And snorkeling is free (though the extra four hours of delayed check-out time aren’t).

A highlight of the trip was when we took our friend back home to Nadi so that he could get to work at 7 am Monday morning. He lives near the beach with his family in a cluster of four houses (his father’s, and one for each of his three uncles). Currently his house has four rooms for five people; he shares a room with his brother; he’s working on building a room for himself. The entire house was ruined last year by neck-deep water when Fiji had the worst floods it had seen for a long time, but they’ve made it quite livable since then. His living room was full of relatives and neighbors drinking kava. We had a few bowls of it ourselves, with no adverse effects. Normally, they’ll drink for a few hours, and have a late dinner. Since we had to get back to Sigatoka, we had an early dinner with our friend around 9 pm, and what a dinner it was: absolutely delicious home-cooked Indian food that was better than anything we’ve had anywhere this entire trip. A spicy chutney and an onion chutney; rice, rotis, and dal; green beans; a dish with some kind of not-hot peppers; and delightfully spiced beef from a cow that had been slaughtered that morning. We ate all we possibly could (Ray ate it correctly with his fingers; I was lazy and used a fork) and then said our goodbyes. With the late kava-drinking, I don’t know how our friend makes it to work at 7 am.

It really validates the Young Lonely Planet philosophy: if you want the best possible food while traveling, it really is worth the trouble to meet some locals and get invited to their house for dinner. (Rich locals don’t count, because you’ll likely end up at restaurants with them.) Especially if they’re Fiji-Indian or Romanian. Maybe not so much if they’re from California.

Today we woke up, snorkeled a bit in the reef by the hotel which was really too shallow at low tide to snorkel in, and saw very little live coral and very few fish — it seems you have sign up for a tour to some little island off the coast to see Fiji’s famous spectacular sea life. Then we got into the rickety rental wagon and drove across the island through the traffic of Suva, the South Pacific’s largest city with a population of 200,000, and to the airport where the guy was waiting for it to drive it back to Nadi. A 42-seat turboprop awaits us for the two-hour flight to Tonga.

Guadalcanal Diary, Days 3 and 4

August 2nd, 2010 7:25 pm by Dave from here

Honiara is just not that interesting a place. Nobody ever said it was, but you usually think there is something to do.

Thursday we went to the US War Memorial, a small park atop a little hill with a good view of Honiara and the adjacent islands (if it’s not too cloudy). Several granite walls detailed the various battles in the Guadalcanal Campaign. One wall listed the names of the US ships sunk or damaged, and the number of Japanese ships sunk or damaged. The taxi driver pointed to a little white spot atop a nearby hill, and said that was the Japanese memorial. We had him take us there, and saw that it was basically the remains of a monument which had been destroyed about ten years earlier in an ethnic conflict in Honiara; not much to see except the local style of graffiti.

We proceeded to the central marketplace, drank some coconut water, bought a starfruit and a doughnut, looked at 100 identical stands selling variations on the same few vegetables, including the vast multiplicity of bananas we never see in America, and talked to a few folks about life in the Solomon Islands. Since the ethnic tension, the cruise ships stopped coming, and very few other tourists come, which is too bad; things seem fairly peaceful now, and tourism is something that could bring in a lot of extra revenue for the islands. Even though conflict is gone, corruption remains, and no one expects that the government can make effective use of what money it gets. The conflict is kept in check by a police force from Australia.

There was a one room museum with a few WWII relics, some skulls and pictures of fauna, and various carvings and illustrations of traditional life on the islands. We had to find the lady and get her to open it for us. In front of the museum, a political rally of some kind was taking place, the kind the State Department tells American tourists to avoid. It was quite formal and British, however, candidates stepping up to the microphone to answer questions from the audience. Really much more genuine than the American process of dueling trash TV campaigns; American corruption happens so far behind closed doors that we forget it even exists since we don’t have the opportunity to pay policemen to fix tickets; and Transparency International has been heavily bribed not to include political campaign contributions in their definition of a democracy debased beyond recognition. We tiptoed around the back of the rally to get to the museum. After we were done there, there really wasn’t anything else to do besides go back to our hotel, which we got to early enough that we were able to convince them to cook us a late lunch / early dinner so we didn’t have to go back out.

On Friday, we tried to visit another little war museum the tourist office told us about on our way to the airport for our flight to Fiji. It was located inside a lumberyard and was closed: they said “give us twenty minutes and we’ll open it up” but we didn’t want to miss our flight. We could have probably taken them up on their offer, because our flight turned out to be three hours delayed, getting us into Fiji at 9 pm instead of 6 pm.