Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hello from Prescott, IA

Hello from Prescott, IA

Thursday afternoon  May 30, 2013   (Sixth travelogue of this trip).

I decided to make this the post a part of original Blytheville travelogue, since our bus thinks it is still on the same trip {grin}.  To recap previous posts in our blog, we arrived in Prescott on April 11 and will be leaving tomorrow.  That means that the bus has been here 49 days!  However, there has been a lot of water under the bridge between when we first got here and today.  After we arrived we stayed 2 days and then went back to Denver so that I could teach a class.  Shortly after that we went on the trip to Fiji that Pat earned.  We returned to Prescott on 5/20.  Pat stayed here and I flew to Seattle last week (that trip was documented in a separate travelogue).  A special thanks to Jeanne and Bill for being such special hosts and allowing us to park the bus for such a long time.

Speaking of water under the bridge (I chose that phrase knowing that I could transition into this discussion), there is literally a LOT of water under the bridges here in Iowa.  Almost every day that we have been here the second time it has rained – sometimes very heavily.  Indeed, today all of Iowa is under a flash flood warning.  There have been a few tornado watches during our stay – fortunately nothing developed in the area.

Bill was able to get the corn planted in April and got most of the beans in while I was in Seattle.  That is a good thing, since the fields are saturated and have standing water (see photo).  Worse yet, there is rain in the forecast for a few more days.  Last year there was a terrible drought in the mid-west, so the folks back here are not complaining too much.

Water in the fields - lots of rain in IA

Pat and Jeanne put flowers at most of the cemeteries while I was gone.  We have been able to visit most of the relatives.  The rest of the time, we have relaxed and ate way too much food.  While I was gone, Pat and the relatives went to a casino in Osceola, IA.

I arranged to have the drive axle tires on the bus replaced while we were in the area and had some metal parts for the IHC truck project fabricated by a company that has done several projects for me in the past.  I really try to do business with companies back here.  They have a good attitude and the prices are more than competitive with Denver prices.  Indeed, the metal fabrication work I have done at Brown Bear is far less expensive and they usually have the parts done in a day or two.

As noted above, we will head home tomorrow.  We make the trip in two days. 

That is all for now.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hello from Kent, WA

Hello from Kent, WA

Thursday morning   May 23, 2013   (First travelogue of this trip).

Wow, a lot has happened since we left Fiji.  I will discuss this trip in a minute,  but let's catch up on things.

We left the hotel in Fiji at 6:00 PM on Tuesday which was midnight Monday evening in Denver time.  We arrived at the house at midnight Tuesday.  In other words, we traveled 24 hours to get home.  The Fiji to LA flight was a bit less than 11 hours.  As was the case going over, it was terribly crowded and this time we did not sleep as well. 

I also wanted to talk about food prices in Fiji.  At both the hotel restaurants and at the marina, the food prices were outrageous.  A hamburger and fries were about $40 Fiji (about $22 US).  SU gave Pat a check for a bit over $500 for food and we probably came out about even.  We always ate a large breakfast and then skimped on lunch (often splitting a sandwich).  For dinner we often split the dinner and ordered extra fries.  Dinners in the main restaurant started at $90 Fiji (about $50 US)!  Even with the high cost of food, we certainly did not starve!

While the sleep/awake cycles were not all that different, we really had problems with jet lag after we got home.  To top it off, Pat picked up some sort of bug that had her system pretty messed up for a few days.  We are back to “normal” now – whatever that is {grin}.

We spent a week catching up on sleep and family events.  We celebrated both Mother's day and Easter on the same day, since we were out of town for Easter.  It was a ton of fun, as the whole family got together – even the college boys.

Sunday (5/19) we left Denver and drove to Prescott, IA in the PT Cruiser.  You may recall that we left the bus in Iowa and drove home so that I could teach a class and we could fly to Fiji.   We wanted to be in Iowa for Memorial day, so it made sense to drive the car back and forth and leave the bus there.

Wednesday, I flew from Des Moines to Seattle (via Denver) and I am staying at a Holiday Inn in Kent Washington (map).  I am here as a part of my NTT “employment”.  NTT has a large contract to do training for Boeing.  I have been selected to present several classes over the next few months.  This trip is to “audit” a shaft alignment course.  This is my cross training so that I can present the class in a few weeks.  NTT is designing several new courses for both Boeing and the public.  I have been asked to become a member of the team that will teach these classes.  As I have said before, that is a mixed blessing.  I love to do the teaching, and the money is great – but travel by plane is just plain not fun.

That is all for now.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hello from the Los Angeles airport

Hello from the  Los Angeles airport

Tuesday afternoon May 7, 2013  USA time (seventh  travelogue of this trip).

Depending on how you look at it, this is our second Tuesday or a very long Tuesday (recall that we lost Sunday on the trip to Fiji).

We tried to watch TV in Fiji, but there was nothing that we were interested in.  We thought that they might have some news channel that would give world news.  If they did, we did not find it.  Given that we did not have TV in the bus and now in Fiji, we have almost been able to wean ourselves from TV {yeah right!}.  I have been able to catch up a little on the news via Denver paper and TV apps on the iPhone.

The internet in Fiji was interesting.  They gave you 30 minutes a day on each apparatus (computer, iPhone, Kindle, etc).  Sounds like enough, but it takes about 15 minutes to get a blog post made, even though I prepare the text in advance.  I have to insert the hyperlinks and upload the photos and then do a couple of other things before I can finish the post.  Worse yet, the 30 minute free connection has a rather small bandwidth limit and the last two days I have been kicked off after about 10 minutes.  I think good old Windows or some other software package has been downloading updates. They offer packages of 2 hours and all day.  The two hour package is $13 Fiji dollars (about $7 US) which doesn't sound too bad.  However, they also have a fairly small bandwidth limit in the two hours and if you exceed the limit, they throttle you down to about dial-up speed unless you pay more money.  I like to do some research for the blog, and it has been frustrating to get that done with their system.  On the positive side, it keeps me from spending too much time on the computer {grin}.

The flight from Fiji was about 10 and a half hours.  Again, I slept some of the time, but not as much as on the way over.  Pat had a restless night.  It was terribly crowded and not at all comfortable, but we survived.  Clearing customs was another fun event.  We landed a bit after noon and that must be the “rush Hour” for international flights.  It was a madhouse.  Between clearing customs and picking up our bags, we were there for almost 2 hours.  We then had to transfer our bags from the International terminal to the Southwest terminal.  There is a shuttle bus and it was not a huge deal.  We now have about 3 hours before our flight leaves.  Time to catch up on the Internet and relax.

That is all for now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 6

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 6

Blog posted:  Tuesday morning  May 7, 2013  Fiji time (sixth travelogue of this trip).

Now that the majority of the SU folks have left, there have been significant changes at the resort.  For one thing, it is a lot quieter {grin}.  SU ladies are always enthusiastic and they tend to get excited and just keep talking louder and louder. 

Next, the breakfast lines are much more manageable.  With the SU folks they all tended to go to breakfast about the same time and that overwhelmed the resources of the restaurant.  There was always a long line at the omelet bar  and often the coffee was not ready {grrrrrrr}.  The last two days have been great and much more relaxing in the breakfast area (see photo).

Looking out of the breakfast room

Lastly, the population at the resort has changed drastically,  There are lots of kids – mostly well behaved.  It also appears that there are many folks from Australia and New Zealand.  We talked to one couple and the feeling we got is that Fiji is a great “holiday” (vacation) destination.  It is only a four hour flight.  The interesting thing we noted is that the folks from Australia/New Zealand walk on the left side of the walkways – same side as they drive on.  So far we have avoided any head on collisions {grin}.

Almost all of the public areas have huge open “windows”.  Most do have windows, but they are never closed.  There are lots of birds that fly in and out of the areas.  This is especially true of the breakfast area.  As soon as someone leaves, they swoop in and pick up some of the food.  The seem to be “potty trained” as we never see any signs that they have been in the public areas. 

We have been eating our dinner at what is called the Salt restaurant/bar.  Each night we have gotten a table right by the wall that overlooks the Pacific.  We try to time it to arrive a bit before sunset (early here – about 6:00).  At the SU dinner, several folks noted that they saw large bats flying around.  Well, Sunday night, at the Salt,  we sat under a large palm tree that was the landing spot for one of those bats.  The wingspan was huge. I think about 1.5 feet and Pat said about 3 feet.  In any case it can get your attention.  Thankfully, it did not seem to want to share our dinner.  There are two types of bats in Fiji (said to be the original native mammals). They have the normal insect eating bats – presumably like we have in the US.   The other variety  is called the monkey-face fruit bat, or “flying fox” (called beka by the Fijians).

We made the decision to just relax for these last few days.  The tours that were available just did not jump out as being something we had to do.  We got to see a lot of this island on our river safari tour.  In addition, the weather has been great, but a bit hot.  It is much more fun to relax in one of the open air public areas.  The breeze in these areas keeps it cool and we get to do a lot of people watching.

We did walk on the beach Monday morning.  The sand is not all that great, and the water is a bit murky.  That said, it was still fun to collect shells.  We even got to see some snails that had just washed up on the beach and were “scurrying” around  trying to find a shell to hide in.

As I have said many times, I look for things that “normal” people do not.  I noted that most of the internet for small businesses and homes is from satellites.  I got to thinking about what direction they would be pointing.  Most TV, Internet, and communication  satellites are in what is called geo-synchronous orbit over the equator.  In the US, our satellite dishes are pointed in a generally southern direction.  Since we are over 17 degrees south of the equator, I assumed that the dishes would be pointing north.  So I got out my trusty iPhone with the compass app and walked down to the marina area where I had noted several dishes.  Sure enough, they were pointed in a northerly direction.

Today is our last day.  We get the use of the room until 5:00 PM and then a bus takes the SU folks to the airport for a 10:00PM flight.

That is all for now.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 5

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 5

Blog posted:  Sunday morning  May 5, 2013  Fiji time (Fifth travelogue of this trip).

I will try to continue to catch up on the details/events of this trip.

When we visit remote island destinations (Hawaii, Bermuda, Fiji, etc.) I am always amazed at the logistics of providing basic necessities for the population.  For example, none of those areas have petroleum resources – oil products must be shipped in.  There is also the issue of energy to produce electricity.  In the case of the main island of Fiji, about half the electrical power comes from Monasavu hydro electric dam.  The rest uses diesel fuel.  I was a bit surprised that fuel was said to be $2.35 Fiji dollars per liter which work out to about $4.90 per gallon.  I suspect the government has a very low tax on the fuel and may even subsidize part of the cost.

In a previous post I talked about the Kava ritual at the village we visited.  As I looked through our Fiji book, I found that it is called the Yaqona Ceremony (info here).  If you looked closely at the pictures I posted, you might have seen that we had white baby power on our cheeks and fresh leis that were presented by our hosts.  The baby powder apparently represents the innocence of children (did not completely understand the explanation).

Thursday we had signed up to be volunteers at the local hospital.  Pat did not feel good that morning, so we had to say at the resort.  The group that went was huge and they did a great deal of work on the hospital (exterior painting, gardening), etc).

I did my dives on Friday.  I am frustrated with the logistics/results of the dive.  The boat was very small, and we had 8 people on board (two extra people for a demonstration dive - suspect the boat was overloaded).  The ride from the resort to the dive area (map) was about 40 minutes.  After our first dive, we had to remove our BCDs and tread water for several minutes while they installed new tanks on the BCDs (no room for them to work in the boat with us on board).  Then, entering the boat was extremely difficult, as it was rocking and the steps were very  small rungs on either side of a center support (easy for your feet to slip off).  There was nothing to grab onto to get into the boat.

The first dive went pretty well.  We saw a lot of fish and a rather large sea turtle.  The water was not as clear as I expected, and the coral was a bit less than what the books describe.  The second dive was a disaster for me.  As soon as I got in the water, I knew I had an air leak (I could hear it).  I flagged the dive master and he said there was no problem.  I watched in frustration as my air gauge dropped like a rock.  About 20 minutes into a planned 40 minute dive, I was almost out of air.  The dive master hooked me up to his buddy breathing apparatus and we continued on, but it was very clumsy to be tethered to the dive master.  We ended up surfacing about 12 minutes early.  The dive master was adamant that I had done something to use all my air quickly.  That caused the other divers to be uptight that they, too, had to surface early – likely blaming me.  It did not help that the other three divers were macho men who had a lot of experience and were very stuck on themselves.  I tend to use slightly  more air than really proficient divers, but no where near what I used on that dive.  So, what should have been a great experience turned into big disappointment.

Friday night was an amazing dinner prepared for the Stampin' Up! attendees.   It was held on the lawn and had great entertainment including very talented fire dancers, and a great children's choir.  The food was great, and the deserts even better.  We sat at a table with folks that were very congenial.  We enjoyed great conversations and the weather could not have been better.

The actual event ended Saturday with many people departing in the late afternoon.  We, along with several others are staying an extra three days and will depart Tuesday.  I believe that they said that there were about 200 demonstrators that made this trip and about 450 people total with spouses/friends and SU staff.

That is all for now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 4

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 4

Blog posted:  Thursday Morning   May 2, 2013  Fiji time (Fourth travelogue of this trip).

There is so much to write about in order to capture some of the details of the trip.  I wanted to catch up on a few details.
Sigatoka has had many major floods over the years.  When I talked to the Chief, I asked him when the village was built.  He said 1964 and it was built to replace the village that was wiped out in a flood.  In 2009 they had a major flood that destroyed the bridge to Sigatoka.  Last year they had a flood that wiped out about 80% of the crop just as it was ready to harvest.

Like many of the places we have visited over the years, Fiji has a huge contrast in the economic status of the citizens.  We are actually in an area called Denarau.  It has several upscale resorts and a residential area called the Cove.  In the Cove, the houses are huge and there are small yachts docked at the homes.  About 10 miles from here in the actual town of Nadi, the businesses are very much like those in Mexican border towns.

Once you get into the rural communities, the living accommodations are very primitive.  In many cases the kids have to wade or swim a major river to get to school.  It appears that many of the people in these areas are small farmers who work the fields using horses or cattle to pull the implements.

That said, many/most of the people of Fiji that we interacted with seem to be very happy.  I always try to gauge how sincere the friendly attitude really is, but it does appear that they are welcoming people.  All of the guides are very outgoing and have a great sense of humor. 

The tour had told us that all of us must remove our hats when in the village.  In addition the women had been advised to wear “modest” clothes.  When we got to  Sigatoka The women were given sarongs to wear in the village (see photo).

The kids in the village seemed to be happy and liked to interact with the visitors.  I fell in love with one little boy who seemed to be very inquisitive about us.  He was visiting with his grandfather (who was a major participant in the “ritual”).  The boy was very shy, but when I put my hand out for a “high five” he lit up (see my friend in the photo).

Pat, the Chief, Jim and Jim's friend

While English is one of two major languages (was one of the British Colonies at one time), it seems that most of the population speak the other major language: Fijian.  When we were on our tour, we found it hard to communicate with the people of the village. 

Fiji's major agricultural product was, at one time, sugar cane.  Today, sugar cane is still grown on small farms (one estimate suggests about 22,000 small farms) and there are four sugar mills still operating.  They are outdated and are said to be unprofitable.  In spite of the decline in the sugar industry, they still export about 250 thousand tons each year and 45,000 people are employed directly or indirectly by the industry.  The cane is shipped to the mills on very old narrow-gauge trains.

It appears that the rest of the agricultural industry produces crops for local consumption.  That includes a huge variety of fruits and vegetables.  We saw a few cows, but it would not appear to be enough to support the necessary meat supply for a population that is a bit less than one million.  We did see lots of chickens and that seems to be a big part of the diet.

Fiji is also a major exporter of hardwoods – primarily mahogany.  The British planted the mahogany trees in the '50s and they are now mature.  Commercial fishing is also an important industry.

One phrase you hear all of the time is “Fiji Time”.  The information source I cited in the last post makes the tongue-in-cheek observation that maybe the slow life style is partly a result of the consumption of Kava.  In any case, the country does, indeed, operate on Fiji Time.  The generalization is that Fijians are relaxed and don't seem to have an urgency to operate by the clock.

I have so much to say, but:  That is all for now.

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 3

Hello from Nadi, Fiji – Part 3

Blog posted:  Wednesday Evening   May 1, 2013  Fiji time (Third travelogue of this trip).

I forgot to mention working on my dive watch.  In one of the earlier posts, I mentioned getting the tool to remove the bezel of the watch so that I could replace the battery and O-ring.  Well, things are never as easy as they might seem – especially for me {grin}.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not hold the watch and remove the bezel.  I found some maintenance folks and tried to convey to them what I wanted to do.  Finally, I got the point across that I needed a vise.  They took me to the maintenance shop and allowed me to use their equipment.  That did the trick.  Replacing the battery would not be intuitive, but I had downloaded the instructions off the internet.  All went well.  The test will be when I dive Friday and, hopefully, the watch will be sealed.

Prior to leaving on this trip, I converted two PADI diving course videos to DVD.  It has been a couple of years since I last dived, I used the DVDs to help me recall all the important techniques that must be followed to make a safe dive.  Hopefully, I am good to go.

Now for the fun part of this travelogue.  Today we took the Sigatoka River Safari tour (information).  What an absolute fantastic tour it was.  We drove from our hotel to Sigatoka, Fiji (about 45 miles).  This was a very scenic drive.  At Sigatoka (map), we checked in and signed the waiver.  We then drove about 20 miles on a gravel road to our boat dock.  The boats had two engines.  I am not sure what kind of engines they were (boats built in New Zealand), but they were very “throaty”.  Once the boat got on plane, they really went fast.  The “captain” put the boat into several drifts going around the bends in the river.  On the way back he did several 360 “turns” in the river and got all of us quite wet.  It was a ton of fun.

The boats took us to a rather remote village (map).  (Note:  I had to do some searching, but I am pretty sure this is the village – you may have to zoom in).  The village has about 200 people living there.  They welcomed us will a full “ritual”.  The best part of the ritual is that I was the visiting “Chief” (via my elderly status).  I got to sit with the village chief and be served the first cup of Kava.  We were then served a great meat, consisting of all kinds of food (fruit, vegetables, meat, etc) raised by the members of the village.

 On our way to village

Jim and the Chief

Our meal in the village

I was not sure what to expect when drinking the Kava.  It is supposed to knock you on your tail.  I had thought it was a liquor of some sort.  Then I had been told that is was a mild narcotic.  I had two cups and did not feel any effect.  I did a bit of searching and found a great blog post on Kava (here).

That is all for now.