The Trip chronicle, part 1

Let’s write about the vacation (18 months after it happened)

So as I mentioned a few posts ago, the last time I actually wrote an entry, I had an adventure.  I took a cruise through the Inside passage alone British Columbia to Southeastern Alaska.  After that, I took a series of train trips through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer.   I was scheduled to fly to Vancouver, BC on a Tuesday in September, basically the day before my cruise was to depart.  At the time, there was a tropical storm making its way toward Florida.  I was concerned about whether I would be able to travel, so I managed to change my airline reservation, and I flew out on Sunday, when I arrived in Vancouver, all everyone was talking about was the tropical storm that had hit there the day before.  There were a significant number of people in the area that were without power for the first days I was there.  I tried to escape a storm in Florida, and flew into one in BC.

I had two days in Vancouver before my cruise, so I had a city tour pass as part of my vacation package.  It was interesting to me that I had very little interest in Vancouver.  I was so excited about the Alaska trip that Vancouver just couldn’t compare.  I am an admitted Canada-phile.  The Vancouver Canucks have neem an NHL team I’ve followed.  I did learn that Vancouver is a comparatively young city (approximately 150) and housing costs there are tremendously expensive.  I took 3 tours over the course of 2 days, and one thing that every one of the tour guides mentioned was the explosion in the real estate prices in greater Vancouver.   There really is a lot of TV and film production there.  The reason I took 3 trips when the company only offers 2 is that the first trip I took we ended up “freestyling” if you will because of all of the closed streets for the multiple productions going on, we couldn’t get to many of the regular stops on the tour.   After the two extra days in Vancouver, I was able to start the regularly scheduled portion of my trip.  I had a reservation at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, and was able to check in early.  The Waterfront is appropriately named, as it is across the street from Canada Place, where the cruise terminal is located.  From my room, I was able to watch the float planes take off and land in Vancouver Harbor.

I have to say that being in Vancouver really didn’t intrigue me.  I know the reason though.  The trip was not about cities.  I was so excited an anxious to begin the cruise (a first for me) and get to see Alaska, I was bored.  There was no reason for that other than my head space.  I really need to go back to Vancouver, and give it a fair shot.  By all accounts, it is a tremendous city; great culture, restaurants, nightlife.  For me though, on this particular trip, it was where all of the adventures started and ended, and all I really wanted was the adventures, not the city.  If I had been traveling with someone else, it may have also helped counteract my mindset.  It’s hard for me to go to a great restaurant alone.  My headspace again, I know.

Wednesday morning came, and one of the perks of staying at the Fairmont waterfront is that their bell service will check your bags directly to the cruise lines.  I should back up for a second.  One of the other great things about this adventure, besides the Alaska cruise, and besides the trip on Rocky Mountaineer was the fact that I got to stay in some phenomenal hotels.   I stayed at the Sheraton Wall Centre for the 2 extra days that I was in Vancouver.  It is a fine hotel, split into a couple of different towers in an office park downtown.  It was a perfectly lovely hotel, but barely moved the needle on this trip.  I stayed at 5 different Fairmont hotels for 8 nights on the trip.  I was (and continue to be) spoiled.  It took a little getting used to, having someone else carry my luggage.  Very Little.  I adapted to the exceptional treatment that I received on the trip in no time at all.  Checking in to the cruise was a fairly easy process, except for the fact that I felt like I was on an endurance march.  We traveled the length of the terminal area in Canada place 4 times before we were able to board the ship.  I didn’t realize that you leave Canada and enter the U.S. before you get on a cruise from Vancouver.   It made sense once I thought about it, as all of the ports would be in the U.S., it just never dawned on me beforehand.  I thought I was checking in too early for the cruise, and was prepared to wait in lines, but all of the walking through the terminal really strung out the lines of folks,, and the only real wait, no more than a couple of minutes, was at customs.

By the time I found my way to my cabin, my luggage was waiting for me.  I booked a cabin with a balcony (a verandah in Holland America cruise parlance), dropped off my carry on, met my cabin steward, and set off to explore.  So you don’t have to re-live this in real time (all evidence to the contrary), I was aboard the MS Vollendam one of Holland America’s ships.   You can find a boat load of information (pun intended) about the ship online.  The first afternoon I was sitting on the verandah (see, I can keep the lingo going) and just watching the world float by.  At one point there was a school (or pod, I forget the proper term) of dolphins that were swimming along with the ship, jumping through the wake.  I was seeing them for a few minutes before I could really figure out what they were.  They were these silvery cylinders that kept jumping through and over each other.  The captain made an announcement a moment later and then if you looked along the side of the ship, you could see everyone out peering over the side to see them.  I saw my first whale that afternoon, although I didn’t know it.  There was a sailboat race taking place off in the distance, and I was watching the boats when I saw a big puff of something between the ship and the sailboats.  After seeing a few, I figured out that I was in fact, whale watching.

Thursday was a full day at sea, as we made our way up the Inside Passage towards Juneau.  I took a digital camera class during the day.  Spent some time in the casino and sat on my balcony for a good portion of the afternoon.  For the complete cruise ship experience, I went to the Stage Show that evening, which also included the Captain’s toast.  We were introduced to most of the ships’ officers, and then they had a “Las Vegas style” show that was supposed to be about the Alaskan gold rush.  It was not really my thing.  If I could have made my way out without being conspicuous, I would have.  I enjoyed the champagne though.  😉

The next morning brought my first excursion, and first big adventure, a trip through the Tracy Arm fjord to the Sawyer glacier.  We mustered in the showroom, and then we basically walked a gangplank from the cruise ship to the smaller boat that was going to take us through the fjord.  We got on a 2 level boat.  The 2nd level had an inside area, as well as a large open space for viewing and photos, once we got to the glacier.  I had promised myself that I was going to see this trip through child like eyes.  I wanted to leave my skepticism and pessimism at home.  Well, so far, mission accomplished.  I was positively giddy.  I felt like an explorer.  I guess I was an explorer.  This was someplace I had never been before, and never really planned to.  The boat had a naturalist on board who answered all of my questions.  I was annoying question guy on this trip.  I wanted to know everything about, well…everything.   The boat was operated by Allen Marine; they operated another tour on this trip too.  If you find yourself in Alaska, I recommend them highly.  Everyone I encountered on their excursions was pleasant, helpful, and willing to answer my questions (see comment above.).  Tracy Arm is awe inspiring, just visually stunning.  The mountains, and the rock formations, just amazing.  As you approach the glacier, you start to see small iceberg in the water.  For a moment, it’s reminiscent of sailing through a cocktail, with the little ice pieces getting larger and larger as you approach.  The ice changes color too.  What you first see is usually white, maybe some dirt and rocks mixed in, kind like what Snow looks like in a city after it’s been plowed, but it hasn’t thawed for a while.  There’s dirt and debris in it.  Then, you see some that is the most amazing blue.  Like pure blue…if you closed your eyes and imagined the color blue, this is what color it is.  It is stunning.  We learned that the bluer ice is more recently broken off (calved) from the glacier.  Again, I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe how beautiful it is.  I was just looking at some pictures now…I’d forgotten so much.  There are all of these waterfalls there too.  Just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen; until you look in another direction, and Wow!  That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  Over and over again, all day long.

Finally the glacier came into view, just a giant wall of ice before us.  The captain stopped the boat, and it was still.  Quiet; almost solemn; majestic.  I’ll stop.  Looking out across the front of the ship was a sea of small ice chunks.  The captain said he was looking for a path to get us closer.,  I thought that there was no way to navigate this, but somehow we did.  Then we were there.  It felt like we were right next to the glacier.  I learned that we were no closer than 0.25 miles away.  It felt like we could touch it.  Brilliant Blues whites.  I can’t describe this anymore.  Stunning.

We were (un)fortunate enough to see it calve three times.  Basically, large sections of ice broke off from the glacier into the water.  It is loud.  If you’ve ever listened to ice melt in a glass, well imagine an ice cube the size of a freight train melting.  The last calving we saw, 300 feet of ice, basically the entire height of the glacier there, broke off.  It created such a wave that the captain had to turn the boat to face the wave; otherwise we might have dropped some people over the side.

I had a moment immediately after watching the 3rd and largest calving at the Sawyer glacier.  These three thoughts happened in an instant.  It is taking me exponentially longer to type them than it did to have them.  The first thought I had was to be angry.  I wanted to be mad at someone about global warming. I immediately had the thought that this was for all intents and purposes my 50th birthday present to myself.  I was an adult, a real adult.  I wasn’t a kid.  The next thought was that global warming was me and my generation’s fault.  I’m a real adult now.  There’s no one I can look toward to cast blame.  This is happening on my watch.

On the way back from the glacier, returning to Juneau, we spotted an Orca.  The captain was able to identify it based on its dorsal fin, and the patching. He told us a couple of stories about it.  Typically Orcas are social animals, and travel in groups.  This one is a lone predator.  I never got a good look at this one, all I could see was its fin sticking up.  It was a black triangle from my vantage point.  Still cool to see.  Later on, while back on the Vollendam, I saw 2 Orcas alongside of the ship.  I was eating dinner and staring out at the water, and 2 swam by, I got a good look at those two, it was really exciting.

I’m going to stop for now, and actually post some of this.  I’ll pick up the story from here.

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