Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Trip 2007: Cairns, Australia

So, I have not told you what I did in Cairns as yet, so here goes.

I ended up renting a car as that was better than hanging out in the airport for 12 hours or taking a shuttle into the city.

I headed for the SkyRail that takes you over the rain forest to the town of Karunda. As it turns out, I was just in time to then take the train back. I got a got price even securing a discount for the SkyRail portion, so my total cost was 77 AUD.

The rain forest is just huge and just goes on for miles! I made the two stops on the way up to enjoy the view. Once in Karunda, I walked through the city a bit and then headed back to the train station. If you are ever in Cairns, I highly recommending visiting this town.

I made my way back to the train station making it there with 7 minutes to spare. My seat was opposite four young Japanese girls who were in Cairns for a week. They spoke some English so we were able to interact on the way down. I switched my window seats with them from time to time so they could take pictures.

The ride takes about 1.5 hours and is well worth it as the views are spectacular.

Once back at SkyRail, I drove around for a bit looking for an Australian to U.S. plug since I did not have one. I eventually found one at a store called Tandy. It was great to interact with the Australians who are so friendly.

Next I went into the city of Cairns as after talking to a young man in one of the stores, I realized that Port Douglas was too far away and would take too much time to visit.

Once I arrived in Cairns, I had to go visit a street that bore my first name. That was a special moment. As it turns out, the street is also at the corner of another street that bears the name of a colleague of mine, so of course I took pictures.

I got a parking space eventually and walked around the Night Market, which was O.K., but not spectacular. I then went to an Internet cafe and spent 10 AUD for 2 hours of time. I could have paid 15 AUD for 24 hours, but I was leaving soon enough.

Once I was done, I passed back by the night market and then had a sandwich and Fries from McDonald's and then had it in the care before driving back to the airport in the rain. I did stop and topped up the car as well.

Christmas Trip 2007: Honolulu, HI (HNL)

Honolulu, HI (HNL)

I headed for the immigration/Customs area; I had secured a ride to Waikiki so I was psyched about that as I knew that it would be perhaps taxi only at this hour. There is a local bus for a dollar, but I doubt if it was running at 3a.

I took quite a while in Immigration as there were only three agents working the U.S. citizenship line; good grief. One of them was working the crew line.

Finally, it was my time and I said hello to the agent who greeted me. He looked at the document and was like six countries huh? I said Yes. What were you doing? I said, just flying. He asked when did I leave, I told him on Christmas eve. Quite a trip he said and stamped my Customs form saying welcome home. Oh he did ask if I was heading to Houston and I told him eventually.

So, I go to the Customs lady and she asks me a bunch of questions makes some notes and send me to secondary screening; just what I need when I am in a hurry. There was only one guy doing this area so I had to wait as there as another passenger behind me. I was very irritated as I knew that my ride had already left by now.

After what seemed like forever, it was my turn. It took so long just to enter the information into his computer. Then my bag was checked, nothing was found of course and then I was sent on my way; aargh!!! Of all the times to go through secondary screening, I did not need that tonight.

I got outside and my ride had left. I checked the cost of a taxi and it was possibly 35 USD; it was a metered ride to Waikiki. I called the four airport hotels and their rates ranges from 99 USD to 129 USD. I even checked the airport shuttles for 9.00 USD, but although they said they would come immediately, I actually woke up one guy and another just rang without an answer. I guess they should post their hours of operation.

I usually take the local bus into town for 1 USD, but it did not start until 7a. the security lady told me.

So with a heavy heart, i chose the cheapest hotel. They sent a bus for me and it arrived within 5 minutes as it was already at the airport. When I got there, there was a police car pulling someone over and looks like they were being arrested.

I signed up for the room asking for a high floor; the guy said nothing and then gave me a floor on the ground floor, which I totally hate. I asked him if he had anything n a higher floor and he said no and I just felt he was lying. He then gave me a key as well as a remote for the TV. You can tell the class of a hotel when you are given the key with the remote. I also asked about Internet access and he gave me a sheet of paper with a userid and password. Oh, the guy said in a gruff voice, despite the fact that you are checking in at 3:30a, checkout was still at noon. Like I really cared since I had to leave at time anyways.

I went down to the room and it was not up to standard at all. I just felt unsafe I guess for some reason. Also there were no plugs to plug my electronic items into; there was one and it was behind the bed. So I only plugged the computer in it. It was also an almost dead spot as it pertains to cell phone coverage.

I so hated this place. Anyways, I eventually fell asleep after setting the alarm clock for 9:30a. I perished the thought of asking for a wake up call.

I was up and atom at 9:30a and did some blogging then got ready and left for the airport.

Christmas Trip 2007: Majuro (MAJ) to Honolulu, HI (HNL)

12 CS956 28DEC Majuro (MAJ) to Honolulu, HI (HNL) 8:00p 2:30a N14249

Flying time: 4:25
Estimated Arrival Time: 2:31 AM
Pushed Back: 7:50 PM

Once everyone was on board, there was a short delay (this is usually so the stairs, etc. can be clear of the plane) then the engines were started and we departed the tarmac. This is the longest segment of the trip. In the past, the next stop would have been Johnston Island another military island, but this leg was removed a few years back.

As is standard, we used the runway as a taxiway, turned the airplane around and took to the night skies. The turn radius on the 737s is amazing; we basically turned on a dime.

Once airborne, the standard announcement was made by the lead flight attendant. It was 5 USD for alcohol and 1 USD for the headsets for the movies. Finally, we would see something on the screen. I thought that although there was no movies, etc. on the other legs, we would see the Airshow, but that was not the case. Immigration documents for the U.S. were handed out as well.

For dinner, we had a choice of chicken curry with rice corn, peas and carrots or beef Stroganoff. The meal came with a brownie, a salad with pepper cream dressing and a sweet roll.

By now, I had a guy sitting next to me who said he was on a surfing trip. Eight days ago they had picked up a boat in Majuro and this morning, the boat dropped them off on Kwajalein. I knew they did not look like military types… He said that Kwajalein was an interesting place and that was all he said.

The Captain came on the PA and said we were level at 35,000’ and that he would switch off the seatbelt sign as the weather was good. He also gave some weather details; basically, it was raining in Honolulu and it was hot. It was funny as he gave the information in total pilot speak; saying that we were at flight level 350 as opposed to being at 35,000’.

The first movie was “No Reservation” and the second one was “Home Alone 2.” I saw when the first one started, but the next thing I knew after finishing dinner and brushing my teeth and reading for a bit was that we were landing in Honolulu, HI (HNL).

We taxied to the gate and the arrival time was 2:23a on Dec. 28; seven minutes early.

It was 8:22a local Guam time when I left Guam on Dec. 28, so if you do the normal math we went back in time about 5:59 :-). The total travel time is 14:01. This site helped me calculate this information.

Christmas Trip 2007: Majuro (MAJ)

Amata Kabua International Airport, Majuro (MAJ)

Arrival Time: 7:01 PM

The left side of the airplane had to deplane, so I did. It was great to visit another airport, although for a very short time. Once inside the transit lounge, I could see that they were selling arts and craft as well as another stall with alcoholic drinks and beverages. Interesting enough, they had Corona and New Zealand beers. The cost for a beer was 3 USD.

I tried to find an electric outlet and when I did, it was not working. After waiting around a bit, I saw one that high above the ground; it looks like they had installed new ones as the ones from the ground were no longer working. It was too much work to get to it, so I did not bother. I looked to my phone, but there was no signal either.

I noticed a funny sign in the transit area; one of the “Do Nots” on it read: “DO NOT write on walls and doors.” I thought that was interesting and wondered why that had to be added. Another was “DO NOT spit betel nuts and copenhagen on floors and walls,” again, someone must have been spitting nuts out; my guess is also that these are popular items on the island.

People milled around buying arts and craft as well as beer and beverages. It was actually a tranquil atmosphere as we waited for the flight to be ready once more. Boarding was announced without a PA system and the boarding process was the same as it was throughout.

Once back outside on the tarmac, I took a few night shots of the plane the operations around it. This was the last stop on the island hopper and I felt a bit nostalgic. It was also very windy and really humid.

PS: On my first trip through the Marshall Islands a few years ago, I met Imata Kabua who was then President of the Marshall Islands. He is cousin to Amata.

Christmas Trip 2007: Kwajalein (KWA) to Majuro (MAJ)

12 CS956 28DEC Kwajalein (KWA) to Majuro (MAJ) 6:15p 7:08p N14249

Flying Time: 0:45
Estimated Departure Time: 5:58 PM
Estimated Arrival Time: 7:01 PM
Pushed Back: 5:58 PM

The engines started and we taxied out to the runway. We used runway 24-06 as the taxiway and then took off on runway 6. It was very windy as the takeoff occurred; actually it was windy the entire time we were on Kwajalein. The takeoff was pretty neat as you could see the other nearby atolls. Once airborne you could definitely see the effects of the wind on the surf.

I don’t think we had any beverage service on this flight, although it might have been because I fell asleep. I awoke when we were landing in Majuro and it was already dark outside.

Christmas Trip 2007: Checking out NGO

The airport area is pretty cool. I went walking and there is a 24hur shop called Lawson downstairs where I got a can of Sapporo and one of Kirin. I also bought an inside shirt for 680 YEN, way to much, but I needed one. I bought size L, but I think that is too small :-(.

The airport has a neat shopping experience as well as an Observation Deck that is open from 7a to 9p; pity I got there at 9:05p. I'll see if I have enough time tomorrow to check it out bright and early at 7a.

You can wish yourself to Nagoya by train for 850 YEN or 1,650 YEN by high speed boat, but you have to go by 9:50p as that is the departure time of the last boat.

Last flight our of here is on Emirates to Dubai. I actually thought of taking that flight while at the airport, but the arrival time is 5:55a into Dubai and that would mean going to London-Heathrow and then to Newark or something like that. Pity that the Dubai to Houston flight does not operate on Sundays...

I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone as it is way cool.

More updates coming your way.

Christmas Trip 2007: Kwajalein (KWA)

Kwajalein (KWA)

Gate Arrival Time: 5:19 PM

We landed at 5:15p and taxied back to the gate. The flight attendants made an announcement that no pictures should be taken. Passengers deplaned; including the ones in that special shirt that got on two stops earlier. I turned on my phone, but I got no signal; the computer battery was dead, so I could not check for a WiFi signal.

We were catered at this station, I am guessing with the meal for the last leg of our flight. The aircraft was also inspected by security officials from the island.

My view from the window was spectacular as I could see the surf crashing on the nearby beach. People kept coming and going as they watched their loved ones board the airplane.

The flight attendants also made an announcement saying that all passengers should take their originally assigned seats as we were full out of Kwajalein today; people started coming on ad indeed there were a lot of people. The majority of whom sat between row 16 and beyond.

Once the process was completed, there was a short delay, then the door was closed.

Pushed Back: 5:58 PM

Christmas Trip 2007: Eureka, I found a room

Nagoya, Japan (NGO)

After checking on all three hotels, I settled on the third one as it had the best rate and like the Comfort Inn at 9,000 YEN with a 10% discount, they also give a 10% discount; 5,986 YEN (taxes included), a little under 50 USD, now that was easy.

I am a few thousand percent happier than I was last night in Honolulu, HI. Now even if I go into Nagoya tonight at a cost of 1,700 YEN on the train round trip, It will still be less than the cost of that room in Honolulu, HI. The rate also includes breakfast, but it starts at 6a, the flight is at 7:50a, so maybe I can just eat and then go as the airport is literally across the street.

This hotel, the Toyoko Inn, is nice and clean and looks very new. I saw signs in the elevator that they had three more opening up in January 2008. I have enough plugs to plug in everything I have and more; no converter needed.

Now if I could only figure out how to turn up the heater as it is 15C in the room I'll be O.K., the markings on the remote for the heater are all in Japanese...

Oh, my phone does not work in Japan, but they have e-FREE in the room so I can blog and catch up finally.

PS: The heater is responding...
I need a Kirin!

Christmas Trip 2007: Kosrae (KSA) to Kwajalein (KWA)

11 CS956 28DEC Kosrae (KSA) to Kwajalein (KWA) 3:30p 5:36p N14249

Flight Time: 0:45
Estimated Departure Time: 03:09 PM
Estimated Arrival Time: 05:20 PM
Pushed Back: 03:09 PM

The ground staff gave a message similar to the one that was given in PNI. We started the engines and headed for the runway and with a quick turn around on the runway, spooled up the engines and were airborne.

I was out of battery now so I had to make notes on paper :-(. Paper was my receipt from getting gas in Cairns, but it was all I could find easily.

After the takeoff, which on these islands are always spectacular, the flight attendant made the announcement that she made on all the other segments. I think I could repeat it word for word now :-). We had a good load out of Kosrae. What I noticed is that it is customary for people to give flowers when departing these islands as many passengers had wreaths either around their necks or head. They were quite elaborate and very beautiful. The wearers seem to really appreciate them as well.

Surprisingly, there was a meal and an elaborate one at that; remember, this is a pretty short flight of only 0:45. We were expeditiously served a ham sandwich with mustard, peanut butter & honey wafers plus some Chamorro Chip cookies with the Continental Airlines brand on the packets. I ate heartily, trying not to think about the calories I was consuming on this meal.

They came back and cleaned up and soon after we started the descent for Kwajalein. it was a beautiful approach as we landed next to a pristine golf course. We were told that Kwajalein is a military installation, so no pictures are allowed to be taken and we had to all remain on board; security checks will be made on board.

Christmas Trip 2007: Searching for a hotel at NGO

Just tried Centrair; their rate is 121.20 USD, will try the other two now.

Christmas Trip 2007: Arrived in Nagoya, Japan (NGO)

Just arrived in Nagoya, trying to find a reasonable hotel.