Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alaskan Adventure, Part Two: Kayaks, Birds, and Otters

Have you ever been kayaking?  This was my second time (first was on our 2006 Alaska trip) and I adore it.  I feared I might have grown too old or creaky in the intervening six years, but no such thing!  So here I share the experience, so you can enjoy an armchair kayak (guaranteed dry).

Peter slept in, enjoying the peace at the Good Karma, but Denise and I went.  You book a kayak (or halibut boat, or bear flight) excursion on the Homer Spit, that finger of land that juts out from Homer into Kachemak Bay.  It's the tourist center of town, and very attractive (below).  At the appointed time you show up at the charter office, and they take you on a fast boat across Kachemak Bay, where you get rigged up with kayak gear and insert yourself into the kayak.

Homer Spit

Our guide was a young woman named Kim, in her own kayak, and there were three other young women in their 20s, one in a single kayak, two in a double.  Denise and I were the elders in a double kayak, but we actually were pretty darn fast kayakers - Denise is a whiz!  So it was a group of all women, and there was something very enjoyable about that.  Now, here we go:  the paddling begins!

We paddled past lots of little islands.

Then we approached Gull Island, bird central.

Every few minutes an eagle alights on Gull Island, and thousands of birds lift into the sky, all screaming in alarm!  It's bedlam.  Killewakes, guillemots, murre, and more.

These are murre, a kind of Alaskan small penguin.

One of us taking pictures.

Here's an eagle, that which all the other birds fear.  And with reason.  We saw one lift a murre into his talons and fly off!  Even the guide said she'd never seen that before.  Of course it happened too fast to get a picture, but it's engraved grandly and horrifically in my mind's eye.

Denise and me, the Music and Art kayak girls

It's fun!

Landing on an island beach for a break and some beachcombing.  Kim was a naturalist and could tell us the names of shells and flowers, which was lovely.

Me and a piece of driftwood.  The life jacket and kayaking skirt aren't flattering!

A sea flower - don't know the name, but Kim said the middle bit is all mites.

A personable, though possibly dead, crab

After the kayaking adventure, we returned to Homer, parted with Denise, and left the Good Karma, to continue on our journey.  A few miles outside Homer is the little Russian village of Ninilchik.  I stopped to take a picture of the church, and the lovely Inuit Russian Orthodox minister was just coming out.

Here's the inside of the church.

A couple of hours later we reached Seward.  We stayed at the yummily named Salmon Bake, where there are cabins and the lovely old-fashioned Exit Glacier Lodge right by the restaurant.  Our room was in the lodge, and of course we had a delicious salmon dinner.

We decided to stay another night in Seward and moved to the Seward Hotel, another wonderful old-fashioned place that we liked very much, near the waterfront.  We booked a nine hour wildlife and glacier cruise in the Kenai Fjords for the next day.

The weather, however, though it produced some spectacular effects, was not conducive!

But the boat set out nevertheless, and we saw a good deal of wildlife...birds, sea lions, whales, and otters. 

Took quite a few shots of this funny little fellow, whom we thought resembled our weirdest cat, Catullus.

This is my one whale picture, of a whale tail (above).  Pathetic, I know.  But the things do not hold still.

Peter on the deck of The Explorer.

Peter and me.  The long and winding road, and what our travels are all about.

We would love to have this cabin!  The rain is evident in the picture, and it was more than rain, it was choppy seas that were making people sick.  The captain made the call to turn back, so the 9 hour cruise was only 4 hours.  We did not repine; he made the right decision, and we'd seen a lot.  The Kenai Fjords company gave us a good refund, too.

We'd done this same cruise six years ago, so we've seen the glaciers, but we decided to finish the day by getting up close to one.  So we climbed the Exit Glacier Trail, outside Seward, to the edge of this glacier, doing about a 4-mile round trip hike.  Peter hiked like a champion, outpacing me; he hasn't been able to hike this well in at least ten years!  So we ended the trip on a joyful note.

Peter says goodbye to his familiar, a musk ox in the lobby of the Seward Hotel.

Then we drove back to Anchorage, for a fine seafood dinner and to buy halibut to take home.  Which we did.

Alaskan Adventure: Part 1, Homer

Have you been to Alaska?  Perhaps on a cruise?  This was a different sort of trip, and I don't pretend to have seen very much of Alaska, but we did get to know a couple of places well, and to have a feeling for the way our friends live there.  Six years ago, we first visited Denise, my classmate from the High School of Music and Art ('63), and her friend Serge, who live in Homer.  It was a happy reunion and we generally fell in love with the place.  Peter's various illnesses prevented us from revisiting sooner, but praise be, he is well now, so this was not only a second happy journey to Alaska, but also back to our old way of life with traveling adventures!

We flew to Anchorage, and as flights from the lower 48 all seem to arrive around 1 AM, we spent the rest of the night at a Best Western, and in the morning drove the couple of hundred very scenic miles to the pretty town of Homer, on the Kenai Peninsula.  Above, Peter as we stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view of Cook Inlet.

We stopped first at Serge's house, a few miles outside Homer, and he and Denise had a wonderful salmon dinner waiting for us!  His homemade bread, and greens picked right then from his garden, were divine.  This is Denise in the garden.

This is Denise's cabin, where she has lived in the summers (winters in New York) since the 1960s.

Some of Denise's glass artwork

Even Denise's doorknob is all about color (particularly blue) and light!  As should come as no surprise, given my blog's title, I love one of her mottoes: "Always remember to love the little shiny things."   Denise's father was a famous sculptor, Ibram Lassaw, and she has continued practicing art since our Music and Art days.  Russian born Serge is a poet and academic.

Then we drove to our hotel, the lovely Good Karma Inn, owned and run by a Buddhist friend of Denise's.  The view, as you drive down into Homer is spectacular:  Kachemak Bay with snowy volcanoes arising from the water.  These flowers are called Pushki, or Alaskan cow parsnip, and it's a pernicious weed that leaves blisters if you handle it. 

These are the more benign and beautiful lupines!

We arrived at the Good Karma late, as dusk was falling, with a view of fields running down to the bay, and a rainbow.  In July it's only dark for a few hours, starting at midnight.

The rainbow a little later...this was about 11 PM.

Next morning, a bright sunny view from our deck.

The mountains beyond

The little Buddhist shrine in the garden has a most attractive dragon.

Peter at the Good Karma Inn

A room at Good Karma - I think this one was called "Wisdom."  There are only three rooms; it's really a bed and breakfast.  Another room is "Kindness."  Ours was "Mindfulness."  Perfectly quiet, with the the most comfortable king size bed...and great wifi!

Door opening onto our deck

The door to Mindfulness

Me on the deck, relaxed for a change!

Peter enjoying the peacefulness

Next day we drove into town.  This is a typical Homer scene, blue pickup truck speeding down the beach, almost certainly with a dog or dogs in the back!

Homer has the most wonderful used bookstore, a real treasure trove, The Old Inlet Bookshop.  It's connected to the attractive Mermaid Cafe.  I bought several books, but my favorite is about a "sourdough teacher" who went to Alaska to teach after World War I.

A coffeehouse.  Homer's a bit of an artsy, hippie town, with lots of galleries.  Maybe that's part of the reason we love it so much.

It has the most gorgeous new library - stunning design, with windows looking out on mountain and bay views, with lupines and irises all around.

Stained glass window in the library.

We went out on a halibut fishing excursion, since we hadn't done that on our last trip and always wanted to.  But seas were so rough nearly all the boats turned back that day, and a seaplane actually turned over in Homer's Beluga Lake, tragically killing a woman.  Our boat didn't turn back but at least half the people were sick.  I was not sick, and caught a halibut!  A small but legal one, 14 pounds.

Mine is the one with the pink ribbon.  The crew cut them up and bagged them, and mine was somehow reduced to about two pounds in the process...

But I brought it back to Denise and Serge, and he cooked some for me.  Here it is in a sandwich of his homemade bread, with his just picked greens!  One of the tastiest meals I ever ate. 

Me with my catch at Serge's house!

Next day Denise and I stayed on dry land and bopped around Homer (in 1962 as early beatnik chicks of 15, we used to "bop around" Greenwich Village).  Here we are at the attractive Ptarmigan Arts gallery and shop.  I bought sparkly dichroic glass earrings like Denise's, and a mosaic lamp for Paul, who stayed at home to work and watch the cats.

I drew this cartoon in 1962 (if you click, you can see it bigger), and it survived for fifty years in a trunk.  It's my Music and Art crowd disporting themselves in Morningside Park on a spring day.  Denise is the one dancing in the air (recognize her?) and I'm the little brunette sexpot on the grass.  (Don't worry, I don't recognize me either!)   It really sent chills to discover this, and to share it with Denise.  Remarkable.

Dichroic glass earrings...light, bright, and sparkling.

Here's a lovely house belonging to a friend of Denise's in Homer.  The gardens slope down to the bluff, overlooking the bay.

Irises in the garden.

Whalebone gargoyle in the garden of another artist friend

Later Peter and I went for  drive on the Skyline road above Homer.  This is a cache, used by hunters to store game.  I don't know what the flowers are - wild yellow roses?

And in a nature park we saw some chocolate lily flowers, which I've only ever seen in Alaska...

And the road goes on...Next post, Seward and the sea...