Chuuk, 2010. The Journey

On 1st April, after well over a year of planning, we set off for some wreck diving in Truk Lagoon. I can’t take any of the credit for this year’s worth of planning, as it was Trevor who did all the hard work as usual. We ended up with enough interest to charter the entire S.S. Thorfinn liveaboard. So it was that 22 of us set off for Micronesia on the afternoon of the 1st April. Most of us were on the 4:30pm Cathay flight to Manila where we would meet up with Trevor, Andreas and Gabi, before changing to Continental Micronesia. Continental Micronesia aren’t my least favourite airline, that accolade goes to Aeroflot in the late 80’s, but they’re certainly down there. Having a monopoly doesn’t give them much incentive to improve, and sure enough they haven’t.

The Cathay flight was uneventful, but then we had to go to the transit desk in Manila to get our Continental boarding passes. The Transit desk at Manila airport would make a good case study for an operations management course. This ultra-efficient operation seemed to consist of a girl who took your passport and asked you a number of questions. She then put the passport on top of  a pile that were already there, meaning that the later passports got processed before the earlier ones – Last-In-First-Out in computer speak. (Fortunately Kimberly, who was waiting for a conference call, suggested that this probably wasn’t the best idea). One bloke would do all the work, including asking all the same questions that the girl had asked, but he would type the answers into a computer. He’d also have to type in your name and details into the system because it didn’t look as though there was any automation at all. Meanwhile 4 other guys would stand around and have a chat or play computer games. It was all very frustrating, and made us all glad that we had plenty of time between flights.

Once on the plane to Guam we got our meal served, just as I remembered it from 4 years ago, with a plastic fork and plastic spoon for safety’s sake. And a metal knife. I can only assume that on 10th September 2001 Continental Airlines bought a job lot knives and are going to carry on using them until international terrorists have stolen them all for their own nefarious purposes.

I can’t remember what film they were showing, primarily because Continental wanted USD 3 for a headset, which, as an added bonus, you can then use on any future Continental flights that you might make. So the only real entertainment was provided by the bloke several seats in front of us wondering whether the loud repetitive roaring noise was coming from the engines, or from a sleeping Robert Ho who was next to him.

Arriving at Guam  is always a cause for concern, as it is administered by the US, which means negotiating the lovely ladies and gentlemen of their immigration service, whose primary role seems to be to make sure that no-one gets into the country. We didn’t want to get in, we were only in transit, but unfortunately that didn’t make a blind bit of difference. We were all half a sleep at 4:30 in the morning and all of us seemed to have different immigration forms. The procedures seem to be so complex, and the Continental staff didn’t appear to know who needed what forms, so I was dreading the experience. Consequently I was really surprised to find that not only had I managed to fill in the correct forms, but that the woman behind the counter was civil and even smiled. I can only assume that she’s new to the job and will be fired when her supervisor finds out.

But I was lucky, as not all of us had such a pleasant experience with the immigration people. Few of us would have suspected that sweet, lovely, little Brenda was in fact an internationally wanted terrorist traveling on a stolen Australian passport. Or perhaps a Mossad agent bent on assassination. Fortunately Guam immigration were on the case, and she spent the best part of an hour trying to convince them that her passport wasn’t stolen, that in fact it was a new passport that had only been issued a couple of weeks earlier.

Meanwhile Joerg had managed to escape from the airport and was running around trying to find Sophie, who had sensibly stayed with us. It turned out that Cathay in Hong Kong had told him he could only check his bags to Guam instead of Chuuk, so he had to go out and get them, then check in again. Actually Cathay had tried it with us as well, but we kept pushing them, and eventually the girl behind the Cathay desk made some phone calls and finally relented. Joerg’s obviously nicer and less pushy than the rest of us.

As we waited for our 8:20am flight, the dawn was beautiful as the sun came up over our plane. It was nice that we weren’t the only ones who were up early – as you can see from Catheryn’s photos the pilot was there running through his pre-flight checks.

Captain performing pre-flight checks (Photo Catheryn Chu)

We arrived at Chuuk at 10am local time, having travelled for almost 20 hours. Fortunately only Robert Ho’s bag was damaged this time. Last time I did this trip we had 3 or 4 casualties. And the first time I went, they offloaded all the dive bags in Guam (except Robert’s) because it had been raining and they were worried about the extra weight. So perhaps Continental Micronesia are improving after all!

We were met by Captain Lance Higgs from the Thorfinn, and some of his crew. It took two runs to get us and all our gear to the wharf where the Thorfinn was tied up, and since the Chuuk roads were in a dreadful state, we’d have been quicker walking. We’d have been up to our knees in mud as well, so I think all of us were happy enough to stick with the van. Sadly the area around the airport looked even more run-down than on my previous visit in 2006. But it was good to have finally arrived after 18 hours of travelling.

About Neil Hambleton

I am a British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) Advanced Diver and an Open Water Instructor. I have been diving since 1992, after joining South China Diving Club (SCDC), which is a Hong Kong-based branch of the BSAC. Having moved to New Zealand, I am now a member of BSAC New Zealand.
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