By Daggett Harvey
(Editor’s note: When we left our South Seas travelers Daggett and Yvonne Harvey south of the equator, they had sailed out of Sydney as the band played “Waltzing Matilda”, having bid good day to “Devilish Tasmania. We left the couple about to land in Guadalcanal where our intrepid travelers begin this final installment of their Coral Seas adventure).
Day 20 — Guadalcanal: The Battle and the Island
I read Ian Toll’s three-volume work on World War II in the Pacific, I saw the movie probably four times over a 50 year period and just finished the book, “Guadalcanal Diary”, I bought the Mark Stille account of the battle. We had also a fine onboard lecture by 4* USMC (ret) General Anthony Zini.
I was well prepared for the tour!
After dropping anchor in well-named Iron Bottom Sound we went to Bloody Ridge, the site of the climactic battle of the 6 month Solomon Island Campaign. Here’s my take:
- It was a moving, horrible, wonderful act of selfless courage on the part of the US Marines and the Japanese from August 1942 – Feb 1943 — A very close thing.
- American superiority in supply, manpower, training, construction skills, and firepower saved the day, making up for equal Japanese courage, fighting spirit, and perseverance. At the end of the battle, the Japanese were losing more men from starvation and Malaria than combat. Perhaps the Malaria part was also true of the first Marine division.
- We lost 600 aircraft, 30 ships (The USS Chicago badly damaged but lived to fight another day), and 7100 sailors dead off Savo Island. Japan lost about the same number of ships and planes and about three to four times as many dead They did not surrender.
- Japan never again posed an offensive threat in the Pacific.
- The Battle marked the first use of Navajo code talkers. The Japanese, who had broken the Army Air Corps code, didn’t believe Navajo was a code or language but gibberish sent to confuse them. Little known fact. In anticipation of WW2, the Germans had sent people to the USA to learn the Indian language but they studied Choctaw, not Navajo. (I wonder how Choctaw sounds with a German accent?)
- When viewed from today’s vantage point — that within 2 1/2 years of the end of the Guadalcanal fighting we had built an Atomic Bomb — the Battle (and so many others) was arguably unnecessary. But who knew that then?
Many of those listed below did not survive.
The Island has a population of about 110,000 and 2000 sq miles of land (or about twice that of Rhode Island). About 1/2 of the people live in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara. The whole country has about 650,000 inhabitants, but is very poor with an annual per capita income of about $3200. But it is also one of the most polite and friendly countries you’ll ever find. Everyone says hello or good morning either in English or Pidgin. The little children all wave as we pass by. The locals credit the missionaries for these habits and ending headhunting. It is about 97% Christian.
Besides the battlefield, we visited the National Museum, a four-room affair, which is full of mixed Polynesian and Melanesian Tikis.
The people look very Melanesian but the music and the art have a clear Polynesian influence. While appearing Melanesian there are a great number of blond or redheads with plenty of hair. Some Solomon Islanders look like many black Americans; others look like nothing else I’ve ever seen outside of the Southwest Pacific.
As is the case with other Pacific islands we will visit, the local university pumps out a limited number of educated people but they have great trouble finding jobs. Whether it was the oppressive heat or the presence of the dead I was not sad to leave Iron Bottom Sound, the graveyard of so many US Navy ships and so many sailors.
Day 21 — Vanuatu “LONG GOD YUMI STANAP!”
In Bislama, the local language means “In God We Stand!” And well it might because this is a very odd but beautiful place. First a few facts, then the odd stuff.
National Anthem is “YUMI, YUMI, YUMI” — freely translated, “We, We, We.” In 1606 a Portuguese captain leading a Spanish ship discovered this 800-mile chain of islands.
In the early 19th century Blackbirding, the practice of inducing or kidnapping native Melanesian workers to become indentured servants abroad, depopulated the country by 50%. Even now a lot of Ni-Vanuatu ( the demonym for a citizen) are found all over the South Pacific.
The weird stuff begins with France and The UK actually agreeing to jointly administer this land as a “Condominium,” which they did until independence in 1980. (a pint of Bitter with their Crepe Suzette?)
The weirder stuff: The John Frum Cargo Cult on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Followers believe by replicating certain actions of American servicemen in WW2, such as building airports, (In this case with straw planes, wooden control towers, and then lighting the runway with torch lights) they could bring back the glory days of that era. THEY WANT THE AMERICANS TO COME BACK AND GIVE THEM “CARGO.” An interesting variation on “if we build it they will come.” The documentary movie, “Mondo Cane,” covered this theme in the early 60s.
Another cult worships Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who, rather than discourage the cult, sent them his picture to adore and deify, which they did. He is called, “Man blong Mrs Queen.”
You have to love the accuracy of Bislama Pidgin.
We had our best shore excursion so far into a local village where we were met by Ni-Vanuatu warriors in full dress (shown above) who threatened us with spears, war grunts, and clubs. It was too hot for our blood to run cold.
Village life, in the jungle, was most articulately explained by a village Big Man named C4 (wonder if he had an explosive temperament?). He said headhunting had ceased here 30 years ago — except for some remote islands. Then he smiled, showing his pointed teeth.
After a swim and visit to the Blue Lagoon, shown above, we hustled back on board to eat Beluga caviar and see the crew perform, quite nicely, parts of “South Pacific.” We weighed anchor and sailed for Yasawa-I-Rara, which, as you all know, is in Fiji.
PS — Today’s Bad Riddle heard onboard:
What is the difference between Melanesian and Polynesian habits?
Polynesians are very hospitable and love to have you over for dinner.
Melanesians, not quite as hospitable, just love to have you for dinner.
Days 22-24 — Lautoka, Viti Levu island, Fiji
A day filled with “Ben Hur”(1/2 * for special effects, otherwise pathetic) and a fine locally produced Broadway review, (including “Chicago”, “Cats”, “Momma Mia”, etc) we arrived at the Fijian beach resort of Yasawa-I-Rara. We were early — perhaps 4 years early, as messers, Hilton, Marriott, and Pritzker had not arrived to “alter” it by cleaning it up and building hotels. The usual beautiful horseshoe beach, fine-grained super white sand, and scores of tents full of Islanders selling masks, and tapa fabrics. So I bought a Fijian mask, rented a diving mask, and went snorkeling. Not much to see just the extraordinary beauty of the Blue Lagoon. The snorkeling was a relief to the crushing omnipresent humidity and heat of these islands. Made friends with a blue Starfish.
On to the hustle and bustle of the city of Lautoka, Fiji today.
As soon as you come ashore at Lautoka you are immediately hit in the nose and ear by the smells of curry and the sounds of Bollywood. Like its neighbor, Vanuatu, Fiji has had numerous coups and counter-coups — only in this case it’s pretty much racial. About 55% of this country is Melanesian…
About 38% Indian, the balance mostly Chinese — more on them later. As in East Africa, East Timor, and in some American cities the Indian descendants run the shops and their success is resented by the locals. The Chinese own the Big Stuff. We did a bit of shopping but came up empty-handed, except for my purchase of “The Fiji Times,” which one would not confuse with its London or NYC cousins. “Toxic Fish for 3 Years,” screamed the headline. One item in Fijian history did hit my eye, Mr “Ratu Udre Udre, (hereafter known as RUU ) a local boy from this island, who was credited with eating “BETWEEN 872 and 999 people.”
A local greeting, in those hungrier times, from a commoner to a chief was, “Eat me.” It seems RUU frequently accepted the invitation. In an unrelated event, Yvonne was caught feeding dollars to the local Gung Hey Fat Choy Dragon. It was, after all, the Chinese new year! I think she was trying to buy good fortune on the cheap.
As we head for Overseas France, (New Caledonia) the seas have gone from millpond to 9′ waves. The big dance should be interesting tonight.
It wasn’t — Yvonne got seasick.
Day 25 — New Caledonia &The Last days & Why Travel?
Noumea, (originally Fort de France) New Caledonia was, as billed, a little bit of France. But also, as not billed, the territory is leaning towards independence. And with its modern port facilities, resort hotels, better education, and prosperous citizens, much more ready than PNG, or the Solomons to do it alone. While hot as its neighbors, its pleasant landscaping and beautiful harbors invited one back. That, and for all good Catholics, a MINI Notre Dame look-alike cathedral built to scare away the ghost of Capt Cook and all those who would claim the world for WASPdom. Cook named it New Caledonia (New Scotland) in honor of a combined English and Scottish throne, which only caused Napoleon III to settle it in a hurry to keep the Anglo-Saxons/Celts out.
The long-distance between New Caledonia and Sydney gave us time to reflect on the cruise.
First, the fine food and better service are addicting. It’s tempting to stay on board rather than subject oneself to another very hot but superficially similar South Pacific island. Second, cruising can inspire mental and physical laziness — all the pleasures are close at hand, and choices are made for you. Or most choices— typical choices for shore excursions:
A. See a local jungle village.
B. Go snorkeling nearby.
C. Visit a museum or site of cultural interest.
D. (Rare, since the age of many passengers, is near Paleolithic ) Take a strenuous hike to a local site (waterfall or hot spring). All at extra cost.
I often made the wrong choice if I accept the veracity of my shipmates’ stories that their shore excursion “was simply divine!”
One is easily seduced by the varied activities on board: lessons in everything from Mah-Jongg to ballet, to how to stand and walk properly. Movies galore, massages, swimming in the wave prone pool, lectures on everything from Space to Politics, and yes — even a jewelry fashion show starring Yvonne.
It’s all there, why leave? It’s no problem that there’s occasionally more time at sea than onshore. But I am for longer shore visits.
Crystal shows new cultures and lands while educating you onboard. After sailing 8285 miles on Crystal Symphony I would do it again, although a bit shorter, as a river trip to spend more time ashore.
The Danube or Dalmatian coast anyone? Or the Amazon or Nile? Or maybe just the Chicago River? That could be short and very diverse and you wouldn’t have to fly 17,000 miles.
Why do we make such trips? Nancy Karger reminded me that T.S. Eliot may have said it best in four quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
See you soon!