Dec 042014

Made it to the tiny Fagali’i Airport on Samoa about 65 minutes before my flight…and the flight was still not open for check-in! I guess that’s how it works when the entire airport is one little room! I did still have to pay for my return ticket, so took care of that while I waited. Why didn’t I just buy a roundtrip online? Well, see, Samoa and American Samoa sit on opposite sides of the International Date Line, despite only being 50 miles apart. I was departing Samoa at 12:30 pm one day, and arriving at 12:05 pm the PREVIOUS day…a full 24 hours and 25 minutes before I’d departed! I would be returning the day before I left…and you can’t buy a roundtrip ticket where the return date is earlier than the departure date. Crazy!

Eventually check-in opened, and through immigration and security in less than 2 minutes, and time to wait for the flight.

Polynesian Airlines flight 240
Fagali’i Airport, Samoa (FGI) to Pago Pago, American Samoa (PPG)
Depart 12:30, Arrive 12:05 Previous Day, Flight Time – 35 minutes
Dehavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, Registration 5W-FAY, Manufactured 1980, Seat 2A

Old-school handwritten boarding pass:


Today’s flight was packed with all 15 or so seats taken, and soon we were off. Views of American Samoa on approach:



Just 30 minutes flight time (max) and we were on the ground. I snapped this picture of the inside of the plane as we left:



Talofa! Welcome!


Immigration took longer than it should have for 15 people, and I think they were mostly just curious what the hell I was doing there. I guess not many tourists show up from Samoa for the day “just to see it” – especially ones with US passports. CBP doesn’t run the show here so no Global Entry kiosks, so it was the full questioning. America, but felt like “not America” at the same time.

Outside the airport, my next task was to either rent a car or taxi for four hours. I didn’t know where I was going so thought a car would be a bad idea, so I started negotiating with the taxis. In the US mainland a taxi would ask hundreds for four hours, and the first guy I approached wanted $100. The second guy tried $75. The third asked for $60. I probably could have gone lower, but honestly for four hours of driving me around and playing tour guide I thought that a pretty fair price.

First stop, an ATM, since I had no US Dollars to my name to pay him…and look, it’s right next to a Ford dealership. We really are in America!


After the ATM I told the driver I just wanted to see the island, and needed a good lunch, so we set off. You can see the close ties between Hawaii and Samoa…


Most of the drive was right alongside the ocean, with terrible views:



Despite massive cutbacks in recent years, the economy of American Samoa is largely dependent on the tuna industry, and on StarKist in particular. You can smell the factory long before you get to it:


StarKist workers outside waiting for a bus:


For lunch, my driver took me to Tisa’s Bar & Grill:


Can I get a menu? No, we have fish today. Ok, I’ll have the fish! Delicious grilled fish marinated in coconut milk, citrus juice, butter, and spices. It was amazing. The thing on the right is a local sweet potato that grows straight up out of the ground:


View from Tisa’s deck:




After lunch I stuck around for a bit and chatted with Tisa and Chef Candyman who’d made my lunch. We talked about American Samoa, how things had changed, how Tisa had gone to LA for a few years and hated it, so came back to Pago Pago. After a large group of US National Park collecting tourists left (see, people collect things stranger than countries) it was nice to hear their perspective in life on the islands and why they’d chosen to live there.

Soon it was time for a bit more driving before heading back to the airport:


Most…exotically-furnished…bathrooms ever:


Check-in area. This is the BUSY day too with a flight to Honolulu:


I asked for seat 1A this time so I could watch the flight deck, and they had no trouble giving it to me. Unfortunately, at boarding, I got moved back to 3A for weight and balance reasons. Bummer. We were booked full again except for two seats.

Polynesian Airlines flight 269
Pago Pago, American Samoa (PPG) to Fagali’i Airport, Samoa (FGI)
Depart 16:30, Arrive 18:00 Next Day, Flight Time – 350 minutes
Dehavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, Registration 5W-FAY, Manufactured 1980, Seat 3A


Nice quick flight back to Samoa on the little plane held together by wires, and it was time to go pick up my bags at Aggie Grey’s, check out, and head to the airport for my flight back to Auckland.

Aug 052014

This is, without a doubt, the most complicated trip I’ve ever planned.

First, I thought Iran was bad…because it took me two tries to get to Kish Island, and showing up at a local office in Dubai with a wad of cash to buy tickets for the next day.  There was no info on Kish Air anywhere on the internet, and it wasn’t even all that clear if they really operate the flight that often…but once we’d bought the tickets the plane showed up more or less on time, got us there and back, and was relatively drama free.

Then, there was Somalia.  Of course, I made this one harder, entering from Kenya and going out to Djibouti.  Daallo Airlines from Somalia to Djibouti actually took my reservation at a call centre in the US, and made the booking, and after faxing back and forth about 20 times with copies of credit cards, etc, it was all taken care of.  Now, getting there on African Airways Express from Nairobi was more interesting…they assured me via e-mail that they had an office at the airport, and I could just show up with a few hundred US$ in new notes, and they would take me.  Eventually, right after landing in Nairobi, found the office where I sat and had tea with a guy as he hand-wrote the tickets in carbon copy.

This was all a piece of cake compared to the south pacific…and I haven’t even started this trip yet, where I’m sure a million things will go wrong.  Why is it complicated?  Tuvalu, for example, has two flights a week…and they often are canceled, or don’t show up, or have twice as many people booked as they can carry.  So, fitting all the flights between these countries was a giant complex jigsaw puzzle on its own that took months to plan.  Just when I had it planned, one of them would change their flights.  For example, Nauru has one airline, appropriately called “Our Airline.”  Well, it was until yesterday, it’s now called Nauru Airlines.  I’ve been in touch with a very friendly lady in Brisbane, Australia who is their “reservations supervisor” and she’s been answering a million questions.

You see, Nauru has all of 6,000 people.  In the entire country.  The airline has one plane.  So it’s unclear if I’ll really get there when I expect to or not, but at least I finally have tickets.

Last reason this trip has been crazy difficult – it’s expensive.  Extremely expensive.  See, when you only have two flights a week you can get away with charging $1,000 as a discount fare for a 2 hour flight months in advance.  Ugh.  I’m also trying to do nine new countries this trip, to finish up those I have left in the Pacific.  I’ll be using Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji as hubs, since that’s pretty much the only way to get to many of these countries.

If all goes well, I will be visiting the following new countries:

Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, and Tuvalu

I’ll also be visiting one new territory:  American Samoa, with the cool city name of Pago Pago.

Speaking of fun names, I’m kind of excited for Tuvalu, because not only does its capital have a cool name of Funafuti (almost as cool as Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso), but it has the great airport code of FUN!

I’ll also be spending nights in Singapore, Bali, Darwin, Brisbane, Auckland, Tokyo, Seoul, and Frankfurt.

Tired yet?  This will all take place in the span of 32 days.  I’m sure things will get moved around.  I’m sure I’ll end up likely paying several hundred dollars in change fees, but this promises to be a grand adventure.

What’s there to do in most of these island countries?  From what I understand, not much.  If all goes well, I plan to Scuba in Timor Leste, Solomon Islands (home of amazing World War II wreck dives), Tonga, and Samoa.  Maybe Brisbane as well, but I’m thinking it might be a bit cold in late October.  We will see.  Other than that, at least off the islands, I’ll have plenty of time to have fun and relax in Brisbane and Auckland, and who really can complain about a forced overnight in Bali?  Not me.

So, other than the new countries, this trip was prompted by the desire to use and maximize United miles before they were devalued.  On the outbound, I managed to get Washington to Tokyo on ANA in first class, followed by Tokyo to Singapore on United in First.  Not bad, and super excited to try ANA first!

Returning, I fly Auckland to Tokyo on Air New Zealand in business class on the 787, overnight in Tokyo, continue to Seoul on an Asiana 747 in business class, overnight, Seoul to Frankfurt on Asiana in first class, overnight in Frankfurt, and finally Frankfurt to DC in United first, which if I’m lucky I might get to change to Lufthansa first closer in.  Quite a great value for the miles, and excited for the overnights in Tokyo, Seoul, and Frankfurt!

All total, this should take 29 flights and over 46,000 miles:


It’s finally all booked, about 11 weeks before I leave, so let’s pray there’s not too many schedule changes!  One of the most amazing parts is that I only need one visa for this trip – for Nauru – and it’s visa upon arrival so I’m set there as well!

Oh, and for a final bit of insanity…I return on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to Washington and Wednesday night three days later?  I’m off to Israel and Palestine for five days…assuming the stop firing rockets and such at each other before then.   So in reality, the map should be:


Yes, over 58,000 miles in just over 5 weeks.  I might be insane.  But by the time this is over, I will have hit country #159 (Andorra) in late August, 9 countries of the South Pacific (#160-#168) in early November, and Israel and Palestine late-November bringing me to 170 countries with 26 to go!