Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cruising Through Troubled Waters

Our cruise is doing well on one level, and yet it has been surreal being in the narrow world of our cruise ship while the world economy has been going south even faster than we have.

It started turning weird of course when the R's killed the $700,000 bailout two weeks ago. At 75 cents a minute for onboard internet, we weren't about to do what we otherwise would have, found out which idiots in Washington had voted against it and sent off impassioned emails. At the time it was also frustrating to have only one source of tv news, CNN. Now that seems like a paradise of news coverage. The day that Congress saw the light, lights went out on our CNN coverage as we sailed out of Hawaii (we will supposedly get tv coverage again tomorrow after 10 days without). It was a beautiful departure from Lahaina after sunset on shore, but ahead of us were 5 days at sea with only the daily 8-page email edition of the N Y Times. With the time difference, that meant that we would be reading about yesterday's 600-point stock market drop about an hour before the markets were closing for today, with no idea what was now happening. Under the circumstances, grim humor was the order of the day aboard ship.

There has been one ray of hope, however. Producer nations have seen their currencies tank even faster than the US's, and the Australian dollar has gone from 83 cents to 63 cents to the US dollar since we set sail 20 days ago! While we don't have today's NZ dollar rate, we understand it has been declining at much the same rate. In short, while we have less money waiting for us at home,thanks to the wonderful policies of the free market "greed is good, regulation is bad" politicians, the cruise was paid for months ago with pre-crash dollars, and NZ will be paid for in the coming months with kiwi and aussie dollars that are going to go a long ways further than we had expected. Small comfort, but something.

With no CNN (or ESPN or Discovery Channel either, as if it made a difference), we have had lots of time to explore the boat and enjoy what it has to offer. We have had far less time to read than we expected, what with leisurely meals (and this dessert extravaganza one night) and one or two informative lectures a day from emeritus faculty of history, biology and sociology about the South Pacific nations we're sailing through, plus an hour each sea day in the gym keeping our cycling muscles in shape.

After five days and six nights of sailing at 18-20 mph, in short over 2,000 miles, we made it from Hawaii to American Samoa, specifically to Pago Pago (pronounced 'pongo pongo'), one of the most stunning ports anywhere! The ship librarian had picked up a guidebook to Samoa in Hawaii, and it recommended a hike in American Samoa National Park up a jeep track to the radio tower. If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you can just make the tower out atop the mountain across the harbor from where we are docked (hit the back button to return to the blog) Another couple from BC joined us, Neil and Esther, and we experienced bus riding Samoan style up to Fagasa Pass, where we paid our $1.50 fare and started hiking another 1200' or so to the 1600' summit of Mt. Alava. It was everything a jungle adventure should be: steep ultra-green mountains rising out of an azure sea, with this view along the way to the small village of Fagasa, parrots chattering, geckos scurrying across the trail, and a gorgeous pure-white bird with a two-foot-long tail sailing along on the updrafts. And at the radio tower/summit, what a view!!! That's the route up, starting from the pass on the extreme left, then Rainmaker Mt. to the left side of the harbor, and our boat looking like a toy on the right side of the harbor, with a beach we later checked out just beyond it.

We ended up walking 18 miles, including a sortie that night by Jeff to check internet, when he got this shot of our boat, and were pretty much beat by the end of the day. Oh, but what a day!

Overnight our boat went 80 miles to Samoa, where we tied up in Apia, a city of 40,000. For 10 Samoan tala, about $4, we got a taxi ride 3 miles out of town to Vailima,

the home Robert Louis Stevenson built for himself and his family when tuberculosis sent him looking for someplace healthier than Scotland. He spent his last 5 years here, dying in 1894 at the age of 44, and was buried at the top of Mt. Vaea, which looks down on Vailima. We hiked up to this one as well, an hour up and an hour down through another jungle, this time with another passenger from our boat, Linda. Alas, the camera chip malfunctioned at the top, so we cannot share this second spectacular view with you. A taxi ride back down the hill brought us to a camera store where we bought a new SD card at about twice what the last one cost in the US of A, but it put us back in the picture-taking business, and so it goes. We walked a bit more around town, catching these views of a public market, street vending, Samoan bus riding, and the quite common sight of a pickup truck with several people riding in back.

Two nights and a day of sailing and we are now in Fiji, our first

melanesian culture, compared to the polynesian islands of Hawaii, the Samoas, and upcoming New Zealand. Melanesia is a part of the world where cannibalism lasted later than almost anywhere else, and they aren't shy about mentioning this part of their culture, though the museum made a point of stating (or is claiming the correct gerund?) that England and France practiced it at some points in their own distant pasts. We had a nice 10-mile hike through Suva, the capital city, with the museum as the highlight, including this painting showing traditional tattooing of a woman, two kinds of traditional boats, and a display of "cannibal forks," used only for human flesh, and implements used from enemies' bones.
Along the shore we also saw some familiar mangrove, and some huge bats, known as flying foxes although they are not foxes.

The harbor was once again beautiful, as you can see,
but tricky to sail into with the coral reef having only a small break where seagoing ships can come and go. Leaving, we had a grand sendoff from this Fijian marching band.

We had a bizarre ceremony the day we crossed the equator, one part of which involved certain crew members who had not previously crossed the line having to kiss the fish, a Hawaiian Ono, then undergo various other humiliations. Yesterday we crossed the 180th meridian. Just before, our captain informed us that "tomorrow will be most interesting, since it will not exist." For simplicity's sake, we moved a day forward at midnight, and skipped October 10 altogether. So much for all years being either 365 or 366 days long, this year will be only 364 for us!

Well, assuming Holland America is still in business on October 24, we will be arriving then in Auckland. We have Vanuatu, two ports in New Caledonia, and three in New Zealand to explore before reaching our destination. We'll probably send you our next update from there. Wishing you all solvency 'til then!

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