About a month ago, my family and a few of our friends embarked on one of the best trips of our lives; we ventured to America's Last Frontier—Alaska. It's a trip I'll never forget. I made countless memories there, met many kind strangers who had their own stories to share and soaked in Alaska's rich history and beauty.
Words cannot describe how beautiful the borderline between Canada and Alaska is: mountains and mountains for miles on end. We kicked off our trip in Vancouver, Canada. While the city has a rich, diverse culture of its own, with many Asian and Indian restaurants lined up on its rocky streets, the secret to truly taking in Vancouver's beauty lies in the outskirts of town. The entire city is surrounded by seemingly endless, green mountain ranges. We travelled a few hours outside of town and visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge. From its Treetop Adventure to its cliffwalk and, finally, to its century-old Suspension Bridge (lying 230 feet above the Capilano River), this attraction cannot be missed, and I speak as a true acrophobic. The thrill and fear that ran through my veins as I crossed the bridge and travelled the cliffwalk is indescribable. It felt amazing to breathe such clean and pure air. It felt terrifying to look below and see nothing but the harsh currents of the river crashing onto the jagged rocks.
But more than that, the views are truly something. In addition to the Suspension Bridge, the Sea to Sky Gondola is another can't-miss attraction. A simple 10 to 15 minute ride takes you about 885 meters up through the mountains and gives you a gorgeous view of the Vancouver city, the sea and the mountain range. The last attraction we visited was located within the city—Stanley Park; on a beautiful sunny day, one could spend a good six to seven hours biking or walking through the park. While we did not finish the entire park, we did have quite the adventure biking through its never-ending greenery, before we stopped to grab some lunch in one of its local cafes.
But Vancouver was only the beginning. On our fourth day, we took off on Holland America's cruise ship—The Volendam. We spent three days exploring the large ship, swimming in its pool and sightseeing for hours on the bow. As we neared the coast of Alaska, that's when the chill set in. Standing on the bow of the ship is no simple feat, especially when it's drizzling, cold and windy. But it was worth it. As the mist set in, both sides of the ship were engulfed by blue mountains; once in a while, we would spot a waterfall located in the heart of the valleys. At other times, we would ponder upon the small yachts and fishing boats that would lazily drift with the current. Who in the right mind would be up here, alone?
But then again, weren't we? We were the only cruise ship sifting through these calm water at the time.
The food was, simply put, glorious. There were all sorts of yummy pies and other deserts; there were a variety of main courses including a make-your-own Italian and Mexican bars. The staff was extremely friendly, and I even became acquainted with the pasta man. Our fellow shipmates were beyond kind as well; there were many elderly folk so there were only a handful of children and young couples, but they were all still kind. Out of nowhere, someone would come up to you and strike up a conversation, regardless of how young we were.
We had a stop in the Alaskan capital, Juneau. The small town was made of mainly tourists. For the first hour, we explored its gift shops before it was time for our main adventure that we were all looking forward to—a helicopter ride to one of the glaciers near Mendenhall Glacier. I was lucky enough to snag the seat right next to our pilot.
The site was breathtaking. As we landed on the glacier itself, woah-and-behold, a puppy camp! Well, it was dog-sled camp filled with young puppies who were in training. The experience was unbelievable; my sister and I even got to drive one of the sleds as we learned about how life was up in the glacier. Yes! The trainers live in the camp for six out of the seven days of the week from May to September, before the camp closes due to the onset of their chilly winters.
And finally, after three days of cruising, we debarked in Skagway. We had about three hours to spend in the little town before we would take off on a scenic railway to Fraser. This is where the history lessons began. The most famous story? The Klondike Gold Rush. Throughout our trip, that was the main story. The main adventure. We learned of the perilous dangerous men had to go through such as the hiking icy and snowy mountains and crossing the treacherous currents of the rivers before they made it to the land of gold, Dawson city, only to find out that Dawson, a boom town housing 30,000 people (now a home to only 1,375) was wiped clean of its gold in just a few months before the real news broke out to the rest of the nation. We learned about the heartbreak many men faced when they realized they would have to go home empty handed.
We learned about the number of casualties that took place because many of these dreamers were men who had never even touched a paddle or hiked a mountain. We even learned about several women who started their own businesses through the gold rush, striking it rich in their own ways. But best of all, we saw that many of these people, even though they didn't strike it rich, they still made many memories through their adventures; memories that they would pass down to their children and grandchildren, eventually making a mark on history. As we travelled from Skagway, we made an immigration stop in a little area at the top of a mountain called Fraser and, later, climbed onto a motorcoach before we drove to Whitehorse where we would spend the night. On our trip from Fraser to Whitehorse, we made a few stops. For one, we saw our first bear cub clumsily walking on the side of the streets! We made another stop in front of the "Welcome To The Yukon Territory" sign.
That night in Whitehorse, we ate at a delicious, local Mexican restaurant, the Sanchez Cantina. The next day we were off again. We were heading to Dawson city, where the entire "gold rush" went down; during the eight hour bus ride, we made rest several stops, and the our bus driver told stories about different historical figures of the Klondike Gold Rush. What most of us thought would be a long eight hours, turned out to be pleasant due to the hourly breaks and fun stories.
Dawson is a tiny little town that looks like it came right out of a western cowboy movie. We visited a their local museum and took a stroll on its dirt streets. Fun fact: there's actually only one concrete street that runs through the town. As we were taking a photo in front of the museum, we met a kind young lady who was from Whitehorse. She seemed no older than 30, and she was going on an adventure. Alaska is known as the land of the midnight sun because, during the summer, the sun sets for only one to two hours each night. It's practically always daylight there.
The woman we met was going even further up north to the Arctic Circle where the area experienced approximately 57-58 days of sunlight. The sun almost never sets there during the summer. When we asked her where she would be staying or what her other plans were, she simply said "I honestly don't know, I have my car and that's it." Her car had a tank of gasoline on top and a spare tire in the back. There was probably food and other necessities sitting in the trunk, but other than that, she was going there just to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a month-long daylight. It seemed astonishing, but I admired how she chose to take the minimalistic road.
It seems that for most people there, their motto was "hakuna matata." No troubles, no worries. Day in and day out, people lived to experience the world around them. They don't plan out every little thing like most people do. Even our Canadian waitress at the local cafe spoke of how she enjoyed living up in Alaska. She didn't have an student loan debts, and she didn't really worry about anything else. She enjoyed her job and meeting new people.
We were only halfway through our land tour in Alaska, and I was already learning so much. Not just about its history, but also about its people and its culture. I couldn't wait for what was in store next. The end of the Klondike Gold Rush did not mean the end of our adventure, for there was much else waiting for us at our next stop.
Wait! There's more! Enjoying the adventure so far? There's much more to cover so keep an eye out for the next part where I visit several other beautiful cities such as Fairbanks, Denali and Anchorage!