Bermuda : So Much More Than the ∆


Map Courtesy Bermuda Tourism (Not to Scale)

During the third week of September 2017, we travelled to Bermuda for a week’s vacation. Bermuda is Britain’s oldest and smallest British Overseas self-governing (except for external affairs and defense) overseas territory. It lies 1000 km East of USA in the North-West Atlantic Ocean. Bermuda is about 56 square km in total land area, a cluster of six main islands and 120 small islands.


We landed at LF Wade International Airport, the sole airport connecting Bermuda only to Canada, USA and UK. It is named in honour of Leonard Frederick Wade, Leader of the Opposition, who passed away in 1996. Bermuda is home to registered corporate offices of many multinational business entities, particularly for investment, insurance, reinsurance and real estate companies. Tourism is the other major industry.

We drove to the Hotel in a Taxi. Being a British territory, all vehicles are Right-Hand drive unlike the Left-Hand drive ones in Canada and USA. The electric power supply is 110 Volts and not 220 Volts. Please click here to read more about it.


As we drove through, the pastel coloured houses with slanting white roofs caught my attention. The roofs are designed to harvest rain. The steps slow down heavy rainfall helping the gutters to collect the water and store it in a tank under the house. The tanks get topped up regularly with every rainfall and every home is self-sufficient for water. There is no governmental or municipal water supply system in Bermuda.

Bermuda is not blessed with any fresh water source like lakes, rivers or ponds. The lakes and waterholes hold brackish water, hence unfit for human consumption. As Bermuda gets abundant rainfall, well distributed all through the year, the early settlers were forced to harvest rain.

The design of the slanting white roof has multiple benefits. It is mostly made of limestone and hence is heavy and not easily shifted by hurricanes or heavy winds. The white paint help reflect ultra-violet sunrays, thus keeping the homes cool.


Image Courtesy http://www.bermuda-online.org/shorts

Bermuda is the only country where the national dress for men is known by the country’s name. It is worn by male Bermudians and visitors from all walks of life for business and  parties. It is a colourful shorts, worn three inches above the knee. Bermuda Shorts are not uniquely Bermudian, but were originally worn by British military forces. It was designed as a light attire for the British Military while deployed at British garrisons in tropical and sub-tropical colonies of the erstwhile British Empire.


We spent five days in Bermuda, swimming and relaxing on its beaches. The beaches are characterised by its pink textured sand and turquoise blue water. We also enjoyed Kayaking in the serene quiet waters.


We visited the Crystal Caves on a guided tour- a journey of amazing natural beauty – on pathways of floating pontoons spanning a crystal clear underground lake, about 50 feet below ground level.

Mark Twain, one of the first visitor to this wonder of Mother Nature wrote in a letter “The most beautiful cave in the world, I suppose. We descended 150 steps and stood in a splendid place 250 feet long and 30 or 40 wide, with a brilliant lake of clear water under our feet and all the roof overhead splendid with shining stalactites, thousands and thousands of them as white as sugar, and thousands and thousands brown and pink and other tints.”


Crystal cave was discovered in 1907 when two young boys were attempting to retrieve a lost cricket ball. They saw the ball dropping into a large hole. As one of them went deeper and deeper into the hole to fetch the ball, he realised that it wasn’t an ordinary hole. It was leading to some wondrous cave.

The owner of the property Mr Wilkinson was immediately informed. He then used a rope and lowered his 14-year old son through the hole. At a depth of about 120-ft and using a bicycle lamp, his son for the first time saw the wonder of the caves. The hole through which the boys entered is still visible.


The dramatic formations of stalactites and stalagmites which are crystal-like pointed structures naturally formed out of limestone rocks, offer an awesome view. A stalactite is an icicle-shaped formation, with a pointed tip, that hangs from the ceiling of a cave. It is produced by precipitation of minerals and lime from water dripping through the cave ceiling. They grow at a yearly rate of about 3 mm.


A stalagmite is an upward-growing mound of mineral deposits that have precipitated from water dripping onto the floor of a cave. Most stalagmites have rounded or flattened tips.


When a stalactite touches a stalagmite it forms a column as seen on the Right side of the image, which will surely take thousands of years.


Different chemical elements along with the limestone give different colours to the stalactites and stalagmites. Iron and other minerals, as well as acids from surface vegetation, combine with calcite crystals to add shades of red, orange and black.

Crystal Cave, just like other caves in Bermuda, formed, when sea level was considerably lower than now. When the Ice age ended and glaciers melted, sea level rose and inundated the beautiful cave formations.


We Visited HMD Bermuda (Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Bermuda) after a 30 minute ferry ride. This base was the principal base of the Royal Navy in the Western Atlantic between American independence and the Cold War. After the closure of most of the base as an active Royal Navy’s dockyard in 1957, the base fell into a state of disrepair. Storms and lack of maintenance caused damage to many buildings. Beginning in the 1980s increased tourism to Bermuda stimulated interest in renovating the dockyard and turning it into a tourist attraction. The Naval Air Station located here was called HMS Malabar by the Royal Navy, after the Indian princely state, now forming part of Kerala State.

Bermuda Triangle, for sure everyone must have heard about it; it did not engulf any of us. It is surely a myth. Even if it is not, I have no place there. I would better stay in Bermuda.

The Last Lap

We steamed off from Ketchikan by 5 PM on 03 August and we had to sail for about 40 hours to our final destination – Vancouver. The ship cruised through the Inside Passage, crossing from the US to Canada. On either sides were the coastal mountains cut off by glaciers millions of years ago. It provided a spectacular view of coastal rainforests, beaches, waterfalls and mountains. The passage has been the route since the first passenger steamers of the Yukon gold rush in the 1890’s. The Inside Passage provides safe transit as a sheltered West Coast waterway.  The journey offered a view of many fishing trawlers laden with their catch heading to harbour, historic lighthouses on rocky isolated shores, coastal First Nations houses fronted with proud totem poles and bald eagles.

In the evening the crew of the ship (882 crew members from 44 countries) put up an absorbing and entertaining cultural programme to bid goodbye to their guests.

Next morning, Fabrizio Fazzini, the Executive Chef of the ship held a culinary demonstration, showcasing few of his signature dishes. Jean Paul Misiu, the Maître d’Hôtel was the host. In large organizations such as hotels, or cruise ships with multiple restaurants, the Maître d’Hôtel is responsible for the overall dining experience including room service and buffet services, while head waiters or supervisors are responsible for the specific restaurant or dining room they work in.

The culinary show was followed by a tour of the kitchen. The kitchen was spread over two decks, connected by two sets of escalators. It was a well laid out kitchen with adequate space for the staff to work and was all spick and span. Every section had separate storage lockers, maintained at specified temperature as dictated by the items stored.

Pasta and Spaghetti Section

Pastry Shop where 7000 assorted pastries are produced each day. All baking needs like bread, cakes, and pastries are made here.

Soup Section

Sauce Section

Vegetable Section where 4 tonnes of vegetables are used.

Butchers Shop where 700 kg of fish and seafood and 1600 kg of meat is prepared and served each day.

Garde Manger (French for ‘keeper of the food’) is a cool, well-ventilated area where cold dishes (such as salads and appetizers) are prepared and other foods are stored under refrigeration. The person in charge of this area is known as the Chef Garde Manger or Pantry Chef.

At the end of the tour Marina purchased a cookbook authored by Fabrizio Fazzini, the Executive Chef. The book was autographed by the Executive Chef and Jean Paul Misiu, the Maître d’Hôtel.

Our ship docked at the Vancouver’s Fraser Port on 05 August morning. The port resembled a modern airport with all the facilities like aerobridge, customs and immigration offices, car parking etc. This port has been is consistently ranked as one of the most passenger friendly ports in the world and so is no surprise over 800,000 cruise passengers come through this port each year,

On coming out of the cabin balcony, I realised that the visibility was pretty poor with smoke hanging in the air. It was all due to wildfires in British Columbia (BC), about 150 of them burning that day. Since April, there have been 928 fires due to a combination of lightning and tinder-dry conditions. Of these over 500 of them have been confirmed to be naturally caused while another 364 were human caused. These numbers are consistent with previous years where roughly 60 per cent of fires are natural and 40 per cent are caused by people.

Bans on campfires as well as the use of off-road vehicles on public lands had been in effect for most of BC. People were warned about the heavy smoke causing poor visibility on roads and drivers should have their headlights on and watch out for any wildlife. The smoke also posed a health risk for infants, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.

The BC Province and Canadian government have left no stone unturned to fight these wildfires. They have moved in firefighters with their equipment from all other Canadian provinces and also requisitioned water-bomber aircrafts. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) through Operation LENTUS is in the forefront by providing aircrafts for transportation of the firefighting crew and equipment from all over Canada. The CAF aircrafts are also employed in evacuating locals who are affected by the wildfires, transporting first responders (Ambulance with Paramedics, Police and Firefighters), delivering essential aid to isolated communities and in assisting the local police in providing information to the public and conducting observation and reporting tasks at assigned points along access roads in affected areas.

We disembarked from the Coral Princess and bid goodbye to the crew and boarded a coach to the Vancouver Airport to catch out flight to Toronto,

All good voyages and travels must come to an end, but surely the next experience is awaiting.

Ketchikan – City of Totem Poles and Salmon

Over 80 Native American Totem Poles dot Ketchikan and a traveler  cannot go a few blocks without seeing one.  These Totem Poles serve as important illustrations of family lineage and the cultural heritage of Native American people.

The Totem Pole shown above tells the story of a Raven, who desired the sun, the moon and the stars believed to have been owned by a powerful Chief.  The Raven is depicted on the top of the pole.  Below the Raven is the Sun.  In order to procure the heavenly bodies, the Raven changed form to appear as the Chief’s daughter’s son.  The Chief’s daughter is depicted below the Sun.  The Raven cried to his grandfather until the Chief gave him the boxes containing the heavenly bodies.  The Raven opened the box, bringing the sun, moon and the stars to the earth.

This is the Chief Johnson Totem Pole.  The figures symbolise a single story about Raven.  On top is the mythological Kajun Bird.  The un-decorated long blank space symbolises the high regard in which the Kajun Bird is placed.  Below the blank space are the Raven’s slaves with the Raven below it.  The bottom figure is that of the Fog Woman.  She is identified with the summer salmon run. It was believed that the Fog Woman produced all salmon and caused them to return to the creeks of their birth.

The life story of the Alaskan Salmon is another interesting tale.  The story that takes the Salmon  from the rivers and streams of Alaska’s wild frontier to the Pacific Ocean and back again.  How they find their way back from the Pacific Ocean is intriguing.

Starting out as small eggs in a stream bed, they hatch and begin their journey downstream towards the ocean. They spend a couple of years in the streams and rivers growing up. During this time, their bodies change to adapt to seawater. The young adult salmon then head out to sea and spend several years swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Adult salmon spend one to four years swimming and feeding in the Pacific Ocean. They grow to their adult size and develop unique adult markings . Their ocean journey is long and hazardous as they are constantly hunted by seals, whales and fishermen. After swimming more than 2000 miles throughout the Pacific Ocean they swim back to their original stream or river where they re-adapt to the fresh water and swim back up the stream to reach their spawning grounds, the place of their birth. To ‘spawn’ means to release or deposit eggs.  Sometimes this involves swimming up rugged rivers with rapids and even waterfalls to leap.  Upon reaching their spawning ground, the female adult clears a spot in the stream-bed by sweeping her tail back and forth creating a gravel nest and lays her eggs.  The male adult salmon now fertilizes the egg with his sperm and protects them until both die within a couple of weeks and leave the embryos to fend for themselves.  Their carcasses decompose in the stream creating a nutrient-rich environment for the new infant salmon that are about to hatch.

It is obvious that Alaska salmon have interesting lives. One has to admit that a salmon that has returned to its birth stream after years at sea is an admirable fish to say the least. Due to the excellent salmon management practices that now exist in Alaska, salmon populations are well protected.

If the salmons could come up the Ketchikan’s  streams  to spawn, the men of Ketchikan were not far behind.  By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the population of male workers in the city was almost double that of the females.  This encouraged prostitution and thrived until banished in 1954. In 1903, the City Council ordered all the bawdy houses to be moved to the Creek Street.  At the time in Alaska, prostitution was tolerated but only if it did not occur on land.  This gave birth to Creek Street, where the houses were built on stilts above a creek.  The women who worked in Creek Street called themselves as ‘sporting women.’

As per the then Alaskan laws, more than two ‘female boarders’ constituted a prostitution house.  Hence, most Creek Street ladies lived in pairs or alone.  The only exception was Star Dance Hall, (the building with the salmon), a two storey building with 21 rooms, with live music and dance partners.

Single men frequented the Creek Street openly, whereas the married men used the more discreet Married Man’s Trail through the woods.  The girls could easily identify them by the mud on their shoes

At the other end of the Creek Street lived Dolly who bought this house in 1919 and lived here till her death in 1975.  Dolly lived all alone as she preferred to work alone. In those days when the average Ketchikan male worker earned $1 a day, Dolly charged each man $3.  She purchased her house for $800 and paid it off in two weeks.

Dolly neither smoked nor drank, but her house was the most sought after ‘watering hole’ as prohibition was in place.  Dolly earned more money selling small amounts of liquor for large sums to her clients than she did through prostitution.  She kept one or two bottles in the house at a time and hid the rest under the dock. It was easier for her to discard them in case of a raid.   Many of the Creek Street houses had trapdoors where they could receive alcohol deliveries under the dock in the darkness of night.

Dolly was an industrious lady.  As soon as people realised the ineffectiveness of French Silk Condoms in vogue then, with the dead stock Dolly had, she made flowers out of them to decorate her bath curtain.

Dolly’s bedroom was done up very tastefully, obviously it was here she conducted her business.  It appears she loved pink, red and green colours.  The furniture in the room was a gift from a client a from Petersburg.

When Dolly died on July 1975 at the age of 87, all the major newspapers in Alaska carried her obituary, paying tribute to a woman with an indomitable spirit exemplified the tough, roistering years of Ketchikan’s early history.

By evening, It was time for us to bid adieu to the colourful historic city of Ketchikan.  We embarked on our ship for the last leg of our sailing to Vancouver, Canada.

Next : The Last Lap

Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska

 

Our ship reached Ketchikan Port in the early hours 03 August.  After breakfast, we disembarked and walked to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show arena.

The term lumberjack is a Canadian derivation and are workers in the logging industry who perform the initial harvesting and transportion of trees. The term usually refers to a bygone era when hand tools were used in harvesting trees. The lumberjack’s work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and they lived in makeshift cabins and tents. However, the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength, masculinity and  confrontation with danger. Lumberjacks, exclusively men, worked in lumber camps and often lived a migratory life, following timber harvesting jobs as they opened. Their common equipment were the axe and cross-cut saw.

In popular culture, the stereotypical lumberjack is a strong, burly, usually bearded man who lives to brave the natural environment. He is depicted wearing suspenders, a long-sleeved plaid flannel shirt, and heavy caulk boots.  With a rugged group of expert lumberjacks, some razor sharp equipment, and a mix of corny jokes, a hour long exhibition of logging events was worth watching. The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show featured a page right out of history with old fashion axe swinging and lumbering skills.

Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is the re-enactment of how the lumberjacks competed and displayed their skills.  There was a rivalry between the Dawson Creek Mill in British Columbia, Canada and the Spruce Mill in Alaska, USA.  Both camps claimed they produced better timber and their lumberjacks were more skilful.  To stake their claims, they held an annual Lumberjack Competition and the winners won the bragging rights.  The arena where we watched the Lumberjack Show was the very same place where the Spruce Mill was functioning.  The show began and it was a hysterical, hand clapping and foot pounding spectacle as the audience were also divided into two sides supporting each team – the Canadian and the American.

The first event was Underhand Chop while standing on a log.  It required the lumberjack to swing an axe fractions of an inch from his feet, mimicking how early lumberjacks would cut fallen logs to length in the forests.  It needed immense skill and control of the axe as the margin of error was very narrow.  The axe had to move vertically up and down, else would land on the lumberjack’s foot.

This was followed by the Standing Block Chop.  To the casual observer, the standing block chop may resemble a baseball swing.  It involves swinging a razor sharp axe at a 11 inch thick pine chopping block. It was surely more than just smashing on a log with brute muscle power.  The lumberjack had to ensure that axe met the log at the correct angle to cut the wood fibers and slice into the block.

The next event was the Springboard Chop.  The lumberjacks had to severe a log placed about nine feet high.  In the earlier days springboards used to allow lumberjacks a flat working surface in uneven terrain or where tall trees were cut by hand in steep hills.  The lumberjacks started by cutting a small pocket with an axe at roughly hip level for the first springboard, then jumped onto the first board before cutting another pocket higher up the pole.  Then they placed the second board into this hole and jumped on it, providing a secure location to chop the log.   Standing on this springboard, they chopped and severed the block.

This was followed by Stock Saw cutting.  The lumberjacks had to cut two cookie shaped slices from a block using a powered chainsaw, first cutting down and then next cutting up.  The lumberjacks had to have a keen ear to the sounds the saws made while feeding the saw just enough wood  to ensure that it is cutting fast but not too much wood that it got bogged down

The next competition was the 60-feet Speed Climb where in the lumberjacks climbed a 60-feet-tall cedar pole using steel-core climbing ropes  and spurs and then came down slithering. While descending, the lumberjacks had to touch the pole once every 15 feet.

This was followed by Double Buck Sawing where two sawyers working as a team with a two-man bucking saw had to cut through a 20-inch-diameter pine log.

The next event was Axe throwing where the lumberjacks threw an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bulls eye as near as possible in the allowed five throws for a maximum score of 25. The target was a three feet diameter circle, consisting of five rings  four inches wide. The scoring was based on where the axe struck with the outside ring worth one point, the next one in worth two, then three, then four and finally the bulls eye worth five points. The distance of the throwing line to the target was 21 feet.  In case the thrower stepped over the throwing line, or the axe did not lodge correctly on the target,  he got no points.

The final event was Logrolling, also known as Birling.  Two lumberjacks from opposing teams stepped onto a floating log and started  the roll and spin it rapidly in the water with their feet.  They would  stop it suddenly by digging into the log with special caulked birling shoes and a reverse motion to maneuver their adversary off balance and into the water, a feat called ‘wetting’. Dislodging an opponent constituted a fall.

The Lumberjack Show reflected upon North America’s rich logging history and came to life with thrilling displays of strength and agility. The show in fact honours an industry that was the backbone of Ketchikan’s economy from the late 50s to the 80s.

Next : Ketchikan – City of Totem Poles and Salmon

Juneau – The Capital City of Alaska

Our ship’s next port of call was Juneau on 02 August early morning.  Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906.  Juneau is rather unusual among US state capitals (except Honolulu, Hawaii) in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of state or to the rest of America. The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city.  All goods and persons coming in and out of Juneau must go by plane or ship.  Downtown Juneau is located at sea level, with tides averaging 5 m, surrounded by steep mountains about 1,200 meter high.

Even though Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska and is well connected by rail, road and air network, how did Juneau become the capital of Alaska?

Sitka was the Alaskan capital when the US took over Alaska from Russia. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1906 because the gold rush had made it and other towns in the Northern Alaska much more economically significant than Sitka. When Alaska officially became a territory in 1912, Anchorage did not exist. Anchorage came into being during the summer of 1915 as a construction depot on the Alaskan railroad. It wasn’t that important of a town until the US Military moved in before World War II.

After the war Alaskans considered moving the capital out of South-East Alaska to a more central location. Anchorage was considered suitable with its central location, but poverty and lack of agreement prevented any action from being taken. The resolution to move the capital was put to vote in 1984 and 1996, but was defeated and is unlikely that the state government will ever physically move.

We got off our ship and headed on a bus to Auk Bay, about 20 km from the port, for whale watching.  We were ushered into a boat captained by  Emily.  John, a university student pursuing his pre-medical degree was her assistant.  Both Emily and John were very knowledgeable about the Auk Bay and the surrounding areas and also about whales.   We were a group of 12  in the boat and after everyone boarded, Captain Emily gave out the safety briefing followed by a talk about what we were expecting to see.  After leaving the jetty, Emily went full throttle, skimming over the water to locate  the whales.  During this journey John gave a detailed briefing on whales.

After about an hour, we sighted Sasha, a humpback whale. The whales located in  Auk Bay are given numbers and names.  Alaska is only a feeding area for the whales as there are lot of fish to feed on and is not a breeding ground due to the cold temperature. We watched bubble-net feeding by Sasha as she dived down and released a ring of bubbles from its blowhole beneath a school of fish. As the bubbles rose to the surface, it created a net, trapping the fish.

The next whale we located was Flame.  The humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation and scars on the underside of their tails or flukes that are unique to each whale.  These black and white patterns are their bio-metric identification akin to our fingerprints.

After watching the whales, Emily steered the boat to an island where over two hundred sea lions were sunbathing.  The males had their heads up while the females and the cubs were all lying down like an arrangement of sausages on the beach. After watching the sea lions, Emily dropped us at the jetty to board a bus back to Juneau.

Back at Juneau, we drove on the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway,  a five-minute ride through the rain forest, from the cruise ship pier to the  Mount Roberts at an elevation of 600 meter.  It offered a breathtaking view of the cruise ships, the port and  downtown Juneau as depicted in the images at the top. The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world.

 

We came down on the tramway and decided to enjoy lunch at Juneau’s Twisted Fish Company, rather than going on board our ship anchored 100 meters away.  This place was recommended to us by locals and it was worth it. We savoured a menu of salmon, halibut and clam, sourced straight from the docks.

At the dock stood a plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice by the 690 member crew of the Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser Ship USS Juneau.  The ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarines on the morning of 13 November 1942 in the Pacific Ocean.  Only 10 crew members survived to narrate the tale.  Aboard USS Juneau were  George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert – five brothers from the Sullivan family.  Even though US  Navy’s policy of separating siblings was in place,  it was not always followed and the five brothers enlisted to serve together and were assigned to USS Juneau.  The two oldest brothers George and Francis had served in the Navy before World War II and both had been discharged in May 1941. When war broke out, the older brothers with their three younger siblings volunteered to serve in the Navy but only if they could serve together.

After the sumptuous lunch, we boarded the ship and we sat in the balcony enjoying the breeze and the view outside on the waterfront.  There were many sea planes taking off and landing on water and a fishing boat crew were spreading their nets to catch salmon between the cruise ships and the ‘runway.’

The day for us ended with dinner and our ship bid goodbye to Juneau on its onward journey to Ketchikan, our last port of call in Alaska.

Next : Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska

Skagway – Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush

On 01 August morning, our Ship anchored at the Port of Skagway.  The City of Skagway has a population of less than a thousand, but in the summer months the population doubles with many temporary workers manning various restaurants and shops. Skagway becomes a busy port destination during the summer months, welcoming more than a million visitors from around the globe in more than 400 cruise ships.

Skagway came into prominence when gold was discovered in 1896 at Bonanza Creek in Klondike in Yukon, Canada.  The headline of the Seattle newspaper – Intelligencer –  on 17 July 1897 read  “Gold! Gold! Gold!”, broadcasting the news of the discovery of gold in the Canadian Klondike. In 1897, the first ships from San Francisco, Portland and Seattle arrived in Skagway, packed with gold-seekers, beginning the Klondike Gold Rush.

In the Klondike Gold Rush, an estimated 100,000 people tried to reach the Klondike goldfields, of whom only around 30,000 to 40,000 eventually succeeded in reaching there. Out of them only about 300 actually  found gold and became rich.  Everyone from doctors to farmers, all wanted a share of the gold as there was severe unemployment and poverty due to a series of financial recessions and bank failures in the 1890s in USA.

Gold-seekers were required, as per the Canadian laws to pack and carry one ton of goods, which was needed to last one year, if they wanted to reach the Klondike Goldfields. The average man took about 40 trips over three months to haul his ton of supplies to the Klondike Gold Fields from Skagway. Soon, Skagway boomed and peaked at a population of 10,000 people, many of them prospectors in the midst of their journey, but many were permanent residents offering goods and services to the gold-seeking hoards.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Skagway was a lawless town, where fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on its streets.  The period saw the rising of a con man Jefferson R Smith, better known as ‘Soapy’ Smith, who was a sophisticated swindler.  He headed a gang of thieves who swindled prospectors with cards, dice, and the shell game.  Smith came up with his ingenious ‘Soap Swindle’, which earned the nickname of ‘Soapy.’ The trick began with Soapy wrapping up cakes of ordinary soaps with  paper currency ranging from one dollar up to a hundred. He would then mix it with other ordinary cakes, re-wrap all in plain paper and would sell them for $1 to $5 a bar. He had his ‘men’ in the crowd who would buy a soap cake, opening it to find a $100 bill. The crowd was then anxious to buy their own, which, of course, held nothing but a 5¢ soap cake.

Soapy Smith was shot and killed by Frank Reid, a town guard, on July 8, 1898, in a shootout when the two men fired their weapons simultaneously. Frank Reid died from his wounds twelve days later. Smith is buried in a corner of the Gold Rush Cemetery, where as the tomb of Reid is located in the center of the cemetery.

Klondike Gold Rush saw two men coming together- Sir Thomas Tancrede, representing investors in London and Michael J Heney, an experienced railroad contractor interested in finding new work for his talents and interests.  Though Tancrede had some doubts about building a railroad over the Coastal mountains, Heney claimed  “Give me enough dynamite and I will build a railroad to Hell.”  Construction of a narrow gauge ‘White Pass & Yukon Route’ railway line commenced on 28 May 1898.  After two years, two months and two days on 30 July 1900, the first train from Skagway arrived at White Horse, Yukon, Canada, about 110 miles.  The agony was that by the time the railway line was completed, the Gold Rush was nearly all over.

Today, the fully restored cars, pulled by vintage diesel locomotives climb nearly 1,000 m over 30 km of steep grades and around cliff hanging turns, taking tourists on a  three-hour excursion to White Pass Summit.

We booked out tickets for the morning trip and boarded the train. The train pulled out of the Skagway station and after two km, we came to the railway yard where a fully functional vintage steam engine Number 73 rested.

This  monstrous looking machine is a enormous snow cutter used to cut through the deep snow to allow the train to pass during winter.

The train passed by the grave of the city’s most notorious Soapy Smith in the Gold Rush Cemetery.  Then the train commenced its climb .

We then passed the Inspiration Point, looking down on the Skagway Harbour where our ship was anchored.

The abandoned  Switch-Back Bridge came into our view after traveling 24 km from Skagway.  It is a cantilever steel bridge over the Dead Horse Gulch with a span of about 400 feet.  It was the world’s longest cantilever steel bridge when it opened.  In the fall of 1969, a new tunnel and bridge that bypassed Dead Horse Gulch was built to replace the tall steel cantilever bridge that could no longer carry the heavier and longer trains pulled by the diesel engines.

The Dead Horse Gulch, it is believed that more than 3,000 animals, mostly horses, died on this trail and many of their bones still lie at the bottom on this ravine.

After another three km, we reached the White Pass Station on the US-Canada Border.  The pillar marks the International Boundary with the US and Canadian Flags on either side.  Here the train stopped for its return journey to Skagway.

After alighting from the train we embarked on a five mile trek to the gorgeous Reid Falls, located North of the Gold Rush Cemetery.  The Falls is named in honour of  Frank Reid, the town guard who shot dead Soapy Smith.

On return to the ship, it was dinner time.

Dinner was followed by a movie ‘Beauty and the Beast’, watched in the open air theater on the top deck of the ship aptly named ‘Movie under the Stars.’

Next : Juneau – The Capital City of Alaska

 

 

Glacier Bay – Where the Birth of the World is Continuing

In the morning of 31 July after breakfast we played cards in the Card Room as the ship cruised its way into the Glacier Bay.  Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve contains some of the world’s most impressive tidewater glaciers. The bay has experienced at least four major glacial advances and four major retreats and serves as an outdoor research laboratory.  Glacier Bay has more than 50 named glaciers, as well as two major arms: East Arm and West Arm. The cruise ships head up the West Arm, towards the Margerie Glacier as it is the most impressive glacier, which is advancing three to four meter a day and calves frequently.

The glaciers in Glacier Bay are remnants of a general ice advance—the Little Ice Age—that began about 4,000 years ago. This advance is not comparable to continental glaciation that occurred during the Wisconsin Ice Age.  By about 1750, the Little Ice Age reached its maximum stage and a general recession of glaciers began.  200 years ago the Glacier Bay was covered by the Grand Pacific Glacier, which was more than 1,200 meter thick and about 30 km wide. Since then the ice has been retreating with the Glacier Bay  now having 20 separate glaciers, of which 11 are tidewater glaciers including Margerie Glacier that calve into the bay.

Margerie Glacier is named after French geologist and geographer Emmanuel de Margerie who visited the area in 1913.  The Glacier Bay was completely covered by ice in 1794 when Captain George Vancouver, a British officer of the Royal Navy, best known for his expedition which explored and charted North America’s North-Western Pacific Coast region was stopped by a wall of ice 32 km wide and 1,200 m high.  The ice wall has since retreated from the mouth of the bay and is only a remnant of the massive glacier seen by Vancouver.   Today, the ice flows have been recorded at Margerie Glacier at 610 meter per year or about 1.75 meter per day.

Like a river, the glacier flows down the mountain  choosing the path of least resistance. As it moves,  it swallows rocks into its lower layers. These  acquired rocks grind away at the bedrock, carving deep valleys in the  mountainside over the years.

When the ice reaches lower, warmer elevations, it begins to melt. Eventually the loss through melting is greater than the supply of ice flowing down the  mountain. Now the glacier ceases to make further  progress, though the body of ice is still moving  down the mountains.  The length of time it takes for a snowflake that falls in the mountains to emerge at the end, or terminus of a glacier varies, depending on the speed at which the glacier is flowing. The ice visible at the face of the park’s glaciers today  is about 200 years old.

As we entered the Glacier Bay we first sighted the South Marble Island. This small island is the sunbathing spot of the gigantic Sea Lions. They lay on the rocks  with the dominant males sitting with their back arched and head erect.

Then came up the ‘Gloomy Knob’, a well rounded, dome shaped granite feature.  Surely it would have been smoothened by the glacial activities over the years.  The grass growing on the rocks formed the grazing pasture for the Mountain Goats.

After we passed the Gloomy Knob, a boat belonging to the US National Park Services came alongside our ship.  The Rangers from the boat boarded the ship through the rope-ladders provided by the ship’s crew.

These Rangers, lead by Ms Highsmith, the Warden,  conducted classes about the Glacier Bay, its ecology, geology, about the original inhabitants, etc.  She brought out as to how the current conservation effort has been a great success as they included the local inhabitants into it, respecting their beliefs, traditions and customs.

Our ship then moved closer to the Margerie Glacier, nearly a mile away to facilitate us to view the spectacle of calving.  Cows have calves, glaciers calve icebergs, which are chunks of ice that break off glaciers and fall into water. This is caused in the glaciers of the Glacier Bay due to the forward motion of the glacier and the erosive action of the salt water of the Pacific Ocean, the tidal waves and the wind.

As we stood on the deck watching the Margerie Glacier, it calved five times, each time bringing down a heavy volume of ice, falling into water with a thunderous sound.  It was a great natural spectacle showcasing the fury of the nature.

As our ship steamed off from the Glacier Bay, we all enjoyed a swim in the top deck swimming pool.

Next : Skagway – Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush