Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Betty and Norma take a holiday: South-east Alaska (28th July - 4th Aug '10)

We spent a day and night in the great little town of Haines; then travelled by ferry to Juneau and plane to Gustavus. We had an awesome ferry ride, it was a fantastic day and we saw humpback whales, porpoise, stunning mountains views.. and this was just the travel day to our treat to ourselves - a five-day kayak trip in Glacier Bay National Park, South-East Alaska.

At Gustavus we camped out in Bartlett Cove in the Tongass Rainforest, and then the following morning we met our kayaking group and headed off into Glacier Bay. Neither Jules nor I had done any serious kayaking before so we wanted to go on our first trip with a guide, but we were dreading the idea of a group trip because we weren't sure what it would involve, and what the others would be like (I was imaging an episode of Survivor.. whiney girls and men on steroids intriguing behind each others backs). Luckily we had an awesome tour company, the Alaskan Mountain Guides, and a fantastic group of people, 10 other people all with great personalities that made the trip totally worth it!
We had two guides; Sarah the hula-hooping champion who had us hip-swinging all over the Bay and then topped off our final day with a circus display of hula-hooping IN the kayak, and Cowboy Dan with his infectious enthusiasm for Glacier Bay and life in general; then there was the Lanza family: mum, dad and the two kids who impressed us with their adventurous life and their fantastic stories (plus introduced us to peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for which we will ever be grateful!); Kris, the sports nutritionist who made Jules and I eat ridiculous amounts of food the entire trip (not that we were complaining!) and Presley her niece who was not only going to be a doctor but a damn-good hula-hooper as well; and Mike and Arlie who were a bunch of fun and spent the whole trip capturing bits of floating glacier-ice to put in their evening vodka.
We spent the trip kayaking through the pristine waters of Glacier Bay, checking out the plethora of glaciers that dot the aptly-named bay, camping on beautiful beaches, eating great food and giving our arms a work-out and our bike-legs a rest.
One of the best days of the trip was a day spent kayaking through the ice-strewn waters of John Hopkins Inlet with still waters, blue sky, sunshine and stunning views. As we kayaked through the ice we checked out the seals sunning themselves on floating chunks of glacier. The backdrop to the day was the stunning wall of blue ice, which reached across the end of the inlet and up into the valley behind, crowned above by 3 snow-capped peaks. The glacier was restless when we were in the inlet, making deep “white thunder noises” regularly and sending chunks of ice crashing into the water. It was awesome to see the glacier calf and see what a dynamic and constantly changing force it is. We pulled up the kayaks on Black Sand Beach, a sheltered beach overlooking the glacier, made up of fine black sand with white chunks of ice strewn along the high tide line. In the background a waterfall the colour of chocolate milk cascaded down from an invisible glacier up above. We spent the day sunning ourselves and (of course) practising our hula hooping.
Our other very important activity of the trip was stone skimming, which evolved into a competition on the final day. Jules, of course, was brilliant at it and so was Mike (actually I think anyone that can make a stone jump across the water instead of falling straight down with a gigantic sploosh is completely brilliant!). Arli and I were equally crap so we declared a Division 2 competition, but I think Arli had been holding out on me, because in the competition she threw an awesome 12-skimmer, changing the face of our “who can make the biggest splash” competition.
The trip was an absolute blast, great people, great scenery and a new-found love for kayaking. Jules was seriously talking about trading Betty and Norma in for a couple of kayaks... but then when I got excited and said “Yeah and we can kayak all the way back to Vancouver!!” she decided we should stick to cycling as at least we aren't likely to drown or get hypothermia from falling off our bicycles.
 The day after we returned from our kayaking trip we went whale watching at Point Andolphus, where the whales come to play in the summer. We saw humpback whales cruising the oceans, and doing their crazy bubble feeding. We then had one whale come right up to the boat and jump around like a young kid. He seemed like he was having such a blast and we watched him for about an hour, tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping, breaching....
Following our commune with the whales we headed to Juneau for a night and then back to Haines. One night back in Haines I had had a massive hot chocolate too close to going to bed (yes I am becoming an old lady, and have to worry about such things), so I woke in the middle of the night with a full bladder. Usually whenever I have to get up in the middle of the night and get out of my sleeping bag, cursing, and then fall out the tent, still cursing, Jules doesn't stir, but tonight she decided she would come too. So we scrambled out of the tent and did what we needed, and then I happened to look up and saw the sky was having a disco! We didn't know what was happening - curtains of white and green, crazy swirls and waves of colour across the sky, the whole sky looked like it was alive. The display was so spectacular we were open-mouthed, staring at the sky. I said “could that be the northern lights, can we even see them here, this time of year, or this far south?” We found out the next morning it was the Northern Lights, an unseasonal display of the lights... we were so lucky to be in the right place (peeing) at the right time (disco time!).
We reunited with Norma and Betty in Haines, decided not to swap them for kayaks, and caught the ferry to Skagway..... Welcome to Disneyland. When we arrived in town there were four cruise boats in, which meant that there were thousands of extra people in town. The town itself looked like one of the “pioneer towns”in Disneyland, full of jewellery shops (owned by the cruise companies), ice-cream shops and “olde style bars”. When we arrived there were so many people on the streets and Julesly and I wondered stunned at the sheer weight of commercialism and tourists.
Someone had offered for us to camp in their back yard, so when all the cruise-ship passengers had headed back to their buffets and their fancy cabins we ate our pasta on a picnic bench and set up our tent on the lawn amongst the dog poo.

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