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"Bali-Hi".....cruising the beautiful South Pacific

Our cruise adventure on ms Oosterdam, now sadly over, continued into week 2 out of Sydney and our ports this week would include Port Vila, Vanuatu, now recovering from the recent devastation of Cyclone Pam, Suva, the capital of Fiji and idyllic Pago Pago on American Samoa, what a fabulous week of cruising on our luxurious floating hotel, courtesy of our host, Holland America Line.

This was our first adventure in the south Pacific region and so every port was new to us and without preconceived expectation...we had heard a lot about Vanuatu of late because of the damaging Cyclone Pam which had reaped havoc there only 6 weeks before.Indeed, our local Church in Bowral had responded generously to relief appeals through our central church mission agency and as honorary Church Treasurer, I was particularly interested to see the reparation works firsthand. We arrived in Port Vila on a bright sunny morning to this tropical paradise and the ship ported in the very wide working port well away from the town centre. Colourful temporary markets had set up right by the dock but we chose to ride a water taxi across the harbour to begin our day of exploring. The great thing about this rather impromptu "do it yourself" touring is that you meet so many interesting people. In the water taxi we struck a conversation with a South Australian couple who'd spent most of their working lives in Alaska and whilst now back in Oz in retirement, their grown children had stayed in North America, married and this was a holiday journey to spend time with their now expanded families....the grand kids! In our short time with them we also learned a lot about Alaska, our final destination on this trans-Pacific cruise and perhaps, the most anticipated jewel in our own journey.

But I digress....Vanuatu, itself a shining jewel in the tropical sun, was very evidently stripped of its optimal beauty by the cyclone the distance, the tops of virtually every tree along the surrounding hilltops visibly snapped off, houses clearly in disrepair with tarpaulins prevalent in every direction and some all but completely destroyed!! But once we reached the dock in town we were surrounded by the smiling natives - taxi drivers, stall keepers and the like, all pleased to greet us and none downtrodden or overwhelmed by their very real adversity. We were almost "accosted" by taxi drivers, each wanting to take us on a tour of their homeland and though we resisted, we were approached by and joined with a West Australian couple grappling with the same onslaught. Frederick was our driver - a tall wiry chap with gleaming white teeth and a bright red T-shirt (which all of the drivers wore) and ever so friendly and informative.

Previously a part of the French/British New Hebrides but now an Independent island nation, its population is only 60,000 and clearly still struggling to lift its economic status. But Frederick explained that the PRC was heavily investing there, building a 5 star resort and financing a new legislative centre to name just two projects we sighted along our guided tour. A pretty place, largely untouched by western influence - our day there was insightful...another island paradise...but sadly it quickly came to an end - so back to the ship and another tropical afternoon sailaway.

Next stop Suva, Fiji - we arrived early on a Sunday morning and again the weather did not disappoint. Greeted by two burly Fijians in native garb to the chant "Bulla-Bulla" which I think means simply "Hello", we set off along the dock which was virtually in the middle of town. There were some makeshift stalls along the waterfront and some really lovely carved works for sale, but with still so far to travel, we were yet not in souvenir-buying mode, though we really enjoyed looking. But being a Sunday, the capital was deserted with almost no shops open, absolutely no traffic at all and not a sole to be seen. How disappointed we were!! We did manage to find a small camera shop open where we successfully purchased a memory card for Her new DSLR camera, ending a frustration of the past 2 weeks where She had a new toy She could not

use...problem solved and more on that in a later article perhaps!! With little to do within walking distance and given the

temperature was rising rapidly, we retreated back to the ship. We did subsequently learn that most of the locals were at Church and had we known where, we would have certainly participated - Fijians, like so many island nations in the region, are fiercely religious and embrace their Christian faith with vigour. I understand their Sunday services are very extraverted and evangelist but sadly we did not get the opportunity to experience it this time. And again we were treated to a sailaway in brilliant sunshine.

After a day at sea, our next port of call was Pago Pago -pronounced "Pango-Pango" - on 'American (Western) Samoa. But this tropical paradise in the South Pacific also has strong historical US Naval and World War II connections with its naval ties dating back to 1872. The US Navy ended its administration in 1951 but has

since been administered by US Department of the Interior. As was our usual MO, our ship docked early and we woke to the sounds of haunting horns and native dancing on the dock. And as a last minute decision the day before, we had booked ourselves onto an HAL organised shore excursion - a trip to a tribal village for an AVA (like "kava" in Fiji) Ceremony and Island Entertainment - and we are really glad we did. A ride on an open-windowed bus (no air conditioning today) which took us to so many scenic vantage points, to the Samoan Village, the Ava ceremony and so much more - a truly fun-filled and memorable day and oh so many photos!! We sailed late that afternoon, totally exhilarated - this had been the highlight of our South Pacific Islands stops.

Now we would be cruising for 5 days in open seas, crossing the Equator into the northern stop HAWAII............the cruise adventure continues...

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