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Traveling Boy: Jim Friend: Holland America Alaska Cruise

Holland America Alaska Cruise
Story and Photos by Jim Friend

the Holland America on a cruise to Alaska

've never been very keen on the idea of taking a vacation on a cruise ship, but when the opportunity presented itself recently, I couldn't pass it up. I always thought cruises had everything to do with old people. I was wrong.

Graciously, I was able to take this trip with some good friends, which is always a great bonus when traveling indeed. Our grand voyage, on Holland America's Westerdam, would begin in Seattle and take us on a seven day cruise including Glacier Bay, Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC. Let's go!

Day 1 -- Monsters of the Deep

Our first full day on the ship was a sea day, which meant we were just cruising up to our next destination, Glacier Bay, with no stops. Thankfully, someone informed me that this particular stretch of the trip would be our best geographical opportunity to see whales, so as soon as I woke up, I headed straight out to our veranda to scan the inland waterways with a pair of binoculars and curious eyes.

Whales are worth takin' a gander at, I reckon. An adult female blue whale weighs 175 tons, and remarkably, even within the category of long-deceased dinosaurs, it is the largest animal to have ever lived. To put the size of this sea monster into some perspective, the body mass of a blue whale is equal to 25 full grown elephants. I wouldn't want to be the guy who had to pack 25 gruesomely disassembled elephants into the horribly detached skin of a blue whale to find this out, but apparently it's been done somewhere. Anyway, a blue whale's heart weighs 1,300 pounds, and is the size of a small car. Its tongue weighs three tons. The songs of blue and humpback whales are long (45 minutes long), and geographically distinct, meaning there are differences depending on which ocean they live in. Some whale species have songs that last as long as an hour, and by the end of their mating season, all these songs will somehow have morphed into the same tune. So then, as they're listening to each other vocalize, they are gathering roughly an hour's worth of information, and then re-vocalize the song again from memory almost verbatim, incorporating a few various tweaks and adaptations in accordance with the most recent nuances of whale musical taste. Can you do that? I can't. (Come to think of it though, I suppose I could be persuaded if it were a necessary requirement for mating season.) In addition, it can be said with certainty that whales can hear these songs from up to 100 miles away, and there's quite a bit of evidence to suggest that they can hear these songs up to 1,000 miles away. Best of all almost, is that the humpback whale belongs to a suborder of balleen whales called the "Mysticeti."

kayaks on the shore with the Holland America in the background
The Westerdam in Sitka

So, anyway, I have to set all of this up because I'm a bit embarrassed to say that when I saw a my first whale that day I started yelling about it like an excited seven year old kid. I even leaned over the railing and excitedly pointed it out to our next door neighbors, whom I had previously ascertained hailed from Tennessee or thereabouts. The elderly lady standing on the other side of the partition gave me a sort of a disinterested, worried look, and then looked back toward the water without saying a word. There must be a lot of whales in the Mississippi River. Be that as it may, my friends were just as excited as I was to see these massive oceanic curiosities, and as foretold, there were indeed sea creatures galore in that channel: A ton of humpback whales, a pod of orcas, seals, and otters. Classically, the humpbacks bared their tails as they dove back into the depths, which is an amazing sight indeed, worth the price of the trip alone.

When watching these Leviathans of the Sea somehow got old, I decided to have a look at every square inch of the ship's ten decks. Cruise ships are massive. Signs posted on the third level jogging track stated that one lap equaled 1/3 of a mile. In other words, three laps around the ship equaled a mile. Huge. Unfortunately, on one of its multitude of structural layers, I ran into the ship's art gallery. Posted in several areas were signs forbidding photography, and this was indeed a merciful and necessary requirement. The only fitting word for this visual holocaust was: "Vomitorium." It was as if Jackson Pollock, in a horribly botched suicide attempt, swallowed a gallon of mixed, cheap Daler-Rowney oil primary colors and then puked them all back out onto canvases, resulting in statistically forbidden arrays of impossibly horrible naked ladies and sickening landscapes that defy attempts at rational categorization. The man who placed this blatant and cheap horror into a reality within our grasp will surely spend his final state of existence as the lowest, wretched quarry in a Hieronymus Bosch painting for all eternity as recompense for this foul tragedy. Amen and amen.

Day 2 -- Glacier Bay

The next morning, we arrived in Glacier Bay, and by some merciful and amazing meteorological happenstance, it reached 81 degrees that day. Sweet. Now, I have forever longed in my heart as a treasure of my life to witness glaciers calving into the sea, and here was my unbelievable opportunity. On TV, I have never been able to ascertain the scale of these collapsing behemoths. When we arrived, I was finally able to behold the scale of these colossal monoliths. The two glaciers we hovered around this day were just barely shy the height of the Space Needle. Unreal. Like, fully unreal. I couldn't believe it. The icy, massive, glacial barbarian abnormalities stared back at us as we stared at them, completely reluctant to unleash their wrath upon their sworn enemy, the blue sea, out of a perfect and pure disdain for the puny gathering of minute human beings gawking back at them, who were surely completely unworthy to witness such holy events. Begrudgingly, the glaciers bestowed their unusual gifts. Transfixed with the events unfolding, we often saw boulders of ice the size of houses rumbling off the glacier, but these were the meagerest offerings to behold there. Adding to the amazement of it all was the absurd and completely unexpected bonus of seeing massive waterfalls birthing from the middle of each of the glaciers, cascading out as elephantine deluges into the angry sea below. Mighty crackling noises with the sound of car wrecks and distant thunder unleashed from 4,000 year old ice structures. Every now and again, a giant offering of ancient ice the size of a warehouse would unleash from the icy mass, crashing into the waters below, resulting in a wave that likely could have been surfed. The ship's captain kept the ship well away, it was pretty obvious that if even just the first 50 feet of the entire terminus of the glacier broke loose, the resulting swell would have washed over the decks, sweeping many unsuspecting glacier fans into the drink.

the Holland America arriving at Glacier Bay
Legends of the Fall -- Glacier Bay

Hmmm... speaking of the captain and drinks... One thing that completely mystifies me about taking a trip on a cruise ship is how fascinated people are with the concept of eating dinner at the captain's table. I heard several people talking about this. I don't know about you, but I would rather chop rats in half with a cleaver at the Rat Death Factory for an hour than play dress-up-and-pretend with that batch. Unless he's a former Navy commander who got kicked out of the service for shelling a contingent of United Nations "soldiers" running away from the latest ethnic genocide, or in fact the very same vodka saturated skipper who plowed the Exxon Valdez into that pristine bird sanctuary up in Prince William Sound in '89 and has been on a 20-year bender ever since, eager to recount the tale to the first "rascal" or "scallywag" who buys him another round of scotch, then I don't want to hear about it.

This guy surely makes $100,000 a year just to stalk about in his Napoleonic, faux admiral's outfit and command his underlings to fetch him another portion of Moulard duck fois gras with pickled pear and a goblet of 1978 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac. What kind of stories is he going to tell? Probably the one about the time when the wind outside was blowing about a four on the Beaufort scale and a ten-foot rogue wave "rammed into the ship," causing him to spill a freshly poured chalice of bubbly on his ascot, and how the first mate then gallantly dashed back to the bridge from his exfoliating foot scrub so the stricken captain could retire to the wardrobe room to change his costume and get a Celebes eucalyptus oil massage to decompress. Sheesh, give me a break. Anyway, as it turns out, the captain of our ship turned out to be a fellow that grew up in a Dutch town about twenty five miles from Andijk, the small village where my dad grew up, so he couldn't be that bad (unless that town is in Friesland, then all bets are off.).

Day 3 -- Juneau

Juneau sprang into being in the 1880's when an opportunistic American mining engineer offered to remunerate any local Indian that would lead him to gold. A fellow by the name of Chief Kowee turned the engineer on to to a local area where jelly-bean sized pieces of gold littered the landscape. Only about a year later, Juneau was populated enough to be declared Alaska's first officially recognized township after the Seward's Folly was enacted. A local Russian Orthodox priest summarizes the city's history this way: "First came the prospectors and gold miners. Then came the saloon keepers and their associates, closely followed by the missionaries wagging their fingers." These days, as you might imagine, the town's fortunes ride on the greenbacks of tourists and the Ultimate Sacrifice of millions of fish. The town itself is gorgeous, with tons of tiny, brightly painted houses, and millions of flowers exploding out of yards and planters everywhere. Idyllic. (Until, I'm sure, winter shows up and relentlessly grinds down the hearts and minds of the locals into a Ted Kaczynski-inspired milieu. I need to remind myself of this before I immediately move there.) My friend Alex and I walked for miles through the neighborhoods, complete with kids gleefully playing in the streets, and ended up spending a good bit of time at the microscopic St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, built in 1894, primarily by Orthodox Natives and Serbian gold miners. I bought a few bizarre treasures in the gift shop and while doing so, spotted a picture of Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the wall, who had visited the church in the 1970's to bro' down with the serving priest, who was his homeboy from the Old Country.

children with dog at a street in Juneau, Alaska
Idyllic street scene in Juneau.

After tons of this sort of exploring, I caught a bus out to the Mendenhall Glacier to hook up with Alex (who had gone on before me) and the rest of our friends. The glacier itself is a must see; it's vast, the landscape is gorgeous, and there are lots of huge brown bears there. A small stream runs right next to the visitor's center, spawning grounds and cemetery to thousands of salmon. The park rangers built a system of raised wooden walkways over this small waterway, much to the excitement of visitors there, as one of the big female bears has chosen a spot right under one of the sections of the walkway to nap, and nurse her cubs. It was a hot day for the state of Alaska, certainly in the 80's, so unfortunately for us this bear was no doubt kickin' it closer to the glacier ice. Even so, the monstrous imprint of her body was left in the grass below the catwalk. Huge. After just about a half hour of walking around, and a bit disappointed that I hadn't seen any large carnivores, I decided I had had enough and was going back to the ship. As I was waiting alone on the bench for the shuttle, a lady walked up and asked if I had seen the bear that had just crossed the road behind me. I declared that certainly I had not, ma'am, and immediately hopped up to find it. I didn't see the wicked, drooling beast, but spied two people suspiciously leaning over on the railing of bridge about a half mile away. I finally reached them and asked if they'd seen a one of those horrible, wicked, hairy creatures. They replied that they had just been watching a bear up in a tree, but that it had just descended and was likely somewhere "down that trail over there," which was next to the bridge. They said this with a chuckle, as if it was obvious what a foolhardy venture it would be to go poking around for a prehistoric predator like that out there on a lonely forest trail. So of course, I had to walk over to the trail to have a look. The path was straight for about 100 yards, and devoid of human presence entirely. I stood there knowing I had a decision to make. Should I go exploring for bears on a deserted trail, all by myself? The answer turned out to be easy: I couldn't NOT go. So, I headed off down the trail, making a strange whistling noise to alert any hungry bear that there was a large exotic bird on the the nearby and easily accessible footpath, certainly worthy of immediate culinary investigation. I probably crept about 100 feet when sure enough, a black bear poked its head out of the foliage about 50 feet ahead of me. I stared at it, and it stared back. I grabbed for my camera and while I was fumbling about, it turned its head to see if the savory eight-foot-tall Big Bird of its imagination that it was hoping to sample was down the other that'a'way. It was not, so, determined to avoid any more human weirdos, he simply crossed the path and disappeared into the brush on the other side of the trail. Awesome.

brown bear on trail, Mendenhall Glacier
Looking for even more weirdos in the other direction.

Day 4 -- Sitka

The Sitka-area was originally settled by the native Tlingit people. In 1799, a Russian explorer by the name of Alexander Baranov decided the rest of Alaska wasn't big enough for him, so he set up shop right next door to the Indians in a part of town still known as "Old Sitka." The Tlingit didn't take very kindly at all to this, and in 1802, they put the old ambush-and-attack plan into blitzkrieg effect on the unsuspecting Slavic settlers. So kicked-in-the-keister were the Russians by this bum-rush that those who escaped death had to come back to pay a big ransom for those still being held captive. Not approving of this series of events at all, and in typical Russian fashion, Baranov returned two years later with a whole-bunch-of-more Rooskie dudes in a huge naval ship loaded with cannons, and blew the hell out of the Tlingits that were still partying in his old fort. The Tlingit took off and built their own fort across the river, and declared a trade embargo: "Who run Bartertown?"

tombstone at Russian Orthodox cemetery, Sitka
Russian Orthodox cemetery -- Sitka

Sitka is cool because you have to take the lifeboats from the cruise ship to get to shore. This is nice especially, because you get proof-of-concept on the idea that the lifeboats actually work. Sitka was full of even more beautiful houses and flowers, and was totally charming. I spent a lot of my time there investigating the Russian Orthodox cemetery on a hill towards the eastern edge of town. It was somehow unfortunately highly vandalized (please refer to the aforementioned Tlingit/Russian spat perhaps), but was still completely worth the time. When I was done there, I decided to walk down a random road towards wherever. As I was doing this, a bee flew right into my mouth, alerting me with verve to the fact that I walk around with my mouth at least partially agape, which is something I'll have to work on apparently. God works in mysterious ways. Anyway, I spit it out immediately, and turned violently to see where it landed so I could crush it with my giant foot in my furious wrath for scaring the crap out of me like that, but alas, about 12 inches before it hit the ground, it somehow recovered in mid-spit trajectory and flew off again. I walked along with the strange taste of bee in my mouth for several minutes, very grateful that I didn't have to return to the Westerdam with my tongue and lips swollen up to Joseph Merrick proportions, having to explain to frightened passengers, slobbering through voluminous productions of saliva and trauma-birthed, pinkish facial liquids: "I. Am not. An animal!"

The "wherever" I ended up at turned out to be the Sitka National Historical Park, so I went strolling along on one of its many trails. There were signs posted by park rangers of very recent brown bear activity, and as it turned out, the bear incident from the day before, which hadn't bothered me a bit at the time, had caught up with my psyche big-time. Every big black shadow in the bushes caused my brain to report back frenetically that it had just seen a huge, hairy, barbaric, ravenous fiend; and that every odd noise in the bushes was certainly, by the same logic; a sharp-toothed, fifteen hundred pound Philistine brute looking to feast on my Israelite throat. I was crawling out of my skin through the whole last half of my trail walk. When I finally escaped the travails of the Death Forest unscathed, I made my way back to the ship to have lunch and then hit the streets of Sitka yet again. I probably walked ten miles that day, and ended up, and nearly on my last stop, at one of the strangest shops I have ever set foot in. It was truly awesome. A local guy with native blood had set up a shop called Indian Village Artists, and had all manner of mammoth tusks, walrus skulls, whale bones, ivory fangs, and who know what else. It was totally amazing. If it was a bone or a tusk or a bit of fur and came from a walrus, or a seal, or a whale, or a polar bear, you could find it in there. Totally, totally amazing and cool. Interestingly, much of what was for sale there could only be purchased and owned by indigenous native Alaskans. Indian Village Artists is my #1 recommendation for Sitka, you'll never seen anything like it again, anywhere.

Walrus tusks at Indian Village Artists, Sitka

seal and polar bear claws with whale eardrum bone at Indian Village Artists, Sitka
Top: Walrus tusks at Indian Village Artists, with seal fur backing. Bottom: (Clockwise from top left of picture) A seal paw, a polar bear claw, and a whale's eardrum bone.

Day 5 -- Ketchikan

Ketchikan was founded in 1911 by a monstrous, seething horde of space aliens looking for an earth base from which to conduct cattle mutilations and human abduction missions. Even so, it's somehow now known as the "Salmon Capital of the World," whatever that means. Maybe it means there's more salmon there than anyplace else in the world. Maybe it means there's more salmon fishing there than anywhere else in the world. Maybe it's the place that all the salmon in the world decided would be the capital of Fish World. Who knows? That's what they call it though. As if you needed another reason not to live in Ketchikan, the locals have provided a giant billboard of sorts, right downtown next to the cruise ships where you can't miss it, advertising perhaps the most convincing proof of why you want to stay away from that place forever: The sign proclaims that the town had 202.5 inches of rain in 1949. Case closed. Stay away from that wretched place. You have been warned about it all.

Even with all this talk, I have very fond memories of Ketchikan because last year, the folks from the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour invited me up there to take a few tours on their boat, the Aleutian Ballad. I met some of the most interesting people I have ever had the privilege of meeting (Troy "Chief" Hulls, just to name one), and had an amazing time. When I got off the cruise ship, I was determined to bump into a few of my old pals, but it didn't happen at all. I saw no one. Even the Raven's Roost, my adoptive Ketchikan bar, was closed. No luck at all. As a consolation prize, me and my pal Jade headed off to see if we could see some bears where I had seen a ton of them the year before. Nothing doing there. No bears either. I'll stop complaining, but if you like to shop, Ketchikan is a great place to do so, as there are hundreds and hundreds of seasonal stores there. There are also tons of fishing trips offered, and the city also boasts the highest number of standing totem poles in the world. Creek Street, essentially a small suburb built on stilts, straddling about 200 yards of a small river, is a totally worthwhile sight also.

dogs with sunglasses, Ketchikan
Alien hunters -- Cool dogs in Ketchikan.

Day 6 -- Victoria, BC

In contrast to the wretched perils of the alien-infested Ketchikan, Victoria was lowered from heaven for us to enjoy as a sort of a precursor the New Jerusalem... it's so beautiful it's ridiculous. If you haven't been there, you have to visit. Two million people a year take this advice and are not disappointed.

We arrived there in the late afternoon, and I got a late start getting off the ship, so as I was passing the two Canadian border guards on duty outside of the Westerdam, I was all by myself. I asked if they wanted to see my passport, and one of them, a twenty-something guy, motioned for me to come over to him. He asked me if I came to Canada often and not really knowing how to respond to this, I replied, "Well, no, not really--." Before I could finish what I was trying to say, he interrupted me tersely: "That's not the answer I want to hear." Then, "You often come up here looking for friends?" As you can imagine, my mind was struggling to make sense of this interaction, but then it finally dawned on me, and I started to laugh. The other border guard, a woman in her early 30's, started to chuckle too. He looked at me with a straight face and said, "You don't have to laugh out of pity." He then smiled and handed my passport back, "Have a nice trip, sir." He was inferring that he was somehow so lonely that he regularly used his position of power as a bully pulpit for gathering new friends. Too funny.

Anyway, downtown Victoria is awesome, the perfect place to hang out on a summer night: Huge ivy-covered Victorian-era buildings, flowers everywhere, and thousands of relaxed people wandering about in reverent preoccupation. I sat for awhile on the Harbor steps looking out over the boats on the moorage, listening to the steel drums and reggae tunes of local street performer Swan Walker, and soon after bumped into my pal Jade. We went to a pub and sat outdoors over a couple of beers and great conversation, and then ambled back to the boat. The Westerdam slipped away from the docks at about midnight, and very unfortunately, we all disembarked the following morning, completing an amazing adventure.

The last...

I cannot encourage you enough to take any cruise your heart might even fleetingly desire. The whole package is nothing less than profoundly relaxing. The sleep you'll experience in the expensive beds is worth the price of admission alone; the constantly comforting rumbling and rocking of the ship adding even more of a depth to your narcotic-style snooze. When you wake up, the amazing and endless food available will soak your soul with serene tranquility. With the added plus of being able to experience brand new ports-of-call each day, along with all of the innumerable shore excursions available at each one, you will find fairly much any cruise you choose to be an exercise in the practice of future heaven.

You will love it.... Go!.

front yard flowers at a home in Sitka
Front yard flower arrangement typical of Alaskan homes, this one in Sitka.

Other trip oddities/Cruise trivia:

  • Our cruise ship had 800 people on staff, and there were 1,200 passengers.
  • Most of our crew were from Europe, the South Pacific, Indonesia, and the Phillipines. They were sincerely among the nicest people I've ever met.
  • It was so sunny and nice on our trip, I came back from Alaska with a tan.
  • We drank several Grolsch on the boat, and I found the green bottles to be a perfect vessel for a proverbial "message in a bottle." I corked one up and let it loose somewhere in the open Pacific Ocean just between Clo-oose, BC, and Cape Flattery, WA.
  • I very rarely gamble, but one night, I went to the ship's casino with Jade to play $10 on a few particular slot machines that boasted a $20,000 jackpot. While I was playing, the lady sitting right next to me won the $20,000. The very next night, we saw her playing the same slots.
  • If you ever wondered what Edward Jones does with your investment money, let it be known that there were at least 50 Edward Jones stock brokers on the cruise, it was all company paid.
  • Tragically, a woman on the Holland America cruise ship just ahead of ours ended up in the water in Glacier Bay and died. (Edward Jones customer, no doubt, not unlike myself.)

Various cool Holland America cruises available, with current prices, if you're curious...

(all prices quoted for a veranda room, an inside room would be about 1/3 the cost):

  • 114 days, around the world cruise: $33,999 per person
  • 70 day South American and Antarctica: $36,499 per person
  • 54 day Mediterranean: $28,349 per person
  • 32 day Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific: $16,599 per person
  • Cheapest week-long Holland America cruise available: Vancouver, BC to Seward, Alaska (or reverse), $649 per person for an inside room.

"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

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Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

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Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

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Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

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I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

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I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

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Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

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These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

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Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

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Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

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This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

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What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

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Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

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Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

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Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

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Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

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Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

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Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim


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