Breaching Whale

It’s the end of another week and I’m sitting in the Baranof Hotel lobby in Juneau, poaching internet and slurping an iced coffee. This past trip was great. The New Yorkers were all very friendly and fun (partly due to the 220+ bottles of wine they consumed within the span of seven days) and we had a great week of wildlife, hiking, kayaking, and weather – as far a Alaskan weather can go. I think the highlight of the trip for me was the morning Stephanie, our expedition leader, woke us up at 5:30 to announce a breaching humpback whale off our bow. I threw on some clothes, grabbed the camera that a deckhand lent me, and ran up the two sets of stairs to the bow. It was really windy and chilly, but the whale kept breaching and breaching for over half and hour, and I didn’t want to leave, despite the cold and spray that covered the deck. I got a few good shots, but I was wishing that I had my camera with its longer lens (which I did receive in Petersburg last week, and I’ve been dutifully shooting anything and everything I see). We have another full trip this week, and I’m hoping it goes as smoothly! I managed to fit in 16 massages last week, along with the hiking and kayaking and my yoga practice (which reminds me – I got accepted into the yoga teacher training program in Thailand, starting in November. I’m so excited!). I just hope I can keep it up for another six weeks!

Sailing Solo

After a week of training with Susan, I’m finally on my own! She showed me the ropes of being a Wellness Specialist and now I’m stepping into her shoes – leading a stretch class in the morning, booking people for massage, giving treatments, guiding hikes, and helping out with kayaking. Yesterday we were in Juneau for turn day and after I helped offload luggage, clean up the spa, and do a few more small tasks, I had time to walk around the town and check out the shops. Juneau is really touristy, so I spent most of my time in a coffee shop writing e-mails, at the great health food store, and in the bookstore.

Today was my real first day alone and it went great! This morning our expedition leader woke us up a bit earlier – around 6:15 (and yes it was already light out – the sun sets around 9:30 pm and rises at 4:15 am, giving us only a few hours of complete darkness) – to announce the sighting of a grey whale in Endicott Arm, where we were slowly making our way around bits of ice to Dawes Glacier. It was a baby whale, who was probably lost because grey whales don’t normally swim this far north. We watched his blows for a little while, then continued on towards the end of the fjord and the glacier. I headed up to the bridge deck for my stretch class and greeted the guests as they trickled in. I was a little nervous last night because I had never taught a class before, but I wrote down a rough outline of stretches to have something to look at in case I needed to. I did the routine in my room (I’m currently sleeping in a guest cabin, so there’s enough room on the floor to roll out a mat. I’ve also been practicing the ashtanga primary series almost every day) and practiced talking everyone through the stretches. The class went great and everyone told me how much they enjoyed it while I was handing out the smoothies after. There were about 15 people who showed up and 4 of them were from Vermont! One couple from Hyde Park and the other from Manchester. We don’t usually get many Vermonters on board, so it was nice to talk about my home turf!

After breakfast, we did short zodiac cruises in Endicott Arm. There were a lot of icebergs and bergy bits (tiny icebergs), so we couldn’t get as close to the glacier as we did the other day. We were there last week and got the zodiacs right up close to the face of the glacier to watch the calving (when parts of the glacier fall off). One huge chunk fell off and created a wave that we felt even 1/2 a mile away. Looking at the glaciers and mountains here in Alaska is really disconcerting because everything is so big that you can’t tell how big or wide they really are. Even though we were 1/2 a mile away, it felt and looked like we were much much closer and the width of the glacier looked to be about a 1/4 mile at the most, but was actually a mile across.

In the afternoon we went ashore at Williams Cove for a hike. I went with Bette Lou on a “long, bushwhacking” walk where we muscled our way through devil’s club (think literally), over moss covered logs, and down a rocky stream bed. We saw lots of signs of bears – fur stuck on tree bark, scat, and crisscrossing bear trails – but no actual sight of the animals.

We also had the opportunity to listen to a guest from the Harvard Museum of Natural History give a lecture about salmon. I’ve never been particularly interested in the fish, but they really are amazing creatures. The eggs hatch in freshwater streams, then when the salmon are old enough, they travel downstream to the ocean, where they go through immense physiological changes to accommodate salt water. In the ocean, they feed on krill and shrimp (both red in color, giving the salmon the red pigments in their flesh). When it comes time to spawn, the salmon – scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean – return to the same shore, the same river, and the same tributary they were hatched in. The voyage back to their spawning grounds is so exhausting and dangerous that they have only a little time to lay and fertilize their own eggs before they die. She also talked about farmed salmon and how devastating it is to wild salmon, the environment, and possibly our health. Farmed salmon are packed into small corrals so tightly that they need to be fed antibiotics to be kept healthy. They’re also fed small pellets for food rather than krill and shrimp, so the flesh of the fish would be beige or brown if the ‘farmers’ didn’t also include red dye in the salmon’s diet. Finally, sea lice is a common occurrence in the ocean and occasionally attach themselves to salmon. Farmed salmon, however, attract lots of the critters and to get rid of them, the ‘farmers’ dip the fish in fresh water and the lice fall off. As the wild salmon leave the freshwater streams, though, and enter the ocean, they pick up the fallen sea lice and without ‘farmers’ to remove them, the sea lice weaken the wild salmon and they eventually die.

So the take home message? DON’T EAT FARMED SALMON!

In Fairy Land

Well, I finally made it to Alaska, after 24 hours of sitting in airports, standing in lines, squirming in airplane seats, and not really knowing whether I’d make it to Sitka on time. My flight from Miami to Dallas got delayed three hours due to bad whether in Texas, so I grudgingly accepted that I would miss my connecting flight from Dallas to Seattle, but kept my fingers crossed that I could jump on a later one. We finally got underway and arrived in Dallas around 9:30 pm where I spent the next two hours standing in line waiting to see whether I could get on the last flight from Dallas to Seattle (which already had 62 people on standby – the weather in Dallas had messed up many peoples flights significantly and the airport was teaming with stranded travelers. I could only laugh when I saw airport workers roll out stacks of army cots for people to sleep on).

I must have good karma because when I finally reached the counter and gave the woman my ticket (the one for my 6:00 flight), she promptly printed out a boarding pass for Seattle. Somehow I had already been confirmed, which made my night look a lot more manageable.

I slept most of the way to Seattle and by the time we touched down it was almost 2 am. I had a hotel booked through Lindblad, so I picked up my bag (slightly amazed that it made it) and took the shuttle to my hotel to sleep for the next three hours… I had to be back at the airport at 6:15 to catch my 7:45 flight to Juneau and connecting flight to Sitka.

It was uncertain at times whether I’d make it, but I am on the ship now and just returned from a beautiful hike a few miles outside of Sitka. I went with Lavon, the purser, and we hiked up through the mossy forest and old-growth trees to a cascading waterfall, and then down to a small lake nestled between steep ridges. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. I felt like I was in a fairy land. Lavon brought her camera, so hopefully I can upload some pics later.

My last day in Miami was good, but I wasn’t ready to leave! The evening before I did a water massage workshop, which was amazing! The instructor had made props out of foam noodles that supported our heads and legs. Then we took turns either floating and receiving, or giving the ‘massage’. It’s not really a massage in the sense that you palpate the body. Instead you use your hands, the traction made from moving in the water, and your own body motions to move the other person. It felt amazing to both receive and give and it’s definitely something I want to pursue later. The next morning, after yoga class on the dock, Mina and I had a nice chat over breakfast (really good homemade granola!) about my new position and the company in general. We did a bit more training for the treatments on the ship and then it was time to leave!

Being staff now is a lot different. It was weird to step on the ship and know that I didn’t have to worry about getting my cabins turned or setting up the dining room for dinner. I didn’t really have any obligations, so that’s why I got to go for a hike. Being Wellness Specialist will be a lot more laid back and less stressful, which I’m very very grateful about!