Pacific DX Vacation Trip 2 - Part 2


Written by Pat Doherty, VE3PD (VE3HFS)


     Alan and Colleen met us at the airport. Everything was open air and we could see them while we were waiting to clear immigration and customs. The baggage handling was very slow, after receiving one bag I wandered out to say hello to our hosts and then went back in to get the balance of the luggage. We cleared customs with no problem, they hardly raised an eyebrow at our radio equipment. This amazed Alan as usually they delight in giving people with other than ordinary luggage a difficult time. A German amateur who arrived during our stay had to deposit monies as security to make sure he did not leave any equipment behind. Rather funny story connected to him. He had taken some pictures of Bill, Alan and myself and when he returned home he airmailed them to me. The address was "Pat VE3HFS, Steamship Company, Thunder Bay" and the amazing part was they arrived in our company post office box within 8 days of being mailed. It used to take 8 days to get our mail from Thunder Bay to Montreal, and it was correctly addressed.

     Alan lived about 20 minutes outside of Apia, the capitol city of Western Samoa. A rather unique drive. The car Alan had was originally bought by the previous station supervisor with the intention of taking it back to New Zealand. In Western Samoa, like us, they drive on the right side of the road, New Zealand drives on the left side. When Alan was behind a larger vehicle and could not see to pass, it was up to the passenger to let him know when the coast was clear. Not the way I would like to drive, but Alan and Colleen did not seem to have any problems. Alan was in charge of a geophysical station which was part of the Tsunami (tidal wave) warning system. Fortunately there were no earthquakes or typhoons while we were there. Weather wise every day seemed the same, 28 degrees C at night and 32 degrees C during the day. Some days at noon at would rain a bit, but it was not really noticeable as the temperature remained the same. One night it did cool off to 26 degrees C and Alan's son, Wayne, got up to get a blanket for his bed as he felt cool! We slept with just a sheet, just enough to keep you from getting chilled as the moisture evaporated of your body.

     What a way to DX vacation, a comfortable home to stay in, Colleen was an excellent cook, Bill and I helped out the youngsters doing dishes while we were there, antennas already up and running, all we had to do was move the coax feed over to the room we were staying in, plug in the Icom 720A, warm up the microphone, and keyer and it was off to the races. Alan had arranged for our licenses and mine was 5W1ET, Bill was 5W1EU. Rather amazing since the movie ET was fairly recent and really came across on the bands very well. Conditions to North America were not great and to Europe practically non existent. Lots of activity in the Pacific with Japan being the major player. Once again we found that when there was a DX expedition on the air and we called in, we were given preferential treatment. Stations would notify the expedition station 5W1xx was calling in. We would make our contact and move on. Expeditions like to collect countries too. 40 metre CW had some good opennings to the US and Canada, but very crowded and somewhat difficult to pick out calls. There were also the idiots that would QRM, ones that made derogatory remarks and of course the policemen who added to the confusion. This was not a great problem on the other bands. You don't notice this too much at home but when you are on the other end it can be a problem. I can see why the big expeditions get ticked off. RTTY was really a drawing card for Alan. It was a new mode to operate, and of course it would be very rare to hear RTTY from Western Samoa. He had some impressive pile ups. Within 2 weeks time he was receiving QSL cards, one with a $50.00 donation to help out the cause and keep him on the air. How's that for encouraging a DX station to be active.

     Western Samoa is a large tropical island with large mountains in from the coast. Unlike Rarotonga which you could drive around in an hour, just traveling across the island and back took up the better part of a day. The mountains for some are a preferred living area, with the humidity being less and the temperatures cooler. On our drive through the mountains Alan showed us where the Bhai's were building a temple along with other concrete structures. They were spending more than a million dollars. When you consider everything is shipped in construction costs can really escalate. Western Samoa was the last home of Robert Louis Stevenson. He spent his final years on the island living in a home up in the mountains.

     The island does not have a great deal of wild life, no snakes, the only reptiles I saw were small lizards that looked very much like the "Chit Chats" in Rarotonga. There was all the usual insects, large and small cockroaches, spiders etc. One of the strangest happenings was the land crab that lived in the septic system. We were warned if we heard any scraping and scratching while using the facilities it just might be the land crab coming to visit! There was no lending library in this john, no one dilly dallied, it was get in, do your business and get out. I am not sure how big the pincers are on a land crab, and had no desire to find out. Talking about land crabs, as we were eating breakfast one morning, we heard a rattling noise like dice being shaken. It turns out that the hermit crabs investigate the dogs dish during the night and can't get out in the morning. What we could hear was the sea shells they use for protection rattling together as they tried to climb the slippery slopes of the plate.

     After two weeks in Western Samoa it was time to move on to Rarotonga. We had been in contact with ZK1CG, a former US amateur now living in Rarotonga, while operating from 5W1 land. When he heard we were coming he asked us to bring over five pounds of raw sugar as it was not available on Rarotonga and his wife wanted it for baking. We said, no problem, he said that is great and for our efforts he would arrange for our ZK1 licenses. True to his word on arrival we swapped the sugar for my call of ZK1XM, Bills' call of ZK1XO. Visiting amateurs were always issued with the X prefix. I imagine since our visit these calls have been used by other visiting amateurs. There were a couple of American amateurs visiting the island at the same time as us. We had a chance to visit and swap stories. ZK1CG. at the time we were there, was arranging for a US amateur to visit the island of Manihiki in the North Cook Islands. Manihiki being a separate country for DXCC purposes, with no resident amateur.

     We were staying in the end unit of a motel located on the ocean. Since the road went around the circumference of the island almost all motels, etc had an ocean view. We installed our antenna on Bills' collapsible mast, tied a rope on for rotating, threw up a couple of wires, plugged the rig in and we were on the air. Conditions were not much better than Western Samoa, with the main contacts to the West Coast of Canada and the United States along with Pacific countries. We were hoping for a European opening, but no luck. It got to the point I actually thought of going to New Zealand for a week just to liven things up. In a way some of the best contacts were the amateurs back home in Thunder Bay. Your away, your having a good time, your making contacts around the world, but you treasure that chance to say hello to friends and families. We were only gone for five weeks, I can imagine what it is like for expratiates to talk to friends and families after being away for months and years.

     I have traveled a lot and had always been fortunate that the water never got to me. This changed in Rarotonga, one day "Raro Gut" struck. In Mexico they call it Montezuma's Revenge, in Western Samoa its called " Aggies Revenge". Aggie Grey's was an establishment made famous during the Second World War. Numerous war correspondents cranked out their stories from her hotel's bar. They duly called the malady "Aggie's Revenge". I was fortunate that two units down another visitors wife, who was a nurse, had some medication and within a couple of days I was mobile again, even to the point of an occasional beer. He was not having a good time, he was being treated by the local hospital for an insect bite. He woke up one morning and had a sore elbow, within two days he had a swelling half the size of a baseball and was being treated with anti-biotics. Infection travels rather fast in hot climates and you better treat bites and scratches early or you could have some major problems.

     After two weeks it was time to hit the road. Since we were flying Air New Zealand we had to return to Western Samoa and then to America Samoa for our flight back to Hawaii. This was okay with us as it gave us a chance to visit with Alan and Colleen for a further two days before returning to the land of snow and cold. The amusing part was that we went from Rarotonga to American Samoa, then to Western Samoa, this all on a Boeing 737. They were allowed to land and fuel, but could not receive or discharge passengers. After a two day visit we then returned by Dash 7, with a stewardess, to American Samoa. We left Western Samoa in the evening, it was hot and humid, with all the seats on the Dash 7 occupied. When you fill a small plane with mainly Samoans', who in most cases seem as wide as they are tall, claustrophobia can set in. It was a long 30 minutes traveling to American Samoa. A six hour stop over in American Samoa and we were on our way back to Hawaii and then home.

     Was I glad to get home? you bet. Did I enjoy the trip? you bet. Would I do it again? maybe. Every once in a while I look at the map of the Pacific and Malaysia sticks out. You never know! Radio vacations are a unique experience. Your amateur license opens a lot of doors......30

73, have a good day, VE3PD

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