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.

Dec 012014

Quick transfer by shared hotel bus to my hotel the Aggie Grey’s Resort which was less than 10 minutes from the airport. First impression on check-in was that the hotel/resort seemed to be absolutely dead. There were no people around at all, and the staff was moving at about half of normal island speed.

At least things looked promising on the hotel activities board;


Had to try two different rooms to get one with adequately functioning air conditioning…which didn’t seem like it should be a problem given the low occupancy. The second room had a nice view of the gardens, looking out towards the ocean:


Beach right outside my room:


Headed to the hotel bar/restaurant to have a beer before dinner, and watch the sunset…which was stunning. After all the sunsets I’ve seen on this trip, the purples of this one were just stunning and unique:


Some pics of the room. It was nice-sized, but felt quite empty with lots of open space. Definitely met my “Three Cs” though – clean, cool, and comfortable. No complaints at all.



Nothing says “don’t drink the water” like endless bottles of bottled water left for you:


Woke up the next morning, and had a lazy start. Breakfast was included with the room, and there was quite a good spread, including eggs cooked to order. Nobody was going to go hungry! I had booked two dives for the day, and we weren’t going to head out until 10am, so it was nice to have a nice and relaxing start to the day.

Aqua Samoa was located clear across the resort, a 10-15 minute walk from my room. When I got there, I found out I was the only diver booked that day, so I’d have a private trip with just the boat driver, the divemaster, and myself. That was definitely a first for me! With just the two of us we were in absolutely no rush to get going, so took our time.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to recharge my camera so didn’t get any pictures from these dives. The most memorable parts were the really cool underwater geography. Both sites featured some really cool 40 meter high coral columns sticking up from the ocean floor, and there were pretty strong currents which allowed us to head down about 25-30 meters and just drift around the formations. We saw a couple of sharks in the distance, but nothing terribly close. The fish life was nothing special, but the dives were definitely unique due to the topography.

Finally made it back to my room just after 2pm, grabbed a quick snack, and relaxed on the beach for the remainder of the afternoon:



Samoa had an absolutely amazing sunset in store for us again. I think when this trip is over I’m going to need to put a post together with just the sunset pics:



My last day in Samoa I had planned a daytrip to American Samoa. The flights to Pago Pago leave from the domestic airport in Samoa, which is about a 45-50 minute drive from the international airport and the resort. Once a day, Aggie Grey’s runs a free shuttle into town for guests so they can explore the city. It worked out reasonably well for my departure time and would save a $30 or more taxi ride, so I headed into town with the hotel van. Chatted on the way with a nice couple from New Zealand who were originally from Fiji, and it was really interesting hearing their different perspective on the resort. I was a bit disappointed how quiet it was and how little there was to do, but they were thrilled with how quiet things were and how relaxing it was…while still having nice facilities.

Picture of Aggie Grey in the reception area:


After about 50 minutes we were in downtown Apia, and I had about an hour to walk around before I needed to grab a short 10 minute cab to the airport. Downtown church:


Apia harbour:


Samoan government building:


Clock tower roundabout:


After walking around for an hour and having some coffee, it was time to head to the airport for my daytrip to American Samoa!

Nov 302014

The plan today was to fly from Tonga to Samoa via Nadi, Fiji. There was a nice route with a 90 minute connection in Nadi, and I booked all of this before I ever learnt that Fiji Airways and I were soon to enter into an abusive relationship. The first week of this trip I’d received an email from Expedia. It seems  Fiji Airways had decided to “retime” the onward connection to Samoa, and I would now have a 5.5 hour connection in Nadi. Instead of leaving at approximately 530pm we would now leave at 11pm and arrive at 230am. Ugh, not desirable at all, but if that was the worst drama I’d have this trip I’m not going to complain.

Unfortunately, three days before the flight, just after I got out of the shower on the Emirates A380, I checked my phone and there was an email. From Fiji Airways. I figured it was something about my Tuvalu refund.

Oh no, not at all. They had “retimed” my flight once again, and it was now going to leave a further 14 hours later – the NEXT DAY. Meaning I’d get stranded overnight in Fiji. UGH. There goes my first day in Samoa. Ok, breathe deeply. Water under the bridge. This is Fiji Airways. At least you get a nice relaxing nice in Fiji now. At least you won’t land in Samoa at 230am. Try and stay positive.

So I did.

Got to the airport, and check-in for Tonga took nearly 45 minutes. The ground handling company was clearly moving on island time, and there was a reasonable breeze in the terminal, so it wasn’t too bad. I asked about the exit row. She disappeared for about 10 minutes to “see if it is possible.” She came back, and without a word gave me a non exit row seat. I asked again. “No, not possible.” That was it.

Based on the flights departure board you’d think they’d be bored and looking for something to do:


Your medium sized wood carvings are ok for carry on, but your wooden knives are not…no matter which way you point them!


Shot of the bustling Nuku’Alofa airport from the passenger dropoff area:


It was a walk to the plane gate, and notice all the friends and relatives waving goodbye to us:


Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever boarded a plane through the rear. It was terrifying.


…but I still managed a smile.


Upon boarding, I asked the flight attendant if by chance the exit rows remained open, I could sit there when the door is closed. “Yes yes, of course.”

Fiji Airways flight 212
Nuku’alofa, Tonga (TBU) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 15:45, Arrive 17:15, Flight Time 1:30
Boeing 737-800, Registration DQ-FJG, Manufactured 1999, Seat 23D

I stalked the exit rows. I actually sat in 23D to deter people from getting the same idea. Nobody showed up. Score! Now really, how much work would it have been for the check-in agent to actually assign me this seat? Clearly too much. I had the entire row to myself!

In the approximately 10 days I’d been away, Fiji had also apparently gotten quite serious about Ebola:


Despite only being a 90  minute flight, Fiji Airways offered a small snack. Another scary sandwich slathered in mayo and mystery meat, and today there was a pasta salad as well. No thanks, not going to risk it. Fortunately it was biscuits and bitter to the rescue again!


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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!