Monday, March 16, 2015

Closing The Circle

Map picture

When I can, I like to “close the circle,” so to speak, at the end of a cruise and at least let everyone know how it all ended. In my last blog, I made a bit of a goof when I said that we had one more day at sea and then an afternoon on Yap Island before our cruise came to a close. As it turned out, after Yap the ship did spend one more morning anchored off a very small atoll named Ngulu Island. This quiet morning was primarily so that divers and snorkelers could have one last go at the beautiful Pacific waters before the cruise came to an end, and even though it was a beautiful location, Lisa and I were already worrying about getting everything packed and going out one last time just did not sound good. So, we stayed on the ship.

The afternoon before however, we did participate in the bus tour of Yap Island, and in the 4 hour drive, we got to see the famous Stonemoney Bank of YapDSC03662, along with several WW II relics, mostly aircraft wreckage mounted on stands along with commemorative plaques. A stop was made at one of the “Men’s Houses,” DSC03589and we visited several villages. All in all, you can tell I was getting tired because in the end, I was glad to get back to the ship. I did get some good photographs which I will post here soon. Also, I did learn about the Stone Money and how even today it is in use for certain traditional and ceremonial exchanges.

Our journey home was a very long one. In fact, I daresay that it is probably the longest we ever had to endure. From the time we departed our ship at the harbor in Koror, Palau until we walked into our home, we had travelled for 43 hours! Just be aware that from Koror to Kansas City is 14 hours and one day ahead in time. As usual, the travel experience was not without its moments!

After we departed the ship, we went to a local hotel where we could stay until our flight departed at 4:30 am the following morning. We really could not complain too much about the schedule since the flight to Tokyo only departed two times a week, and as good fortune would have it, the airline was a US carrier, Delta no less. After the luxury of the ship, our $450/night “Holiday Inn” type room was a little of a letdown, and when we looked at dinner options, we learned that all that the hotel offered was a buffet – and oh, did I mention that the water was only to be used for showering since it was not suitable for drinking? Yet all was not lost – if any of you remember an article I wrote several years ago about “The Carnivorous Toilet?” Believe it or not, our hotel room had a new and improved version in our bathroom! Lisa, as the first to spot the little beast, and after her experience in Singapore in which the seat sprayed water all over the bathroom, she was not about to be the first to try our improved version. So it fell to me to see what we had and how to deal with it.

My first problem was that all of the markings were in Japanese. Like the toilet in Singapore, it appeared to show a symbol for some type of tube appearing out of heaven knows where and going someplace I’d rather not think about all the time spraying water up my – rear. In this improved version, it also had a symbol that appeared to show that water could also be directed via a separate hidden tube to – ah let’s say the frontal area as well. I could see where all this might be useful, and although I could not read Japanese, I wondered if I just stuck my face in the seat, if I could also get a facial? Well, enough jocularity – the moment arrived when I had to do something, so I decided if I did not touch any buttons I certainly could not get into trouble. Thus ever so gently did I partake to sit my bottom on the toilet seat @#$#@# only to have it start to vibrate and heat. Now I ask you, who in the world needs a heated toilet seat in the tropics when with our air conditioner set full blast and the ceiling fan on high, it was all we could do to keep from sweating our behinds off already! I did prove, however, that besides a vibrating, heated seat, if we did not touch any of the little buttons, it would not “bite us in the butt.”

Lisa and I decided that a buffet dinner at our new emporium did not sound all that appealing, and so just on serendipity, we looked in the phone book and found a nice sounding restaurant which offered a free shuttle service. Wow, did that turn out to be a smart move. As it happened, that evening the restaurant at our hotel was virtually all reserved for a huge welcome celebration for the new US Ambassador. The next morning we heard horror stories from some fellow cruise passengers about how difficult it had been to get a meal at the buffet under those conditions. Meantime, Lisa and I were met by our shuttle on time, and joined by a young Japanese couple also going to the same restaurant. Once there we had a great meal, a good view, and a wonderful evening. When it came time to leave, as luck might have it, we were once again joined by the same young couple. However, by now everyone had enjoyed a drink or two and any shyness immediately broke down. We were using our few words of Japanese, and they were practicing their English as all had had a good time. The next thing I know they take out their iPhone and want to start taking our pictures, which is fine. Once back at the hotel, we are all walking to the elevator and out comes a telescoping stick on which they mount their iPhone. So mounted, it syncs via Bluetooth and now allows them to take “selfies” as we walk along. By the time we get in the elevator, they now want all of us in the photograph together. If you can just imagine four grown people crowding in a elevator trying to take “selfies” without anyone knowing what the other was saying – well you get the picture – no pun intended.

We managed to pull ourselves awake in the middle of the night to make our shuttle to the airport for our 4:30am departure. The airport was a zoo. Apparently Delta was not the only flight that morning, and even though we were quite early, it took a good hour just to clear the Delta line. Then we were directed to climb to the second floor, but when we turned around, there was a long line stretching all the way along the hall and up the stairs. We joined the end, and after another hour in the non-air-conditioned terminal, we managed to work our way to the top of the stairs. At this point, our flight is boarding and we are starting to become worried about making the flight, and neither of us can imagine what is taking so long – are you paying attention? Well, at the top of the stairs sat a very bored and non-motivated customs official who sat behind a large glass enclosure. Each boarding passenger, one at a time, had to approach the little man and pay him $50 in cash as a “Green Fee.” He carefully counted the money and them stamped a page in a little book, from which he then tore off a receipt and stapled it to your boarding pass. I counted two other aircraft all boarding about the same time as ours, so you can imagine the bedlam while everything came to a grinding stop for this one little official. Some things are indeed the same the world over.

We did make our flight, but not with much time to spare. Roughly 5 hours later we arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo where to my surprise, I found those pesky little automated toilets even in the public restrooms – what is the world coming to? Once in Tokyo, we were amazed at the large and really clean airport – very impressive. That was good because we had eight hours to kill until our departure to Minneapolis. By the time we boarded our flight to the States, I think we were both so groggy that there was not much we remember. I do recall that Delta had good seats and great service and we had a long, 12 hour flight, but very pleasant. I was surprised that we no longer had to fill out those little blue customs forms as we had done in the past. Now upon arrival all US citizens are directed to an automated machine where they essentially complete those forms online and then they receive a ticket allowing them to present their passport to the Customs and Border Protection agent. Lisa and I still have our Global Entry Privileges, and so we, too, went to an automated machine and in less than two minutes we were cleared back into the US with our bags headed to our Kansas City flight – which was only four hours away.

Now that we are home I must admit that both of us are experiencing more problems with jetlag than in the past. Today, in fact, is the first day I am feeling somewhat normal, however, Lisa has had to go lie down again. I guess as we get older this gets more difficult, but it was all worth it. In the end, we got to see things that I did not even know still existed. What an exciting and worthwhile trip.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the blogs, and I plan on taking up the pen again when we travel in October down the South American coast. In the meantime, I will finish putting up the photographs from this trip, a project which should be done in a day or two. Please know that I have learned of a glitch in my blog page. I have been telling people that if you go to our web page, you not only will find a library of all my previous blogs, but also you can click on the picture of the penguins and go directly to my photographs. Well, for some reason that is not working. If you wish to see my pictures you may go directly to my albums at:

Always remember it is, indeed, “a Wonderful World!”


1 comment:

Eddie said...

Mr. Stevens,

It was great talking with you as always. Please, put me on the list for your blog……Have safe travels!

Eddie Cupini