Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Alaskan Adventure: Icy Strait Point

Our next port of call was Icy Strait Point, near the village of Hoonah, Alaska. This was a really secluded island, accessible only by boat, ferry, or small plane. No roads in or out. They had a tiny medical clinic in the town, but it could only treat minor injuries. If you were pregnant, you had to take the ferry to Juneau two weeks before your due date and stay there in the hospital until time. Apparently, everybody knew everybody and everybody kind of married everybody. Our guide had 38 cousins...on one side. She had been called to jury duty 5 times this year already, but #1. they were all minor offenses (like "borrowing" someone's skiff) and #2. she was related to either the judge, another jury member, the defendant, or the plaintiff. I like small towns, but that's a little too small for me. 

It was a really beautiful location. So quiet. And cold. We tendered off the dock because it was literally...a dock. But, it was a naturally deep harbor, so perfect for a smaller cruise ship.

This is Icy Strait Point. The red building is the old salmon cannery. Inside was a very realistic canning replica depicting what used to go on inside the cannery. I mean...fish guts everywhere. 

The dock. 

The Point has what is claimed to be the world's longest zipline. I read that and thought,  "Sure okay. 'World's Best Coffee,' huh?" No. Really. It was the CRAZIEST thing I've ever seen. You could hear people screaming as they came down it. I really wish we would have done it now. You sit in a chair instead of wearing a harness, so I totally could have done it. Go Google it. It was quite long. And high. 

A totem pole. 

In the morning, David and I went on a bear watching excursion. Bear sightings were not guaranteed, but there was a 50/50 chance we'd see some brown bears. We ended up not seeing a single one on the actual excursion, but as we were getting back on the bus to take us back to town, we saw one right off the road in the woods. I was surprised by how big he was. Couldn't get a picture in time. But the part of the island they took us to was stunning. I would totally build a cabin RIGHT here...if there was a Target and Publix and pizza place nearby. 

The guide was telling us that the National Something of Somebodies comes here to test the air for pollutants. It's one of the most purest locations of atmosphere in North America. They compare the air here to other areas in America to see how they match up. She said tourists always complain about being so sleepy while visiting because the air is so clean and you get so much pure oxygen. I felt fine, but yeah, it did smell nice. 

The guy on the boardwalk was a Park Ranger. He had a rifle with him loaded with bear rounds. We were told that if we did see a bear, to huddle together in a group and just be quiet and still. If we saw a momma bear with cubs, to huddle together in a group, be quiet, and slowly back away because one of us would probably die. The brown bear population was like 1 for every 4 humans on the island and I'm thinking,  "Why is there even a bear-watching excursion if there has to be one guy in front and one guy in back with guns?" said the girl who booked the bear-watching excursion. To date, there have been no incidents on these tours...so they say........

 Well, we did see this bear.

 After lunch, we boarded a whale-watching boat and headed out to sea. 

On the way, we stopped and watched some stellar sea lions. They were making all kinds of racket. 

One decided to come check us out.

The captain spotted a whale waaaaaay far away and we chased him down. Humpback whales come up to Alaska in the summer to feed. They've been in Hawaii all winter courting and mating and having babies and not eating, so they're pretty hungry. They have better things to do than prance around for tourists. They gotta eat. We were a little disappointed, I gotta admit. And this is gonna sound SO travel-snotty. Foodies crack me up and this is the traveler equivalent of a foodie, so I'm cracking myself up by saying it. Like, this is going to be the most annoying statement and I realize that. When we went to Hawaii a few years ago, humpback whales were EVERYWHERE. I mean, you could walk back to the mainland on their backs. And they weren't just coming up here and there. They were breaching left and right. Babies imitating their mothers and jumping up like little miniatures. It was like a show at Sea World. And when I came with my family to Alaska when I was 15, I thought I remembered the whales being more active. So, that kind of spoiled us. And I'm that obnoxious tourist that's pouty about the whales just spouting a little water here and there. So, we were a tad disappointed at first on this whale-watching trip. And he was so far away and it was freezing outside, so I was moody about that anyway.

BUT BUT BUT, I totally ate my words, and on the way back (we weren't the only grumbly ones) to the ship, the captain spots a whole pod and stays an extra 30 minutes. The captain of the cruise ship wasn't too happy, because they were waiting on us, but whatever, we saw some awesome whale happenings. They counted about 8 and they came right up to the ship. It ended up being a great excursion.

Yes, there are a lot of tail shots. Otherwise, it's just back shots like the one above. It's rare for them to breach in Alaska. Speaking of tail...

So, on the boat, there was a guy up on the observation deck with us who kept saying, "Come on, whale! Give us some tail! Show us some tail! Aw, man, look at that tail! Woo hooooo...I got some tail!! (with his camera)" And we were all looking at him like, "Dude...do you hear yourself?" So, the rest of the trip, David and I kept asking each other, "Did you get you some tail?" I mean, I'm as excited about whale tail as the next person, but you gotta say it right.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Twins: The Loud Mouths at the Pool

This weekend was wonderful. I mean...WONDERFUL. The first weekend we haven't been gone or showing the house or packing non-stop or moving. We just got to relax and unwind and spend time together. David ran his obstacle course marathon Saturday morning and did soooo good! I wish I could have gone to watch him. He finished in the top 25%. He got a medal, t-shirt, and lots of scrapes and bruises. (I think he's proud of them). We've been watching some American Ninja Warrior, so I think that pumped him up.

I braved the waters and took the girls to the pool. I was pretty proud of myself. Our friend Ashley recommended those Puddle Jumper life floatie things. The girls weren't crazy about them at first, but once we all established the fact that there would be no "swimmy poo" without them, they relented and put them on. After about 10 minutes of whining, they clung to me as we ventured out into the open waters. Then, they started pushing me away to swim on their own and were jumping off the sides in no time. Those Puddle Jumpers have been life-altering for us. We took them swimming again that night and again on Sunday. I hope my hair doesn't turn green.

So, you know your kids reach an age where everything they say in public embarrasses you and there's nothing you can do it about it because it's out of their mouths and entering people's ears before you realize what's happening. That happened at the pool this weekend.

We figured out that if you go early in the morning to the pool, little to nobody is there. After awhile, the sunbathers or people who just want to float quietly start showing up, but we like them because they don't splash. There's a small window in the late afternoon when the same thing happens. Around 5-6pm. The party poolers don't show up until after 6pm. So, Saturday late afternoon, we're out there and the only other folks is a group of African American teenagers. Super sweet and very respectful. They were throwing a frisbee and when we got to the pool, they moved down further to keep from splashing the girls. They waved and we all waved back. Everybody was having a good time when Piper Lee decided she wanted to start a game. She decided everybody was a fish. "Mommy fish. Daddy fish. Sissy fish. Kitty fish." I don't know where the kitty fish came from, but he was in the story. I asked what kind of fish she was and she said "tiger fish." Maybe that's related to the kitty fish. I asked what color tiger fish she was and her floaties are pink, so she said "pink fish." I asked what color fish Harper was and she said "yellow fish." David had on blue swim trunks and she said he was a "blue fish" and Mommy was an "orange fish." Just then, one of the teens, who just so happened to have on black swim trunks jumped in and swam under the water toward his friends. Piper Lee, as loud as she could muster, proclaims, "Look, Mommy! Black fish!" David and I looked at each other in horror. Great, now we're the racist new tenants. But, so very thankfully, not a soul heard us because they were talking and laughing and nobody else was at the pool. Sigh of relief. So, no more clothing color games at the pool. Or anywhere.

You know how kids start asking odd and awkward questions and you have to answer them eventually. Well, when the girls were much younger, we'd go through all of our body parts in the bathtub. They loved pointing out their eyes, ears, nose, belly buttons, legs, toes, elbows, etc.. One night, my mom was over at the house helping us and they pointed to their...well, chest...and asked what those were. My great-grandmother, Mamaw Esther, always called them "buckies," so when Mom was a kid, she called them buckies as well. Mom said, "Those are your buckies." And we've tried to keep the bucky talk to a minimum, but I mean, they're there, what can you do about it, y'know? So, Sunday, we're out at the pool again and a couple of sunbathers come and set up their towels in the chairs. One had on a shimmery pink bikini. It was very sparkly. So, what's Harper to do except look at her and say, "Wow! Sparkle buckies!" I quickly steer her away from gawking at the girl, who was super-engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey, but Harper kept exclaiming, "BUCKIES!" I dunked her under. No, jay kay, jay kay...but I did change the subject to, "Let's go tickle Daddy," which they love to do. So, we stalked him and Piper and that took her mind off the sparkly bikini. And I mean, who at the pool would know what buckies were, but it's not like I could make a scene and be like, "Harper, we don't talk about that," because somebody would realize we were discussing something private and Harper was yelling at pointing directly at the girl. So, whenever that happens, I always try to play it off like, "What are you saying? I can't understand your words, little child."

I dunno. We've got some Tact 101 lessons coming up soon, though.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Our Alaskan Adventure: Ketchikan

Wrapping up week one in the apartment. Already ready to be in the house, but we'll make it. The place is great, it's the fact that we have no yard. By the end of the day, cabin fever has set in and me and the girls start getting delirious. But, the playground is nearby and is enclosed and the pool is just 10 steps away, so at night, we slide slide slide and swim swim swim and get alllll our energy out before we start over the next day. 

You always worry when living in an apartment complex that you'll have loud neighbors. I'm a little afraid we're the loud neighbors. Well, I'm not loud. The little people I live with are loud. Right now, they're being kitties and well, I had no idea kitties meowed so loudly. We're trying to be indoor kitties. 

Got the washer and dryer yesterday, praise God! I had 6 loads to do, but by golly, those suckers are efficient. Took no time at all. And when they're done washing/drying, they sing a little tune. I was telling David about it and he didn't believe me until he heard it last night and thought it was one of the girls' toys. I TOLD you it sang a little tune. Like, a whole song. 

David is running in a marathon-esque obstacle course thing tomorrow morning called The Barbarian Challenge. It's completely ridiculous with absurd obstacles, but it does seem fun. I told him months ago when he signed up with a few guys from work that I would have zero sympathy for him if he got hurt. I don't want to hear about a femur through the thigh or punctured lung or any sore muscles the next day. He is on his own if he winds up in the hospital.

Okay, here are some more pictures from Alaska! Finally.  

Our second day on the ship, we had a sea day. Rebecca and I got some facials in the spa. It was soooooo nice. Didn't make me any prettier, but it sure felt and smelled wonderful. While I was waiting in the Relaxation Room (oooooh aaaaaah), there was a guy near me waiting for his massage. And you might be thinking, "Ruth, he's meditating. How inconsiderate of you to take a picture of him!" Okay, but wait. The entire time I was in there, he was slumped back into the cushions, snoring. A spa staffer came in, woke him up, and double-checked what kind of massage he was getting. He said  "hot stone" and sat in this position for a second and closed his eyes. I thought he was meditating, sure. But he started snoring again, sitting up. And then he slowly lowered his head and slumped back into the cushions, sound asleep. So, see...he was sleepitating. And it's okay to take pictures of people doing that.

Our third day onboard, we stopped in Ketchikan, a charming little Alaskan village. The majority of the town is built over water...all on stilts. They say you can swim underneath it all, but nobody has ever tried, so how do they know that? And how do they know no one has ever tried? You know that guy that's been missing for 15 years? Uh huh, he's still trying to find his way back out. Early that morning, we boarded a seaplane with 4 other folks and a pilot and headed out to the Misty Fjords. They put me in the tail of the plane, which was fine, because I got views out of both sides of the plane. And little Hugs got to ride in the cockpit. A dream come true for any guy I'm sure. 

(These pictures jump around a lot out of order because of how I loaded them, but it takes too long to get them in order, so there ya go.) 

The flight started off showing us the temperate rainforest of the Alaskan coastline...

Which slowly gave way to rising, snow-covered peaks...

And I kept thinking the whole time we were in the Misty Fjords, but no. The pilot kept saying, "When we get to the fjords...," and I was like, "Are we not in the fjords?" Oh, it was like entering a different world. The pictures don't do it justice at all. You can see in the above pictures how clear the sky was, except for low-lying clouds around the peaks, but it was clear around us. And out of nowhere, we see this wall of fog and he guided us into it. It was surreal and unearthly. Huge walls of rock rising up out of the sea, encased in mist, guarding coves of slate blue water. You could no longer see the sky. It was very Chronicles of Narnia.

Glacial waterfalls trickling down the sides.

Halfway into the fjords, the pilot lands in one of those coves and we passengers got out to stand on the plane floats to look around.

My little seat in the back.

It was so quiet and still. Everybody just kind of stood there, breathless. 

Taking off again. Btw, our pilot was about 12 years old and he flew the plane as casually as I would eat a muffin. David said he basically just had one hand on the steering wheel (I don't know what they're called in planes) and the other propped up on the window. I mean, I know he does this all day, every day, but how awesome is that.

Back out of the fog into the blue just like that. I don't even know how you would find the fjords. It's literally like a hidden, mystical place and you have to make three sunwise circles and clap your hands and say a chant to enter this realm.

This is the Rock of Something Something. It's over 200 feet tall and it was formed by a volcanic eruption however many years ago. If you're a student writing a paper about volcanic formations in the American Northwest, I would not quote me on that. But, there's an eagle's nest on top, so that's pretty cool.

Back to the marshes.

Back to Ketchikan and our waiting ship.

Our fun little plane. If you're in Ketchikan and have time, I highly recommend flying with Taquan Air to the Misty Fjords.

After our seaplane adventure, we had lunch on the ship and headed out to go kayaking.

We took a boat out to where the deserted beach where the kayaks were. Saw another bald eagle nest. See the parent? There were babies in there, but they were u.g.l.y. and tucked down further.

Taking us out to the Tatoosh Islands.

As I took this picture, a guy on the tour goes, "Is that a phone?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm just taking a few pictures with it. " And he goes, "Isn't that a little risky?" UH...DUH. That's why I'm holding onto it with both hands, dummy. I just said, "Yeah, I guess." But, I mean...chewing on your food is risky. I mean, why even say that? Well, I can assure you that I got pictures and he did not, because he doesn't take risks apparently. Is it risky? No, it's perfectly safe to hold a camera over water.

So, we start getting away from the coastline and the water starts getting a little more rough. That didn't bother me. The extra paddling we had to do annoyed me. See that little island WAAAAY out there. Well, our guide said she THOUGHT there might be sea lions out there, so we should go to check them out. We got about halfway there and I turned to David and said, "These better be the most freaking amazing sea lions in the world for us to go all the way out here."

And they were pretty cool.

See their little noggins?

We made it! This beach had the best skipping rocks I've ever seen.

Pretty chilly heading back.

Okay, out of order pictures. This is back on the seaplane, obviously. I look a little crazy. I was just so excited!

This is when we landed.

This is onboard the boat when we docked that morning. It's such a pretty town.

Another plane off in the distance.

See the little yellow plane in front of the waterfall?

For like $25 a night, you can rent a cabin in these woods. Most of the cabins are on the shorelines, but this is what you would have around you. A seaplane or boat takes you there and you can stay up to a week. No electricity. No running water. No nearby food source. No thank you. I'll stay on my cruise ship.

There's that famous rock again.

Back at the Tatoosh Islands.
So, you know, being pregnant...you have to pee all the time. We got to the island and some lady asked, "Is there a porta-potty set up here?" And the guide goes, "Well, yeah. I guess. We have a porta-potty-type situation." They told us to walk up the beach a little ways and look for an orange container. The "potty" would be up in the woods directly across from that. In the orange container was toilet paper. The lady goes first and I stand watch. Not watching HER, just making sure nobody else came up. And she did the same for me. I walk up into the woods. And there, behind a tree, was a painter's bucket. Yep. That was the potty. Dude, that's not a porta-potty. That's not even a situation. Oh, well, it did the job. You do what you gotta do.