A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
IMG_3004.jpg
I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
IMG_2906.jpg
Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
IMG_2902.jpg
The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
bbf.jpg

My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
IMG_3044.jpg
My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
IMG_3051.jpg
The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
IMG_2306.jpg

Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
IMG_3068.jpgIMG_2987.jpgIMG_3011.jpgDSC_5076.jpgDSC_5080.jpgIMG_2985.jpg
It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

.

Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

Icebergs, Fox Fires, and Orca: An Alaskan Week to Remember

Kayaking in Icebergs, Euology for a Glacier, Fox Fires, and Orca

semi-overcast 50 °F

DSC_4882.jpg
I could see the mass of white blue ice floating on the placid rain speckled water of Williams Cove from the fantail of the ship. I asked our Bosun if he would drop some kayaks for two of my friends, and myself. I slid into my raingear, and hopped into the shuttle that would take us to shore.
DSC_4885.jpg
Now in the kayak, I paddled directly towards the massive blue iceberg that had drawn my attention earlier. It was even prettier up close. I love glacier blue. This color only forms in the ancient ice of glaciers. The glaciers are a living entity, though they are slowly passing away.

Eulogy for a Glacier
DSC_4969.jpg
In life, a tidal glacier creates some of the prettiest landscapes on the face of the planet. The glacier spends thousands of years, slowly grinding and polishing dense mountain stone until it is a perfect. Sawyer Glacier (before it split into North and South Sawyer) was the master carver of Tracy Arm-a stunning array of angled rock, white ribbons of waterfalls, green water, and beautiful ice floes.
DSC_4996.jpg
In death, the tidal glacier melts and disintegrates. As a parting gift, it sheds magnificent pieces of ice from its face that slowly melt into the sea. The cracking roar of white thunder signifies the birth of another berg. Once the berg settles, the tidal currents pull them away from the face and carry them out to sea. As children leave home, icebergs slowly disappear around the bend, never to be seen again. Over time, the tidal glacier retreats further into the fjord until at last the final piece of ice falls into the sea. There is nothing left but a rumbling creek, and the smooth rock of memories past.

A tidal glacier is unique, because it only creates beauty. Its life work is left to see in the short term exquisite melting of icebergs, and in the long lasting beauty of a fjord.

Zen Morning

It is in the wondrous backdrop of Tracy Arm, that I spent my morning kayaking around stately icebergs. It was another Zen morning for me. I heard the sound of raindrops tapping the surface of the slate gray water with a tiny blip. Two ravens call in the distance. The watery sound of small waves lapping the ice was musical. The ice itself is exquisite. Each piece of ice was worthy to be on the wall of the Louvre. The seawater and rain have melted it into intricate shapes, and each piece could be a plate on the Rorschach test.
IMG_2897.jpgIMG_2829.jpg
IMG_2874.jpgIMG_2842.jpg
My friends went in search of warmth. I went in search of ice, and with it, Zen. I fell into deep breathing, satisfied to float around the bergs as the current would take me. I opened my eyes, and a leaf floated right to my canoe. I marveled at its vein system. Then I let it go.
IMG_2883.jpg

Blue
DSC_5017.jpg
We visited South Sawyer Glacier right at sunset. We were deep in the fjord, deep in blue shadow. A giant iceberg glowed against the rich backdrop of sun-streaked stone. It was a beautiful a work of art, a sapphire set into a locket of fire.
DSC_5013.jpg
DSC_4975.jpg
The face of the glacier held still. It looked as though the entire face could fall at any minute, but it held its piece, frozen and unmoving for the moment. Dozens of harbor seals were atop the ice floes, basking in the beautiful evening. The seals live on the floes, in front of the glacier. In real estate, it’s all about location. I’d like to meet their agent.

Fox Fire
DSC_5111.jpg
The Inuit call it “Fox Fire.” The phenomenon is more commonly called the “northern lights” (in the northern hemisphere). Astronomers prefer to call it Aurora Borealis. It has been many years since I’ve seen the northern lights dancing in the sky. And I’ve never seen it in Alaska. I’ve seen them three times this week. Last night’s show was amazing. At three thirty in the morning, I looked to the north and saw an intense column of green light. Then a halo appeared and began pulsing. I was in awe. I ran down to the bunks, and woke up my roommate, and two other friends to share the experience. It’s a gamble to wake people up, because the northern lights are a fickle entity. As quickly as they show, they can disappear -even on a perfectly clear sky. Luck was with me, and the lights continued to dance when I returned to the stern of our ship. My friends appeared, one by one, and I was glad to have awoken them. We stood in companionable silence in the chilly Alaskan night watching the dance of all dances. I wondered what ancient man thought of the foxfires. As they dance ended, I smiled. How lucky can a guy get?

Close Encounters with Orca
DSC_5201.jpg
I’m working nights this week. I awoke around four, and headed up to the top deck our ship to eat my breakfast. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool. The sun broke through the high patchwork clouds, bringing warmth, and chill. I read philosophy aloud to a friend as we watched the Alaskan seascapes slowly change with our movement.
DSC_5187.jpgDSC_5171.jpgDSC_5168.jpg
Then the boat slowed, and we spotted a pod of orca. I put down my philosophy book that I was reading to a friend, and we watched the whales for a while. Then, as they swam away, I went back to my book for a few pages. Suddenly, we heard the whale spout right next to us, and we jumped up to see them. They were right next to the boat, skimming the surface just underneath the water. Then, as a family, the big male popped up, followed by two females and a calf. It was amazing!

Needless to say, I’ve been eating a lot more breakfast up on the lido. There is no finer way to start my day.

To recap, this week I’ve seen six different glaciers. I’ve kayaked among icebergs. I saw a beautiful iceberg scene of seals, ice and sunset. I watched an orca pod for several hours. I watched humpback whales bubble net feed. The aurora borealis danced across my sky three times on three different nights, and I’ve shared it all with some great people.

Alaska. It’s such a small name, but it gives me such a big smile.
DSC_4940.jpgDSC_4910.jpg

Posted by Rhombus 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales alaska oceans kayaking glaciers photography orca icebergs foxfires auroraborealis Comments (0)

Alaskan Atmosphere

A Breath, Mists, Wildlife, Sea Scapes, and Very Large Animals

semi-overcast 63 °F

DSC_4248.jpg
I’m trapped in the ether of Southeast Alaska. In this region of Alaska, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure. The air is coldest at the point of entry- my nose- and warms only slightly as it flows down my windpipe into my lungs. At the entrance to my lungs, the cool air spreads evenly into my lung tissue. It feels as though someone just walked into a warm and cozy house after spending several hours out in the winter cold. It smells fresh. It tastes pure. It blows my endorphins wide open. With every breath, I feel alert, happy, and somehow, more alive.
DSC_4259.jpgDSC_4277.jpg
When I say I am “trapped” here, I mean to say that I am once again working on a ship with few options for escape. To those of you who might have worked on a vessel before, you will understand what I mean. Even if I wanted to gain my freedom, there are only two choices: I can jump off the boat and swim to shore, or I could get off at the next port later on in the week. I think I’ll stay.

Life on a ship is not so bad actually. The work is good, the people are fun, and the seascapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
DSC_4545.jpgDSC_4572.jpg
In fact, I think Alaska is almost impossibly beautiful. I will never understand the physics behind the mist and fog that forms and flows around the islands, mountains, and rain forest. I don’t think I want to. Physics aside, the results are inspiring.
DSC_4507.jpgDSC_4424.jpgDSC_4593.jpgDSC_4599.jpg
If the landscape wasn’t mind blowing enough, then there are the giant animals that wander though these Alaskan scenes. During my first week, I had close encounters with Stellar Sea Lions near the Inian Islands. I watched a pod of Orca catching Salmon in Peril Straight. Near False Bay, I saw Humpback Whales working together to corral herring in a giant bubble net. As one, the whales swam through the net feasting on the herring in an orgy of mass eating.
IMG_2769.jpgIMG_2785.jpgDSC_4318.jpg
DSC_4665.jpgDSC_4720.jpg
It was very exciting. I was leaning on a portside rail, looking out at a school of herring dancing on the water. A quivering ball of herring makes the surface of the water bounce, as though a heavy rain is falling on the ocean. I heard the whales before I saw them. I looked down and with a rush of frothy white water, the pod broke through the surface right next to the ship. I was spellbound.
DSC_4374.jpg

On land, I watched grizzly bears foraging along the shore. They were prying mussels off the rocks for their lunch. I spied a wolf pack through binoculars loitering on a beach. The pack had a young pup, and it embraced its playful nature. While the mother and other members relaxed on the beach, the pup ran around between them biting them on the muzzle. In one scene, I saw a murder of ravens, a wolf, and a grizzly bear hanging out near a creek.

The Reid glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the prettiest I have seen. A giant ice cave has formed on its face this year. I love looking at the texture and coloring of this glacier. It has a marbled look, mostly brown and dirty white, but it glows a very subtle glacier blue.
DSC_4392.jpgDSC_4400.jpg
This past week was perhaps the best welcome back present I could have had. Alaska continues to be very good to me. I feel like my words and pictures can’t really do this place justice. I could use thousands of adjectives from the English language, but none of them comes close to describing what it is like to stand in place and look off to some distant fog covered island. It is one of the world’s truly remarkable locations.
IMG_2791.jpg
I’m satisfied with my captivity. If I’m going to be in prison, it may as well be by choice in the wilds of southeast Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 02:46 Archived in USA Tagged trees boats islands whales alaska clouds oceans mist photography bears wolves Comments (1)

The Gardens of Seattle

Appreciating the Growing Season of Seattle

semi-overcast 75 °F

IMG_2753.jpg
A walk through the suburban streets of Seattle during summer is a stroll through an ever-changing garden. This Saturday past, my good friend Amelia and I went for a walk to collect a cup from a coffee house in Freemont. As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice the growing vibrancy of the city. Most of the homes had a small garden plot, running the length of their front lot between their front porch and sidewalk. The gardens would often butt up against their neighbors, to the effect of a summer garden an entire block long. The plants varied from bushes and shrubs to flowers and herbs. The tang in the air was of sweet fragrant flowers, musty earth tones and rotting vegetation. The world had the smell of a greenhouse, without the house.
IMG_2756.jpg
It was a special morning. As we walked, our eternal friendship grew deeper through a long exchange of conversation. Amelia did most of the talking. I did most of the listening. She shared her life experiences of the last few weeks as she faced the fire (literally) by taking on a third job as a short order cook. It is these moments we all face in life: beginning something new, struggling with the challenge, learning, and making progress. The struggle is what will make you, or break you. My friend is not broken.

For my part, I listened. It’s a simple thing, but not everyone has the ability. I offered what little insight I could provide. She already knows where she stands, but sometimes a friend’s appraisal helps settle the mind.
IMG_2761.jpg
My visit to Seattle was brief. I spent my limited time in pursuit of fantastic food, bookstores, bonfires on the beach, and quality time with friends. It’s kind of funny. I feel like I see the best of Seattle on each visit. The weather is always great. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the rain the city is known for. For me, Seattle will forever be a city of sunshine, flowers, and the freshness of life.
IMG_2757.jpgIMG_2759.jpg
I left Seattle on Saturday afternoon. I had a unique view out of my window, as my plane taxied down the runway. I kept thinking of the improbability of those giant planes behind us ever taking off. Soon the engines wound up, and I was rocketing down the runway. I grinned. Flying is fun, especially when you get into the moment. The nose rose, and we entered the sky. I continued to watch out my window as the city expanded and grew smaller at the same time. We entered a cloud and I lost sight of Seattle. It wasn’t long before we popped out of that cloud into the wild blue yonder of the upper atmosphere. And there was Mt. Rainier. The giant stone Buddha sat in a sunny bath of white foamy clouds. I felt very fortunate to be in that moment. It was a very happy scene, and one I won’t soon forget.

Posted by Rhombus 11:17 Archived in USA Tagged gardens parks flowers friends sunsets seattle philosophy Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]