The main theme of Paul Theroux’s recent travelogue on Mexico is economic and social exploitation. Large corporations have usurped the role of governments through global free trade agreements to increase their profits. He cites the narrow band of factories – appliance, textile, pharmaceutical and automobile manufactures who picked up and moved across the Mexican border to exploit cheaper labour, as evidence. The small Mexican farmer was dealt a significant economic blow by genetically modified crops and competition from huge American factory farms as a result of the 1994 NAFTA agreement.
The practice of some NGO’s and aid organizations to decide on what impoverished communities need, without actually consulting them is too common he says. e.g., fresh water is needed and a school is built. Foreign aid as practiced in the third world, is essentially a failure, futile in relieving poverty and often harmful, relieving the ills of a few at the expense of the many. Pretty harsh words. Paul cites his extensive travel in Africa over fifty years as the basis of his first hand conclusions. He sees the same failures in Mexico.
The Mexican drug cartels known as narcos, have exploited the safety of people. Everyone is very cautious and lives in a gated secure community whenever possible. The U.S. is about to declare these narcos as terrorist organizations. However, it’s the huge American demand for illicit drugs which fuels this mayhem.
I stuggled with this book. Parts of it were interesting and other parts were somewhat boring. When he talks about Mexican social trends, cultural issues and literature, he is at his best. When he bogs down is a small town to interview obscure individuals, the story slows to a crawl. The “plain of snakes” does not actually exist per se but this title serves to sell more copies of the book no doubt. In any case, after writing more than 50 published books, he has earned the right to ramble on. I would give it a 3 out of 5 star rating.
Looking much forward to getting down to Mexico again and feeling the warmth ourselves firsthand.
Everyone. has to die once and then face the consequences.
One of the more curious and macabre aspects of Mexican culture is their reverence for death. Nosa Senora de la Santa Meurte – Our Lady of Holy Death – has a huge cult following that is growing fast across Mexico claiming millions of adherents. Outlawed by the Catholic Church, this folk saint is associated with healing, protection and safe delivery to the afterlife. While we in the north tend to regard death as horrorful and not to be discussed socially. In Mexico they openly acknowledge death and celebrate it on the Day of the Dead with public parades and festivals.
Many of the death ritualized masquerades in Mexico had their origins in the Aztec culture, an empire of blood sacrifices and skulls and glittering masks. “During the 20th century, a gay familiarity with death became a cornerstone of national identity. Mexico’s nationalization of death had a more nihilistic and lighthearted component. It is a modern refurbishment of a medieval theme.” writes Claudio Lomnitz as quoted by Paul Theroux. “The Mexican chases after death, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, and sleeps with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his lasting love.”
Is it any wonder? There are over 35,000 murders annually in Mexico – that’s almost 100 per day, a country with a population of 130 million. In 2018 in the U.S there were 15,500 reported murders. In Canada during 2017, police reported 660 murders. Mexico’s violent past – the War of Independence, the Mexican American War, the Mexican Revolution, earthquakes and now the Mexican Drug War, only serve to reinforce the constant reminder, that death will strike each one at any moment.
How morbid you may think. I tend to agree. For we gringos, (actually Canadians are not Gringos, only Americans are) it is hard to get our heads around this “pastime”. I am not a particular fan of the Day of the Dead, Gothic masquerade parties, nor even much for Halloween anymore.
But wait, there is something redeeming to this. Practicing a frequent remembrance of death serves to make life more intense. It increases one’s vitality. It’s like waking up every morning and saying, “Hey I’m still here.” as Paul Theroux reflects. We have seen this vitality in the eyes of Mexicans we meet – a reverence, gentleness, calmness, patience, humbleness and acceptance of life and death – the way it is. Memento mori – remember you will die – is a subtext of Mexican life.
Guerrero is one of the most dangerous and crime ridden states in Mexico. According to Wikipedia, “The Guerrero State is listed as Level 4 – Do Not Travel by the United States Department of State stating armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers. Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide assistance here. It is recommended that nobody travel to Guerrero if possible.” Acapulco as a tourist destination is out.
The main reason for this area’s carnage is massive poppy cultivation in the local hills. The poppy species grown here is a major source of opium which is used by the local drug cartels (known as Narcos) to produce heroin, which they then export to the U.S. In July of this year, Mexicos’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) announced that the government will provide marketplace price supports for corn and other grains as part of a strategy to give farmers an alternative to planting these illicit crops.
On September 26, 2014, 43 male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College in Guerrero were forcibly abducted and disappeared in nearby Iguala. The students annually commandeer several buses to carry them to Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre where hundreds of student protesters and onlookers were shot by the army.
Well this year was different. Paul Theroux speculates that the bus the 43 students commandeered happened to be full of hidden illicit drugs. The corrupt local authorities took this as an affront and ordered municipal police to abduct and kill the students. The government tried to blame the whole thing on a local crime syndicate who supposedly had mistaken the students for rival cartel members. No one accepted this story line. The perpetrators and their motive remains unknown.
To this day, not a trace of the 43 missing students has ever been found. Their parents demanded again this week that police involved in the disappearance and the officials who botched the original investigation, face justice.
As Paul mentions in On the Plain of Snakes, when an oppressed group in Mexico airs a grievance, it doesn’t mumble. It takes to the streets with resolve, holds a demonstration in the main plaza, camps out in front of a ministry in a defiant vigil, burns a bus, blocks a motorway. The parents of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students met with AMLO and gave the federal government 2 more months to produce results, or they will increase the intensity of their protests.
The government claims that it is making progress in the reinvestigation, but objects to the timeframe pressure being imposed. We shall see what happens, as Marie and I will be down there in January when the deadline expires… In the meantime, let us pray that justice is achieved for the parents of these missing sons.
I would like to start a series on Understanding Mexico. They seem to have some serious problems down there. Not sure how far I will get with this as I am not knowledgable about Mexican history, their culture or language. However we do spend winters there and I would like to learn and share more about this beautiful place and people. I am part way through Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes, A Mexican Journey, and will be using it as my road guide.
The socio-economic problems in Mexico are primarily due to political ones. According to Paul, Mexico was bankrupted in the 19th century due to three major conflicts:
With a bankrupt nation, the only way to sustain political and security institutions is through corruption ie. instituting an inbuilt bribe tax. What this means is that in Mexico, you cannot distinguish the good guys from the bad ones. For example the police are paid very low wages in Mexico and some are known for “shaking people down” – namely insisting on a cash bribe or you will be locked or roughed up. Hence some police are not there to serve and protect as we know it in Canada, but rather perhaps, to line their own pockets to pay their bills. The other side of this is that if you have or will be committing a crime, you can pay some police to look the other way. Frightening, isn’t it?
The next part of the equation is that America criminalizes drugs like cocaine, heroin, even marijuana. This creates a huge market for illicit drugs that Mexico is happy to supply. Drugs flow north, money and guns flow south. The drug gangs referred to as “the Mafia” by locals control this trade and are not willing to give it up without a fight. Hence the extreme violence between the drug cartels and anyone else caught in the middle.
Bring in the military to a region and the killing rate goes up. This is exactly what happened in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, TX a few years back. The military are expert killers and not accountable for who they target. In fact, Theroux says the drug cartels hire ex-military staff precisely because they are such good killers.
So what is good about Mexico other than the weather? Why even risk going there you might ask? It is because the average Mexican you meet, faced with all this institutional dysfunction, becomes very self-reliant, family focussed, more religious, entrepreneurial and charitable, willing to help others, since they can’t count on the police or government for assistance.
As the saying goes within the expats community “Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart, you can never go home.” We too have found this to be very true.
Ioco (Imperial Oil Co) Refinery was built in 1914 in Port Moody (Vancouver), BC and closed in 1995 when it was converted to a petroleum products terminal. I worked there as a chemical process engineer from 1974-78. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The refinery converted 40,000 bbl/day of light Alberta crude oil to a wide range of products including gasoline and diesel fuels, aviation and marine fuels, home heating oil, propane, butane, bunker fuels, asphalt and specialty chemicals like xylene. Crude oil arrived by pipeline; products were shipped out via pipeline, truck, rail, ship and barge. As such it was a small medium complex refinery. The diagram below is indicative of this facility. We did not produce petroleum coke or hydrogen.
I was contact engineer for the crude distillation unit and then subsequently for the amine treating and Claus sulfur plant. As contact engineer I was responsible for monitoring and reporting on the operation, dialoguing with the operators and equipment techs on issues as well as for special projects such as optimizing the thickness of insulation to install on heated oil tanks, designing pumping and product blender installations, etc.
A good part of the job was problem solving. We were taught that “A problem is a deviation with a cause unknown.” We were given lot’s of training on how to solve problems. Example problems: “We are flaring off too much propane this week because the capacity of the merox treater is down;” or, “The output of the sulphur plant is low because we can’t control the air to H2S ratio accurately.” Fix it! You get the idea.
I remember my first day, entering the control room glittering with controls and screens, slide rule and text book in hand, thinking I was going to change the world. The operator looks up at me and scowls to himself, “not another green engineer that I’ll have to break in.” Well I quickly learned to be humble, ask questions, build trust and gradually the operators would open up and tell you what the problem was from their perspective e.g, “I can’t increase the flow to the crude unit without the safety valve blowing on the distillate recycle tank. Maybe the safety valve pressure setting should be checked.”
Once the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union went on strike. I think it was over the imposition of wage and price controls by Pierre Trudeau. Well we engineers and management staff took over operating the refinery. I remember working 7 x 12 hour midnight shifts in a row. We would walk around the units checking the colour of a gauze indicator pinned to our jacket. If it started to turn brown you were in danger of being gassed to death by H2S. I got so tired and stressed out I had an anxiety attack and quit smoking for awhile. Probably a good thing, lol.
The best thing about working at Ioco was the people. I made so many friends there. We skied together, golfed, fished and partied. We had fun and felt a real calling to working there. Imperial Oil was and probably still is an extremely well managed company. However it is a tough company not unwilling to make changes which affect people. After 4 years at the refinery, I moved to their Product Distribution Division for another 4 years.
About the demise of Ioco Refinery. Remember that pipeline, the Trans Mountain that brought crude oil from Alberta? Well turns out it can also bring refined product. In 1976, Imperial built a brand new state of the art refinery in Edmonton. The Strathcona refinery was huge, first 120,000 bbl/day, then 165,000 bbl/day and now 187,000 bbl/day capacity. In 1995, Imperial Oil decided to shut down the relatively inefficient Ioco Refinery and ship refined petroleum products by pipeline from Strathcona and some by rail to Vancouver from Alberta. The cost of the landed product is less this way. So Ioco Refinery was permanently shutdown and dismantled at the end of 1995. A sad day for the hundreds of skilled employees that worked there for sure.
Two other Vancouver refineries were shut down leaving only one in operation (Parkland Fuels Corp.) Fast forward to 2019. The population of British Columbia has grown immensely, particularly the Lower Mainland. There is now a shortage of refined product which is filled by imports from Washington State. There is an industry perceived need for a new refinery to be built in Vancouver but the political, social and environmental forces arrayed against this are huge. Meanwhile, massive traffic jams, slow commutes, unaffordable housing and high priced fuels are common here.
I am all for a greener future but we have to stop driving our fossil fueled cars, make better use of solar and electricity to heat our homes, take public transit more often, stop flying, cruising etc. Thanks for all those memories Ioco friends, you are not forgotten. In the moment, what do you think about the oil industry, pipelines and how we can ensure a greener future?
We disembarked the Westerdam efficiently. However Dave had now picked up the head cold that Marie and everyone else on board got. We picked up our rental and were soon on our way to North Van in some light showers. We have been to YVR (Vancouver) several times before and Dave had lived here after university graduation, many years ago.
Finding our way to 1053 Lillooet Rd, Dave’s old residence, was tricky due to all the new condo development. There is a Holiday Inn where the Coachhouse Inn used to be. Took a few photos and chatted with the people across the street, who incredibly had also lived in 1053. They said this place would fetch 450k now more than 10 times what it was worth back in the early 80s. It’s a small 2 bedroom condo.
We then made our way to North Van St Paul’s Church to say hi to Fr Tap Kurideepan. OMI. It is a heritage Squamish First Nation mission church that has great spirit and is going strong. We drove across the Lions Gate Bridge and found the Oblates residence called Pandosy Place in the heart of Kitsilano. Fr Robert Smith, OMI greeted us warmly as did Fr Jim Bleakley, OMI. It was Mary Immaculate’s Feast Day to honour her birthday. We were treated to a Liturgy of the Word followed by a social and dinner. Pandosy Place is named after Fr. Charles Pandosy, OMI who achieved folk hero status in B.C. after a life of itinerant ministry to first nations and settlers in the Okanagan Valley in the 19th century.
The next day we hit the road again and visited Dave’s old Imperial Oil work haunts in Burnaby and Port Moody. We drove by the Trans Mountain Pipeline Terminal. Judging by the construction going on there, they are expecting imminent approval despite the latest court challenges.
We drove up past Ioco to Belcara Park on Burrard Inlet and watched people fishing for crab. It was so peaceful and mystical. Returning home we opted to go out for dinner on W 4th Ave to avoid contaminating the 7 elderly Oblates living in beautiful Pandosy Place.
The next day was sunny so we drove up to Whistler along the beautiful Howe Sound. The highway has been twinned and greatly improved since the mid 1970s when Dave used to drive it in winter. We walked around Blackcomb and Whistler villages marveling at the world class resort this has now become. Visited the Olympic Centre and then headed home. Dave was still suffering from the head cold he got on the cruise. Marie was finally better.
Our last day we headed for Granville Island on foot, walking the Greenway path right next to our residence. Dave remembers when they opened this giant marketplace in 1979. It consists of shops, restaurants, a market and nautical service outlets all crammed into what is a former industrial site. State of the art back then it still looks pretty good now but is very crowded with tourists all the time. We took a longer walk back via Kitsilano Beach, our holiday here now almost over.
We are ready to go home sweet home. After Oraison (group silent prayer) we had a social hour with Frs. Robert, John, Gilbert, Vince, Oliver, Jules, Andrew and 2 others. It was great followed by dinner and laughs. We felt so welcome and honoured by our Oblate hosts, getting to participate in their daily prayerful lives.
The next morning we said our goodbyes and had an uneventful trip home. Our colds finally gone, thanks be to God.
It was a visit down memory lane – some good, some not so good. Thanks for reading.
I will be following this post up with one about the demise of Ioco Refinery and related issues.
(You will very likely be happy to know this is the last posting about this cruise.)
Our last sea day on board the Westerdam was enjoyable. They offered an Alaskan king crab with salmon lunch for previous Holland America (HAL) cruisers which was excellent. They gave us nice ceramic HAL coasters as gifts. Then we did a 5k walk for cancer research (10 laps on the Promenade deck). The captain gave an interesting talk about bridge controls and ship features. We learned that the Westerdam cost $450M to build 15 years ago and weighs 86,000 metric tons. It has 2×13,500 HP azipod stern thrusters which can rotate 360 deg, 6 bow thrusters to help in docking and 2x25x8ft stabilizers which act like wings to level the ship. On our way out we saw the moment on TV when Torontonian Bianca Andreesku beat Serena Williams in the 2019 US Open Tennis final. Yeh Canada!
Overall we enjoyed this Holland America (HAL) cruise but perhaps not as much as past Oceania and Celebrity Cruises we have taken. Holland America is a mass market cruise line that draws cruisers who tend to prefer the more traditional ways of cruising. There is less buzz. Founded in 1873, Holland America has a long history and a steady following. Opinions abound that ever since Carnival Corp’s takeover of HAL years ago, quality seems to be sliding in an effort to cut costs.
Keeping everyone healthy onboard is always a big challenge. We noticed there was no enforcement of hand sanitizer use upon entering the Lido/MDR nor was there a personal health disclosure form that each passenger had to fill in upon boarding. Both these practices were in force last year on Oceania Cruises on our Baltic cruise. We appreciated that there was a Catholic priest onboard offering daily Mass. This a common practice on HAL and very rare elsewhere.
People were calm and polite onboard. Staff were extremely friendly, polite and well trained. They really try hard to please and seemed generally happy working for HAL. The itinerary and weather were generally good. The food in the Lido (buffet restaurant) was disappointing. Eg, all types of fish tasted the same and was overcooked, side plate salad appetizers looked rather unappetizing. Food in the dining room was good to excellent, arriving just a bit cool sometimes. The Westerdam ship was adequate and very clean but at 15 years old, is showing it’s age in our view. We absolutely loved our aft balcony cabin which gave us a 270 deg view. Highly recommend aft balconies! Pool and hot tub were good as no one else was usually there.
By the numbers:
7 nights Anchorage to Vancouver
3 ports, 3 sea days
2600 kms, 125,000 USG fuel (bunker and diesel)
passengers 1900, crew 783
best day – Glacier National Park (10/10)
worst day – pulling out of Seward in the rain
respiratory illness alert while we were on board (many were coughing with some fever for a day or 2)
excursions our group had arranged were average to good, say 6 on average (no bears, did see lot’s of salmon, eagles and a few whales, best was to Meldenhall Glacier and falls)
really enjoyed the train ride from Anchorage to Seward
Anchorage itself, so-so due to the location of our hotel and high prices
the trolley bus tour we took there was fun and excellent
the drive to Mt Aleeska resort and tram ride were excellent
this was more like a river cruise than an ocean one as you are close to shore which is probably one reason Alaska cruises are extremely popular
best moment of the whole trip was when the sun came out in Glacier National Park, totally unexpectedly
even the captain Vincent Smit remarked how lucky we were that day!
Ratings (Marie’s – Dave’s)(out of 10)
ship 6 – 6.5
itinerary 6 – 7
food 7 – 7.5
shops/activities 7 – 6
service 9 – 9
cabin 8 – 9
overall 6 – 7 (Our previous HAL cruise on the Zuiderdam we rated 8)
Would we cruise on HAL again (this was our 2nd)?
– not likely, but never say never
Would we cruise Alaska again?
– not likely (too much like NFLD for Marie and like YVR for Dave) plus, we prefer warmer climate cruises.
Thanks again for travelling with us. If you haven’t cruised yet, perhaps you would like it too.
We awoke on day 4 docked next to downtown Juneau, the capital (pop 33,000). You cannot drive to get here – only boat or planes connect it to the outside world. Tall hills tower above us as the Celebrity Eclipse parallel parked in behind us. The Norwegian Jewel was also in. Sharron called to say she was finally good to go!
We all walked off to the pleasant downtown and caught our taxi right beside a large fish processing plant. We drove to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier Park. We walked on the trail for about 20 minutes to reach the base a wonderful waterfall. The huge tidal glacier was another couple of km away and not accessible. Many photos later we turned back. Dave walked by a stream teaming with large salmon. Bears were close by but we did not see any. Our cab picked us up and we were back in town, wandering around the many shops and boutiques. The Crystal Symphony ship was now in too. Another great outing in the warm Alaskan sunshine.
Our taxi driver was originally from El Salvador. He explained that Alaska puts aside royalties from petroleum and mining. Every Alaskan receives an annual dividend payment from this investment. An incentive to come and live here for sure. Ex Governor Sarah Palin tried to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage but failed. We chuckled.
We had lunch on our sunny balcony as a pile driver drove big piles into the sea nearby for a new pier and float planes took off and landed in twos and threes. Time for another hot tub and swim before sail away. Then off we went toward Ketchican in the glorious sunset. Another very nice day.
Next day, we pulled into Ketchikan mid-morning. It was clouded over but not raining as forecast. The HAL Oosterdam, a Regent ship, the Coral Princess and Norwegian Bliss were already there to greet us. Later the Celebrity Eclipse showed up again after the Bliss left. All in all, roughly 14,000 cruise tourists in one day here!!
Art our tour guide, is Haida whose family came from BC. Ketchikan is actually on an island, the salmon capital of the world with a population of 14,000. We drove by the Simsian Nation island reserve. Art said they have timber and fishing rights on their lands. We are a 1+ hr float plane flight from Prince Rupert, BC.
We went to a small river but perhaps as it was midday again, we saw no bears eating salmon. We then visited the Saxman Totem Row Park. It consists of dozens of authentic totem poles relocated from Tlingit village sites in the 1930s. We met a native guide and followed him around. Each totem pole tells a story but you need an interpreter. Art then took us to another stream teaming with pink salmon. As we went to pick one up a local man came over and blasted Art for encouraging this. Art’s response to us was that there are a billion pink salmon (the least valued type) and they are all about to die anyway.
We saw a few more interesting sites. Ketchican Indian Community Centre provides free medical, clothing, food and housing assistance to any Native American. You have to prove you are at least 1/8th Indian explained Art. 1,145,000 annual tourists visit each year. 12+ feet of rain a year, 1949 record 202.55 inches = 12. 66 ft. Salmon like rain. We learned a lot about life here from Art.
Back on board the HAL Westerdam, it was gala surf and turf night in the Main Dining Room followed by a singing and dancing show on the Mainstage. Food was excellent, the company great and the entertainment very good.
As we entered Glacier National Park on the Westerdam it was grey, cloudy, foggy and windy with a bit of rain. Oh sure we thought, won’t see much today. As we journeyed north to John Hopkins glacier, some 50+ miles, gradually it cleared!! Suddenly we could see the peak of Mt Fairweather (15300ft) in clear blue sky. Chunks of ice floated by. We saw a humpback whale surface for a breath. Moreover, because it was now September, our cruise ship was permitted to cruise right up into the Johns Hopkins inlet as the seal mating was over for the season.
Calving of the Johns Hopkins Glacier
On the larger pieces of ice we saw numerous seals floating by. Some startled by our ship, slid off into the torquisey water. Wow! We saw 2 or 3 big “calves” of ice fall from off Johns Hopkins into the sea. Dave cought the splash of one in a distant photo. We could hear and see the roar of a waterfall pouring into the bay. Thousands of seagulls were flying around the base of the tidewater glacier, awaiting their lunch. We learned that when the ice tumbles it stirs up food for the gulls as the water churns up fish from deep down. We were served hot pea soup on the promenade deck, a warm touch we thought.
Johns Hopkins Glacier
Johns Hopkins Inlet
After an hour the motionless ship rotated and we sat on our aft balcony in strong sunlight that felt almost as hot as Mexico. Another HAL shipped passed us going into Hopkins. This was surely one of the most awesome cruise experiences we have ever had. It does not get better than this. We headed further north. We turned to look at the 250 ft high Margerie tidal glacier not before we looked towards the north to see the Grand Pacific Glacier grinding in from BC now just a few km away.
The spectacular Margerie tidal glacier
The Grand Pacific Glacier grinds in from Canada
Finished the afternoon with a soak in the hot tub and swim in the pool in the warm sunshine. Played some cards and then off to bed after a so-so meal in the Lido. Next day we awoke in Haines to low lying cloud. Our friends Mike and Sharron had not been feeling well. We were hopeful they would be better today.
With the Correaus in Haines
Mike was better while Sharron remained under the weather. We walked around the small town surrounded by the sea and mountains. We found the library for some free wifi. After, Dave toured Fort William H. Seward. Haines (pop 4000) was founded in 1881 by the Presbyterian Church at the invitation of the Tlingit Indians. The fort was built starting in 1909 in response to prolonged border tensions with Canada. In its hey day, over 200 men and officers were stationed here, a hardship posting for sure. However many of these men adapted to Alaskan conditions and ended up settling here.
Remains of a Company barracks building that burned in 1981.
The original hospital of the fort is now Alaska Indian Arts Centre.
Totem pole restoration workshop.
The parade grounds and officers row.
In the PM we went on a short excursion to Chilcoot Lake and river in search of brown bears eating salmon. Alas we only saw a few eagles, a few salmon jumping, some dead salmon and many mercanser diving ducks. There is a wire weir across the river with only a narrow opening in the middle. A man sits there and counts the number of salmon passing thru the opening. Strange we thought as he goes for frequent breaks. Returning to the ship we enjoyed happy hour and a fine dinner with Mike, Mary and Dave.
Our taxi arrived right on time at the hotel to take us to the Anchorage train station for our 6:45 AM departure. It was crowded but orderly and we were soon on our way to Seward still in the dark, leaving our bags there for their handling.
The train was very comfortable but we did have a long walk forward to the coffee bar. Spectacular glaciers, mountains, rivers and marshes filled our window. There was a mad scramble to take photos, first left, then right. We saw five moose running madly to get away from the train. Lazy beluga whales (small whiteish ones) rolled over off shore. Marie saw a trumpet swan. Fantastic beauty and rugged experience everywhere.
The spectacular Spencer Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula
Our engineer hams it up once we arrived in Seward
We arrived in Seward 4 hrs later, a deep water port where the Holland America (HAL) Westerdam awaits us. It was drizzling and cool. Check in was very smooth and we were on board eating lunch with Dave and Mary by 12:30. Food is OK so far but nothing like on Oceania Cruise Line which is renowned for it’s food.
Seward is named after William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s capable Secretary of State during the U.S. Civil War. He negotiated the Alaskan Purchase from Russia in 1867 at a bargain price and is very highly regarded here. Alaska entered the Union as the 49th State in 1959.
We have done quite a few cruises before and this will be our 2nd on HAL. The Westerdam is an older ship built in 2004 with a capacity of 1964 passengers, making it medium sized in our view. It was renovated a few years back but has a bit of a tired look to it. It is adequate and clean. Our cabin is very good, an aft balcony i.e. a balcony facing the stern of the ship. Our cabin steward named May introduced himself and was very friendly and helpful.
Our aft balcony, top row third cabin from right
Two of our bags arrived quickly but the 3rd and biggest one got delayed 3 hrs. Apparently the tag with the cabin# fell off and they had to trace it to us by name. It was a frustrating delay but all was well at last. We had the standard safety drill on deck but mercifully did not have to don the life jackets this time.
We had dinner in the Lido and met a nice couple from Oregon. We turned in early but not before hearing a talk by the cruise director on Alaska, it’s history, people and spirit. HAL was the first cruise line to “do” Alaska in 1975. It proved very successful and the other mass lines quickly followed. HAL owns the McKinley Chalet Resort and the Westmark Hotel chain too.
Warm enough for we Canadians. Heated pool too.
We learned that few years back, a jet taking off from Juneau collided with a salmon lol! Apparently a bald eagle saw the plane coming and dropped it’s prey onto the windshield. Windshield Sushi read the headline, lol! It was Captain Cook who discovered Alaska in 1778. 15% of Alaskans are of indigenous origin. Each Alaskan receives a generous cash dividend each year from the State’s rich resource account. The cost of living in Alaska is significantly higher than in the lower 49 (as much as +30% in Anchorage and +50% elsewhere).
Marie on the aft balcony
Ship rocked a bit that night as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska but was still very quiet for sleeping. The next day was a day at sea on our leisurely way to Glacier Bay. We enjoyed the ship’s facilities and then dressed up a bit for the 1st gala evening. Sadly, some of our friends had picked up a fever, were on medication and confined to their cabin. We looked forward to seeing them again as soon as soon as they felt better.