LOVE TO WANDER
Now that our trip has come to an end, it is time for some final reflections. This is the first travel blog I have ever written and my purpose is really threeefold:
It has been fun to write - I hope it has been fun to read.
My final reflection from the trip is that the best photos are those that really capture the excitement you felt when you wanted to capture the image. I have learned a lot on this trip about shutter speed, aperture size etc. etc. and I have taken some good photos and some not so good photos, but my favourites are those that capture the excitement of the moment, whatever their technical attributes. There have been so many moments I have wanted to capture on this trip - as the Alaskans might say, "it has been a blast."
Over and out ...
Today is our last day. Disembarkation was, as I expected, a bit tedious. We had pre-booked a shuttle bus transfer to Vancouver airport which, with the benefit of hindsight was a mistake. We could have taken a taxi to the airport for less or a sky train for less than that! Instead, we spent an unnecessary couple of hours being herded into lines for an overloaded shuttle bus bay. Still, having got rid of our bags at the airport left luggage check-in, we spent the afternoon exploring Vancouver. We walked along the waterfront and refreshed our memory of this lovely city. Vancouver airport is very passenger friendly and the city is clean and lively too - a great place for a stopover. We are not stopping over, however, as real life is recalling us. Our check- in is at 17.40 for a 20.40 departure, arriving 9 hours later at London Heathrow. At this point, we lose 7 and a half hours of life. Still, I suppose we gained them on the way out, so we shouldn't feel too short changed.
Today, we boarded a bus and then a small boat to take us to Neet's Bay. There is a not-profit-salmon hatchery based there, which makes it good territory for bear tracking. Keeping a plentiful supply of salmon going is very important to the isolated communities in this area, which is known as the salmon capital of Alaska. Apart from providing a good food source generally, there is money t be made from sport fishing, which is a popular passtime here. We saw a large black bear almost immediately we arrived at the bay.
Tonight, we were due to meet the chef and maître d' and 8 other passengers for hors d'oeuvres in the galley (kitchen) at 7 to begin an indulgent dining experience at the Chef's Table. We had reserved a place first thing on arriving on board and I was very glad we did. It was a spectacular occasion, although the portions were American sized and more than we could manage, The lavish menu was beautifully presented and carefully thought through, with wines chosen to enhance each course. I photographed the menu to help us remember the details of all the courses. This was truly a banquet never to be forgotten. The Executive chef, Antonio Constantino, hails from Valledalomo, Sicily and is completely passionate about his work. It was a real pleasure and a privilege to share the results of his enthusiasm and his view of cooking as a way of enjoying and celebrating life.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska with a population of 30,000 people and accessible only by sea or air because of the mountains and huge ice field that surround it. it was a rainy day today and fog obscured the best of the views of Mendenhall Glacier. I spotted an eagle looking at the glacier with me - he was probably about as impressed with the fog as I was. The photo sums up the morning really - it would have been so much better if the sun had been out.
By morning, we had arrived at the little goldrush town of Skagway. We joined a tour to hike part of the Chilkoot Trail. This was one of two routes followed by the Klondike goldrush stampeders in 1897/8. The other was the White Pass. The Chilkoot trail goes from Dyea and The White Pass goes from Skagway. The Chilkoot trail is a bit shorter, but the White Pass was accessible by horses. either way, it was a very tough trail - one way is he'll, the other is damnation, as the saying went. The population of Skagway now is 965, which swells to double that in the tourist season. urging the goldrush, it soared up to 30,000!
The Chilkoot trail is very steep and we only climbed the first few miles and in good weather.
Today started well with breakfast at Sabitinis, which included a couple of mimosas (buck's fizz). As the ship sailed through Icy Strait into Glacier Bay, we took the opportunity to take a photography lesson and picked up some useful tips - so hopefully, my photos will start to improve from this point on?!
Park Rangers boarded the ship and gave a running commentary as we glided through the icy waters. You could hear their talk throughout the ship and on our cabin TV too, which really helped us to understand and appreciate what we were seeing. We passed by Margerie Glacier first. After the scale of Hubbard Glacier yesterday, Margerie seemed small in comparison and somewhat less impressive. I wonder how I would have reacted if the trip had been the other way around?!
Today, the ship sailed into Yakutat Bay en route to the immense Hubbard Glacier - the "Galloping Glacier".
It was a colder day today and I was grateful to have the warm cabin to jump back in and out of as we sailed past some unforgettable sites. I made friends with my camera a bit more today - nice to have the time to do that properly! We sailed past an iceberg or two and then came face to face with the beauty of Hubbard Glacier. It was totally awesome - I have seen nothing like this before and it was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. It appears to be a beautiful fluorescent blue in places, which is apparently because when the light hits the compacted ice, long wavelength colours (reds) are absorbed whilst short wavelength colours (blues) reflect back through the ice to your eyes. The scale of it is very impressive and it is hard to capture on a photograph. It is 6 miles across and runs for 96 miles back into Canada. To be able to see the intricate detail and beauty of the ice at such close range from such comfortable surroundings is a real privilege. The glacier calved several times as we we gazed at it. It sounded like a thunder storm as the ice pieces fell from the grip of the glacier into the icy water below. This happens so quickly that it is very difficult to capture on film - Tim managed it, I was too slow!
Today, we took the Alaskan Railroad train again from Anchorage to Whittier. The journey this time was much shorter. Check in was at 8.45 for a 9.45 departure and we arrived at Whittier about 3 hours later.
This time, it was a panoramic journey. We passed by Alaskan beaches, with the humps of white whales visible in the sea as we passed by. The railroad runs at a leisurely pace, so it is easy to take in the views.
I slept badly, conscious of a horribly early 5am wake up call to board the 6am bus back to the park entrance. The same old dilapidated school bus that had trundled all the way into the wilderness turned up - a bit late - to trundle us back to civilisation.
It was cold and I was tired from a restless night. Even a good hot breakfast was not enough to lift my spirits enough to start to look forward to the day ahead. Travelling is like this, I suppose. There are always going to be parts of it that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, boring - or - in this case - all three! With aching neck and shoulder already a problem, this boneshaker bus with no headrests and tatty plastic seats was not in the least appealing to me.
When the driver announced that the heater and microphone were broken, it began to resemble a torture chamber. For this stage of our adventure, I armed myself with a feather pillow borrowed from the Lodge and a blow up neck pillow from my new fried Beth. I took some ibuprofen with a cup of hot coffee, lay back flat on one of the seats, closed my eyes and felt suddenly hugely homesick. I was glad to be on the return leg of the journey - with the luxurious part still to come.
The heater kicked into action part way through the journey and I swapped places with a fellow traveller sitting on top of it who preferred the cold. It is a good job we are all different. The heater gradually began to defrost my bones a little and I felt better. We were rewarded by seeing a family of three bears on the journey - a closer viewing than on the way out.