Alaska.. My personal bucket list item for a long long time. Who doesn’t want to visit here at least once in their lifetime?!
It was past midnight as we flew over the majestic snowy mountains of Alaska and landed into Anchorage International Airport. It felt like they were tall enough to touch the plane.
Airport: He doesn’t look Amoosed!
Alaska again is a different time zone (huh) so we landed at 2 am but it was only 1 am there, and moreover it was bright side with the last of the sun rays still visible in the horizon. Ole, the owner of the Base Camp Anchorage Hostel let us in and we slept with eye masks on in tall spacious bunk beds. It was such a weird feeling. No proper darkness anywhere. The first night took some getting use to but overall, I think we took advantage of these long days in our short 5 day stint here.
We took two very rickety bikes to ride the town and got some expensive lunch ($10 for a dish is expensive in our books now) Although the hash browns were to die for. We spent a few hours in the museum and learnt about James Cook who discovered Alaska, the Indian tribes and history that goes along with the geography of this last frontier.
Some Inuit (Eskimo) Clothing:
They bearly know each other:
Note the mention of Kidpsace in the back Neem!
We rode along the coastal trail with tons of runners, walkers, bikers and a herd of bird watchers enjoying a warm and sunny day. It’s ironic that we got the warmest weather we got on all of west coast was in Alaska. When you think Alaska you usually think snow and igloos and Eskimos, right? Snow capped mountains in the backdrop made anywhere you look in Alaska beautiful.
We ate dinner and drank a few beers in the backyard with fellow tinkers hailing from all parts of the world. They were all here to enjoy the summer in Alaska, some studying, some looking for part time jobs to pay for their stay, some hiking, biking and anything you name. We met a lady who was going to climb the Denali range for 3 weeks carrying or rather dragging about 40 kilos of gear and food to survive the cold and wilderness. Resident was a biker with the plan to ride his bicycle from Alaska all the way to the tip of South America. Ole hikes up mountains and flies down, literally!. A photographer, medical resident, et al and we had people from all over the spectrum. And us of course, wildly intrigued by everyone’s story and so happy to be getting a taste of what’s to come.
Totally different types of people, literally living one day at time. Usually that gives an image of really rich or really poor people. But that image was shattered as you would usually find neither in a hostel in Alaska. I wish I had done something like this, spending a summer somewhere to enjoy the place and nature, when I was younger.
Side Note: We were a little worried about my passport being with the New Zealand embassy for a visa. I won’t go into the visa saga too much but just that I was extremely lucky to call the embassy at the right time, received by a gentlemen who probably stayed a bit after his office hours and shipped my passport to Alaska overnight. I got my passport on Saturday morning to fly out on Monday night. Phew! Ollie had already started planning some tequila nights without me in Mexico City. Sorry Ollie!
We rented and drove south. It was a mind-blowing-ly (making up words now) beautiful drive! It was nature at its best!! Like Yosemite or Grand Canyon on steroids! (I promise, no more exclamation marks.)
Seward was a beautiful little town and had a cruise ship on shore that day.
For the first time I felt bad for not being able to eat fish. There was only seafood, reindeer, muse, etc dishes on the menus. We ate bad Mexican food at the only place that served anything else. And it was expensive like the rest of Alaska. Yep, Alaska is expensive for dining and lodging. But if you are here to forgo luxury and enjoy nature, you won’t see it on your wallet.
We got some fresh fudge to forget the lunch we ate. The only lunch highlight was spotting our old bartender in New York on a magazine!
We drove along the shore in hope to see some whales that our hostel friends had recently seen there & hungout on a beach for ahwile.
With no luck, we went to the Exit glacier and accidentally caught the beginning of a free walking tour. I love that about American national parks, there always passionate park rangers offering information and help for free. Not even expecting or accepting tips.
An hour long hike up:
The Exit Glacier:
My environmental practices go as far as recycling and trying not to print paper for saving trees. But the glacier visit made us realize the intensity at which glaciers are actually melting. And I know everyone says it, but I saw it. This one is melting 14 inches a day. If we had been here merely 10 years ago we would have found the glacier half s mile sooner.
We then went to the southernmost part of Alaska to Homer, a fishing town. Naturally Ollie convinced me to book a half day fishing tour. It was a bit ironic (or just silly) for 2 vegetarians to go catch fish. We signed for the experience.. when in Alaska, you know. We picked some very tasty pizza from Fat Olives and ate at the patio of our cruise ship style accommodation. I was getting used to eating meals with stunning views. A bit nervous, I went to bed.
We woke up early and went to the spit (dockyard and restaurants) to check into our boat. We had booked late the night before and it seemed they were full. Maybe it was a sign we shouldn’t be doing this. But after clearing up some confusion we got on and got the tail end of the captain’s instructions. We put our jackets on as it was cool and windy and sped into the beautiful horizon.
About an hour and boatload (teehee) of photographs later, the engine noise died as we stopped. The boat started rocking like a pendulum. We were given our fishing rods, instructions and bait on our hooks. There was a strong undercurrent today and a 3 pound lead weight was added so the hook actually reaches the bottom of the sea. Excited we put the hook in the water and let it slide till it hit the sea bed, about a 150 meters deep. We reeled it up with a lot of effort but nobody caught anything.
Ollie was starting to get sea sick with all the rocking but he put a brave face on. A father daughter duo with us gave him some medicines but he was going pale. Poor Ollie. We sailed for a few more minutes and stopped again, and a few of them put their hooks in. La galore, everyone had some fish caught. I went for it it too and Ollie said he will go in a bit. I pulled out my first fish which was 29 inches long and weighed about 20 pounds. Now add that the 3 pound lead weight and the sea undercurrents, and reeling it up for about 150 meters. It was an arm workout for even the fittest. I had not realized this much arm effort went into fishing.
My Very First Fish
Ollie was getting sicker but surprisingly I was not, not even from seeing the fish being caught, slit and tagged. Ollie went into the cabin and threw up a few times. I tried to sit beside him but the cabin was giving me headache. Besides I had three more fish to catch. The crew and the fellow passengers were excited for me and cheering me on. I was having even Ollie’s share of fun.
One of my four catches:
We brought the fish in, and shipped it back to Tricky, Kevin & Kelly in SF and Namrata in New York. I believe they’re still enjoying it! Exhausted but still buzzing from getting to go fishing in Alaska, we started our drive back to Anchorage. The views and sunset sunset along the way as we past through Chugach National Forest was breathtaking.
Over some instant noodles, we shared our stories with our new hostel friends. The next day, we drove north up to Denali. We stopped at a supermarket in Trappers creek for some lunch. The south point view of the Denali mountain range was majestic. It was a clear bright day and we could see Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain range in USA. We had heard that it has its own weather system and we could see a bit of those private clouds only for McKinley.
We went up to the Byers lake and tried to coordinate the hike with the hostel crew who were around too. It was a beautiful hike with more amazing views of Denali/Mt. Mckinley. It was quite remote with us barely meeting anyone on the full hike. The only way was walking around it.
To mark our last day of Alaska, we hiked the Flat Top mountain early morning. We a moose on the way – we only saw a handful.
It was supposed to rain and I was hoping for it so that I wouldn’t have to do that hike. I was tired. Right from the start it was uphill. The top half mile was like rock climbing without the tools. We saw a couple of locals do it and we could tell they were locals as they breezed through it. The visitors on the other hand were struggling, just like us. We had heard about this but it didn’t feel good to be beaten by a teenage girl and her dog. The top was flat (duh) and gave a stunning 360 degree view of Alaska.
Our Mountain challenge the the background:
Half way break:
Views of Anchorage City, Cook Inlet & Mount Sustina:
They say the most difficult part of going up is coming down. I was nervously coming down the rocks on my bum and hands. It was not as bad and lasted for only half smile, but it was technical enough for us. It says the perfect way to end Alaska.
We showered and decided to go for Indian food as we may not get any for the next 2 months and we hadn’t had any in the past month either. We came back to the hostel to find out that there are a few Indian restaurants around and we should have gotten recommendations. Who knew Alaska had a range of Indian food options!
We spent the afternoon in the hostel getting travel stories for our upcoming countries and writing our wedding thank you cards (finally, after almost 2 years and carrying it around for the month).
There were hugs as we left the hostel and said goodbye to people who had become our family for the week. We returned the car to the airport and mailed the gps to Ivan. Thanks Ivan, it was savior. We walked into the airport knowing America was easy till now and the other end of the flight was going to show us what we had really signed up for!
Goodbye Alaska & USA. We’ll miss you a lot.