NEW Caledonia

I’m at the Nadi, Fiji airport and about to leave for New Caledonia.

I’m glad I spent the last two days in Fiji. If I hadn’t, my opinion of Fiji would have only been shaped by Nadi, which honestly, is a shithole. Suva and Lukaota are much nicer cities.

I got my Kiribati visa and some books to read, so my mini Fiji mission has been accomplished.

Suva Monday

My visa application at the Kiribati embassy went smoothly. I got it done in under one hour. Believe it not, it was the first visa I’ve applied for. (I decided to not apply to China in Samoa. I’m going to apply when I’m closer to China and know my itinerary better.)

I visited the University of the South Pacific where, according to my guidebook, is the best bookstore in the South Pacific. Sadly, that isn’t saying much. I got a book on cargo cults and the James Mitchner Novel “Tales of the South Pacific”.

I’m going to upload a few more photos while I have the bandwidth, then its a three hour drive back to Nadi tonight. Tomorrow morning I’m off to New Caledonia and Francophone land.

Back to Fiji II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…..