Saturday, 14 September 2013

Alaska - The Final Frontier.

The bad weather lifted enough for us to go on our 7-hour boat trip to see the wildlife in Prince William Sound, and the Columbia Glacier… one of the fastest tidal glaciers in the world. 32 miles long and retreating on average, half a mile a year, creating calving ice and an amazing sea of icebergs. It's not uncommon to see Grey, Humpback, Minke and Orca whales, harbour seals, sea otters, porpoises, bald eagles, puffins and along the coastline, more bears! We were so excited we got there early, which was a good job because everyone behind us in the queue were edging forward and discussing seat tactics like war generals. We managed to get two bench seats with table in between, close enough to the outside door so we could make mad dashes outside whenever a sighting was announced. It really was too cold to stay outside the whole time and as we approached the sea of ice, 3 hours into the trip, I was particularly thankful for my thermals, numerous fleeces, ski hat and gloves. The wind chill was alarming. Of course, you always get the idiot tourists on board, who come on these trips wearing only a pair of trainers and a thin fleece, thinking that will suffice. My God, they were not happy bunnies.

We saw lots of harbour seals, then some gorgeously cute sea otters floating around in groups, some holding hands, others with arms behind their heads, looking at us with great fascination. 

We saw a large grey whale, which we sadly thought had beached in the shallow waters, so the lovely concerned Captain assured us he would call the coastguard to check on it. An hour later, he was happy to report that the whale was no longer there and had obviously managed to get back into deep water, phew. We saw bald eagles, kittiwakes, loons and cormorants, we watched mountain goats hop from boulder to boulder, hundreds of feet up sheer rock cliffs. 

The Captain carefully steered the boat through a field of aqua icebergs, casually hitting one every now and then, causing grimaces and ripples of exclamations from the passengers, as the ice scraped the underside of the boat. 

The glacier itself, was one of the most awesome things I have ever seen. Vast and beautiful, a brilliant blue white with dense indigo crevasses, creaking and groaning under its own weight.

Every now and again you would hear a terrific roar as the ice sheared off, exploding into the sea, causing a mini tidal wave and creating more and more icebergs. Breathtaking.

By the time we got back to the RV, it was almost 6pm. We knew we had to drive back to Anchorage that night, in order to return the RV by the morning so it was another long journey. Luckily, the sun came out and we saw the Chugach mountains in all their glory, passing huge glaciers and dozens of waterfalls, that we hadn't realised were there on the way down. 

We got to a state park outside Anchorage just after 1am, and all of us pretty much passed out. I say, all of us... I of course, didn't get a wink of sleep, because Brad outdid himself and saved his most outstanding snoring for our last night in the RV, how sweet! We returned it, a little more bruised and battered than when we got it, but we had grown to love Her Majesty... even with all her flaws. I hated sleeping in the RV but I loved travelling around in it. We had made some rules early on that were adhered to, thank God. Things like never pooing in the RV loo, which sometimes meant a quick sprint to a public convenience after the first cup of strong coffee. We used the shower cubicle as a shoe cupboard, so pongy hiking boots and smelly sneakers didn't infiltrate the living quarters, and when we could, we opened doors and windows for the same reason. Four adults, dirty washing, some days without showers, plus no fresh air, is not good!

So with one day left, Mike saved the weirdest surprise til last… a nights stay in the most haunted hotel in Alaska. Noooo! It was obvious by now I was not comfortable with ghosts, so spending the night with one, was really not my idea of fun. We dropped off the bags and went to grab something to eat, deciding on Mexican. Even though it was past noon, it was still officially breakfast, so having hot spicy salsa and refried beans on an empty stomach was probably not the most sensible thing to do, especially as the rest of the day was to be spent walking around town. We realised our mistake when Brad disappeared for half an hour as soon as we got inside the Anchorage Museum… I lasted another twenty minutes but I must have been longer then I thought, because by the time I came out, Mike and Diana had already left! Brad and I walked back to the hotel to check into our haunted rooms and I seized my opportunity and whispered to the receptionist, "Um, look I know the other three would probably want to be in the MOST haunted rooms, but could you put me in the LEAST haunted one please?" He frowned and looked at the computer screen. "Well, I can't guarantee it but you should be ok in room 307." Oh that's bloody reassuring, thanks.

I think the build up is sometimes worse than the reality… walking into a large beautiful room on a bright, sunny afternoon, with a cheery receptionist, did not seem scary at all, but there was definitely one thing in the room I wasn't keen on. In the bathroom was a large mirror and on the opposite wall was an equally large mirror so that when you looked into it, there was an infinite reflection that blurred into nothing, and every time I passed it, I kept thinking I was seeing something other than myself. Eek. I rang down to the front desk, just to double-check I was in the least scary room, and heard the phone ringing outside my door. Weird. "Um, are you outside my door?" I said into the receiver. "Yes" said the receptionist with no other explanation. "Ok… um… well I know I've already asked you a few times, but I will be ok in here, won't I?". I asked. A pause. "Well, we haven't had sightings in this room for a while now, so I'm sure you'll be fine" he said. Oh God.

As a prequel to a sleepless night, we met up with another contact of Mike's, a lovely guy called Rob Roy (yes really). He was another Big Foot fan but wanted to show us a place outside Anchorage, called Crow Creek Gold Mine, apparently haunted. Oh for God's sake! We bumped our way along another unpaved road for a few hours and found ourselves as this very pretty little deserted town, filled with old wooden shacks, wild flowers, and a fast flowing river. It really was very beautiful and peaceful, and even though there was a big sign saying 'CLOSED', we decided to go in anyway. 

We got out of the car and started wandering up the main path, until we heard distant barking, which rapidly got louder and louder until these two beasts came barrelling round the corner and were upon us. Dogs are sometimes hard to read… they can be barking, growling and slathering as they come towards you and as you poo yourself, they suddenly wag their tail and lick your hand… others do the opposite, looking very happy and waggy until they get two feet away from you and then go for your throat. One of the dogs barking and running towards us, looked like a St. Bernard, who'd had a really bad haircut. It ran at us at full speed, and skidded to a halt as we froze, waiting to be mauled, and then wagged it's whole body and drooled in ecstasy. We then saw a man staring at us from one of the houses. In the whole time we'd been in Alaska, we had not met a single angry, unkind or rude person, but this guy encompassed all three, as he told us we were not only trespassing but should leave immediately. He had that terrifying passive aggressiveness, saying everything in a cool low voice, but his face turning red and the veins in his temples bulging with anger. I imagined a handgun tucked into the back of his trousers, and a scene from 'Deliverance' popped into my head. We left quickly. 

After a lovely last supper of bison and elk burgers, we returned to the Historic Anchorage Hotel, fully prepared to spend the entire night awake. Our flight was really early so I set the alarm for 3am, packed, and lay in bed with all the lights on. The next thing I knew, I heard a soft knocking. I froze, scared out of my whits. The knocking became more insistent and just as I was about to wet the bed, I realised it was coming from my door. I looked at my clock and it was 4am… shit! Not only had I slept through my alarm but the airport taxi was downstairs and I was still in my pyjamas, so the only haunting I had had, was some evil ghost, sending me into a coma. I sprang up and threw everything into my case, which was very disturbing, being such a neat freak. I made it downstairs in 5 minutes and must have looked as if I has been possessed… I hadn't even had time to look at myself in the mirror and knew I had creased face and bed hair. Scarier than any bloody ghost!  

We said our goodbyes and left the wonderful and truly awesome Alaska. The people were kind, incredibly generous and very funny; the landscape so varied and beautiful that no photograph could ever do it justice; and the wildlife was abundant and breathtaking. Our ten days were a delicious appetiser, for a stunning country so vast and ever-changing, it would take months to discover. I would go back in a heartbeat.

1 comment:

Terri Russi said...

Thank you. I laughed so hard! Are the mirrors really that scary? We would love to have you stay with us again!