We began planning this trip at the Port Moresby airport last year when we ran into Alan Raabe, the owner of the dive boat MV Febrina, as we were leaving New Guinea. He invited us back again, and we made the decision to go on the spot. Throughout the past eleven months we have had to contend with uncooperative flight times, changes in airline schedules, re-ticketing problems and a volcano that shut down the airstrip we fly into. And in the week before we left we had the pending war in Iraq, the outbreak of SARS in southeast Asia, and Mark's ex-wife trying to kill him. Boy did we all need a vacation!
Please click on any of the photos for a larger picture. All underwater photos courtesy of Gary Lindenbaum and Mark Zibelman as noted.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - Philadelphia-New York-Vancouver
I woke up around 5:30 and turned on the morning news. I got the laptop and finished formatting the St Baldricks Day pictures. Suki let me do that for awhile and then decided it was time to get up.
I got ready for work, ate breakfast, snuggled the cat and took the (heavy) dive duffel downstairs to stow at the front desk. I went to work and accomplished several very important things. I gave my tax stuff to my accountant, talked to Mom and Dad, picked up my sleeping pill prescription, stopped at the bank, and was home by 2:15. Petted Suki, changed clothes and went down to wait for the guys.
The limo arrived promptly at 2:30 - we loaded up the car and were off. Are we there yet???
Gary brought champagne, olives, and bruschetta to snack on. We made it up to JFK around 5:00 and were checked in for our Cathay Pacific flight without too much difficulty. The only problem was that they wouldn't check our bags all the way to Port Moresby - the counter agent said that she could only check them through for 24 hours and seemed to arbitrarily pick Brisbane as the last point to which she could check them. Since we didn't have much time in Brisbane to make our connection, we decided to check them to Singapore - we'll have to work on it when we arrive there.
We breezed through security - well, Mark and I did while Gary's camera bag was searched. We went to the British Airways lounge to wait for our flight. As we sat down, I recognized a business associate from Bermuda - small world. We went to our gate around 9:30 for our 10:15 flight and found that the inbound was late. The plane boarded around 10:20 and we took off around 11:00 for Vancouver.
We are flying Cathay Pacific business class this year. After two years of Singapore Air steerage, I used my British Airways miles for two free tickets and we split the cost of the third. The plane was only half full at best-and there were only ten people in our section. They have brand new business class seats - they recline fully but at slight angle so one's feet slide under the seat in front. There is an "on demand" entertainment system with individual screens.
Once we left New York we had dinner - I had beef stir fry - and I started to watch the latest Star Trek movie but fell asleep. I woke up briefly somewhere over North Dakota, then slept again until we began our descent into Vancouver. We had made up whatever delay we had leaving JFK.
We had an hour layover and then began our longest leg - 13 hours to Hong Kong. The plane was still lightly loaded. I fell asleep soon after take-off and slept for 2+ hours. I watched "Analyze That" with Robert DiNiro and Billy Crystal - eh. I tried to watch "Star Trek" (again) and fell asleep (again). When I woke, I had a chinese beef soup and read "Titus Groan" for a while. I finally watched the middle of Star Trek before they served us breakfast prior to our arrival in Hong Kong. Unfortunately it was quite overcast, so we didn't get a view coming in.
Thursday, March 20, 2003 - Hong Kong - Singapore
We arrived about 15 minutes early, which gave us enough time to go to the Cathay Pacific lounge, "The Pier", take showers and change clothes. Yay. Then off to catch the next flight to Singapore. We all noticed how empty the airport was - the airplane wasn't crowded either. We left on time and flew down the Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian coasts to Singapore.
We arrived around noon and immediately went to the transit desk. We explained that our bags had been checked to Singapore, but we wanted them checked through to Port Moresby. The agent explained that since we were flying first to Brisbane and then catching a domestic flight to Cairns, we would have to collect our bags in Brisbane and clear Australian customs. Doh! She also called to see if they could put us on an alternate flight from Singapore directly to Cairns, but they were full. So she checked the bags to Brisbane, taking descriptions of our luggage to have it claimed in Singapore, gave us boarding passes for both Qantas flights, and we went to the transit hotel.
In the past, we have had layovers of eighteen hours or so in Singapore, so we've gotten a day room in town and spent the day there. This time we only have eight hours, so we went to the transit hotel in the airport. They rent rooms in blocks of hours - for about $30 each we got rooms for six hours. I watched a little CNN, noting that war had broken out, and went to sleep.
We all met at 7:30 pm and went to find something to eat. I had some iffy chicken nuggets and an iced tea (sweetened). We boarded the Qantas flight - we are in economy class for the rest of the in-bound flights - but there was plenty of room so we could spread out for the 6 hour 45 minute flight. I had a bite to eat - beef in red wine sauce - and read Titus Groan for a while before falling asleep.
Friday, March 21, 2003 - Brisbane - Cairns - Port Moresby - Walindi
They fed us a light breakfast of fruit and pastry before landing in Brisbane at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning. We got our bags and cleared immigration, then went to the transit desk to re-check the bags. We discovered that since we were taking an international flight from Cairns, we would have to have our bags with us. Argh. So we checked the luggage to Cairns and went to the tram station to go to the domestic terminal. The whole terminal and station area was clean and new and it was nice to be outside enjoying the morning air for a while.
We went to the gate and watched CNN while we waited. The flight was delayed for 20 minutes or so while we waited for two passengers to board. We made up a little time in the air, but it was still a tight connection.
Here's something that we've noticed during our travels. In International terminals, luggage carts are available for free, but in many Domestic terminals, there is a charge. Since we were arriving on a domestic Qantas flight, the use of luggage carts costs money - Australian dollars - which of course we didn't have. I quickly ran to change some money and gave it to Gary and Mark, then went over to the International terminal while the guys waited for the luggage. We wanted to make sure Air Niugini knew we were on our way. We checked in and went through security, arriving at our gate just as they began boarding the Fokker jet.
There were very few people on the Air Niugini flight to Port Moresby, and we had an enthusiastic flight crew that fed us a light lunch and beverages. Once we arrived in Moresby we got our visas, cleared customs, got our bags (again), and checked them to Hoskins. We walked to the domestic terminal and waited in the lounge for our final flight.
In the past, the flight to Hoskins has been on a medium sized jet. Ever since the eruption of Mount Pago last summer, however, they have been unable to fly jet service into the airport - jet engines and volcanic ash don't mix, you know.
We left about a half hour late on a 20 seat Beechcraft prop plane and had a relatively calm 1 1/2 hour flight. My only real complaint was that it was absolutely freezing on the plane! I ended up taking my travel pillow (thanks, Mom and Dad!) out of my backpack and hugging it to my chest to try to stay warm. We landed at Hoskins and were picked up by the driver from Walindi Plantation where we will stay for one night before boarding the Febrina. We passed through Kimbe, nearly hitting several people and three pigs. The hour drive took us past several palm oil plantations - they use the rows between the palm trees to graze cattle.
Once we arrived at Walindi, we were shown to our bungalows. Very nice - big spacious room, a kitchenette, and a little television that picks up CNN. Who would have thought. I had a chance to take a shower and rest for a while before dinner. They had a nice buffet - fried fish, rice, chicken, vegetables, greens, and soup. The three of us ate quickly, and retired. It's taken fourteen time zones, eight cities, seven flights, six countries, four airlines, and 2 1/2 days to get here - I'm tired.
Saturday, March 22, 2003 - Walindi - Febrina
I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and read for a while. I got up to take a few photos at dawn, and found a couple of friendly denizens that wanted to visit.