Thursday, August 19, 2010

Whirlwind tour of Alaska

Aug 10 – Aug 12: Karolina came on a flight that might not have landed due to fog in Prince Rupert. All the way from Poland she came loaded with gifts and full of smiles. We visited Prince Rupert for a day checking out the Museum of Northern British Columbia and the real characters in town. Karolina was excited about everything including big diesel trucks and derelict wooden houses that you don’t get to see in Europe. We then boarded the Alaskan ferry for our weeklong tour of Alaska. Our first stop was Ketchikan, our first taste of the typical cruise-ship tourist trap. With three giant cruise ships parked in town and the city swarmed with their tourists we run around town getting Ulu knives as gifts while sipping on cappuccinos. Parked right along one of the cruise ships was one of the boats from the Deadliest Catch show, Time Bandit. Tourists were getting pretty excited about that. Seems like marketing was the reason for the boats mooring spot after seeing DVDs and shirts about the show in all the shops, as well as hearing that Time Bandit has a whole store with their brand name somewhere in Juneau. Our next stop was Wrangell, where we had unusually hot weather according to the locals. We wondered around this quaint typical Alaskan town and had some ice-cream from a local shop. On the ferry we could enjoy some amazing views in the comfort of a large ship, and the luxury of a private cabin with a hot shower. Our next stop was Petersburg where the surrounding scenery began to change compared to that of BC. Steep mountains covered with snow and capped with giant glaciers appeared as the backdrop to the town, making for some memorable views in the setting sun, making me feel for the first time that we are in Alaska.

Aug 13: Friday the 13th we arrive in Juneau, the state capital of Alaska, and on this day we trust to take a flight on a small airplane to Gustavus next to my dream destination of Glacier Bay National Park. We stay at the Glacier Bay Lodge right in the park, where we are greeted by unusually clear skies and warm weather where for the past month there was nothing but overcast skies and fog which blocked the view off all the glaciers. We spend the day kayaking in a double sea kayak chasing an otter, and seeing porpoise dolphins and seals. Karolina doesn’t trust my kayaking abilities and is afraid that we’ll never get back to our lodge after four hours on the water, but a favourable tide slings us back home as planned and Karolina hopefully starts trusting my sweet sea skills.

Aug 14: We spend the whole day on a guided boat tour of Glacier Bay Park. The morning fog lifts and we are treated to spectacular views in pure sunshine and clear blue skies for the rest of the day on a trip that takes us 65 miles into the park and back. The sights are hard to describe and pictures might due them a fraction of the justice, but the scene was like the Rocky Mountains full of snow and glaciers coming straight out of the sea. The scale is gigantic and hard to comprehend even with large cruise ships dwarfed to look like toys in the foreground by massive walls of ice and snow behind them. We observed a couple of calving tidewater glaciers with beautiful blue coloured ice in bays filled with chunks of white ice and listened to them cracking and crumbling. We also observe some amazing nature from the boat which includes a colony of stellar sea lions, two grizzly bears feeding on shore, and swarms of sea otters and porpoise dolphins, and even a couple of gray whales from a distance. I observed only one sailboat throughout the day in the park with a front-row view of a magnificent mountain chain and glacier slipping into the sea, parked amongst small icebergs it was proudly flying a large Canadian flag from the back stay. The sailboat, much larger than mine, and clearly equipped for serious sailing made me pretty envious and at the same time proud of their accomplishment. I so strongly wished I could have made it this far under my own steam but I know I made the right decision and felt privileged to be seeing this amazing place at all. Having Karolina here with me was of course the icing on the cake for me and truly made me feel like the luckiest man in the world. She’s also my amazing on board photographer and credits go to her for all the stunning pictures from now on.

Aug 15: We flew back from Gustavus with amazing arial views of the surrounding mountain tops and spend the rest of the day visiting Juneau. The main site is the Mendenhall Glacier close to town which is also an amazing glacier, the 5th largest in the US, that calves into a lake with a stunning waterfall at its side. With lots of tourists around we were still able to snap some pictures and then headed downtown Juneau to be part of the cruise ship crowds and strolled amongst the dozen jewellery and gift shops.

Aug 16: In the morning we visit Sitka where we have breakfast at a local diner, which is a huge novelty for Karolina. Sitka is a small pretty town with some Russian influence which includes and Orthodox church. We again stop in Petersburg and have Karolina take some more pictures of some classic Americana scenes mixed with Norwegian and Russian influences.

Aug 17-18: We visit Ketchikan again and do some last minute gift shopping since this is our last stop in Alaska this time loading up on some gourmet smoked salmon. Karolina gets a picture with Santa Claus at the year round Christmas Store but to me he looked like a regular Alaskan. We then spend the rest of the day going through foggy Dixon Entrance back to Prince Rupert. With the fog horns blowing I’m glad not to be the one navigating. Back in Prince Rupert we get the boat and ourselves ready for the next leg, our way back south and home. Our day is filled with a visit to the Laundromat, again a huge exciting novelty for Karolina, shopping for groceries, engine oil changes for me, and major reorganizations of the boat making it look more homely. With the weather looking very rainy and forecasts not looking any warmer we are at least ready to head back.

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