On The Ferry

Got up late Friday (the 8th) morning and spent a nice few hours getting used to the new time zone and catching up on-line. After noon it was off to the ferry terminal to stash our luggage in lockers and while away a few hours before boarding. We wandered around an area of Bellingham called Fairhaven and had a nice lunch at “The Big Fat Fish Co.”

Click for larger image Back at the terminal we were able to get on board and find our small but nice cabin. Then we wandered around the ship, locating the important places like the restaurant, observation lounge and the bar.

Click for larger imageHere’s our ship, Alaska Marine Highway’s M/V Columbia, at the Bellingham ferry dock.
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There were a lot of hikers and backpackers on this ferry – many even pitch their tents on the deck in designated areas. It I were 30 years younger I would probably enjoy doing this.

Sailing was delayed a little due to late vehicle arrivals. It’s amazing how many campers, motor-homes, cars and trucks they were able to cram on this ferries. We even saw a trailer full of cattle brought on board !

Once underway, we had a great dinner in the dining room followed by some wine in the bar. Then we crashed a little early, mostly because the ship runs on Alaska time and we were still not even adjusted to Pacific time.

Next – sights along the Inside Passage.

Bellingham, WA

It was a long day of travel today. We were supposed to leave Cedar Rapids at 9am but when we got to the airport we found that flight was delayed. Luckily we were early enough that we could (barely) catch an 8:15 flight. That left us with enough time in Minneapolis for a nice breakfast.

Then it was on to Seattle. Again we encountered the dreaded “Delayed” flag on our next flight (to Bellingham WA). This turned into one of those rolling delays. Horizon Airlines, who runs flights to Bellingham was really screwed up.

First we were assured that the delay was just because of accumulated little delays throughout the day and were specifically told it was not a mechanical problem. When the inbound plane arrived the story changed to “maintenance is on the plane.”

Our original departure time kept being bumped up in increments of 15 or 20 minutes. Individually not enough to cause us to make drastic changes in plans but cumulatively it eventually added up to 3-1/2 hours total.

By the time we left it was around 8PM (PDT) which felt to us like 10PM to us. After waiting for luggage and the shuttle to our hotel it was well after 11PM to our tired bodies.

At least the room has high speed internet!

We plan on sleeping in late tomorrow – we don’t have to show up for the ferry to Alaska until the afternoon. We are not likely to have internet access for the next few days so don’t worry if you don’t hear anything.

North to Alaska

In a few days Jan and I will be heading off to Alaska for an extended trip. We’ve been planning this for a long while and we’re really psyched about it. The bags are nearly all packed and all the arrangements are set (I think). As long as the airlines cooperate we are good to go.

Click to enlargeHere’s a map of our trip, not counting the air travel to and from. I hope that we will have Internet access at many of the stops and I will be able to blog in (almost) real-time and with photos too.

This is a short list of some of what we will be doing. We fly to Bellingham WA and catch a ferry which takes us to Juneau. We spend a couple of days there, then another ferry to Whittier where we take a cruise on Prince William Sound. From Whittier it’s a train ride to Anchorage where we stay another couple of days and pick up a rental car. Next it’s off to Copper Center and on to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks we fly up to Prudhoe Bay, north of the Arctic Circle. Then back to Fairbanks by bus. From there it’s on to Denali National Park with a white-water raft trip plus a bus tour of the Kantishna Wilderness.

More adventures include a Jet Boat ride at Talkeetna. Then on to Seward and a cruise through the Kanai Fjords and on to Homer. After Homer it’s back to Anchorage for our return flight. Twenty four days all together – can you say BUSY ?

Tobago

Tobago, with a population of 45,000, is part of the nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Our ship anchored in Man-O-War bay near the fishing village of Charlotteville at 8:00am. We went ashore around 8:25am for our days excursion. This day we were off on a glass bottom boat and snorkeling trip. Because of being on a small boat I decided not to carry my bigger camera. All of these pictures were taken by Jan with her Canon S400.

Click to enlargeThe glass bottom boats left from a small harbor on the Atlantic side of the island, at a charming little resort called The Blue Waters Inn. It looked like the kind of place to go to relax completely.

Click to enlargeSnorkeling here was great. The reef had a great variety of fish and I could only identify a few of them. Wish I had had an underwater housing for the camera. The picture on the right shows me getting my gear on.

Click to enlargeAnd here is a shot showing my bald spot in all it’s glory. I paddled around between the two boats until I was getting exhausted. I really enjoy snorkeling in these warm, clear waters.

After a while we returned to shore and had the traditional rum punch that seemed to conclude every excursion we went on.

Click to enlargeThis was, effectively, the last day of our cruise. But we still had a little time to celebrate that evening. To top it all off we were treated to a total eclipse of the moon shortly after sundown. Here we are toasting the end of a great cruise. Left to right, George Sheldon, Jan, me, and Joyce Sheldon.

It had to be an early night as we had packing to do to be ready to depart the ship at Barbados in the morning. In order to have time for breakfast, get through immigrations and customs, and get to the airport for an 8:30am flight; we needed a 4:30 am wake-up call. Talk about a sudden return to reality!

Grenada

Click to enlargeGrenada is the smallest independent country in the western hemisphere. It’s 133 sq. miles with approximately 100,000 people. We docked at 8:00am and by 8:10 we were heading off on a tour of the island.

Click to enlargeOur first stop was a spice drying station where farmers bring their spices for processing before export. At one time Grenada was the number 2 producer of nutmeg in the world. Hurricanes Ivan and Emily in 2005 seriously damaged the nutmeg trees and it will be years until they recover. Other products include mace (also from the nutmeg tree), cinnamon and cocoa.

Click to enlargeIn order not to loose essential oils, nutmeg is dried in the dark attic of the building. Cocoa, on the other hand, is sun dried in large trays. The trays are on wheels which allows them to be rolled under the building in case of rain.

Banana plantations are also scattered over the island. Since the hurricanes they’ve become a major export crop as they can produce fruit in as little as 9 months after planting. The nutmeg trees can take as long as 15 years to begin producing.

Click to enlargeOur next stop was at the Grand Etang Lake visitors center near the volcanic crater lake. From here we could see a lot damage to the surrounding rainforest. It’s hard to imagine what that hurricane was like to cause such destruction.

Click to enlargeFrom Lake Etang we went to one of the many waterfalls (sorry I didn’t make a note of the name of this one) This was a beautiful setting and very popular with both tourists and locals. A group of young men put on a ‘show’ of jumping from the cliffs above the waterfall into the pool below.

For the sake of brevity I won’t try to cover all of the other things we saw on this tour. It was a long and very interesting day. Of all the islands, Grenada is the one I would most likely want to visit again.

Next post – Tobago

Mayreau

Click to enlargeOn Thursday our destination was Mayreau, It is only 1-1/2 sq. miles with a population of 200. Today was a beach day with a barbecue lunch on a beautiful private beach. We went over on the tender at mid-morning and found a good spot with shade close to the water.

Click to enlargeI thnk nearly all of the Wind Surf passengers came ashore and spent the day sunning, swimming and walking the beach. It was a gorgeous day, with perfect temperatures and a light breeze. The beach had plenty of room for people who wanted to find seclusion or stay with a group.

Click to enlargeHere is Jan and friend, Joyce, enjoying the water. Joyce was trying to put her swim-fins on but the surf was giving her some trouble. Besides water activities there was a small beach bar, a steel band playing, and various people selling t-shirts and local crafts.

Click to enlargeIt was a very relaxing and enjoyable day. Food, drink and good company. Pure decadent enjoyment with no cares at all. I could get used to this kind of life!

Next day – Grenada

Pigeon Island, Saint Lucia

Click to enlargeWednesday was the first morning when we could sleep in since we had no formal tours scheduled. The ship anchored off the Pigeon Island National Park. which has been a pirate’s lair, fort, quarantine station, whaling station and US Navy station. Even though it’s called Pigeon Island it is actually connected to the main island via an artificial causeway. In the picture at the left you can just see the fort on the farthest peak

Click to enlargeWe took the tender to shore around 10:30am and started exploring the park. It turned out to be quite a climb up to the old fort but it was worth it for the view. It was easy to see why Fort Rodney was built on this high point.

Click to enlargeIt seems that the movie Pirates of the Caribbean has had quite an impact on tourism. On two different islands we saw ships riged up as pirate vessels, flying the Jolly Roger, firing mock cannons and taking tourists for day excursions.

Click to enlargeI was completely lost trying to identify the flora and fauna here (and on other islands). I finally did get a photo of this indigenous humming bird. You can see and hear them zooming by at high speed but it took a long time sitting quietly before I could get a photograph of one.

Next post – Mayreau

Dominica

Click to enlargeOn Tuesday at 8:00am we docked at Roseau, on the island of Dominica. We had to be up early as our rainforest tour departed at 8:10am. Dominica seemed to me to be rather economically depressed, maybe because of the smaller number of boats in the harbor or because of the poor condition of many of the buildings.

Click to enlargeAt the dock we boarded minivans that carried us up into the rainforest. There we were to take the Rainforest Tram for a ride up to one of the lower peaks. I was a little skeptical when I saw exactly what the “tram” was – more like a glorified ski lift. Eventually we decided it was safe enough and boarded. As we left it began raining lightly but the tram cars were covered and we had brought light jackets.

Click to enlargeThe guide in our car kept pointing out all of the different plants, birds and insects, complete with scientific names and details on their habits. By the time we got to the top I was wishing he would leave a little silence so we could just enjoy the scenery for ourselves. At the upper tram stop we all decided to hike back down to the midway point before getting back on. This took us over a pedestrian suspension bridge which spanned the Breakfast River Gorge.

Click to enlargeAfter we got back to Roseau we did a little sightseeing in town and went back aboard ship for a late lunch. One interesting thing in the harbor was a three-masted barque called the Picton Castle. It turns out this is a training ship for people who want to learn to sail the tall ships. Their web site is here.

Next post – Pigeon Island, Saint Lucia

Bequia

Click to enlargeThis beautiful island covers only 7 square miles with a population of 5000. The Wind Surf anchored at 9:00am in Admiralty Bay and we were soon off on a tour of the island. The transportation was “interesting.” Small Nissan pickups with bench seats in the bed and an awning over them. They seemed to be a standard form of transport on the island and were more comfortable than I anticipated.

Click to enlargeOur first destination was the Moon Hole at the SW end of the island. It’s named for a natural bridge that supposedly frames the setting moon twice a year. The original owners of the property built their home underneath the arch of the bridge. When a large rock fell and damaged one bedroom (luckily unoccupied) they decided to move the house to the top. Now the house sprawls over the surrounding area where it has grown over the years.

Some people refer to these distinctive open-air dwellings as “Flintstones” houses. Built of local stone with all building materials carried up by hand including many bags of concrete. There is no electricity, phone, or other services. They do have a propane powered refrigerator and stove plus small solar panels that produce enough power to light a few lights and run the CD player/stereo. See this site for a lot more pictures and information.

Click to enlargeBefore leaving we had drinks out on one of the many patios. This one had a hammock strung up and there were several large tortoises wandering around. When our hostess got into one hammock a tortoise would crawl underneath and push with his shell, imparting a swaying motion to the hammock and occupant.

Next we went to the Model Boat factory in Port Elizabeth. Model boats of all sizes and types were made on-site. We even got to see the workshop with many models in various stages of construction. Prices are high but the detail and workmanship of the models was exquisite. From what I could tell, one of their specialties was building models of real yachts for their owners. I’m sorry I couldn’t get any good pictures inside but you can see some of the models here.

The next post will cover our stop in Dominica.

Travel / Ship

Click to enlargeIn the previous post I mentioned that we had to leave early to avoid the bad weather that almost kept us from the cruise. The picture to the left was scanned from our local newspaper (click on it for a larger image) and shows what we missed. Though not a high quality iamge, you can see the row of downed power poles that the ice overloaded.

Before this storm actually hit we were able to change ourClick to enlarge travel plans to get us safely to Miami on Friday. After a night there, we resumed our original schedule. Got to Barbados late Saturday and, as we could not board the ship until Sunday, spent the night in a very nice hotel. It was probably too fancy for just an overnight stop.

Finally got on-board around noon on Sunday and settled into our cabin. The accommodations were excellent. The best we’ve ever had on a ship. Here are a few pictures of our stateroom.

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We had a great time that afternoon and evening exploring the ship and meeting up with some friends who were also on the cruise. The ship was supposed to sail at midnight and we wanted to stay up for that. Unfortunately we wilted fairly early and only vaguely felt the ship move when it pulled away from the dock.

In the next post I’ll cover our visit to the island of Bequia.