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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Sunday, April 13, 2003 19:39:12

Asia Pacific 2003: 1

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

After a week of scrambling to get business and personal items finished up, including testing out and learning new software written by son Paul that will add a photo album to my travel website, it was time to go. Marilynn drove me to the airport and dropped me off for the 1 PM flight to Houston. Continental had given me a free upgrade with my Elite status card, so with first class ticket in hand I moved swiftly through immigration and on to the gate. I joined the early-boarding group but got picked for a detailed search on my way to the plane. By the time they finished with me, I was at the end of a long line waiting to board.

The 3 hour flight was great, I ate well and drank lots. I got my ticket upgraded to business class for the next days flight to Hawaii, then took the shuttle to the Sheraton Airport Hotel and checked in. Due to the hour time change for daylight savings time I arrived later than expected, but my dinner companion, Mike Lombardo, had been stuck in traffic and was late as well, so it worked out.

Mike has arranged entry visas for countries on many of the trips I've been on, plus arranged my international drivers permit. If you find yourself needing this type of service, I'd highly recommend him. You can contact him through his website at Having eaten pretty steadily on the way from San Jose I wasn't hungry and neither was he, so it was a salad and sandwich dinner. He was a cheap date! We had a good talk and an enjoyable evening.

My breakfast appointment arrived early due to unusually light traffic, and following a good chat over breakfast Barbara, a realtor from Galviston with an interest in Costa Rica, drove me to the airport. Her flight was to leave slightly after mine, as she was off to visit her son. So far so good, but then things started to go off the rails. At check-in I found my flight was not scheduled to leave at 12:20 as shown on my ticket, but at 2:35 PM, a wait I didn't need before 9 hours in the air.

At security I was selected again for the intensive search. After that was endured, we went to the President's club. With Continental it now requires membership to get in, a mere first class ticket doesn't do it, but Barbara had worked for 26 years for Continental and was a member. This gave us another opportunity to talk until she had to go for her flight. I then went to my boarding gate.

The flight was as good as a long haul can be, and the food was great. The seating on the 767 plane was ideal - the seats reclined to almost horizontal and the space between them was such that even my legs couldn't touch the seat in front when streched full out. We arrived in Hawaii almost three hours behind the arrival time I had sent to Tim Carlson, my partner in travel from serveral pervious trips, who was to pick me up at the airport. I looked high and low for him with no success. A call to our hotel confirmed he'd not checked in, so I looked around some more, then stood for awhile at the curbside outside the baggage areas.

Eventually I phoned the hotel again and left a message that should Tim call to tell him I'd left the airport on the Waikiki shuttle. It went to every hotel in Waikiki first! Once everyone else was off the bus it dropped me at our hotel and I checked in. I was just finishing the procedure when Tim came up to the desk. He had been at the airport looking for me as I was looking for him, and gave up at about the same time as I did. He was touring Waikiki at the same time as me, having become lost trying to find the hotel in the rental car. We got our gear into our respective rooms, and promptly met in the bar for some well earned drinks! I was feeling quite mellow when we called it a night something after 11 PM.

My screwed up body clock had me wide awake at 4 AM, so I decided to get up and write some emails to send later in the morning. Guess what! Horror struck! No computer.

After getting over the initial shock, I sat down and thought about it, realizing that when I'd gone though my second search procedure in Houston, that my vest was in one basket, my coat in another and my laptop in a third. I was not permitted to touch anything until it was searched, but when the security people put the baskets on the table where the search took place, there was no computer. When they had finished I was so frustrated with the whole procedure that I didn't notice it was missing.

I got on the phone to Continental, talking first to a fellow in Salt Lake City who answered the international reservations phone number I found in the yellow pages. He gave me an 800 number in Houston for baggage claim, and said they would more likely be able to help. Alicia, the woman who answered, was very helpful and understanding, so I went through the whole story with her. She said she'd call back if she found out anything, so I went back to bed.

In about 45 minutes she did indeed call back, and had a three way conference call set up with the lost luggage supervisor in Houston. He had found a Sony Vaio laptop, but unfortunately it wasn't mine. They said they'd keep looking. The securily guy who did the search had a very distinctive turned up mustache, so thinking this may help them track it down, I phoned back and got another operator. She said leave my number and Alicia would call me - which she did in about five minutes. Their service was excellent - right down to paying for the long distance calls to Hawaii, but no luck on the computer. I gave Alicia the name of Monica Trejos, the general manager of my companies in Costa Rica, and the office phone number to contact should they find it.

I was definitely upset, as there would be no photo forwarding to my website, no GPS positions, no trip reports, no prewritten email. I decided to buy another computer, so Tim and I headed off to Compusa after breakfast, where a very helpful and knowledgable young man got me sorted out. I wanted another lightweight computer, but all they had in lightweight was a Sony bigger than mine. Sony is not my favourite company these days, so I bought a full size Compaq laptop weighing 7.5 lb in comparison with the 3 lb one I left behind. It means I almost have to jump on my suitcase to get it closed. It must now be the heaviest carry on every! Before leaving the store the helpful clerk got me setup at a table where I got rid of the packaging, loaded and tested the software with his help, tested the floppy disc drive and my portable hard drive, which fortunately I had with me. That at least gives me all the files from my main computer, but I should have put all the camera programs on the portable drive as well. Silly not to have, as there is tons of disc space.

Tim drove us to the airport where he returned the car, and the rent-a-car shuttle bus dropped us off at our respective airlines. We'll meet again in Guam. Check in went smoothly and I was given the OK to use the airline's first class lounge. The only problem was that I couldn't get to it. The lineup for security, as was the case when I was here in December, was about three city blocks long! What a mess! When I got to security, guess what! Once again I was selected for the thorough search. I was not a happy camper, but you can believe I was keeping an eagle eye on my belongings.

I finally headed for the Aloha lounge where I did some set up on the new computer and left it plugged in for the battery to charge. It seems to have a quite good battery life span, which will be a help for writing on some of the 25 segments I will fly on this trip. From there I boarded the flight for Johnston Island, then onward to Majuro in the Marshall Islands, where I spent the night. There sure isn't much to Johnston Island, what a place to be stationed! There certainly can't be much to do after hours! The entire island is a runway with buildings down both sides of it. The runway goes from one end of the island to the other, and that's it! This is a US military base where they detoxify chemical and biological weapons. Sounds like a lot of fun all the way around!

When we arrived at Majuro I got my first taste of "who was that masked man" brought on by the SARS scare. All the employees of the airport were wearing face masks, from the cleaning lady through customs and immigration. Passengers also all had to fill out forms listing the countries that they had been in for the past 14 days. That does not bode well for the future as I move closer to the source of SARS. My worry is getting slapped into quarantine for having been in one of the source countries. With my tight schedule that would be disastrous and very expensive. At any rate, I guess we'll see as I carry on.

The Outrigger Hotel has a bus which meets all flights, so transport was laid on and efficient. They had a business centre of sorts, so I checked my email and was delighted to find that Continental Airlines had found my computer and then phoned Monika in my San Jose office to arrange to courier it there. It won't help for sending photos on this trip, but it is sure nice to have it returned! I really do have to give the people at Continental full points. This wasn't even their fault and they did one heck of a job tracking it down and forwarding it in short order!

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a far flung group of 29 atolls with 1,225 islands and 870 reef systems. It covers almost a million square miles, but there are only 70 square miles of land. Fifty percent of the population of 52,000 live on the 37 mile long sandbar that is Majuro. In most places, there is just enough room on either side of the road that goes down the centre of the island for a house on each side. There is no shortage of waterfront property - as a matter of fact, it is hard to find property that isn't waterfront! Here they are exactly half way around the world from Greenwich in England - the time is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

There are many beautiful islands and atolls accessable from Majuro, with excellent beaches and diving. Majuro itself isn't much other than the business and administration centre, though. They have the same problem as most populated tropical sandy islands - what to do with the garbage. As a result, it is either piled up or left laying about, so there are lots of rusted out appliances, cars and machinery decorating the landscape.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

It is now Saturday as I lost Friday to the International Date Line. I had a great sleep last night, catching up a bit in this important area. After a light breakfast, the hotel shuttle took me to the airport. This time at least I didn't feel discriminated against on the full search - they did everyone! It made for a bit a of a slow process, but it was very even handed. That is four out of four intensive security checks now. I won't be sad to get out of US influenced territory where hopefully things will be a little less stringent. Either that or I'll have to stay out of the sun - perhaps I'm starting to look Arabic!

Today's flight took us first to Kwajalein, another sand island which is a US military base. It is very similar in size and shape to Johnston Island, and had about the same appeal as a place to be stationed! From there we flew to Kosrae, which looks fascinating. It is a much larger, mountainous island. It appears to be quite pristine, not very developed and heavily forested. Perhaps it will be worth a return trip to explore one day.

Next stop - Ponape, another quite large and mountainous island. Marilynn and I were here some years ago after ending a cruise through the area on the World Discoverer - it's a very pretty island. The final stop before Guam was Chuuk, otherwise know as Truk. It was raining here, and our flight path gave no opportunity to see the lagoon where an entire Japanese fleet was sunk during WWII. The flying time between these island varied from an hour to an hour and a half, with about tweny or twentyfive minutes on the ground each time. There were a surprising number of people flying between islands. It was amazing to see that the preferred checked luggage was a large picnic cooler - there were dozens of them!

After arriving in Guam there was a plane change for the short flight to Saipan. It was necessary to go though immigration on Guam, but being in transit there was no paperwork to do, and a big plus - I didn't have to go through security again. My boarding pass said my flight left at gate 13, which was at the far end of the very long airport. There are no loading areas jutting out from the large airport building here, just a shopping and services area in the middle with a long set of gates going out each end of it. When I got there, it had been changed to gate 8 - at completely the opposite end of the terminal building. Fortunately, I had lots of time and after sitting all day felt I could use the exercise anyhow!

Tim was sitting in the waiting area for our gate when I got there. The gate was located right in front of a pub, so a beer was in order. Tim had explored Guam that day, and fully understanding why my travel plans called for only essential plane changes in Guam, and nothing more. Marilynn and I had stayed there on a previous occassion, and there really is nothing much to recommend the place. Tim descibed it as a dirtier version of the USA. Apparently the tourism business is away down - they are hurting really badly. The area was destroyed by a typhoon in December. On parts of the island electricity was not restored until February. Then came the war in Iraq, and now the SARS scare is keeping people off the planes.

We found out more bad news is on the way for them, and potentially for us as well. There is another typhoon bearing down on the area. It is currently gaining strength as it approaches, and is expected to hit Monday or Tuesday. As our flight out is at 5:20 PM on Monday, that places us in about the middle of the predicted arrival time! We'll watch it carefully, and will perhaps leave earlier if need be. My tight schedule did not factor in being grounded by typhoons! This is early in the season for one, but it is being taken very seriously, with people being advised over the radio and TV to stock up on water and tinned foods.

I managed to get upgraded on the Saipan flight, but the flight was only one beer long, and even that had to be rushed. We rented a car at the airport after clearing through a very friendly immigration process - all run by US immigration. We only got lost once trying to find our hotel, but after check in were very successful in finding a nearby pub where I washed down a very mediocre bowl of seafood chowder and salad with two gin tonics and a glass of wine. After that it was home to bed!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Tim and I headed for a recommended restaurant on a hill overlooking the Saipan harbour for breakfast, after checking at the ferry dock to find the ferry for Tinian Island was due at 9 AM. It was about 8:15 when we arrived at the restaurant to be informed that breakfast might be delayed as the cook had slept in and was just setting up! After explaining that we were catching the ferry the waitress conferred with the cook and it turned out that bacon and eggs could be prepared within our time frame. We were just finishing up when we saw the ferry coming through the reef.

We purchased our tickets, paid a departure tax, and settled in for the crossing. The ferry is a catamaran type with no accessable deck space, one must stay indoors behind the dirty windows. The ferry is the same type as the Victoria Clipper which runs between Victoria and Vancouver, for those who know that route. It is designed for about 335 passengers, but in spite of cutting the number of trips in half due to the limited numer of tourists, it is still only carrying 40 or so passengers. The crossing was not particularly rough, but it was punctuated by Japanese tourists throwing up from time to time. The crew were pretty quick with the seasick bags!

We'd planned to hire a car and driver on Tinian, but there were none to be had. A Budget car rental agent met the ferry, though, and rented us a car for a three hour price. Once we had wheels we headed for the old WWII B-29 bomber base on the north end of the island. Even in it's overgrown state it was possible to see what a massive operation that it had been, with four parallel runways, each 1 ½ miles in length. At the time it was reputed to be the largest and busiest airport in the world. From this base the B-29s would leave on the 3,000 mile round trip to bomb Japan.

The map we were provided made it easy to find the bomb pits where the atom bombs were loaded for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had to be loaded from concrete lined pits as the bombs were to large to fit under the B-29 to hoist into the bomb bay.

The military commander of Tinian was from New York, so when the road system on the island was built he named them after Manatten. The divided road that runs almost the length of the fairly flat island is called Broadway. Others are named 8th Ave, 42nd St and 86th St. There was no traffic to speak of, so the excellent road system made our exploration of the 39 square mile island very easy. We visited the invasion beach near the airport, then drove the length of the island to visit the suicide cliffs where Japanese shines and peace memorials marked the point where hundreds of Japanese civilians jumped to their death to avoid capture. In the cliffs above caves could be seen which marked the point of the last military holdout by the Japanese on the island. Most of the 4,000 defenders who are still missing are assumed to have committed suicide inside these caves.

We filled the car with gas in the only town on the island, San Jose. It is very small - the island population is only 2,600 or so. Near the town was a big hotel, over 400 rooms with swimming pools, huge casino and all the Las Vegas trappings which had been built by a Chinese investor. The hotel also owns the ferry - there are two sistership ferries, actually. The other is tied up on a semi-permanent basis in Tinian. A few years ago gambling was legalized on the island, but as Tim pointed out, it looked like someone threw a party and no one came. The new airport with an 8,600 runway just opened last year, but there were no aircraft there. The expected international flights with gamblers have never materialized. It is a shame tourism has not succeeded here, as the people were as friendly and kind as I have encountered anywhere in the world.

The sailing back to Saipan was much rougher than the trip over, and had few passengers. We decided to head for the Saipan Airport to talk to Continental to see if they felt we should leave earlier than planned due to the approaching typhoon. They were very helpful, and produced weather charts to show that even though the typhoon was still strengthening, with winds of almost 140 mph, that it looked like it would pass between Guam and Palau, so we should be OK.

We then headed for the more mountainous road up the east side of Saipan to explore some of the 47 square mile island that is home to around 63,000 people. The scenery was nice, but there was nothing special to see. When we swung back onto the main road on the west coast we headed north to the end of the island that was for years closed to the public, as the CIA used it as a training ground for Chinese Nationalists to be sent against Mao in mainland China.

Our first stop was at Banzai Cliff. It was similar to the one we saw on Tinian - a high cliff dropping straight into the foaming sea below. On the level ground at the top of the cliff were many Japanese shrines and peace memorials. Here hundreds of Japanese civilians jumped to their deaths when the US took the island in June, 1944. Whole families lined up in order of age, with the youngest first. Each child was pushed over the cliff by the next oldest brother or sister, then the mother pushed the oldest child, the father pushed his wife and then he would join them by running over the cliff backwards himself.

Not far from here was the last Japanese command post, built into caves in the overhanging cliffs. Here the Japanese commander order a banzai attack on the US forces on Tanapag beach. About 4,000 Japanese soldiers hurled themselves at the US troops. Some had guns, but most were armed with only clubs, bayonet sticks, bamboo spears and grenades. They pushed the Americans into the water, across the shallow bay and onto the reef before they were stopped. In the morning it was over and 5,000 men were dead. The Japanese commander committed harakiri. There was a wrecked Japanese tank, and various artillery pieces in the area as well.

Out next stop was on top of the ridge above the command post, which was reached by a winding road from the other side of the island. This is also called Suicide Cliff. The view was spectacular, but it is famous for the Japanese suicides similar to the Banzai Cliffs. Here they threw themselves over a sheer 820 foot high rock face.

We continued around the island, heading south down the east coast. We stopped at a place where the ocean surges in through an underwater cave coming up into a grotto, which had been a cave before the roof collapsed. The drive down the east coast was pretty, with good ocean views and another large cave which we had a look at. The road deteriorated into a four wheel drive track, but we persevered and were rewarded when it headed back to the main west coast road past what looked like an abandonded sattelite tracking station.

After a good meal at Tony Roma's in a deluxe, but almost abandonded shopping centre, we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll be off for Palau.