Mammajuana Snorkel! (R&R Part Cinco)

The rain cleared up the next day, so the snorkeling trip was on. We took a short drive, then boarded a ferry. Up on the top deck, we could see forever. A couple of family shots aboard the ferry.

Ahoy matie, check out this pirate’s ship…

First stop, before snorkeling, was to pet stingrays. I’ll just say right off, I was not too happy about the conditions here. Johnny and I went to the Cayman Islands a few years ago where we took a sailing excursion. We sailed to a sandbar where the water was 3 feet deep, at which point we got in the water, were handed a bucket of shrimp, and stingrays swarmed us like drunks to a beer joint. We stood holding raw shrimp, and the stingrays swam up to us, around us, even over us, sucking the shrimp from our hands as they passed by. This had been my only experience with stingrays, and we were told at the time to just watch where we stepped, and we would be fine. We were, despite the constant screaming from one woman who spent the entire experience atop the shoulders of her significant other, but that’s another story.

This time, I felt terrible for the stingrays trapped in a small penned area just for our viewing pleasure, and for the $$ we bring to the tourism industry. There were nurse sharks in a second larger pen also. I felt guilty for participating, still I wasn’t going to jump the ferry and refuse to join at this point, but I felt kinda sick as we approached. We had no idea what the situation was for these awesome creatures.

The smaller section you see above was where we pet the stingrays. The barbs on these guys had been removed, so no danger, and thus no chance that these creatures could ever live in the wild again if for some reason they were set free. We didn’t have the opportunity to take pictures of the stingrays. The bigger portion of the pen was where we saw the nurse sharks, and Johnny snapped the picture below.

Here are all five of us in the larger pen with our snorkeling gear. Not the person on the right side, don’t know who this is but he/she does bear a striking family resemblance…

Once we left the prison cells of these poor creatures, we boarded the ferry and headed for our big snorkeling experience. It did not turn out to be so much snorkeling, but it was an experience!

We could not take such good pictures under the water because, as you know, the weather had been stormy, and guess things were stirred up. Here’s one, though.

Oh, what’s this strange white long-legged sea critter…

oh wait, that’s me. I’d know those skinny legs anywhere.

Hey there, Daniel!

About this time we started hearing a horn and lots of yelling. We had been in the water for only a short while, and I finally figured out what the commotion was about. They were yelling at us to get back in the boat. What??? Why?

Which boat, where’s the boat…

We suddenly had some serious weather. Seriously. How surprising!

In the chaos that ensued, well, don’t guess Johnny had much opportunity to document on camera, because the pictures stopped at this point. It was pouring, the seas were rolling, everyone was yelling, heads were bobbing, and I was frantically looking all around for my family. People made their way to the boat and jockeyed for position around the ladder. I saw Daniel, and we managed to grab the ladder, but somehow ended up behind it. The waves were knocking me into the boat and I had to brace myself against the boat with my legs. Just hang on to the ladder, I told Daniel, hoping I didn’t sound as panicked as I felt. We waited for others to get on board and tried to squeeze in to line up at the ladder. I saw Sara and Alex off in the distance, and yelled at them to get on the boat. They said, MOM, we are fine. Get on the boat! So, Daniel and I got on the boat, Sara and Alex got on the boat, and I did not see Johnny anywhere.

People gathered under the upper deck of the boat for shelter, except for me. I could still see bodies in the distance trying to get back to the boat. A conversation Johnny and I had before we got in the water was now stuck in my brain. Johnny was intent on signing a waiver allowing him to forego a life jacket while snorkeling since he’s practically a fish. Practically. We discussed this, and whether the kids should do this also… NOT, said mom, and not me either, by the way. I did not remember or really know if he ever signed that waiver.

Rain pouring, I was seriously in a panic by now, visions of Johnny being swept away, and single motherhood looming before me. I yelled at one of the guys working the boat… THERE IS SOMEONE STILL IN THE WATER OUT THERE!!! He said, lady, we’re getting everyone, don’t you worry. BUT I THINK THAT MIGHT BE MY HUSBAND OUT THERE!!! Then from behind me, I think it was Alex, said … Uh, Mom, Dad’s over here…

Oh, really??? Don’t you worry about me dear, I’m just over here sucking down the Mama Juana shots… Well, I’m so glad you’re safe honey!

It was a sight. Boat rocking, rain pouring, music blaring, the dancing had begun. The rain had slowed by the time this next picture was taken. I only show it to illustrate what a shot of Mama Juana can do for you. It doesn’t make you beautiful, but it can make you lose all manner of dignity and not care that you’re not beautiful, and have great fun doing it.

On second thought, this has to be someone else, it could not possibly be me…

So, in spite of my distaste for the penned up stingrays and nurse sharks during the first part of this excursion, I was grateful to the tour operators for saving our scrawny butts from the storm. It was dicey, and they did an admirable job of getting everyone back to the boat safe and sound. They were also incredibly entertaining!

Mama Juana, by the way, is defined below by Wikipedia, that indisputable source of superfluous information:

Mama Juana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is quite similar to port wine and the color is a deep red. It is seen and advertised as an aphrodisiac, with many natives of the Dominican Republic claiming that the drink has similar effects to Viagra. Women have also claimed that Mama Juana enhances sexual desire.”

I can vouch for the port wine taste, but that’s as far as this discussion will go…

One more post ought to do it, final thoughts and pictures regarding our experience at the resort, and our departure. You gotta stay tuned for the finale!


Alaska, Part Three (Skagway, or How We Survived the Crazy Train)

All Aboard … ahahahahahahahaha …

I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.  Who knew this would be about Ozzy Osbourne???  Not me!  It’s really about Skagway, and the White Pass train ride.  Ok, maybe not so crazy, but I did feel a little crazy when I looked down.   For the record, Ozzy is still on the crazy train …

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Here’s what we saw when we stepped off the ship in Skagway.  Graffiti!   Hard to tell from the picture, but all over the face of the mountain, up and down the dock, are hand-painted pictures, each with the name of a ship, a symbol, usually a year dating back decades in some cases, and the name of the ship’s captain.  Dozens of paintings, perhaps even hundreds.

Here’s a close-up of the side of our ship, and another ship in front of it.  Did you know they can parallel park these things?  Hmmph.  Doesn’t say too much for my driving skills. 20090708_006 (Small)

A picture of my tiny husband next to our super-sized mother ship …

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We chose a different excursion than the rest of the crew in Skagway.  Crew, get it?  a little sailing lingo???  The rest of the family wanted to get up close and personal with some Alaskan sled dogs.  Even though it’s not winter, you can see how the dogs are raised, hold the puppies and, in theory, ride on a dog-pulled sled on wheels.  It was too warm for the dogs to pull the sleds, or something like that, but they did get to hold puppies, I think.  So, while I’m sorry I didn’t get to hold puppies, I’m glad I rode the crazy train!

The crowd was unbelievable in Skagway.  Four cruise ships were in port and it’s just an itty bitty little town!  That’s about 8,000 extra people in a little town all beating a path to the little stores to pick out little souveniers.  We went in this store, along with a few thousand of our closest shipmates …20090708_011 (Small)


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Ok, so where are all the people in this picture?  I told you, they’re all in the Alaskan Shirt Co. store!

… and here’s a cool car. 

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 That’s about all the pictures I have of the town, but here is our crazy train.

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… and here are a few of the  lunatics inside:

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 Skagway was sort of the “jumping off” point of the gold rush in the late 1890’s.  It was the port where hundreds of gold seekers arrived before braving the brutal conditions into the Yukon through White Pass on horses.  Before the railroad was built over White Pass, hundreds of horses, overburdened with gear, died on this trail when their riders drove them in horrible conditions until they died, and then left them to rot and continued on their way.  The area where this tragedy occurred is known as Dead Horse Gulch.  Yessirree, gold just brings out the very best in people …

We had alternately foggy and clear skies, but we heard that a wildfire was burning somewhere (60 miles or so away) which accounted for the fog.  Looking back at the cruise ships – I only see three here, but the missing fourth ship is hiding behind the mountain to the left.  It was the one parallel parked in front of our ship.

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 Apparently, some pretty “sick” rapids through this area (as the kids like to say).  That phrase has taken me by surprise, but I finally get it.  Anyway, I don’t think these are Level 6 rapids, but I remember hearing something about Level 6 rapids somewhere along the Yukon river.  To be honest, I’m not even sure this is the Yukon river, but seems reasonable to me.  Geography people out there, please feel free to tell me what river this is …  

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  A couple of family pics:

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More beautiful scenery …

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…and the camera flash on the rock as we’re going through this tunnel.

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20090708_094 (Small)I don’t know if that’s an eagle on top of the rock, but let’s just say that it is.

 We actually crossed the border into Canada, but because we never stopped, we didn’t have to go through customs.  Then the train turned around and returned to Skagway.

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Not so noticeable in the pictures, but the landscape changed as we crossed into Canada.  The land was flatter, plants were much smaller, a little more snow in the crevices.  Tundra, they called it, although I always pictured tundra as a giant expanse of flat solid ice.  Guess I slept through the lecture in 5th grade on seasons in the tundra.  Anyway, the trees were tiny, but some were hundreds of years old.  Not much survives through the winter here, but whatever does survive is severely stunted. 

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Here are a few pictures from the return trip to Skagway.  When we weren’t worried about the crazy train running off the rails (heh heh), we were seriously worried about our lungs.  The wind was, shall I say, not in our favor on the return trip.  We were in the first car behind the engine, and I learned not to ever, ever, ever ride in the first car behind the engine ever, ever, ever again.  The wind was blowing the exhaust from the engine straight into the car we were in.  So we had the choice of staying in the sweltering car with the doors shut and no air flow, opening the door in the hopes a little fresh air might come in with the carbon monoxide, or going out on the landing for the full assault of exhaust mixed with fresh air.  Not such a great choice!  We did it all, and none of it worked!

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Some of us did get sleepy on the ride back.  Or it could have been the carbon monoxide …

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If you look real close, you might see the grave of the most notorious scoundrel in Skagway’s history, Soapy Smith, who got his name selling soap (yep, the fearsome and dangerous soap salesman) … ah, it’s complicated.  I’ll let you look it up.  Anyway he and another fellow shot each other and both of them died.  Soapy was buried outside of the city limits far away from respectable folks, including the respectable fellow he shot.  Nah, you can’t really see it …

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The crazy train didn’t go off the rails and we finally made it back to solid ground.20090708_172 (Small)

Poor kid, Daniel didn’t get the memo …

Stay tuned, Tracy Arm Fjord is next!