Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 9

August 5, 2009

Today was our first port of call, Haines, AK. The captain announced dockage & the gangplank deck for disembarkation. I had selected the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Float Adventure, & were to meet ashore pierside at 8:50 AM. Haines was small, quaint, quiet. The tide was extremely low, & I heard a local guide mention it was 25 feet. Tour guides stood about, holding signs identifying the different excursions. I signed up the waiver, & joined others on the bus.

“Tom” was our guide, although he never did tell us anything about himself. He was lively & gregarious & pointed out local points of interest. Across the aisle from me sat a young woman who wore a HAL name badge with photo: she identified herself as a travel guide. “Tom” chatted it up with her, & IMO, it became an unspoken contest between them of who knew more about local history.
As we approached the “put in point” inside the preserve, Tom explained to us what to expect. We’d split up into groups in 5 or 6 different rafts, we’d be given rubber boots & life jackets, & leave behind anything we don’t need. I offered to fill in wherever they may need one person, & Tom directed me to the raft being paddled by Brodie. Also in this raft was a 4-some form Colorado Springs, Paul & Joyce and daughters Judy & Makella. Kimberly, travel guide, was also in our group & she, Paul & I took the front of the raft.

It turns out Paul was (is?) a professor chemistry at some state university in CO, as well as an experienced mountain search & rescuer. I was certainly in good company.
The Chilkat River was quite turbid – a deep blue grey silt in motion. There were frequent sections that were quite shallow, & the bottom of the raft scraped as we crossed gravel bars. Brodie pointed out infrequent sightings of immature eagles, & frequent sightings of large, jet-black ravens.

Travel guide Kimberly continued her chat-contest, this time with raft-guide Brodie. Brodie was compassionate & tolerant; I grazed the random information, sifting through the ego. Chemist Paul had a good bit to add about the composition of the waters & the mineral deposits & their interaction.

The float trip was calm – no misrepresentation about the skill level for this. I did expect more Eagle activity. We passed a mature eagle perched on a point along the delta – the familiar white head is present on the mature birds, but the distinction between male & female is not obvious on mere observation. I did manage to get a great shot of a mature eagle perched adjacent to its nest. Brodie said these nests can weigh as much as a ton & achieve a depth of 8 feet. I don’t doubt these statistics, but they do seem extreme. I probably will research their veracity.

We reached the take out point & were met with the tub of shoes we’d exchanged for the rubber boots.
Tour guides set up tables & benches, & coolers of ice water, lemonade, coffee, tea & hot chocolate. They opened up trays of sandwiches & bags of sun chips. The sandwiches appeared to be turkey & cheese with lettuce on various choices of breads. There was also a large tray of chocolate chip cookies

We applauded our river guides – some were tipped, we returned to the bus & headed back to the ship. While on the bus, Tom promoted his books & sold T-shirts of the Preserve. I bought one at $20 – believing that a portion of the proceeds would go to the preserve.
Back at the pier, other ship’s passengers were waiting for their next scheduled excursion. I wonder how it’s decided how long the ship moors in each port. Haines seems to be our longest stay. I had only booked the one excursion, & so chose to venture up the hill to some of the shops.
Walking up the hill, I saw tour guide Tom. I sought – and received – his recommendation about a local shop selling smoked salmon. They had free samples of smoked salmon, halibut, various relishes & mustards. I purchased a couple of packs of halibut, one salmon, a few packs of chews for Ruca and Gracie, a whale bottle opener (novel!) and a salmon cookbook. They’ll ship.
Across the street was a gift shop with a lush floral garden at the entrance. The garden was what attracted me. The wares were rich – exclusive. The shop was small; the shopkeeper was sharp. “Where’r’ya’ from?” he asked, as did most. When I responded, “Southwest Florida” as I usually did, I was dumb-founded to hear his reply – “Fort Myers Beach?” No one said, fort myers BEACH. He had beautiful jewelry. I slowly, carefully inspected each piece, and he casually assisted my viewing pleasure by bringing various cases from the displays to the counter tops. I was mostly looking for gifts for Sarah & Lauren, but I saw a piece that was “PERFECT” ! for me!! It was a “have to have” It was a pin that would double as a pendant – sterling silver with ivory inlay. It was about 2” long – it was – a salmon. It was beautiful. I had to have it.
I stopped in another shop along the way, that advertised “local art.” The work was unique, & quite beautiful. I looked it all over – at least twice. I was about to leave & offered my thanks to the shopkeeper. She commented that I’d certainly given it quite the look over but hadn’t found anything. I told her I was looking for a gift for my daughter, that last year I visited Mt. Rainier in WA & brought back some dream-catcher earrings. She’d since lost them, and I was looking for a replacement, but it seems that noone makes dream-catcher earrings anymore, as the intricate details are too much for most bead-artists’ hands. Did I see the lavender pair in the front showcase, she asked. No, I hadn’t, so looked again, and WOW! They were absolutely beautiful! Lauren will love them!

I returned to the ship. It was “unseasonably warm” I dropped my backpack, my binoculars, camera, raincoat & hat, changed my boots to sandals and my long-sleeved shirt to a sleeveless Tee. I went up to the Lido Deck where others were sunbathing. The ship’s party planner / entertainment director “Bekka” was in the elevator when I entered. She called me the Paula Deen look-a-like. I’ll have to google “Paula Deen” to see if she was complimenting me – or not - .
At about the time we were set to sail, I went up on the fore deck to see how they undid the ships’ lines. I ran in to Dick – the male half of the couple I’d met in the lounge of the Hilton in Anchorage. He was doing the same thing – checking out how the ships’ lines were drawn. We chatted about cruising – this was his first experience on a major cruise line as well.

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