Homesteads and Halibut in Homer

Woke up around six o’clock this morning to the incessant and loud cries of many seagulls; had a look out on the balcony to find ourselves docked in the picturesque port of Homer, Alaska.  We were at the end of a long jetty and all around, on the ground and in the air, was a great many birds, wheeling and squawking. It was like something out of  an Alfred Hitchcock movie!

Went back to bed for a couple of hours, but didn’t really sleep with the racket outside. Venturing onto the balcony we were pleased to see that it was sunny and bright, although there was still that persistent nip in the air to remind us that summer, although on its way, was not quite here yet.

We went up to the Windows Café for our breakfast, the wandered around on deck for a while.  As the ship was now stationary, the wind had dropped considerably, and already some people had found the best sunny sheltered spots and were stretched out on sun loungers by the pool.  Outside, the birds wheeled and swooped, and the air was filled with the distinctive smell of their guano as well as their cries.

At 10 o’clock we made our way shore side to await the bus for our half-day excursion.  Once again it was one of those famous yellow school buses, with the high-backed vinyl seats.  We set off through the streets of this charming and quaint seaside town, looking at the mountainous backdrop, the blue sea and the colourful boats moored up, as well as the wooden, ranch-style dwellings with their trucks and utility vehicles parked alongside. Hardly anyone seemed just to have an ordinary car here!

Our first visit today was to a traditional homestead farm (what we’d probably call a ‘croft’ in the UK).  This isn’t a conventional farm as we’d know it, but rather a case where an owner of a smallholding, i.e. a few acres of land, has adopted a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers on their land and selling it at farmer’s markets.  In an inclement climate such as that in Alaska, the homesteader has it down to a fine art.

The bus pulled up in front of the Anchor Point greenhouse, a small nursery/garden shop adjacent to several makeshift greenhouses which were similar to large poly tunnels.  We were met by the farmer who showed us around.  He explained how they kept the soil warm (and free from pests) by laying down strips of plastic into which holes were punch before planting the seeds or seedlings; the soil was kept protected by the plastic.  This looked as if it could be a lot of work!  We were also shown large greenhouses which contained makeshift watering and heating systems, and we saw them growing different varieties of tomatoes, pickling cucumbers and squash, as well as fields growing rows of greens and a yellow-flowered herb called rhodiola, which I’d never heard of but which apparently has many uses from eating the leaves (similar to spinach) and drying the flowers, seeds and roots which are used in complementary medicine.

Other greenhouses contained potted flowers and starter plants, which were then sold in the on-site shop.  The farmer explained that he only made a net profit each year of about $10,000, but said that the planting, growing, harvesting and the shop keeps him busy, as he wouldn’t know what else to do with himself.  It seemed to me like a lot of work for a little profit, and you’d really have to love the land and the outdoors to make a living like this.  It was a fascinating visit.

After our trip to the farm the bus continued along the coastal road of the Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet. On this fine day it was stunning; the lovely colour palette of blues, greys and whites once again with sparsely-leaved trees in the foreground.  We learned that it was a state wilderness park and was popular with campers.  The bus pulled up at a photo point and rest-stop so we could all get out for a look around and take some amazing photos.

Unsurprisingly, due to its proximity to the ocean, Alaskan locals make their money from the sea, and fishing is one of the main ways of earning a living.  Many residents of Homer have their own boats and some enterprising souls offer fishing boats for charter, as Homer proclaims itself to be the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”. As the bus continued on its way, then started to come back around to where the Quest was docked, we passed through the town with its colourful shops and boat-tour agents, souvenir stalls, restaurants and bars.

We asked to be dropped off here and said we’d walk back to the ship, as it was only about a mile away.  In any case, there were regular shuttle buses from here, outside an interesting-looking saloon bar called the “Salty Dawg” which looked as though part of it might once have been a lighthouse.  We were ready for a beer by now (!) and the Salty Dawg looked a good place to enjoy it.  🙂

The first thing that struck us when we went into the dimly-lit interior was how the walls, ceiling, wooden beams and pillars were all completely covered in dollar bills.  Apparently it is the ‘custom’ for visitors to sign their names on dollar bills and pin them to whichever surface is available.  We sat on bar stools at the heavy wooden, scarred and pitted bar, which was reminiscent of old school desks with people’s initials carved into them.  We each ordered a bottle of the local beer (and characteristically weren’t even offered glasses); I ordered a an Alaskan Amber while Trevor opted for an Alaskan White (which featured a picture of the inevitable polar bear).  The beer was cold and foamy and most refreshing, and I could easily have stayed for another one, but it seemed a shame to waste the rare sunny day by being inside.

Leaving the bar we blinked in the comparative brightness of the sun outside, and had a look around the shops in our immediate vicinity.  We spent some time browsing in a souvenir shop that sold a lot of hand-crafted items such as wooden carvings, tooled leather and hand-knitted or crocheted scarves and hats, as well as embroidered cushion covers and doilies.  There was also a selection of the ubiquitous t-shirts and sweat shirts proclaiming “HOMER – ALASKA” on them with pictures of moose or whales or bears, in addition to other holiday tat.  We didn’t see anything we wanted to buy.

Afterwards we decided to walk back to the Quest but the wind had got up again; in any case we saw a small group waiting for the shuttle bus so we knew one must be imminent.  We therefore joined the queue and the bus arrived shortly afterwards to take us back to the Quest in nice time for lunch.

What an interesting and picturesque place Homer is, and certainly not your average run-of-the-mill holiday day-trip.

We boarded the ship then decided to make the most of the sunshine in a sheltered spot on the pool deck.  We went to the Patio Restaurant and ordered a plate of nachos between us, washed down with a cold beer, which we enjoyed with the sun on our backs.  We were reluctant to return to 6009 and make a start with our packing, but it was something that had to be done.  😦

We packed away the things we wouldn’t be needing again, leaving out toiletries and something to wear to dinner tonight. Our luggage had to be outside our stateroom door by 10.00pm tonight, which we thought was ridiculously early.  On Fred Olsen ships the cases don’t have to be out until midnight.

We then pottered around in our stateroom for a while, with our balcony door ajar and the cabin filled with the incessant din of the seagulls, before making our way to The Den for the first of the quizzes.  There weren’t many people there; we could only presume that a lot of them were still ashore.  There was no sign of Dale and Susie so the team consisted of just Trevor and me.  Afterwards, tiredness just seemed to hit me, so I went back to the cabin for a power nap; Trevor stayed behind in The Den to do the next quiz and get another stamp on the prize passport.

Afterwards he went along to redeem the prize passports but, predictably, the prizes were pretty rubbish unless you had hundreds of stamps.  All we ended up with was an Azamara Club Cruises branded magnetic clip (to attach to a metal surface to hold notes, memos etc.) and an Azamara spectacles polishing cloth.  Big, big deal!

Afterwards it was time to get showered and changed and ready for dinner.  We had planned on going down to the Discoveries Restaurant for the last evening on board, but it was getting a bit later now, and we wanted to be in the Cabaret Lounge early for the passenger choir concert, then the Crew Presentation and finally the guest entertainer, which tonight featured a ventriloquist called Don Bryan, who had only boarded the ship today.

We therefore just went up to the Windows Café and enjoyed the usual array of delicious dishes.  We were sitting quite near to the starboard side windows and we were glad, because we kept seeing spouts and fins from several whales, and now and then a tantalising glimpse of black tail.  There were quite a few of them, and we saw lots of people letting their meals get cold as they kept their eyes peeled out of the windows instead.  🙂

After dinner we returned to our cabin and got changed into the clothes we’d be wearing tomorrow, disembarkation day.  Then we finished packing all our stuff except for what we’d need in the morning and put the cases outside our stateroom door.

We then made our way down to the Cabaret Lounge, got ourselves a drink each, and listened to the “High Seas Choir” doing their rendition of Abba songs, before Captain Magnus came on stage and did a little farewell speech, before introducing his officers and some members of the hard-working and dedicated crew, all of whom elicited an enthusiastic round of applause from the passengers.

After a short break (and another drink) the main entertainment, the ventriloquist, came on with a couple of dummies.  He was OK I suppose, but really, if you’ve seen one ventriloquist, you’ve seen them all, as the acts are all very similar.  He was mildly amusing, but we did see the odd person in the audience walk out.

We finished the evening off by going up to the Living Room and taking advantage of our last chance to use the all-inclusive drinks package.  We were reluctant to return to stateroom 6009 as it would effectively mean the end of our cruise… although not the end of our holiday.

It was around 11.30pm that we went to bed as we knew we’d have to be up at seven o’clock on the morning to get ready to disembark. We were due to arrive in Seward tomorrow; the Pacific Ocean was nice and calm once again, and we slept well.

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