Saturday 16 April 2022
Arriving at Auckland airport there were a few more people around than in January. Still none of the airline lounges are open and many of the shops are closed. The one cafe open has a constant queue of waiting passengers.
Once again I am flying on Fiji Airlines with a stop in Nadi. I did ring Air NZ to book a fare to Hawaii but was told “we don’t fly to Hawaii until July”. I suggested that I could fly to LA with them then they could book me on United to Hawaii and back to LA. The answer I got back surprised me. “No we can’t do that – we don’t fly to Hawaii until July”. Hence I went on line and booked with Fiji, saving over a thousand dollars.
This time the flight was full to Nadi, where I waited a couple of hours in the very nice business class lounge there. The lounge was quite full with people flying back to to the US after a relaxing holiday at one of Fiji’s many discounted resorts. In the 1980’s planes couldn’t make it all the way to the US so there were always one or two stops along the way. The next leg of the flight to LA was also full in spite of which the service on the flight was up there with what one would get on Singapore or Emirates.
Arriving in the US immigration had their sights on me again. The lady behind the counter said “we can’t find your ESTA do you have a copy of it?” Since an incident in Mexico a few years ago I have always carried a hard copy. I handed it over and she said “wait over there”. Soon an immigration officer turned up and said “follow me”. This time it was to a room with a hundred odd people in it. “Stand or sit over there and do not look at or touch your phone”! After what seemed like an hour I took my phone out to look at the time and was immediately pounced on. A few hours later I was called to a booth where the guy tapped some keys, stamped my passport and handed it to me. I asked what the problem was. Apparently when the airline had scanned my passport the 9 at the end had come through as a 0. Stopping at the counter they gave me a chit to give to the airline who would put me on a later flight no extra charge. Racing out of the terminal, jumping a bus and then a bit of walking I made it to the United terminal. People let me jump the queue for security after which I ran to the gate, which was the furtherest in the terminal, just making it as the last person to board my original flight.
Five hours later we landed in Hawaii where I was met by good friends, Dave, Chrissie and daughter Ruby. Dave is over here as a Liaison Warrant Officer for the New Zealand Defence Force on a two year posting which finishes at the end of this year. I am their first visitor.
Dave and Chrissie live just across the road from Ewa Beach on Iroquois Point, which is situated in the west side of the entrance to Pear Harbour. All the naval craft sail in and out of the harbour not far from their house. Across the other side of the harbour entrance is the three runway airport which both military and civil share. There is a constant trail of civilian aircraft landing and taking off and every now and then there is a more intense roar of jet engines as the military F22 raptor generation jets take to the sky.
After a good catch up Chrissie headed off to bed. Dave and I headed over to meet the neighbour, Aaron, a 20-year-plus veteran of the US Navy. Still serving as a Chief Petty Officer he is a great bloke with lots of stories to tell. After a few good yarns it was time to hit the hay.
Sunday 17 April 2022
After checking out the beach across the road and watching a couple of naval ships go in and out of the harbour we headed over to Barbaras point to join some friends of Dave and Chrissie, who work for the local FBI SWAT. We relaxed and chatted the afternoon away. People swam and surfed, some on the airfoil boards skimming across the waves effortlessly.
Monday 18 April 2022
We headed around the harbour and into the hills on highway 3. A tunnel took us to the windy side of the island where the steep hills are covered in thick bush as the rain gets dropped there as it hits the island. We dropped in to Old Paly Rd Whiskey, which is run by a retired US Marine Colonel who Dave works with. Then it was off round the coast, stopping at a lookout above Wailamaio Beach for a look across the colourful water.
Next stop was a blow hole next to a beach famous for movie sets. The colour of the water here is quite striking.
We stopped at a beachside park and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading to Diamond Head where a tunnel takes one through into the crater. Dave showed his military ID and was given free entry and thanked politely for his service. I had been up on the head when visiting Hawaii in 1988. Back then one could just wander up a track on the hill to the top at no charge. Those tracks are all closed and it looks like the money is rolling in. We enjoyed a pineapple flavoured sorbet watching many people paying for the walk up the hill on the old railway track used to ferry ammunition and supplies up the hill to the gun emplacements. Back in the late 1800’s a number of cannons were installed in the crater to defend the island, able to lob shells 8 miles out to sea.
A short drive found us in the Waikiki Beach part of town amongst the expensive shops, bars and restaurants. After parking in a parking building we took a stroll through town in the direction of the beach to visit the military museum, which turned out to be closed on Mondays. Behind the museum is the famous Waikiki Beach, which was, as usual, swarming with holiday-makers, some who who had received an overdose of the sun. By the pier lay a monk seal guarded by cones and tape and supervised by a local conservation officer making sure that no no one went near this rare and protected species. A short stroll back into town and we visited the bar to quench our thirst. Interestingly, even though the US is well behind on some forms of banking as they’re still using cheques, here, after setting up a tab at the bar, you paid by scanning a QR code on the table and simply walking away. Once I figured it out it seemed to work well and I didn’t get charged twice. We enjoyed a meal at Duke’s Lane Market Restaurant before heading home.
Tuesday 19 April 2022
We wake up to find there is no water in the area due to a leak somewhere. This means the local schools are closed for the day along with some other public services. Like any big city in the world, this one has its infrastructure problems. Recently fuel from a big storage area under a hill, where the fuel is stored for the Navy and reserves to the island (apparently billions of gallons), leaked into and contaminated the bore that provides water to this part of the island. There are also, from time to time, power outages and traffic jams.
There are around a million people living on the island of Oahu. Around 50,000 of those are serving military personal plus around 80,000 family members. After tourism the military is the next biggest contributor to the island’s economy.
Mid-morning Dave dropped me off at the Pearl Ridge Shopping Centre, where I spent the next couple of hours trying to find a PCR Covid test in preparation for the next leg of the journey. Finally I located a place at Pearl Harbour shopping centre a few miles down the road. It was a drive-through place but they did let me walk through and the staff were very helpful. I never did get the results of the test though. After completing the test I headed to the Pearl Harbour museum. There I boarded a bus, which took me across to Ford Island, where I visited the aviation museum. This is split over two hangars, one of which still has bullet holes in the glass from the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. There are large range of aircraft dating back to World War II with a large complement of modern fighter jets and military helicopters, many parked outside between the two hangars.
Next stop was a visit to the US Bowfin submarine that has been tied up at Pearl Harbour since 1981 as a tourist attraction. Launched in 1942, it played a part in the Second World War, serving throughout the Pacific and sinking more than 15 enemy ships. With 10 officers and 70 crew it would’ve been quite a cramped place to live. No doubt in those days the crew was kept occupied polishing the large number of brass objects on the ship. With 4 large V16 diesel engines which charged the batteries (these could only be run on the surface or down to periscope depth) it had a range of 20 thousand miles.
Dave picked me up on his way home from work. We spent a quiet evening chatting, our conversations often interrupted by the loud roar of the raptor jets practising their night flying around the island or a C17 cargo jet thundering down the runway amongst the many civilian flights coming and going.
Wednesday 20 April 2022
The water came back on during the night but schools are still closed. Dave dropped me off at the military museum in town just before it opened at 10am. Just after 10, having had a wander around the outside, I headed to the door which was still locked. A closer look revealed a sign “Closed for alterations February to December 2022”.
Booking an Uber, I headed back to Pearl Harbour catching the bus again over to Ford Island, this time to visit the Missouri, the 63rd and second last battleship ever made by the US Navy and the last to be finished. Launched in January 1944 the 57,540 ton battleship, with 9 x16 inch guns and other armaments, was truly a magnificent ship. 270 meters long and 36 meters wide it originally had a crew of 2700. This was reduced in the 1980s to 1800. It was where the Japanese signed the surrender at the end of World War II and there is a display on the deck where this was done, including a copy of the surrender document, which the Canadians signed on the wrong line pushing everybody else down, with New Zealand just about off the page.
Only the main and one other deck are open to the public at present; even just navigating these spaces takes a good couple of hours and I’m sure a lot longer if you stop to read every sign. The ship saw action in World War II, Korea and was last involved in conflict in the 1990 Gulf war, firing a few cruise missiles into Iraq. Although struck from the Navy register in 1995 the ship did not arrive at Pearl Harbour until 1998, where it now attracts thousands of tourists a year. I’m sure as time goes on the lower decks will be open to the public and I will definitely be back for another visit. Its 16 inch guns could send a 2700lb shell 23 miles in 50 seconds. Each gun operated individually; they could rotate over 300 degrees but were only fired when the barrel ends were over the water to prevent damage to the ship. Compared to the submarine there is lots of space on this ship with a large mess or dining hall for the crew, where president Roosevelt queued up with the sailors to get fed when he and his wife were travelling on the ship. There is a separate mess for the petty officers, the warrant officers, officers and senior officers. The ship has its own bakery, a post office and even an Internet room, which no doubt was added later.
Dave picked me up and we headed back to Ewa beach for some dinner before I was dropped at the airport for the flight to LA.
Thursday 21 April 2022
Arriving at LAX at 6.30 am I stayed airside heading for the International Departure terminal, hoping to set myself up in the lounge for the day. However, partly due to Covid, most of the lounges were not yet open, the Star Alliance lounge not opening till 10 am. As I had not received any results from the Covid test in Hawaii, which according to the documentation was required to into Chile, I headed out of the terminal to find a locally situated testing centre. Taxis have been banned from LA International airport, I presume for congestion reasons, so I managed to get a bus to a taxi terminal and then a rather grumpy taxi driver to the local 911 Covid testing centre. I think the taxi driver was a bit pissed off that I wasn’t going far enough and informed me that there was a minimum fee of $20.
The PCR test was really easy- after parting with 189USD I stood at the counter and the lady reached through from behind the glass and stuck the stick up my nose. I received the results 2 1/2 hours later.
Arriving back at the terminal I could not get through to the lounges as I did not yet have a boarding pass. The entering Chile process is rather complicated. You have to go online, fill out forms and wait for them to get approved. Eventually after several hours I got as far as the checkout process, which then informed me that due to Covid I couldn’t check in online. I had to wait for the checkout counter to open, so at around 2 o’clock I headed there and checked in. My Covid test wasn’t required and according to the counter staff hadn’t been for several days. Nobody had updated the website. I did have to show a certificate to say that I had Covid insurance and that I had filled in the C19 form and that was about it – much less complicated than it appeared online.
Friday 22 April 2022
After a sleepless 10.5-hour overnight flight from LAX we touched down at Santiago Airport in Chile, where after a complicated form-filling process at the airport I made my way to the Holiday Inn, where I spent the day catching up on a few things while waiting for Sylvia to arrive from Mexico, where she had been visiting the Royal Canin team for the past couple of days, having also visited Bogota from France in the early part of the week .