Solomon Islands – All Tied Up

It has been a long time since we have traveled without having the trip laid out in detail ahead of time. Don’t know why but it seems with the internet it is too easy to reserve all the air flights, all the hotels, all the dive excursions and, if required, all the side tours on line thereby avoiding any adventure trying to solve problems upon arrival at some destination. This also eliminates the spontaneity that leads to wonderful unexpected discoveries.  I do like the fact we can be efficient with the use of our time away and not have to spend energy and  1/2 days finding a hotel for a few nights, but I do miss the adventure and the solving of puzzles that I associate with travel in the past.

Yesterday we booked the last single day we had open for our trip to the South Pacific. There was one day when we arrive on the Solomon Islands before we are to board the live-a-board dive boat when we need a hotel. For some reason this detail had slipped through the cracks and if we not figured it out we would have had to use some of the old skills acquired pre internet to find an abode for the night, heaven forbid. Anyway our omission is found and we have a place. Now the only thing that will cause ‘adventure’ is if some part of our plan goes awry. I’m not saying we won’t have a good time it is just the path we follow is going to be much more predictable.

We are going to expend a lot of energy on the dive boat in the Solomon’s and Debbie wanted to pamper herself with a rest on an island where the only habitation is the resort at which we are booked. Don’t think we will learn much about Solomon Island culture but it will be “holiday”, something we rarely do.

The other place we booked on the Solomon’s is in the largest city. Not very big really and it is easy enough to get into the hinterlands so we will get a bit of what the place is like.

We did learn that it is expensive and difficult to travel the islands. The road system is poor and the islands are quite small so in order to travel you have to take pricey airplanes or ride on iffy watercraft.

Anyway, we are now tied to a schedule. There are still loose ends, like malaria pills, and getting an online Australian visa but for the most part the plans are made and we are headed south.

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Mistaya Lodge

I cannot stop looking at the snow covered peaks that surround Mistaya Lodge. This is what nature and beauty are all about. Today it is cloudy, but the view is just as spectacular as a sunny day.

mistaya lodge

It is quiet here. Away from the city, phones, sirens, just silence. when we are skiing, I hear my breath, the tromp of skis on snow and, yesterday, a far off avalanche rumbling.

There are signs of wildlife in the snow. Small tracks leading here and there. We spy an odd track and D tells us they are ptarmigans eating the bark on shrubs.

mistaya lodge

Today, I am taking a rest day. The rest of the group goes up towards Heather Ridge, where Murray and I were yesterday. Once near the top they will hang a left and go to Mista Vista. Murray is nursing a sore wrist so hopefully he will be able to stay out all day. For me, it is a day of reading, maybe watching a movie and a nap. Definately a nap.

mistaya lodge

Murray and our guide

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Mistaya Lodge

A 15 minute helicopter ride brings us to Mistaya Lodge and a winter paradise. White fluffiness everywhere.mistaya lodge

We do an avalanche update in a meadow and then climb Mohawk Ridge. Most of the group skies down one ravine, Murray and I (the newbie) ski down another shallower ravine. A good afternoon with only one wipeout.

Today the main group climbs to Ophidian Glacier. We leave them at the top of the Whaleback and do one run in so so snow before Murray’s skins stopping sticking to his skis. we pull the plug and head back to the lodge to warm up and get his skins working.

ophidian glacier

The group climbing up the Ophidian Glacier

We eat lunch, warm up and rest at the lodge and then climb up Heather Ridge with a plan to ski down Leprachaun Creek. The powder was perfect and we make it down with a slight detour due to a wrong turn. The sun is very warm on to of the ridge but down in the valeey, it is chilly as we ski back to the lodge for soup, a sauna and another delicious supper.

 

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Road Trip to Golden, BC

We have the car packed up and are on the road by 10:00 am. It will be a six hour drive to Golden, BC, skirting around Calgary and passing by Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and Field.

Socks

At least I have my socks on the correct feet!

The traffic on Hwy 2 and then Hwy 1 is heavier than we thought it would be, guess all the students and teachers who have the week off are on the road too. The drive is just a drive until we get into the mountains, then there is awesome scenery that never gets tired.

Cascade Mountain

Cascade Mountain outside of Banff

Once we pass Lake Louise the traffic thins out but the road gets dicier. Glad Murray is driving. We plod along at the speed limit and enjoy the mountains.

Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain

The sun is getting lower and lower as we approach Golden and we have had enough sitting in the car. We reach Golden in just over six hours. Not bad for winter driving conditions.

Approaching Golden

Approaching Golden

We are now ensconced at the Country Comfort Bed and Breakfast waiting for it to be time to go for supper. Let’s go!

See you on top of the mountain!

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Packed and Ready to Go

The floor in the basement was covered in ski gear until about an hour ago. We go downstairs with our two packing lists, “Backcountry Skiing –  Lodge” and “Backcountry Skiing – Day Trips” and start shoving gear into bags and marking off the lists. Probe? Check. Shovel? Check. Goggles? Check. PJs? Check. Toothbrush? Check. And on we go until only a few last minute items are circled on the lists and the strewn about gear is nicely contained in a few bags.

There is a weight limit when you fly in a helicopter, so the kitchen sink has to stay at home. It’s down to one set of indoor clothes and as many ski layers as will fit in the bag. We wear our ski clothes, boots and transceiver on the heli for two reasons – to save weight in our bags and just in case the heli goes down, but we don’t think too hard on that one.

This trip is catered, so we do not have to plan, prepare and take food with us. Phew! The only edibles we pack are various trail snacks and Coke (for Murray).

So we are ready to go and will hit the pavement tomorrow for our six hour drive to Golden. Forecast looks good and we should be out of the deep freeze that had settled in Alberta over the last week. Heli in on Wednesday….and skiing here we come!

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The Ski Season is Upon Us

The time is neigh. Winter has arrived and we have been skiing in town for about a month and a half. My Banff connection has informed me the snow in the mountains is getting deeper and skiing is an absolute possibility. Several ‘trail’ trips have confirmed the existence a good solid base and enough snow on top to make for good turns.

We are booked to ski at Mistaya Lodge early January. We heli in on January 3rd and will be out on the 7th. Our departure date is one week away and I am sitting here thinking about finding a packing list and starting to amass the particular items required to ski off piste.

Tomorrow is the ‘end of the holidays’ so I will get started and find that list. By tomorrow evening the basement floor should be scattered with gear.

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Chronological Progression – Fiji, Southport, Solomon Islands

With the dive dates now set we need to find accommodation to infill the few other days we will be in Fiji. Not may days but we don’t want to have to spend them on the street and Nadi does not have an endless supply of hotels.

Debbie does a lot of research and finds a 1/2 dozen we can look into. We send emails. If we get a good feeling from the hotels response we follow up with one or two more emails and then book. As is often the case in places where the weather is warm, the responses are a long time coming, if at all. It takes more than a week to get back enough emails to further our investigation. Even then we are going on our instincts. We reread each hotel review and what their websites have to say to supplement what the emails have given us. None of them answer all of questions and most require a good amount of interpretation.

We decide to book 2 different hotels. One for the trip to Australia, a couple of days stay and a different place for the trip home as we are going to spend one night there between flights. Again, utilizing two different hotels is a bit of reconnaissance for a future trip.

Reservation requests are sent. NO confirmations. None. Wait 5 days and still nothing. Debbie sends follow up emails. One place returns the emails stating they have made the reservation as per requested. Guess one just has to assume that it will all be good, until you are standing at the desk and nobody has any idea you even exist. The second place never did respond. So c’est la vie, we have two more possibilities. Send out another inquiry. Again no response. Quite odd considering these places are in business to make money. After a second email this reservation is confirmed and it looks likely we have a bed for each of the extra nights in Fiji.

Next stop, Southport, Australia. We are there for 11 days and the only criteria for a place to stay is to be close to our son’s place. Weird even though we are headed to the tourist capital of Australia we cannot find a hotel in the vicinity. We have not used Airbnb before but Debbie has a look to see what is available and there are 5 or 6 places that could suit our needs. We do a little research into their exact location and what each place has to offer and we are left with 2. One seems to stand out with a way more pluses than minuses on the “for” and “against” chart. So after mulling it over for a week and a half we decide to take the plunge and have a crack at renting it.

Wholly crap, the booking page of Airbnb is fussy. It takes us about an hour to break the code and get the booking to be posted to our perspective host. Our first problem arises when Debbie tries to book the place under her account (I don’t have an account at this point) and pay for it with my visa card. That maneuver kicked us right out and onto some weird uninterruptible page. After a few more snafus,  opening an account under my name and have the owner reset the reservation under my new account, a couple of more tries and we are finally able to get a confirmation from Australia. Honestly it was not a very good introduction to Airbnb. If it had not worked and given us some indication as to why it was not working, like a text box stating the obvious about reservation and credit card names having to match, we could have probably solved things quite easily and fast but there was nothing what so ever. The system just kept kicking us out.

We now have a plan for 3/4’s of our trip and have only the Solomon Islands puzzle to solve. I have been working on that and it should come together before the middle of January. Maybe. From my preliminary investigation the Solomon’s are even more laid back than Fiji so we will have to see how it pans out.

 

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Taking Shape

Plan B is being molded into quite a good tour. We have confirmed our stay at two different dive resorts and managed to get the connecting flight that will transfer us from the island of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, to Kadavu Island.

The first resort at which we will reside is the Volivoli. (They seem to repeat a lot of words in Fiji) The Volivoli is connected to the dive boat on which we were to sail and we are hooked up by the group that was taking care of the live-a-board reservations. It is easy to do. The place is rather fancy by our standards but it will cost less then the yacht so we will have some funds to distribute to the second land based dive resort.

A week there and we catch a flight to Kadavu and the Matana Beach Resort. A smaller resort somewhat oriented to divers but not exclusive. We chose it because it is close to two villages and we think we can get an idea of how the locals live, so to speak. Although not as expansive of coverage, the area accessible for diving from here is the same area the Aggressor live-a-board plys.

As trip is now land based we should get a much better idea of “Fiji”. When you are on the water it is hard to get a feel for what the country is like. As we are likely to visit Australia at least once more during our kids tenure there, Fiji seems like a good stopover and having an idea as to the layout of the land we should be able to find a few more places worth diving and visiting.

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Marmot Basin Day 2

On Friday, we decide to get to Marmot Basin a little earlier than yesterday so we can get a few more runs in before we head home. Manage to get to the hill too early and have to sit in the lodge for 10 or 15 minutes. Then it is off we go, up to mid mountain.

Even though the temperature is about the same as yesterday, the wind is blowing stronger so it feels colder. We do a few laps of easy runs, sheltered from the wind, trying to get my technique straight. You see, yesterday I started cocking my hip again when turning to the left, so I am working on uncocking it. It works…..mostly.

We take the chair up to the top of the mountain and the wind is howling up there. It is blowing so strong that it actually moves me along without me doing anything! And  the skiff of fresh snow that fell last night is blowing away.

We ski down and it is hit and miss with the hip thing. I know that when I get nervous about the terrain, the side slope, other skiers whizzing by, I seem to forget technique and go into semi panic mode. Not good. Mur notices that I stop turning my feet, I throw my shoulder, and a passel of other badness. It’s good skiing with an excellent instructor! Another run up top and it is time for lunch and to thaw out hands and feet indoors.

We spend our time after lunch on the lower, warmer and less windy, green runs trying to fix my skiing. My body is not cooperating and frustration sets in, so I call it a day and send Mur up by himself to ski some runs while I ponder life in the chalet. I watch other skiers coming down, and wonder how my skiing matches up to most of them. I see a certain lack of technique in almost everyone. And I can pick out Murray right away….he’s the guy that is skiing perfectly and looks so smooth and effortless.

We call it a day, pile in the car and start our 4.5 hour drive back home. Next stop, Mistaya Lodge!

 

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Plan B is a GO!

Link to the Siren website if care to read. https://sirenfleet.com/fiji-update/

Looks like Plan B is proceeding without too many road blocks. Debbie has sent emails to 4 dive resorts and our contact at the Siren office is working on a proposal for the Volivoli. There were no throw aways on the first perusal of the return emails. Each place has highlights and each place has some detracting qualities.

As expected, the price from the Volivoli came in the highest of the bunch, but it is still less than what it would have cost to sail on the live-a-board yacht. The Volivoli dates available mesh with the dates available at the other resort we chose and all we have to do is find a domestic air flight to the island of Kadavu and we are in.

It is still 5 months away but the hopper flights in Fiji are filling up. There are planes flying on the day we want but the times are limited and the cheap seats are sold out. I don’t think there is a significant difference between seat types on the small plane but if you book early enough you get a deal and we are outside the ‘early’ time.

Another flurry of emails to the two resorts, both can accommodate us on the days we need. An hour or two on the internet and the flights are booked.

It has taken a week but Plan B has been formulated and implemented and it looks like a trip that was quickly made a shambles is back in order.

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