It was a surprise the trip to Alaska. Without planning it much, suddenly after visiting the fellas in Vancouver Island, I was on a cruise ship with my family cruising towards Alaska.
The huge boat from Holland America cruise company sailed inside the channel in between Canada´s mainland and Vancouver´s island at a speed of 35 knots/hour.
The coast from faraway looked pretty foresty and wild, as we kept moving north.
For a two complete days we navigated until reaching the first stop of the tour, Ketchikan. Being the first town of the last frontier as called, passing the Canadian border.
The day was filled with fog and light rain, light enough to allow us go walking around the small town and hiking to one of its miradors.
The main activity of the village is fishing and typical tourism shops open for cruisers; jewelry, souvenirs and of course salmon, king & dungeness crab restaurants and few tours.
It was interesting to observe how the famous alaskan king crab restaurants where the ones more successful having a longer cue than other establishments. We where there around 9 in the morning, just after having a copious buffet breakfast at the boat and people where still doing a long line to try the alaskan crab recipe. Maybe they had a light breakfast, maybe they had a normal breakfast or even didn’t have a breakfast at the boat, but what I can tell you since the beginning is that in these cruise ship trips, you tend to eat a lot, and asking myself about why these happens, came to remember what once read in a book called Ecology, The experimental analysis of distribution and abundance, about a natural equation that basically says: As more produce is offered, more consumption of it is generated; meaning that as more offer more demand and in these case more consume of natural resources.
I guess that if you go to a cruise ship tour, you are gonna enjoy well the abundance offered on certain basic pleasures such as lots of tasty food.
Anyway, coming back to Ketchican; a little river crosses the town and goes uphill inside the mountains. You can see the big salmons swimming against the current and hiding behind the rocks, to then jump above and continue upstream to lay there eggs as far as their muscular bodies can swim against the current and the inclination of the river.
We decided to go hiking to one of the main trails that take you to a mirador. It was pretty humid that day so by the time we hiked to the first mirador we where soaked and we couldn’t get any view down to the town and sea because of the fog. But still very nice to be surrounded by alaskan trees!
The town shows some history through their native totems carved in huge trunks and besides their good salmon fishing and a famous brothel stablished in the former red light district of the town in the golden rush 1919. Dolly´s house own by a matron woman, whose slogan was “where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn”. The place had to close on the 50´s because of new regulations.
After another day cruising in the northern pacific waters inside the AN archipelago channles, unfinishable tasty food, hot tub, family time, shows, live music and all sorts of activities the city-boat offers, we arrived to the second stop of the tour: Juneau, the capital city of Alaska.
The only way to reach these city is by boat or a hydroplane and there’s so much space in these city that is actually one of the longest cities in the states. With a population of only 33,000 makes it a very remote capital city. There’s a train that takes tourists 548m of 1,164 at mount Roberts, to get some hiking done.
There’s a bunch of tourism coming from the cruise ships so the city offers a variety of tours that accommodates people from the high end Heli flight to the glacier bay park, where the heli lands in the middle of the glacier, whale watching on boats inside the Gastineau channel, simple buses with chofers as tour guides saying a couple of jokes most people don’t understood, that end up taking you to the entrance of the glacier park where the glacier meets and melts on the special blue silver colored water of the channel Gastineau. Besides these basic tours designed for express cruise tourism, Juneau has a large variety of outdoors activities with sporty, wild conditions.
I took the simple bus ride and was dropped at the entrance of the park where you can choose a trail out of three to go around the place and get some hiking done surrounded by these special natural ecosystem. In the big rocks that lay aside the water channel you can see the marks that the glacier has left when it had moved, in these case retroactively, backwards, meaning diminishing. These marks in form of deep scratches in the rock show how the glacier has diminished it self since they started recording it in 1940´s; there’s a total loss of glacier for about 100 feet long in these specific zone of the ecosystem due to global warming of course. So beside the natural beautiful scenario that fulfills the eyes of the tourist, these data doesn’t help much to enjoy completely the living place.
I wanted to take a swim in the water, but it was like ice temperature, didn’t find the inner warm to dive in it and let my body dry out there like a lizard taking some sun naked in the rocks surrounded by giant blocks of ice.
So instead, remembered what I learned in the Peruvian Andes about how certain native Peruvians, decendents of the Incas, will go up to the mountain and build towers with stone in form of thanking and asking for guidance and protection to the spirits of the mountain. I verify these with my eyes when randomelly stopped the car in the road that goes to sacred valley and crosses part of the andes and hiked up to these beutiful hills in the middle of the pampas andinas and found myself up there with these kind of altars (in Peru’s mountains).
So we went back to the boat after everyone took their own tour. My parents went humpback whale watching on a boat, my sister and brother in law went to the heli glacier tour. We all came happy with stories to share and hungry of course.
After another night of cruising, a fancy dinner with the captain, few wines and tasty food shared with the family we went to bed in the cozy little boat rooms. Waking up at a new destination: Skagway. Little town north of Juneau, famous for its history of the golden rush in the 1890´s just at the time of the crisis in the USA. Several men out of their jobs and with no income to feed their families where pulled by the gossip of gold being found in the northern land of the American continent. Men also from the UK and Australia where found in these rushed stampeed in search of gold and adventure passing through Skagway for its way to the valley of Yukon river. But some of them didn’t know how harsh conditions would meet in these place of the globe..
So Skagway is the remaining town of that history, nowadays mostly dedicated to tourism, fishing, skiing, bear watching, avalanche watching, outdoors wild activities and drinking crafted local beer. It has remained its classical architecture in downtown and of course it offers several tours for the cruises tourism.
In these town I decided to take a photograph tour guided by a professional outdoor photographer. When arrived to the meeting point, I realized that the other members of these express tour where mostly elders, meaning the tour was going to be quite slow. We went to some waterfalls, the city cemetery, and to the top of the hill in a van with a special manual step for the elders to get in/out with no problem, that since I was the youngest of the crew and closest to the door, decided to take the charge of placing the step and removing it in every stop, so the white haired people wouldn’t struggle much bending themselves, besides the respect I give to those that have spent at least twice the time in these earthly life than my self.
Learned few basic things of photography, much less than I wanted or expected though. Got to cross the border from Alaska to Canada where the only thing standing on that side of the road is a sign welcoming you to Canada and in the other hand, coming back from Canada to US territory we actually had to pass through an immigration office. Very quick and friendly the officer appeared towards our guide and elders. We didn’t have to come out of the van.
The final stop of these amazing cruise tour was Anchorage, the biggest city of Alaska that delivers a desolated feeling with pretty squared streets buildings showing no historical architecture at all. Eventhough is the city where you see more of the urban activity in Alaska. It seems they wanted to recreate a small business city, by constructing very squared buildings with no taste at all forwarm attractive urban designs. Anchorage has the international airport so from here we flew back to our correspondant destinations.
What we noticed in these whole cruise trip through the alaskan shore line, channels and villages is that indeed that territory feels wilder in a sense of less manipulated by human of course (man poluted). The mountains with its tall and abundant pine forests besides wild seemed and felt like bear territory. Actually locals in towns such as anchorage and Juneau talk about having bears sneaking in their garbage cans always, where there has being few number of bear attacks towards humans running, cycling, hiking or simply in their homes.
The people are different too, you see another race different to people of the states. These race have more indigenous kind of faces, skimo looking. Also the people are more relaxed. For instance most of the people that worked in the tourism sector offering a product-service or as a tour guide will spend the summer in Alaska and then go back to their places. Most of the people I talked with, have stablished themselves in these territory, searching in Alaska “the last frontier” a place that would deliver wilder outdoor conditions and a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the normal american strict, squared system and they express they all have found that systematic freedom in Alaska.
Some locals say that Alaska is actually less cold than places like Chicago or Lake Michigan, since that zone of the states is hit every winter by arctic wind currents that flow straight through there.
Another fact which ain´t a positive one of Alaska is that, is the state with the highest in-home violence. It has a very high rate of alcoholism and parent abusing. And what I can observe as a pattern that repeats in these kind of regions of the world is: 1. Because of the very little amount of light they get in total on a year, having people stuck in their houses dealing with their vices for a considerable amount of time and 2. I guess is due to a similar effect, when the civilized capitalist system implants itself in to villages of natives. The transition from their native lifestyle to the capitalist systematic lifestyle makes many of them loose coordinates in their values and life paradox, making it easier flush themselves from that situation through alcohol, drugs, violence. These same pattern we can observe it with indigenous mestizage with spaniard-european colonization and still these days in Australia with their aboriginals being lost and segregated in the modern urban system.
So, to conclude with my express observation trough these special place of the earth called Alaska, it is a beautiful strong land that offers a wide variety of outdoor, sporty, extreme activities in its different seasons of the year and some rough but nice culture and people.
Alaska is a wild country and I hope it stays wild.