The ship arrives in Honolulu harbour very early in the morning. When I peek out the drawn curtains of my stateroom around 6:30AM, we are docked. I’m off the ship by 9:30am, cross Ala Moana Blvd, and walk the few blocks to old Honolulu. I try to cover some new ground, but also end up at the usual sights: Hawaii State Capital, Iolani Palace (closed), the Mission Houses (closed), and there’s a Hawaiian ceremony happening in the gardens outside the Kawaiahao Church (see banner image above).
I’m back on board the ship in just under two hours, having covered 4.7 kms. After a quick clean up in my stateroom, I head up to the Lido Bar to have a beer in the shade and hydrate a bit, given the heat of the morning. I also have a swim in the Seaview Pool, so I’m feeling much better, especially after having a shower and some roast pork for lunch in the Lido. Treating the ship as a resort is a wonderful benefit when we are docked overnight!
I have an afternoon nap, and then go for an early light supper in the Grand Dutch Cafe: grilled ham and cheese sandwich with fries and a Newcastle Brown Ale. I go to the World Stage at 6:45pm to get a good seat, since there is only one performance at 8PM of Drums of Polynesia, a local troupe. After waiting all that time, it is obvious to me that after they perform the first two numbers this is a dreadful, unskilled rendition of what should have been a spectacular cultural event. I walk out, retreating to the quiet of the Crow’s Nest Lounge and have my usual Tanqueray 10 Gin martini, while working on my photos taken today on my walk.
Ketchikan is our last port-of-call before our cruise ends in Vancouver the day after tomorrow. This morning after having breakfast in the main dining room before going on a photo safari tour excursion, which gets me out of the city. The historic Creek district of the city is our first stop. We visit the outside of the Totem Heritage Center next, mainly to see the Fog Woman totem pole. We then go to the library for a scenic view before driving to the Totem Bight State Historical Parknorth of the city. This is a recreation of an aboriginal village, featuring a clan house, totems, and other decorated buildings, along with a gift shop. The excursion was fine, but it was certainly the most underwhelming of any of the activities I’ve experienced on this trip.
After I return to the ship, I post my White Pass and Yukon railway videos from a couple of days ago since I now have sufficient bandwidth with the roaming mobile service I’m using today. I get dressed for a 7pm Italian dinner at the Canaletto restaurant up on the Lido deck. While I’m enjoying a pre-dinner martini in the Ocean Bar, I dictate my journal for today using speech recognition on my iPhone. I enjoy a Calamari starter, Veal Florentine Cannelloni main course, and Tiramisu for dessert. I’m finding it so decadent to indulge in such gourmet food accompanied with cocktails and wine!
I attend BBC Earth Presents : Planet Earth II with the Lincoln Center Stage performers on the Main Stage this evening. The performance is well done, with the live performers doing a great job of syncing with the media being played, adding a welcome dimension to the work. I also stop in to enjoy the evening entertainers at the BB King’s Blues Club.
It has been a relaxing cruise, but the land portion was more active and stressful, mainly from the required COVID-19 testing, since failing a test would mean quarantine, the end of the planned travel, disruption and extra expense. Now that I have an ArriveCAN receipt, I’m clear to enter Canada in Vancouver without further testing. Traveling without a smartphone and connectivity would prove to be very awkward, since using apps and online form filling are required to travel right now during the pandemic.
As is usual with cruises, the older people are hacking and coughing in the common areas of the ship. I am hopeful that they do not have the COVID-19 virus. It was a cloudy day today but we had some sunny periods and no rain, which was much better than the forecast indicated.
I have a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room this morning: vegetable scramble (eggs) with a cappuccino. There is no rush, since my excursion doesn’t leave until 12:10PM. I have lots of time to wander around Skagway, which looks a lot like Dawson City, since the storefronts are all historic looking, but mostly modern buildings inside. The first few blocks of State Street (the main street) has all the tourist shops and services, but walk further up the street a few blocks, or divert a block or two either side, and the real town reveals itself. Dominating the town are the deep sea docks for cruise ships, which once were also used for ore loading, and the multiple railway tracks of the White Pass and Yukon railway, which run from the docks along the eastern side of town.
I tick off a long-standing bucket list item today: riding on the White Pass and Yukon railway from Skagway to the White Pass Summit. The breathtaking scenery is a counterpoint to realizing the Klondike gold miners had to struggle up this steep mountain pass mainly on foot. When they got to the top, they had to go back down and up multiple times to haul their one ton stake to the summit before the North West Mounted Police would let them into Canada to seek their fortune in Dawson City, some 500 miles further! I think the excursion description is a great summary of my experience:
“Experience an unforgettable journey along the eastern side of White Pass aboard the world-famous narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, built more than 100 years ago. You’ll pass through some of the North’s most rugged terrain on board a comfortable rail car as you retrace the original route through breathtaking scenery to the summit of White Pass at 2,865 feet. Relax on the 40-mile roundtrip journey along steep grades and cliff-hanging turns as your train agent shares stories from the past.
Back in Skagway, board a motor coach and travel the historic streets of downtown Skagway, part of the Klondike National Historical Park. Visit The Lookout, a photographer’s delight offering a panoramic view of the Skagway Valley, glacier-clad mountains, Lynn Canal and your cruise ship.
Stop at historic Liarsville, a gold rush trail camp nestled beside a waterfall at the foot of White Pass. Liarsville is named for the journalists sent here to report on the Klondike Gold Rush, whose articles included tall tales of the prospectors’ exploits. Browse the authentic camp exhibits, including antiques and garments left behind by the prospectors and those who profited from them. A cast of ‘sourdoughs’ and dance hall girls will entertain you with a hilarious melodrama and a poem by Robert Service, the Bard of the North.
You’ll also have a chance to try your hand at the art of gold panning in the Liarsville gold fields, where you are guaranteed to find some gold to keep. Enjoy a snack, shop for souvenirs or have your photo taken with a dance hall girl.”
Would-be gold miners had a choice of two routes: the shorter but steeper Chilkoot Trail, or the White Pass trail, which promised a less steep but longer route. Both were punishing routes which lead to the interior lake region where the stampeders could begin their 550 mile journey to the promised gold to be found in the creeks and rivers of Dawson City. The White Pass and Yukon railway was built a few years later by an Irish-Canadian named “Big” Mike Henry, who built the 110 mile route over just 26 months for $15 million. He is quoted “give me enough dynamite, and snoose, and I’ll build you a railroad to hell.”
In 1982 world metal prices plummeted, so the ore from the mines the railway transported to ships dried up. The railway suspended operations until 1988, when they reinvented themselves as a narrow guage tourist excursion train between Skagway and the White Pass Summit. The active line was later extended to Bennett Lake (1990s) and Carcross, Yukon (2007). Due to pandemic border restrictions, currently only trips to White Pass Summit are offered.
After returning to the ship, I have dinner in the main dining room with a couple from south Texas. I start with crabmeat corn fritters, panko-crusted hake for the main course, and strawberry pavlova for dessert. The hake is really nice – a new fish for me. I see the Belt of Venus and the Earth’s shadow in front of us after sunset, as the ship makes its way slowly south down the Lynn Canal to tomorrow’s port of call, Juneau.
I go over to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. It is a buffet, so I have some insipid scrambled eggs, toast, a bit of bacon, some fruit and yogurt, and of course coffee. The staff are still learning their jobs, since the restaurant has only been open for a few days. It costs me $29 – these breakfasts are expensive!
I spend the rest of the morning doing a self-guided walking tour of the city (see map below), taking photos as I go. There are lots of funky buildings to see – some very old and some new. Some of the historic locations include Jack London‘s cabin and the Robert Service cabin, both of which are closed, so I see them from the outside. The Klondike Mines Railway Locomotive Shelter has several steam engines on display inside, but it is closed too, so I take photos through the dirty windows. They also have some derelict tracked vehicles outside that I speculate (despite missing dozer blades) were probably used for hauling goods through the bush, building roads and moving gravel and dirt.
A condemned St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – 1901 shows how a building foundation can be destroyed by permafrost heaving. The memory of the O’Brien Brewing and Malting Company is now reduced to a single beer wagon on a back street behind the Yukon Hotel. I walk back along the dyke on the Yukon River and approach the SS Keno sternwheel paddle steamer on display in a dry dock beside the Yukon River. This historic site is also closed, a recurring theme today! I pass by a former bank building where Robert Service once worked, the Flora Dora Hotel, another former “dance hall” in its heyday (Lulu Mae Johnson) and Klondike Kate’s restaurant & cabins.
The Dawson City Museum has some very interesting artifacts representing much of the rich history of Dawson City during the Gold Rush. The museum also houses an active Courtroom. The Riverwest Bistro on Front Street comes recommended by our tour director as the only place in Dawson City which offers espresso, so I enjoy a cappuccino and some lunch before resuming my walking tour this afternoon. Brown’s Harness Shop, 3rd Ave Blacksmith Shop, Red Feather Saloon, Ruby’s Place (historic brothel), the Downtown Hotel (home of the infamous Sour Toe cocktail) are all on my way back to our hotel.
Holland America arranges COVID-19 tests for the whole group late this afternoon in the hotel. We all test negative, so we are ready to enter the USA on our charter flight to Fairbanks tomorrow. Our hotel has a steak and salmon dinner buffet this evening. I avoid the steak since it looks like shoe leather, but the salmon fillets are nicely done in a light sauce. It makes a nice meal with rice and veggies.
I wake up shortly after 5AM and decide to get up, since the skies are clear and still dark, and the Milky Way looks spectacular curving over the Dragoon Mountains in the east to the south, with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in a broad alignment in the same region. I use my new Sony a7 III camera and the Sony Tessar 24-70mm zoom operating at 24mm for the first few photos, and then switch to my Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom and Sigma MC-11 converter to gain some wider perspective of the Milky Way all the way from the south to the north. Focusing manually using the Sony a7 III is dead easy, since when I touch the focus ring on the lens, the camera displays a magnified image of the star I’m using for focus.
My photos of the Milky Way turn out well, however I’m in for another treat an hour later after I spot the old but very thin Crescent Moon hanging over the Dragoon Mountains. I get my Sony 70-300mm zoom and take several photos with my Sony a7 III on Aperture priority and a -3 EV setting that seems to work very well. I have used my travel tripod up to now, but can handhold the lens for the final few shots as the Sun rises.
Garry takes us on a hike into Council Rocks, so I take my Mavic Pro drone along. I fly the drone at the two rest stops we make, and capture some wonderful video and photos, despite me losing sight of the drone several times in the bright sunshine.
There are clouds building in the sky this afternoon as I prepare dinner for the group. I make a double batch of ground turkey pasta, made with egg noodles and Classico pasta sauce, and served with vegetables. As expected, there is no observing or photographing the night sky tonight due to cloud cover. I show the video and photos from my Mavic Pro drone taken earlier today on our hike into Council Rocks. Everyone is blown away by the high quality and smooth motion.
I sleep in again this morning, but leave my cabin by 8:45AM to have a cappuccino and some breakfast. The ship is sailing along the coastline of the Dominican Republic for quite a while until she pulls into the port of Santo Domingo at noon. I’m on deck while the ship is being cleared by customs and immigration, and ask Camilla, the Tour Director if there are any spaces left on today’s city/walking tour. She indicates there are two spots left, so I take one, even though I’ve arranged to walk the town with my friends as well.
My friends and I are some of the first to disembark the ship, finding our way across the busy street in front of the cruise terminal, and climbing the stairs up into the historic colonial zone. The local kids have been let out of school to have their lunch outside, so I get some cute photos of them. We walk around the nearby old cathedral (Catedral Primada de America), but I soon peel off from my friends and return to the ship. Walking around in the heat of the day is not my idea of fun!
I have some lunch in the dining room and then grab my camera bag before debarking again to board the small tour bus for this afternoon’s walking excursion. Our first stop is across the river from where the ship is docked to see and photograph the Christopher Columbus monument and lighthouse. His remains are in this massive concrete monument, but we don’t go in. He landed at this location in the New World, representing the King of Spain. By most accounts, he was the first European to reach the Caribbean.
We then drive back into the colonial zone and are dropped off at the cathedral. Our guide gives us a narrated tour of the many interesting and historic buildings in the colonial zone: Catedral Primada de America, the Alcazar de Colon, the National Pantheon, and the National Monument commemorating national heroes.
We continue walking down the Calle las Damas a favourite haunt of the Vicerene Maria de Toledo, niece of the King of Spain and wife to Diego, son of Christopher Columbus. Apparently she used to walk there on her way to Mass with the other ladies of the court, hence the name Calle las Damas (Ladies Street).
As we cross the Plaza España, there is a giant Coca Cola Christmas tree display setup on the plaza in front of the impressively reconstructed house of Diego Colon (Columbus), who was a viceroy for the Spanish colony. It is fascinating to learn how the viceroy and his family lived, and to see the beautiful artifacts placed in the various rooms where they were originally.
It starts to pour rain just as we re-board the tour bus, and are taken along the first part of the city’s Malacon near the port, to the Presidential Palace (a photo stop I didn’t take advantage of), and drive through Chinatown on our return to the cruise terminal. We arrive about 15 minutes before the gangway is pulled up, so I’m glad I took the organized tour since the ship is guaranteed to wait for you! Thanks to our very good tour guide, I certainly have lots of interesting information about the city’s history, and better understand the country’s context in the Caribbean.
I watch a beautiful sunset as our ship leaves port, bound for St. Barts. We have a sea day tomorrow, which I am glad of. I have dinner with three men in their 70s who are best friends, and who travel together once or twice each year without their wives. They are wine connoisseurs who are working their way through the ship’s wine list, to the great pleasure of the wine steward!
Friday, November 25, 2011 – Day 5 – Santa Marta, Colombia
I get up early to take a tour to Taroya Park, which involves walking through Colombia’s jungle. The ship arrives on time and the tour bus takes the highway out of town on the way to the park, but soon comes to a stop because there is a protest blocking the road. Police are there, and apparently the protesters are upset over not having power in their neighbourhood, despite having the wiring in place. Eventually our guide comes back with the news we can’t proceed, since this is the only road to the park. Our guide gives us three options: return to the ship and get a full refund, be dropped off for the day at the resort hotel, or take a city tour. Both the city tour and the resort option include a folkloric dance at the Irotama Beach Resort.
Like most on the bus I choose the city tour, since in addition to the folkloric dance, we will see the main cathedral in town as well as the Gold Museum. Our first stop is the Irotama Beach Resort, which is 20 minutes out of town near a resort area. They have a beautiful beach, and offer us refreshments before the show starts. I choose a Colombian beer, which tastes very nice as I sip it under the palm trees. The folkloric dancers look quite similar to the ones I previously saw in Costa Rica and Martinique, but the young dancers do a great job. Apparently all Colombian children learn three folkloric dances when they are in school. See banner image above.
Our next stop is the main cathedral back in the centre of the city. Santa Marta is very much a third world city with dirty ditches lining the streets, narrow sidewalks, fruit vendors and old buildings with rickety balconies overhanging the streets below. As we enter the cathedral, our guide talks about Simon Bolivar, who liberated several Central and South American countries in his time, including Colombia. He is very much revered for his selfless sacrifice, since he died in this city from tuberculosis when he was in his early forties. The cathedral is impressive, with many alters decorated beautifully, however I’m most impressed with the large plaza surrounding the cathedral. It is a lovely civic space with no cars, shade trees, and some nice shops on the perimeter.
Our final stop of the day is the botanical gardens. We see lots of native flora and fauna, include the obligatory iguanas in the trees, butterflies, and there are several monuments to Simon Bolivar. Our guide shows us an old sugar cane plantation home where Simon Bolivar died, including the actual bedroom with original furniture. I learned about Simon Bolivar in grade school, but didn’t appreciate how much the people in Central and South American countries revere him. He was someone who bucked the system and believed in people power.
Our guide has some interesting things to say about Columbia and the reputation the country has with the drug trade. He feels the major cities are safe for citizens to go about their business and for tourists, and illustrates the point by asking us a question. What are the two major industries of Medellin? The obvious answer is Drugs, but the real answer is: Shipping tropical flowers to the United States, and being a centre of excellence for plastic surgery! He tells an interesting story on the second point. Apparently the two largest markets for plastic surgery in Medellin are women from the United States and Brazil. Another major market are young Colombian women who want breast implants. Apparently they often get their parents to pay for the surgery!
After the ship departs port and we have a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, I go to see the entertainment in the main show lounge. Julian Gargiulo is a classically trained pianist and does a great job playing the grand piano centre stage. He showcases some of his own compositions along with Chopin, and finishes with a classic Beethoven piece.