Friday, July 20, 2007

Cruising to Alaska

Day 2 of a luxury cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage via Alaska's Inside Passage. The scenery is starting to be amazing. The color palette is so different here than in Las Vegas. It's all silvers, grays, whites and greens. The sky is wintry even though it's July. The evergreens that blanket the land whenever we see land are tall and ramrod straight, packed into ranks, but also frilly, like uniformed rows of soldiers with profusions of monochromatic medals dangling from their shoulders and chests.

There's something very romantic and frontier-like about the Inside Passage. The scale is enormous and it's all about nature; at sea, nothing (but us) indicates human habitation or endeavor. It's hard not to feel like explorers arriving for the first time. Of course, they didn't arrive on 12-story cruise ships complete with four on-board restaurants nor were they met the moment they stepped ashore in what is now Ketchikan by Visitor Information Centers or fish & chip vendors. Still, Alaska has a pristine quality that even touristy curio shops and jewelry stores can't diffuse. Nature seems paramount: bright, blue-gray skies; ascending tiers of evergreens rising up to mountain peaks, treetops shrouded in what looks like steam, but is actually the trailing fingers of piles of silver-gray clouds; wooden structures so weatherbeaten that they seem not manmade, but like indigenous, and very small, parts of the landscape. And water everywhere, looking even in the peaceful harbors more like the intimidating Atlantic than the laid-back Pacific of further south.

Yesterday, while we were at sea, no land in sight, the sun came out for a couple hours. We sat on our balcony at the rear of the ship (or, more nautically, aft) and watched the sun glint off the waves created by the ship's wake. Suddenly, we saw a whale playing in the wake! This was a sight so remarkable that even though it was plainly visible to our naked eyes, we raced for our binoculars to make sure. Yup, a whale, cavorting like a happy puppy with the added extra feature of a blowhole from which it could occasionally and apparently ecstatically spout plumes of vapor. Welcome to Alaska.

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