Sunday, July 29, 2012

Victor, Victoria

The Provincial capital for the BC - and what a beautiful city on Vancouver Island.  Eagles, great blue herons, ravens, orcas, buskers, tourists by the busload, and all the tour activities you might have time for.

Our stay on Vancouver Island was our next car camping stop, five days on the south east coast just ten miles or so from Victoria, fifteen minutes across farm roads to Buchart Gardens, and never too, too far from wine tasting.  And as we soon realized, our five days would barely be long enough to see parts of the island's southeastern tip, foresaking the majority of the island for a future venture. Vancouver Island being the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand.

Buchart Gardens were a color extravaganza, in bloom to the max, with crowds of tourists freshly off the hourly ferrys from Vancouver. An easy day tour for those short on time. Throw in a few hours in downtown Victoria, also abloom, a quick pub meal, and its a full day return to Vancouver well before midnight.

Victoria is a treat for anyone having previously been to the UK. Downtown consists of many well restored and maintained hotels and buildings of late 19th century British colonial vintage. Most of those buildings today catering more to the touring crowd's needs for good pub foods, local brews, and lots of trinket shopping.  A harbour centerpiece is the Empress Hotel, a major European grand hotel, sitting just diagonally across the marina from the British Columbia Parliament. And not to miss statues of Queen Victoria at appropriate intervals across the city. A yummy Indian buffet was feasted upon at the Empress for Sunday's dinner.  Yumm. 

As per every tourist destination, getting your 'activities' scheduled is most important.  So, between sitting in on performances throughout the weekend's busker festival, off to find Orca we needed to go. But which of the hundreds of whale watching tour boats?  Everyone boasting 'we're #1 on Trip Advisor, 'we're #1 on Yelp' , 'we track the most whales across the fleet', or 'we're the smoothest ride at sea'.  Well the choice was easy, prior reviews on the BC Wale Watch tour group's site told us that Captain Rick was a 'whale whisperer'. Decision set, we booked, and Orcas we found. Wow!

A quick five days and ferry time once again, this time heading further south again, Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. Yeah! Back to the USA we go!

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Back to Civilization .... Vancouver

Two months in Alaska - and we return to the Alcan to begin our drive, slowly, back.  First planned stop is Vancouver - a city that has nearly the population of all of the state of Alaska, and twenty two times the population of the Yukon Province of Canada.  We have left the wilderness.

First, we decide to take a detour and see Whistler - a very popular ski location - it is a very chichi location with all the best stores.  If you ever wondered what a ski resort does in the summer visit Whistler. It has become the mountain bikers mecca.  After viewing the bikers, and a short hike, we continued onto our Vancouver camp site.

And we were definitely in a city, with lots to see, wonderful seafood and, luckily, we were staying close to the metro, which meant we didn't have to drive.  It was our first double lane highway in three and a half months.   So touring we went.  A city of full of parks, individual allotments, and water.  We wandered the city, walked along the wharfs, enjoyed Granville Market, rode the water taxis, and took an incredible stroll at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Missing Anything?

After many miles, many trips, many pot-holed dirt roads, and many stickers to signify our travels, our skybox just flew off the roof on the Alcan.  We were able to recover the contents, but, alas, not the skybox.

A bit crowded since.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Fifteen things we have Learned so far During our Travels

1) It is a long drive from Hollywood, Fl to Skagway, Alaska. 
2) Spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with just each other can cause one and/or the other to be snippy.
3) There are 35 different types of mosquitos in Alaska, and almost all want your blood.
4)  Bison are very cool!
5)  Wolves and bears are even cooler.
6)  The Wizard of Oz was written about the gold rush in Alaska ... yellow brick road was the golden road.
7)  Alaska is four times larger than Texas, but has only around 700,000 population....and very few paved roads.
8)  Subsistence is used in both Alaska and Canada to refer to Native People,  who are given the right to live off the Land - fishing and hunting.
9)  Travelling with Ron means you see more of the back roads in any location compared with not travelling with Ron.
10) Bald eagles are so common in Alaska, that they are like the pigeons of Alaska.
11)  Friends don't let friends buy farmed salmon.
12) There are few to no defined hiking trails in Denali.  Hike where you want.  It helps assure no trace left.
13) The Alaskan Highway, built by the. US in 1942, to connect  Alaska with the US for the defense of the US, is mostly in Canada.
14) Kodiak Island is the 2nd largest island in the US, but only the 80th largest island in the world.
15a) Pickled salmon and pickled king crab are wonderful treats.
15b) It is a long drive from Alaska to Hollywood, Fl

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Friday, July 13, 2012

This Land is My Land

It's been 10 days since we last blogged - and in that time we've covered a lot of space - figuratively and literally.  We've attended a fourth of July parade in Kodiak Island, taken a 13 hour ferry back to the mainland of Alaska, stopped to see the largest tidal bore just south of Anchorage (what's a tidal bore - I hear yaou say.  It is when the leading edge of an incoming tide forms a wave. Glad you asked?) Spent our last few days in Alaska and now have driven over 2000 miles that has nearly put us in Vancouver Canada.  Oh, and increased temperatures by fifty degrees.  Am I cranky - you betcha!

Our last days in Alaska were spent in Glennallen - with access to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  We took a shuttle bus into the park to Kennecott - a 120 mile ride with 60 miles of the most pitted rocky road I've travelled.  I still am vibrating internally from the ride.  We passed waterfalls, glaciers - and reached the old copper mine of Kennicott closed in 1937 after depleting the copper, but giving JP Morgan and the Guggenheims 100 million in profit.

Unfortunately our leaving day brought rain - and we had to pack up in the rain and begin our slow journey back a bit soggy - us and our tent. 

As our drive began we bid farewell to Alaska and the Yukon.  With Alaska's cold rainy weather now behind us we've caught up this summer's heat wave spreading across the ' lower 48'.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Puff, the Magic Puffin

Kodiak, known for its bears, is also home for many seasonal puffins.  Puffins are definitely on the list of what we should see while we are in Alaska.  Bears, whales, blad eagles, sea otters, seals, carabou, wolves, orcas and puffins - and now we have seen all but the orcas.  But, puffins were escaping us.  We travelled wide and far on Kodiak Island .... driving 98% of the available roads.

Finally on day eight, after driving over 40 miles - half of it on unpaved pitted roads - we stopped to hike at Chiniak Point.  Hiking on the lush green coastal cliffs full of wildflowers, we had our first sighting.

Then today, we took out motorized kayaks. Yes, motorized. Lawn mower engines adapted to over-beamed plastic tubs. They idle cruise at a fairly moderate pace, with zoom, zoom bow-wave hopping with full throttle.

Leaving Kodiak harbour we skirted coast around two nearby islands, Near Island and Holiday Island, finding many rock shoals covered with gulls, and then to our joy several flocks of puffins floating at sea along our path.

Upon leaving Kodiak harbour we had been instructed to steer clear of kelp and flotsam, which would clog the engines water intake. Sure enough we hit a patch and simultaneously clogged both our engine resulting in forward motion of about 10% of our prior idle speed. Shortly thereafter Karen's engine gave out totally. Quick to keep things afloat Ron then roped the vessels together and began a slow floating limp to the nearest kelp free shoreline.

Some time later we landed on Holiday Island. Ron cleared both engine intake filters and off we floated once again.

Puffins ahead! Now that we spotted our first puffin there were puffins everywhere. We even became ever more skilled at approaching the puffins so as not to scare them off before we'd clicked off a few close-ups.

Putting on further we rounded Near Island's southern approach to Kodiak Harbour and began course north thru town. Timing being everything, winds now wipped up from the north creating a current south thru the harbour. Cranking up the throttle we punched our little craft north and made Kodiak harbour with some effort and belaboured cruising.  With winds now wiping up white caps beyond the harbour's breakers we smartly turned into the marina and headed for safety of the boat ramp. And surprisingly our rental agent was on the ramp to greet us. How'd that happen? Well, the GPS unit clipped to Ron's life jacket gave our arrival away. Moments later a truck arrived to pickup our kayaks, radio, and GPS unit. 

Back on shore we quickly changed clothes and made a beeline to Island Seafood's for today's fresh salmon cuts. Yummmm. Tonight it'll be king salmon filets. Last on the island. We also made our last stop at Pickled Willies for samples and our last bottle of picked crab.  Back at the B&B we polished off the remaining pickled halibut. Does it get much better? Not likely.

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