6 July - Yokohama
So, goodbye to Merry Mucking Mary; hello to Sea-Shantying Sailor Sally.
It was a good choice to while away my time on the farm, living with the lovely Yamaya family.
I am now enjoying 3 weeks of sea voyages. I came from Hokkaido to Oarai (near Yokohama) on the 19-hour ferry trip, the first of 4 sea passages. The others are: Yokohama to Canada: about 8 days; Prince Rupert to Whittier, Alaska: 3 days; Whittier to Valdez: 2 3/4 hours.
On the Hokkaido to Oarai ferry I chose the Economy accommodation, a large room with futon mattresses squeezed up against each other, which, if it had been full, would have meant being nose-to-nose with my neighbour! Mercifully, there were only four of us in the 12-bedded room. During the voyage, I had my customary hot-bath-with-sea-view.
I took 3 days to meander to Yokohama, camping free each night: beautiful, quiet, lakeside camping ground the first night; small park next to a baseball ground the second (the baseball team arrived at 6am the following morning to start their training!); park bench (yes, that's right, in the open, in true homeless style! but discreetly positioned behind a pretty trellis screen) the third - very nice to have a breeze on my face, which I don't feel in the tent. And it didn't rain.
Now, I am in Yokohama for two nights in a friendly, cheap hostel, leaving tomorrow on the freighter. There will be just 2 other passengers: an American woman and a British guy. I meet them tomorrow morning when I arrive at the hotel designated for the transfer to the port. I am SO looking forward to this voyage. :-)
Whilst spending hours weeding on the farm, I had plenty of time to think. One thing I thought a great deal about was relationships: how vital they are in our lives, how easy it is for misunderstandings to occur and for anger to rule our lives; how crucial it is to keep communication lines open and to keep forgiving in order to allow love to reign in our hearts. We each make the choice of which route we prefer: to tread the road of anger and self-destruction or walk the path of love and happiness. :-)
I shall try and put some photos on the website today. There will not be any postings until I arrive in Canada, as there is no internet onboard and I shall have limited email access.
It's raining again!
19 July - Prince Rupert, Canada
The trans-Pacific sea voyage was fantastic. Just we three passengers, the captain and 22 crew on this enormous 248m freighter with three-quarter full load of containers, travelling for 9 days mostly at a speed of about 22 knots (1 knot = 1.15 landmiles/1.85 kms) across a calm, foggy, expansive Pacific Ocean. Awesome! At one point we were 30 hours ahead of schedule and so had to off engines and drift for 6 hours one day and then 24 hours the next, so as not to arrive early at the berthing location in port.
Our cabins were spacious, clean and comfortable. We had our meals in the captain's and officers' mess; played Ludo (serious competition here, folks) in the officers' lounge, whilst they played their equally serious computer games; had a party, mit karaoke, one night in the crews' bar; knocked a ping pong ball to and fro on the table tennis table; thought about taking a cold swim in the pool, but never quite got round to it; took daily turns around the ship on Upper Deck (which is down below!); wandered up to the bridge each day to see what was going on; had a guided tour around the enormous engine room. As you can see, sooooo much to do to keep busy and not be bored at all. Oh yes, and working on the computer and writing daily journals, reading, resting, relaxing with wine or beers.
The only sunny period of note for the whole voyage was when we were coming up Dixons Entrance to Prince Rupert! This was the occasion to bring out our sunchairs and cushions, optimistically provided for us at the beginning of the voyage, which we promptly did, accompanied by our last couple of bottles of beer.
Seven days into the voyage, with nothing but a sea horizon or a foggy net curtain to view, we duly sighted our first land, whilst negotiating Unimak Passage in the Aleutian Islands. It was a memorably exciting moment, with volcanic mountains, whale blowholes, even a whale jumping completely out of the sea, and an endless flock of sea birds skimming over the surface across the port to starboard bows.
On Friday, 10 July, we had a groundhog day experience because it was followed by a second Friday the following day. This was due to crossing the International Date Line. We never quite got to grips with the process of it, though, because we did not actually cross the line until Saturday night at 11.15! (it was something to do with the ship's routine - apparently). Anyway, we waited for this momentous moment up on the bridge, where I was even allowed to steer the ship manually!!! (OK, it was for just a little while; even so, one felt the responsibility heavily upon one's shoulders). We watched for the crossing of the line by waiting for the compass bearing to go from +179 59' to -179 59' (it actually doesn't show 180 degrees). We cracked open a bottle of the ship's bonded-store best/only sparkling wine in celebration.
My fellow passengers, Krista and Elliot, were great. We all had fantastic fun together. Krista was going on to Vancouver and then getting off at Seattle, but took the opportunity for shore leave for 18 hours and so we all stayed in the same hostel in Prince Rupert. Elliot is travelling round the world for a year, no planes, just over land and on the sea. He and I are going to be travelling on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry tomorrow; he then will continue to Anchorage, and eventually all the way up to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean, whilst I shall go to Valdez and start cycling up and around and down through Alaska and British Columbia.
30 July - Between Tok Junction and Northway Junction, Alaska
I am so glad to have included Alaska on my itinerary. The scenery is great: Mount Drum in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park, glaciers galore (although, unfortunately, quickly receding due to warmer climes), trees, rivers, creeks and lakes. Some wildlife, but, to date, no bears or moose.
The five days in Prince Rupert were wet enough for me to whimp it in a hostel, rather than going off camping. Also, my computer needed seeing to, but this ended up pretty much a fiasco. Tip: make sure of a shop's credentials before handing over such a precious commodity, with the blythe assurance, 'oh, yes, we can sort that out for you, no problem'. It was returned to me in the same state as when I took it in, with a bill of about $120!! And an absolutely furiously rude shopman when I queried it! The only redeeming thing from this whole exercise was that a total stranger paid the bill for me; someone I encountered whilst out walking one day! Thanks, Joe. :-)
The 3-day ferry up to Whittier on the Alaska Marine Highway stopped at Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg, Yakutat. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. We went and saw the pretty green and white governor's residence. Cruisers are common all along the coast from Vancouver to here. That day 7 cruiser ships came into port, equalling 15,000 people descending on very small Juneau. We saw orcas and humpbacks during the 3 days. It rained a great deal and the third day saw half of the ferry passengers remaining in the confines of their cabins because it was such a bilious day, lurching from side to side anyone mad enough to try walking about the ferry. As a child I was always extremely travel sick; on this voyage, I took pride in my hard-won self-control.
Cold and wet Whittier meant that I didn't venture forth from the ferry terminal during the 6-hours wait for the ferry to Valdez (Valdeez), despite the recommendation of the best fish and chips in a nearby restaurant. The 2 3/4 hour ferry trip went quickly. Once in Valdez, I stayed with friends of the Alaskan couple I had met in Japan. They were very welcoming. When you are next in the town, do go along to the Rogue's Garden for great coffee and bagels and say hi to Bruce and Kathy from me.
Six days out of Valdez and I have been over Thompson Pass, camped on a closed campsite along with a German cyclist who happened to be there at the same time; we took water from the creek for cooking and hung my bag with smelly things in a tree out of reach from any bears that might be lurking. I stayed in a self-sufficient 5-acre homestead; in a 160-acre homestead with a fish wheel; in a caravan of a group of people with a helicopter who are working for the FAA (Federal Aviation Association) on top of a mountain to set up there three solar and wind towers to improve navigation systems for aircraft (or something like that). Last night I stayed on a state campsite, which means you pay $15 for the privilege of a basic toilet and well water, for which you are advised to boil before drinking. Tonight I am ensconced in a beautiful big new log cabin with all mod-cons, except there is no running water and there is an outhouse (a loo in an outside hut). I only stopped by asking for water (the biggest challenge on the Alaska Highway is finding drinking water), was accosted by a large dog with a very loud bark, until the owner , Rick, came along and ended up inviting me to stay the night. They have many animals coming onto their land. The prvious night there came a pack of wolves bent on taking down the dog - which had to be scared off by Rick and his daughter-in-law. They also have bears, caribou, lynx coming regularly onto the land.
Apparently, I shall now be travelling through an area where I am quite likely to encounter bears. So, we'll see ......