Monday, 27 June 2011

Day 11 and the last (10th of October)

I woke up at 7.00a.m., unaided by the alarm clock, something of which I am very proud. The sky was very pink and the sun just rising. Only a few of yesterday’s clouds remained and the Channel Islands were drifting past us. Jenny was in a hurry to get breakfast eaten and to get out to the foreship to see what California had to offer. Unfortunately I slowed her down and we didn’t get to the last breakfast much earlier that usual, although the chief mate was still there so we did reasonably well. Eggs to order with leek this time rather than the customary spring onions.

No time for ping pong but straight to the deck. It was incredibly sunny, the sea very flat and the air very warm. It wasn’t long before the sightings began, hundreds of dolphins splashing around but most of them too busy feeding for bow wave riding. Some did come in and put on a short show below us, but as usual my camera found itself on the wrong setting. A bird of prey flew above us clutching a small yellow bird and settled somewhere on the containers. Towards 12 o’clock some of the Filipinos started preparing the ropes for docking, but apparently we weren’t in the way. We saw another sunfish and Jenny spotted us a shark in the water, which may or may not have realised it was seconds away from being hit by the ship. We’d also seen a lot of seals/sealions on their own or in groups of two or three. These were often very close to us and would dive in when we got too near to them.

The last lunch was baked potato (mine with a cream cheese filling), spinach, sweetcorn and carrots. There was very American cake, the kind the chief engineer would look down on. It was presumably chocolate cake, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell with your eyes closed. On the top was that sickly sweet icing, this time with a coffee twang. I couldn’t eat all of mine and saved the rest for later. The captain told us that the pilot would come aboard at 16.00, we’d be docking at 17.00 and immigration would be coming on board at 18.00. We tried to ascertain as to how we’d be making our exit from the boat. There is a bus, which takes people from the ship to the seaman’s club. From there a taxi can be taken or the seaman’s bus. The chief engineer was full of praise for the $1.00 seaman’s bus, and for it to receive his approval it must be good! Another option the captain put before us was getting the agent to take us to Los Angeles. At $300 this didn’t particularly appeal to our money belts.

Having lunched we headed up to the bridge to assess where we were and how long we’d be able to stay on the deck for before we really were in the way. There were sailing boats everywhere, it being Sunday and the Californian’s out to play. Martin would have his hands full for the next few hours trying to avoid hitting them, while trying to find the best American radio station available. We handed over the Mongolian photos shortlist and he said he’d show some of them to his wife to persuade her that taking a holiday there is a good idea. Effectively in one fail swoop we’d cancelled our efforts of not taking a plane and reducing carbon emissions.

Back at the fore ship we realised just how much the boat had slowed and we could see the Port of Long Beach and its towering cranes to the left. To our right, or should we now say starboard side, was Catalina Island, haunt of the wealthy Californians. The number of helium balloons in the Californian waters was disgusting and we couldn’t help wondering how many had already been consumed, perhaps with fatal consequences, by the dolphins and other marine life.

Fortunately for the idiots in their speedboat who went charging right in front of us, we had slowed to a crawl. Martin probably couldn’t see the boat anymore when it came into the ship’s path and sounded the horn. We’d almost made it to America, so it would have been quite a shame to have jumped out of our skins so much as to have fell overboard. There were really only sailing boats to see and with the sun starting to fry us we left the bow for the final time.

Just before 4.00p.m. the pilot boat approached and we went up to the bridge to watch the action. The officers were all in their uniforms in order to impress the Americans (probably actually because they have to wear uniform in all ports). An American in a red raincoat arrived and we drifted with little action for a while. Half a mile from the port entrance they got going, the American calling out lots of numbers and the Filipino 3rd officer repeating them after him. Since we were standing around like spare parts the chief mate encouraged us to start taking pictures of the port, which the NSB shipboard A,B,C issued before our departure says is illegal. Since none of the officers seemed to think it was we didn’t need further encouragement and went outside. On its way out from its birth was the Hanjin Phoenix, bound for Asia. Aided by the tugboat we got pulled around and then pushed into the birth. The three sealions playing around right next to us were enjoying themselves.

Not sure what to do, with most people having cleared off the bridge we went down to our room and gathered our last bits and pieces together. Everyone was then requested via the speaker system to go down to the captain’s office on deck A where we picked up our passports and joined the queue along with the crew for immigration. We had to fill in two forms each before being questioned by the immigration man. He informed us that to use our visa again after 6 months we would have to leave North America and re-enter. Well no-one bothered telling us this when we got the visa, so we’ll have to tackle that bureaucratic hurdle when we come to it. Jenny might accidentally have told them that we have a flight out of Canada in six months time as well as saying we’re going round the world without flying. Fortunately they were a bit too slow to realise this. Both of course are true, but the flight will be cancelled once we’ve got to Canada.

We hauled our baggage from the purser cabin to the mess room where the captain and chief engineer were mid-Mahlzeit. Unsure whether we had an invite or not I spotted plates laid in our places and Stewie didn’t seem too perturbed to see us. The captain was eating a tin of sardines and the engineer salad, so we came to conclude that it was just salad this evening. After helping ourselves to rolls and salad there came Stewie with asparagus, kohlrabi, rice, sweetcorn and carrots. We bid goodbye to the captain, chief engineer, Martin on his way in, Stewie and Cookie. On previous nights we’d lost sleep about whether we should be tipping the latter two, because they had waited on us extremely well. The shipboard A,B,C was not the most helpful saying some people like to give a tip, you decide how much to tip and that the steward and cook appreciate a tip. In the end we concluded that they all realised that we’d spent a fortune on this trip already and if we get round to it we might leave some chocolates at the Hanjin terminal in Seattle. Fortunately Cookie and Stewie didn’t seem too perturbed and Cookie was still smiling through his braces.

Downstairs we bade goodbye to the chief mate with several handshakes and to Max who gave us the addresses of a hostel owner and his brother both in Vancouver. An overwhelmingly American lady came aboard saying ‘you booked passage?’ ‘that’s so cool’ and told us that the bus was waiting outside behind crane 7. Some of the Filipinos were hanging around the signing out paper which we duly added our names too. Three of them wanted to catch the bus to the seamen’s club too, but the driver wouldn’t wait for them to come down the gangway.

We sped off through the port, while onboard the ship they were probably all sighing with relief. Cookie wont have to do all this extra vegetarian cooking, Stewie wont be running around with all our food or cleaning our room, Max and Martin will be able to reclaim their seats at the high table and the chief engineer can sort out the air conditioning without worrying we’ll dislike the funny air and write a complaint letter to NSB (although perhaps he’s not so pleased that he can’t keep this off his long list of tasks any longer!). Only the first mate wont be able to ‘train’ his English any more as directed by his wife.

As we passed out of the Hanjin terminal exit gates an American man seemed pleased to see ‘European travellers’ and warned us to be careful because there are weird people out there. And right he was. The lady at the security booth where we had to order our taxi from had music playing and waltzed around on her own. On the metro from Long Beach a man sat down with a snake around his neck and I certainly was relieved when he and his friend snuck into the next carriage as soon as the ticket inspectors appeared. A couple sat down and sang, and an interesting man got on and waved to us and said hello, but much further conversation was impeded by my backpack blocking the view. Moving on to the next train- a man tried to sell cigars and a lady tried to solicit donations for the homeless. Outside it was dark and uninviting, looking, as most places in America do, very pedestrian unfriendly. Catching the metro through this great nation is probably the scariest it’s felt on our entire trip.

More than 2hrs after leaving the Hanjin Yantian we’d arrived at the Banana Bungalow Hostel, a very American, slightly shabby palm tree affair. Since the internet didn’t work we couldn’t inform the parents that we hadn’t been thrown overboard, so attempted sleep instead. Every time Jenny moved around on her bunk, the bed rocked like a gale force 10 and every time I moved on the bottom bunk she found herself in the middle of a heavy seaway (gale force 12). A state of sleep may have been reached on occasion during the night. It was incredibly cold and I had to shut all the windows and use my towel as a bed cover. In California they appear not to have discovered the duvet cover yet.

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