Traveling Boy: Jim Friend: Holland America Alaska Cruise
America Alaska Cruise Story and Photos by Jim Friend
'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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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 flower arrangement typical of Alaskan
homes, this one in Sitka.
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.)
cool Holland America cruises available, with current prices, if you're
(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
54 day Mediterranean: $28,349 per person
32 day Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific: $16,599
Cheapest week-long Holland America cruise available:
Vancouver, BC to Seward, Alaska (or reverse), $649 per person for
an inside room.
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
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
Cheers and happy travels!
in Texas" Article
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
MaKayla, Rapid City
Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of
assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements
All the best, Jim
Arctic " Article
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
Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA
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
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
* * *
Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books
Kerry, Wenatchee, WA
* * *
Christian Louboutin, New York City
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great
very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.
Alvin Singh , New York
* * *
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
* * *
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.
Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's
news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!
Eric, San Diego, CA
* * *
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!
* * *
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!
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
* * *
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!
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
* * *
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
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
* * *
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!
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
* * *
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!
Love your expeditions. Keep writing.
Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA
* * *
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
Awesome!!! I love Japan!
Maja - Chur, Switzerland
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
Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!
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
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
Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak)
to be serious kick ass. To be honest, Im such a lightweight, Ive
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? Ive heard that pollution is so bad that even
places untouched by man are now off-limits.
* * *
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.
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.
Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.
Matt Langley, Duvall, WA
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
* * *
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
You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting
your smokin' hot wife someday.