If that isnít early. We take just a small cookie and some coffee to wake up and then in to the airport.
There is light at the office of LAB Flying Services, thank goodness! Clearly, we are not the only early birds. Another plastic cup of coffee swills out the sleepy feeling. Some necessary formalities are being accomplished: name, nationality and weight are noted down carefully. For those not knowing their weight, there is always a balance, so no excuses.
The Piper Six 300 is ready and waiting on the tarmac. Gill, our pilot, checks the passenger list and decides who takes place where. For us itís not that important, everyone has windows seats, but for Gill itís a matter of stability of the plane. Her instructions are to be followed. I get the co-pilotís seat but Iím not supposed to touch anything, obviously.
After receiving the safety instructions and what to do in case of emergency (if there would be something left to do), we take off to Gustavus.
Gill informs us that the flight will take about 45 minutes. So, itís not too long for our first time in such a small plane. And fortunately, because due to air pockets the plane is being shaken up violently.
In spite of this turbulence and also cold feet it is an unforgettable flight. The view is fantastic. We fly over the Lynn Canal, a fjord of about 80 miles long between Skagway en Juneau. Meanwhile, the sun brakes slowly through the clouds.
On our right-hand we perceive the Davidson Glacier. Itís twisting between the slopes of the Chilkat Range and then flows out into the fjord.
We cross Sullivan Island and admire on our left-hand the Kakuhan Range, Berners Bay and the Coast Mountains behind it.
Itís rush hour on the Gustavus airstrip. A dozen of bush planes are gathered to drop off their passengers at the air terminal, just a small shelter to protect against rain and wind. A bus is taking us to the Glacier Bay Lodge situated at Bartlett Cove, the entrance to Glacier Bay.
The lodge is actually a quite luxury hotel.
A sumptuous breakfast buffet is tempting us, but that was most likely the intention of the early flight. Anyway, for only 11$ we may take as much as we want and the fact that we havenít had yet a breakfast this morning, we canít refuse such an offer.
We have to wait now. Meanwhile, the weather has cleared up and the view from the lounge would be splendid if the trees in front of the windows werenít too high.
While we enjoy the open fire, a hummingbird comes flying in front of the window. I thought these birds preferred a tropical climate, but it seems they like Alaska too.
The lounge has a sixties style. It looks like the perfect place for a Hitchcock movie. The leading character Cary Grant has an appointment with a mysterious person. When this one shows up, a gun is fired unexpectedly and he falls down dead. The suspect runs away and disappears between the trees of the dense wood. Feelings over the incident run high among the hotel guests, while Grant sets off in pursuit. The story offers a lot of opportunities to continue.
We get to know two South-Africans who paddled from Juneau up to here. They spent five days in a kayak, paddled about 100 miles and got rain all the time. Their trip started on Vancouver Island. They paddled as far as Prince Rupert and then took the ferry to Juneau.
Some months ago they travelled in Chile and Argentina by motorbike and their trip isnít over yet. It must be great to set out on such a journey without any pressure of time...
A guy at the entrance yells that the bus for Gustavus Dock has arrived. We suppose that we have to be on it if we want to see some whales. The bus is like the one in Denali, an American type of school bus and certainly not a recent version. Because of the bad road condition we are shaken up and windows of the bus fall open continuously. The passengers at the window seats are permanently occupied with closing them but it doesnít work. Some give up their attempts and that causes an unpleasant cold draught. Other passengers are not happy at all with the situation. The bus driver is again a talkative guy. He apologises for the discomforts of the ride and tries to create a good atmosphere by telling some funny stories about Gustavus. Such as the road on which we drive is called here Ďthe Roadí. Any other road or track is called Ďthe Other Roadí, whatever road is meant. Itís just a matter of understanding each other.
Someone gets worried and asks the driver if this is really the bus for the Whale Watching Tour, as this looks like the road to the airstrip!
ďNo panicĒ, he says, ďthe dock is close to the airstrip and as I told you there is only one main raid in Gustavus. So, itís obviously the same!Ē
Gustavus Dock looks deserted. I didnít expect anything else, tall ships are not allowed to moor in this place.
At the end of the wooden pier the whale-watching boat is waiting for us. Itís a typical type of boat: long rows of seats on twe decks and large windows scan the horizon. Our guide and biologist on the spot is Darren. For all questions about birds, fish and geography, you can call on him any time.
While we pass through Icy Strait everyone is searching for whales with great anticipation. And like in Denali, wherever you look, you always think it will happen on the opposite side.
It seems to be a bad moment for observing seals. At low tide they often lay on the beaches, while at high tide (which is now) they swim around and are difficult to see. But still, we discover three seals swimming around a rock. Only the head is visible and therefore itís not interesting to take a picture.
A whale! He just comes to the surface to breath. After five times he turns his tail into the air and sounds again for another 7-8 minutes.
The calmness with which this 15 meter long and 20 tons heavy mammal is moving in to the water is beyond words. It looks like an elegant heavyweight ballet.
Once again we feel small compared to natureÖ
We sail on along Pleasant Island and Excursion Inlet where we can enjoy the beauty of more whales and a couple of dolphins.
A little boy is standing besides me on the deck. My camera equiped with a 300mm-lens impresses him. He tries to take snaps with a small disposable camera and is very excited about it.
ďCome on, show that tail of you. Yeah, great !Ē
ďWhere do you come from ?Ē, he asks me with an examining look in his eyes.
When I tell him that Iím Belgian, it sets him thinking.
ďThatís far away.Ē
We go back to Gustavus Dock.
The reflections of the sun make strange colours in the water. We could be somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean, only the temperature is wrong.
The bus driver tells about some other curiosities of Gustavus:
A library where the last book was lent out in 1965, a gas station with petrol mumps dating from the fifties, the house from the first family that settled here in 1914, a grocery store and a do-it-yourself store. I suppose you have to do a lot yourself when you live here.
Beside it we see some lodges and the land that became dry after the sea drew back less than a century ago. They are making plans to create a golf course on it. Golf players are prepared and capable to do anything for their game of golf. Just believe me.
Back in the Glacier Bay Lodge we meet the two South-Africans again. They have warmed up and had the time to dry their clothes. Besides the luxury breakfast it was their major concern.
We leave Gustavus Airport. For pilot Michael we are the only passengers. Itís a pleasant feeling to fly over the Chilkat Mountains with a private pilot. Who in Belgium may tell he did that too?
Between the snow and the glaciers we see a lonesome sheep sitting against the mountainside. The beautiful scenery is sliding away below us.
We are back in Haines.
Before the sun disappears behind the
mountains we make a tour with the Chevy along the bay. The sky has
cleared up completely. I have the feeling that we are heading to a
sunny-weather-period again, but actually my guess is as good as someone
The snowy peaks make me think of Switzerland, but thatís the only similarity. The rough coastline, the bald eagles skimming over the waves to catch a fish or watching us majestically from the top of a tree, and last but not least the pick-ups beside the wooden houses. Just a few details that remind us that we are further from home than we might think.