Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 18-19, 2012 – Port Vila, Vanuatu & a last day at sea enroute to Lautoka, Fiji


Nov 18, 2012 – Sunday – Port Vila, Vanuatu

I slept in until a bit after 8AM this morning…a first on this trip, where I have been waking anywhere from 5-6AM most mornings. After my usual cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry for breakfast at La Palette, on the stern deck 8, I call home to check in, since there is a good cellular signal here in Port Vila.

My last excursion for this cruise is called “Semi-submersible and snorkel”, a short 1.5 hours long starting mid-morning. I’m expecting it to be similar to the excursion I took from Port Vila two years ago while aboard the Volendam, where we motored out to the far side of Iririki Island, which is in the middle of Port Vila’s rather large harbour. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. We even left from the same dock as before, and the same larger sailboat used for my previous excursion was tied up when we returned to the dock.

The “semi-submersible” we are on is basically a small boat with a small chamber welded to the bottom equipped with windows and seats.  Everyone crowds down there for the first part of the excursion, while the crew show us coral formations, fish, and other underwater life. This is ideal for taking underwater photos while remaining dry.  The second part of the excursion is what I came for: snorkeling.  I am one of the first to jump off the boat and swim around observing the fish and taking photos of all the underwater life.  As with my excursion two years ago, the crew feed the fish bread, so they are tame, and swarm around the food morsels, which gives everyone a great show of fish close up.

After a half hour or so I’m tiring, so I climb back aboard the boat and start to dry off.  One of the crew asks me to give him my camera, so he can dive down a bit deeper to “get some good pictures for your kids”.  After returning to the ship and viewing the photos, he indeed did get some good shots of sea cucumbers, giant clams, and a yellow-black-white striped coral reef fish.  It was a good tour for me, since it wasn’t too long, and I went snorkeling.  My needs are simple.

After returning to the ship and having a late lunch at Le Veranda, I have a late afternoon snooze. Just before we sail away, I measure the following from the top decks of the ship: 27ºC temperature, 20kmh wind speed, and 75% humidity. This is the first day on our cruise where my fellow passengers have complained about the “hot” weather.  All our previous days aboard ship have seen mild temperatures (low 20’s temperatures), and light breezes. There were a few light rain showers today, but it was indeed hot and humid.

There is a huge four-masted sailboat named Phocea anchored in the harbour. I heard a story that the Australian owner of the boat was arrested and thrown in jail in Vanuatu for attempting to smuggle drugs and arms into the country. I wonder if the story is true?

Dinner in L’Etoile this evening is most enjoyable. The older couple from San Francisco is always interesting, since they are well-traveled, Democrats, and they both have a dry sense of humour. The younger couple from Atlanta, John & Julie are both very friendly.  John is a software developer, so we have IT-related stuff we can talk about.  Doug (a dedicated eclipse chaser) joins us for dinner, and always had something to contribute to the conversation. An older woman from San Francisco was also at the table, and she and I shared the fact we both love terriers, and she told me she once raised 26 terriers at the same time! I shared that we have two one-year-old Jack Russell Terriers.

Nov 19, 2012 – Monday – at sea, enroute to Lautoka, Fiji

I slept in until a bit after 8AM this morning – a record!  I’m starting to feel better, after having been dogged with a nasty throat infection for the whole trip.  I went to see the ship’s doctor a few days ago, and the antibiotic he prescribed is obviously making progress.

11AM - “Island Biogeography” by Ethan Daniels. I tried listening to this talk, but as usual, Ethan was going into too much detail, so I left after only being there for a few minutes.

I had lunch today in Le Grill, which is noisy so I normally avoid it, but I wanted to sit with the older woman (from San Francisco) who I had dinner with last night, and who raised all the terriers.  We had a good talk, and I found out she was a geologist for US Geological Service, so she has traveled a great deal with her former job. The other older couple (from San Francisco) were also at the same table, so I enjoyed myself despite the noise.

I sorted out my need for an early departure from the ship tomorrow morning with the Travel Concierge. I have a 10AM seaplane flight to catch to Blue Lagoon Resort, and the ship will not dock until about 8AM tomorrow morning. The Travel Concierge advised me to not tag my bag and keep it in my room, then roll it down the gangway in the morning.  They also signed me up for an early taxi, so I have done all I can to get to my 10AM Turtle Airways seaplane departure

2PM - “Observing and Understanding the Sun, Inside & Out” by Holly Gilbert (NASA/Goddard) was a good enrichment talk.  She discussed comets, space missions launched to observe the Sun, as well as ground-based telescopes she has used in her research.  On a personal note, this was her first time observing a total eclipse, so she took some good-natured ribbing from the audience about losing her “eclipse virginity”.

4PM – “Eclipse Slide & Video Show” by Rick Feinberg was packed, as I expected.  Rick showed my photos and video, however there were many people who got much better results than mine.  Rick also featured the temperature measurements taken during the eclipse, so I was happy about that. The slideshow will be made available on the TravelQuest website for download in a few week’s time.

5:30PM – Farewell Party – Captain Toni and his crew and staff attended this traditional ending to cruises.  The band played, drinks were served, and everyone stood around and talked, just like a good, old-fashioned cocktail party. I left after a half hour because of the crowds and the noise.

I had one last dinner at L’Etoile, but didn’t luck out for my final dinner guests.  There were two older American guys there with their wives who were determined to see who had worked on the best defense job back home.  They both looked over the hill to me, so I just talked with the other passengers and their wives.  One couple are going to stay in a resort on Beqa for a week. I told them it was a great place to snorkel and relax, sharing my experience from being there in 2004. I didn’t tell them about the hot, humid weather…they will find out soon enough!

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