Alaskan adventure - A magical journey by boat from Sitka to Juneau

Alaskan adventure - A ma

alaska 248 88 (photo credit: )
alaska 248 88
(photo credit: )
It's hard to believe that Sitka was once the capital of Alaska, the largest state in the US. An intimate collection of mainly wooden houses, half a dozen shops, two small hotels, a miniature Russian Orthodox cathedral and a tiny harbor, it doesn't seem much bigger than Motza Illit near Jerusalem, where we live. We wheel our luggage down to the boat, a mere 250 meters from our hotel, before going aboard. The M/V Sea Bird takes 60 passengers, plus half that number of crew and staff through Alaska's inner passages from Sitka to Juneau, today's capital. Organized with total competence by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic magazine, the trip will take us from Glacier Bay in the north to Petersburg in the south. We will see only a small fraction of the enormous area of Alaska, but a fraction rich in plant and animal life. On March 30, 1867, US secretary of state William H. Seward bought Alaska from Russia for a mere $7.2 million. Incredibly, Americans laughed at the deal, terming it "Seward's Folly." It would take almost a century until the vast territory became a full-fledged state. The mind boggles at the thought of Alaska being part of the Soviet Union during the Cold War years, but back to our expedition. Whether hiking in rubber boots through the temperate rain forest, watching a brown bear pouncing on hapless salmon preparing to jump a waterfall, kayaking through the ice flows or getting up close and intimate with sea lions and humpback whales, the cruise is an action adventure that will stay in the memory. The overwhelming feeling is one of humility, for this is nature on a grand scale: towering mountains, vast blue-white glaciers "calving" huge chunks of ice that thunder into the sea, gigantic whales blowing and diving. It leaves you with a feeling of the insignificance of humankind on this enormous globe of ours. The weather alternates between cold and mild, windy and calm, rainy and damp. The contrast between this cool, spacious, vegetation-rich, laid-back northern territory and our own hot, tiny, overcrowded, nervous country could not be more complete. Alaska, we are told, is suffering from drought after the driest summer in decades. The two Israeli members of the expedition could only smile wryly at this information. If only we could magically transport a thousandth of a thousandth of these unlimited waters to our parched country. When not paddling our kayak, clinging to a zodiac rubber dinghy, tramping through the forests or peering incredulously through your binoculars, we are listening to the well-informed and articulate guides. It is a learning experience as well as a vigorous encounter with the elements, a pleasing combination of mental and physical exertion which was challenging, but never excessive. It remains only to add that the cabins were small, but perfectly designed, the food was of the highest standard, our fellow travelers were charming and interesting, the crew members competent and friendly and we had all the ingredients of a marvelous vacation. The writer, a former Jerusalem Post staffer, is a Jerusalem-based author.