Day 14 (Waikiki to Seattle)

Awoke, packed, checked bags, got breakfast on the lanai, picked up a Starbucks, talked with a hotel man about local customs, got a cab to the airport, got checked in and back on our timeline, went to Delta sky lounge and hung out for 20 minutes. Boarded the flight on time and had an easy flight back. Connor completed most of his homework, working straight through apart from dinner. Mommy and Sophia picked us up and brought us home. Shared some stories and gifts and off to bed!

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Day 13 (Fiji, Christmas Islands, Waikiki)

We picked up a day in flight, so we landed on the morning of the 31st. We had one full day left before the flight back to Seattle…..

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Day 12 (Immigration, Dinner and Departure)

Departing at 23:59 from Nadi. Spent several hours working on Visa for Diego and a cruising permit for Fidelis. While still waiting on the bureaucratic fiasco to resolve, Connor and I had an ice cream at a corner milk bar and chatted with a friendly native Fijian couple. Said they have relatives in Seattle, where they make the Boeing jets. We then went around the corner to the bus stop and checked the schedules and checked out the market. Connor found a video store and got all four versions of “The Gods Must be Crazy.” Met the skipper and first mate for coffee at Chilli Tree and then we got fried chicken for lunch over by the theater. Got some rain while walking back to the boat to pack and clean up.

Walked back to town with our bags and picked up a bus to Nadi. Lots of sugar cane fields on the drive down Kings road. Got off south of the airport but the traditional Fijian restaurant we were looking for was no longer in business. We settled for a Thai-Indian place, which was very good. We sat outdoors and I got some crazy bug bites that I thought were from mosquitoes, but much worse itch and redness than those I had received on the boat in Fiji and Tonga, even two days later. Shared a cab back to the airport and said our goodbyes. Connor did some math homework in the airport and we readied ourselves for the long trip. The first hop was packed but a large number of Indonesians got off the plane at the Christmas islands, allowing us to get a good amount of sleep on the flight to Honolulu.

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Day 11 (Lautoka, Fiji – Pizza and a Movie)

Woke up before dawn and motored to the Fijian port of Lautoka, arrived at about 9am local, after having adjusted our time for the one hour difference between Tonga and Fiji. Vince headed off to the harbor to do the customs thing. Went to town and had fish and chips at the Seaview and then a late at the Chilli Tree. Returned to Fidelis to clean up, and then back to Lautoka for a movie. Vince and Diego hadn’t seen Inception, and Connor was happy to oblige. First we had a decent pizza across the street from the theater.

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Day 10 (Surfing and Snorkeling)

Arrived in the early morning at anchorage off of Malolo reef. Had a bit of trouble when we pulled in, scraping the coral sand bottom and nudging a couple of coral heads. Vince did a nice job of getting it under control quickly. Just a little spot of scraped paint on the bottom of the hull.

Took Diego out for surfing on reef on Dob. Got some photos and talked with a Brazilian surfer. Diego wanted to stay and surf so we left him to return in a couple of hours. He got a lift from the Brazilians. Later he was really wanting to go back. He’d been waiting to surf for four months and these are some world class waves.

Connor tried out his repaired snorkel, which worked great. I tried out the compressor-driven diving system on Fidelis. I hadn’t dived since I lived in California, so it was a bit uncomfortable to start. Went down to the bottom at 45’ and got a piece of coral from the anchor dredge. Connor watched me go down using his mask. He was so impressed that I went to the bottom to get something for him he didn’t want to toss it back. Diego took some time to clean the hull.

Later we cleaned up and took showers. Vince played guitar and sang while we watched the sunset. He made a great dinner of fish and chips with tempura ono (barracuda) and fried potatoes, with a salad and a couple of tempura cheese dogs thrown in. Connor gobbled up a dog and the fish. We agreed that soy sauce was better than his usual ketchup or the traditional vinegar. Had a beer to celebrate my second birthday.

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Day 7/8/9 (Three Days Underway)

We spent these three full days at sea. Counting two days at anchorage – one on each end of the crossing – without touching land, we lived on Fidelis for 5 days. Underway Diego, Vince and I each stood watch on an around the clock schedule of three hours on and six hours off.

We had a full moon on first night. Had some night rain and clouds, but generally the weather was good. Partly cloudy, winds 10-20 knots, seas 5-6 feet. We had several periods where the boat would roll quite a bit, when sailing wing and wing (sails out on both sides of the boat) with a beam sea (waves from the side). We got up to 30 degree rolls at times. Made basic things pretty challenging.

It was really dark between sunset and moonrise. We could see so many start it looked like sand along the milky way. When it was dark it was easy to see photo luminescent plankton in the wake. They looked like green fireflies in the water. We picked out constellations and planets. The planets looked larger and rounder than I had seen before. Saw a crazy bright shooting star. On the first night saw the “green flash” while I was at the helm. Diego yelled “flash” right before it happened and I turned my head just in time to see it. In all of my years in the Navy I had never seen it before. Vince had pointed out earlier that it wasn’t actually a flash, and that was the trick to seeing it. The phenomenon is simply a color change in the crest of the sun as it dips below the horizon, and only lasts a second at most. So you you need to know exactly what you’re looking for and when to look. It was really obvious when we saw it though.

We crossed the Prime Meridian on my local birthday (8/28 – but still 8/27 back home), and took a photo with the crew and of the GPS position. The dateline and the Prime Meridian are not coincident in most areas, so in this case the date didn’t change as we crossed. We had crossed the dateline as we flew in from Hawaii.

Connor started to feel better after two days underway. He maintained an exceptionally good attitude, despite being sick and not being able to keep much food down. I gave him a half portion of a seasickness pill, which helped convince him he was over it, and he was fine for the rest of the trip. He really got a taste for fish while underway, and got his fill once he was over the motion sickness.

On the third day caught a great barracuda. We were concerned about eating it because of the chance of ciguatera. We caught it pretty far out so it was likely that it wasn’t feeding on reef fish, which is the risk. Diego tested the meat that night and he didn’t die, so we had it for fish and chips the next night. It tastes like Mahi-Mahi.

The fish catch was a bit of a fiasco. I was at the helm toward the end of my watch when the fish hit. We had been hitless in three days, so we were looking forward to some fresh fish. Vince had me turn the boat into the wind, but as I centered up the rudder with the nose into the wind the boat continued to drift and rotated past upwind; with the poles holding out the boom and genoa the boat kept going and started to back down. Vince told me to start the engine, but I didn’t know how to do that. Diego started it but we didn’t know where to go from there. As the boat backed down the line cutter on the prop shaft cut through a couple of the four lines we had out, and another got wrapped around the rudder. We got the sails down, got the fish aboard, Diego dove down and cleared the lines from the rudder, and we got back to sailing. We had lost the iron-wood decoy that Vince carved and painted, which was kind of a bummer, and some tackle. As he called it – the cost of fishing. We debriefed what went wrong and put it behind us. It sure made me and Diego feel like a couple of knuckleheads.

We had a similar sailing mistake from the helm as we were changing sails. Vince told me to steer it downwind. As I put the wind at our six I let it drift past and forced an uncontrolled jibe. Diego yelled “jibe” and Vince, who was on the other side of the boat ducked the boom just in time. Diego later noted that it would have not been fun to have had Vince over the side on a dark rainy night, possibly unconscious, in the middle of a sail change, with Diego and I running the boat in high winds and fairly rough seas. I thanked him for making that call.

We started passing Fijian islands and saw a cool rainbow coming out of the islands. We read up on some of the gory history of the “Cannibal Isles”. A couple of dolphins came up close to the boat and followed us for a bit. We could smell the vegetation of the islands as we approached. We had a beer for my second birthday, as it was snow 8/28 back home. We still had one more night to make our anchorage, but it started feeling like we were there. We tried some of Vince’s 10 year old MREs, which I had told Connor were actually pretty good. I had a fond memory of them from my detachment to Jordan years ago. Turns out they aren’t very good aside from a few key items, like crackers and peanut butter, and the 10 year age probably didn’t help. Good survival food.

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Day 6 (Tarzan Swing and Departure)

Although we had already spent our first night “offshore” we were anchored just a couple hundred yards off of the tiny island of Pangaimotu.

The crew rigged the whisker pole as a Tarzan swing into the water and we spent the morning practicing dives. Diego took a swim out to the shipwreck closer to shore and got some photos of that and us swinging off of Fidelis from afar. Back flips were easy off of the swing, as your momentum carries you around. I managed a bunch of 180s and some almost 360s. Front flips were a little more challenging, but I managed to master the 180. From a high perch in the rigging it was a pretty good swing.

Connor was a little cautious at first. I had to push him off of the boat. He was really mad at me for a few minutes, but he eventually came around. He first did a couple of swings while riding piggy back with me, and then started taking his own trips from deck level. We tied a loop in the rope so he could put his foot in it and I could just pull him up out of the water onto the deck. Connor loved this part of the trip. He had wanted to do this on Sunday, but having fun was expressly forbidden, and the water wasn’t so clean in the harbor. This location was perfect.

Later we readied Fidelis for the open ocean and headed out in the early afternoon. Within the first hour we saw a mother and calf humpback dancing on the water. It was quite a sight to see, even from about a mile away. The mother was coming mostly out of the water vertically, falling on her back. The calf was hard to see, more of a spray than anything.

Not too long after we looked back and saw Mahi Mahi in its colorful glory leaping into the air of the port stern. We had hooked it on one of the three lines we put out during the days. A single catch feeds the crew for days, and we had been working on Mahi Mahi that was already a few days old, but still very good. But we were looking forward to pulling this one in. We got it alongside the boat and then had some navigational issues and managed to get it up by the starboard bow. Not too long after it appeared to have bit the line, parting it at the leader. No fresh Mahi Mahi, but we figured the next one would be by any minute. No such luck. We hoped for a Tuna, and saw skipjack after a couple of days, but we didn’t get another bite for three days.

Connor was doing his homework below decks and started to feel sick. He remained that way for the next two days, but eventually came out of it. Despite being sick he ate a big fish dinner from the previously caught Mahi Mahi. He really started to like fish on the trip, which was nice to see. Unfortunately most of this Mahi Mahi was quickly returned to the sea off the port side.

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Day 5 (Dunk, Baseball and New Anchorage)

Directly overhead, through a perfectly clear midnight sky, there’s a full moon. From a beanbag chair secured to the deck of a single-mast sailboat I’m reflecting on the first few days of our South Pacific adventure. Connor is instantly sound asleep in the main cabin, fish are breaking the glassy calm surface of the water all around Fidelis as the boat gently tugs on her anchor in fifty feet of water a few hundred yards offshore of a nearly-deserted Tongan island named Pangiamotu. There’s a rusted shipwreck hulk jutting out of the water between us and the shore. The only human activity on the island appears to be a small resort on the beach. The water and calm night carries the voices of the few people in the open-air café right to me.

Tonight there shall be no mosquitoes (yeah!), no night club across the canal and no rain. We’ve officially departed Tonga and tomorrow begin the three or so day sail to Fiji. Tonga has been wonderful, and though we’ve only seen the main island, we are ready to move on. The timing of the trip to Fiji should get us to airport in Nadi with a comfortable buffer, but not enough to stay in Tonga another day. Connor has enjoyed the adventure, but he’s now itching to start sailing. He seems to see this trip as a chance to show that he’s not a little boy anymore. He has been willing to take every opportunity, has tried things easily and has been a great helper.

I’m catching up on my notes for the day. We went shopping in town again. We were walking into town and Ben came by and picked us up. We were really OK with the walk, but he was excited to get our business. Diego needed new shorts, Vince wanted to get a new PC fan for his electronics, we needed to “check out” of the country at the immigration office, we needed some more groceries, Connor wanted a shake and I needed a latte. As we worked our way to shore on Dob the Fidelis stern line that the three of us adults were using to pull the small boat ashore swept me off my feet and off the boat. So much for the iPhone – it never recovered. Good thing I waited to get the version 4. Had my wallet and passports, but they were fine.

We went to the farmers’ market, which had quite a good selection of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of the merchants appeared to be Chinese. Connor and I found one woman particularly willing to get us whatever veggies we needed. Despite the large selection and general flexibility, green peppers were only sold in groups of three – couldn’t figure that out. We got carrots and celery, which we ate for the rest of the trip, and some scallions which I chomped up that day. It was cool seeing the very, very large bunches of green bananas still on the massive stalks that had been sliced down by machete, being hauled out of small trucks on the street. We hit the bakery and got fresh very white bread, pizza and a big pastry. The bread goes bad quickly on the boat, and gets eaten quickly. In two days it was all gone.

The electronics store was interesting. While food was cheap in Tonga, electronics are very expensive. We saw a tower computer with 5 DVD burners in it – very pricey. But with one of those you can go into business selling movies for a couple of bucks a disk. We went to the video store and Vince picked out a couple of titles, which they burned while we waited.

We visited our favorite coffee shop and Connor tried the vanilla this time. Then we walked over to the big park in town, where there was a credenza. We had brought the backpack with the baseball mitts that Connor and I had brought from home. This was the only time on the trip we used them, but it was well worth it. We started playing catch and then people started watching, kids, cops, adults, maybe a dozen in all hanging around, tossing a loose ball now and then. Ben was still with us and he played with me and Diego as Connor and Vince went back to the video store. Neither he nor Diego had played before, but were pretty good. Then a guy named John came buy and asked to play. He was really pretty good, said he had played a bit overseas. We put on a fun show of long ball and pitching and some diving catches. Vince and Connor came back and Vince took a turn. We worked up a good sweat and then headed out on foot. By this time Ben had given up on us ever getting back in the cab; he had hung out with us all day to get the next fare. He told us that he never walks – anywhere. That the short walks we did around town were the most walking he had done in years, and he was a young guy. He didn’t get the fare but got the benefit of some much-needed exercise!

As were were leaving the national rugby team started practicing on their practice field across the street from the park and next door to the royal palace (which is more of a large Victorian-style home). We were imagining the royal family wanted to keep a close eye on the team’s progress. We then walked down the waterfront road and stopped at a chicken stand on the side of the road. Roasted chickens and rice for sale. It was pretty good stuff. We got the special tourist price. Further down the road a man who Vince had met before we arrived stopped his truck to sell us bone carvings – made from cow bone and strung as necklaces. Connor got mommy and Sophia one each and Vince and Diego each got one and wore them on the trip.

We made a couple more immigration, customs, etc. stops and we believed we were all set as we motored to the gas depot to fill up and head out. But apparently one guy gave us the wrong paperwork and the company who ran the gas pump couldn’t honor the form we had and wanted us to fix the problem. Vince decided to try and make it right for the next guy, so he put on his Sunday best and left the gas station for one of the offices about a mile away. About an hour or so later he got back and we gassed up and got underway. Apparently the head guy who was actually a New Zealander threw up his hands in frustration – agreeing that there were problems but that he was powerless to change it.

Finally we were off to nearby Pangiamotu island in the evening to stay the night before departing for Fiji. We had a dinner of ramen noodles with coconut broth and Mahi-Mahi, Connor liked it, watched a movie, and off to mosquito-free bliss. I’m writing from the beanbag chair topside, on the most scenic night of the trip.

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Day 4 (Groceries)

The mosquitoes were bad again, but we did a better job of covering up and I slept with Vince’s bug zapper wand, which sort of resembled an electrically-stringed miniature tennis racquet. Each time one woke me up I just waved it around my head and POP! Smoldering mosquito – really cool. It’s just a 9 volt battery, but the capacitor really steps it up.

We went shopping in town to stock up for the trip. Wesley picked us up at the pier and had brought freshly-cooked sausage rolls for us. The supermarket was more like a 7-11 and selection was minimal by American standards for sure, but after a couple of days on the boat it was great to see. We managed to get beer, veggies, noodles, cookies and ice cream (treats that we ate immediately since they were melting). We went by the best coffee shop in Tonga (according to Wesley) and had lunch, a latte and a shake for Connor. Wesley said that a lot of the businesses in the area had been destroyed in the 2006 riots, but this one survived intact (and clearly looked in better shape than most) because it was run by the local military. Very good lunch spot – we ended up coming back the next day.

After arriving back at Fidelis we took a siesta and got cleaned up. We then walked to dinner at the Billfish Restaurant, a short walk from the pier. Connor enjoyed the surf and turf and we ate under a Marine Corps flag. Back at Fidelis we enjoyed the movie of Connor’s choice and then hit the rack. During the night a popped my ear with the bug zapper, which hurt and didn’t smell good. But the worst of it was that the magical little device stopped working – for good.

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Day 3 (Church and a Tour)

The mosquitoes were no fun last night. We awoke on a Sunday in Tonga. This meant that everything was closed except for the bakeries. Tonga is mostly Christian and strictly observes the Sabbath. We had breakfast and made for church. Vince had previously obtained a recommendation for a local church (St. Mary’s Cathedral) that was within walking distance. Since all business is closed on Sunday I had asked Ben on Saturday night how people get to church with no taxis. He said that there are so many churches that one can always walk.

We also learned that all types of sport are banned on Sunday, including swimming. This put off the plan to rig the boat for swimming in the afternoon. Going shirtless on any day is also a no-no, so Diego managed to keep fully covered. We put on our Sunday best, shaved and arrived at the church by foot at 10am.

The attraction of the church was the singing. Not the choir – there was none. The audience was absolutely amazing, all that Vince had suggested and more. Apparently this is typical of many of the South Pacific islands, but Tonga is reputed to be the best. The reputation seems well-deserved. We were the only westerners in the house, and may have been the only ones not signing. The locals seemed fine with this, and the pastor even thanked us (“out international guests”) for our presence. I discretely made a recording of about an hour’s worth of the heavenly music on my iPhone.

Later Vince called Wesley from Fidelis. Wesley had helped out Vince with immigration earlier and was looking forward to giving us an island tour. We spent most of the day in his van, touring the perimeter of the island. He took us to the spot where Captain Cook first came ashore in Tonga. Wesley tried to take some photos of us with my iPhone, but that didn’t work out. Connor and I went to the waterline where there were countless numbers of small crabs coming and going from holes in the mud.

Later we visited what we call Tongan Stonehenge (Ha’amonga ‘a Maui). The ancient monument doubles as a playground for local kids. Connor and the crew climbed up the limestone edifice and we got some photos. Later some local kids gave Connor a woodcarving. Wesley said they were made nearby, which is probably where they got it. The kids were chuckling – probably because it was a fertility tiki. They also gave us some tangerines. Wesley took us out to the beach nearby, where there was an abundance of coconuts in various stages. We gathered up a couple that were fresh, which we could tell from the water sound inside. Wesley had a lot of fun pointing out that the more ripe coconuts had a spongy white center that resembled man’s brains, which we tried. He kept repeating that, which must have been some sort of tourist play on cannibalism.

Later we visited a viewing point along the southwestern shoreline. There are really interesting outcroppings that are flat with a lip that retains water. The waves crash into the face of the outcroppings and force water up through openings. It shoots up dramatically all along the coastline for several miles. It was really cool, and tough to get pictures to do it justice.

Finally Wesley took us to a resort of sorts, one the northern tip of the island between Kanokupolu and Ha’akili, since resorts are the only places to get a beer (and a Coke for Connor) on the island on Sunday. We watched the sunset and Connor and I swam in a saltwater pool that was actually a three-sided concrete barrier that extended out into the ocean. There were just a few guests at the resort from what we could tell, and the bartender seemed happy to see us. Just after sunset we learned that Wesley’s van had a flat tire. He was out fixing it while we were swimming. Eventually he got us back to Fidelis for the night.

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Day 2 (Waikiki to Tonga)

Today we crossed the dateline, from 8/20 to 8/21 in the middle of the day.

We were up early in Waikiki. Connor got me a Starbucks as I hailed a cab. His hotel selection had been perfect. The restaurant, location, pool, a great corner room and to top it off a Starbucks next to the Bell desk! We arrived at the airport, checked in with Air Pacific, got into the MVP Gold line and breezed through security without even a cheese inspection. We had plenty of time, and as we got to the gate the crew for our fight was just opening up. We chatted with them for a bit and went for breakfast. Connor chose CPK and while he was ordering Sonia called to chat. We polished off the pizza and made for the Airport Starbucks for #2. The airport doesn’t allow gum sales, so Connor had to go without.

We boarded and got ready for a long flight. We thought it would be 8 hours in the air, but it turned out there was a stopover in Apia, Samoa that didn’t appear on our tickets. Somehow that managed to make it feel like two shorter flights. We got a glimpse of Samoa and the little airport from the plane. We got second breakfast on the first flight and lunch on the second. We made Nada, Fiji on time and in both Fiji and Samoa were able to get roaming cellular. We weren’t entering the country and were remaining on the international terminal, but had to go through a baggage scan as we entered the airport. We didn’t have to fill out a declaration, but nonetheless were concerned about the cheese warning on the forms we saw for those entering the country. During the scan they opened one bag and discovered that the strange cylinders were cheese, and they let us pass. We sent one of our many text updates to Fidelis, letting the crew know that OPC had moved on to the next phase.

We got a couple of drinks in the airport, and Connor made sure we were at the right gate. As we boarded for Tonga for our third flight of the day, we noticed that it was the same jet on which we flew the first two. Connor had completed his math work and did a lot of reading on the previous flights, and even watched Clash of the Titans. The last flight was short, just 1.5 hours. We got yet another, smaller meal and then pulled up in Tonga at about sunset. We snapped a couple photos and then got into line at customs. Still having the cheese as we passed the amnesty drop we a little edgy. The line was taking quite a while, and a Tongan security guy pulled us out of the line and let us go in the empty line for old folks and disabled. I told Connor he was “special” and he told me I was old. We got through quickly, still wondering about the cheese that we had declared as food. There were no questions asked, except for how were we leaving. I told them about the boat and we were directed to a small room behind the woman who stamped our passports.

I stuck my head into the room and saw Vince, sitting and talking with a very stern-looking Tongan man in a palm frond skirt. As We said our big hellos the man immediately and asked us to leave the office. Oops. So we made good friends with the big Tongan with the sunglasses who was watching everyone in the line. He was really nice, told us how to make an octopus lure with a palm tree root. Vince got out of the room eventually and hustled us toward the exit. We then had to pass our bags through a big luggage scanner. The computers didn’t have to come out this time. Connor saw the screen and said the tubes didn’t show. After learning from Vince that the office guy told him that we could not enter the country and would have to go back, I was a little concerned about what he had to do to get us in, and what would happen when they found the cheese. Because it was Kraft tube cheese we weren’t really sure if it was technically cheese (or food), and that was our plan. They let us pass and we hustled to the “taxi” that Vince and had waiting.

We met Ben, the Tongan cabbie, tour guide, etc., and Diego, the 18 year old Fidelis first mate from the Galapagos islands in Ecuador. It was now getting dark, and I’m guessing that driving through Tonga was a bit surreal for Connor. People had random fires burning in their palm-laden yards, to get rid of their trash. We saw a single very large fox bat. It looked like a small pterodactyl. The main road looked anything but “main.” We had to pull over to the side at one point as a small motorcade passed. The vehicles were nothing fancy, but Ben told us that it was the prince. We passed a lot of roadside stores that looked more like drive up fruit stands with bars on the openings. There were lots of folks just hanging around. Ben said that they are mostly run by the Chinese, and that the bars went up after the riots in 2006. Apparently there is some resentment of the Chinese because they send their money home to China. I’m not sure what else they should do with it, since property ownership is totally hereditary and sale to even Tongans is severely punished. Land must be given in a hereditary pecking order and by default passes only to the oldest son.

It was dark by the time arrived at Fidelis. We carefully boarded Dob (the dingy, Daughter of Bubbles) with our luggage. Ben helped us out with his headlights. Later we heard him yelling from the dock that his battery was dead. I went out in Dob and lent him my cell phone. We later learned his ride didn’t show and he pushed the van to the main road, and then got some help. After a few stories and some good eats Connor went lights out in the aft stateroom. After some more stories Daddy joined him for some well-earned sleep. After that night we’d be sleeping in crew quarters (main cabin couches).

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Day 1 (Seattle, Pearl Harbor, Waikiki)

The trip began with a drive to the Seattle airport and a quick goodbye hug with Mommy and Sophia. We had packed six one pound barrels of Kraft grated parmesan cheese in our two international-sized roll-ons. Vince had asked for as much as we could carry, and some gourmet chipotle chili pepper spice. I’m not sure if six pounds was what he had in mind, but we took it as a challenge to get it there. Later we found that the cheesy commodity goes for $64/pound in the South Pacific, about five times what we paid for it. Operation Provide Cheese (OPC) was underway. We were of course stopped for a search once the security scanner at SEATAC noticed the anomalies. We were later inspected in Fiji as well, and had concerns about Tonga; more about that later.

The first planned stop was the Alaska Airlines Board Room at SEATAC. Connor had always wanted to use it, so we had arrived early. The highlight of the visit was the discovery of a fully-automated pancake machine. We spent about 30 minutes in the room, having second breakfast and relaxing. Then we went out to get Starbucks, but found a huge line. We went to the other Starbucks – same problem. Finally we settled for Seattle’s Best (second-best at best, despite being owned by Starbucks). By the time we got a latte and got over to the gate, the entire plane was boarded and they were calling our names on the PA. We boarded without anyone checking our tickets, which was a bit unusual. We were hoping we were on the flight to Honolulu.

The MVP Gold free first class upgrades on Alaska were great for the long flight. We had third breakfast in flight. We decided to buy the $35 WiFi service, since the $19 service said it was limited to 150 miles offshore. We found that the $35 service was equally limited. We were able to have a short Skype conversation but after that were on our own. We need to remember to cancel that Gogo subscription. The flight went by quickly. Connor searched for first sight of land and eventually saw the Big Island and then Oahu.

We had only our two roll-ons and a backpack, so getting out of the airport was quick. As we were walking through the open-air causeway within the terminal a pair of F-15s took off and joined overhead in full burner, right in front of us. A nice little air show! We went to a restroom and put on shorts and sandals and headed out to get a ride. After calling the hotel we learned that they didn’t have a shuttle. And after waiting for at least 15 minutes for the airport shuttle, we opted for a cab. The cabbie was a Cambodian named Tanty. I had guessed his nationality from his last name, which surprised him. He had lived in Boston but moved to Hawaii to get as far away from his psycho ex-girlfriend as possible. He said she took all of his money and his son and that he was in court for two years. I told Connor that it was a good story, and maybe some of it was true.

We paid Tanty and asked him to wait as we checked our bags at the hotel, since we were too early to check in. We got back into his cab after about 10 minutes and set off for the Arizona Memorial at the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Our plan was to make the Arizona and return in time for dinner and a swim in the pool. We had an early morning departure and a very long day coming up.

I got Tanty talking about Cambodia after a couple of tries. He was really into it at that point. He was born in 1970 and left Cambodia through Thailand in 1979. His recollection, mainly from home movies, was that Cambodia prior to the Khmer Rouge was a nice place where women in families didn’t have to work (meaning that it was a prosperous country). He lamented that the criminals of his childhood would never be prosecuted because they were largely still in power and because many of them were actually Chinese and Vietnamese, often referring to their names which had no Cambodian components. He had issues with the Thai as well, as they were apparently moving in on Cambodian land – specifically ancient monasteries near the border.

It turned out that the Arizona was closed for the afternoon because of high winds. Instead we visited the Bowfin, a World War II submarine known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” and the USS Missouri, an Iowa class battleship – both built during WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After about 30 years in the mothball fleet, the ship was brought back into service in the 80’s and then finally decommissioned in the 90’s. It now floats where the USS Oklahoma was sunk during the attack on December 7, 1941. The ship’s 16 inch guns are quite a sight to see, with the ability to simultaneously launch nine 1,900 pound shells 27 miles. Nothing like it exists in service today. Connor enjoyed getting up in a turret entrance and the “dog” and soda machines.

We saw the famous spot on the ship where the Japanese surrendered, and the spot where a Kamikaze impacted the hull. Apparently they never did any repairs to the spot, as it was only a small dent on the scupper. The makeup of the hull and the angle of impact led to minimal damage and only one death – the Japanese pilot. He was given a military burial at sea, and eventually his name was determined and ascribed to the small memorial onboard.

After we found the city bus stop nearby we boarded without change and a woman was nice enough to break a 20 for us. Later we returned to favor to a young pregnant couple who didn’t have much English or understand the bus driver. We weren’t exactly sure how close the bus was going to get us, and the driver wasn’t too helpful. The iPhone was a big help, but the battery was almost dead and I was trying to conserve. The bus trundled along side roads, which made for a nice tour, but at rush hour it was slow going. We eventually gave up seats to an older woman and her 11 year old granddaughter. She later started up conversation and ended up giving us travel tips. She was a local and said she had lived in San Francisco for a few years. One tip she gave was the cook-your-own-food place at the Outrigger Reef Hotel in Waikiki. That was a great tip, since not only were we staying there, but probably would have missed it. It was very coincidental since it was the only restaurant in Waikiki that I had ever eaten at, about 19 years prior. I had found it by wandering the beach, and had just told Connor about it before she got on the bus. She also told us exactly the stop to get off at, which was right near the hotel.

We checked in and called home and then set out for dinner. We had to wait a bit for a table, so we walked the beach at sunset, in front of the restaurant. A man walked up to us and put natural leis on us and asked for a “donation” for some charitable cause, which I assumed was bogus. Nonetheless they were nice and we got one for Connor for $5. We saw similar ones for sale for $11 at the airport, so the price wasn’t bad. The sunset was pretty, with surfers still at it. Waikiki is interesting, with tall hotels right up on the beach. We went in for dinner, ordering a single surf and turf – steak for Connor and Mahi Mahi for me. We took it over to the grill and Connor cooked it up. His steak was one of the best I’ve ever had – loved his seasoning. He tried the Mahi Mahi and liked it. It was a harbinger of cuisine to come and a good thing he liked it!

We then did a quick change, skipping desert so that we could make the pool closing at 9pm. Connor swam for a few minutes and found that the pool was salt water. Another good preview of things to come! We took a quick dip in the freshwater hot tub, went back to our room, showered off and made it back for late desert and karaoke. Then we were off to the room and repacked for the flight and set 5am wake-up calls.

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