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From Homer to Haines: Crossing the Gulf of Alaska

Two Days in Homer, The Best of the Spit, On the Ferry, Alaskan Scenery, and the Fairweather Mountains

semi-overcast 57 °F


Homer, Alaska is a “quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” It is also the “halibut capital of the world” (so they say). I don’t know if either of those boasts are true, but I DO know that Homer is home to the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (from K-Bay Coffee), and home to the best seafood I’ve ever eaten (Captain Patties). Beyond those opinions, Homer is an intriguing Alaskan town that catches hold of you like a virus. When you first arrive, you say, “Wow, that’s a hell of a view.“ Then, thirty years later, silver haired and rheumatic, you say, “Wow, what happened? I came here to visit and stayed for thirty years.“ I stayed for two days, and I regret leaving.
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I think it is the view. Homer sits largely on the side of a long, high bluff that runs roughly southwest to northeast on the north side of Kachemak Bay. On the far side of Kachemak bay, lie the snow capped and picturesque mountains of the Kenai Peninsula Mountain Range. It is a daily view of this mountain range, which captures the soul. I felt their pull. Every morning I would wake up and look out over the bay to those mountains and think to myself, “I want to go play over there.” In talking to a Homer resident, he put it this way, “There’s something powerful about this place. I could be having the worst possible day. On my way home I’ll look out at the view of those mountains and see the sunset lighting up the clouds in colors I’ve never seen before. Then a rainbow will form above it all, and I forget about what it was that was bugging me.” In my experience, it’s hard to feel bad when you live near mountains.

With two days to explore, I barely had enough time to see the town, much less Kachemak Bay and the mountains beyond. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed for a week and researched the region enough to make an adventure out of it. However, on this occasion I was just passing through, waiting two days to catch the ferry to Juneau.

My main goal in Homer was to visit some friends of mine. One of them was nice enough to put me up for a few days, a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But she did it without complaint, and for that I give her my sincerest thanks. My other friend was an old classmate of mine who I had not seen in nearly a decade. It is roughly 2,600 miles from Homer, to the small town where we went to school (as the bluebird flies) in northern Michigan. I was curious to see what she had to say about life in Alaska, and we set up a time to go out for dinner at Captain Patties.
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On my first day, I was given the driving tour of the town. There really wasn’t much to it, but she showed me the downtown area that was full of the necessary services such as the bank, grocer, liquor store and hardware store. There were quite a few restaurants, and independent shops. Most of the businesses looked like fun places to visit. They were brightly painted, clean, with a funky feel to them. My friend told me that, “The meals you eat here in Homer, will probably be some of the best food you’ve ever eaten. The people of Homer spend all winter trying new recipes and tinkering with old ones.” It’s true. Homer serves delicious food. They also embrace the locally grown food movement, which is always good to see. I sincerely regret not eating at the Vagabond Café. I mean, who better to endorse such a place? I’ll eat there next time.

After our spin through town, we drove out onto the Homer Spit, and it was here where I would spend most of my time.
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The Homer Spit is a narrow piece of land that juts almost five miles into Kachemak Bay. The Spit-as it is locally known-is where the action is (at least during the summer months). The Spit is home to an eclectic mixture of tourist shops, restaurants, campgrounds, sport fishing charter companies, fish cleaning shacks, and industrial warehousing. The marina can handle any boat from a small skiff to deep water vessels hundreds of feet long. There is public access to the beach at Pioneer Park, and many people take advantage and use this park daily. Next to the road sits an asphalt bike path that runs almost the entire length of the Spit.

My host was working evenings, so I had plenty of time to roam around town. But since I was on foot, I decided to base my explorations on The Spit because of its scenic beauty, beach access, restaurants, and photo opportunities.

Scenes From The Spit
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The Salty Dawg Saloon is one of my favorite taverns that I have visited. This small wood tavern was built from the wood of several of Homer’s historical buildings and has been around since 1957. I had to duck my head a little to get through the front door. I went in and sat down at the end of the bar, taking in my surroundings. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. As it was, I couldn’t stop looking at the building’s decoration. There were thousands of dollar bills pinned to every open surface available. The bills displayed the name, and hometown of the people who pinned them up. It was really cool. I felt as if I had just walked into the secret room of a mad man obsessed with dollar bills. I ordered a brew from the Homer Brewing Company, and hung out, digging the atmosphere. A small group of friends began to sing a traditional shanty out loud, and it sounded beautiful. Besides the bills, there were unique pictures and pieces of maritime history from old ships that have passed through. As a mariner, I loved this place. And of course, I put my own dollar bill up on the wall.
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Taking the Ferry From Homer to Haines
The ferry was seven hours late. In Alaska, the tides control a lot of the timing for a large vessel. This is because the difference between high and low tide can be quite dramatic. The Alaskan ferry Kennicott was delayed by these tides somewhere along the line, and we had to wait. When it arrived, I was sitting in the ferry terminal building finishing up a chapter in my book. There were two kids staring at the monstrous ship as it slid close to the dock for mooring. I don’t know if they had ever been on a boat before, but they looked to be in awe.
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After I boarded, I checked in with the purser to see if there were any cheap cabins available. I would be aboard for three days, and thought I’d see if I could get a roomette. I was in luck, and I purchased a room for thirty dollars a night. The room wasn’t fancy, but it had a bunk, and a place to keep my stuff. I was happy with it.

I had never been on the Kennicott before, and I went for a walk to check it all out. I won’t give you all of the vessels stats, but its 382 feet long with a beam of 85 feet. This vessel is one of two accredited ocean going vessels that the Alaska Ferry System runs. On my walkabout, I found that the vessel had a large forward observation lounge, a dining area, a small bar, a solarium (where I would’ve slept had I not taken the cabin), and two aft observation lounges. Beyond that, it had two outside companionways on two different levels where the passengers could hang out and sit in the sun if it appeared. I would be comfortable enough.
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I sat on a watertight locker as the Kennicott’s deckhands hauled the massive mooring lines aboard. We were finally leaving, and I was at sea once again. I wanted to find a place on board where I could watch the passing scenery and have quick access to the exterior decks on either side of the ship if there was a scene I wanted to photograph. I found the aft observation lounge perfect for this purpose. Since it was directly over the propellers, the room was slightly louder than the forward lounge, and it also had a bit of a shake to it. Being a seasoned mariner, this didn’t bother me at all. I had the room entirely to myself for most of my voyage.

I spent my days sitting back in the aft lounge relaxing. It felt great to sit around for a few days, something I rarely allow myself to do. On a boat, you have no choice. Time passes slowly.
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After living in a plywood shack for two weeks in Denali, it made me appreciate having a warm, well lit room where I could plug in my computer, get a drink of water, and use the head. I was loving life! I took turns reading, catching up on my writing, playing games, taking photographs, and listening to tunes and podcasts. I ate when I was hungry. I made a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, and suffered through meals from the ships cafeteria. No offense to the good people who work on the ferry, but the food is awful. There is no love in it, and it’s all prepackaged, or frozen. Ugh. I’ll admit I’m a spoiled mariner, as I work on a cruise ship that serves fresh, local, nutritious food that I don’t have to pay for.

My plans for exploring the coastal towns that the ferry stopped at were dashed by our seven hour delay. At each ferry terminal, we were reminded that we would be leaving as soon as we possibly could, as the captain was trying to get us back on schedule. On the original itinerary, we were to scheduled to be in port for several hours at a time. Instead, we spent just enough time to unload and load passengers before moving on. We also arrived at most of these ports in the early morning hours when I was fast asleep. Ah well.

The following pictures are scenes from the Ferry.

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Islands and Clouds
I was amazed at how thick these low island clouds formed. They stretched out in a long low band across Ushagat and Amatuli islands. They were simply beautiful.
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Chenega Bay
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We arrived in Chenega Bay just as the sun was setting over the mountains. The surrounding islands and mountains were bathed in great light.

The Fairweather Mountains
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I’ve seen the Fairweather Mountains from Glacier Bay National Park, and I have seen them from far away (near Sitka, Alaska). But I’ve never seen them from up close. We passed by them on a stunningly beautiful day, and I sat outside in the chilly air all afternoon. Mt. Fairweather rises 15,325 feet above sea level. That high point was almost three miles above where I sat on the bow of the Kennicott. I don’t think I’ve seen a prettier mountain range. Bands of clouds flowed around the high peaks of Mt. Fairweather, Mt. Adams, and Mt. La Perouse among others. I saw the Fairweather glacier, and had a good look at the La Perouse glacier as we passed by. I love traveling by ship. Most vessels travel so slowly, it gives you a great chance to enjoy the scenery. In the late afternoon, we rounded Cape Spencer and passed into Cross Sound leaving the open ocean behind. I was back in familiar territory. We passed familiar places, such as the Inian Islands, Glacier Bay, Icy Straight, Funter Bay on our passage to Juneau (see May to September 2011 for more adventures and pictures of these incredible places).
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We docked in Juneau at 8:30 pm. I stepped on land for the first time in three days. It felt good. I spent two hours reading my book before I boarded the ferry Matanuska which would take me north to Haines. I slept on the ferry under the heat lamps of the solarium. But it was a fitful sleep where I tossed and turned on the plastic deck chair. When I awoke for our arrival in Haines at 3 a.m., I got a call from my friend who arranged to have her boyfriend pick me up. I was looking for a guy named Darren who had a full “Fu man chu.” He said “hello,” handed me a beer and drove me to the apartment where I would be staying. We talked a bit, but it was 3 am, and we were both beyond tired. I went into the spacious one bedroom apartment that I learned would be my home for the duration of my stay, and crawled into the bed that was already made up for me. I love having good friends! I fell asleep just as the sky was starting to get lighten up for the coming dawn.

I wonder what Haines is like?

Posted by Rhombus 08:17 Archived in USA Tagged mountains boats islands alaska clouds oceans photography homer taverns fairweather Comments (0)

From Healy to Homer: An Alaskan Ramble

All About Healy, Hitchhiking Tips and Tricks, The Journey South, Don't Mess With The Eagles

semi-overcast 65 °F

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Four hundred sixty miles is a long way to travel in one day, except by a jet airplane or high-speed train. My plan was to hitchhike this distance, starting from the outskirts of Denali National Park and ending on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in the town of Homer, Alaska. It was an ambitious goal, but I felt good about my chances. Alaska is a hitchhiking friendly state-a fact I put to use two weeks before when I hitched from Anchorage to Denali National Park (240 miles) in six hours.


I spent the day before I left preparing for the trip. I spread all of my gear out on the deck of the shack, packing it away according to a hitchhiker’s necessity. I buried my slackline and sandals deep, but I kept my raingear and coffee cup accessible. Along with packing, I made a giant hitchhiker’s thumb out of cardboard. I copied the design of a Frenchman that I had met at a coffee shop. He had recently arrived in Denali after hitchhiking his way across Canada. It is useful to have a sign, and if you can incorporate a bit of humor, it can definitely help in catching that ride.

With my packing finished, I joined my nephew who was already four bars deep into a Denali pub crawl. Luckily, he had wanted to go ten miles north to Healy, to tag three of their establishments and I joined the cause. Healy is a small Alaskan town. It is the kind of place where the police department, the medical clinic, the insurance agent, and the bank are all in the same building. In late May, the sun never really sets here, and the golden light lasts for hours on end. These long evening hours make the surrounding mountains and spruce forests glow, and I felt as if I was living in a postcard of “scenic Alaska.” It’s bizarre. At midnight, it feels like it is seven p.m.
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At one of the bars, I met a local man by the name of Moe. Moe was an elderly gentleman, his slim body toughened by years of hard work and play. He had silver hair with a light beard. Moe’s face had character. It was deeply tanned with light wrinkles around his eyes. He was a tempered Alaskan, beaten and smoothed down by hundreds of adventures over his lifetime. He drank Budweiser out of the bottle, and talked with a quiet, slightly western accent. While my nephew and his entourage shot pool, I talked with this seasoned old man.

It was time well spent. We talked mostly of his life in Alaska, and some of the scrapes he had been in. “The second time I jumped on the back of a deer from out of a tree, I fell off. When the deer recovered, he looked at me a second, then charged. It was all I could do to get out of his reach by climbing a tree. He was down below me, standing on his hind legs beating on the trunk with his front hooves. I stayed up in that tree for over an hour before he went away. Yeah, I wouldn’t advise jumping on the back of a deer to anyone, not anymore.” When I told him of my plans, he nodded his approval. “You should be all right.” This was a man who had been around, and his confidence gave me hope.

I caught a ride back to the shack with a friend, and wandered off to bed. I had plans to get up early so I could be on the road by seven a.m. At three thirty in the morning, I awoke to the stomping revelry of a drunken dance party taking place on the porch. I heard my nephew’s voice in the din, and I knew they were having fun. I sighed, then smiled. What can you do? I tossed and turned the rest of the night. I finally fell asleep again at five a.m. when the party had ended.

I awoke suddenly from a dream in which a younger version of a friend of mine yelled at me to “Wake up!” I looked at my clock and it read eight a.m. I was “late,” but it didn’t matter. I jumped out of bed, and packed away my final items. I hefted my packs as quietly as I could, and stepped outside. I didn’t feel that well. I was sleepy, slightly hung over, and wishing for a cup of coffee.

The weather looked favorable. It was dry, and the sky was white with high overcast clouds. I pulled on my backpacks, first my expedition pack onto my back. Then I adjusted my smaller daypack across my chest. Fully loaded, I waddled down to the highway. Instead of immediately starting to hitchhike, I followed the roadside bike trail across the Nenano River. I don’t like crossing bridges on busy highways because there is no escape. I felt much safer crossing the river on the trail. Once across, I walked back to the highway. I put on my giant thumb, and started hitching.

I had to walk about a mile before I caught my first ride. It took me thirty miles south to the scattered village of Cantwell. It always feels good to catch that first ride. It gave me a chance to wake up, and get my thoughts in order. My driver dropped me off at a gas station, the only business that was open along the highway. I went in to buy myself a cup of coffee. When I took my first sip of the “black gold” out on the highway, I felt like a new man.
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Thus revived, I took a good look at my surroundings. I remembered this stretch of highway; it followed an open valley surrounded on all sides by the snow-capped mountains of the Alaskan Range. Closer to the highway, stands of black spruce broke up the low wetland areas and open tundra. It was a beautiful Alaskan landscape. I smiled that old familiar smile of a man who is supremely happy. I was footloose and carefree, taking on a unique challenge through a magnificent landscape. I was in my element.
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It took awhile to catch the next ride. Many people waved and smiled at me, but nobody pulled over to give me a ride. By the look of travelers, they didn’t have a lot of room left in their vehicles for a hitchhiker bearing two bags. When hitchhiking, the less gear you bring with you the better. Drivers might have room for a guy with a small backpack, but asking them to haul you and your kitchen sink generally turns potential rides away.
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I didn’t mind. I had fun singing sea shanties aloud as I walked along the road. I was on the look out for wildlife, hoping to see a herd of caribou, or a moose. Finally, after about an hour, a van braked to a stop a hundred yards up the highway. I tried running to catch up to him, but under the weight of my packs, the best I could manage was a hurried plod. I caught up with the van, saying hello, then tossing my burdens into his back seat.
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I learned that my new companion was driving all the way down to Anchorage. I was ecstatic. In two rides, I would be covering half the distance to Homer. It was early yet, but I began to get the feeling that my goal might be possible. We passed the afternoon by swapping travel stories, and comparing notes on our Alaskan travels. I gave him what advice I could, let him use my phone, and tried to be a good companion. We stopped at the roadside park that offered a view of Denali. We also stopped at Wal-Mikes, a beauty of a tourist trap found in the small village of Trapper Creek. It was jammed full of tasteful Alaskan mementos, anything from a wolf’s head hat, to a life size cardboard cutout of “the rock star.”
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Peter gave me some good insight into the mind of a driver looking at a potential hitchhiker. “Y’know, the reason I stopped was because you reminded me of my son.” I had pulled at his heartstrings by smiling, dressing decently, and looking the part of a young guy on the adventure of a lifetime.

Since Peter didn’t have any time constraints to his day, I asked him to drop me off on the southern outskirts of Anchorage along the side of the busy Seward Highway. It is almost impossible to catch a ride in large cities, especially on busy highways. Having Peter drop me off on the outside of town saved me several hours of walking, or the cost of a cab ride. From where he dropped me off, I had two hundred eleven miles to go. No problem.
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My next ride took me down to Girdwood. We followed the narrow and twisting highway along Turnagain Arm, a long stretch of water that reached deep into the surrounding Chugach Mountains. My companions were friendly and comfortable. They had a new puppy that licked my hand every three seconds. Then it collapsed with a sleepy sigh into a puppy nap. They were a sweet old couple, and I smiled when the husband asked his wife, “Can I get you anything, my love?” when we stopped at the Girdwood gas station.
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In Girdwood, I caught my best ride of the day with an Alaskan rambler by the name of Greg. We were kindred spirits, and the conversation flowed easily. For fun, he and his buddies spent their time searching for old ghost towns, panning for gold, camping out, and cracking open rocks. He showed me some rocks that he had split open with a hammer that had fossils etched into it. “We hauled ‘em up to the college, and they said they were 65 million years old. Hell, we don’t even know what we are doin’. We just go down to the creek and crack ‘em open.”
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Earlier in the day, I found a full roll of duct tape lying in the grass. I picked it up, shoving it into my pack knowing how useful it was. I forgot all about it, until it reappeared while I was riding with Greg. I gave it to him, because he seemed like a guy who would use it. I like to think that it will help him out of a jam sometime, somewhere down the road.
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It wasn’t long before I caught my first glimpse of the famous Kenai River. When July comes around the Kenai is jammed full of anglers. There are so many of them, that they are almost elbow to elbow jockeying for position to catch big Salmon that are running up the river to spawn. The river was empty of fishermen on our visit. I enjoyed the chuckling sound of the river over the rocks, surrounded by high foothills covered in springtime greenery.

Greg took me all the way to Soldotna, dropping me off on the western outskirts of town. Greg had hitched before, and knew all about “moon walking”- walking backwards for miles through a town- unable to catch a ride. It was seven twenty in the evening, meaning the sun was still high in the sky. I was getting tired, having traveled well over three hundred miles already. I thought about quitting for the day, knowing I could sleep at the city park campground or even splurge and get a hotel. However, I didn’t want to give up. I would try for another hour and a half to catch a ride. If that failed, then I would hole up for the night.

My persistence paid off, and I caught my final ride of the day. I asked him, “How far are you going? “ “I’m going all the way to Homer, “he replied. I felt a tingle of happiness in my belly. I was going to make it in one day! While we drove, he said that he saw me in Girdwood, and had planned to pick me up after he fueled his truck at the gas station. When he pulled back onto the highway, I was already gone. Luckily, I had stayed ahead of him.
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Chris was a good man. He gave me some advice on what to do in Homer, where to eat, good hiking trails, and the like. This stretch of highway travels along the western coast of the Kenai Peninsula. As we drove along, I caught quick glimpses of the ocean and distant mountain range on the far side of the inlet. It was gorgeous. Chris noticed my cameras and asked if I would like to go down to see the ocean at Anchor Point. Since I didn’t have to worry about a ride, I agreed. It would be good to see the ocean again.

What happened next was something I have never seen before.
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While we were enjoying the evening views of the ocean, a seagull that was standing near a group of four bald eagles on the beach flew away. One of the eagles began to chase it, and a high speed aerial acrobatics display ensued. Despite its tight turns and evasive maneuvers, the eagle easily kept up with the gull.
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Chris and I watched in amazement as another eagle joined the first, intensifying the harassment of the gull. The birds zipped around right in front of us, not more than a hundred twenty feet away. Two more eagles joined the chase, and the seagull was soon knocked down into the ocean. The eagles continued to strafe the unlucky gull, snaring it in their razor sharp talons. The gull was hurt, and it was all it could do to dive away from the eagles when they came close.
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At one point, one of the eagles landed on the hapless gull. The gull rolled, and the eagle ended up in the water. After a few jabs with its talons, that eagle began slowly swimming to shore while the others continued to harass the gull. I saw one of the eagles pick up the bird and carry it a short distance before letting go, tumbling it into the water once again.
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We didn’t stay to watch the end, but we knew the outcome. I may not have much, but I do have timing.

Chris and I continued south to Homer. I had sent a message to my friend letting her know that I was close. We planned a rendezvous at Subway, where I happily piled out of the truck. I hugged my friend, and said, “Hello.” I grabbed my gear, thanking Chris for the ride. My friends took me back to their home, made me a delicious three-course dinner of fresh salad, a giant hamburger, with a glass of red wine from a mason jar. I inhaled my food. I had not eaten much that day, and I was a proud member of the clean plate club. I took a shower, and for the second time that day, I felt like a new man.
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My last thought before I passed out, was that I had done it. I had hitchhiked almost five hundred miles in eleven and a half hours, by far my best day of hitchhiking ever. It would not have been possible without the help of Matt, Peter, Duncan, Greg and Chris. Thank you.

Hitchhiking at its basic element is simply one person helping another person in need. I went to sleep feeling good about my fellow men.

Posted by Rhombus 11:47 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds roads alaska oceans denali eagles hitchhiking kenai Comments (0)

Baja's Blessings

Dolphin Jewels, Sea Birds, Desert Solitude, Ocean Gifts, The Contemplative Sailor

I have been noticing that at about seven a.m. my left eye starts to twitch. This is a certain sign of fatigue for me, and I have been running from deep fatigue for the last week. It is my turn to work nights, a twelve-hour marathon of delirium, dancing, clouded weariness and laughs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m completely functioning and doing my job, but there are times when I find myself in depths of fog.
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However, my fatigue has its advantages. For one thing, I notice, appreciate and contemplate everything around me more poignantly. Many small morning moments become mesmerizing. For example, the reflection of the bow in the water this morning was a kaleidoscope of warping, twisting, oily reflections, and it is beautiful! I stare at it for uncounted minutes as I wait to call the weighing of the anchor.

I know my visit to this magical place is drawing to its end. I have a couple of weeks left on the Baja Peninsula. Inspired by this masterpiece of desert islands and ocean glory, I’ve forsaken sleep in search of scenic grandeur. My efforts have been well rewarded.

Dolphins in a Sea of Sapphire
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If a master jeweler were to craftily inset a perfect replica of tiny dolphins just underneath an irregular surface of a pure-blue polished sapphire, they would sell thousands of them. I would purchase several of these rings if they existed as they are in my mind.

For now, I will have to settle for my memories and pictures of the real thing.
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Earlier in the week, I was able to see dolphins bow ride on one of our Zodiacs. I was on the bow lying flat on my stomach on the front pontoon. The dolphins were three feet away from me, swimming effortlessly, and speeding much faster than our zodiac could go. Up close, I could see just how much power the dolphin’s tail fin has stored in it. A dolphin is a perfect example of a stream lined, efficient mammal, playing in its element. It was beautiful in every way. I made a mental note to check off another Baja experience on my list.
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Just after eight o’clock in the morning, I was thumping on my banjo in the crew lounge, enjoying a beer, and hoping for a whale show. I was given dolphins instead, and I ended my musical libation session and grabbed my camera. I headed up to the lido deck so I could watch the massive pod of common dolphins from an aerial perspective.
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It was one of the best dolphin shows I have seen, and the inspiration for my dolphin set sapphire. They were magnificent. The dolphins swam gracefully just below the surface of the blue water, and the distorted image of their bodies is locked into my memory.
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With a swing of the tail, the dolphin would take to the air, catching a breath, and showing off its power and grace.

Portraits of Frigate Birds and Pelican Dives
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While watching the dolphins from our highest deck, I was standing not more than 30 feet below a flock of magnificent frigate birds that were drafting just above the ship. It was very easy to compose several satisfying photos of these splendid birds.
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I also was finally able to photograph pelicans in a full diving fishing strike. Pelicans are amazing, and among my favorite birds. They would hover thirty feet above the surface, spot a fishy delicacy under the water and go for the strike. In a quick moment, the pelicans would flip upside down, stretch their bodies out into a very heavy narrow arrow and dive straight into the water at their prey. Their heavy beaks would break the surface punching deep with the bulk of their body and the fish had no chance. It was awesome.
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The Feel of a Good Desert

My hikes deep into the desert have been satisfying. I love the energy of the desert. I cannot explain what exactly what I am feeling, but there is something, clean and pure to a landscape that hasn’t been trampled by the progress of man. I love trekking through neighborhoods of the giant boulders, rocks, shrubs and cacti. The landscape is intoxicating. I tend to notice the harmonies of the landscape, and find myself feeling more than looking for the perfect spot to enjoy all that’s around me. There is a feel to such a spot that feels right.
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When I find the right place, I’ll sit down and look around all about me. I look deeply at the composition of the scene, I’m reassured that my positioning is correct. For whatever reason, I’m called to alluring landscapes, and if you were to look at where I’m sitting as if you were setting up a landscape photograph, you would probably place the human subject where I’m sitting.

I feel like this is hard to explain on paper. If you have any questions, come hiking with me some time, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Flying Fish and a Swarm of Mobula Rays

I finally saw flying fish. Flying fish, as you might imagine, are fish that take to the air and fly when threatened. It’s their special defensive technique, and a fun one at that. While cruising northwest on the west coast of the peninsula, we came into a couple of schools of them deep in the night. They were startled by our boat, and flew away right in front of us. These were just little guys, and couldn’t fly very far, but some flying fish can stay airborne for a long time.

While working one night on the lido deck, the chief mate and I looked over the side of the boat and saw a fast moving ball of large fish. At first, we couldn’t see what they were, but then they came to the surface in the light of our work lamps, and we saw that they were mobula rays! They looked like a bait ball, a swirling sphere of fish, except that they were large, perhaps two feet by two feet in an irregular diamond shape. It was awesome! We laughed and watched them bubble up to the surface, then dive deep and were joined by another ball of them. Then the giant mass of mobula rays surfaced and we estimated that there must have been fifty to one hundred rays streaking right beneath us. It remained AWESOME!

This was a unique moment, and one of the most interesting things I have seen on the ship. They disappeared as quickly as they came. It made me wonder about what else I wasn’t seeing in the night.

The Contemplating Sailor

This trip has been wonderful. I’ve marked off a few more things on my list of what I’ve always wanted to see. Beyond that, it has offered a lot of closure to many of aspects of my dreams and realities that I manifest. I know that last sentence is very deep, but it’s true.

Long ago, before I ever set foot on this ship, I had ideas and fantasies of what I pictured boat life would be like. Then when I started sailing the west coast and the reality of what I got myself into was established, I laughed at my naivety. Life rolled on. What I didn’t expect, was that some of those original daydreams are starting to come true.

It’s somewhat eerie. When I found myself living out my dreams, it caught me off guard for just a moment. Then I embraced it, and realized dreams can come true. They might not happen on your schedule, or when you pictured them happening, but they can happen. I’m not saying ALL of your dreams will come true, and extravagant dreams of defying physics probably aren’t going to happen. However, if you have modest dreams like I have, and if you have the courage to put them out there, it can happen.

I would encourage you to be patient, and don’t get too involved waiting for them. Like Mitch Hedberg said, “I’m tired of chasing my dreams, I’m just going to find out where they are going and hook up with them later.”

This has turned out to be good advice.

Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 14:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged hiking mexico deserts oceans dolphins philosophy Comments (2)

Sublime Times in Mexico

Red Eye Flights, La Paz, Beaches, Kissing Whales, Punta Colorado In Pictures, and a Sunset

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I gave up my long johns for my adventure pants, and I’m back on the southern Baja Peninsula. My reasoning is that March is one damn fine month to be in Mexico, and a poor month to be anywhere in the northern United States. With that bit of logic, I agreed to work for four weeks on the good ship Sea Bird, my floating home of the last year and a half.

I took a red eye flight down to get here. When I agreed to fly the red eye, I didn’t know that it was going to stop at nearly every airport along the way. I flew from Spokane to Seattle. Then from Seattle to Sacramento to Guadalajara to Culiacan and finally to La Paz. I didn’t get any sleep at all on the plane, and by the time I landed in the bright sunshine of mid-morning in La Paz, I was a zombie. True, I was a smiling zombie, but a zombie all the same.

I took a cab from the airport down to the malecon along the waterfront of downtown La Paz and stumbled into the Crown Seven Hotel. The good people at the Crown 7 perked up when they heard I had arrived, as our agent in La Paz had told them of my “nightmarish flight.” They welcomed me, grabbed my bags, led me up to my room, practically tucked me into bed, and wished me a comfortable rest. It was sweet relief to plummet into a coma at 11 am in the morning with the soft breeze of the air conditioner lulling me away.

The advantage of taking this flight was that I had two days to spend in La Paz before traveling across the peninsula to San Carlos where I would join the ship.

La Paz
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I love La Paz. I should say I love the Malecon located in La Paz, as it is the only part of the city where I have spent my time. However, it is very charming. I woke up after a four-hour nap. I was still half out of it at first, but woke up enough to realize I was hungry. La Paz has several good restaurants, and I had plans on visiting two of my favorites while I was here. I decided on pizza. I stepped out into the cooling evening air, and walked two around the block to the restaurant. It was still too early for most diners, and I had the place to myself. I ordered a green pepper and onion pizza, and it was delicious.

The sky darkened with the setting of the sun, and I walked back to the hotel. I sat out on the fifth floor patio and looked over the Malecon. There were people walking along the boardwalk. The decorated streetlights winked on, and then grew brighter. The small waves lapped at the shore. Two dozen sailboats bobbed in the harbor, their dinghies tethered to the stern. The sunset left the western sky a dull orange smudge, definitely not the best sunset (that came later in the week), but still added to the scene. It was peaceful. It was another tranquil evening in La Paz.

I climbed back in bed, and slept a very satisfying sleep.

The next day was very enjoyable. There was no hurry to my day, as the bus to San Carlos didn’t leave until 5 pm. I had breakfast on the seashore, followed by a leisurely stroll. I had lunch at Rancho Viejo, and ate the best fish tacos I have ever eaten in my life. I went back to the hotel and met up with the guy who I was replacing. We had coffee and talked of the ship. The ship is a constant topic of conversation, among boat folks, and there was a lot to catch up on.

The ride across the peninsula was fun. I was a bundle of nerves, being both a little bit nervous, and quite excited about seeing my friends and the boat once again. I sat far back in the bus as we whizzed through the inky desert night. It was kind of like being on a plane with a lot of turbulence, but for some reason since I knew I was connected to the ground, I wasn’t concerned about it.

Finally, we arrived in San Carlos and I saw the bright lights of the Sea Bird. My nervousness and excitement grew, and a smile began to grow on my face. I stepped off the bus and into the melee of luggage, crew, guests and hubbub. I was back onboard. I spent the evening giving hugs, catching up, handing out chocolate, and staying up late. It felt really good.

As with all choices one makes in life, the outcome is never clear or certain. I figured to make the best of my time here in Mexico.

Sublime Times in Mexico
I had the morning off. I like to ease back into work, and I spent my time on the west side of Isla Magdalena at a place called Sand Dollar Beach. I sat for a long time, just watching the rollers curl and break on the sand. There were dolphins in the distance, and the warm sun baked into me. I stalked a small crab that was skittering along the shore. I took its portrait. At last, I could not resist it anymore, and I shuffled my way into the ocean. It was time to catch a few rides on the waves. The water was a perfect temperature, reminding me of Lake Superior in July. It was not too hot or cold. It was refreshing, it was rejuvenating, and it was good for my soul.
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On Kissing Gray Whales

I’ve talked of my first experiences of kissing a whale in "To Kiss A Whale" (March 2011 I am a fortunate man. I’ve done it again.

As part of our itinerary down here in Mexico, we spend a couple of days watching the gray whales of Magdalena Bay. Our captain, complete with his heart of gold, called the whale watching guides in Lopez Mateo to get a crew boat to go out and watch the whales. I was on the second tour, and several of my friends were gushing about their experiences on the first. TTwo of my friends kissed whales. I was beaming too. It’s funny, everyone is extremely happy when other people have good whale experiences. It is such a great moment.
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There were seven of us in our group as we cruised out to the Boca Del Soledad. The Boca is a small opening to the sea from Magdalena Bay. The gray whales frequently use this as their entrance to and from the bay. The crew cracked jokes and told stories, vented and relaxed as we looked out for spouts from the whales. We followed a mom and her calf around, but they didn’t want to play. It was great to be out among the whales again.

Then it happened. We were following a mom and calf pair when the calf started to come close to the panga. We all leaned over the side, almost, but not quite tipping the boat. We splashed at it, called for it, said hello, cooed, and welcomed the whale to come closer.

It came right up to the boat, and I said hello and touched the calf on the back of the head. I said aloud, “You feel just like an eggplant.“ No sooner than I had finished uttering those words, then the whale surfaced and blew its breath directly and forcefully into my face. I was no more than 15 inches away from the blowholes. It was kind of like being three inches away from a human sneeze. I begged the whale its pardon, and apologized. I wonder if a whale knows what an eggplant is. I can imagine it saying, “Why are you saying I feel like this thing I never heard of before?”

After that, the whales put on a show of affection. The mom and calf played around us, and the feeling of good will and kinship grew. I kissed both whales twice. That means that I have kissed three different whales in my life. The thought of that is preposterous to me. I whiffed on two other kisses though, and I ended up dunking my face into the water as the whale retreated.

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My favorite moment was seeing the mom’s eye up close, not more than six inches below the water. It was beautiful. To me, the eye was relaxed, full of compassion, maternal serenity and knowing. It was like being noticed by a grand beautiful queen, even for just a moment. It was beautiful, and I hope I never forget that moment.

Punta Colorado
I like to pick a high point and hike there. This one was very satisfying.
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Sunset
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The sunsets of the Sea of Cortez are consistently the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure there is much more I can say about them. They are simply amazing.
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What a great first week. I can’t believe my good fortune. I wonder what the next three weeks will hold?
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Posted by Rhombus 11:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches hiking mexico rocks whales deserts oceans ships Comments (2)

The Mexican Saga Continues

Snorkelling At Puerto Escondido, Climbing High on Santa Catalina, More Gorgeous Sunsets, The Morning in Santa Rosalia

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A Morning at Puerto Escondido

I have the morning off. I know this, but I get up at 6 am anyway. I love mornings, especially when you don’t have to work. Why would I sleep in? I’m not in Mexico to sleep, and I when I get up to the crew lounge, I find a “Dirty Chai” waiting for me. The early morning crew is taking good care of me.

I sit down, drinking my chai, and finishing a book. It was perhaps the best book I have ever read, and I was quite satisfied.

The dawn came and went. I enjoyed it. I went up to the top deck to stretch out with a bit of yoga and breathing focus. Relaxed, I made my way down to the breakfast table for some vittles and conversation with some of the crew.

It’s warming up a bit, and so I meander my way up to the snorkel lockers and get some gear. My plan is to snorkel right off of the break wall. I had done this last year on the recommendation of the chief mate, and it turned out to be some of the best snorkeling I have experienced. I wanted to go back and see some more.

I walked out to my makeshift launching point, scrambling over the rocks down to the water’s edge. I test the temperature, and it’s cold. I don’t mind. I’m used to cold water, and I put on my fins, secure my snorkel and launch myself into the moment.
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For the next forty minutes, I am lost in a watery world full of interesting characters. I see a wide variety of sea creatures, all of them quite charming in their own way. The beauty of the Cortez rainbow wrasse blew me away. These small fish are beautifully decorated, taking on bright yellows, reds, blues and purples, all glowing brightly under the strong morning sunlight.
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It was safe to say I was quite satisfied with my efforts. I started to shiver. Then I began to shake, and I knew the end of my snorkeling was near. I swam back towards my take out point, I really wanted to stay in the water, but I was frozen.
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I hauled myself out, and sat on the hot black rocks soaking in the sunshine. My shivering began to die down, but I was still quite cold. I decided to get up and go take a shower, and as I crawled back on the dock, I met the security guard. He was a very nice guy, and knew enough English to be able to hold a simplified conversation. We talked of Michigan, snorkeling, and Puerto Escondido. I offered him a cup of coffee, but he preferred a coke. I brought it out to him, wished him a good day.

As the hot water ran over my clammy body, I thought of my morning and smiled. I could get used only working six hours a day.

Santa Catalina High Peaks
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I had a couple of hours of freedom and set my sights on one of the few high points that I hadn’t climbed yet on the southwestern side of Isla Santa Catalina. Looking at the terrain, I opted for a route I hadn’t tried before, walking up a desert wash, climbing to the top of a small ridge that reached up to the shoulder of the mount I wanted to summit. It would be steep, and probably sketchy, but I knew I could make it.
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I love long views from high places. Atop this mount was a clump of cardon cactus, which looked beautiful in the afternoon light.
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The descent was sketchy. I precariously placed my feet hoping that they would hold, because if they didn’t I’d be sliding down with only the spiny arms of a cactus to catch my fall. Not a pleasant thought, but one I was willing to face. I love hiking in a vertical desert world, and besides, I like this kind of thing.

Amazing Sunsets
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When the skies are overcast on the Sea of Cortez, the rising and setting of the sun in an event not to be missed. For three days straight, the coming and going of the sun has been gorgeous. Sure, there are pretty sunsets almost every day, but the addition of a few bands of clouds, increase the beauty exponentially. I was moved, happy to be experiencing these incredible light shows.
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Water and Clouds
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I had a two-hour break to position a zodiac to a deserted beach. It was awesome. I stretched out and did some yoga and breathing exercises, then sat calmly in the water up to my neck. It was very refreshing. I finished my break off by taking a nap on the pontoon of the zodiac for an hour, floating and listening to the water chuff along the rocks. There are some days where they could pay me with sand and I would still go to work.
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Santa Rosalia Mornings
DSC_0078__2_.jpgDSC_0033__2_.jpgSanta Rosalia is a small mining town on the eastern coast of the Sea of Cortez. The mornings here remind me of days long past on Lake Superior. Quiet mornings, a palette of subdued light yellow, pale blue, grays, and white. There were fishermen in the distance, hoping to catch some luck, and a pair of osprey ate their breakfast fifty yards from the boat, perched on a telephone pole. It was a very good morning for photography, at least until the sun broke above the clouds.
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All is well here in Mexico. I have one week left before I turn my sights northward, restocking my toys and heading to the northern Rocky Mountains to ski.
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Posted by Rhombus 18:49 Archived in Mexico Tagged wildlife hiking cactus towns deserts sunsets oceans photography Comments (0)

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