Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The First Dream - Greetings From the Hubbard Glacier, Alaska!

Originally mailed May 25, 2005.

All right, don't want to keep you waiting... here it is, a glacier:

As with the Panama Canal, as I'll get to in a minute (or more depending on how good of a reader you are... you don't skim my letters, do you?) the crew gets the best seats in the... boat. As with the Silver Cloud, the bow of the ship is a crew only area. So when all the Pax are pushing and shoving for a clear view of stuff, we just walk out to our little area of the ship and sit right on the damn edge of the boat. Its pretty cool and surprisingly I have only seen one couple do the Titanic thing. But, its taken us a long time to get to this big ol piece of ice, so let me back track a little...

When we last spoke I was just leaving the Cayman Islands, where the rum flows like wine. That was something like day 3 or 4 of our 16 day repositioning cruise through the Panama Canal. 16 days... Now, I don't have the schedule on me anymore, but I am pretty sure that out of those 16 days, 12 were Sea Days (and yes, I am counting the Panama Canal as a sea day. unless I get to get off the boat and push buttons, it's gonna be a sea day). Man, this ship can get pretty small when you spend 2 and 3 consecutive days at sea. It really made you appreciate the ports and the few hours we get to horse around on dry land! Fortunately the ports have been getting more exciting since our days in Cozumel and Belize (Unbelizeable!).

So, the Panama Canal... I woke up that morning, opened up my port holes and saw nothing but a cement wall... we were already in the first lock and filling up. I rushed out on deck 12 and 13 (the upper most decks on board and exterior) and couldn't find a place to stand... then I remembered Deck 7 Foward...

I was surprised at how fast they can fill each lock, taking no more than 15 minutes... See past the lock? That's the water level that we are going to match. Went through three locks, then a lake, then a couple more locks. For some, this was the sole reason they were on board, the other things like Bingo, "How to Make A Paper Box", and Napkin Folding all are just icing on the cake.

This is a shot taken from the Bow looking towards all the people who wish they were standing where I was. If you listen close, you can hear the faint murmur of old people complaining.

Next stop, after a couple more days at sea, was Categena, Columbia. This is where I finally learned how important it is to take a taxi. Without a taxi, these ports will never be more than get off the boat and shop. So Tommy (Host on board... his job is to play with the guests) Megan (Show Dancer), and Eddie (Another Show Dancer) and I took a cab to the Old Town of Categena. Our cabbie took us to the old battlements that surround the old town, then to the heart of the city. It had a very European feel to it, with narrow cobblestone streets lined on both sides with 3 and 4 story buildings. (There was a town in Italy I visited last year, the name escapes me... very similar).

Now, every city has a trade, cash crop, or business that keeps it going. Texas was big cotton, Georgia has its Tobacco... Now you would figure that legitimately Columbia's big export would be coffee, right? Well, imagine my surprise when I learned that coffee ain't even close. I think I was asked a million times, by a million different people, to buy name brand sunglasses WITH the case for only $12. Twelve dollars? And I get the case? Now wait a second... are those lenses UV protected? One hundred percent... Gee, that's a nice case! Now the strange part is that with all these people selling sunglasses, and them being so readily available... how many locals do you think I saw actually wearing these sunglasses and toting along with them a very fashionable case? Not too many... I had to reach back to my days of Spanish I and II taught by Senora Croft... No quiero antiojos del sol! Other common Spanish phrases that might come in handy if you visit Categena... No Quiero Relos... No, ella es solomente me amiga, no mi novia... Mi tortuga y mi gato es en mis pantalones (that one usually gets them to leave you alone).

We had lunch at Paco's, which we discovered was an Italian restaurant... I had a Pita filled with chicken, apple, lettuce, tomato and topped with a light green curry sauce (the majority of the items on the menu were Italian, trust me...) The rest of the day we explored the city, chased birds in the square, and took lots of pictures...

Then a couple more sea days passed...

Next stop, Punta Arenas, Costa Rica... Nice and hot... They had lots of kiosks along the boardwalk selling Rum and cigars and stuff. I did partake of some of the rum and found the Amaretto rum to be the best... If you ever come visit me I smuggled some back to my cabin, but don't tell anyone... We were ported next to the city, so I took a stroll into town, looked around, and came back... Did I mention they rum is exquisite?

Then a couple more sea days crawled by...

Acapulco! Now, this was fun... This time in the Cab was Lyle and Denise (Singer and Dancer) Katie and Michelosh (Adage couple) and myself (funny thing... there are four passenger cabins, and in each of them are a couple... except for me... did I miss something in my contract? I'll be holding interviews next week.) So, we took a cab ride outside of the city about 45 minutes away to the Princess Hotel. Went to the beach, played in the water... Rented a boogie board and rode some waves (big waves... I mean huge, the kind you mother would not let you play in when you were a kid) I boogied on several waves, thanks to the boogie lessons I was given last summer by my buddy Lauren in San Diego.

From left to right: Michelosh, Katie, Me, Sr. Boogie, Denise, and Lyle

Then three days passed...

Los Angeles... Well, actually San Pedro... Most of the passengers got off, some came on... Now we are embarking on a 3 day cruise to Vancouver, Canada... No stops along the way, just a boozer to Canada. Yes, I said boozer, cause that's all the passengers really did... booze.

Three days...

Vancouver! All Canadian jokes aside (eh...) Vancouver is very nice. Lots of shopping, an interesting arts district, and stuff. Picked up more passengers for our first Alaskan cruise. Oh, and in case you didn't know... it's gotten nice and cold outside.
That's Vancouver's skyline as we were leaving that afternoon. Oh, speaking of afternoon... all those rumors were true... Its 10 O'clock right now, and its still light outside. Sweet... When I was a kid that meant that you could stay out later and play football out in the street. Now it means more water skiing behind the boat!

So, when we cruise Alaska, the cruises last either 10 or 11 days. The first half of the cruise goes into the inner passage. It feels strange, since previously all of our sea days have been nothing but that... just sea. Now, you see land on either side of the ship, and the views are astounding!

And these pictures are just a few of the different sights... sometimes it feels like we are cruising on a narrow river, with pine trees and waterfalls close by on either side of the boat!

Our first stop in Alaska was a small town called Kechican... I have to admit that I don't have the correct spelling of the town in front of me, but it sounds like "Catch-e-can." This town, like the majority of those in Alaska, is pretty small. Which is funny when you look out to the water and see three huge ships dumping thousands of people into these little towns. Kechican is a port town nestled in-between big ol mountains. Each store, and there were quite a few, had frontier stuff like ubu knifes, stuff with fur on it, ivory... but for some reason there was more charm to it than the stores in the Caribbean that generally did the same thing. There is also a lumberjack show, where a bunch of guys climb up trees and chop trees and saw trees... oh, they also stand on trees floating in the water and try to knock the other lumberjack off... I can't wait to go next time!
I went past all the tourist shops, and up into a residential street. This is a common view from a front porch in this area. Of course, it'd be a lot whiter most of the year.

The next day we were in Juneau, Alaska. The weather was perfect that day... no clouds in the sky and the high was supposedly 68 degrees. I got off the boat and started talking to some of the shore excursion people. One of them gave me a tram ticket that goes half way up Roberts Mountain. Half was 1800 ft above sea level, and the rest was up to me to hike. There was a little loop trail that covered no more than a quarter of a mile, then there was a 3 mile hike up the mountain that I took.

So up the mountain I go, armed with my all terrain Sketchers running shoes. The trail was hard to follow at times, other times covered by big ol snow drifts (several hundred feet across). The trail usually decided to go up than switch back and forth, and a couple of times I wondered whether coming down was going to be on my shoes or butt. But I pressed on and made it to the top. 3,600 feet above sea level. The wind was whipping me back and forth, hardly any vegetation. And you could see forever...
If you could see through the bottom of the snow, you'd see pieces of the town and out ship. Way off in the distance is another mountain chain... It's kind of hard to capture how far up you are with a camera, but trust me, I was up there.

Look real close at the top of the mountain, come down the peak a hair... see that little bump on the horizon line of the mountain? That's a person standing around where I was when I took the previous picture.

On the way down I realized that it'd be a shame to come all this way and not make a snowball...
The hard part was keeping the camera balanced on the rock and toss the snowball in the air at just the right time when the camera took the picture... These are the things one can do when time is unlimited...

So, I came down the mountain (on my shoes thank you very much) and still had the whole day to kill (we were there until 10 pm, and it was only 2). So, after a fantastic morning of hiking and fresh air, what do I do? What else? Spend 4 hours in a pool hall shooting pool! Hot damn! Lyle had been here before, and knew of a place to go... and since he and I played in Florida he had told everyone that I was good. So now I have to go and live up to the hype... and I did. So we shot pool for a long time, and then back on the ship! Good times.

Finally, the next day (yesterday) we stopped in Skagway (Alaska has some of the most interesting city names I have ever heard).

This time Katie, Michelosh, and I went hiking. This hike took us to a mountain lake, then we thought that we were hiking to the upper lake. We made it to another lake, then kinda followed our noses along a pipe that was probably hooked to the upper lake to help with water flow. Now again, the pictures don't exactly show you how big this was... Instead of finding the lake, we found a big ol' waterfall... (Reid Falls, we later discovered).
To get this picture, we had to go under one of those yellow ropes that mean something like "Don't go here" or "Danger"... I don't know... Anyway, we were standing on this little piece of land that was jutting out from the cliff. Had a couple of trees on it, and some rocks... Enough to take the picture. The water was falling fast and hard, and the temperature dropped so much that we could see our breath (hiking up we were fine in our T shirts). But that wasn't quite all, because we continued to follow the pipe right up to the top of the waterfall.

Now this time there wasn't a rope blocking us off, but there was a small climb to this 10 or 15 foot iron walkway hanging on the side of the cliff looking OVER the waterfall.
Its hard to tell, but you're looking straight down the same waterfall in the previous picture. I'll be coming back to this one for sure...

The town of Skagway is a very small community, with one main street lined with Souvenir shops and bars. They have a railway system that dates back over 125 years, and takes you along some of the gold rush lines... That's about all I know about that so far...

Downtown Skagway... There really isn't much more to this town than a few more streets running parallel to this. Again, its interesting to see this town with three ships parked outside (that's the Dream looking like it parked itself on the street).

So what else besides all these ports has been going on?

Here's a funny story. Many of you have probably heard my chicken songs... Well, I am proud to say that now over half the cast will cluck at random to any of our three shows during rehearsals. Plus, and this one still gets me... We have a sextet backing us up in all three shows. Now, all the band members are Polish (as with nearly every show band on a cruise ship...) and for the most part the guys don't speak much English. During Country Gold they are playing up stage. Okay, so its the very beginning of the show... I am placed Up Stage with the band and the curtain is down. What happens before the first number is the sound of an old radio tuning in between old country songs before finally stopping on our opening song, raising the curtain... Well, the last song the radio tunes to before our song is "Stand By Your Man." So, I'm standing there waiting when I hear the sax player (someone whom I have really never talked to) cluck to the melody! I turn around and he's just clucking away. You see, music can break any language barrier...

And the selection of books to check out on board is a little weak. Tell me, if you were on board and were looking for something to read, would a selection of cook books interest you?

Oh, and in case you ever wondered... Elvis is still alive...

All right, that's about it for this installment. We're going somewhere tomorrow... I forget where, but I am pretty sure it's going to be Alaskan.

Hope all is well with everyone, and keep in touch!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

No comments:

Post a Comment