Alaska and the Yukon
Alaska and the Yukon
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Day 11: 06 June 2000
I wake up really late this morning, it's already 9.45, so I have to hurry in order to get something to eat in the cafeteria. Rien is still sleeping, so I quietly take a shower and get dressed and then head to the cafeteria which is open for only 5 more minutes. I buy breakfast for two, so that I can take the remaining to Rien later on. Around 11.00 I return to the berth and Rien is still sleeping, so I put the breakfast on a chair and go to the forward lounge. In there I meet the Australians again, we talk some more about what their plans are for the rest of their trip in Alaska. No whales have been sighted yet this morning. At 12.00 I go back to our berth to see if Rien is still alive. He has been awake for half an hour now and was just getting ready to get dressed. He eats part of the breakfast and takes the rest with him to the forward lounge.

Taku to the rescue
Around 12.15 Rien is on his way back to our cabin to put away his sunglasses because outside it is heavily clouded again. In the meantime I go outside to look for some more whales, but instead of whales I see another ship in the distance. First thought is that it is a cruise ship of Holland Amerika Line, but as we get closer, I notice through my 17x magnification binoculars, that it is another Alaska Marine Highway System ferry: the Columbia. As we get closer we notice the Columbia is dead in the water and there also is a US Coast Guard ship just behind it.

On the Taku's PA system it is anounced that we're gonna wait here to see if we can be of any assistance to the Columbia, which has had an engine room fire. From the Taku a speedboat is launched with some of the fire fighting crew. After a while it is clear that the Columbia isn't going anywhere, so everyone is advised that we are going to take Columbia's passengers aboard and that all Taku passengers should stay clear of the cardeck and the staircases. The Taku is positioned next to the Columbia and through the cardeck entrance on the sides of the ships all the passengers are transferred.

From one of the Columbia passengers we find out that they were on their way from Juneau to Bellingham (Washington State) and they had only left the Juneau port three hours before they realised something serious was going on. All the alarms went off and it was announced that this was no drill. Soon after that all electricity went off and all the hallways went dark. Not that much later our ship, the Taku, came to the rescue.

Around 16.00 all passengers were transferred to our ferry and now the Taku had to tow the Columbia away from the nearby shore because the tug boats couldn't arrive in time for that. Everyone had to clear the aft decks while the Columbia was being towed away in case any of the lines would snap. And then after about 15 minutes she was on her own again. After that a Coast Guard helicopter came close to the Taku to evacuate an injured or sick person. The scheduled stop in Hoonah was cancelled and we would now go directly to Juneau, so despite the delay we will even be one hour earlier in Juneau than originally scheduled.

At 19.30 we arrive in Juneau, all passengers with cars on the cardeck have to get off the ship first, so we are among the first to come ashore. It is still raining but we decide to go have a look at the famous Mendenhall glacier anyway. As expected most of the glacier is wrapped in clouds, but we do see some of its features and we take a couple of pictures. The glacier is still a couple of miles from downtown Juneau, so after we visit the glacier we continue in the Juneau direction.

Along the road we encounter a Fred Meyer and we both like to spend some money after being on a boat for the last 50 or so hours. I buy some Alaska souvenirs and Rien buys a new pair off binoculars after the previous has been damaged. After that we visit downtown, but all stores are closed and there is absolutely no-one on the streets, so we leave downtown soon. We drive back to Fred Meyer and make a phone call home. It is now almost midnight, so we decide to return to the ferry terminal and park our car there on the parking lot, waiting for the boarding of the 5.00 ferry to Skagway. Columbia still hasn't returned yet to the dock, so I walk inside the ferry offices to see if there is any news about Columbia. I can't find anything about the ferry. When I ask about the best place to park our car for the 5 o'clock ferry, they tell me that one has been cancelled due to Columbia. We are now booked on the 18.30 ferry to Skagway. Of course we're not gonna wait for that long on the parking lot, so we have to look for a hotelroom. Because of all the Columbia passengers being put in hotels and because of the late hour we have to try several hotels before we finally find one that has a room available. We're staying in the Frontier Suites hotel.
Day 12: 07 June 2000
I have set the alarm clock for 8.30, but Rien, who's already awake by that time, discovers that it doesn't work. Not that it really matters, because we don't have to be at the ferry terminal any earlier then 16.30, but we do have to check out of the hotel before 11.00. We take a shower and get dressed. Because of the cancelled ferry we now have a couple of hours to visit Juneau by daylight. Sadly it's still raining, which isn't very good for the cameras or electronic devices in general. In the Juneau port there are three cruise ships moored off. Two Holland Amerika Line ships, the Volemdam and the Statendam and one P&O ship, the Ocean Princess. The cruise terminal is right in the downtown area, so that's kind of neat.

The downtown area is now more lively with all the cruise passengers and other tourists. But even though the buildings and streets are really nice, the shops don't have much to offer. Every shop after another sells the same souvenirs. It is more than likely that the entire city shuts down when the cruise ship season is over. At the public library we inform about the possibilities to use the internet. According to one of the librarians they do offer internet access, but to use it we have to sign in on a waiting list, which is already booked full for today.

In the afternoon we have lunch at McDonald's and after that we go back to the ferry terminal. Apparently Columbia arrived at 7.30 this morning and is now lying dead in the water at the dock. Boarding for our ferry, the M/V Kennicott, should start at 16.30, but it takes forever to unload all the cars arriving to Juneau. Finally at 18.00 boarding starts and the at 20.25 after nearly a two hour delay we leave the Juneau port. By the time we leave, it has finally stopped raining after 3 days of rain.

First stop is the city of Haines and then we go to Skagway. We arrive in Skagway at 3.00 in the morning. Not a very pleasant time to arrive. It's too late for a motel and Skagway itself is not much of a city. Most of the buildings are in an old Western style, but of course there isn't much to do at this time of day. It's already starting to get light again, so we decide not to stay in Skagway. We immediately start driving towards Whitehorse in Canada. The first part through the Alaska mountains is extremely foggy, so we can't drive very fast. But as we reach the Canadian border the sky clears up and it actually looks like we'll be having a nice day.
Day 13: 08 June 2000
We reach Whitehorse at 6.45, all shops are still closed, but a Tim Horton's restaurant is already serving breakfast, so that's where we eat. After having a donut and a muffin plus a large coffee, to stay awake, we continue our way back to Anchorage. From Whitehorse to Tok is the same highway we took last week but then in the opposite direction. Not much has changed except that the number of road work sites has increased, so that means more delays.

Around noon we arrive in Beavercreek near the Canadian-US border. All flags are hanging half mast, so there must be some memorial today. There is no need to stop at the Canadian customs so when we reach the US immigration we ask the American officer why the flags were hanging half mast, but he has no idea. From the border to Tok is only about two more hours of driving, so we reach Tok just after 2 o'clock. It is still early, but we have had a long day and we know Young's Fast Eddy motel and restaurant is a good place to stay, so we decide to stay here.

First thing we do, after we check in and get our key from the frontdesk, is put our luggage inside the motel room. Rien has to email some of his done work to the office, so we walk to the Alaska Cyber Hub, the local internet cafe. The cafe is about 500 meters from the motel and it's supposed to be open until 8 o'clock tonight, but when we get there the owner is supposedly lunching until 15.30.

Across the street there is a visitor and tourist information center, so we go there instead. We get several brochures about the Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National park, because we have to decide where to go next, before we head back to Anchorage. Kenai Fjords looked more interesting and this was also already on the itinerary, but we had made no reservations yet so all options were still open. Next to the visitor center is also the community library, so we go in there to find out whether they have yesterday's newspaper with possible some information about the Columbia ferry incident. The local newspaper apparently is one from Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. Both today's and yesterday's newspaper have articles about the incident, so we get copies of those. Actually the librarian is very kind and lets us have both newspapers. Of course we make a small donation to the local library fund.

By now it has already been 15.30, so we try the internet cafe again, and this time the owner is indeed there. Internet usage costs $3,00 for the first 20 minutes, so that's not too expensive. After reading and writing some emails we go back to the motel. We take a shower and put on some fresh clothes, it has been a long day after all. After looking some more through the brochures from the visitor center we decided to take a tour with Kenai Fjords tours. I give them a call and it's no problem to get tickets for the June 10th, 10 o'clock sailing. Lodging might be a problem, the B&B that Kenai Fjords Tours tried to reserve for us was already booked full, but we'll make that tomorrow's problem. For now we can at least have the tour.

We go to Fast Eddy's restaurant to have dinner. I have a delicious New York steak with salad bar and a baked potato, and Rien has an excellent spaghetti meal. Fast Eddy's is indeed a very good restaurant we conclude. After returning to our room we watch some television and then go to sleep early. It has been a long day.
Day 14: 09 June 2000
Because of yesterday's tiring day, we hadn't set the alarm clock. So when we woke up around 9 o'clock we have had a good night's sleep. Once more we went to Fast Eddy's restaurant, this time for breakfast. From Tok to Anchorage is about 350 miles, so that will take around 7 or 8 hours to get there. Then from Anchorage to Seward is another 2.5 hours. Because of the uncertain situation about lodging in Seward we decide to drive to Anchorage and take a motel there.

The road to Anchorage passes through some of the most beautiful areas of Alaska we have seen so far. Absolutely breathtaking scenery along the Glenn Highway, only too bad that we couldn't stop for photos at the best locations. There is a lot of roadwork in between Glennallen and Palmer, and because of the moutainous roads, it is also difficult to pass other cars, but despite that we manage to get to Anchorage at a decent time.

Around 17.30 we drive into town and because the Rodeway Inn motel, where we stayed before, is almost at the beginning of the city, we try to get a room there. Apparently tourist season has now actually started, because the rooms are now $120 instead of $68,50 and they also have just one twin bedroom left. We don't want to search all over town for another room that's probably just as expensive, so we decide to take it for the next two nights.

When we drove into Anchorage we saw a large shopping mall, so we go and see what the foodcourt has to offer. Our appetite is for some Asian food, but despite the size of the shopping mall there is no real food court. Inside there is an Arby's restaurant and Baskin & Robbins icecream and outside there is a Burger King and that's about it. We do some shopping first and then go eat at Arby's. Inside the shopping mall there is also an internet cafe and it offers ADSL speed access, so we surf at blazing speed to our email. I also check the Discount Hotel website to see whether the rates for the Rodeway Inn have indeed gone up to $120 and they have, so we were just lucky two weeks ago, to get a room for $68,50. Despite the fact that we have to get at 5 o'clock tomorrow to drive to Seward, we don't go to sleep befote 1 o'clock, so that's going to be a short night.
Day 15: 10 June 2000
The wake up call works like a charm, so at 5 o'clock we're rudely awakened from our short night sleep. Let's hope it's all worth it. Just a couple of blocks from the motel, on our way to the Seward Highway, we stop at a Carrs grocery store to get some breakfast. Then at 6.30 we are on our way to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage. A little over two hours later we arrive in Seward, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. We quickly locate Kenai Fjords Tours in the small ship harbor and get our tickets. Boarding will start at 9.30, so we have some time to look around.

In the harbor lies the cruise ship Sea Princess which we also encountered, coming from Skagway, when we took the ferry from Juneau to Skagway a couple of days ago. There are also a tremendous amount of RV's standing along the shoreline, a lot or maybe even all of them come here to do some serious fishing. It also started raining again, that must have something to do with us getting near a boat again.

At 9.30 we board The Greatland, one of Kenai Fjords Tours vessels. The boat is pretty much sold out and there isn't room enough for everyone to sit inside. On the top deck there is also a covered area to hide from the raining, but it's a lot colder there because it is in open connection with the outer deck. Initially we sit inside, but because we want to have the best view possible for seeing wildlife, we move to the upper deck.
We have only just left the harbor when captain Joe spots a couple of sea otters in the water. The captain will try to give everyone an equal opportunity to view whatever wildlife we encounter, so after showing the otters on the right side of the boat, the boat is turned around for viewers on the left side of the boat. Being on the open upper deck we get a double viewing opportunity. Next on the wildlife menu is a bald eagle sitting in a tree on the nearby shore. We have already seen a lot of them in the past two weeks, but this is the first time we can observe one from up close, what an impressive bird!

Our tour also includes a salmon bake, so after about an hour we arrive at Fox Island, where Kenai Fjords Tours has a resort. The buffet style salmon bake includes rolls, corn on the cob, rice and of course barbecued salmon. It tastes great and the best part is you can eat as much as you want, as long as you return to the boat within 50 minutes. After the salmon bake we continue our trip, which eventually will take us to the Holgate glacier. Along the way we stop for many humpback whales, killer whales, sea lions and many kinds of birds.

The Holgate glacier is also very interesting to see. As we watch it, several chunks of ice come crashing down into the water. After visiting the glacier we start on the return journey towards Seward, stopping several more times for humpback whales. One time we are observing one that swims very close to the shore and then all of a sudden it breaches out of the water. That was amazing, up till now we only had seen their backs and tails. Luckily I was just pointing my camera in the right direction, only too bad it wasn't fully zoomed in and also a little out of focus.

Around 18.30 we arrive back in Seward after an excellent boat trip. Thank you Kenai Fjords tours! After yesterday's failure to find a Chinese restaurant, we now have more luck in Seward. The food is not bad, but one thing is for sure, they don't like people taking up seats and tables for too long. After about 30 minutes we are standing outside the restaurant again!

Rien drives back to our motel in Anchorage and I have a hard time staying awake in the car. When we arrive at the motel, I immediately go to bed.





Day 16: 11 June 2000
As we wake up the sun is shining and the sky is all blue, so it will be a beautiful day today. Today is also our last day in Alaska, time to look around in Anchorage and to do some last minute shopping. We go to the same shopping mall where we went two days ago. We first buy our breakfast at Safeway, the usual again: orange juice, chocolate milk, Long John maple glaced pastry and a couple of rolls. After that we go to the mall entrance only to find out it won't open until 12 o'clock because it's sunday. No problem, the nearby K-mart and Sam's are open so we go there first. I buy a couple of DVD's at Sam's, which are cheaper than I would have gotten them from an internet store. Who said Alaska is expensive? Then after looking around at K-mart it has become noon, so we head back to the mall. We want to do some more emailing and surfing at the ADSL internet cafe, but we find out it won't open at all on sunday. So much for the mall.

We start to drive around in Anchorage and after a while we drive by a park and there is a car show going on there. We park the car one block further and walk back towards the car show, which turns out to be a free exhibition by an Alaskan classic car club. We see many interesting cars like an old T-Ford and also a lot of cars from the fifties and sixties. After nearly an hour of walking along all the cars we have seen it all and have taken all the pictures we want.

We now go to the downtown area Anchorage. We enter another very large mall and there in a Footlocker store I'm actually able to find a nice pair of shoes in my size (15). That was one of the last things I would have expected to find in Alaska, especially since there aren't that many oversized people around. Most of the native eskimos are small. So this has been an excellent shopping day. A pair shoes this size also means that there's no more room left in my luggage to buy even more, so we call it quits.

Around 17.30 we drive to an Outback Steakhouse restaurant to have one final feast meal before our vacation ends. We have an ice chilled Foster's beer and as an appetizer we take the famous Bloomin' onion and our main course consists of an 20 ounce Porterhouse steak with House Salad and Aussie Fries. Outback is one of the best chain restaurants we have ever been in the States, I can't wait for them to come to the Netherlands. Recently two have opened in Germany, so maybe I should go to Germany soon.

After our dinner at Outback it is around 7 o'clock so we stil have some hours to go before we have to go to the airport around 11, so we decide to catch a movie. In the nearby theatre I spotted yesterday there isn't anything interesting playing, so we look further for another theater. All the way in the south of Anchorage we find the Dimond Centre movie theater, which has Mission: Impossible 2 playing, so we decide to pick that movie.
After M:I-2 it's almost 10 o'clock, so there is not much time left to do something else then go to the airport. We turn in our rental car and check in. The plane isn't full so I have arranged window seats on the left side of the plane so that we will have a nice view of the mountains as we fly south.
Day 17: 12 June 2000
At 1.00 (Alaska Time) our flight to Seattle takes off and indeed we have a nice view from our window. First of the city of Anchorage and then of the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula. As we fly further south the clouds start to thicken and we lose our view of the mountains, it also gets darker as we move further away from the arctic. I try to catch some sleep, but as usual I'm too tall and my head sticks out above the plane seat, so it's not really possible to sleep.

At 5.00 (Pacific Time) we arrive in Seattle, we now have to wait till 8.30 before our next flight to Atlanta leaves. In the book shop I buy a sequel to a book about Area 51 and I start reading to kill the time. Our flight to Atlanta leaves right on time and we arrive there around 4 o'clock, which gives us about an hour to get to the other terminal and have something to eat before boarding for the next flight begins. At 17.55 the plane to Amsterdam should leave, but as it turns out it is the very same plane we had on the first day and again it has some engine trouble. Luckily this time the problem can be solved within half an hour. Of course we are now flying economy class and that is one big difference from the Business Elite class. First of all my knees are stuck against the seat in front of me and the seats are also a lot smaller. Food however is still very good. Not as good as Business class, but still much better than on the inland flights of Delta.

The onboard films suck big time and of course I can't sleep, so I read most of my book. When we get to Amsterdam, the plane can't land right away because of some fog problem. We circle around for half an hour before the pilot finally can land the plane. Then after going to immigration we have to wait for almost one and a half hour before all our bags have come from the belt. We have no idea what happened, but of course this isn't very usual for Schiphol airport. Luckily we don't get searched at customs, so with meeting our families we conclude this very beautiful but also troublesome trip.
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© Copyright 2000 Raymond de Hilster