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Journal Entries for 2014-04 Papua New Guinea & Micronesia Expedition

OVERALL SUMMARY: We flew Virgin Australia from LAX to Sydney on Thursday, Apr 3rd (15hr5min). We had a 2hr30min layover on Saturday, Apr 5th before our domestic flight from Sydney to Cairns (3hr5min), with a total flight time of 19hr45min including the Sydney connection. We had planned to stay six nights in Cairns, giving us enough time to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) at least twice before we embarked on our National Geographic Expedition. However, Cyclone Ita was on its way in our direction and we were advised not to go out snorkeling with the 20-25kt winds. The reef is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 4,200 miles. This huge area can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms.

Instead of snorkeling we drove to Kuranda for the day on Sunday (Journals #3-#5), went on a boat tour (Journal #6) up into the mangroves (and saw the cyclone holes) on Monday and a 4WD tour to the Cairns Highlands (Journals #7-#8) on Wednesday.

We watched the National Geographic Orion come into port on Tuesday, Apr 8th, several days early. We didn't know about the brewing cyclone, so we couldn't figure out what was happening. We later learned that the guests on the previous expedition disembarked on Wednesday, Apr 9th (2 days early) and the Orion went back out to sea to ride out the storm.

We just hung around the hotel (Thursday, Apr 10th thru Saturday, Apr 12th) waiting for the cyclone to pass. There were high winds and rain, so it wasn't advisable to leave the hotel. There were no tours offered. Most businesses closed down. Cyclone Ita was in Cairns the night of Friday, Apr 11th and the worst winds (maybe 45kt gusts) occurred late Friday night and Saturday, Apr 12th.

Finally, finally, on Sunday, Apr 13th, we embarked on the National Geographic Orion. We started out with a day At Sea, but our life quickly fell into a routine (Journals #9-#10). We quickly got accustomed to the Orion's "open door policy". We never locked our door, therefore we didn't have to take our room card everywhere we went, especially out snorkeling. This made things so much easier--we could just come and go from our cabin. Our cabin was awesome! It had two rooms. No kidding!! We could close the bedroom door and it was then separated from the sitting/work area. We were a little disappointed about our balcony, which was only a step wide, but it was private. We were really happy with the double windows.

When we had a morning or afternoon (or both) At Sea, there was always a presentation or a photo workshop with the photography staff. At the presentations we learned about the Japanese WWII history, weather, local customs, southern hemisphere migrations, photography, local fish, seabirds and coral. The presentations were given by the National Geographic staff, which included David D (NatGeo Photographer) and his wife Jennifer, Ron (Cultural Specialist), Mike (Undersea Specialist), Tom (Naturalist) and David C (Naturalist/Photo Instructor). Tim and his wife Linnea were the Expedition Leader and Asst Expedition Leader. Justin and Ian were the divemasters. Richard is a Naturalist and Jim is a videographer. There were about 100 guests, 13 Expedition Staff members and 54 Orion crewmembers.

There were two eating areas, the Outdoor Cafe and the Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch were always buffets, with dinner mostly being gourmet type fare from a menu. Most meals were at the Outdoor Cafe, unless it rained or it was a special occasion, like a Captain's Welcome or Farewell Dinner.

When we were not At Sea, we were kept busy with land based tours or water activities. The water activities included diving, snorkeling or the glass-bottomed boat tours. We always did snorkeling since we're not divers anymore. We wouldn't have qualified (25 or more recent dives) anyway. There were about 18 divers, with only two divemasters, so they had to have "experienced" divers. The glass-bottomed boat was great for those who didn't either dive or snorkel. The expedition staff was very proud of their new glass-bottomed zodiac. They had this specially made and it really added value to the cruise for those guests who didn't snorkel or dive. Sometimes we were able to snorkel off the beach, but most times they set up a snorkel platform. This was a metal platform, about two feet below the water surface that was suspended between two zodiacs. We'd scoot from the shuttle zodiac to one of the platform zodiacs, get ready with our gear and then use the platform to enter the water. This worked really well.

In addition to the daily routines, we had sunset celebrations, an Anzac day service, special dinner invitations, special presentations and entertainment by the crew.

They kept really good track of us at all times. When we went ashore via the gangway, we had a card to swipe. But, when we went by zodiac shuttle, there was a Tag Board. We would turn the tags for #510 (we each had one) from blue to white. When we returned, we would turn the tags for #510 from white to blue. This way they knew who was on board and who wasn't. They also kept track of us on the snorkel platform. In our rooms we found snorkel bags with our room number on them. We used them when we went to snorkel. We'd keep all of our stuff in the bags and leave them on one of the platform zodiacs when we went into the water. If there was a bag left (and a lifejacket) the crew knew that somebody was still in the water (and who it was).

Once we started our expedition, we skipped the GBR (the eye of category 5 Cyclone Ita went right over Lizard Island (our first scheduled stop) and went directly to Papua New Guinea (PNG). We came prepared for PNG with malaria pills, long sleeves and long pants. The travel doctor told us that PNG has the highest incidence of malaria in the world. We had to take the pills 1-2 days before arriving in PNG, the whole time we were in PNG and 7 days after we left PNG. Actually, I had ordered an extra day of pills, just in case, and it was a good thing I did because we were in PNG an extra day.

We stopped at Samarai Island & nearby Deka Deka Island (Journals #11-#12), Kiuywawa (instead of Kitava) (Journals #13-#14), Rabaul (Journal #15), Banban Island in Kimbe Bay (Journal #16), Rao Island (Journal #17) and Kavieng (Journal #18) during the first week, with the activities including local dance performances and/or tour of the village, diving, glass-bottomed zodiac tours and snorkeling. We went to the dance performances, tours of the village and snorkeling. After PNG, we crossed the equator and went into the Federated State of Micronesia (FSM), stopping at Chuuk (Journals #19-#20), Satawal (Journals #21), Ifalik (Journals #22-#23), Sorol (Journal #24), Yap (Journal #25) and Palau (Journals #26-#28). We went snorkeling 15 times and visited nine villages on this 21-day expedition. This was the first part of our trip.

The story of the second part of our trip is in the next album, 2014-05 Spice Islands & Coral Triangle Cruise.

0362-Map of Cyclone Ita, 7.00am, Apr 11.JPG

0399-Orion returning, Cairns.JPG

0404-Our cabin, bed & sitting area, Orion.JPG

0406-Our cabin, work desk area, Orion.JPG

0408-Our cabin balcony, Orion.JPG

0441-Dinner on aft deck, Orion.JPG

0423-Map Cairns to Palau, original itinerary.jpg

2309-Preparing snorkel platform, Sorol, Yap, Micronesia.JPG

2491-Aerial view of Indonesia.jpg

2557-Jellies at Jellyfish Lake, Palau, Micronesia.JPG
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