Sunday, June 16th 
Valdez - Seward

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With a ferry across a zoo

It's early to get up and definitely Sunday, there's church organ music on the radio.  I open the curtains and look out the window: the weather is splendid, a blue sky and a gentle breeze.
With an improvised breakfast of some cookies and a fruit juice we wait in line with our Chevy to go on board the ferry.  About 10 cars are in front of us.  They got up even earlier than we did.
The family in the car in front of us has found an occupation:  the daughter wants no matter how that pullover from the travel bag somewhere deep in the luggage compartment of the station wagon.  Her father starts emptying out the chock-full car, whilst the little brother and sister are squabbling for a baseball cap.

We didn't move an inch yet, luckily for the car in front of us.  Meanwhile, the father is busy to stuff everything back into the car. He is a bit in despair as the ferry is opening its doors.

Finally, the boarding of the MV Bartlett that will bring us over Prince William Sound, has started.
While leaving the Valdez Arm, we have breakfast in the restaurant.
Next, we find a seat on the upper deck, so we can enjoy the beautiful landscape that passes by slowly.  The sun is still there and the cold wind doesn't bother us.

Columbia GlacierKate, a US Forestry & Agriculture Officer, is accompanying us on the trip to give information about the wildlife and other curiosities that we will encounter during the journey through Prince William Sound. She will certainly inform us when a seal or killer whale comes into sight. So, we don't have to worry and may have a nap in a deckchair.

Our captain James Andrew Clabo is steering his vessel into the Columbia Bay to approach the Columbia Glacier. We didn't expect this detour on his course. "Let's do some entertainment for the passengers", James must have said to his first mate.  "No one will blame us if we arrive an hour later in Whittier".  Time is very relative in Alaska and the better for us.
Quite large icebergs drift aside the vessel.  A kind of Titanic feeling comes up, but have to trust our captain.  I'm sure it isn't its first time that he enters the Columbia Bay.
When approaching the glacier, we see the glittering of the sun in the ice.  With its length of 64 km and a width of more than 4 km the Columbia Glacier is one of the largest tidal glaciers in Alaska.  A small motor vessel (but still 40 feet long) looks like a toy between the broken ice.
A few seals are noticed, but its a strong guess to see the difference between shadow in the ice mass and a head of a seal.

Columbia Glacier10h15
We turn back to set course for Whittier.
Two bald eagles sit on an ice floe.  They force respect in a magical way, whether they sit in the top of a tree or on an iceberg.
Some whirls are supposed to be caused by dolphins or killer whales. There are even hallucinations of whales.  It's not that I don't believe it, on the contrary!  But I can imagine that they prefer quieter places than close to a noisy ferry.
The view of glaciers touching the sea surface surrounded by snowy peaks, as far as one can see, is impressive.
When passing by some small islands, I take my binoculars.  There might be seals or other wildlife on the shoreline, you never know!
After that, everyone is searching on the horizon again, for the one tiny little dot that might not be a rock or ice floe, but without success.

Via the speakers, the captain invites us for lunch in the dining room.  To avoid hamburgers, we choose for an omelet.  It tastes as it should be.
Afterwards we return to the sundeck.
"Sea otters on the left hand side of the vessel! Kate screams via the megaphone. It's a miracle that they don't dive under the surface immediately.  But the sea otters continue floating on their back, with their lunch on their belly, mussels and shells.

We come to anchor in Whittier. Like Valdez and Skagway, Whittier is situated in a fjord.  Well sheltered from the wind, it creates a nice temperature. The sailing boats in the
harbour make us think that it can get summery over here, although the mean summer temperature doesn't become higher than 13C.

We drive off the boat and join the next queue, now for the train.
Whittier is a forgotten place dominated by a former military base.  By its establishment during World War II, it was a strategic ice-free port for freight, oil and troops.  They were then transported by rail through a tunnel, the only land access.  We are now waiting in front of the same tunnel that will bring us to Portage.

Alaska Rail Road Engine15h10
Meanwhile, the embarkation has started but it doesn't make progress.  The wagons are filled op to the last inch, really a puzzle.
It's unbearably hot in the car.  Air-conditioning doesn't work without the engine running.  In spite of the mosquitoes, we decide to make a walk along the waiting cars and please ourselves with a Haagen-Dasz ice cream.
Emilio and his wife Maria, who are waiting in their Buick in the lane beside us, have noticed our strange language and start talking about the weather.   Emilio originates from Utah, but his ancestors lived in South America.  It's the second time that he and his wife come to Alaska.
"We never went twice to the same place until we came to Alaska three years ago. There is so much to see here!"
"But everything is so expensive", Maria remarks, "The only place to buy cheap clothes is the 5th Avenue Mall in Anchorage. You should go over there before returning home."
It's not worth the effort to explain those good people that we don't fly to the other side of the world to buy clothes that are nearly the same price as in Belgium.

Finally, the car is on the train and the train starts moving.  It's an open wagon and we have to stay in the car, it only lasts for half an hour.  I thought we would get fresh air in the tunnel, but I'm wrong.  The windows must stay closed due to the stench and the noise of the diesel locomotive and the water draining out of the rocks.  So, we are imprisoned in a pitch-dark and hot car.

Portage. It's still hot and we don't want to open the windows for the mosquitoes.  Fortunately, it doesn't take long before we can get off the train, direction Seward.
The Seward Highway brings us also on the Kenai Peninsula.  It's a surface twice as big as Belgium and has two large ice fields.  The Harding Ice Field is about 800 km, the other, Sargeant Ice Field, is smaller.

It's getting late but the days are long here, very long even.  So, we can make a detour on the Hope Highway, direction ... Hope ! The Milepost tells us that we might encounter moose on this part of the road. We are prepared, "Looking for moose..."
A sign along the road makes it even more exciting:

Meanwhile, we can offer one important, good advice in this travelogue: don't refuse a rental car with air-conditioning in Alaska. Its surely convenient.

We arrive in Hope and we didn't see any moose, so bad luck.  The magnificent view over Turnagain Arm, that separates the Kenai Peninsula from the rest of Alaska, makes us forget it.  In front of us, on the other side, Suicide Peak (1670 m) rises up. Again, according to The Milepost, we could observe here in the Turnagain Arm, Beluga whales.  But we don't take it seriously anymore.  Mosquitoes, those are always there and hot is it too!  Considering all this, it's better to stay in the car.

On our way back we see a large pile of wood with a sign beside: "FREE PUBLIC FIREWOOD". Such an offer in Belgium would only last a couple of hours.

It looks like Switzerland again, just below the snow line.
At Summit Lake, people are swimming and canoeing.  A nice pastime for a Sunday afternoon.  The valley has also a lot of hiking trails through the Chugach Wildlife Forest.

Moose Pass, of all names we saw this is the funniest.  It must have been in the beginning of this century that the pioneers of the Last Frontier saw the first moose in this place.
With only 145 residents, the annually Moose Pass Summer Festival with a triathlon and a midsummer night barbecue is well-known all over Kenai.
The snowy peaks all around stand out against the spruce trees that suffer from the long dryness.

Seward Harbour19h15
As we leave the Chugach National Forest, we know that we soon we arrive in Seward.

Seward is situated in the Resurrection Bay between the snowy peaks of the Kenai Mountains and also the most southern point of our trip. We drove 120 miles today.
A lot of restaurants are located near the Seward marina, so a fish dish will be most likely our choice in Ray's Waterfront. Whether Ray is in the kitchen or at the reception, we don't care, the dishes are excellent.
Afterwards, we take a walk on the pier in the harbour, which is also the fish market.  People gather around a 4 feet long halibut that is being cleaned by a local fishmonger.

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