Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm sitting here...

back home in Columbus, with so many wonderful memories of Alaska. Jim took a lot of pictures that weren't able to load on the laptop, so check back in a month or so. We're hoping to add some of those pictures and maybe add captions to some already on the blog

Doggie World

Monday 6/21, the Summer Solstice (18+ hours of daylight in Alaska). Our flight out of Juneau was sched for 8PM, so we had the whole day. We decided to take the helicopter trip to the glacier and do some dog sledding. The parts of the glacier that are at the higher altitudes get 200 to 300 FEET!!! of snow every year and in the places it doesn't melt it builds up and becomes a glacier. The clouds burned off and we sun and about 30 degrees to play with the dogs. The helicopter took us up over the mountain and landed us at Doggie World. There is an entire camp with 150 dogs. The mushers live on the mountain a week at a time, run the dogsled trips and care for the dogs. They have the dogs harnessed to a 2 seater sled with a little one seater tied behind. The musher drives the big sled and we took turns driving the little one. Hootie Hoo. After some sled time we got to interact with the dogs. They are all mixed breeds, each with his or her own personality. They all wear these little nylon booties to keep the snow from building up between their pads and harming them. They all seem to love to pull, it's harder to stop them than it is to get them started.

We went back to Juneau and had a snack at Tracey's Crab Shack. YUM. Time to head home.

Glacier Bay

Sunday: Happy Father's Day. We woke up in the Tarr Inlet, as far north as you can go in the waters of Glacier Bay, with views of the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. The Margerie is still advancing but the Grand Pacific is receding. When it advanced it carved Glacier Bay and between 1750-1780 actually extended all the way out between Point Carolus and Point Gustavus.

This morning, when I got back to my cabin after breakfast, Alexis and Kristen had put a laminated "Best Actress of 2010" award on my cabin door. At the foot of my door was a red carpet with my initials and a star on it. These crazy girls had found an old red towel, cut my initials out of a piece of tie dye from the rag bag and fashioned a star from some wire.What a hoot.

Later we traveled to the Johns Hopkins Inlet for views of the Lamplugh Glacier. We continued south through the bay and at South Marble Island saw a huge colony of sea lions. They were sunning themselves on the rocks, seemingly unconcerned that we stopped to observe them. The males are ginormous and the groups appeared to be males with their harems. We also saw cormorans, sea otters and puffins. On one of the other islands they spotted a carcass of a beached whale and a brown bear feeding on it.They got the ship in pretty close so we could observe, the bear was fascinating. He seemed to be working his way around the whale looking for choice bits, all the while drooling. He tried to pull off a fin that was laying on top but was unsuccessful, you could see the claw marks he left on the skin. Finally he had had enough and ambled down to the water and swam away.

We returned to the park headquarters to drop the ranger off and found out we are going to get a chance to dock at Bartlett Cove and be able to go ashore into the park. The rangers advice to avoid bears was "don't forget to sing to let the wild things know you are coming". Only 3 to 4% of the people who visit Glacier Bay ever get to set foot on the shore. The big cruise boats are way too large to dock here. So we got off and took a nice nature trail hike, looked at the lodge and cabins there, and I talked to one of the rangers about the camping facilities. They have some rustic campsites, but also issue permits for people to go into the back country. Bartlett Lake is a popular spot but the ranger said some people go 60 miles or more into the interior. They have to carry everything they are going to need for days including water. WOW.

Tonite was the "Captain's Dinner" all the crew came into the dining room to say goodbye and we had a champagne toast. Then the captain said they had a special presentation and Alexis came out with a tin foil Oscar for me. She stayed and had dinner with us, it was lovely. We spotted whales both during and after dinner and had quite a show. Now time to pack up and head back home in the morning. I'm sorry to see it end but glad to be coming home.

Putting the Naughty Back in Nautical

Sat, on the boat. We woke up to beautiful weather in the Idaho Inlet off the Icy Straight. The crew used a big crane to lower the inflatables from the roof of the boat and we went in groups onto the shore of Chichagof Island. The beach is rocky, littered with mussels with glacial streams run into the Strait. We walked through the woods and saw some of the same plants that we'd seen on Douglas Island but enjoyed it just the same. There were a number of wildflowers in bloom and the island was gorgeous. After we got back the cook fired up the grill on the back sundeck and cooked up some salmon and grilled veggies for lunch. It was warm and sunny and we relaxed as we made our way to Glacier Bay Nat'l Park. We saw a pod of about 8 humpback whales swimming and diving for food, they got quite near the ship and the crew put the ship in idle so we could stay and watch. They were fascinating. We got going again after the whales were out of sight and headed for park headquarters in Bartlett Cove, where Robin saw a little bear swimming just off the side of the ship. We picked up a ranger and a native woman to accompany us in Glacier Bay tomorrow. Overnight we will go north to the Margerie Glacier and work our way south over the course of the day. There is a lot of potential for wildlife sighting as well as study of the glaciers.

While we were on the island, one of the guides asked me if I wanted to help play a joke on the captain..........well, what do you think? So she told me I was to say she had used some very vulgar language aimed at me. I got back on board and played the role of a lifetime. I asked to speak to one of the female crew because I'd had a problem on the island and wasn't comfortable discussing it with the male captain. Kristin is second in command and took me into the tiny office where she heard my story. I was "so shocked" that a member of the cruise west staff had acted that way and even managed to squeeze out a little tear. OMG, she apologized all over the place, took my name and cabin number and assured me that there would be a report and Alexis would received some counseling about it. Fine. A short while later Barrett, the captain, found me on the sundeck and asked to speak to me. We went off away from the others and he started apologizing for Alexis' totally unacceptable" behavior and said he could handle it internally or get guest services and HR involved. I didn't know then but if the incident was real and if either he or I had made a report to anyone off the boat all 3 of the crew might have been fired (the story I told involved a very ugly word). At that point I decided it had gone far enough, they were so concerned I was starting to worry I was going to be in trouble, so I fessed up. I thought the captain was going to bust a gut. He went back to the bridge where Kristen was writing up an incident report and had a little more fun with her before letting her in on it. Later, they called Alexis in and let her think she was in trouble for a while, then they all had a good laugh. It was almost as good as getting to go on stage with the Blue Men.

Anyhow, tomorrow night will be our last and as much as I will enjoy being home with my kitties sleeping on my head, I will miss this ship and all of Alaska. I feel very lucky every day to have been able to do this and especially that Jim and Robin encouraged me to come with them. If you ever get a chance, come to Alaska!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Juneau and beyond

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Wed, June 16th. We arrived in Juneau in the afternoon; on our drive into town we saw bald eagles in the trees. The inlet between Juneau and Douglas Island is beautiful, but the dock right downtown is where all the BIG cruise ships dock. Sometimes up to 5 at a time. They let all their passengers out onto a boardwalk that is a tourist’s mecca. The shops run the full range from cheap kitsch to high end jewelry with all sorts of food and everything in between. We did see a couple cool places, one with alpaca and hand knit stuff, on with Russian stuff: icons and nesting dolls. They had sets of the last few Presidents and Michael Jackson through the years (folks, this shit is too weird for me to make up). Jim and Robin went to the Alaskan Brewing Company for a tour and samples, then we all walked around a while and ended up at a pizza place for dinner.

Thurs morning we had a quick breakfast, packed up, and went on a nature walk. They took us over to Douglas Island, to what I think they said is a city park. We got to walk around in the rainforest and out to the shore with a guide who told us all about the plants and animals. We saw more eagles and lots of ravens. The ravens are a really important part of the native folk lore here. Our guide said they have 29 distinct calls that they use to communicate with each other. We went past the Mendenhall Glacier where the ice is so compressed that the lack of oxygen makes it blue, very cool. On the drive back we saw a house that is sided in old LP’s, “Alaskan vinyl siding”, and a fence made from ski’s that got left behind at the local resort.

Back in town, Jim and Robin went to try the crab bisque. The lady who makes it placed 3rd in a national contest that will be televised on the Food Network. I decided to follow the Jerry Hill travel guidelines, and wash some clothes. I took the city bus to a “laundry mat” and got to see the locals part of town. The laundry had all the usual things, plus coin operated showers and towel rental. It makes sense with the harbor and the backpackers. While I was there I met 3 cute youngins, washing clothes, taking showers and hanging out in their skivvies. The 2 young women were friends from school, one from Denmark and the other from the UK. The young man they had just met the day before, he had hitchhiked from Montreal, and had decided to travel with them for a while. As I was leaving they had set up their propane burner and were cooking up a meal. The girls had been traveling almost a month, what a great adventure. I got back to town and had time for a massage before we had to leave. Boy Howdy, did that feel good.

They put us on a bus and took us back over to Douglas Island to see a local production at Perseverance Theatre. It reminded me a lot of MadLab, about that size with basic set and lighting, etc. A local man wrote a piece that tells a few stories from his clan’s folklore. There were pictures of natives on a screen and some of it was in his Native language with translation. It was interesting to learn more about the native culture. Then back to Juneau and on the boat. The Cruise West people just fall all over themselves to make you feel welcome. I have a cabin to myself which is nice. Jim and Robin are right next door. We had a good dinner and figured out our excursions for tomorrow. I’m going to go on a glacier walkabout, Jim and Robin are going to dogsled on a glacier.

Friday: We woke to another nice day. A little overcast at first but not too cold and the clouds started to burn off and we got some real sunshine. I got to go on the glacier walkabout on Mead glacier. It is all part of the same ice mass as the Mendenhall. They get 200 or more feet of snow every year at the higher elevations which creates the ice flow. The helicopter went over the top of the mountain to the ice field, WOW. They set down and 4 of the cutest little college kids came out of a geodesic tent where they spend the day, waiting to guide tours. We were lucky to be the first tour of the day so there were just the 6 of us on the ice and it was quiet. By the time we headed back they had all 4 helicopters going shuttling people back and forth. The ice was incredible, the crevasses open up into big mulans and they go a long way down. Our guide threw a big rock into one so we could hear how long it took to reach the bottom. A wonderful experience.

Too bad for Jim and Robin, their tour was planned for higher on the glacier where the snow had not yet melted, so they could run the dog sleds. The cloud cover was too dense up that high so they didn't get to go. We were all signed up to do a jet boat trip into the Eagle preserve but the jet boats are also used for search and rescue and they had an emergency today, so that got cancelled too. Jim and Robin decided to take a raft float down the river instead, thru the same area and I came to town. Haines is very small, not near as commercial as Skagway, with a larger salmon fishing community that is here year round. The big cruise ships only come here about once a week. I visited the Hammer Museum, sounds corny but really fascinating. Turns out the library is the local wi fi spot so here I am.

Sat and Sun we will be on the ship in Glacier Bay Nat’l Park, with excursions in the small inflatable boats. But we won’t be back on land so no internet access until Juneau again on Monday.

PS as you can tell, I'm still having problems getting the pictures to post in any sort of order. Jim and I have not had any time together with internet access to work on this so.....................I'm doing the best I can on my own.