28 June 2004

Land of the Midnight Sun.

Greetings from the future! We crossed the international dateline four days ago- it’s now Monday June 28 here, and we skipped Wednesday- we've been turning our clocks back an hour each night in preparation for Russia, which has been nice for sleep, but confusing otherwise. We left Vancouver on June 17, and are sailing the "Great Circle Route" on our way to Southeast Asia. The ship is beautiful- the company bought a new ship, built in 2002, two weeks before we left, so everything is brand new- we're having class in the cocktail lounge, and the beauty salon is the gym, but it's great.

The ship also has a group of retired seniors, some of whom are frequent sailors- one woman we ate lunch with the other day swung from a vine in the Amazon when she was 76! Another woman has been on 12 voyages, all continuous over the past four years- apparently she's trying to find a way to live on the ship instead of going home for the weeks in between- she says sailing around on the spring, summer and fall voyages is significantly cheaper than a retirement home. Definitely some interesting characters here!

In Sitka, I spent one afternoon on a boat led by the Biology professor looking for humpback whales, sea otters, Steller sea lions, and bald eagles, plus the gorgeous mountain and volcano scenery. On the second day, we hiked through the Totem Pole forest to the Alaska Raptor Center, where they treat injured birds of prey, especially eagles, in the morning, and hiked through the Tongass Rainforest in the afternoon. I also visited the local Sheldon Jackson College, population 170, and talked to some of the marine biology students who run the aquarium.

The town is a small 14-mile stretch of road that dead ends at each end- a little cozy, but beautiful scenery. The only way in is by boat, no roads or airport. The weather was unseasonably warm- a record high 85*F. Apparently, Sitka has better weather than New England or Colorado. A few students went fishing with the locals, and caught 30+ lbs king salmon. The locals were exceptionally friendly, and a few people, including my roommate, stayed the night in town with people they'd met. Sitka is definitely a place worth visiting, for those of you planning trips to Alaska in the near future.

After Sitka, we started classes, which are surprisingly interesting. The professors' passion helps soften the blow of having to take classes on a cruise ship! I'm taking a sociology course called Race, Gender, and the Law, taught by a law professor who runs it like a law course, so there's a lot of reading, but interesting material. My other course is a history course on Modern China, taught by a nutty woman who speaks 7 languages fluently, and a few more passably well. When she's taking notes, she'll sometimes use Chinese characters because it's faster - the language comes that naturally to her. If only my Spanish was half that good! The core class, Global Perspectives, has 400 people, so it's a little more general, but some of the speakers have been interesting. Currently, we have a Russian scholar on board with us, lecturing until we get to Russia, where he'll get off and continue his research. Fortunately, we only have 23 days of class in a 65 day voyage, so the learning shouldn’t interfere too much with the traveling.

Kodiak, our other Alaskan port, is a major fishing/industrial town, so it was less charming than Sitka, but still beautiful. On our city orientation, we drove around the town looking at the major sites. We saw Cannery Row, the economic heart of the town, the old navy warship that was converted into a cannery after the 1964 earthquake/tidal wave (which destroyed the entire canning industry), the fishery and tidal touch pools built with reparations from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the local Russian Orthodox church and seminary, where we met a priest studying there. We visited the local fairgrounds, where a pair of eagles has been nesting for several years. The mother and the eaglet were in the nest, and the father flew in with a salmon lunch – nothing like seeing a family of your nation’s symbol. We also went to a local Russian teashop, where we had a traditional Russian tea, complete with food, the local Russian band, and dancing. It was fabulous, and it made me even more anxious to get to Russia!

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