Posted by: glenswatman | November 28, 2010

20101116-27 SOUTH PACIFIC CRUISE, AUSTRALIA Mildura

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20101116-15-mystery-island.jpg

TUESDAY 16 NOVEMBER – It is a much nicer day with proper blue sky along with the clouds. Inyeug Island was known as Mystery Island to the cruise ships as it was always a mystery as to how they could get the tenders to it through the seemingly circling reef. It is a picture perfect Pacific paradise, uninhabited but with locals sailing over from the nearby island of Aneityum to offer trips, goods for sale and hair braiding – funnily enough no one approaches me for this! Having got off ship early we walk almost all around before settling for some snorkelling. It is really good except you have to be aware of the current dragging you along quickly in some places.  There’s a tiny airstrip and the plane drops in over us taking people on flight seeing tours. In 1974 Queen Elizabeth visited the island and the beach is named after her. Having gone ashore early we are happy to return for lunch and to avoid the mid afternoon sun as it is really hot. Join Dave & Val for our evening meal in the Windjammer café. Kevin Legend is an Australian impersonator and pretty funny although we obviously have not spent enough time in Aus as some of his gags go over our heads. Again it is a late night for us as we finish with the “Majority rules” game show. At the moment we are not getting to sleep much before midnight and wake up around 6am so have to take a catch up nap in the afternoon. Tonight at 3am we are scheduled to pass the island of Tana with the erupting Mount Yasser volcano. I set the alarm for 2.45am then find out we passed it at 1.30am but it was 15 miles away and nothing could be seen.
RCI RHAPSODY 9, MYSTERY ISLAND

WEDNESDAY 17 NOVEMBER – Back in NEW CALEDONIA we are at the Isle of Pines and it is easy to see how it gets its name. We meet up with Gabi & Mike once we go ashore in Kuto and due to the heat immediately give up our plan of climbing the nearby Pic N’Ga 262m mountain in favour of snorkelling at Kanumera Bay. There are few people there when we arrive and this is a stunning bay with limestone outcrops sheltering lots of fish. Funnily enough our other team mates Jenny & Maureen run into us and sit nearby. Considering there are over 2000 passengers on the ship it is surprising how often you run into the same people. Today we have clear blue skies making the beaches look absolutely beautiful. We get the best of it as the place becomes wall to wall people as more passengers arrive. In fact it gets so crowded we all head off to explore other areas nearby before returning at lunch time. It definitely pays to get off early to beat the crowds and the heat. I bump into Gabi in the afternoon and learn a new trick. If you take a glass and from the soft serve machine put in chocolate/vanilla soft ice cream then hot coffee you get a fantastic mocachino milk shake for free. For the afternoon quiz (which we win yet again) we sit at the back of the ship watching us sail away from our last port of call. One of the questions was “what does a spermologist collect?” and we realise we are the answer – trivia!  Have done really well with the quizzes on the cruise and have a drawer full of hats, umbrellas, mugs, key chains, picture frames, travel wallets, luggage tags and bags and this is after giving loads away to the kids on the islands.
RCI RHAPSODY 10, ISLE OF PINES

THURSDAY 18 NOVEMBER – No need for an early start so we linger in bed until 8am. Once breakfast is over we have 2 quizzes to fit in before lunch. We have to crack up laughing when we get the answer wrong to “what sense reduces after you have eaten” – the correct answer being hearing which explains a lot! Today we go to Edelweiss for the brasserie style served lunch and Steve ends up with a huge plate of salmon and prawns, reckon I have got no chance of him hearing me this afternoon! At the 70’s we have fun dancing and joining in with the “Village People”.   OK so I join in with the YMCA actions whilst Steve cringes behind me. On our last formal night we enjoy a kangaroo steak and a nice warm cherries jubilee desert. The “Love & Marriage” game show is hilarious and confuses the quiz master as one round of men’s answers relates to bra sizes which in Australia concur with dress sizes plus cup size but for Americans is in inches so it ranges from 10B to 38DD.
RCI RHAPSODY 11, AT SEA

FRIDAY 19 NOVEMBER – Our last day on board so we have a bit of a lie in before the round of activities. The video scavenger hunt is great fun with Mike, Jenny and I racing around the ship performing and recording stupid stunts such as proposing to a stranger and generally acting the fools. We’ve been winning prizes every day and spend the day giving away most of them as we cannot carry them back. At our last meal we enjoy crocodile skewers. The final show is a mixture of acts with a couple of contortionists. Afterwards Dan, one of the games organisers, says that he has something extra for our team as we have been such good sports in taking part in everything. Having just got rid of all our prizes we end up with more caps and T-shirts!
RCI RHAPSODY 12, AT SEA

SATURDAY 20 NOVEMBER – Sadly the cruise is over but the good news is that it is a beautiful day in Sydney AUSTRALIA. Taking our last buffet meal overlooking the opera house is a good finish. Going ashore is easy and we show the customs man our passport and entry card then stop at quarantine to declare my medicines. A couple more steps and we are out on the streets. Oops we haven’t had our passport stamped for re-entry to Australia. Quickly backtracking we find out that there are no immigration officers here as the cruise was not deemed to have left Australia. This is a huge problem for us as we originally entered on 20 May on a 6 month multi entry visa and must leave by 20 November – today. The customs man phones immigration who confirms that after midnight tonight we will become illegal. This means that when we do leave we will get 3 year exclusion at the minimum or worse. We explain our predicament and the girl says we can phone Melbourne immigration office on Monday and pay for an extension. Now one of the reasons we booked the cruise was to save paying the $255 extension fee so this doesn’t go down too well. We head off feeling rather dejected. Meet up with Val & Dave who tell us about the 555 green buses that do a free loop around the city. We hop onto this and quickly realise that we have already seen the city highlights during the Olympics back in 2000 and are certainly not in tourist mood today. At the train station we get good news that this weekend they are doing line repairs and offering a free shuttle bus to the airport. We decide to go to the International terminal and try and find someone from immigration to see if they can help us. Head man Ross is very sympathetic but confirms that during a cruise we were merely in transit and after midnight tonight have a big problem as you cannot extend a visa after it has run out and neither can we do it by phone (both contrary to our early information). He says we need to get out of the country quick and says we can fly to New Zealand this afternoon and back on the 23rd. This would cost around $600 (£420) each plus we would then need to figure out where to go and what to do in New Zealand, pay for a flight from Sydney to Melbourne then get up to Mildura. Today our friend Garth is waiting to meet us in Melbourne to drive us up to Midura. Ross finally comes up with the suggestion we do an on line extension today. Easier said than done as although we bought our visa on line through an agency they are not strictly E-visas so cannot be renewed on line. Back at immigration Ross’s boss says that in view of that they will allow us to front up to the Melbourne office on Monday morning to renew and we will be treated the same as if we had done it today. We accept defeat and take our Tiger Airways flight to Melbourne. Poor Garth has driven down specially to pick us up (a 5-hour drive); fortunately he came on Thursday and has fitted in a few other things as we must tell him we cannot return with him tomorrow (we are going to house-sit for them until January as they are off to South America on holiday). Talk through our options before he drops us at Bev & Norms. They are away in Melbourne this weekend so we have time and space to sort bags and make a new plan. As we cannot be 100% certain they will extend our visa we decide to go up to Melbourne on Monday morning with our bags packed as if we were off to our next destination which is India (scheduled for end of January). We also pack other bags for Garth to take to Mildura in the hope this works out and we can get a bus up there and do the house- sitting as planned. Can see we are going to have a really good sleep tonight – not.
OCEAN GROVE, BEV & NORMS

SUNDAY 21 NOVEMBER – Spend much of the morning talking through our options. I walk up to the library in the hope the free wi-fi can be accessed from outside but to no avail and there is no where offering it anywhere in Ocean Grove. Still the walk does me good and helps reduce my headache! A new consideration is that if we have to leave the country we should maybe skip Asia and go straight back to England. We know that at the moment we could be of help to family but that would be for a very limited time and also doing this means letting down Garth & Jude and also paying mega bucks for a short notice flight back to England and losing all the other flights we have booked and paid for. One thing for sure there is no easy, cheap or stress free way out of this. Bev & Norm arrive home and chatting to them about their cruise takes our mind of things. They offer to take us to the station to catch and early train to Melbourne tomorrow.
OCEAN GROVE 2, BEV & NORMS

MONDAY 22 NOVEMBER – Up at 6am we throw a few extra things into our bags in case we end up returning to England, the summery clothes for India just would not look right although maybe a sari would! $8.60 (£5.50) pp buys us a train ticket to the city and 1-hours use of public transport. Connecting with a tram we are outside the immigration offices 15 minutes before they open at 9am but still have to join a queue. When we make it to the immigration desk we find that because we are now illegal we must go to another building to the “compliance” section to meet that criteria before advancing past go. Only one person in compliance knows about the cruise ruling whilst everyone else thinks we have left the country. Whilst they are very sympathetic and understand our situation the best they can do is issue a free bridging loan giving us 7 days to either get out of the country or return to them with a flight ticket out within 14 days of today. This is all contrary to what Simon told us on Saturday when he said that because the internet application was working we would be treated as though we had not overstayed. Our only alternative is to go back to immigration to apply for a new visa as issue of the bridging visa cancels our existing multi entry one. For this there is a $255 (£170) pp application fee with no guarantee of it being granted. By 11.30am we are interviewed by another person who understands how we have ended up in this situation but who can only help us with the application. First we have to justify why we want the visa and house-sitting and visiting friends is not good enough until we plead and explain that they are not the sole reason for our visit but an extension to our original trip and we don’t want to let people down. We accept that paying the $255 is inevitable and are resigned to this until we get to the next hurdle. There is a question asking you to list any countries you have spent more than 3 months in during the last 5-years. Of those Mexico, South Africa and South America (we now find that is classed as a country as whole not a continent for this purpose) all flag up TB risks so to proceed further we must pay $100 (£65) pp to have a chest x-ray. By now our emotions are roller coasting through angry, upset, frustrated, disbelief and annoyance that by trying to “do the right” thing we are causing ourselves so much grief and expensive. Whether we go to England, to Asia or Mildura we will be unable to help some people whilst helping other and whichever option involves a lot of research and expense. Having gone so far with this process we figure we should see it through. Our visa application is processed and paid for then we have to go back to “compliance” to get a bridging visa tied it to cover us until the X-rays come back. By now it is 2pm and our x-ray appointment is 2.30pm so in 34C heat with all our baggage we race through the streets to the medical centre. $200 and just a few moments later the work is done and we must now await the results. Immigration is confident we don’t have TB but even if they come back showing we do the process to deal with the next stage takes a couple of months and we will be out of the country by then. It’s after 3pm and we are jiggered so pick up some picnic foods from Aldi and take the free tram to a park to eat them and try to unwind. Although we have already had a nightmare day we opt to take the night train/bus to Mildura rather than stay with friends in Melbourne. Don’t think we would be good company at the moment and at least once we have got to Mildura we can try to wind down. $37 (£24) pp gets us a through ticket for the evening train to Swan Hill which takes just over 4 hours. There’s no chance of sleep as our reserved seats are next to a group of 7 pregnant women who have just been on a baby shopping spree and need to talk about everything the whole way. The bus from Swan Hill gets us into Mildura just before 2am and shortly after Jude arrives, in pyjamas, to pick us up. Even before I have finished in the bathroom Steve is fast asleep in bed.
MILDURA 1, GARTH & JUDES

TUESDAY 23 NOVEMBER – We settle ourselves in and catch up on what’s been happening in the 4 years since we last saw Garth & Jude. We see in the lounge they have a huge pile of DVD’s and lots of books and as these are mostly travel related we are going to have our work cut out getting through them in the next 5 weeks!
MILDURA 2, GARTH & JUDES

WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER – Jude works mornings at the school and Garth pops home at lunchtime. They have left us a book of instructions so we familiarise ourselves with our tasks. Steve will look after most things outdoors, the ducks (all with names and different characters) chickens, wormery, dogs, swimming pool and irrigation of the garden. I will deal with things indoors, cooking, cleaning up, Internet etc. Garth & Jude’s daughter Ellie arrives back from Adelaide and I spend quite a lot of time with her as she is keen to travel light but hasn’t quite got the hang of it. Son Tom is very interested in film making so Jude shows us some of his home videos and has us in stitches at the spoof “Swinburn Christmas” one with Tom acting like a fly on the wall interviewer.
MILDURA 3, GARTH & JUDES

THURSDAY 25 NOVEMBER – I join Ellie for a ride into town in her car. I am pleased to know that when they go away we are having Jude’s car to use as Ellie is like a rubbish bin with all her junk thrown on the floors in the front and back! To give them all time to pack I cook up the evening meal but even so Jude is torn between stopping to chat to us and getting on with the job in hand. She has a huge pile of presents to take with them. Their son Alex has been living in Chile and Jude sent over a heap of presents for his host family. Unfortunately a short time into the trip the parents split up and Alex had to go to another family and since then has moved to a third. As he gave all the presents to the first family Jude is now taking a whole suitcase full of stove for the 2nd and 3rd families plus the people who looked after Ellie when she was there last year. Their other son Tom is in Melbourne but flying ahead to Buenos Aires tomorrow and eldest son Harry is already touring South America and flying down from Columbia to join them. We have never met a family with such well travelled and independent kids.
MILDURA 4, GARTH & JUDES

FRIDAY 26 NOVEMBER – It’s pretty hectic in the house until the family leave around 10am. Jude has suggested we move into their bedroom so first I need to do some damp dusting and vacuuming to get rid of dust and dog hairs which irritate my asthma. It’s a very hot day so we spend the afternoon by the pool until it gets too hot and we step inside to start on the mountain of DVD’s. It is such a hot evening that we nip out for the occasional cooling dip. This has obviously been a build up as later on we see a storm coming over and get thunder and lightning.
MILDURA 5

SATURDAY 27 NOVEMBER – The Swatman’s have arrived in Mildura and it hasn’t taken long for the rain to catch up with us as it is pouring down. Worse still the Internet is off! Reckon I might as well go out and do some shopping but the world and his wife have had the same idea and Centro shopping centre is heaving. Mid afternoon Steve notices the male duck Dennis is fretting. He suddenly realises 2 of the others are missing, one of them being Anne Frank the lame one. In the wind and rain he checks all around the fenced in garden to no avail. Guess we are not off to a good start. Luckily the ducks that went AWOL show up by bedtime so all is well. As we have an unlimited supply of eggs I dig use one of Jude’s hundred or so cook books to find egg recipes. For supper we have “Alpine eggs” which is really easy and delicious. You butter a dish then cover the bottom in grated cheese. Top this with enough eggs to cover the cheese and season with pepper. Then another layer of cheese on top and pop it into an 180C oven for 15 minutes. Serve with chives on top. ! (In fact this would make a great started served in ramekin dishes with just one egg in each.) So that’s 5 eggs taken care of, 55 left to use. It ‘s a bitterly cold evening so we sit watching TV with long trousers and fleeces on and huddled under a blanket a far cry from last night’s cooling dips in the pool!
MILDURA 6

SUNDAY 28 NOVEMBER – I’ve been sniffing and snorting since we got her and put it down to the dogs but now think I have flu coming on.  It’s a dry but cold and windy day but I’m Ok as the Internet is back on and Steve is happy to watch sport on TV.  At bedtime there is one duck missing, we must be quackers as we both search the garden making quacking noises but to no avail.  Periodically Steve pops out to do another search but gets fed up of getting wet.  Just before dark we let out Dennis the menace in the hope he can round up the missing duck but no luck.  In the hope that they will protect it we put the dogs out into the garden early, they sleep out at night anyway.

MILDURA 7

MONDAY 29 NOVEMBER- Within minutes of letting out the ducks the 6th one joins them, no idea where it had been hiding but glad it is safe.  Jude worries more about her animals than her house so we were dreading anything happening.  When I take my morning shower I find a nice wall heater in the bathroom and consider spending the day in there sat on the loo reading!  Yes it is flipping cold again and still raining.  Continuing to use up the eggs I cook up a crème caramel.  It does not look to be going well as the caramel turns to toffee but reheated is soft enough to get out of the pan.  Also my beating of the eggs and sugar does not produce the light thick creamy mixture the recipe asks for.  Carry on regardless and end up very surprised by the result, they look good and just taste a little burnt with the caramel on top.  Now maybe I should be started a kind of Julia versus Julia blog about this to give everyone a laugh.    The late night TV movie “Half Broken Things” gives us a good laugh as it is about a lady who goes to house sit.

MILDURA 8

TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER- Still raining so we take a drive into Mildura to do some grocery shopping.  Even shopping around we conclude that fruit and vegetables are much more expensive here than down at Ocean Grove.  Pick up a Tuesday special new release DVD from Blockbuster as Cemetery Junction has been recommended to us.    Set in England in the 1970’s it is about some teenagers and brings back many funny memories.  Well we are still getting lots of rain but at least the weather has warmed up a little so we are not huddled up in our coats.

MILDURA 9

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