Hiking Around Decatur Island

starfish clinging to a big rock on the water’s edge at low tide

Decatur Island is one of the bigger small private islands in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. There is no ferry service, but people do not have to have their own boat to get there. The Island Transporter service brings large items and Island Express and Paraclete charter boats bring people and their supplies. Residents even have cars, though getting them on and off the island must be pricey enough that they never leave because judging by all the dead cars in the woods along the roadsides it looks like the place old cars go to die. All of the roads on the island that I’ve seen are gravel rather than paved, and don’t see a lot of traffic.

Decatur Island one-room schoolhouse

Some people who like isolation live on Decatur Island year round. It even has a school – one of the few one-room schools left in the country. Students can attend from K-8, and finish with High School on neighboring Lopez Island, whose district the Decatur School belongs to. The class is quite small, often only 2-4 students. There’s a country store building near the school, which used to be open seasonally. It was closed all summer last year and I don’t know when or if it will open again. It was the only store on the island. The store once had a little motel upstairs, which is now an Airbnb. Most of the island’s vacation homes and cabins are private, but sometimes there are listings at Airbnb for cabins that are actually on Decatur rather than a neighboring island. You have to look carefully though because googling for cabins on Decatur will also bring up places on Lopez and other islands.

wonky old cabin with new kayaks

I take my dog Piper out for a walk or run every morning. Our most recent visit to Decatur happened to be during the time when the whole western part of the country was shrouded in smoke from numerous wildfires so this trip we stuck to walks. Photos from that trip tend to look gray and dreary due to the smoke in the air, which also kept visibility pretty limited most of the time. One day we walked a long way up the beach on the main part of the island and came across a wonky old cabin sitting crooked on a bit of land about a foot above the beach.  It would have appeared to have been abandoned ages ago if it weren’t for the brightly colored new-looking kayaks out in front of it adding a spot of cheer.

the beach goes a long way at low tide – much farther than can be seen this smoky day

Tides were low in the mornings so we often walked down the beach. Mostly along the long stretch going from Decatur Head where our cabin was to the main part of the island and beyond, but sometimes it was low enough to walk most of the way around Decatur Head, most of which has just cliffs and no beach when the tide is in.

up on Decatur Head where there would be a view if we hadn’t been shrouded in smoke

There are also small trails up on Decatur Head. In normal times when the area isn’t blanketed in smoke the trails near the edge have excellent views. Decatur Head is the island end of a tombolo, which is defined as a sandy isthmus joining an island to the mainland.

view of Decatur Head from the road that ends there

Without that sandbar, which consists of a beach and a narrow gravel road, Decatur Head would be a separate tiny island. On the mainland end of the road the options are up a hill to the mainland of the island or down a long stretch of beach – at least at low tide. At high tide there isn’t much if any beach on a good portion of that stretch.

Heron and seagull on a sandbar

Considering the smoke we were shrouded in everything was pretty much gray. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the water from the beach, but sometimes we could see a bit of water between the beach and a sandbar, which was often populated by hunting herons or other birds. Seagulls and oystercatchers are common there, and though they are land birds rather than seabirds crows often joined the low tide hunt for seafood.

sea anemones in and out of a small tide pool

The beach is mostly rocky, but had some stretches of sand with or without rocks. It has quite a population of sea anemones with many of them in the sand rather than attached to rocks. They all close up when out of water, but the ones in a tide pool stay open.

little beach crab

Flip over a beach rock and you might find tiny crabs hiding underneath. There were also lots of snails, barnacles, and some limpets clinging to the many rocks. When the tide was out far enough to get to the seaward side of big rocks, purple and orange starfish could be seen clinging to the rocks.

somebody’s happy place

Most of the beach is below a high cliff with little access from above, though there are a few places where residents have made primitive trails, and one had a ladder to get from the beach to a climbable part of the hill. In some places the cliffs have had recent landslides with bare dirt edges and sometimes vegetation clinging on for dear life. In one spot a lone tree at the top stands triumphantly on the only bit of land that hasn’t yet fallen.

small piece of kelp in the sand – they grow much bigger than this one

Kelp is a giant seaweed that grows in the shallows. Usually it is found near land, but sometimes there are shallow enough places where the sea floor rises and you find it out in open water. Tiny roots hold this outsized plant in place, often clinging to tiny rocks. With a large bulbous float sporting lengthy fronds it’s easy to see how kelp often washes ashore.

shipping container house

Some mornings Piper and I walked up the hill to the mainland. The wildlife seen most often there is small island deer, which are black-tailed deer, but smaller than the same type of deer not in the San Juan Islands. If you walk around the island for very long one is bound to show up. On our last morning there we took a road we hadn’t been on before and found a house made from shipping containers.

map of Decatur Island

One day my grandson Justin and I took a long afternoon hike with Piper. We took a road we hadn’t been on before and walked all the way to the end of it. For most of the way the road looked pretty well maintained, probably due to the fact that it had powerlines to maintain as well as entrances to people’s property. It seemed like pretty much a sudden boundary between well maintained and not so much where there were no more powerlines alongside the road and any entrances to properties beyond that point looked as if they hadn’t been used in decades. As the road went down to the water it came to a corner where a trail led to a little bench with a view of the water and a sign beyond it labeled as a trail on what looked more like a deer trail than one people walked on much so it didn’t appear to get much use. The road went the other way along the water’s edge, though up too high to actually get to the water.

solar panels on Decatur Island

It ended at a place where powerlines went from the water up through the woods. Some old pilings in the water looked like there may have been some sort of place to dock when the powerlines were first built. There are undersea lines connecting islands like Decatur to a power source elsewhere, but Decatur also has a new array of solar panels to generate their own power near the school and the old store, which are not far from Decatur Head.

the beach is underwater

After satisfying our curiosity as to what we would find at the end of the road we went to the other side of the island near the airport where there’s a parklike area with mowed trails through vegetation grown up through what appears to have once been an orchard. The airport has a mowed grass runway and is for small planes only. Near the beach at the park type place a grassy meadow comes equipped with giant picnic tables. There was nobody else there. We had our lunch at one of the giant tables. Justin wanted to go to the beach there, but the tide was in and the beach was underwater so we went back to the cabins instead. Our total hike was just over 14 kilometers and we saw a deer, one person walking another dog, and one car went by so it’s a pretty good pretty good place for social distance vacationing.

Piper on a log at the beach on Decatur Island

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BnB in Moclips

Moclips Airbnb

Wanting to get away during the pandemic, yet stay safe from Covid, we went with local travel in a private residence and booked a weekend in an Airbnb on the coast. Sea Mist house near Moclips, Washington is half of a duplex overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This house sits south of town perched on a bluff above the beach. The other half the house is called Coastal Breeze Cottage and is also available as a vacation rental. It’s mirror image, but with different décor. Both allow dogs. Décor on the other side is beachy, whereas in the Sea Mist house it has everything to do with the sea. Many nautical items adorned the walls and shelves, with whales and other sea creatures represented as well. Looking at all the knick knacks and other items scattered about the house, some up way too high to reach, I was very glad I was not the person responsible for cleaning that house in between guests.

master bedroom

The house sleeps 6 people in 3 bedrooms. The large master bedroom has ocean views and a sliding glass door out to the patio. It also has a private bathroom with double sinks and a jetted tub.

master bathroom

The second bedroom is much smaller, but it has room for a queen bed and a closet. It’s not on the ocean side of the house, but double glass doors give it the option of an ocean view through the living room, or close the curtains in those doors for privacy. It has an exterior window to the front of the house.

loft bedroom

The third bedroom resides in a loft which official descriptions of the home call a crow’s nest. It’s nearly fully enclosed other than the entryway at the top of a spiral staircase built by a local shipbuilder. This room contains a daybed with a trundle bed underneath. It also has the best views in the house, but you have to stand at the window to look out as it is too high to sit anywhere in the room and see the view. This room could have been improved by having a bay window with window seat instead, and with the addition of a half bath so anyone sleeping up there would not have to go downstairs if they needed the restroom during the night. My sister who slept up there also mentioned a mirror in the room would have been nice. In spite of that, it was still a nice bedroom with plenty of space and that great view.

view from the loft

The second bathroom has an accessible shower and a stacking washer/dryer. The front entry to the house is also accessible by means of a ramp. House rules require shoes off and there’s a very low wooden shelf near the front door to put them on. Outside on the porch there’s a shoe cleaning mat to rub the soles on before taking them off, which is a good idea to help keep the sand outside where it belongs.

living room

The living room is comfortably equipped with a reclining couch, rocking chair, and another chair. There’s a TV in the living room as well as another one in the master bedroom. Cell phone reception is not good in that area, but the house has free wifi and excellent sunset views – with window darkening see-through shades in case the sun is too bright to enjoy those spectacular sunsets.

Linda, Vicki, & John making pizza in the large, well-equipped kitchen

The fully equipped kitchen even has some cooking supplies like oil and spices in addition to all sorts of pots, pans, and dishes. The one thing we could not find was a toaster, although it did have a toaster oven. It’s a good size kitchen with lots more counter space than I have at home, and a door into the one-car garage. Oddly enough the light switch for the garage was on the side behind where the door opens rather than where it could be reached upon opening the door.

patio and back yard with ocean view

There’s a small yard for each unit, each of which includes a patio, picnic table, barbecue, and fire pit as well as a sweeping ocean view.

dining room

The home is listed as dog friendly, but their rules included no barking and staying off the furniture so we left our dog with friends for her own weekend getaway visiting their dog. She likes furniture and would never make it through several days without barking at some sort of intruder, real or imagined. She’s the sort that barks when someone on TV knocks on a door or rings the bell. She also would have barked at the two little dogs that occasionally came out into the backyard of the other unit with their owner.

second bedroom

This house is not situated directly on the beach. From the downstairs you would never know there were other houses below it as the beach appears to be just down a little hill. From the loft you can see the hill is much taller than it looked from the lower windows, and that there are houses between this one and the beach. Those houses are on the beach access road, the entry to which is several houses south so it’s just a short walk away. Some of the homes on the beach access road are available for vacation rentals.

seemingly endless beach

Beaches in this area are long and wide. The sand seems to stretch on forever both north and south, but if you walk far enough in either direction you will come to a river that you would need either a horse or some very tall boots to get across without getting wet. It’s quite a distance between rivers though so there is plenty of space for a nice walk – or run. There’s a lot of beach and not many people which makes social distancing extremely easy.

stairway to the loft

Overall we had a great weekend getaway. Even the weather cooperated with sunny days during our visit.

sign on the house

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

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Cruising the Suez Canal

SUEZ CANAL

sunrise in the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is a 120 mile long sea level man made waterway running through Egypt between the mainland and the Sinai Peninsula. It connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. This canal enables ships to cut over 5000 miles off their journey by not having to sail around Africa.

desert on the shore of the canal

Interest in a waterway through the area extends back to ancient times. Archaeological evidence suggests a small canal was built in the time of the Pharaohs connecting the Nile to the Red Sea. The river would then take these early Egyptians to the Mediterranean.

construction alongside the canal

Napoleon Bonaparte was the first to consider constructing a canal on the Isthmus of Suez during his conquest of Egypt in 1798. His team of surveyors miscalculated the height of the Red Sea as 30 feet higher than the Mediterranean, so he gave up the idea as unfeasible due to the flooding that would cause in the Nile Delta. A survey done in the 1830’s by French explorer and engineer Linant de Bellefonds determined that contrary to popular belief, they were actually at the same height.

location of the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is the shortest link between the east and the west. Construction began at Port Said in early 1859. 1.5 million people worked on the project, some of them slaves. Tens of thousands died of cholera and other causes while working in the region. Political unrest during construction and limitations of the technology of the time doubled the estimated cost of building the canal to 100 million. The canal opened in 1869 after 10 years of construction by the French and British. Egypt took control of the canal in 1956.

city on the shores of the canal

Sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi of France proposed a 90-foot statue of a women dressed in Egyptian peasants clothes holding a massive torch called Egypt Bringing Light to Asia as a lighthouse guiding ships into the canal, but could not convince Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Egyptian government to allow him to build it. Not giving up on the idea, in 1886 he instead unveiled a massive statue in New York called Liberty Enlightening the World – otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty.

buildings in the sand

The cost for a ship to transit the Suez Canal can be quite astronomical with cruise ships and other large vessels often paying upwards of $400,000 for passage. Initially the canal was wide enough only for one way traffic with just a couple wider spots for passing, but a new channel opened in 2015 allows for two way traffic throughout most of the canal so more ships can pass through each day.

tug following our ship

Cruising Through the Suez Canal

MSC Lirica dropped anchor at the Port Said end of the canal in the Mediterranean Sea awaiting what was scheduled to be an 11pm entry into the canal, though the ship didn’t actually start moving again until late into the night.

What is open when it’s closed and closed when it’s open? A bridge!

The sun rose over the ship as it passed through the narrow channel near that end of the canal. Ships travel through in a convoy, each accompanied by a tug and changing pilots 4 times during their transit. Passage through the canal is carefully controlled so that all ships in the narrow areas are heading the same direction. The wider areas run through a couple lakes as well as the recent additional canal dug through the middle stretch that allow ships to pass by one another in opposite directions. The narrow bits with one way travel are at the beginning and end. Some parts are quite narrow where land is not far from the ship on either side.

ferry waiting to cross

While there was some signs of human life on both sides, in general most of the activity was all on one side of the canal with the other mostly looking like a desolate desert of sand even where there were occasional buildings. On the side with the most activity there were often stretches of greenery, towns, and large cities. Railroad tracks and a road paralleled the canal for some distance. We saw a train, trucks, cars, and a donkey cart going by.

big bridge over the Suez Canal

There was one huge tall permanent bridge we passed under in the early morning fog. Other places had small ferries. We saw one bridge that could swing across from both sides of the canal and meet in the middle, and a number of floating dock type bridges that could be set in place for cars to cross.

trucks on the desert side waiting to cross

In one spot on the desert side many trucks were lined up near one of the floating sort of bridges, which was at the time docked parallel to the shore. Waiting I assume for the convoy of boats to pass by so they could cross before boat traffic came along in the other direction.

our tug and the container ship behind us

We had container ships ahead of and behind us, but they stay distant enough that you never see more than one or two in either direction so I have no idea how many ships were in the convoy or where our place was within it other than neither first nor last.

MSC container ship

In the new channel where ships pass by in the other direction we saw container ships from MSC (which stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company). It is the same company as MSC cruises. They were originally a cargo shipping company and later added cruise ships to their fleet.

one lone building in the sand on the desert side

The land was mostly flattish and often nothing but desert sands except for the green oasis areas by the cities, but sometimes there were rolling hills in the sand and near the Red Sea end there were distant mountains on both sides.

oasis of greenery on the other side

At 11-16 hours, it takes longer to pass through the Suez Canal than it does through the Panama Canal, as the distance is considerably longer. Unlike the Panama Canal, there are no locks as the water is all at sea level and there are no mountains to cross. Even with stops at 2-3 sets of locks, crossing through the Panama Canal takes 8-10 hours. (The original Panama Canal has 3 sets of locks, the new lane for larger ships has just 2.)

tower near the canal

We enjoyed our crossing through the Suez Canal. Weather that day was foggy in the morning and sunny later in the day.

tower near the canal

We saw some interesting architecture along the way. Buildings came in all shapes and sizes. There were some fancy mosques and several interesting towers.

sitting on the back deck watching the canal go by

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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Weekend in Moclips

sunlight reflecting in the sky and from the windows in Moclips as the sun sets over the beach in the opposite direction of where the houses are

Following the current theme of social distance vacationing, which is the only sort that makes sense in the midst of a pandemic, we took a weekend getaway to the small oceanside community of Moclips, WA. The small unincorporated town has a tiny general store and a few hotels along with some houses and vacation homes. We rented a vacation house through Airbnb, down the road a bit outside of the town for us, my sister, and my husband’s sister and brother-in-law. The house turned out to be one side of a duplex, but they had separate entries and we had no contact with the people on the other side other than seeing them out in their backyard with a couple small dogs. We looked for a dog-friendly place intending to bring our dog, but they had too many rules Piper would not abide by so we sent her to her friend Brody’s place for the weekend. Brody is a golden retriever who lives in a beach house so she had her own beach vacation. She would have been about the only dog on a leash on the beach if she had come. Other people’s dogs seem able to stick with their owners unless they are off chasing a ball or stick, and come when called where Piper would be likely to take off after a flock of seagulls or to pounce on other dogs. She comes when called just fine when she’s undistracted and in an enclosed space, but never when it really matters.

Bella's trucks at the Forks Visitor's Center
Bella’s trucks, movie version and book version

It was over a 3-hour drive from our house, and even farther for the others who had to take a ferry and then drive an hour to get to our place before leaving for the ocean from there. It was shortly before Halloween at the time and my sister-in-law, Vicki, wanted to get a pumpkin to carve. We stopped at a store in Forks that seemed to have pretty much everything with sections for things ranging from hardware to groceries and all sorts of other things thrown in. Forks is the sort of small town nobody would have ever heard of if it weren’t for the Twilight books. Odds are the Twilight tours aren’t running during the pandemic, but items from it are still there as we passed by the place where Bella’s trucks are parked outside the Forks Visitor’s Center. They have both the book and movie versions there even though the movies were actually filmed elsewhere.

burl bowl made by Alaskan carver

Other than a couple lakes scenery along the way was mostly misty forest as it was raining at the time. It wasn’t too cloudy to see the deciduous trees in their autumn finery standing out among the evergreens. Eventually we reached the coast with occasional views of the water through the burl-covered trees. For some reason a lot of the trees along parts of the coast had numerous burls on them. Google says burls are caused by things like injury, disease, fungus, or insects. Things next to the sea are often subject to heavy windstorms, but some areas had way more burls on the trees than could likely be accounted for from limbs blowing off in storms. Likely something else is going on there as well. Burls are a bit unsightly on the trees, but we’ve met an Alaskan carver who makes bowls out of them.

Moclips Airbnb

 Eventually we passed through Moclips, which is mostly to say we saw the small general store on one side of the road. There’s also a beach access road near the store. The hotels and most of the houses and vacation homes in town are not beside the highway. We found our rental house down the road a bit. That house is on the highway, but there’s not a lot of traffic. It had a couple bedrooms and bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, and garage on the main floor with an upstairs loft bedroom. It also had an awesome ocean view. From the main floor the beach appeared to be just down a hill from the backyard. The even better loft view showed houses in between. While there was no direct beach access from the house, there was a beach access road just 4 houses down the street so not a bad walk.

Linda, Vicki, & John making pizza in the large, well-equipped kitchen

We hadn’t made any menu plans prior to the trip so we all brought stuff and between us all we probably could have fed everyone for at least a week, but as we just had a 3-night stay we had plenty of food left over. The house had a full kitchen with pretty much any gadget you might want if you could find it, other than a toaster. We never found one of those, though it did have a toaster oven. They also had an array of spices and basic things like cooking oil available for anyone who didn’t come prepared.

sunset on the beach

We had some great sunset views from the house, which had some see-through sun screens we could pull down over the windows when it got too bright to look out of them directly. The house had games everywhere stuffed into drawers and closets so anyone staying there in stormy weather would have something to do even if they didn’t bring any of their own. Other than raining on the day we arrived, we had excellent weather with sunny skies for the next 3 days. Not exactly warm, but sunny. My sister Linda and I took lots of walks on the beach, sometimes accompanied by the others.

rustic forest furniture

When my kids were growing up we used to take our horses camping at Ocean City to ride on the beach. Ocean City is a bit south of Moclips with Copalis and Pacific Beach in between. Those places I had heard of before, but not Seabrook, which did not exist at the time. One day we went out in search of gas for Vicki & Ron’s car, which we found was not available in Moclips. Pacific Beach had a gas station and since we were already out and about we went on down farther south to check things out, though Vicki and Ron didn’t follow. We came upon Seabrook just down the road a bit from Pacific Beach and drove through to investigate. By first impression we all felt the place seemed creepy.

Seabrook is a few miles down the road from Moclips

Not that there’s actually anything sinister there, it was just the sameness of everything. Besides all resembling each other, each grouping of houses appeared to have been built around the same time. It’s a planned community with limited house plans to choose from so maybe that’s the point. Linda’s first thought was the Stepford Wives, a story about a place that looked like the perfect community at a glance, but it turned out all the wives had been replaced by robots. My first impression was more of a fake Disney town. Some of the streets near the front had nowhere for anyone to park at the houses so they all parked along the road, which left barely room enough for one car to drive down the middle on a two-way road. Farther in places did have driveways and some even had garages. We all liked a small grouping of tiny homes the best. It’s quite expensive to buy a house there, but there are so many vacation rentals among them that the competition must be enough to keep the rental price relatively low. Personally I’d rather stay in the sort of beach house we rented, but apparently a lot of people go there as it was quite crowded in their little business district. I guess not everyone goes out to the coast for a social distance vacation. At least it looked like they all had masks on. We just drove through and didn’t stop anywhere. We told Vicki and Ron about it and they went back later and drove even further in and found things like stables. Apparently they did get out of their car as a small container of fancy macaroons appeared on the kitchen counter and you can’t get anything like that at the Moclips general store.

old railroad pilings crossing the Moclips River are all that remain of a once-busy beach resort

Most of the time we just walked to the beach, but one day we drove up to the Moclips access road and walked north from there until we came to a river too big to cross without horses or very tall boots, of which we had neither. Following the river inland a short distance we came to many pilings, a remnant of the railway that once brought people to town over 100 years ago when Moclips had a short spell as a major resort town until storms washed all their beach hotels away. Up a small stairway near the pilings we found some trails in the woods and a bit of a clearing with rustic forest furniture. One of the town’s hotels sat next to that patch of woods so it probably belonged to them.

Moclips River

Linda and I took more walks than the others and going both directions on various walks we discovered that if you go far enough in either direction you come to a river emptying out into the sea that is too deep to cross without getting wet unless you have tall boots or a horse. Back when I used to take my kids to the ocean with our horses every summer we stayed in a field with a barn behind a private little RV camp about a block off the beach in Ocean City. The lady who ran it was old then so it may not still be there now. Those rivers were no problem then since we just rode across. Not so much now. In summer even if the water was still cold the air around it would be somewhat warmer so we might have looked for the shallowest place and given it a go, but since we were there in October it was way too cold to cross barefoot or get our only shoes wet so we just went as far as the river and then turned around.

well-behaved dogs on the beach that stay with their owner and come when called

After lapping calmly at the shore for most of our time there, on the last night the waves rose in height and roared in like a squadron of jets thundering past. We could see quite a lot of ocean, but never saw a ship go by. Either we were not within view of any shipping lanes or nobody looked out at the right time. The beach was pretty flat so it may have been too shallow for boats for quite some distance from shore.

pumpkin at sunset

Overall we had a nice relaxing weekend with lots of good food and beach time. Vicki carved her pumpkin which sat out on the picnic table in the backyard where we could see it along with the sunset, and then just the pumpkin all lit up with a candle after it got dark.

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Odlin County Park

boat dock at Odlin County Park on Lopez Island

There are all sorts of marine parks in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Some are whole tiny islands, others are parks on larger islands with marine access. Some have docks, others are just accessible by kayaks or other small boats. There are lots of state parks in the San Juans, but Odlin Park on Lopez Island is a San Juan County Park.

picnic area at Odlin County Park

We found Odlin County Park by chance. After fueling our boat in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island we googled for a nearby marine state park with a dock and found Odlin County Park instead. This park has a day-use dock as well as mooring buoys for overnight stays and a primitive launching ramp. We had packed a picnic before leaving our cabin on Decatur Island, and found a picnic area near the dock. Lucky for us there was nobody else there. The picnic area had a couple tables so we made use of one of them. My husband John, grandson Justin, and dog Piper were all there. John’s sister Vicki stayed back at her cabin on Decatur Island because the wildfire smoke enveloping the area bothered her lungs any time she went outside in spite of wearing two masks.

We could see some tents grouped up at the far end of the beach. According to their website, the park has 31 campsites of which 10 are on the beach – handy for those who come by kayak. There are vault toilets and potable water, but no showers for the people camping there.

during a pandemic ewe should wear a mask 

Next to the table was a cute sign with a cow and a sheep informing people of  Covid-19 mask requirements for San Juan County. We all had masks with us, but did not come near enough to any strangers at this park to actually need them – though we had all needed them in Friday Harbor where having one on is required for getting fuel at the dock as well as for visiting any of the shops in town. I took a walk up to a store there and everybody had a mask on, except the many dogs which nearly everyone on the street seemed to have one of.

cannon war monument by the bathroom

Just up the hill from the picnic area we found a couple of the vault toilets next to a cannon with a sign saying it was a war memorial for people from Lopez Island who fought in World War 2. One of them died in an ammunitions facility fire in Japan shortly after the war ended and the other it said was abandoned at sea with no other information to what must be an interesting story. There were also garbage and recycling bins next to the bathroom. Although there were just 2 stalls each entered individually from the outside for only one person at a time they were marked one for males and the other for females. Probably because of Covid 19, there was a hand sanitizer dispenser hanging outside as well as one in each stall with instructions to use it before and after as there were no sinks or water in those restrooms.

rustic phone booth

Near to the bathroom was an office with nobody in attendance and instructions on where to leave payment for campsites or moorage. Firewood could be purchased there too, but we were there during a time when the entire west coast was shrouded in smoke from distant wildfires and the whole area was under a burn ban. Their sign said no charcoal fires either so people camping there were limited to camp stoves or other fueled appliances for their cooking. No campfires or BBQ’s with briquettes. So no fire roasted hot dogs or s’mores, the two most traditional camping foods in existence (at least in this area.) Nearby a very primitive phone booth sat on the roadside – no coin collection, just a phone in a wooden box.

Odlin County Park map from San Juan County website

We walked on up the hill and found the road entrance to the park. It’s just a mile from the ferry dock so probably gets a lot of visitors from there. Along the way we saw a trail going into the woods so we took a hike down the trail. A ways in I remembered that I had my garmin watch on, but it never managed to find our location until we were nearly back to the boat dock so I didn’t know how far we went. The map says it is a half mile trail and we went to where it comes out on the road so we must have gone a mile there and back.

Piper investigates a log

Along the trail we saw some big trees that looked like they had burned at some point. None of the smaller trees appeared burned so the fire must have been quite a long time ago. Piper found a large fallen tree quite fascinating. It must have fallen across the trail as it was cut in pieces next to the trail.

We had not seen anyone until we got back to the picnic area where someone had parked in front of the gate to the road out to the boat dock. We put our masks on to walk past them, which was the only time they were needed at that park since we did not see any other people while we were there.

sea otter in the San Juans – internet photo, the otters I saw were not cooperative for photos

There were 4 otters swimming around between the dock and shore and as we got back to the dock they were right next to it. Of course as soon as I got my camera out they dived under the water and must have swam away because they never resurfaced.

Piper on the trail at Odlin County Park

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Vancouver Cruise Ship Port

Vancouver, BC

view of bridge and Grouse Mountain from the seawall in Stanley Park

Vancouver

Vancouver, Canada is referred to as Vancouver B.C. (for British Columbia), at least by Washingtonians because Washington State in the USA also has a city named Vancouver. North of Washington and west of the Canadian mainland there is also Vancouver Island where Victoria sits, a city visited by ships out of Seattle on their way back from Alaska to satisfy the foreign port requirement. Just to be confusing, the city of Vancouver is on the mainland, not on Vancouver Island. Normally many cruises leave from Vancouver to Alaska in the summer. In case anyone wonders why so many things in the area are named Vancouver, one of the early explorers of the region was named Captain Vancouver so they are all named after him.

Vancouver waterfront view

view of Canada Place from Vancouver Lookout

Canada Place

Canada Place where cruise ships dock in Vancouver is right in the downtown area, steps away from Waterfront Station where you can catch the skytrain or seabus, and city busses stop nearby. A free shuttle to Capilano Suspension bridge has a stop at Canada Place, and seasonally there’s a free shuttle to Grouse Mountain as well. For cruise ship passengers only, Canada Place has luggage storage, which comes in handy if you have some time to kill between disembarking your ship and catching a train or plane. Canada Place is an attraction in itself. The building’s sails are an iconic landmark of Vancouver’s waterfront. Besides a hotel and convention center at Canada Place, there’s the Fly Over Canada flight simulation ride, a port discovery center with touchscreen infographics, and the Canadian Trail which has sections to represent each province and territory and simulates a walk through Canada from coast to coast. There’s a booth near the port building where people can get information or book tours.

Royal Princess at Canada Place

I’ve had several cruises starting or ending at Canada Place on several different lines, the most recent ending there on a Princess cruise. My first time at that port we sailed out of it on the Norwegian Sun and hadn’t yet discovered how convenient it is to take the train and sky train to the port. We drove there that time, finding that waiting for the shuttle would have been a better idea than walking to the ship from the nearby parking lot even though we could see it from there – because finding the entrance and getting to it from that parking lot was not easy. Of course now that I know it is in the parking garage that would help.

Vancouver's Stanley Park

walking on the seawall in Stanley Park

Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a huge park on a peninsula at the edge of downtown Vancouver. It has a paved walking trail with an adjacent separate biking and skating trail running along the water’s edge all around the outskirts of the park. There are trails throughout the park, which also has gardens, forest, a train ride, carriage rides, an aquarium, outdoor swimming pool, golf, tennis, outdoor splash park, and numerous playgrounds and picnic areas. There is bus service to the park, but unfortunately Vancouver’s sky train does not have a station near there. There are even restaurants within the park. There is a seaside trail from Canada Place to the park for those who have the time and inclination to walk a couple kilometers to get there.

Vancouver lookout tower

Vancouver Lookout

VANCOUVER LOOKOUT

Very near Canada Place Vancouver’s Lookout Tower atop the Harbour Centre building rises above the area’s other tall buildings. The very top is a revolving restaurant, with an observation deck just underneath. Two separate elevators in the lobby await visitors, one for the restaurant and one for the viewing level. You have to buy a ticket to take the one up to the observation deck. It goes directly up with no stops along the way. The viewing area circles around the tower with windows all the way around giving visitors a 360 degree view. Signs posted along the way give highlights about what you can see from that particular spot. A greeter near the elevator provides little stools for children too short to reach the windows so they can see out too. These small lightweight stools are easy for them to carry around as they make their way around the tower to see all the different views. Of course there’s a gift shop before you get back to the elevator. Before 2009 it was the tallest building in BC.

Stanley Park, Vancouver

seawall in Stanley Park

Gastown

The oldest area of Vancouver, called Gastown, is just about a kilometer from Canada Place, so not too far to walk. The gastown area has some Victorian architecture, a steam clock, and vintage lampposts. There’s even a statue of the neighborhood’s founder, Gassy Jack Deighton whose tavern was the area’s first attraction. Gastown has wine bars, sports bars, a vibrant cocktail scene, a variety of restaurants, art galleries, and unique shopping opportunities.

geese in Vancouver

geese at Stanley Park

Robson Street

It’s just a bit over a kilometer from Canada Place to Vancouver’s premier shopping district on Robson Street. There’s a stadium at one end of the street, and plenty of eateries along the way, but the shopping is what Robson Street is famous for.

Vancouver, BC

city view from Vancouver Lookout

Most years summertime in Vancouver is bustling with cruise ships, but for 2021 Canada has denied entry to all cruise ships because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cruises out of Vancouver have already been cancelled, and if the cruise lines can’t find a workaround the Jones act the rest of the Alaskan as well as northeast cruises will follow. The Jones act requires all foreign flagged vessels to have at least one foreign port stop, which ships from Seattle to Alaska would not have without a stop in Canada, nor would ships on cruises in the northeast who normally stop in Canada’s maritime provinces or Quebec. If the USA government were to suspend the Jones act for the year and allow cruise ships to sail without a foreign port the Alaskan cruises out of Seattle could be saved, and northeast sailings too, though they generally have more than one Canadian port so would have to rework their itineraries a bit more. If they don’t suspend that requirement the other option would be for Canada to allow cruise ships to drop anchor in Canadian waters and clear customs, which would cover the requirement of a foreign port. That could be a fair bit of free money for Canada without ever having a cruise ship at the dock because the cruise lines would most most likely be willing to pay a pretty good fee for that service in order to not have to cancel the entire season.

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Alpenzoo

On the outskirts of old town Innsbruck, Austria, there’s an entrance to a funicular that takes people up a mountain overlooking the city. It’s not actually a secret entrance, but it rather seems that way since it looks a lot like it’s just a bus shelter unless you see the tiny sign that says Nordkette and take the stairway or elevator to go below ground. There you find a ticket desk as well as a stop for the funicular.

Nordkette funicular coming down to the Alpenzoo stop

A funicular is a cable-operated transit system, generally a railway for steep inclines where two cars run simultaneously with one going up while the other goes down, and the two counterbalance each other. These cars are permanently attached to the cable and the entire system stops or moves so both cars are either stopped or in motion at the same time. This differs from ground based cable cars in that cable cars like the ones in San Francisco are independent of one another and stop and go by attaching or detaching from a cable which constantly remains in motion.

the Nordekette funicular has one blue car and one yellow car

The funicular at Nordkette is unusual in that it doesn’t go directly up, but runs under a river first before ascending the hill. There is another stop on the other side of the river, which is above ground. That stop is just a small platform, but it does give people on that side of the river the opportunity to go up the mountain without having to cross to the other side of the river first. Most funiculars have just two stops, one at the top and one at the bottom, but this one has 4.

otter

You can get different tickets for different prices that cover all or just part of the things at
Nordkette. As far as tourist attractions go they weren’t too pricey so we went with the full
package that included all the way to the top of the mountain plus the zoo. Getting to the top takes two separate aerial cableways beyond the funicular’s highest station. It was raining at the lower elevations and snowing higher up the day we went there. We didn’t want to be soaking wet everywhere not covered by our raingear when we got to the top where it’s really cold so we did the zoo on the way back down. The funicular makes a stop for the zoo partway up (or down) the mountain.

walk-through aviary

The zoo is not right at the Aplenzoo stop. You have to take stairs or an elevator down to a little road and then walk kind of around a corner and up a hill. There were a couple of small signs pointing out the way. The road split into one going down and around a corner and one continuing up toward a bus stop – which happened to have a bus sitting in it when we got there. There was no sign saying which way to go so we went up toward the bus.

walk by this church while going from the funicular to the zoo

There was a sign there that pointed out the way to a trail going past a lovely church and that trail led to the zoo. Alpenzoo is the highest altitude zoo in Europe and has animals native to the Alps. You don’t have to take the funicular to get there since a road goes up that high, but it’s a lot more fun to get there by funicular than by bus or car.

apparently this bear doesn’t know it is supposed to hibernate in the winter

You enter the zoo through a gift shop. If you haven’t already got a ticket you can get one there. They also give you a map of the zoo, which has pathways winding around through the different animal exhibits. Most of the pathways are paved. There are some directional signs so you don’t have to rely entirely on the map, which was helpful for us since our map disintegrated pretty quickly because it got wet every time we took it out to look at it. One of the pathways passes through an aviary. The zoo had a crazy bathroom with self-cleaning toilets. Part of the flushing process included the seat circling around through a water bath.

chamois

The zoo would be a lot better on a nice day. Besides slogging around through slush in the rain while we followed the pathways, a lot of the animals had sense enough to keep out of the weather and were hiding in their dens so there weren’t as many to see.

she looks like a cuddly kitty, but so not

We did see some stuff though, like playful otters who are going to get wet rain or shine, some young chamois (who look something like goats) eating hay under a shelter where they were out in plain site, a bear that wasn’t hibernating, and a wildcat that had some round windows into her den area. She looked like a giant housecat, but would periodically try and attack faces that stayed in the window too long. Through a lower window we saw 3 sleeping kittens. Bigger than regular kittens of course, but still little kittens. The mama might not have been so aggressive without them to protect.

moose in the rain

There were other things to see on a rainy day too, like the aquarium part consisting of indoor tanks, and some birds and other displays. While the wild things generally stayed out of the rain, the cows in the farm animal area stood right out in it. Then again 3 moose were lying on the ground out in the rain and they’re wild.

view from the Alpenzoo

Innsbruck is definitely a city worth visiting. There’s a lot more to see there than we had time for during our short stay.

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MSC Lirica Ocean View Cabin

MSC Lirica in Crete, Greece

For our 21-day cruise on MSC Lirica from Italy to Dubai, we booked an ocean view cabin. We like the ocean view category because unlike an interior cabin, you get a view of the outside, but at a better price than with a balcony cabin. This was of course before covid. If we take a cruise in the near future we would definitely go with a balcony so we’d have a little outdoor space in case of any sort of quarantine problems. Balconies are of course always a nice feature, especially on a warm weather cruise. On colder cruises we haven’t used them much. Since there are normally public areas to sit outdoors, when there is a big difference in price we have in the past usually opted for the lower priced cabin. This sometimes even meant settling for an inside cabin. Luckily on the Lirica we had a window. Instead of cabins with private balconies across the back of the ship, the Lirica had public balconies there so that was where we generally went when we wanted to sit outside – and the deck chairs you can lay on in public areas are more comfortable than the chairs you can only sit on that are generally found on standard cruise ship balconies anyway. While chairs on the main pool decks are often occupied by towels if not people, most ships have deck chairs in other lesser used areas, which is our preference anyway.

MSC Lirica deck 9 deck plan

Our cabin on the Lirica was 9077, which is found near the front of deck 9 – the Albinoni deck, just a bit back from the forward stairway/elevators. Deck 9 had all cabins, no public areas. It was also both above and below other decks with no public areas, which is our preference as cabins away from public areas generally tend to be quieter unless you have the great misfortune of ending up with noisy neighbors. We have had that happen occasionally, but not on this ship.

ocean view cabin 9077

Pricing on MSC is also partly determined by service level, as different cabins are assigned different levels of service. Their basic or Bella service goes to interior cabins in what they consider the least desirable locations and obstructed view cabins. Fantastica, which is their middle service level goes to the best interior cabins, ocean view cabins, and their least desirable balcony cabins and even suites. Their top level of service, called Aurea is reserved for the best balcony cabins and suites. The fantastica service, which we had, is the standard cruise ship service with stateroom cleanings in the mornings and evenings. Bella cabins get cleaned just once daily. Those guests are also at the lowest priority for dinner seating choice. Aurea guests have drink and spa packages, priority boarding, and access to a private sun deck. They also have the option of My Choice dining where they can eat at any time during the dining room open hours in their own special dining room rather than having a set time and table for every night of the cruise in the main dining room.

a small shower means not much laundry hanging space

Our cabin was pretty standard as far as cruise ship cabins go with both size and amenities, though the shower was probably the smallest one we’ve seen yet. Or at least it felt that way. The track for the shower curtain curved around above the raised bit at the bottom that keeps the water within the shower. Our shower curtain on the other hand was missing enough hooks that it just went straight across the middle of the shower, effectively cutting the space in half. Unlike American ships where washcloths are always included with the towels, Europeans don’t seem to use them much as the hotels rarely have them and on the ship we had to ask to get any. At least we only had to ask once and then were given washcloths along with our towels throughout the cruise.

moving the beds apart in this room just meant nightstands instead of beds were in the way of standing by the window

The beds were the standard twins that can be pushed together to make a queen. While balcony rooms put the beds against a side wall, in ocean view cabins they always put them under the window. Sometimes having them set separately gives window access where you can walk up to the window and look out, but on this one the nightstands just replaced the beds under the window.

making use of the wall bunk to hang a shirt while it finishes drying – and the window for socks

Closet and drawer space was pretty standard compared to most ships. Hanging space for laundry was a bit lacking though. A lot of our longer cruises have ended up on ships with no self-serve guest laundries and we have better things to spend our money on than their ridiculous prices for having laundry done so we often end up hand washing our laundry in the bathroom. Our cabin slept 3 and was of the old style where the bunk sticks out from the wall rather than folding up into the ceiling, so we did sometimes use that bunk as a place to hang laundry that was well beyond the dripping stage, but not quite dry enough to put away yet. The trick to getting laundry to dry faster in the bathroom is to keep the door open so it gets some air flow. You have to come back to the room and open the bathroom door after the steward cleans though because they always close it.

besides the beds, this cabin has a vanity and a cabinet with a mini fridge

Besides the bed and nightstands, furnishings in this cabin included a cabinet with a mini-fridge inside and a TV on top, and a vanity with a stool under it and a mirrored cabinet above it. There’s always a safe somewhere in the cabin, usually in the closet, but in this one it was in the cupboard over the vanity. It’s not likely that anyone would ever bother any of your stuff, but it’s always a good idea to keep passports in the safe because if you ever miss the ship that is where the crew would look for them – and since you would likely need the passport to get to the next port once the ship left without you it’s important that they can find them so they can leave them at the port for you.

magnetic walls are handy for keeping paperwork organized

The walls were magnetic, which is always useful for keeping paperwork organized and things like excursion tickets easy to find if you bring along some magnets.

view from the cabin window

This was neither the smallest nor the largest cabin we’ve had on a cruise ship. Although fairly average in size and amenities compared to other ships, it did have a bit of extra storage space in the cabinet behind the vanity mirrors.

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Moclips

looking down on Moclips beach houses from the general store parking lot

In these days of Covid-19, for people who want to get away the middle of nowhere is the best place to go. Keeping with local travel, we found the middle of nowhere in Moclips. This unincorporated town on Washington State’s pacific coast at the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula fits the bill. We found an Airbnb house to rent for a weekend. Having an entire place to yourselves is ideal for travel during a pandemic as there are no common areas with strangers walking through like in a hotel. Although our rental was half of a duplex, we had no contact with the guests on the other side.

view of Moclips from the beach

Houses, cottages, and cabins also have kitchens eliminating the need to eat in restaurants, further making travel safer. Of course we all had masks in case of any need to visit a store or for any other possible encounters with other people that we weren’t with. We brought along my sister and my husband’s sister and brother-in-law as this house had enough room for everyone to sleep with two bedrooms on the main floor plus a loft. It was listed as pet friendly, but had way too many rules my dog would never follow. We left her with a friend she adores who has dogs she can play with so she got a weekend vacation too.

Seabrook, a planned community near Moclips

Moclips is located north of Ocean Shores and southwest of Forks, the most likely places anyone not from the area may have heard of. Traveling north from Ocean Shores you find the smaller town of Ocean City. Copalis Beach sits north of that, followed by Seabrook, Pacific Beach, and Moclips. Pacific Beach has a campground by the beach. Seabrook is a planned community with many rental homes on a hillside across the highway from the beach. Other than a few homes or places to stay there’s not much between towns but forest and long stretches of often deserted beach. Those long stretches of deserted beach were our whole point of going there. It’s a great place for long hikes with an ocean view. We’ve missed the sea during the pandemic and even though we can’t cruise we could at least see the ocean, both from the beach and from the windows of our weekend rental.

Moclips general store

Moclips has a small general store right alongside the highway. The town was much bigger in the early 1900’s, a favorite place of tourists. It had railroad service, a fancy hotel, and seaside spas at the time. It also had mills, canneries, and schools. Its glory days didn’t last long though. Storms of 1911- 1913 washed much of the town away, followed by fires destroying most of what was left near the beach. A hilltop welding fire in 1948 destroyed many homes and businesses there.

old postcard of the hotel falling in a storm

Old weathered pilings crossing a river where it empties onto the beach are all that remains of the former beach resort area. The pilings once held train tracks, but trains have long since vanished from the Olympic Peninsula north of Gray’s Harbor, which sits at the southern boundary of the peninsula. Freight trains still service Aberdeen at the inside tip of Gray’s Harbor, but no passenger trains go there. There were once 600-700 miles of track on the peninsula, some of which is now the Olympic Discovery Trail at the north end of the peninsula.

old pilings are all that remain from a once busy beach resort

Nearby Pacific Beach is a bit bigger town than Moclips. Pacific Beach had a naval and air force base during World War 2. The navy still has property on a bluff, now used for recreational purposes. There’s currently a gas station in Pacific Beach which good to know since there isn’t one in Moclips.

beach near Moclips

Besides beachside motels – near the beach, but not on it as the ones that washed away were – Moclips currently has a small resort and some vacation rental homes. Mostly it has beach. Miles and miles of long wide sandy ocean beach. In a warmer place it would probably be full of people, but the Washington coast is not generally warm and even in summer the water is cold.

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Another One Gone

Last spring I had a cruise with my sister booked on Celebrity Eclipse, which of course got cancelled due to Covid. My husband thought it was safe to book one for this November as vaccines should be available for everyone before then so he booked us a cruise on Holland America Noordam. It didn’t take long before we got a cancellation notice saying the ship’s itinerary had changed. Their website still shows the first half of that cruise as well as the following cruise unchanged, but the time period of the second half shows nothing for that ship at all so we figure that it is probably going into drydock during that time.

Noordam – internet photo

Even though the Noordam is a sister ship of the Westerdam and Oosterdam as well as P&O’s Arcadia, we were happy to finally book a cruise on Holland America that was not the Oosterdam, Westerdam, or Veendam. Not that there is anything wrong with any of them, they are all nice ships, but regardless of where in the world we’ve booked all of our cruises on Holland America have been on one of those three. We were looking forward to seeing a different dam ship this time – and he’d found an itinerary where all the ports it went to were places we’d never been.

Offerings for cancelled cruises now sure aren’t what they were last spring. The best they had to offer was same price for same cabin category plus a bit of onboard credit for two specific sailings they had selected. Other than that they had a short list of available cruises with somewhat similar itineraries that they offered the onboard credit for. That’s it, no 125% for any future booking or anything close to what cruise lines were offering last spring. Although since the price of one of the offered replacement cruises was up by nearly 50% a few weeks later the same price booking actually turned out better for anyone booking that specific cruise. Not so much for other choices.

Celebrity Eclipse (internet photo)

Then again Celebrity offered that or a refund and we chose the 125%, but they sent the refund anyway along with an offer for onboard credit for a cruise booked within their specified time period. It might be for the best though because now we have the option of going with any line in case we don’t find another bargain there someday when we book a replacement for that cruise. Celebrity has always been a higher priced line than some, and now that they have decided to go all-inclusive it means a paying an increased fare for people like us who don’t drink much to subsidize the drinks for people who drink a lot more. Because all-inclusive doesn’t mean the extra stuff is free. It just means you pay more for the cruise and those things are included in the fare you paid.

Including the gratuities in the fare is a good thing since that is something for everyone to pay anyway. If it’s included in the fare people who aren’t accustomed to cruising won’t be surprised by tips showing up on their onboard bill. Passengers also won’t be able to remove those tips from the poor hard working crew that depends on that money.

Including wifi is not such a good idea though because onboard internet is always notoriously slow and the more people that are online the worse it gets. People who wouldn’t pay separately for it will use it if it is included, and rightfully so since they are paying for it in the higher fare, but that means more people online and even slower service. Sometimes it’s so bad you can’t even open an email and that was when not everyone onboard had it.

bar on the Westerdam
Bar on the Westerdam

When drinks are purchased separately from the fare the heavy drinkers can buy packages and the rest of the people just buy one when they want it, which is fair to all because each person is paying for what they consume. If you average it out among all the passengers and include drinks in the cruise fare those who drink less end up paying for alcohol consumed by people who drink more. Sure you might have a few drinks you wouldn’t otherwise have paid for, but not likely enough to equal the difference in cruise price for a lot of people. It would be so much better if they charged less for the cruise and other than the gratuities if they want to include something extra allow people to choose if they want alcohol or internet or perhaps dinner at a specialty restaurant and a massage or shore excursion for those who didn’t want either. At least that’s not an issue on Holland America, although it would be nice if all lines included the gratuities in the price since in addition to being better for both passengers and crew it would also be easier to compare prices.

We asked our travel agent about taking the half of our original cruise that was still available on Holland America’s website and then catching a different ship at the disembarkation port, but she said that cruise lines are currently re-deploying ships to different regions with alarming enough frequency that she did not recommend trying to tie any two different ships together this year as part of the trip might likely get cancelled. Apparently none of the cruise lines are offering the sort of things they were for cancelled cruises last spring so people are pretty much out of luck if their ship gets moved somewhere else after they book it.

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