One of the things I had not expected on the cruise was that at least 24hrs before each port stop, we had the opportunity to book excursions at the port. Why I had missed this in all of the documents G had given me to review, I don’t know. I just had.
After waiting in the luggage line, then the passport line, then the check-in line, we got on board. “Oh, don’t forget your excursions guide – and remember to turn it in fast as things sell out.”
I looked at G when we walked away – and he responded with “anything you want – it’s in the cruise budget.”
Excursions ranged from trips to see whales to sea plane rides to glaciers for sled-dog training. It was crazy.
Oh yeah, we were in Alaska.
The problem I found in picking things is that I wanted to see everything. I didn’t want 5hrs on the water to see a whale. I wanted an hour – see the whale – then do something else. Most items made me feel locked into something longer than I wanted.
In Juneau, I couldn’t decide. The weather was going to be crappy. (It was. 55 degrees and rain.) So going to see natural sites that would be socked in with fog and rain clouds felt like a disappointment. On a small boat to see whales felt wet and cold given it was raining pretty well. And some of the other items seemed excessive or just something I couldn’t do. No sea plane or helicopter for me – sorry.
So we decided to do our own walking tour. We found a couple of local websites that gave a decent tour, so we went. And got lost. And got wet. And found ourselves in places that really are not friendly to pedestrians. We saw some of the places, got wet, and opted for a late lunch on the waterfront at a well reviewed pub and seafood place. Best decision ever. Though the funniest part of the lunch was the beer menu. The touted the most local beer as well as the best west coast beer. Going through the west coast beers, I was like “had it, had it, had it, had it, etc.” It was funny how G and I were hoping for new things – and found a shitload of stuff we have had before. That was fine – just proves we do drink decent beer (me more than G). But the fish. Freshly caught halibut……yum. G had Alaskan salmon….yum. Soon after we left and the downpour started again, we said fuck it. We went back to the boat, put on our suits, and sat in the hot tub drinking. We were the first in the hot-tub, but in the end, most people were choosing the same option. The next day, we were talking to some other people on the cruise who talked about coming back from the 4-5hr tours soaked and miserable. G and I looked at each other and agreed we did the right thing in Juneau.
Skagway was another story. The weather was better, and we wished we had two days there because the options were better. After much review, we opted for the Ghosts and Good Time Girls Tour. It was a tour through Skagway exploring the brothels, bars, and more importantly the history of the town. Skagway’s downtown is much like it was back then (minus the electricity and the pavement). Skagway was considered one of the major ports of entry into the gold rush for Alaska. Some of what was described in terms of crime, gang, prostitution, and all reminded me of the series Deadwood. Ten murders a week, seventy saloons, and thirty brothels were what to expect by the 10,000 people flooding Skagway in 1898.
The tour was everything we had hoped for. Hearing the history, seeing the little things most would miss without someone explaining (such as the cribs – the small structures throughout town that were actually houses prostitutes used for their business if they were not in the brothels), and getting to see areas of some of the historical places most don’t get to see. It was great.
Victoria BC was the last stop where excursions could be done. We sadly couldn’t stop in the stop between Skagway and Victoria because the ice was too much. G was surprised I chose what I did because it was snorkeling.
Snorkeling in the Pacific NW which includes Victoria involves wetsuits. The ocean off the coast of Victoria where we would be was about 50-55 degrees. We were slated to have 2.5 hr excursion. Yeah – wetsuits were needed. Two wet suits in fact – a long sleeved one with long pants with a short sleeved one with shorts over the top. We had wetsuit boots and hoods and gloves. It was insane. And of course, the heat wave was hovering over the Pacific NW making Victoria much warmer than usual. It was nuts until we got into the water.
I should mention why G was surprised I picked this activity. I didn’t learn to swim until college when he taught me. I knew enough not to drown, but that was it. A couple of years after we were married, G and I was invited along to Mexico with his parents. His dad had a place he loved going in the winter, they had extra mileage they needed use or lose, so off we went. Once there, we were told they had planned for us to go snorkeling with sea lines in the Sea of Cortez. This was a case where a boat took us way out in the sea near a rock formation, we jump into the water, and we could swim. The water was warm enough we did not need wet suits or anything. “Isn’t this awesome?!?” I was asked. Kinda.
I liked the idea but this challenged my swimming confidence (or lack there of) more than anyone realized. The water was really deep – and the most fun was had if you were willing to swim around near the sea lines and dive deep down to see the real magic. It was fun. I will admit that, but damn – I was not the swimmer I felt I needed to be for that expedition.
Fast forward to now, and I was the one planning the snorkeling. Hey, it sounded fun and something we couldn’t do on our own as easily like the other things in Victoria. As we told people who were surprised we hadn’t done this or that, we live within driving distance to do those things in the future if we wanted. Why waste the chance on those things when we could do this?
When we got to the dive shop to get geared up, I looked at our group. “Damn,” I thought, “they are all in great shop – then there is me. Crap.” I was truly worried I could not keep up – that I would not keep up or make it. G reassured me it would be fine. G swam competitively in college. He has been swimming since he could walk with lots of lessons throughout his life. He used to boogie board in the ocean off the coast of San Diego and tells stories about the first time he got caught in a riptide, but escaped it and how he realized he would be just fine swimming in the ocean. I think he was 10 or 11. He tended to be quite optimistic about these things.
We were not even in the water for 15 minutes when one of our party got tangled in the kelp, panicked, and had to be pulled out by one of our guides. She never came back.
“If you think you’re caught, don’t panic – just keep swimming and you will get free,” the other guide yelled to us. I was not worried about getting tangled in the kelp but was more enjoying how fucking gorgeous it was in the blue water and all. And when I swam through so I could get between the kelp field and the sea wall, I found the really neat stuff. Sea anemones, sea urchins of all colors, fish, and this gorgeous blue iridescent looking plant stuff were all in that area. It was so freaking cool.
The plan was to start out near shore, then work our way to the point, turn around, then work our way back. This was not a short swim but not a huge expedition either. As we swam out, we spread out a bit, enjoying the sites. As I’m snorkeling through the kelp, seeing the amazing stuff under it, I found myself actually thinking that my next tattoo has to have kelp because watching it dance in the water was gorgeous. It was mesmerizing.
I popped up because I thought I heard something – and sure enough, it was our remaining guide telling us to head back to shore. I turned around and started to head back. I swam and swam and swam but I did not feel like I was moving. I popped my head up to see where I was and found I had made progress, but looking up negated my progress as the current pushed me backwards. Ugh.
I pushed myself further and saw some great things I had not earlier. Even found a huge starfish which is pretty amazing given the Pacific NW has a virus that is killing off the starfish. Seeing one is not something everyone gets to see these days.
I popped my head up again and saw a few more people struggling. I don’t know if it was the kelp or the current or both, but the guide who helped the first person ended up helping 3 more people after he got into the water. Seeing them climbing up the seawall was unexpected. But it also made me want to get to shore on my own. I am not a strong swimmer, yet I was doing better than 4 people now. I was going to hit shore and walk out of this water.
I won’t lie. At one point, I found G and grabbed onto it. I was getting tired – I felt like it was 2 steps forward and 3 steps back – and I needed a rest. G is an incredibly strong swimmer, so he was fine with me holding on which was good. I let him pull me a bit closer to shore but not for long. I decided I really wanted to finish this one my own, so I did. I swam hard. I was determined to get to shore. And in the process, saw lot of fish, a huge ass crab, and some other sea creatures I had not seen earlier.
Even when I got to the place where I could stand, I found the disadvantage of the suite and the boots and the fins — they want you to float not walk. I ended up forgoing the standing and went back to swimming. I finally got into about a foot and a half of water when I tried again. It was hard but I got to shore. When I hit shore, I pulled off the fins and snorkel and realized how fucking exhausted I was. That was hard. Awesome but hard.
I followed the guide out of the water and walked to the dive shop where it was a trial taking off the layers of wet suits just like it was putting them on.
I was tired, but I was happy. There were 9 of us to start; but only 5 of us finished the expedition. It made me feel good. And of everyone, I was not the strong swimmer. It was tiring and all, but it felt good.
When we were in Mexico about 18 years before, I know I was the first person in the boat. This time, I finished it with everyone else. What a great experience! What a great accomplishment!
What great fun. Yeah, I am seriously contemplating commemorating this with a tattoo. And yes, it will have kelp!