Planes. Seals. Booties.
I had only been living in Seattle for two months until one fateful week both Marie and Randy decided to pay me a visit. Randy was in town for a web-developer conference, and Marie was flying in to confer with me. We spent a couple of weeknights chilling out on the town, but became anxious for adventure as the weekend approached. Randy's mind was set on sea-kayaking. I suggested the San Juan Islands - about an hour north of Seattle - a popular tourist spot for whale-watching. For a whale-of-a-sale price, you could board a small vessel with an intimate company of 100, and spend four hours hunting down orca pods, holding your camera at ready in case they decided to breach.
We spent Friday night researching the islands and the whales. Conveniently, there were no kayak rentals on the side of the island most frequented by orcas. Additionally, most of the rental agencies advertised whale tours, wherein - I imagine - a weathered, cantankerous sea-dog would teach you all about the "two-paddled canoe", ramble about local folklore, and finally inform you that the whales must be sleeping today. We decided to wing it. Find a place that will trust us with some boats, paddle out, and just enjoy the saltwater.
Waking up early on Saturday morning was an utter failure. I dragged the sleepy, complaining pocers to the car, got behind the wheel, and weaved past the languid Washington drivers as fast as I could. The tricky bit was that we had to make the ferry to the island. That's the thing about ferries: they can fare on water, we couldn't. Just as we arrived in the harbor and were about to park, the damn boat departed. Dejected but not hopeless, we started back to town, when Randy jerked to the window - "turn right here!" I turned, drove, and parked at an airport smaller than an Indiana Wal-Mart. Once Randy and I saw the planes, we were giddy as schoolboys: tiny 6-person planes, each more weathered than the next, begged us to take a ride. I don't want to give the impression that Marie was not excited, but it's just that she looked like she would rather swim to the island - fighting off killer whales on the way - than board one of these contraptions. We soundly ignored her, bought some tickets (no I.D., no problem), and kept giggling as we prepared to make the skies our playground.
Despite a party-pooping Marie, Randy and I were bubbling over as we boarded the plane. Just us, two other passengers, and the pilot. As we flew over the water and the tiny islands, I felt relieved that even this jaded cynic could still succumb to new thrills. Short exchanges with Randy, muted by the propellers, showed that he was in much the same condition. Marie allowed herself only amusedly-arched eyebrows.
When we landed in San Juan, we realized that we did not think through this itinerary: where were we supposed to go from the airport that was nestled in the middle of a forest? Where were the kayak rentals? What were we going to eat? However, after the exhilarating flight, we were certain that the world was ours for the taking. We were like a surviving Icarus: nothing could stop us now.
A short hike to town, a couple of phone calls, and some $8 sack lunches later, we were picked up by a shuttle van en route to a kayak-rental shack. "I just talked on the phone with your son," said Randy to the elderly woman driver. "Oh, you mean my daughter." Randy blushes; I grin. "She does have a low voice."
It was well in the afternoon when we got to the beach, and the best sea-kayaks had already been rented out. We got into some little (but nice) boats, and paddled out. (Pictures from this part are not available: I did not risk taking the camera in the boat) Our first destination was a pair of islands crawling with seals. Apparently, one island had birthing mothers and their young, while another had angry males and their kelp. Being very respectful of Mother Nature, we first kept our distance. But the seals met us with no resistance, and hardly any attention, so we approached for a closer look. We have all seen syrup-sweet pictures of seals in popular magazines: all angelic smiling faces and glimmering wet fur. But have you ever heard a seal? What kind of sound would you wager they make? Floating between the two islands in that idyllic bay, we witnessed the most obscene cacophony of guttural groans this side of purgatory. Imagine about fifty full-bodied opera singers, who got inhumanly drunk, pillaged a Taco Bell, disrobed, and proceeded to engage in an orgy while performing their favorite arias and vomiting sporadically. That is the sound that those adorable creatures make.
We were all but enchanted by these sirens' songs when out of the corner of my eye I saw a giant splash in the distance. I beckoned to my companions and we paddled cautiously in that direction. We saw several more splashes - far too big to be a fish, far too energetic to be a seal. Although we have no evidence, we believe that this was the holy grail of marine sightseeing: an orca. After the splashing stopped, we paddled around with the seals for a while longer. As Randy and I steered leisurely to harbor, we noticed that Marie was quickly catching up to us with a terrified look on her face, mumbling something incoherent. It seems that one of the seals had taken chase and was quickly catching up to her. Our oars raised over our heads Eskimo-clubbing-style, Randy and I were ready to defend our lady from this scoundrel. (Dear reader, please do not report me to some society for the recovery of nature's lost virginity - I am of course exaggerating). However, it turned out that the seal was just a tiny cub, unusually bold, which swam about within arm's reach of our boats without the least apprehension. In his curiosity, he even nuzzled my kayak and played with my paddle. Surprisingly, this was quite far from the defense of his elders, and even Rando, who had long yearned for sealskin biker shorts, shed tears of tenderness. The cub swam away, having gotten bored with us, and we paddled back to shore, having seen enough marine wildlife for the day.
We boarded the return plane at the airport. This time, Marie had come to terms with her fate and even seemed to enjoy the flight. Although it was still only late afternoon, we all relished in that sunburned feeling of a day well-spent.
But the day was not over.
Upon returning to Seattle, we walked up to the Capitol Hill Block Party - a grab-bag of local bands and food merchants making the most of a summer in the city. There was only one act - local by definition - that we were interested in: Seattle's very own Sir Mix-a-Lot. The show was off da hook: although there was no more than 5 black people in the crowd, Mix gave us his best and got the punks, indie-rock kids and goths moving to the old-school goodness. Far from being a burned-out has-been, Mix was in top rapping form, busting out classics as well as new beats. As he brought a gaggle of girls on stage and launched into the timeless and topical "Baby Got Back", Randy and I looked at each other and knew without saying it: this had been the Best Day Ever.
Pictures from this trip