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.
|Sunday, December 13, 2009 16:02:10|
Wake Island: 1 - Getting there
Thursday, December 10, 2009
It is 7 AM and I'm sitting in a large, worn armchair in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel & Resort in Guam, a territory of the USA, looking out on grey clouds with diminishing patches of blue above a shallow lagoon and its reef. Two once white wings of the hotel jut out on either side of my view. They are now a dismal grey colour, slightly lighter than the sky, covered with black splotches and streaks from years of rain and lack of paint or maintenance. The hotel is now beyond needing maintenance, it needs a thorough overhaul!
A number of the world's most travelled will be gathering in Guam in anticipation of reaching the elusive destination of Wake Island, a sand atoll with a 9,800 ft runway and a US military base. Some have been trying to get there for 15 or 20 years, but it is off limits to all but those who must be there. We thought we might get there a couple of years ago, when Military & Historical Tours had a memorial ceremony arranged for WWII vets and their decendants to commemorate the defense of Wake, however a typhoon hit the island before were to go and the airstrip was deemed unsafe for civilian aircraft.
I departed Costa Rica at 4 PM on Monday, December 7, arriving in Houston a little before 8 PM and heading to the quite good Double Tree hotel for the night before my 6 :40 AM flight to Guam. Hawaii divides the 16 hours air time into the two almost equal segments. My seatmate for the first 8 hours was an intelligent, well travelled 22 year old fellow who was involved in the installation of fiber optic cables between the islands of Guam and Kwajalein. We drank the plane out of Heinekin and Corona beer while carrying on a lively discussion covering a wide range of topics. The food was good and time passed quickly.
It was a nuisance taking all possessions off the plane in Hawaii to facilitate cleaning, but there was a President's Club lounge only a few steps from the aircraft. The stop in Hawaii was an hour and a half, but we were back on board in about 45 minutes.
My seatmate for the next segment was a thoroughly grumpy old English guy, who after a few words I decided was best ignored. He was miserable to the stewardess who had just come on duty, and when he got into a real snit over a choice of salad dressing, which he emphasized by waving the menu around and talking louder because she couldn't understand him through his thick accent, I was overcome by laughter, which I desperately tried to surpress. (I was in the aisle seat, so this all went on with me in the middle) My antics got the stewardess going and she soon had the same problem, so she poked me in the arm to get me to stop before fleeing to the galley. I slept the rest of the way.
My friend Ted Cookson, owner of a travel agency in Cairo, Egypt, had made our hotel arrangements, but when I got to the room the hotel had erroneously given us one king bed. Ted is a good friend, but not THAT good, so I managed to change to a room with two queen beds. The alternate room had feather pillows, which had my allergies going well by the time Ted arrived at 1 :20 AM from Tokyo after a nightmarish schedule of flights. His return flights require 33 hours of travel to reach Miami, Florida! I gave up on the feather bedding at 6 AM and now am here in the lobby listening to Christmas carols over a tinny speaker system while writing.
AfterTed got mobile we walked to the K-Mart department store, billed as the largest of that brand in the world. Tour buses take tourists to this store. We were thoroughly unimpressed - it seemed no larger or better stocked than any other major K-Mart, so after buying a couple of items we retreated back to the hotel. I walked around the deserted pool area, and found only two people on the narrow sand beach in front.
In mid afternoon we met up with Lee, a friend of Ted's, also in the Traveler's Century Club (TCC) and taxiied to the much nicer Outrigger Hotel for a lecture on the history of Wake, tour instructions and to pick up plane tickets. An informal get together of the participants in the tour was held on the bar patio, where it was fun to meet other well travelled people. We were then herded in to sit down for dinner an hour before the buffet was provisioned. After dinner a seeming endles series of miliary men gave speeches, during which the TCC contingient sidled out the door in ones and twos. Our table politely stayed, but during an interminable, boring discourse by a marine officer we lost our resolve and left.
Ted, Lee and I arrived at the airport at the appointed hour of 3 :15 AM. The plane left on time, and we were served a not bad breakfast on the 3 ½ hour flight. I'd brought along my laptop to get a little writing done, but used it only to show some photos as fascinating stories were shared.
Before landing on Wake the pilot did a flypass close to the island, back and forth so those seated on both sides of the plane could get a good arial view. A welcoming ceremony was held in the terminal before we boarded buses for a tour of the very small atoll, which wraps around a central lagoon. The sights were largely WWII pill boxes and fortifications in varying states of decomposition, a rock where war prisoners had scratched their names and a well rusted cannon.
The base is not very active, with few airforce personnel and no aircraft stationed there. It is run by a civilian company employing largely Thais and Philipinos as workers. It seems to exist to refuel the odd aircraft passing that way. I can't imaine the cost per aircraft refueled if the cost of the facility was taken into account! Damaged buildings attest to the severity of the typhoon that cancelled our previously sceduled trip.
The tour ended at the Drifters Bar. Over beer, box lunches and more beer travel stories were traded with Kevin Huges, Jeff Shea, Jorge and other travellers. There are no good beaches on the island due to rocks and sharp coral, but some of the group with beach shoes or leather feet had a swim.
We caught the last bus back to the airport terminal, then walked to a memorial on the beach nearby for a wreath laying ceremony before boarding the plane for the return flight. Locals and aircrew alike seemed to enjoy the break in routine that our trip provided. The flight back was fun as the Continental Airlines crew served dinner and distributed cold beer, wine and drinks while ex-military groups told war stories and travellers swapped travel tales. We arrived in Guam about 8 PM and took the shortest route to bed.