Rarotonga waves

This time we arrived in Rarotonga and were in for a surprise: walking out of the airplane, it was cold! The temperature probably was only 65°F and the humidity was quite low. The wind was blowing hard, and the palm trees swayed and fluttered in the gusts like cheerleader’s pom poms. It took us a while to finish work and head for the rental cars, which were pre-staged for us in the parking lot. In the mean it got dark. It gets dark very quickly in low latitudes, and in some 20 minuted the daylight faded out and darkness descended, with barely enough light to find the door handles on the cars. Getting by some by flashlight and some with a light from a cell phone screen, we loaded up the luggage into the cars and headed for the Rarotongan.

Sunset on approach into Rarotonga
Sunset on approach into Rarotonga

The Rarotongan had our rooms prepared, and the air conditioners in them worked great, enough actually to make the rooms very cold. Asking for a second blanket on a tropical island seems rather odd but it was almost in order. Since we left our Alaska clothes on the airplane, turning the a/c off was quickly accomplished and soon brought the inside temperature to a more tolerable level. The rooms were well equipped. I said it before and will say it again, if I were to come to Rarotonga for another reason I would not hesitate to stay at the Rarotongan. It is not cheap but it is very nice.

Stormy seas in front of the Rarotongan hotel
Stormy seas in front of the Rarotongan hotel

We had a day off on the day following our arrival. The winter weather must have reached the island, and the wind was whipping along at probably 20-25 miles per hour. It was blowing parallel to the shore, and the waves rolling in onto the break at the edge of the reef rolled over it, with their foamy tips lifting off in the wind, spiraling off and creating an amazing sight that I have not frequently seen.

Waves picked up before sunset
Waves picked up before sunset

The later in the day, the higher the waves became until they finally started spilling past the reef and into the shallow waters along the shore. Every 5-6 minutes a really high wave would come upon the reef and spill over, pushing high up onto the beach, spilling over its crest and – ouch! – right into the porches of the first level ocean view rooms. Some people had their wide glass doors open, and you could see their furniture standing in 4 inches of water, with vacationers standing ankle deep in the middle, wondering what to do, and their children happily running about in the water, enjoying the unusual situation. The same fate befallen the hotel restaurant, and people there sat, eating, while streams of ocean water ran 1-2 inches deep all across the floor under their feet.

Restaurant at the Rarotongan had a bit of water in it
Restaurant at the Rarotongan had a bit of water in it

The hotel staff were unperturbed but quite annoyed, and pushed the water out with large push brooms. Once the water was cleared and they sighed a relief, another surge from the ocean brought in twice as much water, again. I watched this for a while and finally the staff gave up and served food away from the flood plain.

During the night the ocean could be heard loud and clear, waves crashing on the reef and on the beach. In the morning it appeared that the hotel restaurant deck sustained some damage from the waves. You could see how surges of water moved across the lagoon to the shore after the larger waves passed the reef, and slammed into the shore under the deck, sending sprays of water six feet high into the air through the gaps between the deck boards.

I took about 500 pictures of the waves and never got tired of sitting on the shore and watching the ocean at its eternal work. Not all of them will be keepers; some, however, do translate the untamed power of the waves. On occasion, the blue wall of wave rolling over looked as if the entire ocean level just raised 10 feet and is moving onto us, ready to leave nothing standing after it is finished.

We left the island the following day at 10 AM, starting the airplane engines while smelling the familiar smell of burned coconut husk. That unmistakable smell will always be associated with  Pacific islands for me.

Kona, the first tropical paradise

Rough Northern Pacific ocean is finally changed to the glassy tropical waters
Rough Northern Pacific ocean is finally changed to the glassy tropical waters

The flight from Anchorage to Kona on one of the worlds premier executive jets should not, really, take 8.5 hours. And it would not, had we not tooled along at 250 knots, descending to 500 feet over the water every 40 minutes or so. So while the instruments on board are measuring the outside air for some 80 different constituents every 1 to 70 seconds, we are observing the seas.

This flight was all over the rough seas. I have not seen the rough seas extend pretty much all the way from Alaska almost to Hawaii before. Usually you see the rough waters above the jet stream; this time the seas were rough above it, and below it as well. The skies were covered by clouds, more often than not at multiple levels, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. Only really close to Hawaii did we finally see the usual “tropical” blue mirror-like waters. North of that, the ocean was gray and inhospitable looking.

We worked in Kona for a day and moved on, flying South to Rarotonga. On departure, as well as right before landing on the arrival, we saw interesting features on the surface of the ocean that appear to be some kind of algal blooms. Difficult to scale from the air with nothing to compare to, they seem to extend for 0.5 to 5 miles and be 20-200 m wide.

Algae bloom off the coast of Hawaii
Algae bloom off the coast of Hawaii

Interestingly, as we flew South of Hawaii through the ITCZ, the ocean turned stormy again, and the glassy blue was gone. The ITCZ was uneventful with only scattered clouds and a couple of disparate cirrus decks and no strong convection anywhere withing eyesight. Nonetheless, choppy seas, with white caps that seem to stay foamy for quite a bit longer in the warm tropics than they do in the North or South, were rolling below at every one of the eight 500 foot low passes that we performed on the way to Cook Islands.

On the road again

 

Staying home for a month?! Time to decide where to go next!
Staying home for a month?! Time to decide where to go next!

Have you noticed that the time flies? It has been over a month since we came back from Phase 4 of the Global Project, yet it seems that only a day passed. And here we are, on the road again. We are heading for Anchorage, where the summer is in full swing and, perhaps, is actually on the downturn already.

The flight today was a mere 6.5 hours and I personally barely noticed it. The data systems on the airplane gave us more headaches than usual but nothing major, just something to plan for for tomorrow’s work day. We flew mostly high, at 41,000 feet and the sights were not as spectacular as some other times. Of course, this probably means more that we are spoiled rotten than anything else: 100 years ago anyone would die to look at the land from the vantage point we had today, and we just say “it was ordinary”. It was not.

We saw vast plains of South Canada, with wheat fields and large rivers, and hundreds of lakes sparkling in the sun. We saw forests, and glaciers, and snow capped mountains. On the West coast of Alaska we saw long glaciers that eventually entered the ocean, calving and leaving hundreds of floating icebergs in the cold waters of the Pacific. It was quite spectacular, actually, and had we been at lower altitude I would have taken a lot more pictures. From high up, however, the blue haze and the window tint of the airplane takes away some of the color of the land below, so we settle for what we have.

We arrived safe and sound in the middle of the day for a change, parked the airplane, finished up the after flight tasks, picked up rental cars (yes, the same girls were at the Hertz counter, looked at us, frowning and asked if we live here somewhere, as we look very familiar). We do feel like we live here, actually, and departed to our home away from home, the hotel Captain Cook. I think the staff here not only recognize us but remember our names too.

Sockeye salmon is red! Fall is in the air.
Sockeye salmon is red! Fall is in the air.

The summer is coming to an end here, and the folks in Alaska are preparing to go hunting. They say that vegetarians are just poor hunters, take this as you please. I think that to live in Alaska and not hunt or fish is probably a sign that you should live elsewhere, and all the people I met either hunt, or fish, or both, or are tourists. Next week is the opening of the moose season, and many folks are talking about the details of their plans, where they are heading, what the weather is going to be and what they saw in the area last season. How could a non-hunter understand? I don’t know; perhaps a close equivalent (if you are into eating out) would be to have a superb meal at a restaurant out of state and all of a sudden have a chance to go there again: you will be looking forward to it, and remembering how good it was last time. Now, multiply the feeling by 100 and you know what going hunting feels like. If you have never felt a large fish on the end of your line; or walked the mountains with a rifle on a cold morning at dawn; or shuffled through a field with a shotgun in hand and nearly fainted from a thunder-like flush of a pheasant 10 feet away, find a friend who will take you along. You will not regret it and your life will be at its fullest then.

We have flown two research flights out of Anchorage this time. Both went past the Arctic Circle; one returned early and the other, 8.5 hour flight, reached 86°N.

Taking off out of Anchorage on Research Flight 4
Taking off out of Anchorage on Research Flight 4

You may have been on Global Ops if…

You can pack your bags, check out of the hotel and be headed to the airport in less than 8 minutes. And you have done this six times in the last two weeks.

You walk out into the parking lot and have to really think hard to remember what kind of car you are driving today.

Once you find your car using the buttons on the key fob, you walk up to it and have to think which side is the steering wheel on.

When driving, you occasionally turn on windshield wipers instead of turn signals. This happens regardless of what country you are in.

You open your wallet in a restaurant, take out some cash to pay for food and have to ask the waiter which kind of money from what you have works here.

You wake up in a hotel room; it is twilight, and you can’t tell for a while where you are and whether that 1:30 on the clock is AM or PM.

You have three cameras laying within reach, and miss a shot trying to decide which one to grab.

A 7-hour flight does not seem long to you, and a 3-hour commercial flight is not even worth a mention.

You have to stop yourself from trying to walk up to the cockpit of an airliner to chat with the pilots and ask how many times we will go to 500 feet altitude on this flight.

Having four hours of daylight to explore a new destination seems like more than enough time, and you have more impressions and pictures from that than some people might have from a week long stay.

When looking through pictures with friends, you honestly can’t remember where that particular picture of a beach and palm trees was taken.