Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Wednesday W’s #104.

What’s top of my mind: It’s good to be home.

I took this photo yesterday at the Backyard Beach. It’s looking towards Melbourne, with Scout in the foreground having a paddle, even though it’s the middle of winter.

I sent this photo to Jenna, because it’s looking towards where she and Evan27 live. He’s in California at the moment, doing tech for a show called ‘Motor Boat,’ He’s staying with a friend that he met at Clown College last year, which tickles me a lot. I love that he’s making travelling friends, just as I have.

It’s strange not having Poppy saround me every step of the way, but in some ways it’s easier to just have Scout and Jeff. I’ve been really sick, so the two older dogs ahave been content to blob around with me while I slowly get better.

You should’ve seen Scout crossing the road towards the beach though! Thanks godness I have a sturdy harness on her – she was practically levitating in a horizontal line towards the beach.

Where I’m going: To Apple.

Mum’s phone is on 3G, which is being discontinued in a couple of months. Dad refuses to buy her a new phone. He can’t see the value of a mobile phone because he refuses to use his. So, seeing as I’m not really happy with the quality of photos that my 2 year old iPhone 6 takes, I’m biting the bullet and shelling out for a new phone. Mum can have this one.

Her old phone is so awful that it doesn’t even accept photos via text. She won’t know herself when people can send photos. She’ll have to get used to a slightly different way of operating it – her old phone was an android.

I hope that isn’t a bridge too far…

Where I’ve been: To renew my passport before the price rise kicks in.

Apparently, you can renew your passport inline if it isn’t expired. I wish I’d known this before I traipsed up to the post office to get a form to fill in, but that’s all behind us now.

It was painless and very quick. All I had to do was take a printed form back to the post office, get my photo taken and that was that.

Once I get my new passport back, I can start filling in the details for my 2025 trips.

What I’m reading: Georgette Heyer.

While I’ve been sick I’ve been reading books I have at home. Non-challenging reads. But yesterday I picked up 7 books I had on hold at the library. Once ‘Regency Buck’ is finished, I’ll be revelling in reading!

What I’m watching: OUTLANDER!

I’m so happy that this is back on. I love the books and the tv series. It’s so unusual to be able to love both, but the tv people are doing a great job.

What I’m listening to: Jeffrey snoring.

It’s the sound of home.

What I’m eating: a sourdough bread roll.

It was Megan’s birthday yesterday, so I bought her a cheese and chive pull-apart, to compare to the onderfu one we had in Vancouver. She laughed her head off when she saw it, so I consider that $7 well spent.

While I was at the bakery I saw they had sourdough bread rolls, all crisp and crunchy on the outside. I don’t mind if I do, though $2 for one bread roll is daylight robbery.

What I’m planning: to get back to Liga’s trip.

Now that I’m getting better, I want to get back to Liga’s crazy road trip and book in a few places. She’s given me the dates that she currently has for flights, so we’ll make it all work.

Who deserves a thumbs-up: Georgia.

After I was home for a couple of days and stopped sleeping so much, we had a good long talk about Poppy and we had a good cry. Georgia described the week leading up to Poppy’s death as the most traumatic of her life. The actual decision to give Poppy the green dream was easy – it was obvious that she was too sick to continue. But it was when she was starting to fail that the responsibility hit home – what to do when Mum’s dog is sick.

The kids gathered to see Poppy before she died and David31 and Georgia both went with her to the vet. They let Jeffrey andScout sniff her all over when they got back, so that they knew, and then they buried her directly in the corner of the orchard where I can say good morning to her every day.

I was proud od the kids – they did everything as I would have done it.

What has made me smile: Seeing the galic I planted before I left sticking up out of the ground.

I still have more to plant and the solstice is on Friday, so I’d better crack on. But gee – isn’t gardening so rewarding?

Dad joke of the day:

Day 25- Canada/Alaska – Home again!

Here is the last view from our balcony. What a beautiful sight to wake up to.

I don’t think that any awakening will top our first morning in Banff though, when Megan pulled back the blinds and said, “It’s SNOWING!” That was a great moment.

We went down to breakfast and while we were there, the first announcements came over the speakers for groups of people to depart. The way we board and leave the ship is to tap our room keys on a reader, so that the ship always has an accurate tally of who’s on board or not.

The cruise director’s voice rang out, “Orange and green groups please assemble at the Venetian Lounge for disembarkation. Please remember to bring your room key for that last emotional tap.”

That made us all giggle.

Finally, it was our turn and we boarded the bus for the 2-hour drive from Seward to Anchorage.

It’s funny how people get used to things. These mountains sweeping down to nothing, with crystal-clear water below are utterly spectacular, yet most people near me on the bus were giving cursory looks as we went along. That is, unless the bus driver announced a photo opportunity. Then everyone’s phones were aimed at the windows.

I was uneasily aware that I was coming down with something. I felt like I should nap, but how could I? This was the last chance I was going to have to see these views.

Like – see the reflection in the water? This place is spectacular.

You could paint a picture of this, though maybe without the guardrail!

The sheer acuteness of the angles is something I never tired of seeing. Australia is such an ancient land. Most of our angles have been worn away.

Goodbye, rivers!

We were stopped a few times by roadworks. We heard people say this a few times while we were in Alaska – “There are only two seasons in Alaska – winter and construction!”

It reminded me of when we were wandering around Ushuaia in 2022, waiting to board our ship to Antarctica. Everywhere, people were out patching holes, fixing potholes and working on their houses. They have to make the most of the good weather.

Goodbye, steep mountains!

Captain Cook actually sailed up this inlet. He thought it was a passage to somewhere or other but it wasn’t.

I found the story interesting but I was also starting to feel not great. I wasn’t taking notes.

Mudflats. They’re like quicksand.

Apparently, Anchorage is surrounded by them.

And here we are.

The population of Anchorage is 303,000.

Alaska overall has 750,00 people. This is a very empty state. It’s 1 million square kilometres smaller than Western Australia, but we have more people in WA compared to Alaska.

Imagine Australia having more people than somewhere else!

I have a moose antler in my luggage, so I had to pose.

Naturally, I had Michelle Shocked’s song, “Anchored Down in Anchorage” playing in my head. I challenge anyone who knows the song to go there and not have the same thing happen to them.

These lyrics are a beautiful piece of poetry. I can’t post a link to the song because Michelle Shocked doesn’t have her music on Youtube or Spotify because she doesn’t like the way the artists are paid. She appears to have gone a bit fundy, which is a shame, but these lyrics perfectly capture this woman’s yearnings and isolation.

I took time out to write to my old friend
I walked across that burning bridge
Mailed my letter off to Dallas
But her reply came from Anchorage, Alaska

She said
“Hey girl, it’s about time you wrote
It’s been over two years you know, my old friend
Take me back to the days of the foreign telegrams
And the all-night rock and rollin’… hey Shell
We was wild then

Hey Shell, you know it’s kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you’re in the largest state in the union
When you’re anchored down in Anchorage

Hey Girl, I think the last time I saw you
Was on me and Leroy’s wedding day
What was the name of that love song they played?
I forgot how it goes
I don’t recall how it goes

Anchorage
Anchored down in Anchorage

Leroy got a better job so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth now he’s started school
I got a brand new eight month old baby girl
I sound like a housewife
Hey Shell, I think I’m a housewife

Hey Girl, what’s it like to be in New York?
New York City – imagine that!
Tell me, what’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?

Leroy says “Send a picture”
Leroy says “Hello”
Leroy says “Oh, keep on rocking, girl”
“yeah, keep on rocking”

Hey Shell, you know it’s kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you’re in the largest state in the union
When you’re anchored down in Anchorage
Oh, Anchorage
Anchored down in Anchorage
Oh, Anchorage

We were actually lucky to be departing today. Yesterday, without explanation, the whole airport and airspace got shut down by the military. (Megan overheard that explanation given to a pilot.) People were left hanging, having to find accommodation for the night.

Megan said that it wouldn’t have been a big deal – we’d find a room then go out and explore Anchorage. She’s right, but once I have my nose turned towards home, I want to get there ASAP. Plus, I was retreating within myself. I was getting sick.

After the worst trip home on a plane I’ve ever had, I returned to these little woofs.

Poor Georgia! After looking after them and dealing with poor Poppy’s death, I’m sure she was expecting me to come in and take over the reins. Instead, I staggered in, took a 4-hour nap, then stayed pretty much on the couch and slept for the next week.

We had the opportunity to adopt a 5-year-old dachshund from the shelter Blogless Sandy worked in. We tried, but after 4 days we had to take him back after he wasn’t listening to the older dogs in our pack. That was sad.

I’m still missing my Poppy, though I can say hello to the group of irises that are planted atop. The other two are growing closer. Scout even lets Jeff sleep beside her now. A few days after I got back, I turned to Georgia and said, “We haven’t talked about Poppy yet.” We both had a good cry and felt so much better.

So it’s been a week since I came home. I’m just about feeling human again and that’s a relief!

Would I recommend going to Canada and Alaska?

Absolutely! They’re easy places to travel to, given all the similarities between us and them. The wildlife and scenery are spectacular. The feelings of awe and absolute delight when I saw them are things I will never forget.

What about the luxury ship?

It was expensive, but EVERYTHING was included. After having to self-cater for the two-week Canada trip, it was a relief to relax and just eat and drink whatever I wanted. The dining was exquisite, and even though I’m not a ‘foodie’ I still thoroughly enjoyed the tastes and, frankly, the feeling of being pampered. That hasn’t happened much in my life up till now.

I was also glad we weren’t on one of those ENORMOUS ships with 5,000 passengers. For me, that’s far too big. Our ship had around 500 passengers, which seems large enough for me. In September next year, I’ll be back on the Hondius on my way to Greenland. She only carries around 120 passengers.

On the way home, on the train, Megan and I agreed that we’d travel together again. Honestly, if our worst fight was about what a pavilion/rotunda/gazebo is called, that’s pretty damned good. We respected each other’s space and little habits – at least I did. I’m sure Megan found no problems at all with me. I have no irritating little ways.

Haha! I know she’ll read this and her eyebrow will rise almost to the top of her head.

I think the best thing we did was to sometimes spend our days apart doing different things. We each had our little adventures and had some space. I’d definitely recommend doing this if you and a friend are thinking about travelling together.

All in all – it was a very successful holiday and it was my 7TH CONTINENT. It feels unreasonably satisfying to tick this off the list. Now, I’m going to double- back and spend the next couple of decades zeroing in on where I feel like going.

The list is (so far) as follows:

  1. September 2024 – My trip on the Ghan, with a week in the Red Centre and a week at the Top End. To be honest, this is another ‘Tick off the list’ trip. It’s Unaustralian not to have seen these places.
  2. November 2024 – My crazy road trip with Liga from Latvia, who is coming over to complete HER last continent. This will be a 2-week drive to see as much as possible.
  3. December 2024 – a week by myself in the Snowy Mountains. I’ll probably need this to recover from #2!
  4. February 2025 – Vietnam for 2 weeks.
  5. March 2024 – Japan for 2 weeks.
  6. April 2025 – Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar. Yes, I’ll be back in Africa!
  7. September 2025 – Iceland/Greenland/Scandinavia. I’ll be gone for the whole month.

Thanks for following along with me. I enjoy writing these travel blogs so much. I initially started writing them in 2015 for the kids, but absolutely no one from my family reads them. I’m glad to have had your company along the way.

So it’s back to regular blogging for a while.

xx

Day 24 – Canada/Alaska: Valdez… pronounced ‘Valdeeeez.’

This is what we woke up to this morning. The Silver Muse was still making her way towards the docks at Valdez. The air was fairly cold but it was all utterly serene.

This was the view from our balcony once we docked. It looked almost like someone could drive right on up to the ship!

At breakfast, I was talking to a lovely American couple that we met on the first day. She was saying that they have a helicopter flight to the glacier booked for 10 AM, but the clouds look to be too low.

“My husband Hank’s a pilot. He said that even if they say it’s ok to fly, we’re absolutely not going. It’s a shame because it was so expensive.”

I was so glad I chose to do mine earlier in Juneau! Those clouds look beautiful and mysterious, but not so wonderful when you want to fly.

We were loaded onto a full-sized coach and off we went. We drove out of downtown Valdez pretty quickly, though Faith, our guide, informed us that there used to be an old town and a new one.

“The old town was set a little ways out of New Valsez,” she said. “It was destroyed by a 9.1 Richter earthquake on Good Friday in 1964. The epicentre was only 40 miles from here.”

That must have been awful. The people were given 3 years by the government to move their homes onto the new site. Two wealthy families in the town gave people land in the new town so that they could afford to move.

The water in this place is everywhere.

We turned down the road that would have led to the old town of Valdez. Our tour guide kept telling us where things used to be, which struck me as a bit odd. She said she’d been here for 13 years, so it wasn’t as if she had a personal memory of the old bank… the hotel… etc.

Everything was just reclaimed forest land.

Then she said something which blew my mind. She talked about the Exxon-Valdez accident – you know… that oil spill that killed hundreds of thousands of birds and animals and shocked the entire world?

I hadn’t put the two together in my mind, since until last night I’d not been pronouncing it as “Valdeez”.

See those two ships? They’re always there, ready to start a clean-up in case it ever happens again. They have ships like this positioned all around where the oil tankers sail.

 If you look at the mountainside you’ll see a little series almost like a long dotted line with white on the top. That’s part of the tank farm that is Alyeska, which is the terminus for the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

And that is where the Exxon Valdez left, from the terminus, on Good Friday February 28 1989. She left the port and ran aground on the reef just outside. 

“So we are known for the pipeline, we are known for being settled by prospectors, we’re known for the Exxon-Valdez and we’re also known for the 1964 earthquake.”

Weirdly, the earthquake also happened on Good Friday.

This was so exciting. A guy sitting at the front of the bus saw a bear racing across a field. It was running full pelt. He yelled out and the front part of the bus was able to see it running across the road.

I taught half the bus how to air drop (thanks, Antarctica pals!) when I sent everyone the crappy photos I was able to take. Then, half an hour later, I was air dropped this video.

A thing I like about travelling in Canada and Alaska is that so many highways run beside rivers.

I couldn’t believe the height of the snow beside the road. This was at my eye-level in the coach!

As we got further into the pass, we started driving into cloud. I was reminded of the day in Ireland when we were driving around trying to see the Ring of Kerry through all of the rain.

I felt for my American friend and her lost helicopter ride.

Here is the glacier.

It’s tucked back a bit behind the foothills. After yesterday’s viewing, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I dutifully took a few photos, then turned around and saw this:

Look at how much snow is lying on this pass.

IT’S SUMMER. This place gets ridiculous amounts of snow every year. It’s the snowiest town in Alaska. The record for snowfall in a single day is 5’8″/176cms – which is taller than I am! In 1989/90, they had an incredible 46 feet/1,402 cms of snow.

I cannot ever conceive of living here. It takes a special breed of person.

Remember yesterday when I showed you the poles that were set up on either side of the road in Haines, to guide the snow ploughs?

These things tower over the bus. They have a reflective strip at the top so that people driving in the Pass during winter can still find the road.

“Everyone living in these parts has a white-knuckle story of driving through here in winter,” said Faith.

We drove for a little while longer, then got off at the Pass. It was stunning.

The first thing I noticed was this cute little caravan parked at the edge.

The views went on and on.

“If any of you want to come here in the summer,” Faith said, “I’ll happily hike with you all the way down to the bottom of the pass. with the third-graders”

That’s a hard no from me.

I air-dropped this one to the woman I caught taking a photo. I really like this one.

After a little while, we hit the road again.

Greenery started to appear as we went lower.

We were heading to a place on the highway that has lots of waterfalls. We passed them on the way up, but it’s easier to park when you’re driving on this side of the road.

This video is worth listening to, just to hear Faith talking about what the locals do here at Bridal Falls when the waterfalls freeze in the winter.

And here is Horsetail Falls, just 2 minutes down the road.

This shot was taken by a guy who was showing me hw much better his phone was at taking pictures than mine was.

I think I’ll be getting a new phone soon and giving my current one to Mum. Her phone is so ancient that it’s still on 3G, which is getting cancelled in September.

I walked towards the road to take this shot. Scared myself silly when a car shot by me out of nowhere.

Honestly – the North Americans, the Chinese and the Europeans should get their acts together and drive on the proper side of the road!

It’s so pretty.

Here’s the Silver Muse through the windscreen of the bus.

I passed Megan on the gangway, as she was headed into town. She had an hour or so to kill before her bus trip started. I went to the room and yes – our cases were out, and Megan’s was already zipped up, ready to go.

This was really our last day.

So I had my last lunchtime bubby in the café on deck 8.

Meanwhile, Megan was sending me photos of her discoveries down in the town:

Yes, really.

O always thought that Americans didn’t like to swear, but here we are.

I found this one very interesting. What an awful life these women must have endured!

And finally, in the museum, Megan found this. A fur fish.

She helpfully enlarged the blurb about this rare creature:

One last fun fact about Valdez – Commander Will Ryker, from Star Trek Next Generation, will be born here in 2335.

For our last dinner we went back to the restaurant that had my favourite staff member, Amit. We saw him at every breakfast too. He was so funny.

I slipped him the last of my Canadian money. The ship was heading back to Vancouver so I knew he’d be able to use it. I kept my remaining 25 USD to give to Evan27 – as he’s leaving for the US a few days after I get back.

This restaurant also had the best garlic naan I’ve ever tasted.

omg. Worth the price of the cruise.

When we went back to the room we settled into a movie – ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ with Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.’

I had that song in my head until we hit Anchorage the next morning.

(One more post for this trip!)

Dad joke of the day:

Day 23 – Canada/Alaska: Glacier Bay.

This turned out to be a very special morning. I saw a glacier calving!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

See that line of ice level with my eyes? That’s the glacier, and you can see its reflection directly underneath. This glacier is falling into the sea.

The voice of the glacier expert came ringing out of the loudspeakers as I walked down the corridor to get to what I thought would be the least crowded place to see this beautiful thing.

“If you have a camera, now is the place to use it! Now is the time! It doesn’t get better than this! I’ve been here hundreds of times but I’ve never seen this place bathed in sunlight like it is today!”

This was a sea day, but in the morning we spent a few hours in Glacier Bay.

The Hubbard Glacier is 600 feet high, 70 miles long and 70 miles wide. It was stunning. I walked to a place on the deck of the 9th floor and I was with only 4 other people.

I took out my phone and began snapping away, happy as a clam.

The glacier wasn’t the only beautiful scene here. The sun’s coming through the clouds! Fortunate Frogdancer is here…

You can see the glacier – the glassy blue-green strip just above the water to the right. I took so many photos trying to capture the different shades of blue in the ice, but it’s something that’s best seen by the naked eye.

The water in front of the glacier was filled with chunks of ice that had broken away. Some of them had decorative seagulls.

This video was taken when the captain began his final turn in front of the glacier. Most people had had their fill of the sight and had gone inside again, where it was warm.

Then, as soon as I put my phone in my pocket after taking this video – I saw movement on the face of the glacier!

I saw a piece of it fall into the water and then, when I had my phone recording again, I heard the noise.

I know… I was excited. This only shows the aftermath.

But I was so happy. I couldn’t believe that so many people had gone inside and had missed it. But then I felt it – the cold.

It was bloody freezing.

I went inside to the bar. The warmth that hit me when the doors opened was exquisite. I really should have taken the extra 5 seconds to grab a coat before I left the room, but it didn’t feel that cold when I was all excited.

I was inside in the warm room looking out of the window at the view, thinking,’ Oh, I’ll just stay in here from now on.’

Two seconds later, I gave myself a good talking-to. When am I ever going to be at eye-level with a glacier again? Get out there, girl! Who cares if it’s freezing? Besides – they have heaters out there!

I walked outside and stood strategically under this heater. The rest of me was still chilly but by god – my forehead was warm. I could still see the glacier.

This was where Megan found me.

“I’ve been looking for you for ages!” she said.

“Oh yeah, why?” I asked.

She used no words, just held up my door key. Yes, along with my coat, I’d left my door key in the room. Poor Megan had walked from vantage point to vantage point trying to find me. It’s not all bad though – she walked another 3,000 steps, so her watch says.

We swapped notes on what we’d seen, then she headed off. I hunkered down as the ship began to leave the bay. It was going along a different side to what I expected and soon I saw why – sea lions!

Can’t see? Let me zoom in for you.

How exciting!

This was just to the right of the glacier.

You can see the glacier popping up for a last goodbye as we left.

I felt like I felt in Antarctica – these birds and animals live in such beautiful places. It’s unrealistic to expect them to gaze upon these views with a human’s appreciation of their beauty, but a small part of me hopes they feel at least something.

Just as I was about to call it a day, I smelled… paint. This is how these cruise ships always look so white and clean. They’re constantly being touched up.

After all this excitement, I needed a lunchtime glass of bubbly to calm me down.

Early on in this cruise, we were invited to a gathering on the last sea day. Tonight was the night!

Megan wasn’t all that fussed about going. She wasn’t very taken with Jude, but I was interested in going for two reasons.

  1. This woman had a suite on the same floor as us. It was a step up. I was curious to see what it was like.
  2. Jude was doing what I’d like to do – TRAVEL whenever and however she wanted. She obviously has a lot more disposable income than I do, but the basic premise is the same.

She’d mentioned that this was her EIGHTEENTH Silverseas cruise. omg. Cruising is obviously her preferred method of travel as she does 3 or 4 a year, but “I like to take a land cruise at least once a year, as you can’t see everything from the deck of a ship.”

So we went to her suite at 7 PM, where her butler had set up a table with nibbles. Her bar was well-stocked. When I saw this, it dawned on me that maybe we’d been under-utilising our Ruby!

Another woman called Taffy from New York was there as well, so the four of us sat, ate and chatted. I would’ve added ‘drank’ to that, but Megan told me later that when she asked Jude for water rather than alcohol, Jude served her nothing.

Apparently, fish pee in water and ducks swim in it. Or something.

After a while, we went up to deck 10 where the outdoor restaurant is. It’s a bit of fun – you order your protein and they bring a hot stone that you can cook your meal on. If you don’t want to cook, their chef is there to do the hard work for you.

Taffy and Jude decided to split the fish of the day between them, as well as get some steak each. Megan went with the lamb chops, while I decided to go with ‘surf and turf’ – 3 king prawns and a filet mignon.

I’ve never had filet mignon before, and now was the time to try it – when it was free.

I wasn’t expecting such a massive chunk of meat. You could choke a rottweiler with this!

I decided my best bet was to cook it on every last surface I could find, then work my way in.

It was glorious! So tender! The prawns were amazing too, but this steak was divine.

I asked Jude if I could take her photo.

“Oh no, I hate having my photo taken.” I asked her approval for this one though. She gave it.

This was after the meal was done and Jude and Taffy decided to go down to one of the lounges. Oof.

They are nice women… but the level of entitlement was uncomfortable to be around. They thought nothing of asking the staff to do ridiculous things.

Taffy wanted a particular type of ice cream that wasn’t among the 10 flavours already on deck 10 – someone had to go down to deck 4 to get her the flavour she wanted.

Jude wanted a small puddle at her feet taken care of because “I don’t have socks on.” I offered to swap places with her because I was wearing my boots, but “no, I like to sit by the window to look at the sea.” The staff brought towels for her and she made a guy go on his hands and knees to put the towels around her feet over the puddle.

They were complaining a lot about the level of service. I don’t know… some of it might have been warranted but most of it seemed pretty petty to me. The fact that we’re able to travel to these parts of the world is so privileged, yet they’re nit-picking.

It reminded me of when I asked the man at the dog training camp what the town thought of the cruise ships. He laughed and said, “We think they’re full of retirees who complain about everything.”

Only one more full day left!

Dad joke of the day”

Day 22- Canada/Alaska: Haines.

What a lovely little place to wake up to! This was the view I saw when I drew back the curtains.

It wasn’t a great morning. I was so SLEEPY

After the shenanigans of the first night of our trip, Megan’s snoring and sleepwalking had been fine. But unfortunately, the snoring reached new heights last night. Seriously, I could almost believe someone snuck a megaphone into the room and she was using it. At one stage I raised myself on an elbow to see if she was sleeping on her back, so that I could tell her to roll over. But no. She was already lying on her side.

You know how if you get up, you REALLY wake yourself up? I decided that if I got up and started rummaging around in my suitcase for the earplugs I brought with me, then I’d be wide awake, for the rest of the night. So I lay there and tried to drift with the movement of the ship.

It was a restless night, which was made worse by the guy, (not our lovely regular butler), bringing us our room service breakfast. We ordered it for 7 – 7:30, but he brought it 10 minutes early and SWITCHED ON THE ELECTRIC LIGHTS, instead of drawing the blinds.

Bloody hell.

Even though it was early, my poached egg and avo on toast was stone cold. It’s not the recommended temperature to eat them. My Americano coffee was normal-strength coffee.

Like a first-world hero, I set aside these huge drawbacks and struggled to the dock on time to meet our tour guide. I was sleepy and quiet.

Megan was very apologetic, but it’s not as if she deliberately set out to make a noise proclaiming, “I’M FAST ASLEEP AND YOU’RE NOT HAHA!”

But I told her that when we get back to the ship, I’m reserving the right to take a nap.

This was one of the ‘free’ excursions we selected before starting the cruise. All we had were tickets saying, “Tour Haines Summit Viewing.” We had no idea what we’d signed up for. I was assuming it was a quick bus tour up and down the only street of Haines, but I was wrong.

We were asked to bring our passports. That should have clued me in. We were popping back to Canada!

Incidentally, one of the things I really like about Alaska and Canada is that they have planter boxes filled with flowers all over the place. The councils have them in public places, but they’re everywhere in private homes too. My hypothesis is that when the snow melts, they have a limited time to enjoy seeing colour, so they go all out.

Our tour guide for today was a very jaunty woman named Elora.

“This is my first time being allowed to take a tour by myself,” she said as she took our tickets. We had to sign waivers… “We DO live in bear country!” she said as she handed them out.

There was slight confusion as 8 people turned up to take the tour. “I was only told 7,” said Elora. When we turned up to the bus, only 7 people got in. Elora, being her first time in sole responsibility, got flustered. She went looking for the unidentified person, and it was only when she returned to the bus that I asked her for the waiver forms and started calling the names out from them.

Like good little students on an excursion, everyone answered – except an Asian lady who had filled out a different form and then disappeared, presumably on her proper tour, never to be seen by us again.

You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but she never loses the skills. I know how to keep track of many people on an excursion, even when I’m sleepy.

Around 20 minutes later, I woke up completely. I was in the front seat of the bus, idly wondering if I should use the tine to take a nap, when I found myself yelling, “BEAR!!!!”

Frogdancer Jones, one of the most unobservant people on the planet, was the one to notice a fine fat Grizzly, sitting in a gravel pit by the side of the road, eating dandelions.

Elora jammed on the brakes and slowly backed the Pelican up so we could all get photos.

l was so pleased with myself. I’ve now seen both the black and grizzly bears.

I kept an eye out for the rest of the trip, but the grizzly was the only animal on offer.

We were held up by roadworks for a while. There is only one road in and out of Haines, so when an avalanche demolishes part of it, it’s a real drama. Parts of the highway were built up so that prevalent avalanche spots can pass underneath the road.

This river beside the road is one that never totally freezes, so it has the last salmon run in the area, usually in November. Around 4,000 Bald Eagles come, as well as bears, to feast on the fish.

That’d be a sight to see, for sure.

Suddenly, we were at the border. A polite Canadian border officer rifled through our passports and then let us go on our way.

Soon after we crossed the border, the vegetation changed.

“This here’s the tundra,” said Elora.”It looks like we’re on another planet, don’t it?”

I snapped this shot to show you what the scenery was like as we were travelling around in the Pelican. The mountains are huge.

We were heading for the summit at 3,500 feet/1,066 metres.

“A week ago all of this ground was snowcapped. It’s melting pretty rapidly. The river by the side of the road wasn’t visible last week,” said Elora.

This place is incredibly isolated. It’s an 8-hour drive to the next town, called Whitehorse, so it’s actually quicker and cheaper to take a 2-hour ferry ride to Skagway, and then drive 2 hours to the town. The weather is completely unreliable, so if someone leaves town to do some shopping, they may find that they have to spend a couple of extra nights in a hotel before they can get back home.

“Costco is the cheapest,” said Elora. “Whenever someone goes to Costco, they take orders from people. For example, a 4-pack of toilet rolls is $12 in Haines. In Costco, you can get a 48-roll slab for that price. So whenever we go to Whitehorse, we CLEAN UP!”

They used to go to Juneau to the Walmart, but it had to shut down because of theft, so now the good people of Haines go to Whitehorse instead.

“Do you people have overnight delivery?” asked Elora. When we all said yes, she continued, “We order non-perishables from Amazon, but they take 3 weeks to here. Half the time, I can’t remember what I ordered by the time the package gets here!”

As I was getting out of the bus to view the summit, a tiny movement caught my eye around the bush near the sign.

It was a ground squirrel.

I stood there taking pictures of it while everyone else was standing right nearby, oblivious. After a minute or so, it decided to quietly go away.

We stood there in the cold and wind when a truck came rushing past. It wasn’t the most well-used road I’d ever seen. Later, Elora was complaining about “all the traffic” she had in front of her on the way back to town.

There were two cars.

You could see how thick the snow was by the side of the road.

The highway was lined with these poles on either side of the road. These are for the snowploughs, so they don’t lose track of where the road is and drive off the side.

I can’t even imagine how deep the snow might get here.

We had some time to kill so she showed us the local newspaper. It’s released every two weeks and is this thin.

Everything has to be put in it, even the police reports.

The crime rate is so low that there are only two police assigned to the town.

Here are some of the 911 calls the intrepid police had to handle:

A request for assistance for two dogs quilled by a porcupine.

A man was reported trespassing on the road.

A vehicle was reported parked more than the posted time limit in the town centre.

A backpack was turned in.

A wallet was turned in.

You can enlarge the items and read them. There’s certainly not much excitement happening in Haines!

The views changed from the windows every few minutes.

We stopped at the US border crossing post for a toilet break. This little building caught my eye.

A very American sign!

To think that I pull out any dandelion I see in my garden. It’s probably a wise move – they attract bears.

We set off again, and then to our surprise, Elora pulled off to the side of the road. We were going to have a picnic! Or as Elora phrased it, we were going to “break bread together.”

This caused a bit of consternation with the British members of the Pelican, who were worried that she was going to pass a loaf of bread around and that would be it.

Honestly, that woman was working her arse off. There were supposed to be two people but they were running low on staff, so she had to drive, talk to us about everything we were seeing, prepare the lunch and answer any questions we may have. She was already thrown by the mysterious appearance and disappearance of pasenger number 8, but she was doing a cracking job.

Look at the scenery!

Honestly, everywhere you look in this country, there are amazing vistas around every corner.

Looking forward to the road we’d soon be travelling on, back to town.

Over lunch of chicken wraps, a bag of potato chips and a chocolate chip cookie each, people told Elora that they hadn’t seen many bears. She kindly shared the following two videos with us.

Here’s the first video Elora shared with us.

This was taken on the summit where we had just been.

How wonderful! And a little scary…

This one was taken at the local weir. The salmon are shut off except for one point where wildlife officers count how many go through. Meanwhile, the bears come down and eat their fill.

Once we were back on the bus, I asked Elora if love or freedom was the reason she’d left the law and come to Alaska from New Jersey. She laughed and said, “Good question!” Then she grew a little sombre and turned off the microphone. She leaned towards me and said, “A bad divorce does things to people. I didn’t want any memories, so I came to Alaska. There ain’t no memories here!”

Once we were back in town, we went for a wander to look for souvenirs.

Like when I found my beautiful moose antler sculpture in Sitka, I felt in my waters that there might be something here at this pretty little place.

A jewellery maker had his wares here. Look at this amber! I’ve never seen anything like it. The jeweller said that it was formed in seawater.

When we came back to the room, I went straight to bed for a nap before dinner. Megan said, “I’ll sit here on the couch and do my puzzles while you sleep.”

I woke up 2 hours later to this:

It made me laugh!

Dad joke of the day:

Day 21- Canada/Alaska: Juneau part 2 – the DOGS!

At 5:30 that afternoon, we all gathered together for a minibus ride deep into the hills to see the dog camp.

During the day we bumped into other people who had been there before us. They all raved about how good it was. Both Megan and I wore our old clothes so we could get covered in dog hair and it wouldn’t matter, and we were set to go.

The trail to the camp was narrow and very exacting for the driver. The forest was deep all around us as we went higher and higher. The campus is about 1,000 feet up, which is a steep climb, considering that the city of Juneau is only 36 feet up from sea level.

It was an old goldmine back in the day but this is about the only flat space around, so these people have leased the land from the old gold mining company as a dog training camp. It’s been here for about 20 years. 

The dogs are bred for performance not for looks, so unlike the traditional Siberian husky who are pretty useless at racing, these ones are built for performance and strength. 

175 dogs live here during the summer. The dogs are built to enjoy extreme cold, so bringing them here is a kindness. The summers are far too hot for them where they come from. Each doghouse is a different colour – depending on who owns the dogs. The red houses , for example, belong to the 47 dogs that one woman here owns.

Sledding dogs is a whole lifestyle for the owners. This is a real training camp. The dogs come here and haul fat tourists like us around all day on carts that they have to drag along the ground. This builds them up beautifully. When the’re suddenly in the snow in winter, dragging only one person in a proper racing sleigh, they go FAST.

You’d expect a working dog to be a serious being, but they’re not. We were warned not to get too close, because the dogs will hurl themselves at you, demanding cuddles and pats, and these dogs are strong.

“Even now, when I’ve been working with them for years, if one catches me unawares, they can send me flying,” said Jake, who was our driver.

As soon as we arrived, eeryone noticed this enticing sign.

“Now, no one sneak off and have a look at the puppies,” said the woman with the 47 dogs. “We have them right at the end of thetour, because we know that if we let you go there first, none of you will want to see anything else!”

It’s Alaskan law that every dog has to have its own house, and it has to be chained to that house when its not working.

“In Oregon, where I live,” said Jake, “we have a huge open farm and the dogs can run where they like. But here, they have to live on a chain. It happened because some dogs in very remote communities got too protective and they went after children. It doeasn’t bother them too much and here, they’re out training two or three times a day.”

Sophie was taking it easy.

I was subconsciously expecting huskies before I arrived, but of course for racing dogs, the only thing these people care about in their breeding programs is speed and health. These animals have to perform in extreme conditions. They’ve used Greyhounds, Salukis and other racing dogs over the years, but basically what they’re looking for is speed, endurance, (especially if they do the really long races like the Iditarod), and intelligence. They have to be able to work in a team.

Jeffrey would have no hope!

Someone asked why this dog was up on a platform.

“Oh, that’s because when he got here, he started eating rocks,” said Jake. “He ate so many that he got backed up and he had to have an operation to get them out. It cost thousands of dollars. But he deserves his little throne. He’s a good dog.”

I know I love my dogs, but these people here live tfor them. They live beside them here in tents in the summer, they take all 47 of them travelling and they speak of them individually with so much affection.

It was a lovely thing to see.

The first group was called out and we were part of it. Here are the dogs who were waiting to take us out.

The noise was incredible! These ones were excited because they knew they were going to have a run, while the others were all barking in protest because they wanted to get out too.

These dogs LOVE their work. Watch this next video – it’s the first part of our run. When we were asked who wanted to sit in the front seat, of course I was leaping up before the guy had finished his sentence. I wanted to see it all! Megan, who is tall, isn’t (yet) used to frontside viewing. She sat beside me in the front seat but scrunched down a bit for the sake of the people behind.

It was so much fun!

The front dogs were called Georgia (on the left) and Ranger. He was there for the muscle and she was there for her intelligence.

Both of them are great at ignoring things that a normal dog would find impossible to resist. A bird flew across the path and into the trees, but these two just kept going forward.

“The wrong dog would have pulled us into the trees!” said Jake.

Every now and then Jake wuld pull over the team for a rest. He said that even in the summer in Alaska, they have to guard against the dogs getting too warm.

“Too cold isn’t usually a problem, ” he said. “It’s when they get too warm that they start having issues. Occasionally we give them an opportunity to cool down and collect their sanity but they don’t really know the concept of stop. That’s why they get anxious. The other dogs run this path earlier so never mind about stopping to cool down! They’re thinking it’s a race and they’re trying to chase down this other teams. That’s how we do it. Follow the scent of the ones before and then once we get confirmation, we catch up and go past them. That’s where the hound comes in, it’s pure instinct.”

He got down off the cart, as a couple of the dogs had jumped around so much in excitement that they’d got a bit tangled. As he was doing that, the back two dogs swapped sides without him seeing. Earlier he’d said that the big black dog was trying to intimidate other dogs – he is two years old and feeling his oats – so he’d put him next to a very stable-natured girl. When he jumped over, she simply looked at him, raised and eyebrow and swapped to the other side without any fuss.

He pointed to the waterfall behind him.

“See that puddle they’re lying in? We built that specially for them. They’re standing in this water and lying down and it helps cool them down rapidly. Drinking helps cool them internally, The snow is now melting in the spring, and that waterfall is melting glacier water and that’s what we’re pumping to this puddle so it’s just a few degrees above freezing. It’s very cold. Brings down their body temperature is really quickly. You can see Georgia up front just lying down in it.”

In a surprisingly short space of time the team were all jumping up and down and barking to be let go again.

They absolutely love it!

These dogs are fed once a day, after the last tour has gone. The handlers are very conscious of gastric torsion, which can kill a dog in a matter of hours, so they take very good care to feed them only after all exercise is done for the day. That includes when they’re racing.

They eat a huge amount of calories every day, but they burn it all off, especially when they’re racing in the winter.

They’re all muscle.

They’re bred to thrive in harsh climates for winter.

“These guys can go 100 miles a day. They take breaks, which just means to walk at a really moderate slow pace every 5 to 50 miles, depending on how long the race is. We’re here for the summer but our actual kennel is in central Oregon.”

You can see the husky eyes on Ranger. I don’t know if I like the blue eyes on a dog – I’m not used to it.

But he and Georgia were good dogs. Even though they’d just pulled us around two miles of track, the team was ready to go out again.

“This 2 mile track is nothing to them,” said Jake.

Here are some boots for the dogs, which they need when the temperature goes down to NEGATIVE 30 and beyond.

omg.

“It’s a delicate balance,” said Jake. “If you put the boots on too early, you’ll harm your dogs because one of the most efficient ways they cool down is through their feet. If you put the boots on too early, you’ll heat them up and they’ll suffer. If you leave them too long without them, their feet will get ice between the pads and they’ll get cut on the ice.”

Finally we got to see the puppies. Megan was in her element.

There were 3 litters here – one that had 12 week old pups and two litters that were one week old.

Interestingly, none of these litters are owned by the people here. Owners bring theor puppies here to be socialised by all the tourists. What a great idea! Almost from birth, these dogs are getting used to being handled by a multitude of people. Their temperaments will be bomb-proof!

The 12 week old litter had 4 girls and a boy, so the staff here have given them nicknmes from ‘The Office.’ This one is Dwight.

It was strange. I thought I’d be all over the dogs but once I was here, I wasn’t at all. I patted the team who took us around the track, but I didn’t want to cuddle the puppies.

I think I wanted MY dogs, all three of them.

However, it was a different thing when they brought out the babies.

Their eyes weren’t open yet and they were still making that squeaking sound very young puppies make. I remember it from when I used to breed puppies, in the years before I started breeding humans.

On the way back to town, we saw a porcupine walking along the road.

No bears. I’m starting to believe that bears are very rare here and that it’s all a big lie to entice tourists over here.

We ate at an Italian-themed restaurant on the ship this evening and joined up with a lively group of people out on the deck afterwards.

Goodbye Juneau! I’m sorry I didn’t get to catch up with Rae, but the rest of it was fun.

Dad joke of the day:

Day 21 – Canada/Alaska – Juneau, part 1.

Here we are, berthed in the capital of Aaska – Juneau!

Yes, I thought it was Anchorage too, but Juneau, though tiny, had a far greater advantage than the more populous Anchorage.

Gold.

Though, as our guide to the sledding dogs’ camp said, “If anyone thinks they can retire up here and strike it rich – think again. The biggest nugget pulled out of here last year was only worth $12.”

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here, mentioning sledding dogs… and puppies.

First I had to fly up to a glacier and walk around!

When we hurriedly signed up for this cruise, we were each given $500 ship credits. Megan spent hers mainly on massages. I spent mine mainly on this excursion.

Actually, each shore day on this cruise, we were able to go on a ‘free’ excursion, so we’ve been busy doing at least one thing every single day. This one was an optional extra.

I’ve only been up in a chopper once before when I spent the night in Albury on my way to Sydney in 2019. I forgot how much you can see from up here! Fortunate Frogdancer was assigned the seat next to the pilot, so I could see it all laid out before me.

It almost looks like abstract art, doesn’t it?

There is different footwear for different glaciers, it seems. Here’s my neighbour’s foot encased in her glacier shoe – an overshoe with plastic spikes that we had to wear to give us a little more traction on the ice.

I wanted to show you the texture of the ice. Isn’t it incredible?

Three helicopters touched gently down on the ice and we all got out.

Here I am, subtly showing my appreciation of this scenery.

But seriously – look at the different textures and lines in the ice. It was beautiful.

A look towards the edge.

There were blue rivulets of water running all through the place.

“Here is the drinks bar,” said the tour leader, an American girl with impossibly straight teeth. Her parents must have paid a fortune for them. “You can lie down on the ice and drink glacial water.”

She demonstrated.

l, of course, jumped straight over to the other side of the stream where the ground was flatter, and gave it a go.

A kind woman offered to take my photo. I tried to do a plank because I didn’t want to get wet in this cold air…

… and I had a mouthful of pure. clear water. It went all over my face.

As you’d expect, it was cold.

Megan was friends with an Australian couple who went on the trip with me.

“She just dived straight on!” said the woman to Megan afterwards.

“Yes, Frogdancer has no fear!” said Megan.

This is my phone on extreme magnification, trying to take a picture of a mountain goat and her baby. The white dot in the centre is apparently what I was searching for.

“She gave birth a week ago,” said the teeth girl. “We’ve been watching them get out and about.”

A man with a better phone took this photo. If you make it bigger, you’ll be able to see the goat.

I need a better phone.

After 30 minutes, which seemed like 10, we had to leave.

The guides stay up there all day. There’s a little white tent where they keep their food and their … bucket… and they greet a new crop of visitors every 45 minutes or so.

Happy me. It was a good way to see a glacier. I was glad I’d chosen this excursion.

This glacier finishes in a river system, only a short distance from the sea.

In the time that we were up there, 1 million gallons (which is 3,800,000 litres) had gone from the glacier to the river. It’s being replenished from the mountains above, but not at the same rate as it’s melting, so this glacier is gradually getting smaller.

Once I was back in Juneau, I took a walk around town.

Fur-lined sandals, anyone?

There’s not really much to this town. It’s built on a very narrow strip between the harbour and the mountains, so the housing behind the shopping strip are up a LOT of steps.

I liked the pink and teal planters that someone has here.

The Red Dog Saloon is reputedly the first bar that was built here. They’ve played upon this reputation, with barmaids dressed in old-timey clothes and sawdust on the floor.

I poked my head around the door and took a look.

I went next door to where they serve their specialised drink – the Duck Fart. I asked the girl if she was cold.

“No, I have a secret heater right by my feet!” she said.

The Duck Fart is 1/3 Baileys, 1/3 Kahlua and 1/3 Canadian Whiskey – in this case it was Crown Royal.

It was just after 1 PM. I figured that it was wine o’clock somewhere in the world, so why not try it?

Done!

Quack quack.

Juneau seemed a town made up of jewellery stores, eateries and pretty much nothing else. I asked the Duck Fart girl if there was a place in town to get my ear pierced and she sent me on a wild-goose chase to the tattoo parlour.

When I got there, the tattooist said, “We can’t get a piercer to come to town. You need 1,600 hours training before you can do the job.”

A fat guy lounging by the counter said morosely, “You can be a cop easier than you can be a piercer.”

I toyed momentarily with the idea of getting a poppy tattoo instead, but I gave my kids so much hell when they got tattoos that I decided that I couldn’t do it. Even with the tattooist’s urging, “Go on… be a hypocrite!” I couldn’t do it.

I walked back into town, but there was nothing much to see, so I went back to the ship for lunch. If I was paying for the cruise and the ship was right there on the dock, why not?

After lunch, I checked my emails and realised I’d missed an email from Rae, a blog reader who actually lives here. She was going to be in a coffee shop for a little while that morning. I probably logged off from my email just as she posted the invite. I was so upset!

(So if you’re reading this Rae – I definitely would have come down on the dock earlier to meet you. The offer stands for hospitality if you’re ever in Melbourne. )

I’ll leave this post for now, but at 5:30 that day we went to the dog sledder’s camp. I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow!

Day 20 – Canada/Alaska – Sitka.

I got up this morning, threw open the balcony and out I stepped – into water! Yuck!

So this morning’s shot was taken from the carpet inside the cabin.

The ship was moving more markedly than usual and Megan decided she’d forego breakfast. She’s been having a bit of trouble when the ship moves too much. We’re both seeing bird tours today, though different ones.

The first place we went to was a bird sancu=tuary, which was much the same as the one Martha took us to in Canada, at least in spirit. This one had far more money thrown at it.

This is a glass sculpture of two Bald Eagles in a mating dive – they basically grapple with each other in mid air and if the female decides that he’s not the one, she’ll land on him on the first floor, then fly away. The females are bigger than the males.

Like the other place in Vancouver, they also have permanent residents who aren’t able to be rehabilitated back into the wild. When I bought a fridge magnet from the gift store, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh, this is the first eagle you saw when yu went out to the cages.”

I hadn’t been outside yet, so I made it my first priority to meet the eagle who’ll soon be living in front of my veggies and small goods.

Look at how light their eyes are!

They also had outdoor cages with no roofs, so that large birds who can’t fly anymore can still come outside and feel normal.

Our tour leader was an amazing woman. She and her family were from here for generations and she knows a lot about the native medicinal plants ad the like. She has 17 kids – 5 were her biological ones and the rest were either her husband’s or they were adopted.

No wonder she sneaks off to go fishing on her own!

“I’m a bad mother, I admit it,” she said. “ I don’t want to take the kids on the boat with me. I just want to go out, catch my fish and be happy.”

After we went to the Bird Sanctuary we drove to the forest outside of town.

She said she has not been given permission to tell the stories of the totem poles, but she could tell us that the totem poles always face out to sea. Traditionally that’s how people travel, and anyone coming to the village would be able to read the poles and know who they were about to be dealing with.

“I will only tell you about the plants I personally forage,” she said. She then proceeded to tell us of about half the plants in here.

No wonder the people settled here so many years ago. They had everything they needed.

The following paragraphs were recorded. Devil’s Club sounds like an amazing plant:

“I used to go into the woods with my great-grandmother to pick Devils Club. She didn’t want any that were wonky like this one. She wanted them when they came straight up out of the ground and they grew nice and straight. She would take the knife and she would score the bark and she’d get as much of the green stuff on the underside of the bark as she could with it and she put it all in there and mash it together.

“Then she takes some of those double club things, you know, she wanted it kind of thick and then she would cut some of them into sections. You have to cut it before it dries because after it dries, you’re not gonna be able to get a good cut on it because it turns into a nice solid piece of wood.

“She would make drumsticks out of them to beat the drum with and then she would also put beadwork and feathers on the really tall ones and she would give it to the men so they could use it as a dance prop for Ceremonial dances to keep time with the drum.

“She used to take the bark. She would separate some that she wanted to dry out and she’d make a tea with it. Then she would separate it to where she had some that she could make a brew with some spruce pitch.

“Now I wish I would’ve paid closer attention on how to make it, because now I have to go out and harvest and then barter and trade. I have to take it to somebody who knows how to make it, once I’ve gone out and I’ve got the pitch. I’ve got the Devil’s Club and they get to make as much as they want for themselves, as long as I can get at least six containers of Devil’s Club.

“I remember that she’d take some and she’d throw it in a bowl and dump some hot water in there and she’d put her feet in there to help relieve the pain of arthritis. It’s a pain reliever and she also used lip balm, on mosquito bites to help relieve the itch, for psoriasis and she used it on all her joint pains to relieve arthritis. I use it on my knee to help relieve the pain of my torn meniscus. It is just an all-round wonderful medicinal plant. It smells good. Tastes good too!

“My nine-year-old daughter just ate my last 3 jars of Devil’s Club, so I’m out. Luckily it won’t kill her!”

Her great-grandmother was 100 years old when she died. She kept harvesting plants like the Devils Club until she was 94.

When we were on the bridge, we saw this little fella, a mix of a husky and a pomeranian.

He was born without eyes. He was a perfectly delightful little man, though.

When we were back on the bus, our tour guide passed around a sea-otters pelt. It was the softest fur I think I’ve ever felt in my life.

When the Russians were here, back in the 1700 and 1800s, they nearly wiped out the sea otter population. One pelt was fetching the equivalent of $1,700 in Europe at the time.

(I still haven’t seen a sea otter. Or a hummingbird. Or a grizzly…)

We briefly visited the Community Centre, where this art is prominently displayed.

I’m slowly getting used to the native art, but I loved this display!

I found my Alaskan Art in the shop next door to this one and I was feeling terrific!

It was totally different to what I thought I’d be buying. The artist is called Karen GET HER LAST NAME and she lives in Alaska. She uses driftwood and other found objects to carve her art. She’s married to a native Alaskan but she doesn’t use any motifs from their art – hers is completely modern.

I respect that.

This is carved from a moose antler and the top part of its skull. The top part of the antler is the eagle’s wing, and the skull is the salmon she’s grasping in her claws.

I absolutely love it. Since we crossed the border into Alaska practically the only wildlife I’ve seen has been Bald Eagles. The whole artwork screams “Alaska!!!” to me. Trust me when I say that the photo doesn’t do it justice.

I got so carried away that when the gallery owner told me the price, I haggled a little but I forgot to do the conversion rate into AUD. This thing is far more expensive than I thought.

I’d better still love it when I unwrap it back home…

The shopping’s slightly different in Sitka. For a lazy $2,000 USD, you can bring home a bear pelt to drape yourself in when you’re feeling frisky.

And look! They’re still using Devil’s Club!

After my wonderfully unexpected find, I wandered around Sitka for a while, eventually deciding to go down to the water and see what’s down there. I’m so glad I did.

There was an enchanting little island with a house on it. I sank down onto a bench facing the water and unwrapped a couple of Aldi nut bars from home.

Then the magic happened.

Three Bald Eagles started flying over where the house was, swooping out over the bay and then returning. They were talking to each other with wild cries.

There must have been a nest in the tall trees.

Instead – it was an eagle holiday. The correct art had found its way to me.

I sat there for ages after the eagles had successfully brought my attention to the purpose of my holiday and were now quiet again. The scene was so serene and quiet. There was the lapping of the waves into the little bay and the occasional cry of a bird.

I was happy. It was time to find my way back to the ship.

The town of Sitka also has a church with architecture reminiscent of when the Russians owned Alaska. The Americans bought Alaska from the Russians for 7.2 million dollars. Of course, no one thought to ask the native Alaskans what they thought about the deal.

I tried to go in for a look. I’ve been to every church and cathedral in Europe, so why not here? But it was closed on Saturdays. That’s how I found out which day of the week it was.

I remembered that the guide from earlier in the day told people who wanted to go back to the boat to turn right, so off I set.

I saw these beautiful Poppies and thought of my girl.

I walked along a road by the river.

It started out looking ok, but then derelict houses and canning factories started to pop up. I didn’t remember seeing these from the bus this morning…

I saw a bait shop and decided to go and ask for directions. Surely it’d be filled with capable, practical guys with a good working knowledge of this town?

I walked in and there were 3 men and a dog talking together. I explained my plight and one of them said, “I’ll take you to the dock.”

I turned to his mates and said, “He isn’t an axe murderer, is he?”

They laughed and one of them said, “You don’t have to worry. Everyone knows Rico.”

“The police… my schoolteachers…” said Rico.

Bloody hell. Absolutely no one knew where I was – NO ONE. I wouldn’t be missed until the ship wanted to leave at 5:30 PM, and by the time they started paging my name over the loudspeakers, I could be dead in a ditch. Look, he seemed ok – but a serial killer WOULD seem ok, wouldn’t he? Otherwise he’d never get any victims.

“So do you know where I need to go?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Rico.
Jesus!” I said, and the men laughed. “It’ll be the blind leading the blind!”

I followed him out to the car park and hopped into his car.

He took me straight to where I needed to go. What a great guy!

A great guy with a real Alaskan-style truck.

I was so happy to see the Silver Muse as I jumped into the tender that was taking us back to the ship. I told everyone all about the adventure I’d just had.

I finished off the day with a lemon meringue pie with edible gold dust.

Dad joke of the Day:

Day 19- Canada/Alaska – Icy Strait Point.

Here is the view from the balcony this morning, as we made our way towards the dock at Icy Strait Point. We were the only cruise ship in town, and it was a tiny town. Just as well there were only 500 extra people.

I woke up and looked at the time. I was looking forward to Ruby arriving with a cup of coffee at 7:30. Only 15 minutes to wait. I snuggled back down to doze.

I woke up half an hour later. When I looked at my iPad time, all sense of faith in the butler system was shattered. It was a quarter to.

I leaped out of bed, threw back the curtains, took this photo and stomped off to the shower. As I was drying my hair, I thought, ‘I’d better check the time one last time…’

Sure enough. I hadn’t paid enough attention to the hour hand. Just as I realised that I’d woken up an HOUR early, Ruby’s gentle knock sounded on our door.

This is a close-up of the dock.

The town is owned and run by the Tlingit people. They’ve lived in the area for around 300 years, after a mini Ice Age forced them to leave their ancestral home in Glacier Bay. Due to colonisation, they weren’t allowed back until 2016.

It’s situated in a glorious bay. The scenery was absolutely beautiful.

I still had $40 left of my $500 ‘bonus’ ship credits, so I took this cooking class to use up the money. I wasn’t too enthused, but I dutifully lined up with 7 other people and we walked to the kitchen.

On the way, we passed these chopped-down trees.

This is the work of beavers.

There were only 7 of us in the class. It reminded me a little of the old Thermomix days, when we used to run cooking classes for customers. It was very ‘hands-off.’ No cooking skills were required, as we watched Mellie take us through making a salmon dip, the she turned it into a salmon bake.

She used canned salmon for this recipe. Canned foods, and other foods which store well such as rice, are very important here. The barge only comes in once every 2 – 3 weeks.

Here’s a small halibut.

Mellie showed us how to fillet this portion.

“There’s a saying that this was the first fish god made, because he put the lines on the skin to show us where to cut for a fillet,” she said.

I took a video of the process, but you’ve all seen Masterchef. Besides, the ship’s wifi gets cranky when I try and upload videos.

We sprinkled various herbs and spices on the halibut and salmon pieces, then headed outside.

This was my first taste of halibut. It was delicious!

The salmon was also lovely – so fresh

Then I had 3 hours free until my Bear tour in the afternoon.

I decided to walk into town. There’s one footpath that goes beside the harbour, so it’s impossible to get lost.

Brown or Grizzly bears are different to the more docile black bears. These ones maul people if they feel threatened.

I set off with a group of people but I soon fell behind when I kept stopping to take photos.

I wondered if I should start to sing loudly, in case a bear was eying me off from the first on the other side of the road, wondering what my insides would look like.

Mellie said that seals and otters can be spotted here, along with whales, so I kept my eyes peeled, but all I saw were birds, particularly Bald Eagles.

Walking, walking. There was a slight drizzle.

This is a pretty ordinary video, but this eagle swooped me on its way down to the water. Of course, my phone was in my pocket at the time.

He skimmed the water, then flew back up to the trees.

On his way out to the sea, he was so low that I could see individual feathers! I couldn’t believe my luck.

A heron! What a graceful silhouette they have.

I kept walking. The other people that I started with had pulled further ahead.

Maybe I was bear bait…

I took this photo because, as I was walking towards this couple, their dog, who was clearly unimpressed with the situation, sat down with an ‘oomph!’

There was a tiny cemetery beside the road, squeezed into a flat space.

We humans tend to ruin good views, don’t we?

This is the sound of water just after I took my life into my hands to cross the road. I have no idea which way to look – I wish Americans would drive on the correct side of the road!

Veggie growers of the world unite!

Only things that require lots of shade can grow successfully here. Root vegetables, lettuce, spinach etc. I also saw a lot of rhubarb.

The people here have to get everything brought in by barge. Gallons of fresh milk arrive with only 3 days left on the expiry date and it costs $12US/gallon.

That’s $4.74/litre in Aussie dollars. Yikes!

That’s why people here hunt and forage for food. It’s cheaper and fresher. They also use a lot of UHT milk.

Firewood.

They get 8 – 12 feet of snow every winter. I can’t even begin to imagine.

It was gently raining. I saw this optimistic line of washing in front of the house at the back.

More US flags as I walked into town.

Who doesn’t love to see an old dawg asleep on his porch?

I stopped at a gift shop and bought an ornament for my epic Christmas tree. When I said that I used to be a teacher, a man excitedly said, “Hey, we’re hiring!”

I politely declined.

This was pretty.

Once I’d walked the length of the town, I decided I’d take the shuttle bus back to where I’d be taking my bear tour. I stepped out on the porch and saw…

… the black blob on top of the pole equal to the level of the sign. It was a Bald Eagle and she was eating a fish she’d caught!

I could see her tearing at it from between the talons on her feet.

Then, once she’d finished, she flew away.

I wandered around the gift shops at the tourist centre while I waited for the bear Tour to start. I’m looking for a piece of art from Alaska to hang on my wall back home.

The trouble with looking for art is that you don’t know what the right one will be until you set eyes on it. There were a couple of nice prints, but I didn’t walk away with anything.

We were accompanied by two people with large rifles, just in case any of us did something stupid if a bear approached, like scream and run.

Not sure if they’d shoot the tourist or the bear. They’re fond of the bears here.

The bear hunt tour was useless. No bears to be seen at all.

However, our guide was very knowledgable about bush tucker. She was describing how people eat the tips of the Sitka Spruce shoots. She picked one and popped it into her mouth, so I did too.

It was tart, almost like orange zest. It separated into little slivers as I chewed. I realised I should’ve removed the chewing gum from my mouth before impulsively eating this, as the two became inextricably entwined.

Bears?

Nope.

There were 3 viewing platforms, and when we saw a couple of deer comfortably grazing on the third one, I had the feeling that if they were here, then a bear certainly wasn’t!

There are 4,000 bears on this island, outnumbering the permanent residents by over 4:1.

So they say.

An eagle’s nest on the way back into town.

Huge, isn’t it?

Dad joke of the day:

Day 18- Canada/Alaska: The sailing day.

Here’s what was outside the balcony when I pulled back the blinds this morning.

Today was another sailing day, which turned into an amazing morning of beauty as we sailed towards a glacier.

Dawes Glacier, says Megan. She’s sitting beside me as I type.

Oh! We were having breakfast and Suze, the woman we met yesterday, came and sat beside us. She has a suite on the same floor as us – with a separate bedroom and dining room – and we must have found favour with her. We’re invited to a gathering at the Grill on the 10th floor on the next sailing day.

She’s very well-travelled, which I like. She seems like a woman who’s used to getting her own way, which would be a problem if she was going to be hanging around long-term, but for a cruise… it’s fine. She says herself that she’s very impatient, and she appears to ensure that she has things arranged to her own satisfaction.

It’s interesting to see her in action.

I said to her, “My theory is that the people who go on lots of cruises eat like birds. It’s the rest of us who go crazy when we have a buffet in front of us.”

She said, “Oh no, I eat like a pig!”

A pig who had just ordered an egg-white omelette for breakfast. Who throws out the tasty part of the egg unless they’re watching their figure?

Megan disappeared after breakfast and I stayed in the room to catch up on the blog posts. Our cabin is right at the front on the ninth floor, so I kept my cabin door open to listen for any announcements and I photo-dumped and typed, leaping up every second moment to stare at what was going past my balcony.

This was the first ‘iceberg.’

I heard the waterfall. Other than this, all I could hear was the low sound of the ship’s motor, and the sound of the waves.

It was so serene.

I heard later from Megan that everyone was on the major viewing rooms at the back of the ship. She says it was so quiet. People would take turns shuffling forward to take photos, then shuffle back to let others have a go. They were quiet so they could hear any announcements from the Bridge.

Fortunate Frogdancer had the glacier coming up on her side of the ship.

I could see more pieces of ice in the water, the closer we got to the glacier.

Closer…

Just as they said that there are seals lying on icebergs – on the other side of the ship. Dammit!

Ok then. I’ll just make the best of what I have.

I glanced back at where we’d been. Look at these colours!

Is this better than Antarctica?

No. No way.

Antarctica is pristine. In my mind, she’s brilliant white and clear blue skies. I don’t think any place will surpass what I saw there.

But Alaska is like Antarctica unclothed. Here – you see what is underneath the ice. There’s grandeur here too.

Then… the captain announced that he was doing a 360.

I crossed my fingers. Maybe I’d be able to see the seals.

How wonderful is this? They were much closer with the naked eye.

I tried to enlarge and crop and photo for you, but it looked awful. Just believe me when I say that I was so happy to see them, the three of them nestled together on their ice. They allowed the ship to come so close to them, which surprised me.

It was also a testament to the skill of the captain, who was able to do a donut without disturbing them.

I was so close to the Bridge that I could see and hear people laughing and talking. If they’re happy; then I’m happy!

When I turned back towards the front, the glacier was right there. Look at how thick and blue it is at the end – that ice is OLD.

I’m sitting here at 6PM writing this. I said to Megan, “This is going to be a very photo-heavy post.”

She replied, “Well, fair enough. It’s been a very photo-heavy day.”

I was so happy to see bits of the blue ice that I fell in love with two years ago.

The grooves in the rocks are incredible.

Rounded mountains are those which were small enough to be under the ice in the last ice age. The jagged peaks were the ones that were above.

You can see that this has been taken from my balcony.

Look at how these cliffs rise up straight from the sea. It’s the end of May, yet there’s still snow.

I loved the jagged line of the trees against the snow.

A close-up.

Megan messaged me and said she was going to lunch. I looked at the time – it was 1:30!

Here I am, sampling honeydew melon covered with chocolate. It was delicious.

Then I raced outside to show you the views I was seeing through the window as I was eating.

Rounded mountains.

And a pretty little piece of ice floating underneath my balcony when I came back.

In the afternoon we went to a short lecture by a elderly woman who went to live in an isolated Inuit settlement as a teacher. She started by saying, “These are my stories -all of them are true.”

The things she said proved that I could never happily live there. They work on silence – “Only children talk – adults stay silent.” The only time people speak freely is in the steam room.

“Decisions are only made when you are naked.” This is a reference to the steam room, where every night, people gather, get naked and in the warmth of the steam room, talk about whatever is on their minds.

This, according to her, is the only way you can discipline students when they’re behaving badly.

You can’t pull them up in public. That’s inappropriate. What you CAN say is, “Where is your mother steaming tonight? Do you want your behaviour to be the subject of a chat tonight?”

It was an interesting talk, but it’s far too long for me to talk about here. She’s clearly bonded to this settlement. She kept saying, “we don’t do this” and “we don’t do that,” which made me warm to her. I don’t know if she still lives there, but it is obviously a part of her life that she loves.

In other news – I’ve decided to utilise our butler, Ruby, to make my mornings easier by waking us with an Americano (me) and a latte (Megan) at 7:30 every morning from now on. Waiting for a coffee until almost 9 AM has been making me crazy.

I think Megan appreciates that our mornings will be less twitchy.

Dad joke of the day:

Only the Aussies will get this one!

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