Sailing the Inner Passage~Part Five, Skagway and Sea Day

Skagway
Mom and I got up and headed into the town of Skagway around 9ish. There was a shuttle that you could take to town or you could take a five minute walk. We opted for the shuttle.
Now, I’ve heard of Skagway before. I’ve heard Skagway a lot. The town wasn’t what I expected. I guess I thought Skagway was going to be bigger than what it was and more old timey-like original buildings. Instead, the town was touristy and I guess that’s because the residents live outside the area where the ships come in (which I get). The buildings weren’t original but built to look original. Again, this is just my opinion. I wasn’t too impressed with the stores, but then again, I couldn’t really shop either because I’m on a budget. There were some jewelry stores and chotsky stores, but I had truly seen enough of those by then. I stayed with mom while she perused the stores and then we took the shuttle back to the dock so we could meet dad and the others for our excursion.
It was about noon when we were ushered towards a battered up, yellow school bus. I felt like I was in school again. The ride was bumpy but quick. It wasn’t long until our bus pulled up to the old (manufactured) mining camp of Liarsville.
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Men dressed as miners and women dressed in skimpy dresses (skimpy for the time) from the 1800’s greeted us as we unloaded the rickety bus. Soon, we were led into a covered pavilion where a buffet was set up. The buffet had salmon Caesar salad, reindeer baked beans, and grilled salmon with some kid of teriyaki sauce (that dad loved but I didn’t like so much). The food wasn’t too shabby, especially the salad. After scarfing down our meal, Wesley played with the three dogs that lived in camp. All three were malamutes, but one of the puppies (it was 17 months old), I think, was really a bear in a dog’s costume. The beast weighed 150 pounds! When Wesley stood next to it, the thing was HUGE. I don’t think anyone could over the fact that the dog was only 17 months.

Back end of the Malamute beast

Back end of the Malamute beast


Next, we walked over to the area where we would pan for gold (Wesley is a huge rock fan and we thought he would love the experience of gold panning). Dad enjoyed the warmth of the campfire (not that it was that cold), Kristen and Chris looked around the general store, and mom admired the tents that were set up to model tents that could be found during the mining age.
Dad at the campfire

Dad at the campfire


Wesley’s eyes bugged out of his head about this time. I looked in the direction he was staring at and found two of the scantily clad women calling and whistling at the passing visitors. I gave Wesley some money to take to the women. He handed them the money and asked if he could take a picture with them. Well, they just fawned all over him and his face turned bright red. It was the cutest thing ever! Later on, I asked him which one he liked the most…apparently he has a thing for red-heads.
Wesley and his girlfriends

Wesley and his girlfriends


After a brief show, during which Wesley’s gal pals sang and recited a poem, it was time for us to pan for gold. We were each given instructions and a pan full of sediments. Each of us concentrated over the troughs of water, swirling our pans, hoping to catch a glimpse of something sparkly. Flakes of gold were found in each pan and I’m pretty sure Wesley caught the gold fever because he didn’t want to leave.
Goldfinger...mom

Goldfinger…mom


The rest of our afternoon was spent—and I don’t think you’ll be surprised here—relaxing.

Day at Sea
Today, our ship captain sailed the ship into the Yakutat Bay where Hubbard Glacier stood majestically. I was happy to have the balcony because it meant I didn’t have to join the crowd on the upper outer decks to see the glaciers (there was one across from Hubbard). The captain would position our ship so each side was offered views and time with the glaciers. I found it fascinating looking over the side…tons of ice chips (or should I say glacier chips?) floated profusely in the bay. A small boat was sent out and we were able to see three people (who I thought were researchers at the time) pulled a chunk of ice into the small vessel.

Sailing by Hubbard

Sailing by Hubbard


Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier


This afternoon, the ship was planning on having a walk-a-thon for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and so they were selling shirts up on the pool deck. At the same time mom and I got off the elevator to buy a shirt, the three “researchers” got off another elevator rolling a luggage cart with the chunk of ice strapped on it. The captain came on to share that the ice was a piece of the glacier that was floating in the bay (it was the same one we saw pulled onto the small boat) and that it weighed approximately a 2,000 pounds. A ton! I, being the science teacher, had to have my picture taken with it of course!
Posing with the glacier chip

Posing with the glacier chip


Mom and I then went to the lobby, or centrum, to watch the towel folding demonstration. No, I didn’t learn anything from it, but the Shirley Temple I sipped while watching the demo was delicious and refreshing. The next show was on cake decorating. I watched the shenanigans of the cruise director and then sampled a piece from the head pastry chef’s cake. It wasn’t too bad. The kids from the Adventure Ocean Club (it was like the cruise ship’s daycare) then had a talent show. The kids got to perform, but before the kids were able to get on “stage”, the staff told the moms to come up to dance to a song. Kristen got up there and shook her tail feather. It wasn’t until Wesley got up with a group to dance to “Gangham Style” that I noticed where he gets his dance moves.
Kristen's dance moves

Kristen’s dance moves

Wesley's dances moves...look familiar?

Wesley’s dances moves…look familiar?

Tonight is our last night on the ship. It’s been a great vacation, but it isn’t over yet. Tomorrow we will take the train from Seward to Anchorage. The ride is suppose to be four hours long and then we’ll have a few hours to kill before going to the airport for our flight home (I think the plane leaves around 7pm). And even though this vacation isn’t officially over yet, I would totally recommend this trip to others. Alaska is a must see!

Sailing the Inner Passage~Part Four, Juneau

Today was the day I think we were all most excited about: WHALE WATCHING! Well, mom may be more excited about the whole jewelry shopping thing after our excursion.
The tour company picked us up early—around nine. We were driven about twenty minutes to another marina, along the way we passed Mendenhall Glacier. The massive slab of ice was about a mile away from the road, but the size of it was still impressive. But we were on a mission! We were going to find some whales out there.
About a hundred people boarded the catamaran. I stayed downstairs with mom and dad. The area there was inside. I really didn’t want to go out in the wind or get sprayed by any water. Chris, Kristen, and Wesley headed for the upper deck. I did come prepared, though, just in case the boat did not have an indoor area. I brought, in my handy backpack, Dramamine, raingear (jacket and pants), wool hat, and down jacket. I also wore my fleece jacket and my long underwear pants underneath my convertible pants. That’s right, I was ready for any type of weather I might encounter on the excursion. Unfortunately, the weather was perfect and I quickly whipped off the long underwear and legs of my pants. Well, I guess it was a good thing the weather was nice, but I sure wish I hadn’t brought so much stuff with me.
Not long into the boat ride, whales were spotted. Excitement and chatter filled the boat. The whales were identified as orcas. The guide informed us they don’t see orcas too often—maybe once or twice a month. Within the pod of orcas was a baby orca. Seeing these black and white swimming creatures in the wild was so much better than visiting Shamu at Sea World. The captain decided to move on after 10 minutes. He had gotten word of another whale sighting.

Look closely to see the small orca.

Look closely to see the small orca.


Along the way, we briefly stopped to admire a lone humpback whale. But the real prize came when a pod of six humpback whales were spotted. I stepped onto the back platform to observe the whales in their natural habitat. It was amazing. No one had remembered the platform—they mostly ran upstairs or clamored to the windows—so for a few minutes I was alone with the whales. They were so close, I could hear them grunting and spouting the water from their blowholes. The whales came close to the boat at times and then at other times they swam towards the center of the surrounding boats also witnessing the action. Suddenly, in the distance, a whale breached! It happened a few times which isn’t usual. According to the guide, the breaching whale was a young male trying to find his fins.
Humpback whales

Humpback whales


Humpback whales

Humpback whales


Breaching whale

Breaching whale


Soon it was time to sail on. The captain told us he had one more thing to show us before heading back to the marina. The surprise was a buoy bobbing in the ocean. Atop the the buoy were sea lions, basking in the sun’s rays and pushing each other off. One mischievous fellow was swimming around, gawking at our boat as we all gawked at him.
The buoy of sea lions

The buoy of sea lions


All in all, the trip was amazing. Even the guide told us it was rare to spot all three (sea lions, humpbacks, and orcas) in one trip.
It was about midday when we finally got back to the ship. It was decided that we would go back to the ship to unload our stuff (thank God!) and eat some lunch on the ship. While on our “break”, I sat outside on the balcony watching the action on the port. People coming and going, laughter echoing, the tramcar going up and down Mt. Roberts. Our break was short, but I was excited to get out and stretch my legs in the shops.
Since the first day at sea when mom and I attended the shopping guide presentation, she’s made it clear she would go to the store selling LeVian jewelry. For years, she’s had her eye on a particular ring from LeVian. She hoped to get a good deal on one while we were here. I was hoping for the same thing, if only because then we would be able to stop hitting up every jewelry store in Tampa just to peruse the jewelry counters for the perfectly priced ring and I would be able to stop drooling over the sparklies (I do love jewelry and it is one of the only things that has the potential of getting in the way of my travel). Needless to say, the moment we got back off the ship to do some shopping, mom, Kristen and I were off for the first store. I will admit, we did stop at the Effy store first. Effy is the jewelry designer I love love love! The jewelry from Effy is just breathtaking…and gaudy. I’m just saying, check out their jewelry. You’ll fall in love.
After trying on a ring that was totally out of my price range (unless I want to not pay for Nepal and scratch that trip off my to do list), we went to the store that advertised LeVian. Sure enough, they had “the ring”. Mom tried it on and was in love. But, as mom often does, she tried to talk herself out of it. Well, no fear there. I talked her into it. What can I say? The gal deserves it with all she’s done for her family and friends…and strangers. I mean, seriously. She caved (wasn’t hard to do after gazing at the ring on her finger) and was able to negotiate a better price. They sized the ring in an hour and it was hers!
Meanwhile, while we were waiting for the ring to be sized, we meandered down the main drag. We may have walked for about a mile or so and came across a fudge shop. Have you noticed that I enjoy eating? Yep, I do. So, I went ahead and bought some truffles. Sure, I still had one or two amaretto truffles left from KetchiCandies, but I wanted to try these from Juneau. They were good, but to be honest, the amaretto ones were a tad bit tastier I thought.
It was around three o’clock and we had maybe three hours until the boat departed Juneau. Mom and Kristen were done with shopping and went back to the ship for a little R & R before dinner. Me? I had my eye on the tramcar. I’m scared of heights and the tramcar looked like it went pretty high, but I went anyway.
The tramcar

The tramcar


The tramcar goes up 1500 feet on a steep incline. I stood next to the window for the view. I had a mini panic attack when we got close to the “dock” and I was able to see how high we actually were. Yikes. I was the first to exit the car. It was more of a dive onto the platform. I did not embarrass myself, thankfully, by dropping to my knees and kissing the floor.
View of Juneau from the top of Mt. Roberts

View of Juneau from the top of Mt. Roberts


The view was worth the anxiety. It was breathtaking. When I got up there, I visited the nature center first. Outside of it was an actual eagle’s nest (not in use anymore). It was huge! I could have easily curled up and taken a nap in the thing.
Eagle nest

Eagle nest


Also up there was an eagle that was in a large cage. The handler shared that the eagle had a bum cornea and couldn’t hunt or fend for itself, therefore he lived up there where he could be taken care of.
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My favorite part of being on top of Mt. Roberts was all the hiking paths. I almost wish that I had known about all the trails before I got up there. I would have totally gone up there earlier in the day and forgone shopping (or should I say window shopping since that’s all I did). I decided to hit up the short trail (1 mile) even though I wasn’t in my hiking clothes or hiking shoes and was wearing my purse instead of my backpack. No worries. I was just happy being up there, breathing in the fresh air. I took my time, often stopping to admire the view.
A view from a Mt. Roberts hiking trail

A view from a Mt. Roberts hiking trail


The trail had a few platforms that looked off the mountain onto the Inner Passage and the town of Juneau.
Time was going fast, though, and it was soon time I headed back to the ship (dad would have freaked out if it had gotten close to the departure time and I wasn’t back yet). I boarded the tram, able to deal with the height this time, and admired the view one last time on the way down.
Going down

Going down


We only have one more stop on our cruise. I’ve enjoyed myself tremendously and I am grateful for mom and dad for giving us this opportunity. I can’t wait until tomorrow when we all go panning for gold in Skagway. I’m not excited because I think I’ll strike it rich, but because I’m excited to see Wesley’s reaction to the whole thing. He’s crazy about rocks and gemstones, so I’m sure he’ll love it!
Next stop: Skagway

Sailing the Inner Passage~Part 3, Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point


You probably sang a song when you were a child about going through the woods to grandmother’s house. Well, today, I had that song going through my head on repeat, except today I was going through the woods on a bear hunt.
Chris, Kristen and I headed to the pier (via tender boat) to meet our group for today’s excursion early this morning. Okay, it wasn’t real early (yesterday was earlier), but when you’re on vacation, 9am is early. First of all, the port’s area, called Icy Strait Point, was tiny. I’ll get to that later.
Our excursion group (no children under 8 years of age could attend) boarded a rickety old school bus painted in dingy white and hunter’s green. We rambled down a small road for about twenty minutes through the town of Hoonah and forest. When we arrived at our destination, we quickly unloaded ourselves out of the bus and listened to our guide (who was from the Raven tribe of Hoonah Indians). Our walk was short to the first viewing platform…maybe five minutes. The platform overlooked a small river or creek that was filled with salmon.
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Tall grasses peered over the banks. Someone pointed off to our right. Everyone rushed to see what the finger was pointing at. Sure enough, it was a bear! An actual brown bear! I was in awe of the beauty: a bear standing in the creek, towering over the swimming fish. The moment was fleeting as the bear quickly went to all fours to scurry away. I did have an opportunity to take a picture of the bear, however, I kept hearing a voice in my head. It was my dad’s voice. When I came back from Africa, I had a picture of a rhino, but no one could really tell it was a rhino because it looked like a dot on the picture. All I heard was dad telling me the bear looked like a dot. Hence, no pictures. Our group continued on to the other two viewing platforms but we saw no more bears. Eagles did soar above us, though. On the way back to the port, we saw a Sitka Black Tailed Deer. That was pretty cool. I would have taken a picture of it but the opportunity was sort of short. You’ll just have to take my word on this.
Area where the bear was

Area where the bear was


BEAR! This will have to do as your photo of a bear.

BEAR! This will have to do as your photo of a bear.


Back at the port, the three of us met up with mom, dad, and Wesley. They had gone on a nature tram through the forest and attended a cultural show. Apparently Wesley danced in a traditional Indian cloak. I have no doubt the kid stole the show. We all ate some lunch together (not many dining options: there were only three places one could eat a meal or you could go back to the ship to eat). All of us (except Chris who ate reindeer chili) ate the halibut fish n’ chips. They were good, but expensive.
Afterwards, mom and dad were tired so they headed back to the ship. Wesley, Chris, Kristen, and I decided to go to the fire pit. Upon getting off the tender earlier, we were all handed wood chips. We were told to make a wish and toss the chip into the fire. Now, I’m not superstitious, but just in case, I will not tell you my wish. After that, there wasn’t much left to do in the immediate area. Sure, I could take the 45 minute drive to the top of the hill for one of the world’s largest zipline, but I’ve ziplined before (in Belize) so I don’t need a repeat of the experience (especially one so expensive for a 90 second zip). I had read about a small donut shop at the port, and being someone who loves anything bad for you, I felt like it was my duty to get some. Boy, am I glad I did! They were absolutely delicious!
Walking down the plank towards the tender, I happened to look over the railing into the shallow shore. A huge starfish waved at me. It was such a peaceful moment, as it made me feel like there was nothing in the world that could stop me. I know, funny how a small sea creature could make someone feel such a huge emotion. It’s possible, though, to have these moments when in nature.
"Peace be with you." ~Starfish

“Peace be with you.” ~Starfish


Back on the ship, I retrieved my customary Shirley Temple from the bar and went to our balcony. I savored the gooey goodiness of a truffle while sipping my beverage and reading a book on my Kindle. The breeze was just right. I talked to our neighbor, a gentleman traveling with his wife and daughter (wonder if she had one of those loft beds too). He told me he had spotted whales the day before as we took off from Ketchikan. Needless to say, my plan is simple. I will stay out until it gets too cold and all my layers don’t warm me up anymore…or until dinner-whichever comes first. Then again, we are suppose to go whale watching while we’re in Juneau tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll get to see one then. Fingers crossed!

Next stop: Juneau

Sailing the Inner Passage~Part Two, Ketchikan

The sign says it all.

The sign says it all.


We woke up early this morning so we could get ready for our excursions. I had my breakfast delivered to the room (as a child I always did enjoy room service and I’m happy to report that hasn’t changed) and set off in all my hiking gear before my parents were even ready for their excursion.
I found the rest of the group. There was about 20 of us going hiking, people of all different ages had signed up. I was, of course, the most nerdiest of the crew: I had my hiking shoes on, plus my convertible pants (in case it got hot I could just zip off my pant legs), a hiking shirt, wide brimmed sun hat, and the icing on the cake was my HUGE daypack that weighed about 20 pounds. I chalked it up to “training” for EBC (I’ll have to carry a daypack and it will most likely weigh about the same). I crawled to the back of one of the vans there to carry us to the Tongass National Forest. I sat next to a lovely older woman and her son (he was there with his wife and two children…his father was also there). The ride only took about 20 minutes.
We arrived at the entrance to the hiking trail and climbed out of the vehicle. Our guide was a woman in her fifties with long graying hair. Her name was Susan and reminded me of a hiking hippy—very “of the Earth” and into nature. During our hike, Susan was very knowledgeable about all of the trees, plants, wildlife, and insects we encountered. Okay, we didn’t find any wildlife, but we did see dens along the way. I’ll be honest, the hike wasn’t as adventurous as I hoped it would be, but it was a nice walk. At times, the trail was a bit steep, but the majority of the time it was just uneven. I took some photos than I can share with my school’s science resource for when the unit on Life Science is taught within the different grade levels. Overall, it was a nice way to get some fresh air and enjoy the rays of sunshine through the canopy of trees.
Banana Slug in the Tongass National Park

Banana Slug in the Tongass National Park


Root system from a toppled tree

Root system from a toppled tree


A river going through the forest.

A river going through the forest.


After the excursion, I was driven back to the dock where I met up with the rest of my family. Wesley was all excited after town tour they all took on the DUCK (a vehicle that drives on land and sails in the water). Around his neck, he had a rope with a duck bill. The moment he saw me, he ran up and handed me one too. I was delighted (even more so when I was told that he purchased the “quacker” with his own money) with the gift and wore it with pride. I was also informed Wesley was even asked to drive the DUCK while it was in the water.
Wesley at the helm

Wesley at the helm


As a family, we decided to stroll through the small town of Ketchikan.
Along the boardwalk, I looked over the rail into the water. Huge starfish were visible in the clear water. I loved seeing them wave along the sand.
Wesley and I hanging out

Wesley and I hanging out

We must have walked for quite some time, going in and out of shops. I had already decided to attempt in the conservation of my money. Again, I needed some new items for EBC and since teachers don’t get paid very much (and most of the money we do get paid just goes back into the classroom), I needed to watch my pennies. But dad didn’t have the same worries. He stopped at the DEL SOL store, transfixed by the color changing clothing. A little farther down the road, we came to a store that had hand carved items for sale. For years, dad has wanted a totem pole for the house. A long time ago-like, another lifetime it seems-my grandparents took an Alaskan cruise. They tried to purchase a totem pole for dad then, however they could not find a means to get it home since UPS and the postal service wasn’t what it is now. In Estes Park, we did purchase a carved bear (his name is Bob) we proudly display in the house, but now, he was on a quest to find a totem pole to accompany Bob. The crew walked into the store while I stayed outside. My bag and I would have a hard time swinging around the store and I didn’t want to knock anything over (for fear of the “You break, you buy” mantra). Ten minutes later, mom and dad emerged from the store smiling. Sure enough, dad found a totem pole he liked and the store would ship it to the house.

Dad's new totem pole...a raven.

Dad’s new totem pole…a raven.


About this time, I was getting hungry. I am one of those people who a) enjoy eating and b) needs to eat every couple of hours or I get extremely cranky. A café wasn’t far from the store so we all piled into the small café. It was tiny. All six of us crammed together at a tiny table. I didn’t care about the small eating space as long as I was going to eat. I ordered a turkey reuben and cup of New England Clam Chowder. The chowder was the best chowder I have ever eaten. I’ll be comparing all future chowders to this one I have a feeling.
After enjoying the meal, we all took off for the Christmas store. Mom and I have this obsession with Christmas stores. We’re suckers for a good one. I purchased a few ornaments and while Mom and Kristen continued to browse, Wesley and I went to check out Santa’s chair. Unfortunately, Santa was out taking care of the reindeer at the time, but I took a portrait of Wesley standing at the big man’s chair for a memento.
Santa's chair

Santa’s chair


It was around this time dad started to get anxious about getting back to the ship on time, but there was one more place I wanted to go to. It was the fudge shoppe. The smell was amazing when we first walked past it so I knew I needed to stop in for at least a free sample. At KetchiCandies, I purchased some amaretto truffles (I do love me some truffles) and fudge. After making this quick purchase, I hoofed it back to the ship.
The time was only around 4pm; the ship was going to depart soon. I thought it would be nice to sit out on the balcony while watching the boat leave port. Once I unloaded the pack, I got mom and I a soda (her a cherry coke and me a Shirley Temple) at the bar a deck below from us. I got settled on the balcony, Kindle in hand, refreshing Shirley Temple and amaretto truffle on the table next to me. Now, this was the life! About an hour into my relaxation time, the boat set sail. The breezed kicked up causing the temperature to drop. I tried piling on some layers, but eventually I had enough and headed in. It was about time for dinner anyway.
Tomorrow should be an interesting day. Chris, Kristen and I are suppose to go on a hike to try to view bears. I hope we see one! That would be exciting. Mom and dad are taking Wesley on a nature tram and cultural tribe thingy. I’m sure, like today, we’ll all meet up after our excursions for lunch and to tour the area around the dock.
Ketchikan

Ketchikan


Sailing away from Ketchikan

Sailing away from Ketchikan


Next port: Icy Strait Point

Sailing the Inner Passage~Part 1

Our cruise to Alaska has begun! Our ship has already set sail just a little bit ago and all of us are excited! Dad and mom have graciously taken all of us (me, my sister-in-law, brother, and nephew) on a cruise through the Inner Passage. The cruise planning process has taken us a few months, but it was totally worth all of the discussions mom and I had about which cruise lines (Royal Caribbean) and routes (Northbound), and dates (mid-July). The plan is to depart from Vancouver (check), sail the Inner Passage, stop at four ports (Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Skagway), cruise by Hubbard Glacier, and disembark in Seward. From Seward, we will take a train to Anchorage and then fly home. Now, I should warn all of you that this is the first Clayton Family vacation in 14 years. And yes, there is a reason for this. ..
Fourteen years ago, dad had a medical meeting to attend in Estes Park, Colorado. Chris (brother) was 14 and I was 19. I was far from being a fan of the outdoors at the time; Chris loved the outdoors and could get along just about anywhere at the time (never meets a stranger). Anyway, the hotel didn’t have any air conditioning, we were on the third floor (no elevator), and no TV. Dad and I were about ready to flip out and go to the closest Holiday Inn. Mom, though, being her wise ole’ self, reasoned with us and we stayed. It was only for the week. The week involved a horrible horse ride (I still can’t talk about it). The second week of our vacation was spent riding along a monotonous road through Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada; our final destination was Vegas (ahhhh!). The trip was okay, but clearly stopped the family vacations until now.
We arrived in Vancouver. Everyone, but Wesley (nephew) and me, thought the five hour flight was a bit long. The reason I didn’t was because two weeks before I flew for 14 hours from Seoul to Atlanta. Five hours was a piece of cake. Wesley was just a trooper through it all. We didn’t arrive into town until 7pm. It was late and we were hungry, but first we had to make it to our hotel, the Marriott Pinnacle. We got our luggage and went outside to find two taxis; one wouldn’t hold all of us and our luggage. Mom walked and asked a limo driver where the taxis were. He offered a ride in his limo for the price of what it would cost for two taxis. It was Wesley’s first limo ride and he was ecstatic over this opportunity.

Mom and Wesley in the limo

Mom and Wesley in the limo


After getting settled at the hotel, we headed over to the river walk which was just around the block. The view was gorgeous. At first, we thought it was an actual river, but we were corrected this morning by Viktor who informed us it was the ocean. My first view of the Pacific Ocean! There was a restaurant where we were walking and seeing that we were all starving we ate there. I wish I could remember the name of the place because it was delicious. I had the ahi tuna (some of the best I’ve ever had) and sangria.
View of the Pacific Ocean from Vancouver

View of the Pacific Ocean from Vancouver


The next morning-embarkation morning-we all woke up to meet Viktor for breakfast. Viktor was one of the trekkers I met when I went to Mongolia. Such a gentleman! Wesley and I met him in the lobby. The rest of the family met us in the hotel’s buffet style restaurant. The food was acceptable but the company was great. I was glad mom and dad were able to meet Viktor. I figured it was an opportunity for them to see one of the many reasons I had an amazing time in Mongolia. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to walk around the city or hang out more with Viktor because the cruise line scheduled a bus pick up to take us to the port.
The bus ride was short. Literally like five minutes. Getting checked in and going through customs really wasn’t a big deal either. Very smooth. The most exciting part of the check-in process was finding bags of Lays Ketchup flavored chips. My teaching partner is from Canada and her cousin occasionally sends her care packages of these delights. I purchased all four bags that the store had.
Once aboard the ship, we all went to our rooms to check out our digs for the week. Wesley, Kristen, and Chris were staying in a room on Deck 3. Mom, dad, and I were sharing a room with a balcony on Deck 7. I can’t say anything about the other room, but I can about ours. I was concerned at first because I didn’t know where I was going to sleep. The room said it could sleep three people. I could always sleep outside on the balcony but that could get cold! We had a chair in the room and I assumed that turned into a bed somehow.
We went up to Deck 11 for “take-off”. I guess it wasn’t really a take-off since planes take off. What do boats do? Anyway, we sailed away.
A Fruity Welcome

A Fruity Welcome


Music was playing, people were dancing (yours truly even attempted the Wobble), and everyone was having a grand time. Wesley and Kristen took a turn on the dance floor for the ever popular YMCA. Mom and drank…a cherry coke and sprite (plus I treated myself to one bag of the ketchup chips).
Later, we met in the dining room for dinner. Wesley was treated like a king (as he should be!). Our waiters were Ron and Anil. The food was great! I will admit the food is usually one of my favorite things about the cruising experience. I asked for my food to be prepared lactose and gluten free. I try to cut back on dairy and gluten because I feel like there are some positive effects in my body’s inflammation. I didn’t want to have any issues with pain (I have Sjogren’s, an autoimmune disease) or achiness so I thought I’d go this route. It back fired. The salmon was good, but there was just no pizazz to the dish. Tomorrow night, I will not do this! Screw the lactose and gluten free thing on the ship.
After dinner, mom and I went back to the room. I was wrong about my sleeping arrangements. My bed comes out of the ceiling and hangs over the top of my parent’s bed. I’m nervous about it. The thought of this thing crashing onto mom and dad’s heads is frightening. Can you imagine that headline? “Daughter kills parents on family cruise vacation”. I don’t think so. It creaked the first few times I moved around. It’ll take a few days to get used to this.
The sleeping situation

The sleeping situation


Today we are basically at sea. I’ve spent my day being positively lazy. It’s windy and cold outside, but I decided to make a stop at the gym…maybe workout like I should for that upcoming trip to Nepal. I did some machines and then Chris invited me for a twenty minute walk around the track. Yeah. He’s a task master; he speed walks while I do walk fast but not like I’m in a race. I finally told him to just go ahead and that slow and steady wins the race. Mom and I went to the Shopping Guide talk. She got excited when the shopping expert mentioned LeVian jewelry (for years she’s had her eye on a LeVian ring). I can’t really afford any jewelry right now thanks to that Nepal trek (which I’m okay with, but it does get hard when looking at all those sparklies!), but I’ll still look. Dinner tonight was formal. Wesley wore his three piece suit and looked devilishly handsome. The maitre’d called him Wesley Bond (as in James Bond-just in case you didn’t know which Bond I’m referring to). I wish there was more to report, but I can’t. There’s just not that much to do or see on the ship on an “at-sea” day. It’s not a bad thing. I mean, the next four days will be filled with activities and I’ll be glad for this day of rest then.
Tomorrow we will dock at Ketchikan. I will be heading off then for a hike through the Tongass Rainforest. Mom, Dad, Chris, Kristen, and Wesley will go on the DUCK tour (a vehicle that goes on a tour of the town on land and then on the water). We’ll meet up afterwards and meander around the town. For now, I will get some sleep on this loft, squeaky bed.
Sunset from the balcony...at 10:30PM

Sunset from the balcony…at 10:30PM

Final Comments on Mongolia

It’s been almost two months since I’ve returned from Mongolia. People ask how it was. My answer is always the same: I wish my words and pictures did justice to the country, but they don’t. People want to know my favorite part of the trip. That’s simple. It was the people I went with. I guess I didn’t realize what I was missing when I went to Africa and ended up with by myself. I mean, I loved Africa and I did meet people along the way, however, it when I met them it was just for a day or two. This was different. I was with the same group of people the entire time! And the people were amazing! So many stories and inspirations were offered among this group. Even now as I sit here, I miss my fellow trekkers. Luckily, I have kept in touch with some. Karyn and I email weekly. Viktor met my family and me for breakfast when we were in Vancouver to catch our cruise (posts to follow in the next few days) and we’ve emailed a couple of times since then. JoAnn kept us abreast of her blog postings about the trip (it’s a great blog and you should check it out: jcreore.wordpress.com) and sent me pictures. Tom emailed us about a foreign film about a Kazakh’s search for a wife. I haven’t heard from Lisa, Laura or Eric, but I’m sure they are okay and I’ll hear from them soon. I do know that Laura and Lisa are doing well. And I know that Eric has made some major life changes and will be traveling throughout Asia soon (I’m waiting for him to let me know he needs a witty sidekick to travel with…I have a feeling I will be waiting for a while). At the airport in Seoul, I had a hard time saying goodbye to Karyn. Our gates were across from each other and our planes left within 30 minutes of each other. Hopefully we will be seeing each other on a future trip in a year or two (Bhutan anyone? Maybe.).

My favorite picture of Karyn

My favorite picture of Karyn


The Bonfire

The Bonfire


I do one to correct something I realized after I typed one or two of the posts. I kept saying our horse guides were Karbai and Hermite, but it wasn’t Hermite. The other gentleman was Lister! Poor guy. The least I could do is remember his name after all he did, making sure we were all “good” when riding along.
You may have also picked up some comments about EBC (Everest Base Camp). I will be going there in November with Tusker (third trip with Tusker). During this trip, I was able to discuss the trip with Lisa, Karyn, and Amy. Amy will actually be the guide for the trek, but Lisa and Karyn had gone in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Both were very encouraging. Amy gave me a few tips and talked about it with me often. She told me if I had any questions about gear or working out to email her. Let’s face it, I have to buy some new things for the trip; the temperature will be cold over there in November-the coldest time of the hiking season. Ridiculously cold. I’ve already emailed my friends at Tusker about a down jacket and sleeping bag. As the trip gets closer, I’ll be posting things here and there along the way. That one will be, by far, the most strenuously one and will test my Sjogren’s body.
Another thing, I should probably apologize for the choppiness of this particular post. I wanted to have a final Mongolia post to try to say goodbye and move on to the next set of posts about the cruise through Alaska’s Inner Passage, but I am struggling with it. I don’t want to say goodbye quite yet. I want to hold on as long as I can! I know, I know, it’ll always be in my heart. It’s still just too soon.
After every trip, I like to pick a photo or two of me to frame and hang up in the hall. As I look at all my photos-me riding a camel, riding a horse, next to gers, or holding a golden eagle-I can’t decide which one to choose! Each brings warmth to my soul. I’ll eventually find one, but it’s hard.
One final thing before I end this post: When the group went to the farewell dinner at Veranda, I sat next to Amy. She told me her and Eddie had shared a conversation about me (I love it when people talk about me…well, only when it’s good and interesting). They compared me to a bird in an open caged that had clipped wings. The door to the cage is open, but the bird cannot fly free because of its clipped wings. They’re right. I want to fly off and see the world, but I can’t because of the restrictions I have (work, the measly paycheck from work…). Maybe one day, I will be recognized for my stellar writing skills and storytelling (well, except for this post) and I’ll be offered a job traveling the world and writing about it so I can share the experiences with others.
Coming Soon: Adventures While Sailing in Alaska
Enjoy these parting images from Mongolia…
Roof of Ger

Roof of Ger


Kids Fishing...on the way to Tsengl

Kids Fishing…on the way to Tsengl


Bactrain Camel...check out those humps!

Bactrain Camel…check out those humps!


Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle


The van without shock absorbers

The van without shock absorbers


Look at Mondo's "happy" face...NOT!

Look at Mondo’s “happy” face…NOT!


Amy and Eddie Frank from Tusker Trail...and camel

Amy and Eddie Frank from Tusker Trail…and camel

Fare Thee Well, Mongolia

Chingiss International Airport
Around four this morning, I said goodbye to Lisa. She is such a calm soul and I will miss having her around. I plan on keeping in touch with her because she is such a lovely person.
Check out was at noon so I rested until then; I knew I would be able to sleep or be as comfortable for the next two days (flight is leaving at 11pm, and I won’t get home until the following day around 5pm). Karyn explored the history museum and post office (Mongolia is big into postage stamps). At noon, we gather our suitcases and hauled them downstairs. She gave me a couple of stamps that I can show to the kids and a post card of a man sitting on a yak (for my principal-he likes yaks). After checking our luggage into the luggage holding room for the day, we went to the salon. Karyn wanted a mani and pedi. My manicure had actually held up pretty well-not one scratch!-so I didn’t want one. I did get a polish change on my toenails, however. They look atrocious, but who cares? I’ll have them done again a few days after my return.
Then we headed out for more shopping. I thought of something else I needed to get at the State Department store: I wanted a keychain for Jorge, the student who wrote me that beautiful letter. I wanted him to have something he could remember me by and the summer he had someone call him from half way around the world. It was just a small keychain with a tiny ger on it.
We were planning on hitting up the science museum, however, when we arrived at the door, the sign said it was closed while they rebuilt the interior of the building. It was basically falling down!
The government square was full of life: there had been a protest earlier.
It was getting to be later in the day and we still had hours before we were to be picked up to go to the airport. I was in desperate need of a shower. Amy told us we were welcomed to come to her room and shower so I took advantage of this offer. Karyn stayed downstairs to read for a bit and I went to Amy and Laura’s room. They graciously allowed me use of the shower. Afterwards, while we were waiting for Karyn to join us, Laura offered me a soda. We laughed and talked. When Karyn joined us, Amy showed us some pictures of the trip she posted on Facebook. Memories already started to flood my mind of the wonderful time I had out there in the Altai. They asked us to joining them for dinner. They were going to a French restaurant. We took a taxi and realized afterwards that we probably could have walked. The food was yummy and the bottle of wine we shared was wonderful. After our meal, we walked back to the hotel. The lights in the square were gorgeous!
Back at the hotel, Karyn and I said bye to Amy and Laura. Laura and Karyn don’t live too far away so I’m sure they’ll see each other again. I know I’ll see Amy in November since she’s the guide for the EBC trek. I hope I get to see Laura again, but I truly hope to see Karyn again. She’s been such a friend on this trip…an unexpected friend. I think I found a whole group of kindred spirits on this particular trip.
The three of us (Viktor had joined us in the lobby now) waited in the lobby for our ride. We shared favorite memories of the last two and a half weeks. Soon, Anya picked us up and off to the airport we went.
That is where I am now. I don’t want to think about leaving. For now, I’ll simply think of the amazing opportunity I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed and the people I’ve met and been inspired by.
I say, “Goodbye, Mongolia, goodbye. Thank you for sharing your beauty with me.”

UB Government Square alive at night

UB Government Square alive at night

Shop Til You Drop~Mongolia Style

Lisa and I knocked on Karyn’s door (across the hall from us) around 8ish. We went downstairs and ran into JoAnn and Viktor just finishing up their breakfast. Amy and Laura came down as we were about to leave. The five of us (Karyn, Lisa, Amy, Laura, and me) decided to meet at 10am in the lobby of the hotel and then we would go explore the cashmere shops of UB (cashmere is the big thing in Mongolia). Karyn went back to rest in her room (stomach was acting up thanks to the hot pot from the previous night) while Lisa and I decided to explore the area across the street from our hotel.
We hit up the tourist ger shop down the street where Lisa purchased some felt booties for one of her granddaughters. Next was the mart across the street. Luckily, there was a crosswalk and a few cars actually stopped for us to walk across (I still prayed as I RAN). The mart is basically a bunch of booths or stalls that sell various products. We also found the restaurant we’re suppose to eat at tonight for our farewell dinner. As we were wandering around, we spotted an old Buddha temple that was opened as a museum. We paid admission and walked through the poorly taken care of gardens and buildings. Some film company was shooting scenes of people in traditional costume. As soon as we would walk into an area where they were shooting, some man would wave us away. Other than being shooed, the abandoned temple and intricate detail of the buildings were beautiful. Soon, we had to head back to the hotel so we could meet up with the others to shop. I knew what I wanted to find today: that scarf I saw the first time we went out shopping at the State Department.
The five of us started our search at the same mart across the street that Lisa and I had just been too. It was huge-much bigger than we actually realized. The cashmere floor was different than what one would find in an American mall. Each cashmere company had their own “store” within the market. Karyn found a top and sweater she really liked at Blue Sky Cashmere. The sweater worked well size wise but she needed a different size in the shirt. The young woman waiting on us called some of the other stores but none had the particular shirt she was looking for. I did buy a hunter’s green cashmere sweater for dad-I’m thinking it might be nice for the Alaskan cruise (mom and dad are taking the family on a cruise about a week and a half after I return from here); odds are, though, that he’ll never wear it. The company next door was the one that had the scarf I liked so I walked in to take a looksee. I found it! There it was hanging up, along with two other color options, but I didn’t falter in my decision to purchase the original one I fell in love with. Needless to say, I grabbed it and took it to the register; 78,000 tugriks was a small price to pay for fabulousness. Amy liked the blue and green version of it, but decided to wait (she still had a few weeks left in Mongolia). At another company, I saw this awesome reversible sweater I thought my brother might actually wear. I thought the tag said 30,000. When I went to pay for it, I found out, again, why I don’t teach math: numbers and I don’t get along; the price was actually 300,000. Yeah, he didn’t get the sweater. But I will say Karyn found some great sweaters for her three sons and daughter-in-law. And before leaving the mart, we went to the grocery store downstairs. I had two missions to complete there: 1) purchase the taffy candy Amy gave out on the trek, and 2) find ger shaped tea tins I could use for gifts. I am happy to report that I bought two huge containers of the candy (Lisa bought some too) and six tea tins.
After exhausting our search at the UB Mart, we walked down to the Gobi Cashmere store. Beautiful cashmere covered the walls. Expensive cashmere covered the walls. I did not buy or touch any of the beautiful and expensive cashmere. I mean, we’re talking cha-ching! The next stop was the Blue Sky store in a huge glass building, however, it was no longer there so that ended those hopes.

The Blue Sky building is to the right

The Blue Sky building is to the right


The Louis Vuitton store in the Blue Sky building

The Louis Vuitton store in the Blue Sky building


We then decided that perhaps the best bet was to head over to the State Department to check out those stores again. Karyn found some goodies, Lisa bought a scarf (looked like the one I had purchased for myself-she even asked if I would mind if she bought one just like it!), and I went straight to the top floor where souvenirs were located. I had a whole list of things to purchase to take home for family and friends. I searched high and low for goodies (it was easy to do because if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, you’ll never find it). I found items for my uncle (I bought him a puzzle from the Intellectual Museum, I had already got some wafer biscuits for my aunt), Chris (chess set made from felt), Kristen (felt scarf), Wesley (dombra and hat), mom (felt hand puppets for her class), and some other things for people at work (a stuffed yak for my boss). I had so many things that I had to push around a yellow buggie. By this time, Amy and Laura wanted to head back to the hotel, but Karyn, Lisa, and I still wanted to walk around, maybe grab some lunch. Before departing us, though, Amy just had to go tell Karyn about another “department” store not too far from where we were (Karyn still had not found what she was looking for herself).
Shopping

Shopping


Well, I needed food at this point, so we headed to an Irish pub we had heard a lot about. The weather was nice and thus we ate outside to enjoy the fresh air. Karyn and I split a burger. It was delicious! This pub was by far the most Americanized place we visited during the trip. The waiter (who asked me about my wrist tattoos) spoke English and even had the kitchen split our meal for us. While we were eating, we noticed a table full of men with ear pieces. Amy had told us that elections were coming up-in fact, they were to be held a few days after we all left Mongolia. Apparently, the elections can get pretty heated (demonstrations, protests). The pub was across the street from the president’s house so we all assumed they were there making sure all was okay around that side of the house.
Karyn still had that cashmere top on her mind so we trekked (it seemed like trekking at this point) back to the other place Amy told her about. I will admit, I was tired at this point and maybe slightly irritable. I was hauling all this crap I had bought, but in all fairness, Lisa took a bag and so did Karyn so I wasn’t too lugged down. At the Blue Sky store in the mart, Karyn found it! Finally, after trudging all over God’s creation, she found it! I think I may have heard some angels singing at this point. It wasn’t the color she was hoping, but this shade was even better on her. While she was trying the top on, I found a mini scarf for mom-she’s not really a cashmere fan, but this was more woven and not what one thinks of when thinking of cashmere.
We were finally able to head back to the hotel so we could rest a little before dinner. For our dinner outfits (I had only what I was going to wear home the next night and wished I had brought something nicer for this dinner), I had a pink shirt and the cashmere scarf I treated myself too went with it perfectly. In fact, Lisa wore hers too. I told her we should see who notices first that we were wearing the same scarves. Well, that didn’t get far because when we all gathered downstairs to walk to the restaurant together, Laura mentioned it (she was aware we owned the same scarf).
Check out our matching scarves!

Check out our matching scarves!


Dinner was delicious! I sat on the half of the table with Amy, Karen and Lisa; Eric sat across from me (he enjoyed the day at the Black Market) and Tom, JoAnn, Laura, and Viktor sat at the other half. The food was wonderful and we shared a bottle of wine. I think this is where it set in that this was our last time together. It was our last meal. Lisa and Eric were leaving early the next morning, Tom was leaving sometime during the late morning, JoAnn was leaving on her next tour (she was staying in Mongolia because she was signed up to go on Tusker’s photography tour in the Tavn Bogd area so she was going to take another tour in between) around noon. Viktor, Karyn and I had until the following night-one more day. Before we said our goodbyes, Amy gave us each a Tusker Mongolia patch. I guess this is something new Tusker was doing: patches. Karyn shared she had bought a Tusker jacket and was going to have her Kilimanjaro and EBC patches sewn on with this one. I thought this was a fantastic idea and plan on doing the same (I’ll just have to ask for the Kilimanjaro patch since they didn’t do that back then when I went).

And Chingiss Hits Again

It is late and has been another long day of travel. It started out with the manager of the Eagle Ger Camp busting through our ger at like 4 or 4:30 this morning. Not sure what he said, but I yelled okay so he would go away. Apparently the first time we were staying at this ger camp, the cooks burst into the ger Karyn and JoAnn was in. They shared the ger with Lisa and me last night so maybe it’s just them that bring the luck of early morning disturbances. We didn’t have to be into breakfast until 6:30am so I decided to attempt to wash my hair. I wanted that stupid sticky stuff out (I washed my hair a couple of days ago when we arrived at our last camp. I used a stupid leaf thing that’s suppose to liquefy when wet. It really doesn’t. I’ve had little bits of it in my hair ever since.). I took a quick shower and when I was finished, everyone was already in the dining ger eating. I sat at the table with Alex. This meant he wasn’t cooking-which really he shouldn’t have to cook because he was technically “off duty” since we were back at the ger camp. Yeah, gazing at the food one could tell it was not Alex doing the cooking. I barely ate anything. We finished getting ready and headed to the airport.

Goodbye Eagle Ger Camp!

Goodbye Eagle Ger Camp!


We got in line to check in. Here’s the thing about Mongolian airports; lines are overrated. Right before the check in counter opened (only one counter in the whole airport), a mob of people rushed towards it. Well, Amy was ready. We had already gotten in line in the order she was going to check us in at. She called my name. Oops! They were going backwards. So, I just took my gigantic barge of a bag and made my way through the masses, saying “Oops. Hi. Pardon me. Excuse me. Hello. Oops-a-daisy. So sorry.” The seas parted and let me through. I of course did this with a smile; my mom didn’t raise a rude girl. I got up to the counter and Amy was laughing. I set the standard on getting through for the rest of the crew. They weighed my bag. Yup. I had to pay a fee for the bag being overweight. This time, it was 22,400 tugriks. Oh well, what are you going to do?
Finally all checked in and paid up, we went to the waiting lounge (same room as the check in counter). And guess what we found out? The flight was delayed because of weather. An option was given. We could stay and wait at the airport, or we could go hang out at the ger camp. None of wanted to go back to the ger camp. To be honest, I was totally cool with whatever the others wanted to choose. The majority wanted to stick it out at the airport. We waited about seven hours in the airport. All the locals went back home to wait. I think if we all knew it was going to be seven hours and that the “bathrooms” were literally holes in the ground outside the building, we would have suggested a ride into the city. A little about this bathroom situation: so, the bathrooms were outside. It was raining so you had to dodge the rain to get to where the bathrooms were. The port-o-lets didn’t have locks so you had to squat, hold the door close, and not fall into the hole while trying to pee. This was cumbersome and difficult. Now, I’m not prissy. I don’t mind using a hole in the ground; I didn’t mind it in Tsengl (those had locks!) or using the side of a mountain, but this was beyond words. If I never have to see that bathroom again it will be too soon. All part of the adventure, right?
Waiting got boring. I wish I had brought my Kindle with me to Ulgii (I left it in UB to try to lessen the dent in my wallet—because I had to pay for my luggage); it would have given me something to do other than just sit there, twirling my thumbs.
Thankfully, I did not get hungry. Amy had told us before that the airport had a small café in it that sold steamed meat dumplings called buuz. OMG! They are phenomenal and by far my favorite food I’ve tried in Mongolia. I plan on looking up a recipe for his little bit of heaven so I can attempt to make it at home. I ate 8 in all. I felt like a pig, a happy pig. Later on, I tried something called khuurshur. The best way I can describe this is an empanada with meat. It was okay, but I’m telling you that the buuz was the money! What sort of meat are we talking about in buuz and khuurshur? I’m so glad you asked; get ready for this. They call it mixed meat (mixture of the following kinds of meat: horse, cattle, yak, camel, goat, lamb). I don’t even care that I had horse because, once again, that buuz was awesome.
Eventually, we were transferred from the waiting lounge to the departure lounge, but first we had to go through security. The security guards only let in five or so people at a time. You went in, gave the person at the podium your passport, put your carry-ons onto the conveyor belt, went back for your passport, went through the metal detector, and gather your items from the belt. Then you went into the tiny room with uncomfortable chairs. Finally, we were able to board the plane (it made it!) and we were on our way back to hustle and bustle of UB.
Scheduled for tonight was a farewell dinner at Veranda, but we were all dead to the world. It was decided that we would postpone the dinner until tomorrow night. We needed to eat, but it was like 8pm when we finally got settled into the hotel again. The three of us headed for the hotel restaurant. I had already decided that I was going to try one of those hot pots. Those things fascinated me! When the three of us entered the restaurant, Tom was sitting by himself so we bombarded him with our presence. I think we were all tired!
The hot pot was good. You’re given the pot over a fire. The pot is filled with water and when the water begins to boil, you begin the cooking. Along with the pot, you have a plate of meat (I had chicken) and a bowl of vegetables. You select what you want to “cook”. I enjoyed it and hope to find a place in Tampa that offers hot pots (that and buuz).
After dinner, we staggered to our rooms (not because alcohol was involved but because we were just exhausted). That is where I am now…just finishing my day’s thoughts. I can’t believe I leave in two days! Tomorrow’s agenda: cashmere shopping with Amy, Laura, Lisa, and Karyn! Cha-ching!
My final pose next to our ger. Maybe I can put one of these in my parent's front yard?

My final pose next to our ger. Maybe I can put one of these in my parent’s front yard?

A funny thing happened on the way to Ulgii

We are back in Ulgii tonight, but the day has been far from ugly (little inside joke since I always trip up when I say Ulgii—I always end up calling the town Uglii).
We woke up and leisurely took our tents down for the last time after our breakfast. It’s amazing how quickly our camps have been broken down and today was no exception. While we were waiting for the other vehicles (we had three Land Cruisers, a small jeep, and old Russian Furgan van) to arrive, we all sort of just took atmosphere in. Hermite and his children came to camp. I had brought some cheap puzzles in the Target dollar bins to hand out to children if I saw any. Well, I wasn’t prepared with them the first day when we went to Karbai’s ger and yesterday was a crap of a day in the morning (God was dumping buckets of rain on us). This morning it was perfect weather for a puzzle. Amy suggested that I bring out the puzzles, gather the four kiddos up and demonstrate the art of puzzling. It was a great experience. As I’ve often witnessed, language barriers do not exist when it comes to children. The kids soon ran off with the mini puzzles to play on the hill.

Puzzles 101

Puzzles 101


Amy then brought out some Frisbees. I haven’t played Frisbee in forever! I began playing with a couple of kids, Hermite joined us, so did Lisa and Boba did too at one point. I will be getting myself a Frisbee like the ones Amy had. They’re larger than traditional Frisbees and have a large empty center. I can imagine using the Frisbee in the classroom and/or with Wesley at home.
Tossing the Frisbee

Tossing the Frisbee


Eventually, all the vehicles showed up and so did all of our camel and horse guides. The men stuffed (I mean literally stuffed) all the gear into the van. It was quite a sight to behold and required fancy maneuvering!
Stuffing the van

Stuffing the van


Then began, what I like to call, the “Tip Ceremony”. We all formed a circle, the trekkers on one side with all the Kazakhs on the other. JoAnn then started a beautiful speech that really conveyed what we all felt…gratitude, appreciation, and love for all we have experienced during this trip. Of course, I’m not one for sentiments or serious moments (has always driven my parents up the wall) so I kept making noises under my breath, directed towards Karyn who was standing next to me. She was able to control her laughter much better than I would have been able to. It was then tip time. We went in the circle. When it got to me, I handed my first envelope out to Porchuck (one of the camel wranglers). I then walked over to Boba and gave him a huge hug; he turned bright red. Karyn took a picture of us. As I walked away from him, I turned and said, “I heart you, Boba.” It was one for the history books. Before I left on this trip, my boss joked (in a faculty meeting) that he hoped I didn’t fall in love with a Mongolian and ride off into the sunset on a yak. I should tell him he should be more appreciative of my work or I’ll go back to Mongolia and ride yaks with Boba.
I heart Boba

I heart Boba


After the tip ceremony, we waved goodbye and rode off.
Everyone minus Eddie

Everyone minus Eddie


The dirt tracks for the vehicles were extremely muddy due to the amount of rain we’ve had the past few days. Dosjan, a daring driver, took the wrong path and ended up stuck in the mud. Our driver (Karyn, Lisa, and I rode together again) was a very safe driver was behind Dosjan. He was able to pull him out with no worries.
Dosjan's muddy ride

Dosjan’s muddy ride


We were told that instead of taking the same rode we used (the one that goes through Tsengl) we were going to take a short cut. This short cut went through “hills”. At times, I don’t think any of us we’re sure the vehicles would make these hills…especially when the drivers would have to let the cars rest at the top of the hills (and the cars smelled too!). I often found myself questioning whether or not the cars would actually make it all!
A Land Cruiser taking a breather.

A Land Cruiser taking a breather.


And of course, we stopped for a picnic lunch along the way. Our last picnic lunch!
Eric and I enjoying our last picnic lunch

Eric and I enjoying our last picnic lunch


Little did we all know that Amy and Dosjan had a special treat for us. The cars all pulled into an area with about three gers. Upon exiting the car (our car was the last one to get there-not surprising), I saw Dosjan kneeling on the ground next to this huge bird. The bird was actually a golden eagle. Kazakhs have been known to hunt in the winter with the eagles. The bird was gorgeous but did not want to cooperate with Dosjan. There was another eagle at the next ger so we all went there. This bird was majestic. He was older and wiser-you could tell with his movements and grace. Dosjan knelt and got the bird to sit on his arm. An old man joined us while Dosjan was doing this. This man was 94 years old and the owner of the eagle. I wish I could find better words to describe this moment because it was simply magical.
While Dosjan was sharing about eagle hunting, I took a moment to sit with two young girls. The children here have some a distinguishable look: rosy cheeks. Like the children this morning, they were intrigued by my tattoos on my wrists. They took their tiny hands and kept trying to rub the ink.
Hanging out with the girls at the eagle hunter's ger

Hanging out with the girls at the eagle hunter’s ger


Dosjan then invited us to hold the eagle if we were interested. If we were interested? Are you kidding me? Uh, yeah, I was interested. When was I going to get this chance again? A chance to hold a golden eagle that belonged to a 94 year old Kazakh eagle hunter in Mongolia? Sign me up! Eric jumped up first, but next was me! I put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes in case the eagle decided to go spastic when I reached for him (he had a sharp looking beak). I knelt down on the ground with the thick leather glove on. I took hold of the rope (an eagle’s equivalent of a dog’s leash), and gently pulled it. The eagle stepped onto my wrist. I stood up slowly. I was holding a freakin’ golden eagle! The bird had to weigh at least eight or ten pounds. It was heavy! Dosjan told me to move my hand slightly up and down to try to make the bird spread its wings out. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. The bird didn’t like my hand movements and tried to fly away. Of course the thing’s foot was tied with a rope so it didn’t go far. I was done after that and handed the glove off to Karyn. I think out of the three of us who did hold the bird, Karyn was the most excited and in love with the whole encounter. The owners of the gers invited us in for some refreshments (really, cheese and fried bread) and tea.
Holding the Golden Eagle

Holding the Golden Eagle


Sharing a moment with a golden eagle

Sharing a moment with a golden eagle


The 94 year old eagle hunter

The 94 year old eagle hunter


Enjoying a chance of a lifetime

Enjoying a chance of a lifetime


Finally we were on our way again. Ulgii at this point was only about an hour away. The plan was to get back to camp, settle in, go to dinner at the Turkish restaurant, stop at the Kazakh women’s co-op to shop (run by Dosjan’s sister), and go to the supermarket.
The co-op had beautiful crafts created and sewn by Kazakh women. I had a hard time trying to decide what to purchase. I finally decided on two coin purses (one for Carrie in purple and the other for a coworker in blue) and the most gorgeous pillow cover. The cover had a base of brown but scrollwork was embroidered in a rainbow of colors. It will be a wonderful keepsake I can share with the rest of the family and keep always.
On the way to the supermarket, I rode in Dosjan’s vehicle with Viktor and Eric. I was wedged in the middle of the two guys (Dosjan’s five year old son was with us and rode in the front seat). I asked Dosjan about the speed limit because it didn’t really seem like there was one when he drove. Apparently there is a speed limit, but it’s more of a suggestion. Eric then asked Dosjan, “Where are all the babes?” Dosjan understood the question as, “Where are all the babies?” He started to tell us kids start school when they’re about five. It was about this time I attempted to hold my laughter in. Eric was the same way, as well as Viktor. Dosjan stopped talking when he realized what Eric had actually asked. Talk about lost in translation! I was crying I was laughing so hard.
Tomorrow we go to the airport to catch our flight back to UB. Hard to believe I only have a few days left before going back to the States. I miss home, but I sure have enjoyed myself-more than I thought I would. I wonder if we’ll be hit with the Chingiss effect tomorrow like we were when waiting for our flight to Ulgii from UB. I wouldn’t be surprised.