Thursday, November 12, 2009

Alaskan Cruise 2004

In August of 2004, my grandparents, both my aunts and uncles (on my mom's side), my parents, brother and I departed Seattle on Holland America's, Ms Amsterdam, for the inside passage.

Never having been on a cruise ship before, I was amazed at the size and organization of the ship. Cruise ships are like floating cities. Restaurants, theaters, a library, pools, bars, all sorts of recreation and entertainment; the number of things you could do on board seemed endless. But despite having so much to do on board ship, most of our days were spent on land in the ports of call. We began in Seattle then visited Sitka, Skagway, Juneau, and Victoria. The ship would travel mostly at night from one city to the next and be ready for us to disembark in the morning.

View Alaskan Cruise in a larger map

In Sitka (originally a Russian settlement), my brother, dad and I went on a bike hike before touring the small town on foot. We were taken on our bicycle tour through the nearby wilderness and beautiful island coastline. The most intriguing part of the trip was our stop at a whale park. The small, wooded park by the coast had underwater microphones letting you listen to the high pitched calls whales made to each other as you watched them pass.

After arriving in Skagway, my dad and I went on a kayaking trip where we were given a new perspective of the beautiful coastline. We paddled around islands and down narrow inlets where tall pines grow right along the edge of the rocky coast. The wilderness there was better preserved than I'd seen anywhere else.

Juneau was the most exciting port of call during the cruise. Here I took an aerial tram to the top of the mountains neighboring the town and hiked back into the city. I also went on a dog sledding adventure with my aunts and uncles. Our sledding adventure began with a helicopter flight over glaciers and mountains to a dog camp where the sled dogs wanted nothing more than to pull you as fast as they could across the glaciers. It was a wonderfully unique and exciting experience.

Our stop in Victoria signaled the end of our cruise was nearing. We toured the city on foot, enjoying the city's gardens and watching street performers, and later in the evening took a carriage ride pulled by two Clydesdales.

My best memories were made doing things on shore, but three activities I thoroughly enjoyed on board were, an art auction, dancing with my aunts and uncles, and watching the scenery pass from the forward viewing deck. It was amazing to watch as glaciers broke off and crashed into the ocean and pods of orcas swam around the ship.

I've been astounded by places like Yosemite Valley, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Kilauea, but the Alaskan wilderness is unique in that it is so much more expansive and still remains in pristine condition. Cruising the inside passage gave me a chance to experience some of this abounding natural beauty in person.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Los Angeles Baptist High School Europe Trip 2004

In an effort to better document some of my travels, I'll be doing a series of posts on my past traveling adventures. It's not always easy to recall the day to day activities of these trips so I'll do my best to describe some of the trip highlights as well as what I took away from these experiences.

When my Spanish teacher Senora Mac (Mrs. McCollum) passed out flyers in class promoting a class trip she was leading to England, France, and Spain I didn't think my parents would support me going. It wasn't a particularly long or inexpensive trip, but my parents saw it as an educational opportunity and to my surprise and delight they allowed me to go. My brother, a few of my close high school friends, and a number of other students (some of whom I didn't know well, but became friends with during the trip) signed up. 22 students (and a few chaperons) left for their 10 day trip on June 22, 2004.

Having only been out of the country once before to Vancouver, British Columbia, visiting London was my first experience with a substantially different culture. I enjoyed little challenges like learning to look the other direction when crossing the street, figuring out what change I should give using different coin denominations, and adapting to a slightly different vocabulary. I remember thinking the food was rather bland and the weather rather dreary, but at the same time being very excited about the historical significance of places I was visiting and things I was seeing.

When we arrived in Paris via the Chunnel, I experienced the difficulties of a language barrier for the first time. Having lived in Southern California my whole life, I used some Spanish occasionally, but generally speaking, it was never hard to communicate because much of the Latino population knows at least some English and I was studying Spanish in high school. Here, however, it was different and I had to rely on my friends who had taken French as well as a bit of charades to get by. I felt, as many do, that Paris was an exceptionally beautiful city and was captivated by the architecture and city life. Although, there were two things I felt Paris could have a lot less of: war memorials and smokers.

In many ways, visiting Madrid was like returning home to Los Angeles. The climate, architecture, and language all seemed relatively familiar. However, we took a day trip to Toledo where I was exposed to a mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim culture in a city that looked much as it did hundreds of years ago. It was strange to see shops close early in the day only to reopen later, but I enjoyed being able to stay up and eat Tapas late at night as is common in Spain.

An important lesson I took away from this trip was learning to come prepared to appreciate what you will see before you see it. For some of the places we visited and things we saw, I only knew as much as the tour guide could comment on in a few seconds or a brief caption in a museum could explain. I wasn't able to fully appreciate what I was seeing. When I returned to some of these same locations on later trips after having learned more of their history, I was more excited visiting the second time than when I had first been there. With just a little bit of preparation, you can appreciate so much more during your travels.

My daily recordings (The Captain's Log) for the LAB Europe Trip 2004

Monday, November 2, 2009

The National Scout Jamboree

For many, the National Scout Jamboree is the culminating experience as a Boy Scout. It's scouting at its finest, incorporating some of the best scouting activities, with the best scouts and leaders from across the nation and around the world. In recent years, the Jamboree has been held at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, a military base that is converted every four years to welcome tens of thousands of scouts for a ten day adventure.

In 2001, I participated as a Boy Scout and in 2005 I returned as staff for the Action Center C Bikathlon event. Similar to the Olympic Biathlon (where athletes cross country ski between shooting stations), the Bikathlon involves mountain biking through a wooded course and stopping to shoot at various stations before continuing to the next station and on to the finish. One's score is a combination of both shooting accuracy as well as biking time. This and a myriad of other activities are available to the 40,000+ scouts who stay there and 300,000+ visitors that attend the Jamboree. Climbing, scuba, pioneering, shooting, archery, boating... the list goes on and on. With so much available, it isn't possible to do everything offered.

There are two things though, that really make the Jamboree stand out. One, is the cooperation of thousands of people, many of whom have never met. My bikathlon team was comprised of men and women, young and old, from across the country, with little other than scouting in common. But that alone was able to unify our team and allow us to begin working together the day we met. The other attribute that sets the Jamboree apart is the emphasis placed on developing character. Scouts and staff alike encourage each other to become men and women of character who embody the Scout Oath and Law in their everyday life. I have never seen this anywhere else on such a scale and without it, such an event would not otherwise be possible.

Below are some video clips of things I did while on staff at the 2005 Jamboree, as well as my daily recordings of what happened during trip and a slideshow of some of my photos, enjoy!

My daily recordings (The Captain's Log) for the 2005 National Scout Jamboree