No. of Recommendations: 29
I’ve been boring you (assuming you have been reading my scribbling) for nearly ten weeks while we’ve been doing a bit of traveling. In general, everything has been pretty wonderful. The stops were varied and, while not all were gems, there were enough new experiences to keep me happy. The ship, service and food were all excellent (with the heightened amenities of what Holland America calls a “Grand Voyage”. We’ve spent close to ten weeks so far without a single raindrop hitting us (thought there were a few near misses) and it would be presumptuous to ask for better weather. The one negative would be the lousy (and expensive) internet connection on the ship. I have not done a single trade since leaving (in fact, rarely looked at the damage being done to my portfolio) as the effort would be expensive and potentially subject to errors. The ability to follow news in any meaningful manner (or at least in the fashion I generally get it) has been curtailed.

It’s hard to know what to include or omit in these ramblings. Do I include the Nivea cosmetic sample for men I was handed in Vladivostok which is either a shampoo or a hair remover (all the instructions are in Russian). While on the Isle de Pin a shop keeper was selling a chambered nautilus shell for $90, justifying the price by saying that they were rare and they were internationally protected. The following day, in Noumea, the two shell venders had piles of them at $35 each. Maybe the first guy wasn’t lying – who knows. Every day is filled with stories of minor happenings, places we saw (and places we didn’t, but should have for some reason). Should I have included my thoughts that I’ve been receiving a liberal arts college education (history talks, geography, art, physical education – along with the requisite drinking and partying – though the food is better in the mess hall here, maybe the wine as well) that I missed when I slugged it out in engineering school? I could have rambled in any number of unrelated directions each day that never made the cut. The series of posts associated with this trip are more a series of random impressions than a coordinated hierarchal tour book. While I hope my posts have been entertaining, I’ve tried to provide a “real life” set of impressions rather than a travel guide per se (though I’ll be more than happy to expand on anything that interests anyone.

I apologize for the amount of time I have spent regarding negotiating prices. I have been involved in this on a constant basis for a variety of reasons (depending on venue, but not mutually exclusive). The first is that it is socially expected in many of the cultures we have been visiting and the original price is mutually agreed to be ludicrous (except by those who don’t realize this fact). The second is that some vendors knowingly try to take advantage of tourists by price gouging. While these two may sound indistinguishable, they are different as the first generally involves a good natured contest where both participants have a reasonable expectation of the conclusion and the second is more of a malicious tug of war. While the strategies used may be parallel, it is important for the occasional tourist to recognize the difference because the delta in price may be an order of magnitude and the second scenario leads to the vendor frequently trying to mislead the customer about the qualities of the product as well as its value.

Net-net, this has been a wonderful time off and is a welcomed way to start the rest of my life, but the nuances need quite a bit of tweaking if this is going to be the new steady state. I also need to fine tune how to handle my finances with a bit more finesse knowing how difficult things can be – but overall, things were workable the way rev. 1 was set up. I expect to be traveling 8-10 months a year for the next couple of years at least (mostly out of the US, but at least a couple of major paths through the US as well. With luck, next summer will be spent roaming around Europe, followed by a month in India, a cruise to Capetown and then a month or six weeks in South Africa , Mozambique and Batswana. As in all things, until cast in stone this is subject to change without notice.

I don’t know if my travelogue (or tweets or whatever you call what I’ve been doing each weekend) have been entertaining or useful – or simply annoying (like when I was posting my trades in “real time” last year). Or maybe you prefer they be posted elsewhere? I’ve tried to put useful (maybe actionable) financial/trade information when I’ve noticed something useful (like the hundred miles of empty tankers outside of Singapore), but arguably the whole project is off topic. As this project has (unexpectedly) turned out to entail over 60 pages of typing, I will leave it up to you guys/gals to let me know if you’d like this sort of thing repeated in the future (or consider it a waste of space).

The ship adds our tip on our bill. That said, because of incentives, many (most) of the other passengers had their tips included in their fare (while ours are $11 a person each day or $1,400 for the 70 days). The people we are hanging out with pointed out some bar tenders who have been helpful, but who we didn’t directly patronize and are talking about additional tips so I figured I would research the compensation plans a bit. The beverage department has two divisions. Tips are accrued (automatically) at the rate of 15% on all wine and bar booze (there is an $18 “corkage fee” if you bring your own bottle, but we have avoided that). Wine stewards make a base salary of $60 a month and bartenders make $400 a month. Of the 15% that the wine stewards make, 11% goes into their pool and 4% goes into the general beverage tip pool. Likewise, the bar tenders pool gets 11% of their tips and the other 4% goes into the general beverage pool (which is evenly split by all). On that basis, I explained that even specific beverage employees who didn’t make a sale to us were being equally tipped to those we had purchased from and didn’t need to be separately taken care of out of a sense of fairness (though incremental tipping is of course a personal prerogative.

Took a course in creating animals from towels – told wife I want a new towel creation on the bed each night – got a hairy eyeball (she didn’t appreciate the humor).

November 23, 2011 – Pago Pago, American Samoa:
The name, by the way, is pronounced “Pango Pango” (missionary alphabet thing, so some letters are pronounced differently than in English). We’re back to using greenbacks and driving on the proper side of the road. American Samoa is part of a group of Polynesian islands also including Samoa (originally a German colony) and Tonga. American Samoa was a major American coaling station for our fleet (joining Sitka, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii). American Samoa became almost universally Christian and it was Samoan missionaries (rather than European ones) who convert most of the Pacific island’s inhabitants. After a military faceoff in 1898, the Germans and Americans agreed to split the islands between them (the British backed off in return for Germany giving up some African claims). German Samoa passed to New Zealand after World War I.

The Kava ceremony of Fiji is now the ‘ava (begins with a glottal stop) of Samoa. Since Samoans are not US citizens (they are classified as “American nationals”), a disproportionate number join the US military to gain citizenship. Tuna canneries made up a large part of the economy. Chicken of the Sea has moved out (Sunkist still remains, but is laying off workers) because the increase in the minimum wage put in place by Congress, while well intentioned, made them non-competitive. Samoans run big and a disproportionate number have become professional US football players and Japanese Sumo wrestlers.

This place uses US dollars and the inhabitants can generally speak English pretty well (sort of) and some very well.

The buses around here are somewhat humorous. Picture un-air conditioned, garishly painted school buses which have been shrunk in the dryer and then filled with super-sized Samoans. The buses had wooden joinery/plywood infrastructure sitting on Ford truck chassis (almost all the vehicles here are either Ford or Toyota). As six of us walked along the street (after finding out free Wi-Fi at McDonalds started at 2PM and paying for same at an internet café only to get upset by a couple of emails), we came across a bus trying to get filled with tourists. There was a couple aboard who had agreed to pay $10 each to go to the National Park. I negotiated for the six of us to have a 2 hour sightseeing tour (including the National Park) for $5 a head as long as the bus left right away (we found out later that a few people had earlier gotten off as the driver waited for more customers). After we got out of the park, the other couple (presumably figuring that the whole tour would increase their price) reluctantly stayed on the bus with us. At the end they were pleasantly surprised to find they were paying the same as we did (the actual usual cost of the bus was %.25 each way, but at least we had a marginal English speaker as a guide. Besides the National Park, the “big” sites are the LBJ Hospital (looks like a vast motel), a flower pot shaped small island and the airport – basically just nice scenery as the beaches aren’t much to look at. The one constant was the smiling faces of the locals. I picked up a quart of Clorox to soak the coral I got when diving in Fiji on the veranda so that it won’t stick when I take it home. It’s out drying in the sun after soaking for about 18 hours in bleach and being rinsed off – seems to work). Big tourist “trade” items are sarongs, fancy sea shells and carved wood items (not as nice as Fiji and light years less sophisticated than in Bali).

So here I am, sated after a Thanksgiving meal steaming towards the equator somewhere between Samoa and Hawaii. The start was a cocktail party hosted by the captain. The meal (at least the version I ordered from the broad selection) began with pate and caviar, followed by butternut squash soup, followed by turkey/cranberry sauce/sweet potato/stuffing, etc. followed by pumpkin pie. The only compromise was the use of water chestnuts in something (I think the stuffing) instead of chestnuts (probably the Filipino chef’s doing). It’s true that the meal was far from home and eaten with strangers (or at least new, probably temporary friends), but considering many alternatives, things are not all that bad.

The next stop is Honolulu, Hawaii (technically in the US), followed five days later with disembarking in Long Beach California (also technically in the US unless there is a major earthquake in the next week or so). I may do one more post (or two) if either provides something incrementally interesting, else this may be the last post in this thread (even though we won’t be home for another week or so (depending on when you count the days from).

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