Thursday July 21, 2016

We’d all been waiting months for this … and now it was waiting for us! Come Sunday afternoon, somewhat excited, we were welcomed aboard our lovely blue-and-white cruise-ship, the ms Zaandam. And, as we sailed away from Vancouver under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, our long-anticipated Alaskan adventure began.

Ahh, yes, eight pampered days! Bring it ON …

Day 1 at sea gave us the chance to experience shipboard-life to the full. Alaska’s fabled Inside Passage is one of the most scenic sea-lanes in the world, and one of the few where deep-draft vessels can sail close to steep mountain walls. With most of Southeast Alaska accessible only by boat or plane, this route through forested islands, endless wildernesses and sky-splitting peaks is a lifeline to the outside world.

Day 2 saw us waking up in rustic Ketchikan, clinging to the foot of steep hills along the shores of Tongass Narrows. This cheerful fishing town, supported on wooden pilings, with boardwalks and staircases everywhere, claims to be the Salmon Capital of the World. We enjoyed a short drive along the coast to nearby Herring Cove, and (with cameras locked and loaded) we headed out into the dark, spooky Alaskan rainforest, chanting: We’re going on a bear-hunt! We’re going on a bear-hunt! We’re not scared. We’re not scared. Uh-oh …

Actually, the rainforest wasn’t dark and spooky (just a bit wet). And we forgot to do the chanting. But we DID go on a bear-hunt – no kidding! And we weren’t scared (well, maybe just a little).

This region is home to lots of big, free-to-roam black bears. They show up in greater numbers a few weeks from now, gorging themselves on the dead and dying salmon that are currently spawning upriver. We for our part, of course, were NOT free-to-roam (that would be highly dangerous). Instead, we joined an experienced guide on an elevated boardwalk overlooking Eagle Creek.

Eventually we spotted one, a healthy female heading our way, nose-down in the long grass. And then we realised she had two, no, three, grown-up cubs in tow. From our viewing-point above, they looked kind-of roly-poly cute – but Alaska’s black bears are powerful animals, and females with cubs can be very aggressive. We just felt privileged to be allowed briefly into their world.

While keeping one eye out for bears (we spotted several more in the distance), we also kept an eye on the trees-tops, because magnificent bald eagles (brownish juveniles and white-capped adults) are as common as seagulls in these parts.

If black bears and bald eagles didn’t satisfy our yearnings for Alaskan wildlife, the next day sure did …

Tucked away at the end of a fjord, overlooked by the massive Mendenhall Glacier, is Juneau: Alaska’s capital city. And Mad Midlife tourists aren’t the only ones who come visiting. These island-studded waters are also visited, a couple of times each year, by hungry humpback whales and their oversized babies!

A jet-powered catamaran took us out to their feeding grounds, and, before you knew it, we were right amongst them – dozens of the giant majestic mammals – as they came to the surface for air, nostrils gaping and signature humps showing proudly, then dived oh-so-gracefully for food, tail-flukes waving wetly.

It was magic. Pure magic. And while they never came as close as we wished, they got close enough for us to spot the barnacles on their tails and smell the fishy stink on their breath!

To add icing to the cake, one large adult off in the distance performed a crashing leap into the air … and, even further out, a big group of other humpbacks were spotted ‘bubble-net fishing’, working together to drive fish to the surface, then following through with massed, open-mouthed feeding-frenzy.

I told you you’d be green with envy! I was right, eh?

STILL TO COME: Gosh, where do I start? We’ve got gold-rushing (up the White Pass & Yukon Trail) … helicoptering (onto Alaska’s vast icecap) … and glacier-crunching (in the World Heritage Glacier Bay). Whatever else you do, don’t change channels …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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