Excerpts From A Past Travelogue: South Pacific, 2008

Before starting my travel blog, I used to send travelogues of my journeys by e-mail to my friends and family.  I saved some of those e-mails as a travel journal to look back on, so I thought I would share some of those with you.

In 2008, my mom and I taught arts and crafts to passengers aboard the Sapphire Princess, during a 32 day cruise, from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles.  Returning to that part of the world always brings back wonderful memories of my one year backpacking adventure to the same area, back in 1984.

Here are a few excerpts of one of my return trips to my favorite part of the world:

On Australia:

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Wow, Melbourne sure has grown along the river since we were last here in 2000. We escorted a tour that included a cruise on the Yarra River and we were amazed at all the construction. Huge cranes and huge buildings under construction make up the landscape further down the river!

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Australia is booming; especially Sydney and Melbourne. As our economy heads into the tank, Australia is headed in the opposite direction. Interest rates have been going skyward, increasing several times over the past couple of years. Currently, they are at 8%.

Inflation is heading up, as well. So many people on the ship complained how expensive it was in Sydney! I had to pay $7 for a bowl of muesli and yogurt for breakfast at non-descript cafe while I was there. Apples were $3.77 per kilo (2.2 lbs) at the market.

Pay has increased though. I heard the average salary is $65,000/ year. Waiters make $20/hour; much more than the $8/hr I earned waitressing and bartending in Sydney and Tasmania, in 1984.

Sydney was as wonderful as ever, though. We had a spectacular sailaway with the bridge behind us and the Opera House ahead of us as we headed out of the port. Since we sailed at night, everything was lit up so beautifully. The skyline was really amazing. I got some terrific photos before the ship sailed, too!

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So, back onboard ship…

HOW SMALL IS IT??? Our bathroom is so small, you can sit on the toilet and reach over to turn the water on with one hand and the shower on with the other- at the same time! But, really, except for having to climb the ladder up to the top bunk (and climb down in the middle of the night to use the toilet), it’s not that bad. We do have portholes, so we get natural light in our cabin and a great view out to sea! And, the storage is actually pretty good, because it’s an officers cabin. All of our crafts supplies got stored with room left over!!! By the way, my suitcase weighed exactly 50 lbs. How lucky was that?  It was full with craft supplies, so guess what will fill up the suitcase on the way home? New Zealand Cadbury Chocolate!!!

As for service in our cabin, we have a room steward who comes in once each day, but only for making the bed and replacing towels, etc. I have become a cart thief to scrounge up lotions, shampoo, and- pillow chocolates!

It’s funny to see the look on the faces of the crew when they see my 80 year old mom strolling to and from our cabin. They think she took a wrong turn and is lost! We are having a good laugh! Our trips to the crew office for tour escort tickets and other business REALLY draw stares!

On New Zealand:

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Milford Sound

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A few quick notes about New Zealand that I didn’t add to my last e-mail:I jotted down some food prices at the grocery store, after I nailed the motherlode of Cadbury Chocolate.
How’s this for expensive? Keep in mind these prices are in New Zealand dollars; $1 = NZ $1.25:
Loaf of wheat bread- $4.49
Box of All Bran cereal- $6.17
Peanut butter (store brand)- $2.19
Boneless chicken breasts- $19.99kg (2.2 lbs)
Salmon $28.99 kg
Tomatoes $5.98 kg

That’s just a sampling…

Our day in Auckland, New Zealand was really enjoyable. Getting on the Link (local bus that does a circle around the city) for NZ $1.60 was the perfect way to spend an hour, because it gave me the opportunity to see how the city has grown and changed over the years. We got off several blocks short of the city center, so we could walk in and take in the sights, as well as do some photography.  Auckland has a Sky Tower, much like the Space Needle in Seattle. For around $100, you can now do a “Sky Jump”; a controlled jump off the top in a contraption that stops you just before you hit ground. Yikes! Needless to say, I didn’t do it; I only photographed it…

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Next, Mom and I were on a quest for Tip Top ice cream. Now, I hardly ever eat ice cream back in the States, but Tip Top is the BEST! Since I couldn’t decide between the Hokey Pokey (vanilla with bits of butter brickle or whatever that candy is called) and Boysenberry (vanilla swirled with boysenberry), I opted for a double scoop! I HAD to have Hokey Pokey, the local favorite! And, the boysenberry is to die for. Needless to say, I enjoyed every lick…

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After a lot of walking around the city center, we still had time to hit up a local pub for some New Zealand beer on tap. I know, I know…   Ice cream and beer isn’t exactly the healthiest “lunch”, but that’s exactly what we did. For those who know my eating habits at home, you know that’s a switch! So, I settled on a Speight’s on tap at “The Muddy Farmer”; a local beer brewed in Dunedin, the port we had to miss due to bad weather. Ahhhhhh…

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A good day was had by all! And, it was a sad goodbye to New Zealand as we headed for Fiji…

On Fiji:

Bula!

Yes, that’s the way Fijians greet one another here. I’m back in Fiji; this time not such a time warp shock, since I was here last September.

Today, my mom and I escorted a tour to the Arts Village. Although we were on separate buses, we were able to meet up there and enjoy the cultural show of firewalking and traditional Fijian dance and song. The show was excellent and the drive out to the village and back was scenic.

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As many of you know, I spent 11/2 months here back in 1984, as part of my one-year trek around the South Pacific. Coming back, again, brought back great memories…

A few notes on Fiji:

Houses cost $80,000 – $130,000 for the nicer ones. Salaries are only $80-90 per week. Education is not compulsary and it is not paid by the government. But, healthcare and dental care is. Income taxes are 9% and locals also pay a “value added tax” of 12%. There is a 22% unemployment rate and crime is high. Native Fijians commit the most robberies and drug use crimes, however, the Indians (brought in from East India to work the sugar cane fields in 1874) commit the most murders.

Quick grocery store price: All Bran cereal cost Fijian $8.28. I’m not sure of the conversion rate, but I believe $10 would get you around $14 in their currency.

On American Samoa:

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Here is some interesting political scoop: In American Samoa, the citizens were not able to vote directly in the primaries. Instead, the Congressman representing them voted on behalf of his constituents. He voted for Barack Obama, by the way…

American Samoa is very beautiful and lush, the people very friendly. It was the only place where every single kid (school just let out for the day and the kids were walking home from school) waved and smiled as our bus passed them. Everybody is so friendly there and the kids seem so happy. There is no poverty in American Samoa and nobody goes hungry, because of the wonderful food growing on the island. Nobody is rich, but nobody is homeless. And, families really stick together there, living on the same piece of land. They bury their family members on their land, too, because of their tremendous respect for their elders and extended family.

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On Raratonga, Cook Islands:

Our next port was one I fully expected to miss, so I didn’t tell any of you we would be going there: Raratonga, Cook Islands. I was sooooo disappointed the ship missed it last September, because I wanted to see it after spending three weeks there in 1984, as part of my S. Pacific adventure. Little did I know, the ship misses the tender port 90% of the time, due to rough conditions (the ship has to tender on the windward side of the island). In addition, the coral reefs make it difficult for the ship to navigate in close enough to tender and they can’t anchor. Instead, they must use the ship’s thrusters to keep the ship in one place- off of the reefs.

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Now, knowing all that ( I didn’t know all this prior to the Regal Princess missing Raratonga last September), OF COURSE I wasn’t expecting to make it there this time! But, amazingly enough, we woke up that morning, looked out the portholes to calm seas and screamed, “Yahooooo!” And, it sure was well worth it! We escorted a fantastic tour to a village high up in the mountains, overlooking the island and ocean below. The gardens were beautiful up there and we received a wonderful tour full of interesting history from one of the locals. That was followed by a surprise (it wasn’t in the tour description) “snack” of local foods, as well as a dance performance (this was in the description). This snack was a full-blown lunch, by the time all the food came out for this sit-down feast! We enjoyed Taro leaves that tasted similar to cooked spinach, chicken, native fruits, and their version of french fries, made from taro root, arrow root, and breadfruit- all incredibly delicious! We really, REALLY enjoyed it all!

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I got talking with one of the dancers who was from Aitutaki, one of the smaller Cook Islands I visited. Back in 1984, there was only one small resort and some small guest houses. It was VERY remote and NOT touristy at all. I learned that Mama Tanui’s Guesthouse has since been dosed to make way for a large hotel. Evidently, Aitutaki has grown up over the years…

After returning to port, we popped into the grocery store for a price check. They use the New Zealand Dollar. US$1 = NZ$1.25: Cereal $7, apples $3.90kg, tomatoes 12.60kg, chicken thigh filets, 13.90kg.

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On Bora Bora and Papeete, Tahiti:

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Next port: Bora Bora, another lush beautiful island similar in topography to American Samoa and Raratonga. Mom and I escorted the same tour we took last September, so nothing new to report there. It was a wonderful day, though!

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Onward ho to Papeete, Tahiti. Fortunately, we got to escort the full day tour complete with an outrageous lunch buffet. We were able to see the entire island and sample more native foods that we thoroughly enjoyed. Most memorable? The marinated raw tuna (oh my, oh my!!!) and the Poe Banane- banana marinated in coconut milk and sugar; decadent!
What a great day!!!

By the way, Papeete is VERY expensive. Homes all cost over $500,000 and a 1 bedroom apt costs $1,700 to rent.

Tahiti is one of the richest islands in the Pacific; France gives $7,000 to each person every year. They have excellent healthcare and retirement benefits. The state even pays to send their residents overseas for major surgeries or medical procedures, if it can’t be done locally. Minimum wage in Tahiti is $1,800/month.

 

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Scenes from Honolulu:

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Hilo, our final port:

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