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The International Writers Magazine
:Hacktreks in Alaska

Miss Volendam in Alaska
Sara Towe

Holland America cruiseline is truly great.
The Volendam is a beautiful ship and extremely well run. I embarked on this journey May 5th and my trip started the moment I set foot on board.

It was a rainy day, dull, but half an hour before the ship sailed the sun came out giving us a glorious exit from Vancouver B.C . As I am a Vancouverite, it was a treat for me to see the city and mountains from the ships view. Sitting there by the railings, informing those around me of what they where looking at was a great way to start the trip off.

My cabin was on the lowest deck but with a porthole, it was roomy and very well thought out, only thing missing was a clock, (one did need to know when to go for dinner). My cabin boy Ramiek had a great smile and a cheerful voice. Everyday he would have that same genuine smile and was always so obliging and helpful. Most of the ships crew are Filipinos and they are so full of pride and cheer, that they make you feel welcome and pampered at all times. No matter what time of day if you need something they will get it without question.

We are assigned seating arrangements for dinner. I was meant to be seated with people that were in my age group 40-59, but alas I was the only one in my age group on the ship, so I was seated with some great fun loving Kiwi’s and Australians. Yes they where older, but caring and great company. We always had a laugh and interesting talks on our life differences. One couple Bruce and Dianna, were particularly kind to me, as they knew I was alone, they never let me sit alone in the disco and bars, I am very grateful for their kindness and company, they are a happy and lucky couple, I hope to be that blessed one day. Thanks too to Arthur and Glenys Goswell for their friendship.
There was also Margaret from New Zealand, who had grandchildren my children’s age. She was a darling and I learnt from her that no matter the sacrifices one has made in life, find the time to live those moments to the best advantage and live it up.

Another couple Dr John Turner and his wife who never took a bad photo, you could see the love they had for each other and how they valued it. There was another couple at the table, she is a complete sweetheart, a mother, friend and caring woman with an impish kind of humor and a heart of gold, who looked lovely in blues. Her husband and I had a ping pong of sarcastic humor going on back and forth. He reminded me of my brother, so I knew how to serve it back, it was fun and but when I gave him a hug when we were leaving the ship I think I gave him a panic attack.

I met other people that were very interesting from all walks of life. I didn't sit an where for long without meeting people and striking up a conversation. It was my pleasure to share information on my beautiful city Vancouver, so that they could take advantage of it when they returned. I was nicknamed 'ambassador of Vancouver'.
I was also chosen to be Miss Volendam, a tool they use to encourage people to speak and meet. The ship was very generous with gifts for playing the roll.

The staff on board are wonderful people. There is Carmen the Cruise Director, Kevin and Jeremy and Megan cruise liaisons. They all made me feel welcome and I had very interesting conversations with them. I had thought when I went on this ship that it would be my single in training time, but alas the only disappointment on the ship was that the only single men (2 to be exact) where late 60’s to 70. So I guess I will have to try elsewhere. Traveling on a ship as a single is comfortable, for you do not feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, but when you see couples who are happy and still in love after all these years dancing together so content, it does remind you of a certain loneliness.

But again, the staff did their best and I did get a few dances in, plus many great conversations with them.
It is a great life on board for these guys, but at times one gets a feeling of being trapped. They do not get days off, but a few hours here and there. To find a moment alone away from it all is very hard to do, but through it all they always have a smile and are always there to please the customer. There seems to be a camaraderie between them, a family tie, I do not think they could do this for four months straight if they were not so.

Our first stop was Juneau, a small town only accessible by sea or air.

Old Alaska

You get pretty close to the ice!

I went up Mt Roberts Trailhead. There was still too much snow to walk around much, but I did see a film about the natives of Alaska, which was beautifully done. I got chatting to a delightful lady called Nicola, who runs the spa on board ship. She made my afternoon very pleasant, and on the last day I had a neck and head massage from her which was very relaxing. Thank you Nicola.

On to Skagway, which is far north. We learned of the hardships of those that came for gold only to find that they had to go over the mountains up 3,292 ft in to the White Pass summit and then down into Canada and then Dodge to claim their gold. These were a very treachorous times that killed many a man, but also leaves a legacy of courage strife and tenacity that not many men today could live up too. Temperatures in Alaska can go 70 below, and yet they still came to seek their fortunes, and to build a railway that it still used today. The beauty of this area is stunning.

I went on a bus tour conducted by Southeast Tours located at 5th and Broadway web site for $35.00, (this was cheaper than the train, $89.00 all US dollars)
This also covered the towns history, the famous grave yard where no one was older than 38, and stopped at three places while going up 3.292 feet into Canada. It was an excellent tour, which is more friendly than the train as it holds about 20 people at a time. They tell us that snow mobilers, take there snow mobiles up to the top of a local mountain with their skies on there back, then ski down riding by the snow mobile sliding down on its own, when we were there you still see the tracks. It was also a first time for a couple of Australians to see and touch show, very exciting for us all.

I was Reading the ‘Alarmist; while cruising the Glacier Bay. Very poignant for the mood. We are reminded of what and who we are. On one hand we are stubborn visionary and have the tenacity to endure unspeakable pain and strife’s in ones life. On the other hand we are but a flea that the mountains have to tolerate from time to time.

Nature has its way of reminding you who and what you are. We bring these huge ships in to their space and they kindly share their awesomeness with us. To sit there so close to a brilliant blue glacier, and watch it piece by piece slide into the water is so surreal. Then to watch a whale swim on by with such calmness is truly a moment of peace. Just the pure clean air filling our lungs is extraordinary. The experience of serenity. Now I understand why these men and women came here, the gods are in charge, but if you ask them nicely they will share their wonders with you.

I came on board to meet new people, I met many, not the ones I expected i.e. a single man under 70, but nevertheless wonderful people, I experienced the dominance of the mountains and the deadly beauty of the icebergs. I feel blessed and I get the message, the force and supremacy of the mountains rule us and we can share it’s power, but we must respect who is boss. They look peaceful and innocent but ask the souls that have lost their lives to them how harmless they are. For us sitting there In our comfort zone having complete trust in our captain and his piloting crew, it was a moment of truth and a moment where stress, apprehension, qualms or hatred and greed had no place. If you did not get it then you were not going to.

As it was I was reading The Alcamist, by Paulo Coelho, which speaks of a journey of conviction vision and confidence, it was timely and perhaps a message that I needed to hear at this time. Hand in hand the book, the mountains and the glaciers, spoke to me that only a still soul could hear, mine took a moment in time to be still and I was listening like I have never heard before.

By day such wonders, by night formal events, where everyone dressed up in their very best. I wore a black long evening gown with matching coat. I have to admit that would have been the one night that I would have liked to have a partner on my arm; one did feel a little stand outish dressed like that alone. The dining room crew put on a show for us with their flaming baked Alaska, and everyone was in an upbeat mood. A show followed called “Songs of Broadway”, and the performers danced and sang and changed for many numbers with expertise and Broadway professionalism. It left me exhausted; how do they do it?

The Filipinos crew put on a performance one night of cultural dances, they take such pride in their traditions and their culture, it was wonderful to see. They also put a lot of humor into it too.
The was a ventriloquist Mike Robinson and his wooden friend, a solo singer Steve Teague, and a Performer from Skagway, Steve Hites singing tales of time gone by. Also Paul Pappas at the piano, no matter your sitting arrangement, all in all entertainment was happening everynight.

By day there was of course bingo, trivia, casino, (most annoying with it’s noises dinging all day) and other games. Swim, read, sleep, in a deck chair or drink the day away. Something for every one to pick and choose from or avoid altogether.

Everynight they had entertainment in many arenas, there was the piano room, where music and songs where going on, there was a band singing old favorites for people to danced to all night long. There was a violist trio playing before and after dinner music and there was the Crows Nest where you could dance to the live music of “time after time” or hear Kevin and Jeremy spin the disco or two-step music till all hours of the morning.

Next we went on to Ketchikan, I did not tour here and I just potted around and visited various places of the history. In every port I did seek out good coffee places as I was not partial to the coffee on board, no Americana coffee, I also visited the seaport cyber café, to email home. Juneau at South Franklin Street, Skagway, 336-3rd Ave, Ketchikan, # 5 Salmon landing, great place to buys goods too. Everyport has one and for only $5.00 you can email for an hour, at any of the ports stated above just take your card with you. On board it is $1.99 a minute!

Shopping for diamonds is huge, every port has at least 5-6 jewelry shops, and they must do well because they are in business every year. You do save on taxes and port duties.

I met a dog there that looked part wolf, he was beautiful, and I had a very pleasant talk with the owner. She may visit Vancouver will be nice to show her my town. Do not miss Creek Street, it has a long history and is very quaint.

Last day was hot and magnificent. After an Indonesian lunch I went on deck, chatted to an English couple from York, near to my old home county of Lincolnshire. We all seemed to nod off in that gentle blazing sun, and when we woke he kindly bought us a beer. Thank you. Can you believe that I got burnt in Alaska in May? I am now peeling. Alas, time to pack, and then go down for dinner one last time. A quick drink with Carmen thanks, dinner with the gang, more farewell drinks with the crew, Jeremy, Megan and Carmen, it was time for bed. By the way the beds are so comfortable, you do not want to get out of them.

Next day Vancouver. We exit by number that with 1400 people takes time, I had breakfast with Margaret one last time, and slowly we left the ship. I was not ready for home, I could have stayed easily another week or more, just the tranquility, I was at last beginning to relax. Now home to laundry, bills, and duties. Was I even away? No more excuses, time for work, I did get some ideas while away, so now time to execute them, but right now I am going to believe that I am in GLACIER BAY, and remembering the feelings that it gave me. Thanks guys for the happy memories.

© Sara Towe May 19th 2004
The Art of Positive Living
Vancouver B.C. Canada.
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