As a child, I was given the beginnings of a stamp collection, with an album having pages dedicated to the stamps of various nations, and sample outlines of some of their stamps. In addition to all the continents (except Antarctica) there were pages dedicated to “Oceania.” I had to ask where Oceania was, and learned that the category included all the independent islands of the world. So I have included the category among my memoirs, having traveled to a few interesting islands. Not all are independent, but all have their own character. In this category, I include the Carribean islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Midway, and Tahiti, and the Atlantic islands of Cape Verde and Bermuda. Iceland—the original Ísland—is included among the Nordic nations owing to its Norse origins and its being part of Scandinavia. Coastal islands are included with their neighboring mainland, such as Isla Margarita with Venezuela, Rottnest Island with Australia, and Santa Catalina with California.
Jamaica has a long and interesting history. It was discovered by Columbus during his second voyage, and he later landed there when his ships were in trouble. Native Arawaks were already living there. The island became a Spanish colony, with Port Royal (the present site of Kingston) the center of trade for slaves, rum, and molasses. The island was conquered by England in 1655, and remained a British colony until 1962, when it became independent.
My first experience in Jamaica came in 1951, as a member of a midshipman cruise from Norfolk, Virginia, before my senior year at college. Our destroyer, the USS Furse, DDR-882, spent a week on exercises in the Atlantic before docking at Kingston.
This was a new experience for us "middies" and not soon to be forgotten. Walking in company through the streets of Kingston in the full bloom of summer, we marveled at the ancient cars— 1924 open Packard roadsters used as taxis. The rum was great, and Jamaican rum remains my favorite. The people were fascinating, especially trying to decipher what they say—the blacks speak English, but eliminate the spaces between words, so that it begins to sound like another language. You need to reinsert them mentally to extract the meaning.
We learned to dine in the British style at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, the best on Kingston's waterfront at the time. And we always traveled in groups to discourage the pimps and prostitutes gathered at the wharf near our ship. It was a fascinating place then and continues to be.
A day at the beach was offered to us—a bus trip to Tower Isle on the north coast, for swimming within the reef—it was a perfect spot. The ride both ways was torturous, however, as the bus has to stop several times to negotiate the tight switchbacks through the hills, much as you would work your way into a tight parking place. More than once we saw construction crews at work on the road—women seated in the road crushing the limestone by banging one rock against another with bare hands.
In December of 1978, I was asked to visit a bauxite mill at Discovery Bay (where Columbus landed in 1494) to improve the control over three ore dryers. The red ore was gouged out of the hills in lumpy masses, and needed to be dried uniformly and separated from accompanying limestone rocks preparatory to shipment to the smelters in Baton Rouge. I flew to Montego Bay with representatives from Kaiser Aluminum, and we checked into a beach hotel at nearby Runaway Bay. The beach was inviting in the dawn colors, and several of us took advantage of it for a swim before work. This was to be a short trip with a very definite agenda and a tight schedule.
After the swim came a breakfast of luscious tropical fruit before heading out to the mill. It was up to me to decide whether the dryers were actually controllable, and there was some guesswork involved. The key temperature measurement was in the exhaust gas from the 150-foot kilns, and it came out to be about 10°F below what was theoretically possible. The problem was caused by leakage of air into the seal around the exit end of the rotating kiln, making the measurement useless to us. The only possible salvation was to affix our temperature bulb on a long enough extension pipe to place it forward of the seal.
The rest of the day was spent fabricating an extension pipe long enough, and protected from falling rock. It took longer than we expected—those things always do. We were to leave Discovery Bay on a light plane for Kingston at 5:00 P.M., finished or not. It was after 4 o'clock before fabrication was complete and installation begun. Then the dryer had to be restarted before the measurement could be checked for validity. There were a few more hangups, when at 4:45 came the boarding call, the first indication of a valid measurement was confirmed in the nick of time. We flung our bags aboard the plane with the engine running and fastened seatbelts for takeoff. I have had many close calls, but this was closer than most.
The ride to Kingston was low over the "cockpit" country—pockmarked hills where in the last century, escaped slaves hid until emancipation was finally granted. We landed safely at Kingston, looking forward to a good dinner. Kaiser was quite generous, and we dined well. The remainder of the evening was spent at the piano bar of the hotel, listening to a gifted black jazz pianist. When he was through at 11:30, my friend from Kaiser bought him a drink while I took over at the keyboard. Not that I am very good, but after a few drinks, brave enough to play some jazz favorites whose chords I had learned many years ago. We had to check out for our return flight at 6 A.M., and it was very hard to get out of bed, believe me.
The following August, my friend called to say that the system I had designed was installed and ready for commissioning. I was asked to fly to Miami where I would meet another Kaiser engineer, the two of us proceeding to Jamaica for the job—but this would be a new man, unfamiliar with the plant. Another problem was that the hotel workers were on strike, and therefore no one could not tell me at the time exactly where we would be staying. But not to worry, suitable accommodations would be provided.
This was a scene out of Mission Impossible, a mystery series popular on television at the time. Arriving at Miami, I kept looking about the boarding gate for my flight to Montego Bay for someone else looking about. Finally, a young man asked if I were Greg Shinskey, and identified himself as the Kaiser representative assigned to me. But he could shed no light on where we would be staying in Jamaica. We simply had to wait for some revelation on arrival at Montego Bay.
Upon touchdown, we had just picked up our bags, wondering what to do next, when a policeman accosted me. Asking if I were Mr. Shinskey, he pointed to a driver waiting for us. The driver hustled our bags into his van and hurriedly ushered us in. My inquiry as to where we were going, brought "Tothevilla!" or something similar, which meant nothing even if I interpreted it correctly. We wound our way along the two-lane coastal road (on the left, of course) past the familiar landmarks of Discovery Bay and on toward Runaway Bay. But instead of approaching the beach, we turned the opposite way into the hills, climbing higher and higher. We could see nothing but road and jungle, till the van pulled into a narrow driveway. There, was a grey house where our bags disappeared, and where we were greeted by a black woman who identified herself as "Gloria, the cook."
Gloria invited us inside, showed us our rooms, and pointed out the bar above the swimming pool–supper would be ready at 7:30. Sliding glass doors opened from the living room to a sundeck and a magnificent view of Runaway Bay in the distance. The swimming pool was a few steps below, beyond which the hill dropped off sharply into hibiscus flowers, and banana and umbrella trees. The bar to our right was fully stocked with rum and other spirits, and the fridge with ice, soda, and fruit. Jamaican rum is a favorite with me, mixed with soda, tonic, or cola. As we sipped our drinks, I noticed a black hummingbird attempting to draw nectar from one of the flower decals on the sliding door.
Our supper of chicken prepared with tropical herbs and vegetables was served in the dining room, accompanied by a chilled bottle of champagne. As we finished, Gloria offered us Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (one of the world's best) in the living room, and supplied a bottle of Tia Maria to top it off. At this point, I discovered that I could direct-dial home. I called Betty to say that I didn't know where we were, but here is the telephone number, and we were having a great time. After finishing her chores, Gloria announced that breakfast would be ready at 7 A.M., and that the chief engineer from Kaiser would pick us up at 7:30.
The place where were staying was a private villa owned by an American who only used it in winter. During the other seasons, he rented it to guests, principally visitors to the Kaiser mill.
A guest register listed only a few visitors. The last, in June, were an older couple, their son and his wife. The register gave a handwritten account of how the son's wife was carried by the undertow in Runaway Bay, to her death—a vacation turned into a tragedy.
The villa was not air-conditioned. The temperature there doesn't change much through the year, nor from day to night, but in August the humidity is high enough to produce a shower almost every morning around 8 and every afternoon at 4. Sleeping is not easy in this still, humid air, but the bedrooms had only a single-speed ceiling fan which was too powerful for sleeping. In the morning, we were wakened by a gentle knock and the smell of bacon. Gloria had a hearty breakfast prepared, after which the chief engineer arrived on time.
We drove to the plant site in his Land Rover, where he introduced us to the technicians and operators with whom we would be working. Although the control system was installed, some of the wiring was incorrect, requiring some sleuthing. While in the middle of this at 11:30, the chief engineer announced that it was lunch time. He drove us to Kaiser's beach where mothers watched their children play. A cook had lobsters on the barbecue, and the chief ordered Red Stripe beer for us (Jamaica's only local variety). These were spiny lobsters like those available in Florida, with no claws. While not as tender and tasty as lobsters from the North Atlantic, they are nonetheless excellent when grilled. After a pleasant hour at the beach, it was back to the mill.
At 4:30, the chief was back to return us to our villa. Back to the pool, the bar, and another delicious dinner served by Gloria. The bauxite ore being processed at the mill is a red powder. At the end of a workday there, we were covered with the stuff. It washed off easily enough, but the first water to go down the drain looked like blood! As our work proceeded, the pleasant evenings at the villa became a little boring. Then the local representative from my company rescued us.
Paul Pink is as black as the ace of spades, and a marvelous man with a great sense of humor. He drove us eastward along the coast to Ocho Rios (Eight Rivers) where he had a beach apartment. We all went down for a swim in the twilight, in crystal water on white sand—a beautiful place. Afterwards, it was dinner at a seashore restaurant. On our way back, a car came from behind and flashed its lights. Paul stopped and the other car pulled alongside. Then Paul introduced us to his sister, who was a senator in the federal government—it's a small country. One of their problems at the time was drug traffic, with night flights landing in fields cut out of the jungle, and the occasional crash.
Paul told of visiting some property his family owned, following his father's death. The family discovered that several back acres had been grown to marijuana, and didn't know what to do. They were being watched, since the crop was near harvest and worth much money. When they returned a few days later, it was completely harvested, and they could begin to clear the land.
By the end of the week, our work was done, and we returned to Montego Bay for our flight to Miami. It was a memorable and satisfying week, more adventurous for not knowing what lay ahead, and we were entirely pleased with the result. Jamaica is a nice place to visit, even in August.
Cuba was discovered by Columbus in 1492, and became a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American war, following the explosion on the battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898. It became a republic in 1902, and a playground for rich Americans until the communist revolution in 1958. It remains a playground for Canadians.
My midshipman cruise also stopped at Guantanamo Bay, the Navy base permanently leased from Cuba. In 1951, El Presidente Fulgencio Batista was still in power, and relations with the U.S. were normal. My principal recollections from that trip were the heat of summer, buying Cuban pineapples from local vendors (they're small and very sweet), and scraping bilges on the 4th of July. The last resulted from being late to relieve the watch earlier in the week, and left me completely soaked with sweat, so that some thought I had fallen overboard.
At age 19, drinking was a new experience. At the non-com officers club, two drinks were very popular, and cheap: Hatui was a Cuban ale close to 10 percent alcohol, selling for 25 cents a bottle; the other favorite was rum and coke–2 oz of rum and about 1 oz of coke (the latter being more costly). also for 25 cents.
GTMO, as it is called, still remains a U.S. base in the tension that exists with Cuba. Its status was presented to the public in the movie, "A Few Good Men." David was stationed there from March to December 2002 as a Military Police officer. He helped design the facilities for holding prisoners from Afghanistan. The only stories he could tell us or pictures he could send involved fishing on weekends.
My only trip to Havana came in January 1957. While still a bachelor, I conspired with a couple friends for a week's vacation in Miami, where one of them had an aunt with whom we stayed. After a few days at the beach, dog track, etc., we looked for more excitement, and there was Cuba, 90 miles across the straits. We drove to Key West and flew to Havana, finding a hotel downtown that wasn't too expensive. One feature of our hotel room surprised us: we could open the windows, and there were no screens, because there were no insects! (I later found this in Hawaii, too.)
We weren't prepared for the Cuban environment, however. There was the language problem, of course, as none of us could speak Spanish. But there were also hucksters about, ready to lure unsuspecting youths into danger. One of their offerings was a sex show which I refused to allow my friends to go to. Instead, we visited a cigar factory and a rum distillery. Every street corner had men carrying signs full of numbers. I finally figured out that they were selling tickets on the national lottery. This was years before there were any lotteries in the U.S., which is another sign of the corruption that has arrived here.
The casino at the Hotel Nacional was famous, and we wanted to watch the gamblers. One of my friends lost a bundle without going past the one-arm bandits. Fortunately, I had learned that lesson years ago and was no longer tempted. The next day while we were out walking near the hotel, sirens announced the arrival of El Presidente from the Presidential Palace with his cavalcade of motorcycles. He was surrounded by police and soldiers, and we observed others with machine guns atop all the buildings in the plaza. Cuba was a combination of corruption and police, ripe for the revolution that had already begun. We stayed only one night and two days, having enough of the hustling and the decay. Other evidence of decay was the low church attendance, and the fact that most of the priests were Spanish, not Cuban. Cuba fell to Castro within two years, while Betty and I honeymooned in Florida.
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS
This group of islands lies off Cabo Verde (Green Cape), the extreme western point of Africa. They were colonized by Portugal early in the 17th century, as a stopover during its exploration of the African coast.
Ilha do Sal (Isle of Salt)
The adventure usually begins on my way to the airport, increasingly so since moving to New Hampshire. When we lived in Foxboro, hourly bus service was available to Logan airport, and it was quite reliable, requiring about an hour to reach the airport if rush hour was avoided. (Returning at rush hour, however, could take more than two hours due to traffic in the Sumner tunnel between Logan airport and Boston.) But traffic from the north is less predictable. Bus service from Concord is reliable but runs less often, so I drive more often than take the bus. I have had to learn about five alternate routes depending on where traffic starts to back up along I-93 south. And even allowing plenty of time, I have often made flights by the narrowest of margins, praying all the way for traffic to move. This has proved to be a regular reminder of my status as a "contingent being," to use the words of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although I have never missed a flight from Boston—due to Divine Providence more than any other factor—each approach is tense.
In June of 1994, I was to fly to South Africa, using tickets prepaid by my hosts. Northwest Airlines had called a week in advance to tell me I could pick them up on the day of departure. A couple days later, however, they called again to say that their commuter service had gone bankrupt, and that I had been rebooked on a Delta flight to JFK leaving Boston about an hour earlier, but would still have to pick up my tickets at the Northwest counter. My bus from Concord arrived at Logan on time, but I had to wait half an hour at the NW ticket counter while the agent made some calls. He said I was to have picked up the ticket three days earlier, which was news to me. Finally I had my ticket in hand and 40 minutes till the Delta flight left. So I towed my luggage from Terminal E to C, double-time, to face another delay at check-in.
My luggage was checked and boarding pass received only 15 minutes before scheduled departure. I then proceeded swiftly to the gate to find that departure was delayed for an hour—hurry up and wait! Upon arrival at Kennedy, I had to change terminals on the shuttle bus, which crawled around the loop to the next-to-last stop, where South African Airways was located. The flight was already boarding when I reached the gate, only to take off an hour and a half late, with no explanation. I had left home at 10:30 A.M. to lift off from Kennedy Airport at 8:00 P.M.
SAA flights make a scheduled stop for fuel and a crew change 6 hours out of New York at Ilha (pronounced "ilya") do Sal in the Cape Verde Islands, 300 miles off the west coast of Africa. The group of ten islands (one uninhabited) was discovered by Portugese navigators in 1640. We landed about 5 AM local time, and were invited to disembark for an hour if we wished. Having never set foot there, I accepted the invitation. The terminal had a small duty-free shop which was open (with favorable liquor prices) and an even smaller lunch counter. After a few minutes, a garbled announcement was made about a "24-hour delay," which set the passengers buzzing. A while later, the word was passed to reboard for the purpose of removing our carry-on luggage. By this time the sky was light, and passengers began pointing at the nose-cone of our Boeing 747—it had a large dent in the underside.
After collecting our belongings, we sat around the terminal for an hour or so, before they decided to serve breakfast on board. So it was back in the aircraft again for cereal and yogurt, where the captain explained our situation. For reasons of safety, we couldn't take off with the damaged radome, and would have to wait for another to be shipped to us on the next day's flight from New York. In the meantime, plans were being made to accommodate us at the hotels in Santa Maria. First-class passengers disembarked first, followed by families, business-class passengers, etc. We had to claim our checked luggage, and eventually boarded a packed bus, followed by a truck containing the luggage.
What we could see from the airstrip was a wide and featureless surface, except for a couple rocky headlands. As the bus descended from this plateau, we viewed an undulating plain almost completely devoid of any vegetation—a moonscape. Cabo Verde may well be a green cape, but the islands named after it are definitely not. The road passed a shallow salt valley at about sea level, with no sign of life. The name of the island (Sal) derived from a minor industry of recovering salt from tidal pools during the 18th century. Eventually we saw what looked like an oasis—a cluster of palms around some whitewashed buildings—but that was not our destination. After twenty minutes or so we reached the metropolis of Santa Maria, and our hotel on the beach.
It was necessary for those of us traveling alone to share a room, which displeased some, but there was no alternative—we filled the little hotel. Guest rooms were individual buildings separated by sandy plots paved with stepping stones. Each held two single beds with no space between them and little around them. Air conditioning amounted to a fan and the open door. The temperature was probably around 80°F, but humid. Down toward the beach, only a hundred yards away, there was a pleasant breeze, driving a wind generator. Travel brochures advertise the place as guaranteeing 300 days of sunshine a year—surely an attraction for Europeans during winter.
The water was warm and crystal clear, glowing turquoise in a gentle surf upon very soft sand. As usual, I left my bathing suit at home. I walked up the beach toward town, noticing a steeple with a cross. The small church was open and very tidy, with two women kneeling in the last row. Looking all around for a Mass schedule, I finally saw a faded paper tacked to the door. Barely readable was
Well, it was Sunday at 11:40, and there was no Mass.
My roommate was a fourth-generation Afrikaner from Namibia, returning from several months as a visiting professor in the States, and was anxious to get home. But we simply had to wait out the delay. He discovered that lunch was being served in the dining room, with drinks on SAA, and a good lunch it was, too. Afterward, we strolled the beach, discussing education, apartheid, political corruption and political correctness. The first full-participation elections had been held in South Africa only two months earlier, and the nation had begun to mend.
At dinner, we joined other passengers, mostly professionals, from all over the world, drinking Portugese wine and discussing world views, experiences, and life in general. A black professor from Namibia impressed me with his respect for elders as those who had built the civilization he now enjoyed. Everyone I talked to regarded our stopover as a favorable experience, once the anxiety of the delay had abated. We had discovered a charming, isolated corner of the world, and would likely never set foot here again. It was a story we would all bring back to friends and family, worth repeating again and again.
The evening breeze was warm and pleasant, with no mosquitos to annoy. The distant sound of surf upon the sand accompanied the light chatter of content voices. Only the unusual attitude of Scorpio in the equatorial sky reminded me how far away from home I was. At 1:00 AM, it was time to board the bus for the airport. As we reboarded the aircraft around 3:00, mechanics were finishing the installation of the radome, and we departed shortly afterward. Arriving in Johannesburg late Monday afternoon, I had missed a day's work, which didn't bother me at all. A Sunday on the beach in a place I had never been was most welcome. God has marvelous gifts for us, presented under the most unlikely circumstances, if we are only open to accept them.
Bermuda was colonized by a ship wrecked there in 1609, under the command of Admiral George Somers, on his way to Jamestown. It has been a British colony ever since.
Before Christmas of 1996, Betty and I talked about the possibility of a vacation in Bermuda. I obtained a stack of literature on the island and wrapped it up as a Christmas present for her. I even cashed in some frequent-flyer miles for two coupons to fly there. But after buying a new car in October and then spending our anniversary at the Balsams in Dixville Notch, my bank account was low with taxes coming up, so we didn’t go. We also had to pay in advance for our trip to Austria in September.
The flight coupons were due to expire in January of ‘98, so we decided to travel to Bermuda then. I had decided to leave on Thursday the 8th, returning on Tuesday the 13th. So we booked flights and hotel reservations. A few days before leaving, Betty asked if we could stay overnight nearer Logan Airport to avoid having to arise before 4 A.M. for our 9:05 flight. This turned out to be prophetic.
I drove the dog to the kennel after lunch on Wednesday the 7th, in a very cold rain. On my way back to the house, the road was beginning to ice up, so we left immediately, taking Route 16 in hopes that there would be less ice near the coast. Ice built up on the car, especially on the windshield wipers—which couldn’t keep the windshield free—but also on the road. It was a nervous trip. It was long after we had crossed into Massachusetts before the ice began to melt. We proceeded to Swampscott, where we checked into Captain Jack’s Waterfront Inn, and then walked to Hawthorne’s for dinner. We began to worry when the evening news told of a severe ice storm developing across Northern New England, but forecasts for the next couple days called for rising temperatures, so the ice should melt. In the morning, we left for Bermuda.
The flight is only an hour and thirty-eight minutes, but a world away. We landed around noon in a sunny, balmy 75̊F. A transportation service took us to our hotel through narrow, winding roads. Our room at the Ariel Sands Beach Colony was not ready, so we had lunch on the porch overlooking the pool and beach—really pleasant, and we began to relax already. Our room was in an 8-room unit back from the beach, but high enough to see it. All the buildings were pink, with white limestone roofs (which look like Styrofoam). Ariel was a spirit character from Shakespeare’s Tempest—a bronze statue of the character stood on the water a little way from shore. There were two salt-water swimming pools beyond the beach, which were awash at high tide. We saw no one use them, except for a variety of small reef fish. Only a couple swimmers used the beach while we were there, and only briefly—there was always a cool breeze.
On our first afternoon, we walked to the nearest village, Collector’s Hill, to see what was available there—it was about a mile from the hotel. Walking was not comfortable, as there were few sidewalks, and the roads were very narrow, with vehicles exceeding the 20 mph speed limit. Bamboo and other jungle growth pressed from the side where there were no stone walls. We watched a farmer planting potatoes in fine, red soil. The village had an apothecary, post office, restaurant, brewery, market, and St. Patrick’s Church. We checked the hours for Masses, and returned from the market with one bag of groceries costing $60 (U.S. dollars can be used interchangeably with Bermudan dollars). The big items were $19 for a fifth of gin and $16 for a fifth of Black Bermudan rum. But the groceries would provide lunches for the next few days.
We decided after this experience, that it would be too dangerous to walk the roads after dark, and that we would have to have supper either in our room or in the dining room of the hotel. That night we had baloney sandwiches for supper. Next morning, we bought two bus tokens for $2.25 each at the front desk to take us to Hamilton, where we could obtain 3-day passes for the bus and ferry. We walked a mile to the botanic gardens on the way, and joined an informal tour. Then we bused to Hamilton where we had a salad for lunch across from the ferry landing. Using our passes, we took the half-hour ferry ride to the Dockyard at the northwest end of the islands. There, we toured the maritime museum and fortifications. After an hour or so of walking around, we took the bus back to Hamilton—an hour’s ride through villages and over bridges and past pastel homes overlooking the sea, with dozens of children in school uniforms getting on and off. At the terminal in Hamilton, we boarded another bus for our hotel—they stop running at 5 P.M. during the off-season.
That evening, we dined at the hotel, where the seafood was excellent, though expensive. Lunches had cost us about $25 and dinners $75 (without drinks or deserts). As we were leaving the hotel lobby, a black man with a satchel approached and asked if we would like to stay and hear him play on the grand piano—Cole Porter and Gershwin. He had me convinced, so we returned with him and struck up a conversation. As it happened, the hotel dining room was being remodeled, with the piano removed to the lobby, so that he was unable to play and had not been notified. But he was a delight to talk with about music, Jamaica, our professions, etc. He asked me to play and I did a couple of my favorites, before we left.
The next day, Saturday, we bused to the other end of the islands, past the airport to St. George’s, the first city to be founded there. It is a small town, very quaint, with many old buildings. The town hall, customs house, and White Horse Tavern are located right on the harbor. There is a full-scale replica of the Deliverance, the pinnace built from Bermuda cedar, with fittings salvaged from the wreck of Somers’ Sea ‘Venture; with the Patience, it carried the settlers from Bermuda to Jamestown in May of 1610, less than a year after they had been marooned. There is a Somers Park named after the Admiral, and nearby a curious unfinished church—a gothic structure which looks like the ruins of an abbey from England or Ireland, although this one was never completed. We walked past Tobacco Bay up to St. Catherine’s Fort, which is a military museum of some size, overlooked by a huge Club Med. After a walk back to town in the heat of the day, we stopped for lunch on the porch of the White Horse Tavern, where the breeze made it almost too cool to eat outdoors. After lunch, we visited St. Peter’s Reformed Church, the oldest on the islands, with its wooden boxes and Dutch style. I also bought a Cuban cigar, but found it too strong. We then caught the bus back to our hotel.
Sunday morning, we walked the mile to St. Patrick’s Church in Collector’s Hill, carrying umbrellas against the threat of rain. The Mass and music were most enjoyable. Afterwards, a gentleman offered to drive us back to our hotel, which we accepted, as the rain was beginning to fall. He and his wife were very hospitable. After lunch in our room, I jogged east to Spittal Pond and through the nature preserve, where on a bluff over the sea stands “Spanish Rock.” The rock had been inscribed with the date 1543 and some initials. Discovered by Admiral Somers in 1609, the rock was thought to have been inscribed by a Spaniard, but later interpretations attribute it to Portugese. To protect it from vandals, the rock has been removed and replaced with a bronze casting of the engraving, set in concrete. I completed my run in the rain, warm enough that it was not unpleasant. After showering, I watched the NFL championship games. We dined at our hotel restaurant.
Monday was sunny and much drier, so we decided to visit the aquarium and zoo on Harrington Sound, walking to the north side of the island where we caught a bus. While crossing the bridge over the inlet to the sound, an elderly couple called our attention to some sting-rays lying on the bottom facing the incoming tide. The water was so clear they were easy to see—mottled brown, about 4-feet across, and gently undulating in the current.
Outside the aquarium was a tank of green sea-turtles swimming around. Inside were many small tanks of reef fish, including squid and sea horses—all very colorful and fascinating. A large tank, visible on two sides, had a constantly changing display of larger fish, including groupers. Outside was a small zoo, with mostly imports such as flamingos from Cuba and wallabies from Australia. A tank had a few local harbor seals, one of which left the water to bask in the sun, well within reach. When we left the zoo and recrossed the bridge, the tide had reversed, with a tremendous current flowing out of the sound.
We caught a bus heading south, planning to transfer at Spittal Pond to another heading west, but we would have had to wait too long, so we walked back to Collector’s Hill. We arrived, hot, tired, and hungry at the North Rock Brewing Company, where we had a pint of Scotch ale and a ploughman’s lunch in the shade of their patio. Refreshed, we then walked the rest of the way to the hotel. At this point, I was ready for a swim, so I headed for the beach. But the best part of the day was spent, with the sun on the way down, so that it quickly became too cool to swim. That night we ate in our room.
Next day we were to be picked up at 2:45 PM for the airport, so we spent the morning walking about the neighborhood—Palm Grove, and Devonshire Bay, where there is a park and the remains of a fort. Huge spiders had built webs across some of the paths. After checkout, we lunched at the hotel. At the airport, I picked up a Boston Globe to read about the storm damage—by this time, most NH residents had returned home, which was good news. Damage was heavy in Quebec, with power expected to be out in some sections for months, as rows of power towers had collapsed. We pulled back from the gate ten minutes before our scheduled 5:00 departure, and arrived in Boston early.
All the way on our drive home we looked for storm damage and found none until leaving Center Sandwich. The hilltops of North Sandwich were devastated, with broken and cut branches lining the road, but the power was on. As we approached the driveway, we could see a drift of snow left by the plows blocking it, and a tree branch stretched across it too. I moved the branch and Betty drove into the garage. The house was warm and the water flowed when I opened the faucet! The backyard was a mess—a large maple behind the well-house had snapped and fell near the screen porch, but missed it. Two pines were also down, but the house was spared—no damage at all, thank God. Next day, I learned that the power had just been restored after being out for 5 days— everyone else was freezing in the dark and we missed it all! We couldn’t have planned it any better.
The “Rich Port” was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in November of 1493, and named San Juan—ultimately the name of its capital. One of his shipmates on that voyage, Ponce de León, would become its first governor. The island lies due west of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic), and is about 100 miles east-to-west and 30 miles north-to-south. My only trip there was in December of 1995, while recovering from a heavy cold.
Arriving in San Juan on a Sunday evening, with running eyes from my cold, I rented a car at the airport, expecting to spend Monday traveling around the island—my seminar at the Normandie Hotel in San Juan did not start until Tuesday. However, I was tied up by our sales manager all day, and only got to see San Juan. That was really my only chance to drive around, and I ended up returning the car to the airport with only about 40 miles on it. My hotel was on the east side of San Juan, which lies on the north coast of the island. I could walk downtown by heading west, parallel to the beach—it was about two miles away, and I walked there several times.
The Normandie Hotel was named and patterned after the famous French ocean liner. From the beach, it did resemble a ship, gleaming white in the sun. The interior was not particularly elegant—the building was old, and so were its furnishings. My window looked out on an alley. The beach in front of the hotel was small and not maintained. Better swimming was available at the public beach a couple hundred yards west. I only went swimming on my last afternoon there, after shaking my cold. The beach was not very clean, and almost deserted, so I didn’t spend much time there, but the water was warm enough, and not rough. San Juan is cleaner than most of the places I have been south of the border, but still not up to our standards. A Florida vacation would be preferable, and cost no more.
There is an old fort along the coastal road, open to the public, but I wasn’t able to get there during operating hours. The old city itself has many monuments and buildings dating back centuries, but I don’t remember being able to get inside the cathedral. Wednesday of that week was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, so after my lectures were over, I walked downtown looking for an evening Mass and dinner. The churches were closed, and I had just about given up and started back when I noticed light coming from a stained-glass window in the next block. A few of the faithful had gathered for evening Mass in an old stone church, so I joined them. Afterward, I couldn’t seem to find a decent place to eat in the area, so wearily walked back to the hotel and settled for room-service pizza.
My last evening there, I discovered a very nice restaurant a short distance down the beach, surrounded by trees so that it was barely visible from the street. As I sat on the veranda overlooking the surf, sipping a rum and coke, clouds began to gather in the north, followed by flashes of lightening. Rain fell in bursts during dinner, so that I expected to get wet on my way back to the hotel. But by the time dinner was over, the moon and stars were out and the pavement was drying. The next day, I returned home, not having seen much of Puerto Rico.
The Hawaiian Islands were discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778. They are located directly south of Alaska, at about 20̊N latitude, and therefore our most southern state. The islands were formed by a deep-sea vent releasing magma from the bottom. The vent moved over the eons, with the drift of the Pacific plate, producing a series of islands spread along a west-by-northwest course. The Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanos on the big island are still active; its highest peak is Mauna Kea at 13,796 ft. I have not visited the big island—only Oahu and Maui.
Oahu is the most populous of the islands and home of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base and the state capital, Honolulu. My first visit there came in September of 1952, on the return trip of my ship from the Korean theater of war. We docked at Pearl for about three days of rest and recreation, refueling, etc. Our ship also stopped there on our way back to Korea in June of 1953, and on our way home the following December.
I marveled at the perfect weather, and the windows without screens because they were without insects. We spent most of our time at Waikiki Beach, drinking rum from coconut shells and pineapples in the hotel bars. About six of us officers must have been a little too noisy in the bar of the Royal Hawaiian, because I remember being asked to leave. So we walked a short distance along the beach to the Moana, where the party resumed.
The Royal Hawaiian is a magnificent place—a cluster of pink stucco buildings with tile roofs on Waikiki Beach. In 1952, it stood almost alone there. When I returned in August of 1982, the entire beach belonged to Sheraton. I stayed at the Sheraton Moana, which was about twice its original size. I had to look hard to find the Royal Hawaiian, surrounded and dwarfed by other beachfront hotels—but it was still there in all its splendor.
Honolulu was just a stopover on my second trip to Australia. On this trip, I flew straight from Boston to LAX, then LAX to Honolulu, arriving around 5 PM, but 6 hours farther west. After checking into the Moana, I went to dinner at the beachfront restaurant, and then to bed. The next day, Saturday, I spent the morning on the beach. Waikiki is a beautiful place to swim, curving along the southwest shore of the island and terminating in the famous Diamond Head crater at its southernmost point. The water was warm and a clear turquoise, over clean, white sand. The bottom gradually slopes downward till the water is 6-7 ft deep, and then begins to rise again in a large sandbar extending a quarter-mile or more offshore. I swam out to the bar and back a couple times.
The hotel had posted warning signs for visitors from the States about the risk of sunburn, which one doesn’t expect in August. So in the afternoon, I tried to stay out of the sun, watching surfers farther down the beach, visiting the nearby aquarium, and then the zoo. My flight to Australia wouldn’t leave till midnight, so I had a few hours to pass after checking out of the hotel. I attended afternoon Mass at St. Augustine’s church, had a couple drinks in a local bar, and then dinner in a Japanese restaurant before leaving for the airport. Next morning, I arrived in Melbourne to a hailstorm, with a sunburn.
Betty and I stayed a couple days in Honolulu in August of 1991, following a few days at Maui. Again, I was on my way to Australia, but she would return home separately. We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, a couple blocks from Waikiki. Again, I hardly recognized the neighborhood since my last visit, so much had it changed. Now we were surrounded by high-rises and traffic. But we could walk to Waikiki Beach for swimming, and Betty loved it. There was an Iron-man Triathalon event going on at the time, but we stayed out of their way.
We visited the Arizona monument at Pearl Harbor. It is an ark-like building placed above the sunken hull of the USS Arizona, sunk in the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941. We took a motor launch to the site and back, run and narrated by naval personnel. The hull can be plainly seen below the surface of the water, with open holes where the gun turrets used to be. Surprisingly, there were quite a few Japanese tourists among the visitors. There was also a small museum at the boat landing, with displays of conventional submarines, and Japanese one- and two-man subs. I can remember steaming past the Arizona on entering and leaving the harbor in 1952 and 1953, but this was my first stop there—an impressive monument.
Again, my flight left for Australia around midnight, so I had to leave Betty alone at the hotel—she would be departing the next morning. I really hated to leave her, and felt lonely for the next several days. But she had to return home, and attended her mother’s funeral a few days later, before I was back.
The above trip began when Betty and I flew from Boston to LAX and stayed overnight with Cath and Dave in Santa Monica. Next morning we flew to Honolulu, where we changed planes for the short flight to Maui, an island about the size of Oahu, and closest to the big island of Hawaii. We selected a small motel in the principal city of Lahaina, an old whaling port, rather than any of the big resorts. It was less expensive, and gave us more of an opportunity to walk around the old city. Lahaina is at Maui’s western edge, separated from the smaller island of Lanai by a channel about ten miles wide.
It was very hot at that time of year, and we learned that the perfect time to go to dinner in Lahaina was just a few minutes before sunset. Then we could enter a waterfront restaurant, and take a table on the porch, which would be empty because of the intense sunlight coming from the west. In a few minutes, the sun would set behind Lanai, and the cool of the evening was just delightful. Lahaina was an interesting place, though not large, and we soon saw all of it. Among its highlights was a glass-bottom boat tour right offshore, and a great breakfast at a shore restaurant (while the sun was still in the east). A huge banyan tree stands in the common at the city center, just before the beach.
We rented a Pontiac Sunbird (most of the rental cars on the island were Sunbirds) and drove the coastal road halfway around the island to the village of Hana, where there was a park and a series of waterfalls. The road follows the north coast—there is no road along the mountainous south coast. The road was very narrow and winding, with speed limits as low as 10 mph in places, and several one-way bridges. It was a challenge to drive as fast as I could around the curves—there was almost no other traffic. After a swim at the lowest waterfall at the end of the road, we stopped for lunch at a small private dining room in Hana. We also walked along a black sand beach, created where flowing lava met the sea and exploded. The trip took all day.
Choosing the best of the days, we motored up to the crater of Haleakala at about 10,000 ft, passing through several climactic zones along the way. On the way up, we passed a series of bicyclists coasting down, all wearing yellow slickers. Entrepreneurs drive to the summit in a van full of mountain bikes, giving people a chance to coast downward (for a substantial fee, of course). The slickers were needed because it was raining at the top. We kept hoping for the weather to clear, but it didn’t. We spent an hour in the visitors center, looking at the relief map of the crater, because we couldn’t see the crater. Then we drove the short distance to the summit, where the rain was falling so thick that the visibility was limited to a few feet. It was cold, too—about 50̊F. Finally, we gave up, drove back down into the sunlight and 85̊ temperature, found a beach, and went for a swim. I had been looking forward to seeing Haleakala, and was quite disappointed.
Next day, we had lunch at a pineapple plantation, and drove to Io state park marked by a tall needle of a rock formation. We walked around the pathways, and I hiked for awhile upward through the canyons. On the way back we stopped at a rain forest. After about five days on Maui, we flew back to Honolulu for the weekend.
Midway Island is a small coral atoll in the center of the North Pacific Ocean. It was the scene of severe Japanese attacks following Pearl Harbor, and the battle of aircraft-carrier task forces which turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Our ship stopped there briefly for refueling on each trip across the ocean, in September 1952, and June and December 1953. The island consists of a small naval garrison and a wildlife refuge.
It was a chance for the crew to play a little softball, have a few beers, and fish over the side of the ship. The water was crystal clear turquoise, and the sand white. In wandering about the island, I got too close to the nest of a bos’n bird, and was attacked and driven away. The island is also a haven for gooney birds—a large albatross that runs along the surface of the water for about fifty yards before gathering enough speed to become airborne.
Another great disappointment in my life was Tahiti. Supposed to be the Paradise of the South Pacific, and storied in Mutiny on the Bounty, it did not live up to expectations. It is the center of the Society Islands, where the official language is French, and the currency is the French Pacific franc. Half of the population of French Polynesia live on Tahiti. I arrived there about 3 AM in April of 1981, as a stopover on my first trip to Australia and New Zealand. In the early morning twilight, it looked like a mystical place, as I was driven to the Maeva Beach hotel. But in the clear light of day, the small beach at the hotel was stony and littered with plastic bags and beer cans.
I took a “jitney” to downtown Papeette, the capital. A jitney is an open-air bus that the common people ride. It let me off in the center of the town, in front of the Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame, a very simple, white wooden structure, and small—but the population is small. I wandered through the town, bought a couple souvenirs, and from the boat harbor, admired Moorea, its sister island across the strait. That island may be cleaner, being less populated and more remote. The center of Tahiti is mountainous, but I didn’t get there. With only 24 hours between flights, there just wasn’t time to venture beyond the immediate surroundings.
I landed at Tahiti twice more, again at 3 A.M., but didn’t leave the airport. An hour spent refueling allowed only a chance to stretch the legs and breathe the tropical air. My departing flight on that first trip was Air New Zealand, bound for Auckland. But it did make one stop, at Rarotonga, a member of the Tonga Islands, south and west of Tahiti. We arrived in mid-morning, but with less than an hour on the ground, I couldn’t leave the gate area. Due south from here was nothing but ocean, all the way to the Antarctic continent. I landed there again, briefly, returning from my last trip down under, in 2002.
The Fiji Islands are located north of New Zealand, at about the same latitude as Tahiti, 18̊S, but farther west. The principal island is Viti Levu; its capital is Suva, on the southeast coast, but we landed at Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”), on the west coast. This was the first stop of a 17-day tour Betty and I took in June 1993, later moving on to New Zealand and Australia. We arrived on Saturday morning, were taken to our hotel, which was not particularly memorable, and began exploring. The immediate area was all bush and sugar cane, so we took a taxi to town. That also proved a disappointment, being small, dirty, and rather crowded. We had lunch in a small Chinese restaurant, but not very comfortably. We were unable to find a Catholic church.
That afternoon, we took a taxi to a local orchid farm, owned by movie and TV star Raymond Burr. It made for an interesting stop, a place to walk through gardens, but not as complete as the botanical gardens in Singapore. That evening, we had dinner at the hotel.
The next day, our tour took a cruise to Mana, an island an hour or so away. The ride was interesting, and we were entertained by some locals playing island music, along with some favorites for singing. We spent most of the day at the island. The swimming was great, on a beautiful beach, under the palm trees. A sumptuous buffet lunch was provided, and there was plenty of shade to protect us from the hot sun. The island was quite small, the center a wooded area with a scattering of bungalows for rent to vacationers, and beaches all around. At the end of the day, we returned on the boat to more entertainment—it was all very well done, so we felt as if we had visited the real Fiji.
In the morning, we flew on to Auckland, arriving with a sunburn in a hailstorm—it was the beginning of winter there.