DEPTHERAPY’s 2018 CHUUK LAGOON EXPEDITION
Funded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2016 Libor Fund
THE PLANNING IS OVER LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN
The time arrives
After all the planning the day is here 3 August 2018 the day we depart for Chuuk Lagoon, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, the start of a once in a lifetime adventure and expedition to dive the world’s largest wreck graveyard.
We always knew logistically that transporting thirteen veterans who had suffered life changing injuries was never going to be easy, three flights, three check ins, three times luggage had to be checked in, three times luggage had to be collected, and a thirteen hour flight what could possibly go wrong?
We arranged to meet outside Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1900 hours in preparation for our Philippine Airways flight to Manila departing at 2220, the thought of a thirteen hour flight ahead of us did not dull the sense of excitement and anticipation. I have to say a big thank you to Charlie Munns of Dive Worldwide for organising us to check in through the Business Class desk, our seats were pre booked, however the process proved painfully slow, almost 1.5 hours to get us all checked in.
A huge thank you to the Metropolitan Police Service’s Aviation Security Operational Command at Heathrow and for escorting us through security checks etc. Also a huge thanks to Terminal 3’s Duty Manager Ikram, Ul-Haq who provided two dedicated security lanes for us.
Once airside the group split up and went to the bar, duty free etc; only to be called to the gate half a hour early. We were given priority boarding, but Philippine Airlines as United Airways from Guam to Chuuk seemed overwhelmed by having to cope with four wheelchairs.
Manila here we come
Not much you can say about a thirteen hour overnight flight, take off, eat, try to sleep, wake, eat and get off. At least the economy class seats were comfortable and the cabin crew helpful.
A three hour wait for our hold baggage
Manila is seven hours ahead of the UK so we were due to touch down at 1845 local time on 4 August. Well we landed but then waited on the tarmac for a long time as there was a really bad storm and there had been lightning strikes. Eventually we disembarked and then the problems began – a three hour wait for our luggage to be unloaded, no one told us why and our luggage was on a belt with thre other international flights. Do not try and compare Manila airport with Heathrow, its facilities are extremely limited and the staff run for cover as soon as there is an issue.
Belmont Hotel – Club sandwiches and San Miguel
Waiting patiently outside was our coach to take us to the Belmont Hotel in Manila. I must say things improved massively here, they already had our rooming lists, and check in was smooth and quick. The restaurant was closed but the catering manager agreed to keep the root top pool bar open for us and we could order food there. A tremendous gesture and well appreciated. The bedrooms were large and comfortable.
5 August was a free day, most chose to revert to the pool bar, enjoying the heated pool, food and drink, few had the energy to go sightseeing.
Guam here we come
Our plane to Guam as due to depart at 22.25 to Guam and we assembled early for a coach journey to terminal 2 at the airport. Security checks, security checks and ESTA checks all made checking in a long process. Then to our horror Philippine Airlines sent us to a number of desks. Baggage that had been accepted at Heathrow was deemed to be too heavy and there was lots of repackaging.
Eventually we were airside and boarded our flight, only for it to be delayed by 1.5 hours.
Guam is two hours ahead of Manila and we had the prospect of a very quick check in process at Guam for our flight to Chuuk after a four hour flight from Manila.
Guam is US territory and ESTAs are required all credit to Homeland Security and Customs control for a very slick operation that saw us through both checks in minutes
At Guam we were rushed, the baggage was again very slow and the all finally checked in half an hour before boarding time. On Philippine Airlines we were allowed two hold bags of 23 kg each. On United Airlines, the only company that flies to Chuuk we were allowed only 1 bag. There was an automated check in system that did not work but a least we were sitting together as a group.
Finally, exhausted we arrive at Chuuk
Coming into to land at Chuuk there really aren’t words to describe the view from the aeroplane window, blue seas and tiny, green foliage covered islands. I reminds you over the opening scenes of Jurassic Park when the helicopter flies towards the island. A perception that is reinforced when you are on the dive boats heading towards the dive sites.
We descended towards the airport on Weno Island, the main island in Chuuk. Wow how the pilots land and take off on this time runway amazes me at the end of the short runway there is the sea, brake hard, reverse thrust is the order of the day.
The airport is identified as an international airport, I guess it does take international flights from Guam, well it is an ‘island hopper’ and from Honolulu. It is tiny, a lot smaller than the smallest regional airport in the UK and facilities are lacking.
However you get a warm welcome and from the team at Blue Lagoon Dive Resort where we would spend our time we were each presented with a necklace of shells.
Luggage – the nightmare continues
Sadly as the flight was full to capacity, some luggage had to be left at Guam to come out the following day, amongst the bags were those belonging to Josh Boggi and Luke Morrison.
The road to Blue Lagoon Dive Resort
So we boarded the bus and some of us a four wheel drive and left for the hotel. I guess we were surprised at the extent of poverty on the island, the road was single carriageway and heavy rain and slow moving traffic did not aid our journey. We passed what could be best described as corrugated huts, with no facilities, in which islanders live. You are also quickly aware that this is a very religious part of the world there are many churches, of different nominations; Catholic, Evangelical, etc.
The whole journey was made worthwhile when we pulled up outside the reception at the Blue Lagoon Hotel, we were each given a fresh coconut with a straw in it. It simply lifted spirits.
All about Chuuk Lagoon