December 3, 2018 – Mystery Island, Vanuatu

Mystery Island Waters

Chief Seated with Warriors

Warrior Starting a Fire

Mark and Kent with the Warriors

The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. The waters were varying shades of greens and blues. It was a tender port so we once again needed to anchor out in the harbor and take small tender boats from the ship to a small dock on the island.

Mystery Island is officially called Inyeug (meaning small) Island and is a small uninhabited island in the Tafea Province of Vanuatu. The island is located at the southernmost point of the Vanuatu archipelago. The island is surrounded by palm trees and beautiful white sand beaches. It is so small that you can walk the perimeter of the island in just 45-minutes. There are reefs offshore where snorkeling is popular to see the clown fish, barracudas, parrot fish, turtles and seahorses. During World War II US soldiers built a grass airstrip on the island to serve as a refueling station.

Today locals from the neighboring islands had set up stalls where they were selling trinkets, clothing, necklaces, accessories and handicrafts. The locals also offer hair braiding and massages along with glass bottom boat tours and snorkeling equipment. Mystery island was made famous by the television show Survivor when they filmed one of their early seasons on the island.

Our tour on this day was titled “Modern Village of Aneityum.” We began our excursion with a short boat trip from Mystery Island to the island of Aneityum. Here, the island dwellers of Aneityum welcomed us into their village for an authentic experience and the opportunity to learn more about village life, culinary delights and the culture of this small but vibrant community.

Local warriors escorted us through the village and introduced us to a friendly family. We stepped into their island home property to discover their daily lives. The village is a place of complex rituals and tradition, which include cultural activities, traditional dances, ancient battle reenactments and a deep appreciation for the bounty produced by the local land. The people depend on the marine resources, fishing and the selling of their sandalwood, baskets and pine. It was fascinating to learn about the home life and the diverse culture of the island and its people.

We learned about their history of the culture, learning past and present traditions, including the predominance of arranged marriages, the role of women in the community, food cultivation, and cooking demonstrations with information on how their gardens produce both food and plant medicines.

After our shore excursion we were transported by boat back to Mystery Island where we took some time to walk around the island. We greeted fellow passengers and enjoyed the beauty of the sand and water. The gemstone colors of the water were spectacular and the small island was filled with happy people enjoying the sand and sea.

The evening’s entertainment was a young man from New Zealand by the name of Marcus Winter. Marcus is known as the sandman because he uses a tray of sand to create momentary art that is quickly swept away and gone forever. On stage he used a back lit tray of sand to create his art that was then projected onto the large screen in the theater. He also created several pieces of landscape art using paint on paper that he was selling after the performance. He is very talented and the show was something unique and very interesting.

December 2, 2018 – Easo, Lifou, New Caledonia

Chief’s Hut

Locals Preparing the Meal

Burying the Meal

St. Pierre Baptist Church

Church Interior

Locals singing and weaving the palm fronds

This was a tender port and the weather was very pleasant. In the morning we had sunny skies and warm temperatures while in the afternoon we had some cloudy skies but no rain.

Lifou is a commune of France in the Loyalty Islands Province of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. The Loyalty Islands are made up of six inhabited islands and several smaller uninhabited islands. They are one of three Provinces of New Caledonia and are located about 120 miles northeast of the capital of Noumea and the main island. Only about 20,000 people live on the Loyalty Islands. From the ship we could see high up on the steep cliff’s the Notre Dame de Lourdes — a historic chapel constructed in 1898 by Catholic missionaries.

The tour that we took on this day was titled “Melanesian Encounter”. Our Journey took us through the sights and sounds of the South Pacific on a two-hour visit to Lifou’s beautiful north east. We began with a relaxing drive through Easo Village — a seaside settlement with breathtaking panoramic views of jewel-toned Santal Bay.

We continued across the narrow neck of the island as we traveled along roads lined with thick, leafy trees and shady palms swaying in the breeze. We wound our way through Xepenehe — a coastal village with vibrant blue-green water, hand-carved totems and a charming white bridge arching between jagged rocks. Here, and in the settlement of Komo, we took in the traditional houses built in a dome shape with thatched roofs and no windows. In the delightful village of Hnathalo, we were welcomed with a hand-woven head band of flax like greens decorated with a few fresh flowers. We walked through the village with our guide for a sense of what it’s like to live in this serene Melanesian setting. Traditional homes and colorful flowerbeds thrive in the island’s temperate climate. In a garden behind the chief’s house, we marveled at the Grand Case — the largest chief’s hut in all of New Caledonia, with an enormous thatched roof and open fireplace. We were invited inside the chief’s hut where we were asked to sit on the bamboo mats on the floor. One side of the hut is for visitors while the opposite side is reserved only for the chief and guest are asked to sit as a sign of respect for the chief. Our guide explained to us about life on the island.

Behind the chief’s hut we were welcomed by the local villagers with fresh cut coconuts to drink the water out of. They also served us fresh coconut pieces while they demonstrated how they prepare a local meal. Many large fresh soft leaves are placed on the table to wrap the meal in. On top of the leaves is placed sliced potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. Next, a whole chicken is placed on top and covered with a tea kettle of water poured over a strainer filled with fresh crushed coconut fruit. This was then all wrapped tightly in the leaves and tied up with cords made from braided plant fibers. The entire bundle was then placed on a pile of hot stones heated in a fire. The rocks were placed over the packaged meal and then covered with dirt to allow the heat to steam the food for about one-hour.

After the demonstration they unveiled an already prepared meal that they unwrapped and served up on plates for us to sample. Each type of vegetables and the chicken were placed on separate plates with plenty of tooth picks for us to sample everything. It was very nicely cooked and the chicken was very tender but there was very little flavor as they had not really used any spices.

The local villagers thought that Kent looked like Harrison Ford. The guide told us that she told them he was a cousin.

Next, we explored the St Pierre Baptist Church — a rustic chapel built by missionaries in 1883. The church is quite large for the size of the community and was simply decorated with a few pieces of art and some simple stained-glass windows.

Back at the tender pier we had time to wander through the village on our own and browse for souvenirs and handicrafts made by the locals. There was also a group of locals singing some local folk songs and weaving hats, trays and baskets out of palm fronds.

In the afternoon we saw a 2009 movie onboard titled Amelia about the life of Amelia Earhart. Amelia is famous as the first woman pilot to fly solo over the Atlantic and for disappearing while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to fly around the world. Amelia was played by Hilary Swank and it also featured Ewan McGregor and Richard Gere.

The evening’s entertainment was a duo by the name of X-Over Duo. Two of Europe’s finest classically trained voices who sung a variety opera classics and musical and film songs. They both have beautiful voices and were well received by the audience.

December 1, 2018 – Noumea, New Caledonia

Coconut Tree Square

Flower Market

Handicrafts Market

St. Joseph Church

New Caledonia is located about half way between Fiji and Australia. Noumea is the capital and the largest city of the French special collective of New Caledonia. It is situated on a peninsula in the south of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre. The majority of the island’s European, Polynesian, Indonesian and Vietnamese populations live in this town. Some of the people are also black.  They work here in the South Pacific’s most industrialized city. The population of the city and its surrounding area is about 180,000 people. The local language spoken is French. During World War II, Noumea served as the headquarters of the US military in the South Pacific.

We took one of the local hop-on, hop-off buses that transported us along the coast to see some of the beautiful sand beaches and made stops at the local market, the aquarium and the museum. The entire round trip took about 45 minutes to complete. On the second loop around we got off the bus at the morning market where we saw many booths selling local handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs. Inside several buildings they were selling fruits, vegetables, meats and flowers.  Not much of the architecture reflected the French influence.

We then walked through the city passing war memorials, old penitentiary buildings now converted to government offices and then on to St. Joseph Cathedral. This Roman Catholic cathedral has been the seat of the archdiocese of Noumea since 1966. The cathedral is perched high enough up the hillside to capture views of the harbor and ocean. The interior included some colorful stained-glass windows and a fairly simple altar.

The center of town is the location of a very large park called Place des Cocotiers or Coconut Tree Square. Surrounding the four block-long square are many shops selling jewelry, toys, clothing, food items and restaurants. It was a Saturday when we visited and several shops had tables set up out front where they would wrap your holiday gifts.

We took one more loop around town on the bus before returning to the ship for lunch in the early afternoon. Our all-aboard time was 4:00pm so that we could have a mandatory muster station drill (life boat drill) before we sailed.

We had dinner with a young man on the ship traveling alone by the name of Stewart. He had intended to sail with his girlfriend but she had gotten a new job and was unable to join him. He was then planning to sail with his grandmother although she got sick and was also unable to join him. He is a computer coder working in New York City doing cyber security work. We enjoyed spending time with him and learning a little more about his life.

The evening’s entertainment was a vocalist and comedian impressionist by the name of Tricia Kelly. She sang a huge variety of songs from a vast number of artist impersonating each of them. She has a great voice and a lot of energy.

November 30, 2018 – Sea Day

This morning started with the cruise director Jorge and the morning show featuring two HAL employees who are the lighting engineers onboard the ship. They are both from the Philippines and have been working for Holland America for 25 years now. They both started out with very different jobs, one working as a tailor and the other as an upholsterer onboard. As opportunities arose they moved away from their original jobs to work in the entertainment department.

Ian lectured on things to see and do in our upcoming ports of call of Nomea and Easo, New Caledonia, as well as Mystery Island, Vanuatu. These Pacific islands are known for their beautiful ocean environments and many of the things to do revolve around snorkeling and the beaches.

Next, speaker David Horner spoke about New Caledonia and its history over the last couple of centuries, for example, how it became a French territory, the part it played in the war, its vast nickel deposits and its future as an independent nation.

In the afternoon we attended a lecture by guest speaker Dr. Joe Kess on Vanuatu and New Caledonia. He discussed the pidgin language that many of these pacific islands use as a common language because many islands have their own language or dialect. He also discussed how the French still control New Caledonia after an election earlier this month to decide if they should become independent. A vote will be taken again in 2020 and again in 2023. Even though New Caledonia is independently administered, France spends about 1.5-billion-dollars on the island each year so breaking away could be a costly mistake. China is cozying up to Vanuatu wanting to invest in the island to have a presence in the area.

We had dinner with Joyce, our next-door neighbor on the ship. She was born in the Netherlands but now lives in Arizona and has had a very interesting life.

The evening’s entertainment was another show by guitarist Jesse Kazemek and his wife, Colleen. This show featured the music of the 50’s and 60’s rather than just Beatles music that was featured in their last show.

November 29, 2018 – Sea Day

While in Sydney we said farewell to most of the current entertainers and guest speakers, so we welcomed onboard a new batch of speakers and entertainers for this final leg of our trip to Los Angeles.

On this sea day the seas were still filled with many white caps and the ship was moderately rocking from side to side. Fortunately, as the day progressed the seas began to subside.

The morning included a talk by EXC Tours manager Nyron and EXC Guide Ian on the shore excursions offered in the Pacific Islands we will visit over the next three weeks. Later in the morning, guest speaker David Horner lectured on Traders & Explorers: European Adventures in the Pacific. Over the centuries there have been countless explorers who have explored many of the islands in the Pacific hopping from one island to the next. Often these explorers were sent out to find undiscovered lands or were set off course by trade winds and found new lands by accident.

In the afternoon guest speaker Dr. Joe Kess lectured on Peopling the Pacific where he discussed the migration of people from the western shores of the Pacific to the south and east populating islands across the Pacific as they went.

There was an afternoon performance by the “Unusualist,” Raymond Crowe whose performance was cancelled from the previous night because of the severe weather. Raymond comes from Australia and has performed all over the world including for the Queen of England. He has a very interesting show including light projected hand puppets, the lost art of silhouette cutting, magic, ventriloquism and humor. Nothing he performed had we seen from any other performer, so it was very interesting.

The evening’s entertainment was a show by the Amsterdam singers and dancers titled “a la Mode.”  This show is one that we saw in 2016 when we were on the Rotterdam but it was good none the less. The cast of singers and dancers work very hard and does a good job.

After the show we saw a documentary on the comedy and biography of the actor, comedian Robin Williams. It was interesting although he seemed to struggle with being accepted and had his share of ups and downs.

November 28, 2018 – Sydney, Australia

Puzzle Table

Early in the morning we awoke to an electrical storm and heavy rains. The rains continued throughout the morning so we decided that to stay onboard the ship instead of taking the shuttle into town and traipse around the city in the rain. By the afternoon the rain had subsided but it was still quite windy with intermittent light showers.

Onboard Mark worked on the community jigsaw puzzle of 2,000 pieces with several of the ladies onboard. Kent read his daily newspapers and spent time visiting with other guests.

There were rumors of a suicide on board, but we can’t find anyone who really knows anything about it…..perhaps it is just a rumor. Even when you speak to people in authority on the ship you get varying facts about things that take place on the ship.

After the sail away party, we sailed in late afternoon and as soon as we reached the open waters of the ocean the ship, began to rock and roll. The seas were very rough and the ship quickly put out the green apples at the front desk and placed barf bags at the elevators. Many people stayed in their cabins to avoid trying to navigate the ship. The scheduled entertainment was postponed and replaced with a movie.

November 27, 2018 – Sydney, Australia

Mark at the Sydney Bridge

Kent and Mark near the Opera House

Shopping Arcade

Christmas Tree

We arrived in Sydney with rough seas through the night. It was cloudy in the morning but the sun prevailed and it turned out to be a beautiful day in Sydney with temperatures around 70 degrees.

We took the ship’s shuttle bus from White Bay Cruise Terminal to Darling Harbor’s Sea Life Aquarium where we set out on foot towards Bangaroo Reserve. From Bangaroo Reserve you get great views out over Sydney Harbor and you can see the iconic Sydney Bridge. We continued our walk along Walsh Bay to Dawes Point where we walked under the Sydney bridge and suddenly the Sydney Opera House comes into clear view. We continued along the waterfront through The Rocks neighborhood towards Circular Quay.

Once at Circular Quay we purchased ferry tickets to take us to the town of Parramatta at the furthest point up the Parramatta River (14 miles). The ferry trip took about 90-minutes making stops at several towns along the way. The river is extremely wide in some places and most of the shoreline is developed with all sorts of housing. You see everything from large estate parcels with mansions on them to apartments and condominium buildings. At one point you see a campground complete with army green tents where you just need to show up and you can camp along the river. Along the river banks there are many parks and paved pathways for walking, biking and jogging.

Once we arrived in Parramatta we found a restaurant along the bank of the river where we enjoyed a lunch of fish and chips for 10 Australian dollars. Just outside the restaurant was a free shuttle around the shopping district of Parramatta, so we took a twenty-minute ride on the free shuttle to see the town. Parramatta with a population of about 26,000 was founded by the British in 1788, the same year as Sydney. It has a multicultural population with about 30% of the residents being born in India, 12% in China and 24% in Australia.

After returning to the circular quay in Sydney we walked along George Street, famous for shopping. The streets were filled with folks getting off from work as well as shopping. George Street is undergoing renovations as they upgrade their public transit system. The shops and malls were filled with holiday decorations.

Upon returning to the ship we found that about 130 passengers had disembarked the ship and were headed home while about 40 new passengers would be boarding for our final leg across the Pacific to Los Angeles. We met a very nice couple who were from Canada (Andrea and Christopher) who had been traveling for the last year all around the world. This was their first cruise ship experience and so they had some questions about what to expect on a ship and we were happy to speak with them.

November 26, 2018 – Sea Day

The seas throughout the night and day were very rough and the ship tossed and turned quite a bit. The morning included the Morning Show with Cruise Director Jorge interviewing Jesse Kazemek the guest performer and his wife who performed a couple of nights earlier.

Ian lectured on the things to see and do in Sydney followed by a cooking class in America’s Test Kitchen with Spencer who showed us how to make dinner salads. He showed us a classic Caesar salad and a Cobb salad each with a homemade dressing.

For lunch we joined one of our new friends, Pat, and several of her friends for lunch in the Pinnacle Grill. Pat was leaving the following day in Sydney and so we celebrated new friends and future travels. Pat and her family have had a time share in La Jolla for many years and we hope to see her in March or April when she comes to La Jolla for her annual visit.

The afternoon included a lecture by Dr. Mark Lax on the origins of Sydney as a penal colony up through the modern day, including a few suggestions of things to see and do in Sydney.

The evening’s entertainment was a split show with Mentalist Brian Ledbetter and Comedian Darren Sanders.

November 25, 2018 – Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia

The weather had improved dramatically since we left Asia. The temperatures were considerably cooler and there was much less humidity. Although the seas appeared calm when we arrived in Mooloolaba (moo-Lool-a-ba), the captain cut our visit short by two hours due to expected afternoon swells. Our call in Mooloolaba was a tender port, meaning that we anchored out in the ocean and took smaller tender boats from the ship to shore. This also meant that several of the ship’s shore excursions were cancelled due to the shortened day in port. All aboard was 2:30pm with a 3:00 sailing time.

Mooloolaba is a suburb and tourist resort town located on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. It is about 60-miles north of Brisbane with a population of only about 8,000 inhabitants. The area has many man-made canals with homes built on them, each with their own boat dock. Many of the homes are new and the architecture is quite modern in style. Mooloolaba derives its name from the Aboriginal word mulu meaing Snapper Fish, or mulla meaning Red Bellied Black Snake. Originally known as Mooloolah Heads, the name was changed to Mooloolaba by Thomas O’Conner in 1919 when he subdivided the land for sale.

The dock where the tender boats dropped us off is located in a beautiful canal area with many shops, an underwater world marine park, souvenir shops, galleries and restaurants. The white sand beaches are expansive and filled with tourists enjoying swimming, boating, sailing, kayaking and sunbathing. The town was very neatly manicured and well maintained.

Friends, Greg and Tony who used to live in Sydney, had moved to a town near Mooloolaba about eight months ago. They were kind enough to pick us up at the pier and drive us to their new home for a visit and lunch. They are retired flight attendants from Qantas Airlines whom Kent met (Greg) back in 1976. At their home were a couple of other retired flight attendants from Qantas who live on the gold coast about 90 minutes south of Mooloolaba. We had a wonderful, although all too short of a visit with them including a delightful lunch of pasta with prawns. They returned us to the pier in time to board the ship for our onward journey to Sydney. The sea swells had increased and the tender ride was a bit rocky but all made it safely back onboard the ship.  Brian joined us again for dinner.

The evening’s entertainment was a second performance by the group from London called Graffiti Classics. The fourth member of their group was able to arrive onboard and performed with them. They had another energetic, entertaining and funny show of classical music and comedy.

November 24, 2018 – Sea Day

Spencer-America’s Test Kitchen Chef

This sea day was filled with more lectures. Jorge’s coffee chat was with Reef Pilot, Captain Hulsebos. Following the morning show, Ian discussed things to see and do to make the most of our time in Mooloolaba, Australia.

Mark attended a Pearls seminar to support Jon and Brian, the pearl sellers onboard. They were having a pearl seminar but were having a difficult time getting people to come to the seminar. In the end there were only six of us who attended the talk on pearls. In the seminar Brian talked about the types of pearls, color of different pearls, the care of pearls, size of the pearls as well as pearls worn by famous people in history.

Mark attended a cooking class with Spencer about Getting to Know Chilis where he learned about a variety of chilis used in cooking. Meanwhile, Kent attended a talk with the Amsterdam cast of singers and dancers and the production staff where he enjoyed the backstage tour (again) and chatting with the stars!

In the afternoon there was a lecture by Tim Runyun about the Pacific Origins of the Smithsonian. Following that was a lecture by Mark Lax on the Story of Coffee.

The LGBTQ group has been meeting in the Crow’s Nest bar at 5:00pm each day when we are not still in a port. The group is fairly small with only four or five people attending regularly. However, we enjoy sharing stories about our day.

Brian, the Mentalist, joined us again for dinner in the dining room where we shared a table with Henry and David from Seattle not far from where Brian lives. The evening’s entertainment was a guitarist by the name of Jesse Kazemek who performed a Tribute to the Beatles. Jesse’s father introduced him to a Beatles album when he was very young and it projected his life’s path of learning and performing the more than 200 songs that the Beatles recorded. His wife also joined him on stage for a few songs.