Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No, this first picture is not our crossing the North Atlantic. It was taken by a friend on Holland America’s Veendam off the Falkland Islands a few weeks ago. It is what I imagined the crossing would be like, but no it was smooth all the way across. The second picture is of my sweethearth on the deck of the Queen Mary 2. She has always wanted to do the romantic picture on an ocean liner with the sea in the background. We had not counted on the fact that the ship travels at 30 mph and the wind blows from the opposite direction at about the same speed. That makes a gale force wind out on the deck. Not good for romantic picture taking. The trip was quiet and we enjoyed a lot of down time. We will be arriving in Southampton in a few days and then do some syfoging around Merry Ole England.
Back in Texas the Christmas Season is coming on and work has been quite hectic. Hectic in my business is good. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you next year as we continue this journey through England and France.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Setting sail for England

We boarded the Queen Mary 2 at the Port of New York, which is actually in
Brooklyn. Our cab driver delivered us to the port and check in went
quickly, we were impressed!

The day was very foggy and visibility poor. We could see "The Lady", The
Statue of Liberty, she was shrouded in the mist and beautiful.

The Queen Mary 2 is a transatlantic ocean liner. She was the first major
ocean liner built since the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969. She is now the
flagship of the Cunard Line. The Cunard Line is now owned by Princess and
we found a disappointing similarity between dining options on both lines.
Meals on all the lines are becoming more standardized and interchangeable.

The Queen Mary 2 was named and christened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004.
With the retirement of the Queen Elizabeth 2 from active duty in 2008, the
Queen Mary 2 is currently the only transatlantic ocean liner in operation as
a liner, although the ship is often used for cruising, including an annual
world cruise. There is a definite distinction between an ocean liner and a
cruise ship. At the time of her construction in 2003, the Queen Mary 2 was
the longest, widest and tallest passenger ship. She no longer holds this
distinction following the construction of the Royal Carribean Freedom of the
Seas in April 2006. However, the Queen Mary 2 remains the largest ocean
liner ever built.

The Queen Mary 2 was intended primarily to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and was
therefore designed differently from many other passenger ships. She has a
maximum speed of 29.62 knots or 34.09 mph. The ship has fifteen restaurants
and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the
first planetarium at sea.

An interesting fact about an ocean liner regards their height. As with
cruise ships built to transit the Panama Canal being built with the size of
the locks in mind, an ocean liner can not be built higher than the Verrazano
Narrows bridge in New York. The Queen Mary 2 was designed with a flatter
funnel to pass under the bridge, and has 13 feet of clearance under the
bridge during high tide. So, after successfully making it under the bridge
and popping our first bottle of Champaign, our trip across the North
Atlantic to England has begun.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More Syfogin New York

I've been asked by a few of you about the name of my blog "Syfogin" and what
that means. I feel like I grew up around the word but it was my
father-in-law, Mr. F. M. Buford that provided the definitive definition.
First, for those new to the word and how to pronounce it, the first part is
"Cy". For you baseball fans, that's as in the Cy Young Award. The second
part is "fogin" as in I'm fogin my back yard for mosquitoes. So, it's
Syfogin. According to Mr. Buford it is an old Indian word that means to get
on your horse and ride around looking at things. As Chief Crazy Horse said,
"Let's go syfogin up to the Little Big Horn and see
what's happening." Of course Mr. Buford had an active imagination, but
there you go, it's Syfogin.
In Mr. Buford's tradition, my Sweetheart is now going to take you Syfogin a
little around New York City.
As you know, on some trips you over pack and other times things just seem to
fall apart. Sugars first discovery was that his cobbler had given him the
wrong pair of walking shoes for the trip. They looked the same but one size
to small. We all know how cranky you can get without your "normal & usual"
Even though New York is one of the largest cities in the world, shopping is
not always easy. In addition it turned out he forgot to pack a casual pair
of slacks. So off we go looking for both items.
Natives know how to use the subway system in ways we foreigners never
realize. How can two stores separated by three miles be right next door to
one another, I ask a person from New York city. It defies logic for someone
used to walking from place to place. It has something to do with this
subway station being next to that subway station, so two places seemingly
miles apart are next to one another.
We stumbled in Macy's and were blown away by the fresh flowers! All the
windows and everywhere in the store were huge (15 feet) flower arrangements,
garlands and animal scenes. The store was packed. Didn't find any britches
for my Sugar but it was a sight to behold.

Continuing to wander around we found what NYers call a shopping mall.
Actually just a building with a few stores. Definitely not a mall in our
sense of the word. As we entered we were presented with a pair of round
naked brass people 25 feet tall. I guess everyone takes this photo op then
apparently they rub the graphic part of the male figure (if you get my
drift). It is rather shiny!

We made a point of dining at The Russian Tea Room, one of NYs famous
restaurants. There are four floors each done in a different style and
atmosphere Only one was open because of the Easter weekend. It is one of
those place where they pull the table out for you. Food and service were
divine. We bought a pair of Faberge champagne flutes in their own little
box as a reminder of that wonderful evening.

I The Russian Tea Room is next to Carnegie Hall and delighted when a young lady did walk up to me and ask me how to get to Carnegie Hall. For once I could seriously use the line “Practice, Practice, Practice”
Tomorrow we board the Queen Mary 2 for the cross Atlantic crossing

Saturday, November 13, 2010


A crossing of the North Atlantic is more than just a voyage along one of the most storied routes in nautical history, it is a true high-seas experience. The five day trip doesn’t just take you from here to there, it takes you on a modern day adventure. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 departs from New York City for a civilized and leisurely cruise to Southampton, England, style truly does count on this ship. This crossing has always been one of my dreams and I hope to share it with you in this remembrance but first we must start in New York City. The Greatest City in the World. I guess I’ve been a little prejudiced since first reading Around the World in New York City. We arrive in New York three days before departure on the cruise and in time to do some sightseeing around the island. Upon arriving my expectations are always so high I get disappointed about doing needed shopping before just Syfogin around the City. At least My Sweetheart tells me it’s needed shopping. The picture at the beginning of today’s blog is at the ferry landing in Battery Park, here we join the ferry for Ellis Island. Ellis Island in the New York harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants as the site of the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1954. The main hall has been completely restored and shows and historic slice of America’s past. The Stature Of Liberty is a bonus stop on the way out to island.
Next it was time to learn an amazing fact that I never really knew. We were in New York on Easter Sunday and I had never been to the Easter Parade. I told my Sweetheart that we really must go. I found out it was on Fifth Avenue, so we started out. I was listening for the marching bands and floats, but no, Here is what I have since learned about the Easter Parade. The Easter parade is an event consisting of a festive strolling on Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday. It is a somewhat informal and unorganized event, with or without religious significance. Persons participating in an Easter parade traditionally dress in new and fashionable dress particularly lady’s hats and strive to impress others with their finery. So, no bands, no floats and no balloons.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

I’ve seen people sleeping on benches in the airport but I never dreamed I would be one of them. Due to poor listening by people around me and saved by my travel agent our flight out of Fairbanks was at 1:15 in the morning. So after an earlier dinner and a movie, Eat, Pray, Love, it was out to the airport. The movie was interesting, maybe cute. I had just bought the book but after seeing the movie there’s no need to read the book. Not being a late night person the airport bench looked inviting and I caught about an hour’s sleep. After a round about trip through Los Angles we arrived back in Dallas at 3:30 in the afternoon and back home to Calvert the following day. Arriving home is one goal and the starting point of another. But for now it needs to be a time at home and back to work.
Our arrival back home coincided with Jack’s Birthday and the Calvert Yacht Club was in attendance. You will remember Jack as one of the travelers early this year on the Panama Canal trip. Jack is also the instigator of next year’s trip down the Danube River through Romania to Budapest. That will be in April of 2011.
To help myself remember past travels and experiences, I am going to chronicle last year’s trip from New York to England aboard the Queen Mary 2. It will be fun to dredge up old pictures of England and France and trying to remember the different adventures.
Since our return from Alaska my business has been going crazy and occupying most of my time. This is a good thing,thank heaven for the Oil Patch. See you shortly as we look back on leaving to cross the North Atlantic.
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ~Lin Yutang

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I would like to thank the readers that have commented on this Alaskan journey. Some of you have made the same trip in the past and some of you are planning it in the future. For those who have been there, I enjoyed your comments and for those others I would say this is a trip well worth taking. Alaska is a place you really need to see.
I would like to apologize to the un-named rental car company about their car. I checked in late and the young lady forgot to mention the restricted roads where their cars are not allowed to go. Sorry ‘bout that.
The James Dalton Highway (the Haul Road) is mostly a 414 mile gravel road. The road starts north of Livengood, Alaska and travels north through arctic tundra to the farthest reaches of Alaska ending in Prudhoe Bay. You can travel all but the last 8 miles on the road. After that you can only travel by tour bus or oil field pass. Livengood is about seventy miles north of Fairbanks and by the time you get there you are “off the grid”. meaning no electric service or running water for your house ! There are places off the road, provided by the state, where you can buy water, but they don’t deliver!
Just north of Fairbanks where the sign says no service for the next 118 miles, that’s just what it means. Don’t expect any small forgotten gas station to appear, it won’t. This is not a road for the faint of heart, or those with a brand-new vehicle! It is still the main supply route for the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, and you are sharing the road with large tractor-trailers which have the right-of-way according to the signage. Windshields are easy targets for flying rocks. Most rental car companies will not allow you to drive their cars on the Dalton. Trucks speeding along the slippery gravel kick up thick clouds of dust or mud, reducing visibility to absolute zero; potholes take a heavy toll on cars and services, gas, and repairs are practically nonexistent.

After two hours of driving we reach the Yukon River. It was a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine. A very basic café, gift shop (T-shirts & sweatshirts) and motel combination with a large above ground gas tank next door is the entire community. Rooms at $199 per night were in side by side singlewide trailer houses with shared baths down the hall. There were quite a few boats putting in and some hunters also looking about. It was a place for real men, fishermen, hunters and truckers. Here at the Ranger Station they give you a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle, but the Circle is still sixty miles north. After lunch at the café we charge onward.
My sweetheart was maybe expecting balloons and a circus when we finally reached the Arctic Circle but no, just a small park and scenic view. This was the only place in Alaska we encountered mosquitoes. They were so thick you had to plow your way through them and you could not sit still. If you felt nature call, which we did, you had to make it quick!! We took the requisite pictures and climbed back into the air conditioned rental car and headed south. The only other visitors at the park while we were there were two soldiers from Austin, Texas seeing Alaska before returning home.
This was the opening weekend for moose hunting. You could go three miles off the road to hunt. We saw quite a few hunting groups, fathers, sons & brothers. The weather was wonderful and they were excited to be there.
Once off the Haul Road and headed back into Fairbanks, Sandy spotted something ahead in the bar ditch. Sure enough, we were up front and personal with a moose. We pulled over to the side where she was munching fresh grass. She just looked at us and kept on eating just 15 or so feet from the car. She did not seem to mind our presence and allowed us all the pictures we wanted.
In a couple of days we will say goodbye to Alaska and make our way back home. We have enough time for a couple more coffees at the River City Café and some more sightseeing downtown. It has been a wonderful trip, it could fit into the category of “The Trip of a Lifetime”, I know it sure comes close for us.
Next blog we arrive back in Texas, I’ll call it Home, Sweet Home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, with a population of 36,000, is the second largest city in Alaska. I don't know but I would bet that considerably less live here in the dead of winter. Temperatures in January average between zero and a minus sixteen. The natives talk about minus forty degrees and days where the sun never rises. Sounds like the perfect time to visit kinfolk in the lower forty-eight. Every parking lot has electrical outlets to plug in your engine block warmer and you don't even turn off your car while you're gassing up or the engine block will freeze. Fortunately we were there in September and the weather was beautiful. Like the Alaskans say, when it's above freezing it's tee shirt weather. For them it's tee shirt weather but I felt comfortable in shirt sleeves. We had coffee at the River City Café on the street side patio and enjoyed the sunshine.
There are lots of interesting things to do in Fairbanks and we needed to do the tourist things first. It's out to the El Dorado Gold Mine to see if we could make it as gold miners. I was too careful in my panning technique, not believing that yes the gold really does sink to the bottom of the pan. Between my sweetheart and myself we ended up with over forty dollars in gold. You would think that was a good haul but then you go to the gift shop and you simply must buy the sixty dollar locket to display your good fortune. Why do I do these things, I should be holding her hand.
Next it's on to the north pole, North Pole, Alaska. Where Santa lives year round is 22 miles from Fairbanks and has a McDonalds and traffic circles. The City of North Pole was incorporated on January 15, 1953. The major attraction is a giant statue of Santa and Santa's Workshop, where you can buy all things related to Santa Claus, I bought something but now I even forget was it.
We stayed at Pikes River Resort which was nice and an interesting feature you could leave a "Northern Lights Wakeup Call". Sure enough ours came at 3:00 am. At that time even I thought about rolling on and going back to sleep. My sweetheart would have none of that, so I in my pajamas and she in her cap, out on the balcony on a cold winter's night. And lo! The Aurora Borealis. The auroras, also known as northern lights are natural light displays in the sky, God's own night light.. The Alaskan natives call them the Dance of the Spirits, which I consider a much more romantic notion in keeping with their mystery. This night they hung in the night sky like a long extended shower curtain fading from white to light blue and floating from left to right. Mark that off the bucket list and back to bed. Tomorrow we tackle another item on the bucket list. The haul road north and the Arctic Circle.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Trans Alaska Pipeline

The year was 1973 and we Americans were being blackmailed by OPEC. America was out of gas and the mid-east wasn't selling us any. Remember the red flags at gas stations? That little incident prompted the United States to start construction on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System or "the Pipeline" as it is known up here.

Eight hundred miles long and forty-eight inches in diameter, the pipeline made the Prudhoe Bay oil field economical and delivered oil to the lower forty-eight. At a cost of $8 billion the pipeline crosses three mountain ranges and delivers oil to the port at Valdez, Alaska. Valdez is the northern most year round ice free port in Alaska.

Upon our arrival in Fairbanks we stopped at the pipeline's visitor center, real similar to a wayside park here in Texas, but dang!; there's this huge pipeline flowing over your head. It flows like this or dives underground on it's long trip north. The pipeline is not in a straight line but zig-zag’s along shock absorbers high in the air. The purpose of this curious configuration is protection from earthquakes. The earth can shake and the pipeline can flex. A few years ago a smart young man decided to shoot the pipe. He did it, created a leak and then sat in prison for 17 years with a fine of $150 million. He now lives in a mobile home. Don't know the balance on the debt!

Trips by rental car are not allowed to Prudhoe Bay but, if you have sociopath tendencies you could drive the rugged Dalton Highway (the haul road) 487 miles to Deadhorse . The last nine miles is off limits except by authorization of the oil company. The pipeline parallels the Dalton Highway, but access to the Prudhoe Bay oilfield complex is available only through commercial tour operators. You need to be aware that most rental car companies will not allow their cars to be driven on the Dalton Highway, wonder why?

Stick around for the answer to that question in our continuing saga of traveling to the Arctic Circle. I'll call that one Ice Road Trucker.
See you then!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Denali National Park

On the bus once again, this time to Denali National Park .

Denali National Park was founded in 1917 and was then known as Mt. McKinley National Park , although the name was never official. It originally covered about two million acres and only part of the mountain itself. The park was expanded in 1980 to include six million acres and all of Mt McKinley within it's boundary. The park now covers the range and breeding grounds of the large herds of caribou, brown bear and Dall sheep.

This is not a park like many of those we are use to. Six million acres is a lot of land. To see just a part of it is a lot of bus riding on bumpy, dusty gravel roads with the bus driver rounding many serious hair-pin mountain curves while shouting "Dall Sheep, high on the left". Most of us were paying more attention to the five hundred foot drop on the right! The buses are actually old school buses and out naturalist/driver had eighteen years experience driving a school bus full of kids so we felt comfortable in her hands.

We were met by a park ranger at the Savage River Ranger Station for our ranger talk about not walking on the grass and no souvenir hunting. We took a small hike with a nature guide looking at various trees, creeks and things. Just as we began, not 50 feet from the paved road someone yelled "Moose!". Sure enough just behind us was a mother and her teenager. She stood just looking at us while all the while our guide was scared out of her boots! She kept telling us not to stare, be very quite and move on. Of course we stood and took more pictures!

Our bus trip deep into the park was to be sixty eight miles to a location where we just might see the mountain. At this point we would still be some thirty five miles from the actual mountain. Denali , the mountain, is so big it creates it's own weather system. Most of the time it is covered with clouds, it is a rare site to see it unobstructed. I reckon that we saw about three fourths of the mountain but the top was rising into the clouds.

Watching for wildlife requires a sharp eye and one that knows what to look for. Unfortunately, I have neither. With the help of a few eagle eyed folk on the bus we did see brown bear, Dall sheep and one lone wolf. We also saw the Alaska state bird, a ptarmigan, special park squirrels and bear scat filled with 'unprocessed' berries. At one time we saw a sow (momma bear) and her two cubs eating berries. Another sow and her two babies were ambling through with the same thought in mind when they spied the first trio. I'm sure there were more than a few growls and grumbles that made the interloper and family hightail it to the mountain! The Dall Sheep were on the edge of extension in the early 1900s and they were the reason for the initial thoughts of a national park - to protect the sheep. Now there are sheep everywhere.

The bus driver has a high powered video camera that can zoom in and we could view the animals close up on the drop down video screens in the bus. The screens were a neat invention to help you see the animals and also a neat way to separate you from fifty bucks when they sell you the video of your trip.

It was a good trip, but If I had it to do again I would ride the green park buses into the park. The park buses are for your more adventurous soles , which I surely am not, who may be hiking or backpacking . They are also far less expensive and they don't have the running commentary. The bus will drop you off and pick you up at will, but they do take you to mile 97, which is the end of the park road. But for now our tour bus turns around and we bump back to "Glitter Gulch". Glitter Gulch, what I have since learned, is the term for the collection of lodges , restaurants and shops just outside the park entrance.

Tomorrow , it's on to Fairbanks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On to Denali

Woke up to a clear day and boarded the bus. At this point we’re beginning to feel a little rushed. It might have been smart to do the land portion of the tour first and have the opportunity to relax on the cruise going south from Steward.
At Mile 147 of the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks is the Alaska Veterans Memorial that is beautifully designed to complement its setting in the spruce and hemlock. For travelers, the memorial provides both a refreshing stop along the highway. The word "Denali" means "the high one" in the native language and refers to the mountain itself. For years we have known this mountain as Mt. McKinley but this is not accepted by the native population. They prefer the name Denali. Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America with an elevation of 20,320 feet. On a clear day the Veterans’s Memorial is a wonderful place to view Denali. Unfortunately on our visit it was not a clear day. The park rangers could only point to an area on the horizon and say “It should be right there”.
The Park headquarters are located at Denali, Alaska, not an incorporated city but, in all but the winter months, it looks like one. Restaurants, hotels and police, it looks like a small town. After the middle of September everyone, yes everyone, leaves, vamooses, abandons ship, and are gone. The city is empty. But while the city is open, the Prospector is a great place to eat, lots of local color and fun people. Two stop lights and lots of shuttle buses, this place is a lot like Six Flags. We stayed at the McKinley Village Lodge. The lodge was a wonderful place, right on the river looking out over the mountain range. In the evening, when it became cool outside, the fireplaces were roaring inside. We shared a bottle of wine by the river and prepared for our trip into the park the next day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A B Mountain

I must digress for a moment. Friends of mine, travelling on Holland America’s Amsterdam three days behind our cruise, did a climb of A B Mountain in Skagway. This is quite a historic climb and is also associated with the most photographed building in Alaska.
The building, built in 1899 as headquarters for arctic brotherhood Camp Skagway No. 1. The brotherhood was established September 26, 1899 for the purposes of fraternal enjoyment and mutual aid. As you can see we should not be lighting a match around this building. Several years back all of the wood was taken off the building, refinished and then reapplied.
Skagway was the starting point for the White Pass Trail which led, over 500 hazardous miles, to the Yukon Goldfields at Dawson City. But those first miles of the White Pass Trail (it was usually snow-covered) were almost straight up; a real test of endurance and courage. It was a steep, tortuous path most difficult to climb and everyone needed to carry to the summit over one ton of supplies; enough for a year’s survival in the Yukon. Once on the other side of the pass it was a relative easy canoe trip on to Dawson City
It is this mountain our friends would climb. A B Mountain is a mountain summit in Skagway-Hoonah-Angoon County in Alaska. A B Mountain climbs to 4,806 feet above sea level. Anyone attempting to climb A B Mountain and reach the summit should look for detailed information on the A B Mountain area in the topographic map and the Skagway C-1 USGS quad.
I am providing a few pictures from their climb to give you an idea of Alaskan beauty and nature.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Steward to Northern Exposure

Every Alaskan tourist needs to take a train ride. Our three hour ride was
from Seward to Girdwood and the Alyeska Lodge. A gourmet dinner was served
on the deck below. The fresh made bread (really baked on board) was
delicious with soft butter. When we asked for more bread our served told us
that would be an additional $1.00! That should have been our first clue
that food in Alaska costs way more than the lower 48. Dinner was very good,
but the icing on the cake was a warm 5 berry pie with whipped cream and ice
cream. Of my gosh, that was the best pie, other than homemade, any of had
ever eaten.

Arriving in Alyeska we hopped our tour bus to be transported to the Alyeska
Lodge. A stunning world class ski lodge, beautiful gardens & flowers
everywhere. White tents dotted the extensive lawns for the Fungus Festival
the next day. We rode the gondola to the top of the mountain for a quick
view as the clouds closed in after we had been there for 15 minutes. Down
the mountain to our waiting bus & entertaining tour guide and driver -
Dannie & Bill.

We passed through Wasilla but didn’t see Sara. I think she was having tea
in the lower 48.

Now let’s forget beauty and go someplace interesting and it doesn’t get much
more interesting than Talkeetna, Alaska. Talkeetna has world-class salmon
fishing and is near Mt. McKinley. Tourists travel to Talkeetna each summer
to fish, raft and just do the tourist thing. A 37-year history of the
Moose Dropping Festival, a two-day celebration held each July, came to an
end at least for this year with the announcement on Aug. 21, 2009 by the
Talkeetna Historical Society that the festival has been canceled. I never
found out why, it seems a shame to abandon such a classy event. The event was
where participants bet on numbered, varnished pieces of "moose droppings"
dropped from a helicopter onto a target. Talkeetna is home to Whole
Wheat Radio with locally hosted shows and NPR programming.
The town of Cicely from the television series Northern Exposure is widely
thought to be patterned after Talkeetna. "The Denali Overland Transportation Co."
(see photo) was ready to take us into the park but it was raining so my
sweetheart dodged into Nagley’s store for a beer. I being more of a
tenderfoot passed that up and went to the Talkeetna Roadhouse for a glass of
wine at the Wildflower Café. The light rain had me worrying about melting
in the rain but the overall atmosphere plunged me into the northern
experience. Of course the girls continued shopping, rain or no rain.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hubbard Glacier and Seward, Alaska

After leaving Skagway we sailed overnight northward in the Gulf of Alaska. Our next destination is the Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard Glacier is a tidewater glacier in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada. It was overcast and foggy the next morning. Chances of seeing the glacier were not good. We got up to the observation deck early and got a good seat to see the fog. As we slowly entered Disenchantment Bay the fog began to lift and about five miles away we began to see the glacier. As we got closer the sun began to shine on Hubbard’s 300 foot face wall. We closed to about 1500 feet and were able to spend about one hour at the glacier before sailing out of the bay and heading for Seward. Our onboard naturalist said we got closer than any other ship this season, can’t believe the beautiful blues of the ice. We are indeed blessed, what a site!
Seward is the northern most year round ice free port- city in Alaska and is located on the Kenai Pennisula . According to the sign as you enter the city the population is 3,016.
It was named after William Seward, Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. In 1867, he fought for the U.S. purchase of Alaska which he finally negotiated to acquire from Russia. The negotiations concluded on March 30, 1867 with the purchase price set at $7,200,000.00 or about 2.3¢ per acre for the 586,412 square miles.
Before taking a cruise of Resurrection Bay we visited The Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska’s only public ocean wildlife rescue center and is located on the shores of Resurrection Bay in Seward. The Sealife Center was founded after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 to take care of distressed sea life. After the Sealife Center we loaded in a boat to see Resurrection Bay. Resurrection Bay is a bay on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, United States. Its main settlement is Seward, located at the head of the bay. It received its name from a Russian ship, which was forced to retreat into the bay during a bad storm on Easter Sunday . The bay offers spectacular views on the way to the fjords, we encounter sea-lions, seals, whales, and saw cliffs polluted with the droppings of all kinds of magnificent birds. The Puffins were amazing. Puffin are predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colorful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Icy Point Strait and Juneau, Alaska

I assume every cruise line throws in one zinger for every cruise. In Central America, it was Santa Marta, Columbia, in Alaska it’s Icy Strait Point, Alaska. It is a great place to stay on the ship and read a good book! Check out a few on my reading list. Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons has to be one of the most beautiful books ever written. I thought his Cold Mountain was good but in Thirteen Moons he takes the writer's art to a new level. Take my word for it, if you are not an extreme kayaker or zip line fanatic read the book on the ship.
We’ll move on to the State Capital, Juneau, Alaska. Now here’s a state capital you can love; you can’t get there by car. Zero, zip, nada, no road in or out. Only by plane or by boat, and no, Sarah Palin does not live here. She had the Governor’s Mansion for a while, that would be the big white house with the green roof. Juneau has a population of about forty thousand folks and seems like a very inviting small city. The people are friendly and a lot of them come from the lower forty-eight. It is true that after you establish residency here the state does pay you to live here. The people I talked to said the payment was about two thousand dollars per year per person. It would vary depending on profits from the stock market and the Trans Alaskan Pipeline.
Juneau was the spot we decided it was time for whale watching. We headed for Aule bay and Jennifer and Scotty, our whale watching naturalist and boat captain. Scotty knew his job, within thirty minutes we were in the middle of a group of humpback whales and four or five orcas. The humpback’s would surface with their hallmark blowing of air and dive deep showing their fan tales. Jennifer said she had never seen so many at one time, and she has been the whale lady for 7 years. She and Scotty kept talking about just how much food had to be below us.. One whale named Flame swam toward our small boat and surfaced a few times. She then turned just as she was about to ram us and turned to our aft. She surfaced again and blew so hard we could see her dual blow holes, they were huge. Flame then flipped her great tail and was out of there.
Orcas, 5 or 6 at a time, would surface out of the water so that we could see their distinctive black and white markings. We also saw Bald Eagles and whatever type of seal they have here playing in the water close to our boat. Whale watching made us all hungry so we stopped at a local service station and purchased a bucket of fried chicken on the way back into town. Everybody had their fill and I got sick.
On the way back to Juneau we stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier State Park. I got out my trusty ruler and yes, confirmed that global warming is melting this thing. But it’s still one big ice cube. My Sweetheart and I were just astonished at the blue of the ice. A few days, before a few icebergs had calved and were floating in the river below. As we were waiting for our city bus, we stopped by the local salmon stream to see if we could see any of the red Sockeye salmon, as they had already done their spawning thing. There were a few, but wait, just on the other side of the stream, not 25 feet from us, was a momma black bear and her two cubs!!
Hopefully I can return in a few years and get another measurement.
Stay tuned for my next report on global warming. It was a beautiful day to see the glacier and some blue sky was peeking through. I learned that the locals called this “cloud failure”. In a couple of days we’ll visit another famous glacier but before that we make a stop in Skagway.

We wake up the next morning in beautiful downtown Skagway, population about nine hundred hardy souls. On course, there are five cruise ships in port so the population has swelled to about fifteen thousand. It must be like the old days when miners who were looking to make their fortune in the gold fields crowded the streets. Skagway was the traditional jumping off spot to travel to Dawson and the Yukon territory. There were plenty of suppliers and merchants to provide the miners with the twelve hundred pounds of supplies needed to spend a year in the gold fields. If they could move these supplies to over White Pass it was easier rafting down the Yukon River for the six hundred mile trip.
Coming into the Skagway port you notice the names of ships painted on the exposed granite on the mountains surrounding the ships. I first thought this was some kind of graffiti but learned that it is tradition that the first time a ship docked in Skagway they were allowed to write their ships name and it’s captain on these rocks. Speaking of rocks, there is a great little rock shop in the alley at fifth street, called the Back Alley Rock Shop. It’s easy to find, since the town is only four blocks wide and twenty-three blocks long. I got a nice little meteorite there from the 1947 fall in southeast Siberia, Russia.
I you notice my writing is improving I have to confess that my sweetheart is helping out. Besides correcting my numerous errors, her incites and observations add much needed realism to by writing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska

After leaving Vancouver it took about thirty-six hours to reach Ketchikan, Alaska. We traveled the Inside Passage as it snakes along the British Columbia coastline. In spots the passage appeared no more than one hundred yards wide and the search for wildlife along the islands kept us busy. Unfortunately no wildlife made an appearance but the scenery was breath taking. Cruising among these islands is a lot more interesting than the Caribbean. But then cruising azure blue seas versus islands shrouded in mist and rain are really two different worlds. This world seems more philosophical and life changing, not to be taken light heartedly.
We did reach Ketchikan, a city of about eight thousand souls that gets twenty feet of rain each year. When we arrived, along with three other cruise ships, the town’s population swelled to twenty thousand and we enjoyed, what the locals said, was one of the four sunny days they have each year. There is a river that flows through the heart of Ketchikan and built along one side on raised pilings is Creek Street. Up here creek is pronounced like something you get in your neck. Anyway Creek Street is the historic location of the bordellos in town with Dolly Arthur being the head Madame. After an illustrious career, Dolly died in 1975 owning half the real estate in town. I guess sin does pay!
As we were walking along the many shops I accidently let go of my Sweetheart’s hand. Yep, she had the gold card and was shopping at the jewelry stores!
The river is also a salmon stream and while we are visiting, the salmon are also. Swimming upstream to spawn, there are thousands and thousands, going back to the spot where they hatched approximately eight years ago. After this long journey almost beating themselves to death on the rocks and struggling the entire way, they die - after their thousands of eggs are deposited and fertilized. The locals say that for the next three months the town takes on quite an aroma. Fortunately the tourist season is nearly over. The town also has lots of totem poles and a totem pole museum, which I only recommend for those who are real deep thinkers. Now it’s off to Icy Strait Point, Alaska as we leave Chief Johnson’s totem pole behind.
On a sadder note – in our hurry to leave Texas and the 100 degree heat, we accidently left our good friend “Flat Stormy” behind. We have had friends call and tell us they could hear him screaming at the top of his lungs, “Wait, wait! I’ll be good, I promise Wait!” But we had already turned the corner and my Sweetheart had the radio on NPR too loud to hear him. Hopefully he won’t take this as an affront. Hopefully MM Kyle & Denny Crain can comfort and take care of him, as we have found he needs a lot of TLC.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vancouver, BC

Our Alaska adventure is about our entire family. We are traveling with my sweetheart’s mother, two sisters, brother-in-law and two daughters. We all decided it was time to see the Alyeska , that’s an Aleut word meaning the great land. Alaska is the largest state in the United States and became the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. Alaska is the only non-contiguous U.S. state on continental North America; about 500 miles of British Columbia separate Alaska from Washington State. The capital city, Juneau is situated on the mainland of the North American continent, but is not connected by road to the rest of the North American highway system. Of course, Alaska can't be a real state unless it has a state beer and cell service -- it would help if they had some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least it needs a beer. Ok, no more Frank Zappa routines.
The Inside Passage is a coastal route for oceangoing vessels along a series of passages between the islands along Pacific coast of Alaska and British Columbia. Our cruise through this passage starts in Vancouver , Canada. Ships using the route can avoid some of the bad weather in the open ocean and may visit some of the many isolated communities along the route. The Inside Passage is heavily traveled by cruise ships, freighters, tugboat and fishing craft.
Before leaving we will spend a few days in Vancouver. Vancouver is a largest city located in Western Canada. It is named for Captain George Vancouver, who explored the area in the 1790s. Vancouver is a coastal city that is always ranked highly in worldwide listing of livable cities. When we arrived in Vancouver it was warm, I must have brought the Texas weather with me, but by the next day it was a little cooler. Sandy had a great time shopping at the Grandville Island Public Market and them we toured Stanley Park in the Afternoon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sedona, Arizona

As some of you know the purpose of the adventure was to pick a puppy in Dewey Arizona. After leaving the Petrified Forest it was a easy drive on to Flagstaff. I was shocked when I realized the Interstate signs were now pointing me to Los Angles. It was time to leave Route 66 and head south to Sedona. I was not prepared from the stunning beauty of that thirty mile drive down Oak Creek Canyon. The road is a switchback dropping into an array of red sandstone formations and giant cedars. The mountains appeared to glow in brilliant orange and red as the sun set in the west. We went past the famous Slide Rock where bathers were having a blast playing in the waters of Oak Creek. We decided to spent a day enjoying Sedona’s artistic community before heading on to Dewey. Sedona is known for Indian pottery, Navajo rugs, Indian jewelry and many fine art galleries. The galleries stay open late so you can stroll among them after enjoying one of the many fine restaurants. One interesting fact is that Sedona is named after the wife of the town’s first post Postmaster, Sedona Miller. The following morning we were to pick up the puppy in Dewey and after that I planned to head straight back to Texas with Kyle riding in my lap. Here we are going to leave the Route 66 trip, we’ve seen many new and interesting places. Monday, August 17, we leave for Vancouver, B.C. and on to an Alaska cruise. If my camera and the internet keeps working I will have updates on that next week.
About Kyle
Kyle’s registered name is “The Mighty Men of Kyle” and he is a Shetland Sheepdog. Kyle’s birthday is April 22, 2010. He was born is Arizona but he got to Texas as soon as he could. He is already walking
Walking with me in the mornings and Denny Crain, Our miniature wirehaired weenie dog enjoys his new playmate. He made his first trip to the vet yesterday an weight six pounds two ounces.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Petrified Forest National Park

The trip from Albuquerque is only 322 miles. We headed out early planning to visited the Petrified Forest National Park during the day. We decided on a late breakfast or early lunch so we pulled over in Holbrook Arizona. Don’t look for lunch at the Uranium Café, it’s closed. The Wigwam Motel is still open and even through it is an interesting historic landmark I was not tempted to spend the night. But I did take pictures. Only local food consisted of McDonald’s. So much for local color.
Petrified Forest National Park is along Route 66 between Holbrook and Navajo, Arizona. Petrified wood at the Petrified Forest National Park is also solid quartz. The wood weights 168 pounds per cubic foot and is so hard it can only be cut with a diamond tipped saw. Only about 10% of the prehistoric petrified forest is included within the National Park. Even though it is against the law to remove the rocks from the park, he rangers estimate they loose about one ton each month to theft.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We followed Interstate 40 the short distance to Albuquerque the next morning. It was only a two hour drive. Just before Albuquerque we again dropped off onto old Route 66 which gradually gave way to Tramway Blvd as it winds through the outskirts of Old Town. Or was I lost again? But my sweetheart yells Stop! so I know a Starbucks must be near. We stop for a mocha latte and enjoy the cool weather and the view of the mountains. This trip to Albuquerque I want to take the tram to the top of Sandia Peak. Years ago, while in the race horse business, I would dream of this ride. But like most people who live around race horses, I didn’t have the money for the ride to the top. This time I would make it.
The Sandia Peak Tramway is the world's longest passenger Double Reversible Passenger Aerial Tramway. It also has the world's third longest single span. It stretches from the Northeast edge of Albuquerque to the crestline of the Sandia Mountains. The total length of the Tramway is 2.7 miles and reaches an elevation of 10,378 feet. The Sandia Mountains are a mountain range located immediately to the east of the city. Sandía means watermelon in Spanish and is popularly believed to be a reference to the reddish color of the mountains at sunset. It was lunch time, so we enjoyed the High Finance Café at the top of Sandia Peak. Good food, great view. But so much for the high altitude, my sweetheart says “shopping"
Old Town, Albuquerque follows the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza and church surrounded by homes and businesses. We strolled through the plaza shopped in the market square. I got a small pottery bowl by someone whose grandmother was call Maria, Maria had some her pottery there but it was out of my price range. We stayed at one of the historic down town hotels; Hotel Blue. It reminded me of some guys standing on a balcony pointing at where James Earl Ray was.

Like New Orleans, Old Town Albuquerque has romantic hidden patios, winding brick paths, gardens and wrought iron benches that beckon you to stop, have a glass of wine and watch the world go by. The light rain that afternoon just made the New Mexico sunset that much prettier.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

As Night time approaches I pull off As on an historic section of Route 66 in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Santa Rosa's stretch of U.S. Route 66 is part of film history. When John Steinbeck's epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was made into a movie, director John Ford used Santa Rosa for the memorable train scene. Tom Joad watches a freight train steam over the Pecos River railroad bridge, into the sunset. Tom left us with some memorable philosophy when he said “Takes no nerve to do something, ain't nothin' else you can do”. I bet one of the things Tom did was visit the famous Blue Hole in Santa Rosa. The Blue Hole has been visited by mammoths, native Indians, Spanish conquistadors and even famous outlaws. And probably Tom Joad and his sister, Casy. This deep well of clear, artesian water now hosts thousands of wet-suit-clad divers each year. The clear water in the 81-foot deep bell-shaped spring well is produced from a cave system near the well's bottom that generates about 3,000 gallons per minute. The surface is 80 feet at its widest point and approximately 60 feet at its narrowest. The Blue Hole widens the deeper it goes until the diameter reaches 130 feet across at its deepest depths.
Santa Rosa’s strip is something out of the 1950’s but there are remodeled historic motels, new hotels and several good places to eat. It was good night before we take off for Albuquerque

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Llano Estacado

It is only 172 miles from Amarillo, Texas to Santa Rosa, New Mexico but crossing the Llano Estacado is about like crossing the panhandle of Florida. For people who have made the drive from Pensacola to Jacksonville, you understand. It’s long. The Llano Estacado it is part of what was once called the Great American Desert. The Llano Estacado or Staked Plains, is a region in the southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas, This geographic area is larger than all of New England. It covers all or part of thirty-three Texas counties and four New Mexico counties. Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, the first European to traverse this "sea of grass" in 1541, has these things to say about this area: "I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for more than 300 leagues ... with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea ... there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by” Fortunately I had Interstate 40 to guide my way. Three hours after we left Amarillo I eased the car off on Route 66 at Santa Rosa, New Mexico for the night.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Get your kicks on Route 66

Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it goes from St. Louis, down to Missouri
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty
Youl see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona don't forget Winona
Kingsman, Barstaw, San Bernadino

My trip did not take me to all these places but we did embark on “Main Street of America” in Amarillo. Amarillo is some 260 miles from Calvert and where we turned left onto Interstate 40 which approximates the tatters of historic Route 66. US 66 was officially removed from the Highway System in 1985 after it was decided the route was no longer relevant and has been replaced by the Interstate 40. Journey’s like this need to start with a hardy meal so the first stop was the Big Texan Restaurant. The home of the free 72 oz. steak. Not feeling like I could handle that size I decided to pay for a smaller portion of calf fries. Feeling fortified we take to the open road. On the west side of Amarillo we see the famous “Cadillac Ranch”. The Cadillac Ranch, located along Route 66, was built in 1974, brainchild of Stanley Marsh 3, the helium millionaire who owns the dusty wheat field where it stands. Is it just a line of ten junker Cadillacs buried nose-down in a dusty farm field -- or is it art? Whatever it is requires a second look as you pass by. And make it a good look for the rest of the trip through Texas and on to Albuquerque is long and rolling plains and prairie. This area has had good rains this year so the dessert is actually many different shades of green

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Journey's End

Journey’s all come to an end but in the telling of the journey the end is not as definite. The Panama Canal will always stay with me but my telling the story seems to end at this point in the lower keys. The many different sights and experiences enjoyed with a group of good friends has a lasting quality that will be relived many times in the future. One last night of the “Duval Crawl” (the term used to describe the partying on Duval St. that connects both sides of the island) in Key West and the telling comes
to a natural end. But with an ending another door always opens, Next the mad-dash down Route 66 to Arizona and back, trip starts as soon as I get back to home and work.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coming Attractions

This is obviously not Key West. My Sweetheart just told me I have to make a quick trip to Dewey, AZ. If there is anything of interest between Dallas and Dewey, I'll get some pictures. For the time being I'll leave you with these two pictures from mystery locations. Be back in a weeK

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson is the focal point of the Dry Tortugas National Park. The dry Tortugas are 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The name given the islands by Ponce de Leon means turtles, for the sea turtles he caught there and dry for the fact there is no water on the islands Getting there crosses a relatively shallow area called the “quick-sands” The “quick-sands” are the final resting place on many ship wrecks. Plans for Fort Jefferson started as early as 1825 but there is a simple way to remember the final date of construction. Before the Civil War the light red bricks came from Pensacola, Florida. After Florida seceded from the Union the dark red bricks were imported from the North. The top fourth of the fort is made of these darker bricks. So final construction occurred during the Civil War and the fort housed over 1000 troops by the end of the war. It was believed that the fort would be a great defense of the Gulf of Mexico. It turned out many ships could steer clear of the islands. After the Civil War, Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned here for the role he played in the assassination of President Lincoln. Today the park is beautifully maintained by the Park Service Rangers who live on the island full time. The white sandy beach is small and the water crystal clear and surprisingly more crowded than you would think being this far removed from Key West.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Conch Republic

So we have made it to the end of the cruise. This morning we are docked in Ft. Lauderdale. Some of my old friends still live here but I don’t recognize a thing. I head for the rental cars and will try to find my way to Key West. The waters in Key West are as beautiful as any in the Carribean and I have always wanted to visit Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Driving south on A1A is one stop light after another but I wanted to see the sights. After about 2 hours we arrive at Shorty’s BBQ in South Miami. The BBQ is a good as any we have in Texas and I loaded up on the baby back ribs. It was fantastic. Next it’s on to Key Largo and begin to drive down the Keys. The keys are a chain-like cluster of about 1700 islands.They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida and extend in an arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. This drive, which is mostly over water, is longer than I thought. In 1982, the Border Patrol had established a roadblock and inspection points on US Highway 1, stopping all northbound traffic returning to the mainland to search vehicles for illegal drugs and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council repeatedly complained about the roadblocks. After unsuccessful complaints against the blockade failed, on 23 April 1982 Key West declared the independence calling it the "Conch Republic". After one minute of secession, the mayor surrendered to an officer of the Key West Naval Air Station), and requested one billion ($1,000,000,000) dollars in foreign aid. Long live the Conch Republic!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Exploding Tomatoes

As we sail from Nassau to Ft. Lauderdale I’ll take the time for a recipe I promised. The cruise ship had cooking classes and we enjoyed being in the kitchen with the other couples. In this summer of exploding tomatoes from the garden, it’s time for King Crap in Spicy Tomato Sauce. This is really good spaghetti sauce.
• ½ cup sliced green onions
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 4 ounces tomato paste
• 1 ½ pounds tomatoes puree
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 4 king crap legs, cooked and cut into 2 inch sections
• ½ teaspoon tarragon
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 3 tablespoons brandy
• ¼ cup parsley leaves
In a large skillet, sauté the onion in the oil and butter until translucent. Add tomato paste, puree of tomatoes and herbs, cook for 45 minutes over low heat. Add white wine as needed to maintain consistency of the sauce. Add the king crab to the skillet and ladle warmed brandy over the crab. Light the brandy and gently shake the skillet until the flames go out. Simmer the mixture, stirring for one minute and serve over spaghetti.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nassau, Bahamas

The cruising phase of this journey is drawing to a close. One last stop before reaching Ft Lauderdale, the Queen of the Bahamas, Nassau. Nassau is the capital, largest city, and commercial center of the Bahamas. I could tell it’s civilized, my Starbucks card worked. We did some early morning sightseeing around the island, met some of the local artist and had my picture taken with the flamingos. We found a local eatery on the water and watched the conch being cleaned and then had conch fritters and conch salad for lunch. This meal is against the law in the US. But After lunch it was out to Paradise Island and Atlantis. This is Las Vegas on steroids. The rich are different, I can’t even begin to tell you how true this is. But the rates to stay at Atlantis are surprising reasonable for a normal room. I didn’t ask about the rate on the suites. After the long walk over here it made sense to take a taxi back to the port.

Monday, June 21, 2010


It seems like our march back to civilization is occurring in giant steps.  Curaçao has trailed its sister islands of Aruba and Bonaire when it comes to attracting vacationers, largely
because  oil refining and financial services, rather than tourism, dominate its prosperous economy.  Curaçao is located approximately 35 miles off the northwestern coast of Venezuela but they still have and active fish market with Venezuelans coming in by small boats.  They bring in fish and all sorts of fresh fruits.  This is still one beautiful place with low humidity due to the constant northeast breezes, and it enjoys a mild tropical climate.  In the old town the houses were built out of materials found on the beach and contained a lot of salt.  Because of this the old homes had to be painted twice a year.  All of the residents of these old homes have moved out to new homes and the government has taken over the restoration of these historic sites.  Curacao’s name means the “isle of healing” and is another place we could enjoy for life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Note on the San Blas Islands

My sweetheart really wants to go back to the San Blas Islands.  She has been reading the travel ads on this page and found a really high dollar resort on one of the islands.  The island we visited had a hotel that cost fifteen dollars a night and came with breakfast.  The hotel was operated by the Kuna Indians and was made out of unpainted concrete blocks.  Compared with the other resort that’s  a saving of $335 dollars per night.  Sounds good to me, if they only had screens on the windows.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oranjestad, Aruba

The sail away party in the afternoon after Santa Marta was wonderful watching Columbia vanish in the distance.  Next stop, Oranjestad, Aruba.  Aruba is just seventeen miles north of Venezuela.  But it seems like the other side of the world.  Colorful markets, wondrous coral reefs and landscapes dotted with curiously bent divi-divi trees.  Aruba is the "A" of the Netherlands Antilles' famous ABC islands. (Bonaire and Curacao round out the trio.)  Aruba has a dry climate and an arid, wind blown landscape. It also has cold beer, great eateries and white sandy  beaches.  And  I’m in part of Holland and far enough south to be out of the hurricane belt.  This is like south Florida and any of us could live here with no problems.  We would love to live here.  The island is definitely European and not South American which leaves one with a comfortable feeling.

Bucket Lists

A little about “bucket Lists”, those lists of things you want to do before moving on.  This trip covered two of mine.  First was to cruise the Panama Canal and second was to visit Fort Jefferson, that defender of the Gulf off Key West.  More about Fort Jefferson later in the blog.  Another on my list was to enjoy a fine single malt scotch over hail stones.  My opportunity came early in May and the eighteen  year old Bowmore  over the hail was fantastic.  The roofing inspector’s is now on the roof assessing the damage.  Moral here:  Be careful what you wish for.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One thing you really want to do in Santa Marta, Columbia is take a tour.  Hopefully to someplace nice.  All trips have a low point and Santa Marta was ours.  Don’t believe that this is a charming coastal gem, and  more than the average tropical paradise.  It is hot, humid and no wind.  Don’t explore the downtown shopping unless you are shopping for pirated CD or stuffed dolls.  The exchange rate is 2000 to 1.  If you take money out of an  ATM don’t take much unless you want to bring it home as a souvenir.   This is the oldest city in Columbia and it has some catching up to do.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The first stop after leaving the canal was the San Blas Islands.  The islands of the archipelago are strung out along the Caribbean coast of Panama. San Blas is a series of 378 islands of which only 49 are inhabited by the fiercely independent Kuna Indians. The Kuna Indians, who run all the islands as an autonomous province  have their own economic system, language, customs and culture, with distinctive dress, legends, music and dance and thus have avoided traditional tourism development. San Blas is famous for one of its arts and crafts, the mola. Kuna women make rainbow colored fabrics, emblazoned with fish, birds, jungle animals and geometric designs that would impress Picasso himself. The men still fish from canoes as they did before Columbus came. They still run up to the corner coconut palm trees for something fresh and cool to drink each morning, just as they have for untold centuries.  These pictures were taken by my sweetheart while I relaxed and finish a Clive Cussler novels on board the ship.  She says I always miss the best things

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I planned to get up early and watch us enter the locks.  But I slept late and when I looked out the sun was high and we were in the locks.  Coming out of the locks we entered the first of tw o lakes that make up the canal, Lake Miraflores and Lake Gatum.   The canal is about fifty miles long and runs from southeast to northwest, so it is cutting back on itself going from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  It takes about eight hours for a ship to get through the canal.  Larger cruise ships are too big to get through.  Our ship was 950 feet long and 105 feet wide, the maximum for the canal is 106 feet wide.  Tight fit.  Cruise ships  are charged about 100 dollars per berth to go through the canal, so the Statendam has 1250 passengers and 700 crew or 1950 beds for people to sleep in and pays a fee of 195,000 dollars. By four o’clock we were out of the Gatum Locks and in the beautiful  Caribbean.  Blue water from here on out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Panama means the “place of many fishes”.  Panama City is the gateway to the Panama Canal.  After leaving Puerto Quetzal we arrive off the Fuerte Amador at 5:00 pm.  There are many ships waiting to enter the canal and we have to tender ashore.  It was about a ten minute ride from the ship to the dock.  We were heading over to the Miraflores  Locks, to see the ships coming through at night.  On the ride over there we saw the housing and facilities left behind when the Americans turned the canal over to Panama.  Panama City has over one million inhabitants and is an impressive city.  I asked one of the locals what he thought about the US coming down and taking Manuel Noriega.  He said the Panamanian people were more than happy to have him sent to Miami.  He said to “Keep Him”.  The US still has the obligation to protect the canal.  We were told American jets from Miami can be there in less than two hours.  We made it back to the dock by 11:00 pm and set by the water with a glass of wine until 11:45.  We were the last to return to the ship.  We’re to enter the first lock at five in the morning.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Puerto Quetzal is Guatemala’s manmade port along its 132 mile coast line.  The port has a new tourist facility, not open, and a dirt parking lot.  It looks like it was built the night before we arrived.  The Quetzal is Guatemala’s national bird.  You find it on all of their currency, their currency is the quetzal.  The quetzal is a large beautifully colored bird from western Mexico and Quatemala.  We decided to take a day trip to Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located about 5000 feet up in the mountains.  Antigua lies between two active volcanoes.  The active Volcan Fuego, at 13,000 feet, and the nearby Volcan Pocaya, may be seen at night spewing smoke and molten lava. As I write this they are having to evacuate several towns in the area due to lava flows.  The tour bus dropped us off at a place called Jade City.  A real nice store that is owned by a lady who is  a cousin of James Baker, the former Secretary of State.  Antigua is a beautiful city that you would want to see.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Near the border of Guatemala on Mexico’s Pacific coast is Puerto Chiapas.  Puerto Chiapas is the port for the city of Tapachula.  Tapachula is a city of 200,000 people and the port built in 1975 handles industrial cargo and the tourist trade.  The tourist facility is nice with a great restaurant overlooking the port.  We took a tour to the ancient ruins of Izapa.  From its beginnings as a small village sometime around 1500 BCE, Izapa grew into the region’s most influential cultural and commercial center with a population of possibly up to 10,000 people. After Izapa we went to the Chocolate City, I don’t think that’s the name of the city but that’s what the tour wanted you to believe.  But we did see the cocoa beans made into chocolate.  It was an amazing process that the ladies perform in the home.  I have trouble with fudge!!  The local girls did a few native dances for us before we headed back to the port.  Tapachula is very hot and humid so we had to sample some of the local beer at the port side café before getting back on the ship.  Next stop Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bahias de Huatulco, are actually made up of a series of nine bays and numerous small coves stretching along a jagged coastline.. The most centrally located bay is Bahía de Santa Cruz, which is just south of the town of La Crucecita. This is where the cruise ships dock. This is mountainous dessert country.  In the dry season the hillsides are mostly brown with light green dessert cactus right down to the coast line.  The coastline turns green with coconut palms, white sandy beaches and turquoise blue water.  Mexico has developed the port as a tourist destination with shops, bars and cafes as you step off the ship.  There is also a beautiful outdoor church on the beach where wedding take place.  In talking with our expatriate American tour guide the cost of his living down here was very low.  Our tour was by boat that took us to one of the nine bays.  Jump off the boat, swim to shore, have a cold beer and enjoy the day on the beach.  Don’t do this without sun screen or the sun will fry you crisp.  Take my word for it.  Huatulco is one of the sites of the old Club Med, it is wonderful and I will come back.  But after the day on the beach it’s off to Puerto Chiapas.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ship board life

As we spent the day cruising from Puerto Vallarta to Hautulco, I’ll talk about shipboard life.  Years ago, I thought it would not be fun to be trapped on a ship for a number of days.  After my first cruise, I was hooked.  For the amount of fun and the low cost it is a great experience.  Holland America and the QM2 attract an older traveler but the fun is still there.  It just doesn’t extend much past midnight.  On most cruises there are formal nights in the main dining room.  It’s a great chance to pull out your fine duds. On our eighteen day cruise we had five formal nights.  This is a little more than normal but you know the old folks life to dress up.  The Statendam has three pools, six plus bars, a casino, a spa, a great library, food service at any time of the day or night and a string quartet to entertain a few of us after dinner.  I mostly missed the evening stage shows, too much to do in other areas.  The one time I looked in on a show there was a Canadian comedian explaining that Canadians were just like Americans, except unarmed and with health care..  Sandy loved to sit around after dinner and listen to the Adagio Strings and sip Spanish Coffee.  Spanish coffee starts with a little flamed Sanbuco, then  Kahlua, congac, coffee and whipped cream.