The Tracy Arm Surprise
Going to Alaska felt as if we were we going on an adventure. A bit like the Wild West of the North, I suppose.
We boarded the Norwegian Jewel in Seattle and set sail to the North leaving that fabulous city behind. The Space Needle was visible on the skyline long after we’d left the port.
Life on board was excellent, like on most cruise ships whatever the company, but Norwegian ships just seems to have that extra fun factor.
The cabin was well equipped; the bed was comfortable, and the cabin had a balcony, although we didn’t expect to use it a lot the farther north we cruised.
After a day at sea and some fabulous fresh salmon on the first evening, we arrived in Ketchikan, and it was indeed like being on the frontier. We were embarking on an adventure.
The adventure continued because we had arranged a flight on a float plane, our very first experience, in a small amphibian aeroplane.
There were just the pilot and the two of us, which made the flight even more agreeable. Before we’d had a chance to experience any stress, the plane was taxiing along the water picking up speed for take-off.
The water was calm, and before we knew it we were in the air and speeding towards our destination.
It was grey, cloudy and misty but this added, rather than subtracted, to the experience. Somehow it would have felt a bit strange if the sky had been blue with bright sunshine.
We flew for about an hour watching the forests and lakes below, taking pictures and chatting with the pilot. Then, too soon, we were on our descent back to the port of Ketchikan and landed softly like a big bird.
The sensations in a float plane are different than in a helicopter, and the vintage feel of the cockpit added yet another dimension to our escapade.
The next port was Juneau and another full day ahead of us.
We made a short hike through the temperate rainforest, eleven kilometres from Juneau, with a naturalist photographer as our guide. She gave us information on the fauna and flora and tips on aperture and shutter speeds.
Although it wasn’t raining, we were glad to have our waterproof ponchos as we advanced through the forest towards our first destination.
We were on our way to the Mendenhall Glacier, but we had no idea of what we were going to see. Sometimes you try to lower your expectations to avoid disappointments, and seeing a glacier was one of these occasions.
As we cornered the bend to the viewing area, the sight before us made us catch our breaths and we looked at each other speechless taking in the beautiful icy panorama before us.
The glacier was full of shades of blue and several pieces had detached and were floating on the water. The ice field extended towards the horizon majestically. I hadn’t dared to imagine such a spectacular sight.
We took as many photos as we could and walked back to the coach that had taken an alternative route to pick us up and it transported us back to the port where a small boat was waiting for us.
Now it was time to do some Whale watching. Once again, to avoid disappointment our expectations about actually seeing whales were low. Due to the unpredictability of wildlife we were warned that sightings were a possibility, but couldn’t be guaranteed.
Modern boats, however, are well equipped to detect shoals of marine life, and after only twenty minutes or so several Orca emerged from the water.
I was so excited that several of my photos missed their targets, but my wife took photos effortlessly and captured each opportunity like a professional.
After seeing the Orcas, we continued farther from the shore making large circles, and the captain kept in touch with other vessels by radio.
Fairly soon we saw the telltale signs of a whale, as a spout of water erupted from the sea, followed by the arch of the whale and then the enormous tail as it dived back under. It wouldn’t reappear for several minutes, if at all, so it was a waiting game of scrutinising the horizon for further sightings.
We saw and took photos of many whales, and once again were not disappointed by the generous Alaskan nature.
Unfortunately, it was time to head back to the cruise ship. I could have stayed for hours more.
The captain had remained discreet, probably from experience, about our next destination and it was only late in the evening, that he made an announcement. We would be cruising into the Tracy Arm Fjord, seventy-two kilometres south of Juneau, the next morning. Bad weather had prevented ships from entering the fjord over the previous few days, but he was confident that he could navigate the ship into the fjord safely.
After a hurried breakfast, I was early on deck, as far forward as I could, wrapped up as warmly as possible because it was bitterly cold and windy.
My camera was tucked inside my jacket to keep warm and free from distractions; I was able to drink in the panorama that unfolded before me.
Before long the deck was crowded, and passengers were jostling for position to get the best views.
The Norwegian Jewel almost touched the sides of the fjord as it advanced, edging it’s way in slow motion to our destination at the head of the fjord.
We were twisting this way and that with no clear view of where we were going.
Each bend in the fjord held its own surprise.
Then, around the very last bend, we arrived at one of the greatest sights I have ever seen; The majestic Sawyer Glacier.
I didn’t think I would see such a panorama one day, and I was excited and elated, just like when I was a little kid discovering a toy with my favourite sweets at the bottom of a lucky bag.*
I took photo after photo, before returning to our cabin, and I still have the image in my mind of opening those cabin doors onto the balcony, to see the Sawyer Glacier just a few metres away.
What a surprise and what memories to treasure.
(*) There were girls and boys lucky bags containing sweets and a surprise toy in each packet. I used to buy one with my pocket money when I was a kid.
This is the third part of a series of travel tales.
- How I went to Brazil
2. Flight over Table Mountain
3. The Tracey Arm Surprise
4. The Lone Piper
5. My Vanuatu Swim
6. Breakdown in Peru
7. It Takes Two to Tango
8. The Bali Run
9. Almost the Northern Lights
10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World
This is day 30 of the my500words 31 day challenge. Tomorrow is the last day and I will deliver my conclusions.