Monthly Archives: July 2007

Back to Fiji II

Posted by on July 14, 2007

I’m writing in Suva, Fiji. I got in at 6:30am and a day added with my 5th crossing of the dateline on my trip. I spent the morning driving to Suva and am writing at what is, by far, the nicest internet cafe I’ve encountered on my trip.

Tomorrow moring I’ll get to the Kiribati embassy first thing to get my visa processed. I’ll also try and hit up the bookstore at the University of the South Pacific before driving back to Nadi.

The next morning (Tuesday) I have an early flight to New Caledonia. I’m really excited to get to Vanuatu. I think Tanna Island will be one of the highlights of my trip so far.

I should note that I haven’t seen a single soldier since arriving in Suva. I can see no obvious external evidence of the coup….yet.

Bye Bye Samoa

Posted by on July 13, 2007

Tomorrow morning I leave Samoa for Fiji. That should begin several intensive weeks of travel. I will cross the date line for the 5th time from the 14th to the 15th of July.

I will then rent a car and drive to Suva, Fiji where I will try to get my visa for Kiribati on Monday. If they can’t process my visa in one day, the country has serious issues. I then drive back to Nadi that night to catch a Tuesday morning flight to Noumea, New Caledonia on the 20th.

I then have 3 days in New Caledonia till I leave for Vanuatu. I don’t plan on doing a lot in New Caledonia beyond exploring the capital. As previously mentioned, in Vanuatu I will be visiting a volcano on the isle of Tanna and visiting a John Frum (Cargo) cult. I am hoping they embrace me as their god.

I then am currently scheduled to fly stand by on a flight to Honiara in the Solomon Islands. Here is an article I just read today about the Solomons and logging. I had no idea they had so few tourists. My primary goal in the Solomons is to visit Rennell Island. The largest raised coral atoll in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I’ll then head off to Papua New Guinea, where I am thinking of leaving the capital Port Moresby as soon as possible and getting out to New Britian or one of the other islands in the archipelago.

After PNG, it is back to Honiara to connect on a flight to Nauru and Tarawa, Kiribati. My places visited list will probably need to include some asterisks as my ‘visit’ to Nauru will probably be as short as the country is large.

From here, I may have to go back to Fiji to get to Hawaii as there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of flight to the north of Kiribati. I may have a stop over in Tuvalu before Hawaii.

That should conclude the most logistically challenging part of my trip. The remaining pacific islands should be pretty easy to reach as they are all serviced by Continental Airlines Micronesia. My big “to do” list in Micronesia includes” jellyfish swimming in Palau, wreck diving at Chuuk lagoon, and trying to visit the atolls in the Marshall Islands where the US did above ground nuclear testing in the 40s and 50s.

I’m loving the hell out of the Pacific, but I’ll also be glad to be done. It is very frustrating to travel within the region.

Easter Island In The News

Posted by on July 13, 2007


I noticed this bit in my RSS feed today: Easter Island Fights Prosperity.

Having been there just two months ago, and because its never in the news, I thought I’d chime in on the subject.

Go read the article first…

For a place so dependent on tourism, Easter Island does a very poor job of it. For starters, the Rapa Nui National Park which covers pretty much the entire island and is responsible for the protection and preservation of the maoi on the island is all but non existant. There is a small hut on one end of the island where there are few maoi. In there there is usually a ranger who will give you a map and you pay the equivalent of $10. That’s it. No where else on the island will you find rangers, interpretative centers, signs, anything.

Easter Island was a finalist (top 21) in the New Seven Wonders project. That should give you an idea as to where it sits on the heriarchy of world sites. Given its importance, its sort of sad to see how much effort the Chiliean government has put into it.

All of the maoi which are standing and not in the quarry, have been restored in the last 50 years. Everything in the photo I posted above was restored in the early 1990’s by a Japanese television network. They need cash to restore the hundres of maoi which have fallen or are broken around the island. Also, the maoi are made of a very soft volcanic tuff. Just because they are made of rock doesn’t mean they will last forever.

The article is also spot on with regards to how the people of Hanga Roa are all hustling to get the tourism dollar. There are no major hotels on the island. Everything is guest houses or hostel type accomodiations. Likewise, all the car rentals, restrauants, souviner stand, and tours are local operations.

Rapa Nui also probably has the least amount of ‘culture’ of all the polynesian countries I’ve visited (and I’ve pretty much been to them all now). This is not the fault of the people there as they were all but wiped out in the 19th Century. Also, even though they have the internet and cars on the island now, it is really a stretch to say that civilization has crept onto the island. It is still one of the most isolated spots on Earth, and it shows.

I can’t possibly see how a casino would proper on the island. Of the 50,000 or so visitors who come to the island, I’d guess almost 100% are there to see the maoi. It doesn’t attract the type who want to sit on the beach and drink fruity drinks all day long. I certainly don’t see anyone make the five hour flight (or much longer) to Easter Island to gamble.

The people on the island have a vested interest in the preservation of the maoi. The Chiliean government doesn’t seem to be interested in doing it. Development of tourism is probably the only way to both save the maoi and let the small population of the island make a living.

Samoa Fatigue

Posted by on July 11, 2007

So I went to the Chinese embassy today and spoke to an official about my trip. She explained that I’d probably only get a visa good for three months and two entries at most. Because I don’t know the exact date of when I’ll be entring China, I will just get the visa when I’m closer. I’ll also provide a lot more documentation about where I will be going.

This was the first time I’ve had to apply for a visa, so it was educational. I think I’ll take the route of information overload in the future so there are no problems about what I’ll be doing.

I also made a travel agent very happy. I explain what I was planning on doing and the tickets I needed booked to Melonesia. I think she was happy.

It is looking like I will have to go through Hawaii again. I’ll make the best of it and send some stuff back home while I’m there.

My last two days in Samoa I’ll be at Auggie Grey’s Hotel. It’s the classic place to stay here. My current place is booked so I figure I should go there and take advantage of the hot water.

If the rest of my trip goes as slow as it has been the last few weeks, I’ll die of old age before I’m done.

I’ve settled on two major obectives in Vanuatu and the Solomons. In the Solomons I’ll be visiting Rennell Island. It’s the only World Heritage site in the Pacific and largest raised atoll in the world. It also has the largest chunk of bird diversity of any pacfic island. In Vanuatu, I’ll be visiting Mount Yasur…an active volcano.

Vanuatu and the Solomons have so many islands that I had to narrow down what I wanted to do. I also wanted to pick up the pace a bit. I’m I’m lucky, maybe I’ll meet some people in a cargo cult :)

Every Time I Try To Get Away, They Keep Pulling Me Back In

Posted by on July 11, 2007

It is as if I can’t escape Samoa.

I’m now stuck here till Saturday because of flights to Fiji. I will have spent more time in Samoa than New Zealand. That doesn’t seem right.

Travling in the Pacific is really slow. I’m going to need to pick up the pace and maybe cut down the time I spend in some places. I really wanted to spend some time in Nauru, but given the flight schedules, my choices seem to be one week or one hour on a stop over. As much as I want to visit Nauru, a week there really seems over kill.

I’m starting to get worried about my ability to get to China and avoid the winter. I’d like to be out of the Pacific by the end of August. Even if I finish in the Pacific by August, it might be too late if I also go through Japan and South Korea. I could just say “screw it” and reverse my route and go north through asia and try to make China by the spring.

There was a miscommunication at the Chinese embassy and I ended up having to get my vias on a rush, else they had to have my passport for five days. I’m getting a one year multi-entry visa, so I should be fine.

I also am doing better than expected on my finances, so that’s good. Three days in Tonga with food, internet, drinks, and lodging was $120. Not bad.

Back to Samoa III

Posted by on July 10, 2007

I’m back in Samoa for the third and last time. I got to fly first class from Tonga to Samoa for a whopping one hour.

Next few days will be logistical work.

Today I get my visa at the Chinese Embassy (small countries are a great place to get visas. The embasies have nothing else to do).

Tomorrow I hope to be off to Fiji to get another visa (Kiribati. Why in the world they make Americans get a visa is beyond me. They need all the tourism they can get, Hawaii is the cloest major place to them, and one of only two international flights that fly into the country comes from the US. Making tourism difficult isn’t something which is a good idea for small countries usually)

I have two longer posts with photos I have to post still from Tonga. I have some more Tonga photos uploaded and hope to get a few more up in the next few days.

Time Zones….or, how I’m not really sure if I’ve lost or gained a day

Posted by on July 9, 2007

Time Zones

Tonight I’m going back to Samoa to pick up my Chinese visa. It will be my fourth trip across the date line in a month. I’ll have to make a 5th trip across in a few days going back to Fiji. I might have to make a 6th and a 7th crossing, but I’ll know more about that shortly. I hope I don’t have to.

Everyone is pretty familiar with time zones. I’m sure you’ve crossed time zones and have an intutitive understanding why they exist. The Earth is a sphere and we have noon at different times. The idea originally came from the railroad companies. Because each town would have a different noon (the time at which the sun is at its highest point) organizing schedules became difficult. Time zones were a means to keep everyone on the same page for what time it was.

In theory its pretty simple. Greenwich, English was picked as the arbitrary point for the Prime Meridian. There is nothing special about it, its just that is where the Royal Observatory happens to be and the English in the 19th Century took the lead in these matters.

Because there are 24 hours in a day, the Earth should have 24 time zones of one hour increments, going 12 hours plus or minus from Greenwich. Exactly on the other end of the Earth, there needs to be a line where the day changes, else it gets into problem when each side going backwards and forwards meet each other on the other side.

Picking Greenwich as the Prime Meridian was actually a good move if only because it put the 180 degree longitude line in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. 180 degrees longitude is the theoretical date line.

In practice, however, you have to move it a round a bit. Most countries don’t want to have their countries split in different parts by day. It makes things really confusing. There is a tiny stub of Siberia which is in the western hemisphere, a few of the last islands in the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska are in the Eastern Hemisphere, some of the minor island in Fiji are in the west….and the nation of Kiribati (which I’ll get to soon).

What I said about there being 24 time zones is also not true in practice. There are some time zones that are offset by a half hour (Labrador and Newfoundland for example. There are also some odd fractional hour time zones in India. China puts the whole country into one time zone, even though it should really be five.

And then there is Tonga. Even if there aren’t 24 time zones, you’d think they still would all be within 12 hours plus or minus of UTC (UTC = Greenwich Mean Time without daylight savings). You’d be wrong. Tonga is +13 UTC. It is east of 180 degrees longitude, but sits on the west side of the date line.

Kiribati is the worst offender. It is a country of several island chains in the north Pacific. The country is really spread in two on either side of 180 degrees longitude. They just lumped everything together and made a huge bend in the dateline. They only only have parts which are +13 UTC, they also have islands that are +14 UTC. The same clock time as Hawaii, but a day ahead!

I think Tonga is on this side of the date line so they can share the same day as New Zealand and Australia who are their major trading partners. Kiribati I think did it so it could say it was the first country in the world to usher in the year 2000. (Geraldo went there, so it must have worked to some degree)

My 6th and 7th crossing will all depend on if they still run flights from Kiribati to the Marshall Islands. If they do (and all the flight schedules you see online are usually out of date) then I don’t have to. If they don’t, then I may have to fly to Hawai’i, which I’d rather not have to do. Ideally, I’d like to fly Our Air (formerly Air Nauru) from Honoria to Nauru to Tarawa, Kiribati then to the Marshalls. That would be the easiest trip, but I have read they may cancel the Tarawa and Marshalls part of the flight.

Such is life in the Pacific…..

Even MORE Wonders

Posted by on July 8, 2007

I should have seen this coming….

The New Seven Wonders organization, now that they are done with the this round, have announced a competition for the New Seven Natural Wonders.

On 8/8/08, a panel of “experts” will release a list of 21 things everyone will vote on. I can already tell you what a bunch of them will be. In fact, remember this post next year and see if I am right. I bet most of my predictions are in the top 21:

  1. The Grand Canyon (USA)
  2. The Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  3. Mount Everest (China/Nepal)
  4. N’gorongoro Crater (Tanzania)
  5. Antarctica or some subset
  6. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
  7. Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwae)
  8. Iguaçú Falls (Argentina/Brazil)
  9. The Amazon River (Brazil)
  10. Niagara Falls (USA/Canada)
  11. Yellowstone Park (USA)
  12. Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania/Kenya)
  13. Mont Fuji (Japan)
  14. Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)
  15. The Saraha Desert or some subset
  16. Ayers Rock (Australia)
  17. Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
  18. Fijords (Norway)

Other things that could make the final cut:

  • Yomesite Valley (USA)
  • Angel Falls (Venezuela)
  • Redwood/Giant Sequoia Forests (USA)
  • Palau
  • Lake Baikal (Russia)
  • Bay of Fundy (Canada)
  • Milford Sound (New Zealand)

The top three are an absolute lock for the last seven, as is something with the Amazon and Antarctica. One waterfall will also make it, and that will be totally up to who can rig the votes the most. That is six of the 7 right there.

In fact, given the press coverage this last competition got, I wonder if bookies in the UK will put up odds shortly.

I should just start a site for “Gary’s Wonder’s of the World”. I’d put three places there from my trip so far: The Big Island of Hawai’i, Easter Island, and Milford Sound.

Welcome To Your NEW Seven Wonders of the World

Posted by on July 7, 2007

As I wrote in Easter Island, there is an organization which has been taking votes for what should be considered the new seven wonders of the world.

Today they released the results of their voting.

Before I get to that however, let me take a few steps back…

Why are the number “seven” and “world wonders” linked together? It all goes back to a Greek tourism guide for the region. The oldest know reference is from Antipater of Sidon who wrote:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’

– Antipater, Greek Anthology IX.58

Or to clarify, the ancient wonders were (and I know them by heart. I didn’t need Wikipedia for this part. If you know me in person, you probably wont doubt that claim):

  • The Great Pyramid of Giza (You should be familiar with this)
  • The Colossus of Rhodes (A big bronze statue near the harbor on the island of Rhodes)
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • The Tomb of Maussollos at Halicarnassus (where the term mausoleum comes from)
  • The Statue of Zeus on Mount Olympus
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (In Turkey)
  • The Lighthouse at Alexandria (Stood quite a while. Was finally destroyed by an earthquake in the end of the 15th century)

So the original list was Greek centric and it has stuck in our collective imaginations all this time.

Now fast forward 2,500 years.

A Swiss guy by the name of Bernard Weber creates a company for the purpose of creating a new list of Seven Wonders of the World. This organization has no official government backing (not that it needs to) and has been taking “votes” since January 1, 2006.

If you are familiar with internet polls, you can see immediately what the problem here is. There was no limit to the number of votes you could cast. Moreover, the organization allowed for text voting just like on American Idol. All over the world locals get whipped up in a frenzy of faux patriotism and send in their text votes. He creates a “board of experts” to add legitimacy to the organization all the while selling t-shirts, organizing a pay per view event to announce the winners, and raking in money on text votes.

As a business, I think it was absolutely brilliant.

The nation of Egypt threw a stink (for reasons I’m not quite sure. They were upset they had to compete.) and the pyramids were taken off the list for the new wonders. I find it odd just because it was the one obvious choice that probably everyone could agree on.

So anyway, here are the winners announced a few minutes ago..

  • The Great Wall (China)
  • The City of Petra (Jordan )
  • The Taj Mahal (India)
  • Machu Picchhu (Peru)
  • The Coliseum (Italy)
  • Pyramid at Chichen Itza (Mexico)
  • Statue of Christ Redeemer (Brazil)

I have no problem with first five I listed. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil shows the absurdity of the voting. Its a cool statue and it is an icon for Rio and the nation of Brazil, but it is any more “wondrous” than the Statue of Liberty? If someone builds a cooler, bigger statue, what then?

Consider what was left off the list:

  • The Acropolis (Greece)
  • Stonehenge (England)
  • Easter Island
  • Angor Wat (Cambodia)
  • Vatican City

The Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera house were near the bottom of the list from the start (and with good reason). The only justification for them being so low and the Christ the Redeemer being on the list is a Brazilian vote campaign. I think given the make up of the 21 candidates on the list, there is an implicit assumption that the “wonders” are ancient, or at least old, structures. If you want new structures, I’d put the Strip in Las Vegas, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel and other engineering accomplishments on the list.

As for Chichen Itza, I really don’t know enough about it. I suppose I’m more sympathetic having seen Mel Gibsons Apolyptico, but that’s a pretty lame argument.

In the end, these lists are totally arbitrary, but fun. It’s like arguing for who should be in the Hall of Fame or who the greatest baseball player of all time was (Ted Williams, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds btw)

There certainly aren’t a lot of “wonders” here in the Pacific. Visiting the islands are more a study in culture and geology…..and of course leisure.

Living on Tonga Time

Posted by on July 4, 2007

I’m alive in Nuku’alofa, Tonga!

My initial thoughts in the drive in from the airport:

  • Like most pacific countries, it seems like there was a burst of building activities in 50s and 60s. My “hotel” tonight looks like something you’d have made on a road trip in the Kennedy administration.
  • There were fields with crops and houses and businesses, which is more than you can say about driving around Samoa.
  • Things seem cheap so far. An hour at this internet cafe is T$3 which is about US$1.50.
  • FIVE Mormon churches between the airport and Nuku’alofa.
  • The Tonga and Samoa time zones are not pre-programmed on my watch. They have the same clock time, but different days. I’ve been using the Hawaii time zone and subtracting an hour, but now I have to subtract an hour and add a day.
  • I am told they have cheap WiMax broadband around Tonga. If so, I’m impressed.
  • I see no evidence of the riots that happened last year. There are a bunch of empty lots around town however. I wonder if they just demolished what couldn’t be fixed.
  • Go and look at the flags for Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cook Islands, and other former British Colonies. They all have the Union Jack in the upper left corner where we have the stars. On that basis, you’d think that Tonga was a former Swiss Colony.
  • Tonga was the only place in the Pacific that wasn’t colonized.
  • This is the first atoll I’ve been on since my trip started.