Category: lodging


Another day, another long drive. This was the day I accidentally left my wallet in my bag in the trailer! Whoops! It ended up not being the biggest deal, but just slightly annoying. Oh well, live and learn. This was also the part of the trip where everyone was just tried. Tired of rain, tired of camping, tired of lack of showers and flush toilets. Tired of each other. (Thankfully, we all survived the next few days, but barely.)

Most of this day was spent on a dirt road. We stopped at a few road houses for breaks, some lookouts for views, but mainly just sat in the van. And drive. It was sunny, but freezing, as at this point, we were headed to our northern most stop, though thankfully at a lower elevation then Tangle Lakes. I don’t really remember much about this day.

The roads...they never end!

The roads…they never end!

-At one point, we stopped and since I didn’t use the toilet when we woke up in the morning (the walk was too far for me and it was sooo cold) I waited until our first rest stop, but unfortunately, you had to buy something to use the john, so I borrowed $5 from a tourmate for gummies and the loo.
-The dirt road finally ended when Denali Highway met up with George Parks Highway, and we had never been so happy to see a gas station! I waited outside and chatted with a tourmate, when she spotted moose crossing the road! Very cool, as most of the group missed it as they were using the toilet and buying snacks.
-We drove up and passed Denali, into town to stock up on warm clothes for the final 3 nights as some people wanted sleeping bag liners or gloves. All the store outside the park were having “end of the season” sales and the sandals were on sale and I wanted a pair, but since I didn’t have my wallet, controlled myself, which was a good thing. The town was cute, just a bunch of tourist shops, but we needed something like that. We hadn’t seen that amount of people in over a week.

Back to civilization!

Back to civilization!


-We then dropped some of our tour off at the sightseeing flight because even though it was more expensive, the day was just gorgeous, so some people took advantage of that.
-We stopped in Denali to pick up our bus tickets for the following day before finally heading to camp at Carlo Creek
-We put up our tents for the last time! We got to put them up under a sheltered cover, which was awesome, plus, they had picnic tables. So helpful!
-It was a bit a trek to the bathroom, which sucked, but at least the toilets flushed and the showers were free and it was like all in one room, which is my favorite layout.
-We had some meat and potatoes for dinner and the potatoes were so good! Though I had a beer and cut myself grating cheese on the grater (yeah, I’m awesome like that), so no more grating for me.
-Can’t remember what we did at night, probably not much, as it was still really cold (the girls that stayed in the cabin the night before, booked a cabin for all three nights here, they were just done with camping) so probably just huddled by the fire.

Sneak peak of tomorrow in Denali

Sneak peak of tomorrow in Denali

I didn’t take any pictures today and the pack rafting guide was supposed to dropbox me some pictures, which I never got. Oh well! Joys of being on the water in Alaska!

In the build up the McCarthy, the guide told us about this activity called “pack rafting” where everyone gets their own blow up boat and we raft through small rapids in a glacier lake. I love rafting, so I always knew if that was available, I was SO GAME! On Friday at dinner when everyone was discussing what they wanted to do for the weekend, the guide excitedly came over to me and said pack rafting was a go on Sunday, as he excited for it also.

I got to sleep in a bit on Sunday, as the rafting wasn’t until the afternoon, but I was a bit unsure about what to wear and what to pack. I didn’t bring any thermals with me and was dreadfully unprepared in the shoe department, but I made it work. After we packed up the campsite and drove down half a mile down the road to Brad’s Place, where we would be spending the night, I gathered up all my stuff for the day. Since I didn’t have proper shoes, I decided to wear my expensive, wool socks today. I was a bit worried that I didn’t have thermals, but I wore my fleece sweatshirt and hiking pants and my hands ended up being the coldest part. Me, two other tour mates, the guide and two pack rafting leaders hiked out about a mile from camp to the lake where we then proceeded to blow up our boats and put our dry suites, booties and weak gloves on. Blowing up the boats was really cool as they used these like huge bags to push air into the boats and then we had to top them up ourselves, which took a bit out of me. We climbed into our boats and had a little lesson on water and paddling and what we were going to do.

Cold, cold glacier water.

I am such a control freak, I love being in my own boat, so this was awesome! It took a bit to figure out how and when to paddle hard and in what direction, but after paddling in circles for a bit, I finally got the hang of it. My hands were just really really cold because the gloves leaked and I was paddling so much and water splashed everywhere. We took a break after a while and dragged the boats back to shore, ate some snacks and tipped the water that came in out and I took my gloves off to warm my hands up. We then got back into the water and hit some bigger (but still really small) rapids and went around a few times.

I got my confidence up and I guess I leaned the wrong direction (as you tend to do when you think you are hot shit) and flipped my boat over, into the glacier rapids! I screamed bloody murder, if only so the guides could hear me and they came over quickly. I gripped onto my boat and lifted my legs up, as we had been told to do. They tried to get me to climb on top of my boat, but my upper arm strength is pretty bad and all I wanted to do, was get near the shore and climb out of the water. My hands were absolutely freezing and it took a moment, thanks to the socks!! but water finally started filling up my boots and all I wanted to do was get out. They finally pulled me out and I ripped off my gloves and the girl guide had me jump up and down and do jumping jacks to warm up my arms and legs. I was so shocked still, I did whatever they told me to do. I jumped around for a little bit, until they dragged everyone else over and out of their boats, so we could set up for the last ride back to camp. Thankfully, we were pretty much done with that part of the tour when I flipped, as I didn’t want to keep the rest of the group from doing anything.

Glaciers melt fast and all that water has to go somewhere!

I warmed up as much as I could at that point and I was confident enough to get back in the boat, for a slow and quiet ride, down TINY rapids and paddle back to camp. My confidence was gone and even going down the little rapids, I felt uneasy, but finished the trip. The guides said I did really well and listened to all directions and did what they said, so I felt good about that. I am sure my knowledge of swimming helped too in having me not freak out too bad and gave me the confidence to continue on instead of flat out refusing and walking home. No way, I’d much rather raft home, thanks! We finished the trip and dragged our stuff back to camp (I didn’t have the easiest time carrying my boat at this point because all I wanted to do was take a shower!) but I managed.

Oh, I forgot to mention the weather today! It was overcast the entire day and when we first got on the water, it started to spit rain and we hardly noticed at first because we were paddleing and hitting each other with water, so it was a good day to boat. Most of our tour went glacier hiking today and while the colors on the glacier are supposed to be AMAZING when it’s overcast, hiking in the rain can’t be much fun. I am so glad I ended up doing each activity on the day I did in Wrangell.

Fall comes early to Alaska

Once we were back to camp, I dragged my bag to the first cabin, no knowing who was sleeping where and grabbed all my shower stuff and spent a ton of time in the shower. Do you remember the last time I showered? Yeah, me neither and this was a perfect day for it! Also, when I took off my dry suit, my top felt dry but my bottoms did not and I was fully expecting a wet butt. But when I pulled the suite off, everything was pretty much dry! Big round of applause for the dry suite in doing its job! YAY!!!!!!!!

After the shower, I found out that all my pals where in the other cabin (and the snorer had moved her stuff into the one I was originally in) so I hightailed it to the other cabin. One of my tour mates gave me the loft as well and I was so happy to be up there! It was lovely. I hung my wet socks on the porch, seeing if they would dry (they didn’t, and that was the story on how a $17 pair of socks, worn once, sort of saved my life! A purchase well worth the price) and then went to the main house and just hung out there all night. The guide made burritos and most of the group was meh on it, he had to make a spicy and non-spicy meat (guess which one went first in this group?) but I loved them, so good! We hung out in the main house most of the evening, charging up our phones and cameras and taking advantage of power and lights for the first time in 3 days too! I charged my DVD player for the first time, just in case, but gave myself low priority because seriously, a DVD player? Who cares! Luckily, it charged before most of the group returned from glacier hiking. I walked back to the cabin alone, singing and clapping to scare the bears away because I didn’t have my torch and was alone. I made it back and snuggled into bed, watching tv. It was funny, we filled our cabin in like 4 seconds, thanks to the snorer and there were no more beds, but TM arrived last and she REFUSED to sleep in the other cabin, so dragged one of our blow up mattresses on the floor of our room. Of course, no one cared, but that just goes to show you, how bad it was! Give us tents ANY DAY.

Place was cute and had a sauna too, if you are into that!

The guide was in such a good mood today because we were headed to his favorite place in Alaska, Wrangell Saint Elias National Park, but more specifically, the town of McCarthy. He had been talking about it non-stop all week and we were all excited to get there too.

On the way to McCarthy, Alaska

I don’t remember the morning, but I assumed it contained lots of driving and beautiful scenery. We then got to the town of Chitna before the road turned to dirt for the next 60 miles. The road was built over old railroad tracks and it is still quite common for tires to blow out due to spikes still in the road. Spoiler alert, we didn’t blow out any tires (thankgod!) and our guide still has a 100% success rate for driving on that road. We made a bunch of stops along the way, including a bridge we walked over, Mama’s Coffee Hut (too funny, we crossed a small bridge and saw a family playing in the river and they saw us pull over at the coffee hut and had to run and open and serve us! Welcome to McCarthy!) and Long Lake before we finally arrived at our camp ground, which as we traveled along on this tour, kept getting more and more rustic and this was the most rustic of all because it only had one drop toilet, no sink or shower. (Well, you could walk to the hostel and pay $10(!!!!) for a shower or just wait it out 2 days and take a free one) Baby wipe shower, here I come! Unfortunately, some douchebag took the campsite with the great view of the Root Glacier, so we grabbed a spot by the river to toss up our tents. After getting settled for a bit, we walked over the bridge and into town for some pub grub dinner at Golden Saloon. It was at this point, I realized I hadn’t really eaten yet today and scarfed down my buffalo burger as we got a sales pitch on glacier hiking. The company in town is St. Elias Guides and even though I have hiked in New Zealand, I loved it so much I knew I wanted to go on the full date hike also. Other things on offer in town were just hiking around or a guided tour of the historic town of Kennecott as well as some way off the grid activities such as pack rafting in a glacier lake. The latter sounded awesome, but we didn’t know until we arrived in McCarthy if it would happen (as things tend to be in Alaska) and the guide broke the news that it was a go on our 2nd days! I was so in, so that meant I had to do my full day glacier hike the next day and therefore miss out on the tour of the town. Whatever! My order of priority went 1) pack rafting 2) full day glacier hike 3) tour of town. I didn’t really care about the tour (though others in my group went on it and loved it, so just FYI, if you are every around and pack rafting isn’t a go) so I didn’t mind too much missing it. Even though it was going to be expensive, my weekend was booked! I was thrilled.

Long Lake, on the way to McCarthy, Alaska

After dinner, since the sun doesn’t set until late (even though it’s almost always cloudy), the locals have a softball game that everyone is invited to so we went and it was tons of fun! Some of our group played, but I just stood and chatted with my group and then some dogs ran around near me and they actually had tags, which we had rarely seen in Alaska! I started chatting with the dogs owners and turns out they weren’t locals either, they were up from Valdez for the weekend, but the girl just loved it here. (I know this sounded lame, but trust me, knowing these people came in handy later, you’ll see.) The game went really fast and it was over less then an hour after we arrived, which is so rare for baseball, I was telling some other people in our tour because they had no idea how to play.

McCarthy, Alaska

Most of the group was going to take an easy day again the following day, so they all made it a late night at the Golden Saloon and then to The Potato for music, but since I had to be up early for glacier hiking, some of the group was headed back to camp, so I went with them. A quick pee and then gather up as much as I could for the following day as TM was going to have a lie-in and I didn’t want to bug her in the morning before curling up in my sleeping bag with my dvd player. Just in time too because by the time I heard TM come back, it was raining!

What follows the best day so far on the tour? The worst, at least up until this point. We all got up early, to make the tunnel and then the ferry and it was pouring rain as predicted. No one was in any mood to do anything and I was in no mood to trek to the bathroom or make lunch, so I just packed up my stuff as well as I could and grabbed some granola bars and crackers and hoped for the best. We just threw everything in the trailer, in the worst order imaginable and it barely fit, but we got it closed and got on the road. As we were backtracking towards Anchorage, the guide got a call on his phone that the ferry was canceled. Apparently, this like never happens and of course, it happened to us. Most of us were really looking forward to it, it’s why we didn’t go on the nature cruise or in my case, just an excuse to not be in the van. When the guide got the call, we backtracked AGAIN to a tiny town, so he could get better cell reception and reroute our plans, since we didn’t need to make the tunnel or the ferry.

The road back to Anchorage

I bought a candy bar so I could use the bathroom, which is normally against my religion, but since I didn’t go in the morning, I sucked it up and paid. Whatever, I got some candy out of it too! We piled back in the van and headed back towards Anchorage. Our next stop, was the old and faithful Fred Meyer (with chimes from the peanut gallery, “Haven’t we been here before?”) to stock up on more food. We were finally getting into the habit of what we all liked to eat and what meals were coming up (fish that evening, so a fellow tour mate and I stocked up on chicken) and we knew where everything was in the supermarket, so we were in and out pretty fast. We unloaded the entire van and repacked way better because the rain had stopped and we had more room on the cement of the parking lot to deal with everything. They didn’t have the lunch bag that I bought the previous time, so I and then the rest of the group followed me over to Wendy’s, as they don’t really have them overseas for lunch.

After the morning of backtracking, it was on to some new road! We drove quickly through Wasilla and Palmer, home of the state fair, which we were all enamored with earlier in the week. You would be too, if you had seem some of the events taking place! And there really isn’t anything more American then a state fair. Just based on the crap that is for sale and the food you can eat, it’s everything you picture about America and more, all in one place. But after a week of meeting people and seeing some of the state, we were kind of over it, which was a good thing. We did stop at the Musk Ox Farm, which was super touristy, but I still paid the $11 for the 30 minute tour. I am definitely interested in weird animals! We got the feed them, but unfortunately, they weren’t super active when we were there, but their whole reason for being is really interesting, so it wasn’t a total waste. We then hit some just fantastic scenery and not a car in sight for miles and miles, which was amazing before our stop in Sutton at the Sheep Mountain Lodge for the night.

Musk Ox

Musk Ox at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Cute Musk Ox, eating at the farm, Palmer, Alaska

Me and the Musk Ox, Palmer, Alaska

Since we had such a terrible night sleeping in the rain, we all voted to cough up $20 each and sleep in the bunk house at Sheep Mountain Lodge, though we did all throw up our tents to air them out of the rain for a while on the lawn. The place was pretty cute. Bathhouse with a sauna for a couple of bucks and a shower for $5 (I think we all skipped that night) and two rooms of bunks, which we split into snores and non-snorers, which sucked for me because I snore, but am a light sleepers, so I had a pretty miserable sleep. Though the non-snorers had it worse, because something was lost in translation and the Russian girl ended up in the non-snore room and apparently she was the worse snorer of them all! The guide thought it was hilarious that we all wanted tents for the rest of the trip, even though we had one more night in a bunk house in a few days, we were all, can we do tents instead? Too funny that we all preferred tents over sleeping indoors. The lodge also had a full service restaurant, with my favorite coffee which of course I got in the morning. They also had a really cool green house with a dead moose inside. The green house was really really warm (of course) and since I was having such a miserable night, I was tempted beyond belief to pull my sleeping bag and sleep there, but the ground was covered in rocks and I didn’t have a blow up mattress. AGH! Hindsight. But the green house was really awesome.

Me and the moose in the green house. The closest I got to a moose in Alaska. Sutton, Alaska

The guide made a fish stew for dinner but I ate chicken and it was delicious! We ate outside with no fire and while it was a bit cold, but ohmigod, so freakin’ beautiful! After dinner, I gossiped with some of my tour mates (it was getting to be that time in the tour were we all talk about each other behind our backs, so elementary school, I know) before the rest of the group crawled into bed and I went into the green house to write for a while before slipping into my bunk and took out my dvd plaver for the first time to watch some tv shows. I got into such a habit this night, that I ended up doing it the rest of the trip. My boss had loaned me a portable dvd player for the trip and the battery life on this this was out of the world, it only died on me once, on the last day. Perfect timing! I am sure I looked a little shady to my tentmate, no porn, I swear!

Woke up to one of the, if not my favorite day on this entire trip. Woke up to absolutely gorgeous weather. No rain, clear blue skies and best of all, a casual day! The guide had to make a run back to Anchorage for sleeping mats and because of that, we had a totally chill day, which after only 3 days of constant living with the same people, we all needed it. The guide was doing a run into town for the people that wanted to go on a nature cruise at 9am, but otherwise, the rest of us were on our own all day. And I loved it. TM and I woke up late and lounged around and made breakfast, took showers and just sat on the porch of the shower house to charge our cameras and phones and read with some of the other tour mates.

View from the campsite in the morning. Seward, Alaska

Some randomness about the campsite:

-Lots of showers, but they take tokens, which you have to buy before hand and there are no refunds. $1 for 2 minutes of shower. Apparently you can toss all your tokens in at the start and just guess how long you have left, but I tossed my tokens in one at a time, so I knew my time and I was under by like a minute. Better then being over! I wish I had known the shower situation before hand because I would have washed my hair at the other place, but it ended up being okay, because the shower situation at the next two places was even worse. So it all worked out for the best!
-Right on the water!
-A bit of a walk into town, took me over an hour.
-Shop is a little disorganized, so don’t count on them for much.
-Tree canopy for most of the grounds, which is good and bad.
-A bit muddy when it rains.

Walking into town, alone the road and the water. Seward, Alaska

So, after taking a few hours and enjoying the sun and charging my phone, I waited for a few of my tour mates to leave for town and I followed them about 45 minutes later. I just needed a nice walk to myself! I ran into one of the girls who went into town with the “shuttle” at 9am (it was like 1pm when I ran into her walking back to camp) and we chatted on the side of the road for a while. She didn’t do much but have a wonder around Seward for the day. I was walking into town to meet up with the group at 4pm to go Heli-Dogging! The walk was a flat 2.3 mile (now according to Google Maps) walk into town and it was the perfect day for it!

View while enjoying my coffee. Seward, Alaska

I stopped at Resurrect Art Coffee as recommended to us by the guide and it was okay. No Kalandi Bros! But it was a pleasant place to stop for a drink and the fantastic view and call my parents. I continued into town and since I didn’t have lunch and I thought we were going to have more fish for dinner, I wanted to eat a big lunch. I ran into another tour mate at a restaurant and stopped in and said hello and she invited me to eat with her, but I passed, said we all need some alone time today, which I think she was happy I said. Like I said, it was a good group, we all gave each other space when needed. I found a pizza place [great pizza, friendly owner (from LA!) which ended up being awesome. The owner who took my order said I looked familer, but of course, where from? Turns out, he was from LA too and had been living up in Seward for over 15 years! But how funny is that. I got a calzone to go, as it was beautiful outside and I wanted to eat it near the water. It was huge, kind of expensive, but really really good. Perfect for the day. I had a wonder around town and into the national parks visitor center for a while. I sat on the dock and read my book until I heard the rest of my group, being the loud people we were on the other side of the building.

Wood carvings are all over the state. I just love them! Seward, Alaska

We all met up with the cruisers and the guide drove us to the airport for our helicopter ride up to the glacier! After signing our lives away and investing our 401K’s (expensive!!!!!) I claimed the middle group and really wanted to sit in the front, as I had never been on the helicopter before, but the back was really good too. We saw a bear in the forest on our way up, which was so so so cool, exactly how I wanted to see a bear before we landed about 10 minutes later on the ice. The first group was just finishing their run and we got some great pictures from the air of them.

View from the helicopter on the ride up. Seward, Alaska

My first helicopter ride! Seward, Alaska

The Glacier. Seward, Alaska

The first group, from above. Seward, Alaska

Then it was our turn. I claimed the front of the sled and we went about half way around the track before we stopped and swapped places and I went to the back, which was so awesome too. Then one of the mushers took a bunch of pictures of all of us on the sled with the dogs before we got to go to one of the kennels to see puppies. I got to hold one of the older dogs and thankgod, I had a little experience holding dogs, because I got a crazy one! But they were so cute! Then, when the third group arrived, the pilot took us over to the really tiny puppies who were less then a month old and we got to hold them for a really long time. Fresh puppy!

My view from the front of the sled. Seward, Alaska

The sled dogs on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

Me and my group, the dogs on a freakin’ glacier! Seward, Alaska

I think Poppy would be jealous! Seward, Alaska

Holding fresh puppy! Seward, Alaska

We then went back over to the older dogs who were chained up to their houses and some where going crazy with barking and some where just sleeping. I took tons of pictures of the dogs and tried “my angle” to get some of me with the dogs but a lot of them would not sit still! They just want to run, is what I think, which is why they are so crazy when chained up, but who knows. I had a really good time and it was totally a highlight for me. Expensive, but well worth it.

Angel (my bosses dog) twin! Seward, Alaska

After about an hour, we took the helicopter back a different way and landed. I plugged my phone into the wall while we waited for the last group to come back and I said to myself, yes, I know I am going to leave it. And we pile back into the van and of course! We are right in town, halfway back to camp when I yell FUUUUUCK. Of course! I feel so horrible about this, but no one else seems to mind too much. Thankfully, we turn around to go back and we run into more tour mates who were about to walk back from town, so it ended up being a good thing that we u-turned it in town to get my phone. Even better, when I get my phone back, there is an adapter plug attached, which of course isn’t mine but it ended up being another one of my tour mates! How funny! He had plugged in his camera before we went up but forgot the adapter! So going back saved a lot of people and I didn’t feel bad any more.

Wind picking up on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

We got back to camp and unfortunately, had spaghetti and hot dogs for dinner. I was so NOT hungry after the large and late lunch I had, but I still scarfed food down. Rain was predicted the next day and we had a long day in the van ahead of us and certain times we had to meet to catch the ferry on time, so we all got as much together at night as we could before bed.

Silence on the glacier. Seward, Alaska

Another day in the van. After a quick stop in Homer proper for bank and supermarket, we were on the road, backtracking most of our route from the other day, back to Anchorage, but turned off at the Seward Highway. Not sure on the stops we made that day, but I am sure there was plenty, as it was a beautiful, clear, sunny and WARM day. Because it was on the warmer side, this is when the fights for having the window open vs. closed started. I was in the back, where it was boiling hot and I sat most of the day in just jeans and a t-shirt, throwing on my sweatshirt for various picture stops.

One of the millions (?) of really tall, ice covered mountains.

Free lifejacket! There were piles of them at the info board at every lake we went to.

The big stop of the day was at the Exit glacier, near Seward. It was pretty impressive and I always love the signs along the way that tell you how far the glacier was back in the day. How fast it’s receding is insane! We dropped some people off at the glacier to do a short hike, while the rest of us continued on to camp at Millers Landing , so we could arrive in time to join a kayak tour out on Resurrection Bay.

Me and Exit Glacier, Seward, Alaska

We threw up our tents and then went to the office to pay and start the kayak tour. There were good and bad things about this tour.

Bad:

-The place seemed a little disorganized. People kept getting added to the tour and therefore instruction was very basic.
-They gave us no instruction on “driving” the kayaks. They told us about the foot pedals and in talking with some of my tour mates later, they thought both of them were driving the kayak. Thankfully I had used these kayaks before and claimed the back so I could drive and when I told my mates that, they looked at each other, thought about it and then realized I was right. The guides never told us that only the back drives the boat.
-I shared a kayak with the Russian in our group who spoke little English. When we were out on the water, the guide asked her some questions, but when he realized that her English was minimal, neither guide spoke a word to either of us for the rest of the tour. I think they thought I was Russian also.
-Once we were out on the water, one of the guides lit up a cigarette. Talk about unprofessional!

Good:

-Ohmigod, some of the smoothest water I have ever kayaked on in my life! I know this was an extremely rare day, but it was amazing and totally worth it. I would drive the boat one direction and within two strokes, we were headed that way. Usually it takes 5-10 strokes to change direction. I can’t get over how amazing that was!
-Scenery, amazing.
-Guide explanations were okay. We paddled about an hour and then stopped and hiked to Bridal Falls in the rainforest and it was a really nice break! And then we pedaled back.
-I just can’t get over how smooth the water was.

First look over Seward, Alaska

A short hike into the rainforest after kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Waterfall at the end of the short trail while kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Got back to camp and dinner was being made, though I can’t remember what it was. We just hung around the campfire and chatted about activities for the following day.

View from our campsite in Seward, Alaska.

Note: The subject line is only a slight exaggeration.

After a not so bright and early wake up call, I packed up the majority of my bag before heading down to the lobby for a free breakfast. It was pretty decent! Any place with a make your own waffle bar is a-ok with me. We all stocked up on more goodies for the road later, including muffins and bagels. Hey, we had no idea when the next meal was. We ate when we could!

The group gathered in the lobby at the requested time and the last person to show up was the guide. Not sure how I felt that would bode for the rest of the trip, but at least everyone else was there! I hate waiting for people. We loaded up the trailer and settled into the van. I am really picky about where I sit and at first chose the seat next to the window, 2nd row from the back. I thought that might be good. We had some stops to make around town first, the first being one of our many visits to the Fred Meyer on Northern Lights Blvd. to get our first batch of groceries. I grabbed the other American in the group and claimed we would shop for lunch food, meaning sandwich stuff and snacks. No one knows a good American lunch like the people who live it! It was tons of fun to throw in whatever we wanted to eat with really no disregard for content or price. My favorite type of shopping! Bagels and loafs of bread, tons of meats and cheeses, some cheap peanut butter (which our guide took back and picked out his own brand, as we soon learned that was something he was really picky about) and crackers. And peanuts. And trail mix. And more crackers. We bought a “gallon” box of goldfish and a few boxes of cheese-itz. No one does cheese crackers like Americans. This was also the place to grab lunch for the day and my fellow American found these awesome lunch bags and the kids one was perfect (and $2 cheaper!) so I took that one. After reorganizing the food in the trailer, we were off to REI for last minute gear.

Random shot driving around town.

I knew I wasn’t going to be in the best shape for this trip. I own no waterproof stuff and I wasn’t about to spend money on something I would never use again. The trip notes said there would be laundry at least once a week, but it’s really not in my nature when traveling for only 2 weeks to think about doing it, so I packed enough for 2 weeks. Unlike my tent-mate, I don’t really care how I look in pictures, I don’t mind wearing the same sweater every day. Now underwear, socks and t-shirts are another thing so I brought enough for 2 weeks and just rotated amongst my 2 sweatshirts and only down (but not waterproof) jacket. My bag was one of the bigger ones, but I didn’t care. At our REI stop, I noted three things I wanted to buy, that were somewhat suggested by the guide the night before. And all three things were super helpful and I am actually really glad I bought them! First up was a $17 pair of socks that were all wool, which pretty much means they are sort of waterproof. This is the thing I probably could have lived without, as I only wear socks once before washing and since I didn’t plan on doing any washing, I had to think about when was the best time to use them when they would make the most sense. Story coming later on the day I made the decision to wear them and why I choose correctly! Will I ever wear them again? They were super comfy and maybe I’ll bring them to SF and wear them there, as my current sneakers aren’t waterproof by any means. Something I didn’t really need, but my tent-mate had one and it was so cool was a collapsible water-bottle. It was a pouch that gets smaller the less liquid you have! So perfect for me who drinks tons and tons of water and had to deal with the empty big bottle. Now it gets smaller the more I use it! I got the “grape” (purple) color. I love marketing term,s they just crack me up. And finally, the item I used the most, a waterproof rain jacket. I grabbed the cheapest one and used it the most. It was perfect for throwing over my sweatshirt in a freak rainstorm when I didn’t want to carry around my huge down or when it wasn’t that cold (on those rare days). This I’ll probably wear again, at some point, on those rare rainy days in LA when I don’t want to deal with my down, now I have a great alternative! All of these items came to less then $80, which made me happy. Since I knew want I wanted and grabbed it all and left, I found a coffee house that served my new favorite coffee so I had to grab a cup before meeting up with the rest of the group outside REI.

YUM!!!!

And then we were finally off to Homer! We made a bunch of stops both at lookout points and roadhouses along the way for food and bathroom and to stretch our legs before we finally arrived at the Homer Spit campground. The beach was full of rocks and that was where we were going to pop our tents to sleep. After a quick lesson on how to put them up, TM (tentmate from here on out) and I got ours up, but we couldn’t agree on which side was higher, so we ended up sleeping head to toe, which I actually liked better! We each used different entrances and I think that helped up get along much better in the long run. After the tent and air mattresses set up (we were 5 short so the guide had to trek back to Anchorage a few days later to get more but luckily, there was another tour with another company who had some spares in the meantime, yay Alaska hospitality!) we pitched in for dinner and had a delicious chicken dinner by the beach. I proved my true Californianess by decking out in wool hat, sweatshirt, down jacket, mittens, jeans and FLIPFLOPS! I was a bit worried about my sock situation as my shoes were not water proof and neither were my socks, so I made the resolution to not wear my shoes and socks unless I had to. And since the first day we spent it in the van, I wore my sandals all day, no need to waste a pair of socks on that! And I was okay. This proved to be my typical camp outfit for the trip.

Lookout near Girdwood.

The campsite was fine. A bit far to the bathroom for me, and stumbling over rocks to get there wasn’t the best. But loads of stalls, tons of sinks, plenty of paper and outlets to charge up. Showers were in a different house and you had to pay the front desk $1 and she’ll buzz you in and you got a stall and unlimited time. Each stall had a bench too! I didn’t want to leave my phone in the bathroom (even though Alaska is one the safest places I have ever been, you’ll hear more about that later) so I asked the office if I could charge it there and she directed me to an outlet under the shelf where I left my phone for a few hours for a quick charge.

Our view the first night camping.

The activities begin tomorrow!

I woke up in the hostel, took a shower in the full home-like bathroom with the great water pressure and no stress about finishing quickly. I paid for my room, sat in the general living area eating my breakfast and it was just really really quiet. I finished quickly and asked the guy I paid for my room about the bus into town. He showed me the poster that someone had hand drawn about how to get to the closest bus stop with the attached schedule and I figured out what I needed to do to get there. I asked for change for the bus, since it cost $1.75 and he pointed me to a change machine. I hadn’t seen one of those in years and best of all, it actually worked! Another surprise. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to drag my large bag to the stop and really how far it was, so about 30 minutes before the bus came (it was a Saturday, so they only came once an hour) I set off for the stop. It was a lot closer then I realized, so I sat in the bright and sunny Anchorage day and waited. It actually got quite warm! The bus arrived on time and the driver was this really nice hipster girl who showed me how to put my money in and that I didn’t need a ticket as I was only going one way. I dragged my bag to the back and enjoyed the ride into town.

My view while I waited for the bus.

The bus dropped me off at the Transit Center and I had printed out a really good map of the downtown area from the Anchorage Transit website, of all places and walked to the Ramada Inn, which was the joining hotel for my tour that night. Downtown Anchorage is on a grid, so it was really easy to figure out my way around. I walked past the market which I had heard a lot about and looked forward to going after I dropped my bag off. Thankfully, the hotel was only a block away from the market! Even though it was barely 11am when I got to the hotel, I really just wanted to drop my bag in (free!) storage for the day, the front desk said I could check in if I wanted a ground floor room. Sounds good to me! They gave me the name of my roommate and I claimed the bed closest to the window, which ended up being a very good choice. I just claimed the bed and arranged myself for the day and off I went. I highly recommend this hotel. Great location in the center of town, walking distance from everything, free airport shuttle, friendly and very helpful front desk, great lobby inclusive of hanging out and not feeling guilty (as you’ll see later), free computer for limited use, apparently free internet (don’t really care as I can use my phone and I’ll never carry a laptop) and a free breakfast included! Anytime there is a make-your-own-waffle bar, you know the quality is good.

My first stop was the Anchorage Museum which was awesome. A glance at my student ID and I got in for $9 vs. $12! Every little bit helps. The place was really cool and showed a lot about Alaska, why people came, why people stayed, why is it part of the US and not Russia or Canada. There was a lot on the native people also but unfortunately by then, I didn’t get to it until the end of my visit and I was getting hungry . Oh, you aren’t allowed to take large bags in and it took me a moment to figure out the locker system in that you have to put a quarter in them, but you get it back when you open it. YAY! I love that system. So free lockers!

View from the “Sounds of Alaska” room. One of my favorites.

After the museum, I went across the street to the mall in search of cheap food and found it in the form of a food court so I just grabbed a bottle of water and a slice of pizza and people watched for a while. Otherwise, the mall is your typical American place. There is a Nordstroms and JC Penny that anchor it as well as an Apple store right outside Nordies. I couldn’t help but laugh. When I was tying my shoes that morning, I noticed that my laces were starting to come apart and the last thing I needed was them breaking while I was in the middle of nowhere, so I stopped at Payless and grabbed a spare pair for $2 before finally headed toward the town market.

One of my favorite signs, what Alaska thinks of Texas! Too funny.

I had a nice wonder around the market to see what was on offer and get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, I had already eaten lunch, so I wasn’t that hungry for all the delicious food on offer! Oh well, reason to come back. I did have a discover my new favorite coffee though in Kalandi Brothers. So good! They are only in Alaska (and WA, I just checked) and when ever I saw them on my trip, weather I wanted or needed it, I bought a cup. So good! I also got my mom a pair of earrings. I sat on a bench near the bathrooms where there was chalk on the ground for the kids to play with and called my parents, which was actually kind of weird in itself. I can’t remember the last time I was on vacation, like a proper vacation, and had the abilities to use my phone without extra charges. It was so weird! As I was talking to my family, it started to rain, so I took shelter near the bathrooms and continued the conversation like nothing happened.

My view at the market, drinking coffee, chatting with my parents. Rain came about 5 minutes after this picture was taken!

After that, I was a bit tired and wet, so I just went back to the hotel to relax. I didn’t really want to sit in the room as besides the bed, there wasn’t really anywhere to sit and the lobby was so nice. I cuddled up in a chair near a window and read and wrote for a while before someone came up and asked if I was part of G Adventures tour that was starting. I said yes and met my first tour mate! We chatted for a while before someone else came into the lobby and over heard us talking and joined us and before I knew it, I was meeting my roommate and tentmate for the first time! Both were lovely and we talked for a long time as more and more of the group joined us before the welcome meeting.

We were all present for the welcome meeting except one person and we got an overview of the following two weeks before breaking for dinner, which we all ate at the bar attached to the hotel. I had the nachos and they pretty much sucked, but at least the company was good. Most of the group was pretty jet lagged and even though I wasn’t, I didn’t want to OD on the group too fast and I wanted to take advantage of the hotel room while we had it, so I came back to the room and took one last shower and packed up my bag for the following day and snuggled into a real bed for the last time.

Alaska – My 39th State

I am going to format my recent trip to Alaska a little different then normal. Instead of writing by topic, I am going to write out whatever the hell I want in chronological order. There will probably be some sort of topical relation in the post, but essentially it is going to be a day-by-day take on what I did, saw, stayed and ate. On a personal note, I am sort of getting away from travel blogs. I comment less because I am caring less. Everything is sponsored these days, which is just annoying and I am getting more into reading personal lifestyle blogs, which is kind of hilarious as I have neither a life nor style. ANYWAY.

So yeah, if I forgot to tell you, I went to Alaska for my summer vacation this year. It was sort of a last minute thing as I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford it, with the dog and all but around May I started getting depressed that I wasn’t going to do anything this summer, so I booked another G Adventures tour to Alaska, as I wanted to keep it local and on the cheaper-ish end side. Yeah, cheap did not end up working out too well, but at least I stayed semi-local (didn’t have to worry about being international and only one time zone and flight away). I wanted to be lazy for this trip. I wanted someone else to take care of the details. I didn’t want to have to be aware of everything all the time. And this trip was perfect for that.

Typical street in Anchorage. They speak ENGLISH!!!

After I booked my tour, I knew I wanted to essentially arrive and leave as close as I could, no dicking around for extra days in the area, just in case someone went wrong, like I did last year in Peru when by the end, all I wanted to do was come home. I found a decently priced flight on Alaska immediately for the exact days and times I wanted, so I bought it only to find out the following week that the exact same flight went down in price by $20!! GAH!!! Not the end of the world and since I bought it directly from Alaska, I qualified for a voucher refund, which I processed, so now I have $20 to spend on Alaska or American in the next year, if I spend it at all. Oh well! Just a little annoying, but it could have been worse.

High tourist season in Anchorage.

Since I left during rush hour on a Friday, my parents dropped the dog off with me first at boarding and then dropped me off at the FlyAway bus because they didn’t want to drive me all the way to the airport, which I was fine with. As long as they picked me up, as my flight back was arriving around 6am. Kill me now! Bus was fine and I had to check luggage for my one-time-a-year. On the Alaska website, it says that if you have an AAdvantage credit card, you can check one piece of luggage for free and since I knew the check in counter would have no idea about this, I brought a print out of the website, but thankfully I talked the guy into it and checked my large bag for free! I noticed the tag he attached had the code MTF and I was like, wait, that doesn’t look right. I check the boarding pass he gave to me (without even checking my ID! Love that LAX security) and see that it was not my name. I tell him and he apologizes profusely as that is the person in front of me’s information, it was printed twice. THANKGOD I always know my destination airport code (ANC) and I checked my ticket before leaving the counter. Lesson of the day!! Security was a bit of a clusterfuck, but what else is new. I had plenty of time to go and grab food, but who knew a baked potato would take nearly 30 minutes to cook! T6 just went through some changes and now there are charging stations at every seat, which is great, so I sat and charged my phone and ate my dinner before boarding. Since all I had for bags was something that would fit under my seat, I was in no rush to board, what’s the point? I waited until last call and finally boarded only to find someone who only spoke Spanish in my seat. She kept yapping away and I was like, Yeah, I don’t understand you, you can shut up now, thanks. I roll my eyes, knowing she is wrong and I go back to find an attendant and tell her the situation and the attendant rolls her eyes and says, Yeah, I told her 11F, NOT 11A. I say, no worries and we cause a huge jam up in the aisle, but hey, not my fault. The thing I like least about this whole situation is that someone has been sitting in my seat, keeping it warm and unlike the general population, planes are ALWAYS too hot for me and the last thing I want is to sit in someones warmed seat. Gross. But everything the works out.

The flight is fine as it’s an 8pm-1am flight and almost everyone sleeps EXCEPT for the person in the aisle in my row, who keeps his light on the whole time. At least it wasn’t behind me, but it was still annoying as hell. Why do I always end up in that row? Same thing happened on my 10000 hour flight to New Zealand 5 years ago. We land, it’s nice and cold, my bag comes out and I go out to find the taxi line to take me to my hostel.

These wood statues are everywhere! I love them.

Originally, I was just going to crash at the airport. I didn’t want to pay $150-$200 for a hotel room for one night and since it was peak season and I waited until like 2 days before I left to realize this, all the hostels were booked. But I finally found the Spenard Hostel nd booked a bed to crash in for like 7 hours. I’d just have to suck up sharing a room for a few hours, I knew it wouldn’t kill me, plus it was close to the airport. What’s the worst that could happen? The taxi line, or lack there of at ANC is a clusterfuck. There is no order and everyone just runs for the first one, so don’t stress. Everyone will get one eventually. I chatted it up with a pilot for DHL in line, who asked me if I was headed downtown (I was not) because I think he would have given me a lift if I was. That would have been awesome as that is how my sister gets into NYC every time we visit. Anyway, I finally get a cab, chat with the driver and make it to my hostel in record time.

I’m a sucker for a fun sign. And I hate Starbucks.

The place is really quiet and there is a note for me and I find my room and the light it still on. I hit the jackpot! There are two sets of bunks, but there are completely empty except for one made up bed for me!!! $25 and I get the whole room to myself. SCORE!!!!!!!! I dress for bed and snuggle in for a cozy, quiet night sleep.

Used: 2011

I love traveling because I get to see and experience things I would never see at home. Off the coast in Puno, on Lake Titicaca (hehe, remember laughing at that name when you were a kid, but you had no idea where it was? I can’t believe I have been there now!) the locals escaped the Spaniards like a million years ago (hey, you didn’t come here for a history lesson. That is what Wikipedia is for) and created their own “islands” and live on the lake, on floating reed islands! Unfortunately now, most live back on the mainland and travel to the islands daily to put on a “show” for the tourists. Despite the floating reed islands being super touristy, they were still really really cool. The reeds were really plush to step on, though I don’t know if I could sleep on them. The whole thing is super nuts.

Taking a boat out to the floating islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Taking a boat out to the floating islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

The tourists take motorized boats on the lake and they move so slow. Each ride took like 2-3 hours, even though the islands look a lot closer then they are. After the floating islands, we took a 2.5 hour ride to Taquile Island, which is the 3rd biggest island on the lake. The biggest island is technically in Bolivia, so I didn’t go. Taquile has a decent size population. We hiked up a very long hill to the “town square” and the guide explained facts about the island and people. We had a meh lunch. Typical high elevation food, but I was so not hungry and the food just kept coming! I was so used to just eating very small meals, that anything larger then one course was always too much for me. Oh well. While we waited for our food, the guide explained the clothing that the guys and gals wore on the island. On Lake Titicaca, the guys are weavers and create their hats and belts and they all mean something, of which I can’t remember what. Typical stuff, married, single, looking, etc. There was lots of tourist stuff to buy in the town square and the views of the lake were pretty amazing! Then it was back on the boat for another 2 hour trip to Amatani island, which is the 2nd biggest island on the lake, and were everyone does their homestay.

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

The home-stay on Amantani is quite touristy. They have the whole evening mapped out for everyone. After a pretty decent hike up to your homestay (with all your stuff, so pack LIGHT! It’s only one night with no shower, there is no excuses), I spent the afternoon watching the locals play some of the other tourists in a game of soccer. Then my guide lead me on a hike up to Pachamama, one of the two hills on the island to watch the sunset. It was quite a hike, but well worth it at the top. All along the route and at the top, there are people selling stuff and kids trying to get everyone to buy their crap, but I just shoo’d them away every time. If you feel bad for shooing people away, this is not the place for you. Thankfully, I don’t mind, so it wasn’t that annoying for me. The sunset was fantastic, much better then I thought it would be! Also, this is apparently were all the Australians are hiding out! There wasn’t a single one on my Inca Trail tour, which the British couple and I commented was odd, as they are known for being every where! I wish I had brought my flashlight as it got quite dark when we were walking back down the mountain to the homestay. Dinner was in an hour and I was pooped and cold, so I crawled into bed and took a nap until then. My room was super cute. I had the room to myself. It had a bed with tons of blankets and a table and chair. Not expected, but it had electricity, which I was surprised with. They only had an outhouse, which was a bit of a shlep and BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER! I can not say that enough.

My bed at the home stay on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

My bed at the home stay on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

When we arrived at the homestay earlier, I was given a cheat sheet on Quechua words. Since my guide was fluent in Quechua, Spanish and English but I arrived at dinner before him, it was slightly uncomfortable, but not too bad. The home stays are totally used to people and know about our cheat sheets, so they know what questions to ask. The one thing that kind of shocked me the most was that when they (or anyone actually) would ask me where I am from and I would say “United States” in English, they would give me a quizzical expression, they had no idea what I just said. It wasn’t until I would say it in Spanish (thanks growing up in Los Angeles!!) that they would understand me. I don’t know, I thought that was kind of odd. But that could be the selfishness talking. Otherwise, since they know what to ask me, I thought I did pretty good until the guide arrived in figuring out what they were asking me. Dinner was large and pretty good. I don’t know, as these high altitudes, I can’t eat very much in one sitting and all the portions are HUGE! I ate soup, some potato and a little rice and veg.

Football game! Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Football game! Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

After dinner, the women of the house came and dressed me in traditional Quechuan garb over my every day clothes for the dancing that all the tourist and home stay locals go to in the village hall, which sort of reminded me of a high school gym. The guys get to just wear ponchos, but the girls, we are decked out in heavy skirts and tops and scarves, to keep warm because it’s so cold. It’s very funny and I started chatting with another tourist in the hall who said something along the lines of “this is their way of making fun of us” which is probably true, but I didn’t care. The whole thing was so freakin’ touristy, which is something I kind of blah at, but here for some reason, I didn’t mind. I know this is how most of the island make money during the winter months. I am not much of a dancer, but it was fun, everyone dancing in huge circles. Reminded me a lot of dancing we do at Jewish weddings and B’ Mitzvahs. Dancing descends all cultures! Also, dancing keeps you warm as it was totally freezing, even with like 10 layers on. Tip: Bring some change to tip the band, which I forgot and felt really bad about because they were really good. After that long day, we came back to the home stay and I had one of the best sleeps I had in a while. It was pitch black and kind of cold, but the blankets do a really good job keeping you warm.

Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Sunset from Pachamama, Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Sunset from Pachamama, Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Amazing sky at sunset from Pachamama, Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Amazing sky at sunset from Pachamama, Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

The next day, I got up for breakfast, which was smaller this time. Just one pancake and tea, which is perfect for me. Then it was time to kayak! Thinking back to the day before, thinking how long it took to get from on island to another, just on the motorized boat, I couldn’t imagine how long it took to kayak from one point to another! It took a little over two hours to kayak from Amantani Island to the Llachalan peninsula, which is technically part of the mainland. The trip was very nice and peaceful and it was fun to be that close to the water and play chicken with the boats on the lake. Paddling kept me very warm! Once we got to the Llachalan peninsula, we took a motorized boat back to Puno. After all that paddling, I was pooped and all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel, take a shower and rest for the rest of the day. I was also burning out from Peru at this point.

Kayaking on Lake Titicaca, Peru

Kayaking on Lake Titicaca, Peru

Moral: The home stay was a highlight of my trip, something I knew I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize I would like it that much. It was just the right amount of home interaction with time to myself. The layout and décor of the room also helped a lot. It was a lot better then I thought it would be. I liked mixing my travels up and I think doing the Inca Hike and kayaking on Lake Titicaca were two good activities. People raved about Colca Canyon, but more long term hiking? No thanks. I think I chose well.

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