“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

What do I love about Alaska?

  •  That the weather changes dramatically.
  •  The deep dark colors – greens in the trees, greys in the clouds, blues/grays/greens in the oceans.
  • Spongy ground
  • Wildlife: bears, whales, seals, eagles, etc, etc
  • Being outdoors and doing active things
  • Yummy hearty food and seafood
  • Long hours of daylight
  • Quirky small towns where doors are left unlocked and people are friendly
  • Ferries that offer free showers, and conveniences like towels, blankets, pillows, mattresses and a solarium to put up your tent!
  • Ocean inlets and islands
  • Glaciers!

But the ultimate best thing about Alaska?
  • ·         Picking wild salmon berries and blueberries everywhere I walk

Even better?
  • ·         Putting a wild blueberry inside a wild salmon berry and eating! Yum!!! 

Virgin Mobile

Alaska is beautiful and pretty, and I would love to call my friends and family to tell them all about it. This is why I just bought a minute plan and got the most expensive internet data package possible – all connected in less than an hour in Seattle airport… except Virgin Mobile (my US phone) has no coverage at all in Alaska. What kind of ridiculous company neglects an entire state? 

Vancouver & Vancouver Island, Canada

Getting to Alaska is a bit of a pain. I tried to stop off in Iceland, but that would cut into my Alaska time. It turned out, that the best way to get to Alaska (and be able to do the Inside Passage), was to fly to Vancouver. I booked my ticket on Sunday, to fly on Monday (a tricky thing to explain to customs in Canada!). 

I spent the night in Vancouver in the central YHA hostel, and had a glorious jog around the peninsula early Tuesday morning. Vancouver really is a great city – the psyche all along the West Coast reminds me of New Zealand. It was great to see all the cyclists, especially. Someone in a shop on Vancouver Island said that while Australia is like the US, New Zealand is like Canada. I thought it was an interesting comparison. I suppose, Australia is certainly more state-based and conservative in some ways, and there’s always the little brother complex that both Canada and New Zealand have.

I am always fascinated by the homeless people I see in Canada and the US -- this guy had a teddy bear that he was carrying. How can this happen in a functional society? Would it ever happen in New Zealand?

The other thing that absolutely shocked me were the bunnies on the University of Victoria campus -- they were everywhere. They are considered too cute to be removed and culled and animal rights advocates go nuts when anyone tries. I keep saying that they need a rabbit eating culture like Britain to ensure they all disappear. It's ridiculous because cats are kept inside, dogs are kept on a leash and so they have gone crazy without any predators.

Anyway, I visited Carole on Vancouver Island and she took me around Victoria – a beautiful city. See below for pictures of the harbor and the totems outside the fantastic museum. We also had a lovely lunch outdoors with atmospheric ivy leaves around us. The last picture is of the beaches with their amazing logs -- Carole said it's illegal to take wood from a beach now, but they were so large and there were so many of them, I was quite surprised.

Friday, July 02, 2010

To Pack or Wheel?

I had two questions as I packed for Alaska the night before my departure. Do I take a pack or a wheeling suitcase, and should I take my hiking boots? As it was last night drinks and of course the world cup match, I was out with friends and asked their opinion. They said take a pack and don’t take hiking boots and unfortunately, I now disagree with both!! A temperate rain forest means wet and mud, and soaking feet yesterday means that I wished I had my hiking boots (though I do agree they are heavy).

As for the pack, this caused me more turmoil. The last time I used my pack, I was still at university. It’s a fabulous pack and it was all part of the traveler I was then. However, I have had a wheeling suitcase ever since, and never thought to go back. There are certain places that require it, like India and Africa where walking and travelling is rougher, but did I really need it for Alaska? It is true I was a backpacker, and I had my yoga mat/bed roll and sleeping bag. I stopped short of the tent that would have completed the image, but I was definitely the sort of person who would normally have a pack.

So I packed my gear into my pack. I picked it up, groaned at its weight (I tend to overpack), cursed, swore, bitched, moaned and groaned to myself, ‘Do I really want to be heaving this everywhere for the next month?’ I thought about it some more, then decided to unpack it all and put it into a suitcase (it’s 2am by this point and my airport pickup was coming at 4). I went to sleep and tossed and turned (for all of an the hour that it was). All sorts of self-challenging questions arose. Was I still able to be a true backpacker or had I gotten soft? Was I too old to be a backpacker? I remembered the time in Pakistan when the hostel owner told me he expected me to leave because I wasn’t the right “type” for a hostel. I thought about whether having a wheeling suitcase was the lazy option. But then I remembered that that particular suitcase had a broken handle so would need repacking anyway. I decided it must be fate and repacked it back into the pack, cursing more all the while.

So how long did I last with a pack? 3 days. I went to Walmart on Vancouver Island and bought a wheeling suitcase that fit the pack and all else. Pathetic isn’t it!? However, when I am riding ferries that have elevators/lifts and everywhere I am going has nice concrete footpaths and taxis if I wish them, I will enjoy my wheels and save the pack for India and the tropics and another trip.