It’s 6.30 in the Morning and as you awake, you see the Ship inching towards the port of Wrangell; a 27 miles long tiny city of Alaska that’s reputed to have friendly population albeit less than 2500. This is the third stop of ‘Seabourn Sojourn’ after Ketchikan and Misty Fjords, as mentioned in Part 1.
It’s a clear day but weather in Alaska is notoriously unpredictable. 8.30 am, as you prepare to leave, the ominousness of weather begins to shows. The drizzle compels you to pick your Rain proof Seabourn Jacket and protection for your camera before you proceed to board the 10 seater speed-boat for the day’s excursion to “Anan’s Tongass National Forest”.
Mark, the attractive captain with notable grey stubble, welcomes you on-board with alacrity in an unmistakable English accent. Soon we are on a 35 miles whizzing voyage towards South of Wrangell. In the ensuing one hour, you pass through some exciting picturesque tiny islets and hills filled with tall Red-Yellow Ceaters, Western Himlocks and Sitka Spruce trees. Mark suddenly slows his boat near one such islet and points towards the beautiful set of seagulls perched on its one side and group of harbor seals resting over the other. After few clicks, cruising continues at 45 nautical miles/hour until you reach the foothills of Anan Forest.
Anan Wild Life Observatory
‘Mark’ and ‘Drew’, his associate, now double-up as guides and take you through the scenic ¾ mile trail amidst various species of vascular plants like lichens, mosses and ferns. Bald Eagles on the way make for some excellent pictures. At the end of the trail is a sizable wooden platform with a covered viewing structure over it called “Anan Wild Life Observatory”. Stationed critically over the Anan River you can see the River, replete with Silver Salmons, flowing right below. This place unsurprisingly is therefore an attractive hunting ground for Salmon gourmets like Black Bears, Bald Eagles and Sea Gulls. The cache here is so abundant that every predator invariably returns satiated
Next two hours you spend watching beautiful Bald eagles, their attractive juveniles, snowy Seagulls. Bulky Black Bears come in from every direction to mercilessly pick up a meaty salmon and walk back nonchalantly with struggling salmon clinched in their unforgiving Jaws. Nature’s ceaseless drama of the hunter and the hunted gets increasingly pronounced as Eagles and Sea-Gulls too jostle for their share. Poor hapless Salmons!!
There is no dearth of getting exclusive pictures of this pitiless play. On way back you see cute brown-grey color “Merganzer Fish Ducks” standing on an uprooted tree lying over the Anan River. No sooner you get closer to take their snap-shot, they quickly jump one after the other into the water and swim away, almost teasingly.
Back to Wrangell, you use the spare time prudently by strolling along the ‘Front Street’ of the Town. Visit the acclaimed Museum and learn about the fascinating 1000 year history of Wrangell and its affable inhabitants.
On the 6th day, ‘Sitka’ is where Sojourn parks itself. Fourth halt of this thrilling voyage.
Quick breakfast at the Colonnade on deck 8 and to the Gangway on deck 5 and to the pier, you are ready to board the 50 seater double Decker Catamaran ‘St. Tatiana’. There you go for a three hour excursion on an exciting “Sea Otter & Wild Life Quest”.
Tatiana’s lower deck has complete sitting arrangement with a small cafeteria at the rear. On each seat is placed a binocular for better viewing. On the upper deck, more than half of its area is open to sky; facilitating those with shooting devices to take unhindered pictures.
Michel, the environmentalist on board, exhorts you to keep eyes riveted all around to watch for Sea Otters, Hump-Back Whales, Harbor Seals or Bald Eagles.
Soon on one of the islets on the way, you see a solo ‘Black Tailed Deer’ wandering. Once you get in the deeper part of the Pacific, you see a huge bunch of distinctly colored Sea-Otters floating in a group. The catamaran slows and circles around these fascinating creatures; for their closer view and opportunity for shutterbugs to take their shots.
Further still you enter the area where ‘Hump-Back Whales’ could be spotted. Within minutes you see an enthralling large Grey Whale, in its characteristic manner, swimming its curved body moving up and down the Ocean’s surface and periodically blowing tall fountain of water into the air. After few such motions, it dives down with its ‘tail up’. “Fluke” or “Tail Up”, as it is called, signals that this whale has now dived deep into the water and is not likely to surface soon. (Whales can capably hold breath for up to 15-20 minutes in Water). As little ahead, there’s yet another of this phenomenal animal then another and then a pair of them swim side by side making the spectacle incredibly captivating
At the end of this gripping tour, the catamaran drops you at the port located in the heart of Sitka from where the free bus service can drop you to the commercial port, place where the Cruise Ship is anchored. With time in hand, one can walk around the town looking at shopping stores, restaurants, a church, school, Bishop’s house (that’s now converted in to a museum) and some beautifully colored condominiums.
Back to the Ship, it’s 4.30pm. Sojourn slowly turns towards its next station -‘Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm Fjords’.
Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm Fjords
On the seventh day, passing through the dramatic narrow Fjords at Stephens Passage and carefully maneuvering between hills and gleaming blue icebergs of Endicott Arm, Sojourn parks itself amidst icebergs just at a short distance away from the imposing Sawyer/Dawes Glaciers. The amazing manifestation of Nature in such profound form is absolutely mesmerizing and inexpressible in words.
‘Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm Fjords’ is an ice carved wonderland, created by the melting and retreating of glaciers over thousands of years. This pristine place, an epitome of serenity in wilderness can be termed as one of the most rewarding and humbling experience of this journey. You pat yourself for having judiciously chosen this voyage that enabled you to witness such incredibly captivating sites.
Post breakfast, a 100 seater catamaran wading gently over the jade color Sea, maneuvering between awe-inspiring icebergs takes you further closer to the gleaming blue Dawes Glaciers. On this very short journey you first pass from close to a plunging waterfall. Then you see a group of beautiful sea lions, each with distinctly conspicuous colorful fur, resting atop recently carved scintillating blue-white iceberg. You watch these amazing animals look at you with intrigue as you point your camera lens towards them.
The Catamaran now positions itself just few meters away from this dramatic huge Glacier. I strategically station my camera so as to capture the fleeting moment as a piece of ice separates from the Glacier and falls into the water. But sadly it does not happen. After about 45 minutes the catamaran steers itself towards the other side of the bay.
A few more picturesque waterfalls, a few more breath-taking ice-bergs, Glaciers atop mountains, a few more attractive sea lions, an attractive Tortoise shaped Island and you are back on your ship.
Couple of large pegs of Rum serves as effective antidote for the shivering cold. Continental lunch followed by an alluring presentation on deck 5 on the ‘Trip to Antarctica’, you are back in your Cabin for a welcome siesta.
Sharp at 5 pm, Sojourn resumes its journey moving cautiously out of the Fjords and back in the ocean towards – Haines.
At Haines the weather is abnormally windy. The ferocity of the wind prods the organizers to cancel the day’s excursion – “Scenic Railway to Skagway”. Many of us who had booked on this excursion feel indignant and utterly disappointed. This train journey would have taken us through some beautiful picturesque rugged terrains of Alaska.
But never mind, the next halt was at the capital of Alaska – Juneau, where the authentic Dog Sled ride over the snow covered Norris Glaciers was awaited albeit with folded hands for mercy to the Weather Gods.