It was November of last year, day 153 of our round-the-world trip.
We arrived about an hour prior our scheduled tour, and luckily found a parking slot nearby. Tickets can easily be purchased onsite (price $28 per adult), but because we wanted to skip the human queue and more importantly visit the island specifically noon-ish (Which was the warmest part of that autumn day.), we booked via Alcatraz Cruises' site.
Our light jumpers couldn't protect our arses from freezing so we sought refuge in the souvenir shop, and jumped in line just a couple of minutes before boarding. A dude scanned the barcode of our tickets we printed ourselves back at the hotel, after which we were good to go.
Aboard the ferry, we positioned ourselves on the front row of the first level, within the enclosure. We initially thought we had a good view of the bay, until a bunch of folks poured to the outdoor deck. Our visibility turned nil. And between the hubby and I, it's me who'd risk getting a frostbite for a crappy panoramic shot. So out I went and indoors he stayed with our traveling tot, Luna.
Ferry ride lasts fifteen minutes, tops. Enough to buy a pricey cup of coffee from the snack bar and sprint to the bow's deck for that sweeping vista of San Francisco Bay. If you're somewhat hungry, you prolly wanna grab a bite too (Their pretzel's pretty yum.) for there's no food for sale on the island. Keep that camera handy, and waterproofed if you're standing atop the ferry's bow, cause you'll have a chance to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge from afar. Keep your fingers crossed too, that its towers are not engulfed in clouds.
Upon docking, we were ushered to the ranger station for a short briefing. One of the guys from National Park Service, clad in stereotypical park ranger clothes (Khaki collared top, army green shorts, tube socks, hiking boots and that Indiana Jones-esque hat.), introduced himself Mark over the megaphone. We were told to watch a quickie orientation film at the theater before anything else. Not compulsory, but highly recommended. Ugh, we would have done so if only the souvenir shop ain't strategically situated right beside it.
At 1:10, more than half of our group gathered in front of the guard tower where a guided tour about Alcatraz prisoners' escapes and attempted escapes was about to commence. We joined for some time, but had difficulty hearing the park ranger's talk. Fifteen minutes into it, we left our tour brethren and wandered at our own pace. Visitors may stay on the island as long as they please, at least until the last ferry leaves the island (The Alcatraz Night Tour is a separate tour.).
Instead of roaming aimlessly, we purposely hiked uphill towards the main cell house. We trailed a handful of youngsters who left the group too until we got to the entrance of the building. Hubby and I were hooked up with the audio gadget as we stepped in. Soon as we pressed play, voices of the actual Alcatraz correctional officers and inmates flooded in our ears. Hubby and I set off in our own zones.
Alcatraz Island served as a fortress, a military prison, and a federal penitentiary (It was also occupied by native Americans from 1969-1971 as part of their protest against certain federal policies). The audio tour focuses on the period 1934-1963, when it was used as a federal penitentiary (At such time was when the infamous Al "Scarface" Capone was imprisoned here.). The audio tour narrator made us walk here and there, forward, backward. Round the corner, up the steps. Inside the cells, outside to the recreation yard. He described rooms and cells in detail, with dramatic interjections from correctional officers and inmates. It made me feel like I'm in a different era.
My fave parts are the narration of the Battle of Alcatraz and the Great Escape led by Frank Morris (The film Escape From Alcatraz which starred Clint Eastwood, and which I'm totally going to watch again, was based on this.). The Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour provides tons of information, delivered in a way that will tug one's emotional strings. Apparently, it's an award-winning audio tour.
I pressed pause, stop and rewind. I drowned in a sea of dialogues. The hubby stared at me with curious brows as I paced in a dreamy state. And bumped into annoyed tourists. I snapped back in reality when I stepped out to Eagle Plaza and caught sight of San Francisco Bay once again. I heard a flock of birds swoop past and remembered where the island got its name from. Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans named by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala who sailed into this bay in 1775.
The sky was turning orange. I started walking back to the main cell house to turn in my audio guide. Been an extraordinary anniversary celebration (Three years since hubby and I became steadies!) and didn't want to mess it up by missing the last ferry back to mainland.
Cause yah know, otherwise, we swim. Like them escapees who were never found and presumed dead. Cringe.