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Ahh-laska!

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2013 - 12:00am

Alaska is a destination of superlatives and exclamation points. If it were a performance, it would be a hit with innumerable calls for an encore, as if the viewers’ eyes would rather stay glued onstage. Thank God, He does not tire of repeat performances. And so those who visit Alaska are treated each time with majestic glaciers that look like Superman’s castle; with snowcapped mountains with eagles nesting, with whales frolicking amidst icebergs on icy blue waters.

Bought by the US from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867, Alaska is priceless. It will make believers out of many atheists, it will make devotees out of many believers.

One of the “Ahh” moments of my life was the moment I beheld Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier on the fifth day of the cruise my husband and I took on the Celebrity Millennium last May. But that was just among the many “Ahh” moments in a cruise that celebrates life, because life is so effortlessly beautiful.

For even before man moved into this world, a Master Artist had already spruced it up for him.

And so we pay homage to the Creator of such natural magnificence, and to the men who continually try to preserve such magnificence from the ravages of progress and modernity.

***

Our seven-day, seven-night cruise on the Celebrity Millennium began in Vancouver, Canada. The pier is about 45 minutes away from the international airport. If staying overnight in Vancouver, I would recommend you stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel, which is right on the Harbor. On sailing day, all you have to do is take an elevator down to the pier. No cabs, no long walks with all your luggage. Since you are sailing from Vancouver (where you need a Canadian visa) to Alaska (an American state), you must be prepared to pass through the US Immigration counters right before you board the ship.

After settling down in our stateroom, we had the customary safety drill, which familiarizes you with what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. After having a late lunch of pizza at the Oceanview Café on Deck 10, I went to the balcony of our stateroom, took a deep breath and looked excitedly at the sea of possibilities before me.

On an Alaskan cruise on the Celebrity, sailing is already touring. All you have to do is to look out your balcony, or go up the deck. The ship is almost always flanked by ranges of snowcapped mountains and green isles. If you look long enough, you will see whales frolicking. On floating icebergs, you will see seals wobbling.

Our first stop on the third day of the cruise was to the Alaskan capital of Juneau, which has a population of only 30,000. One of the first things you notice when you disembark from the ship is a BDO remittance center, I kid thee not. A few meters away from the main avenue is Manila Square, on which stands a bust of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal. There is a marker paying tribute to the Filipinos who were among the first settlers of Juneau, for braving the cold and the other physical hardships to build its first facilities.

Juneau is famous for Sarah Palin, and for the Mendenhall Glacier.  If the Hubbard Glacier was the high point of my glacial debut, the Mendenhall Glacier was the beauty that conquered Ed’s heart.

Alaska is beautiful, but most of its attractions inaccessible. So to truly experience, not just view, its beauty, one is encouraged to explore it by helicopter. If your health and your sense of adventure permit, hop on one and see a world that is like Disneyland to a child.

We took a Helicopter Glacier Trek of the Mendenhall Glacier — it will take you to greater heights, literally and figuratively. You are first taken to a helipad where you are briefed on what to expect on the glacier and given your gear: rain and wind-proof jacket and pants; hard shell mountaineering boots; a belt bag with tissue paper, a bottle of water and a granola bar; gloves, crampons. All your other earthly possessions like your wallet and bag, you leave in a locker beside the helipad.

Then on an AStar helicopter, you are flown over snow-covered mountains, lakes and glaciers of the most vivid blue hues till you reach the summit of the Mendenhall (with an elevation of 5,184 ft.). Then you walk for around two hours on the uneven terrain of the glacier, a sea of white snow with patches of small turquoise lakes. The trick, according to our guide, is to walk on the snow like a duck in order to keep one’s balance. At the end of our trek, tiny hailstones started to rain on us. I lifted my face to the sky and welcomed God’s confetti of ice. What a welcome!

Our next port of call was in Skagway, where we took a vintage train up the White Pass and Yukon Route that took us almost 3,000 feet above sea level. The train ride sometimes features steep grades of almost 3.9 percent and offers breathtaking views of every form of landscape God created — from the comfort of your seat.

Our fifth day on the cruise took us up close and personal to the Hubbard Glacier, a sight so magnificent it was an altar in itself, and those who beheld it all but genuflected on this altar, in praise of the Creator.

When the Celebrity Millennium’s Capt. Zisis Taramas invited a few of us to the bridge on the fifth day of the cruise, I thought he wanted to show to us the ship’s state-of-the-art equipment. But when I entered the glass-encased bridge and stared ahead, I was simply blown over by the sight of an arcade of blue ice (Glacial ice is so blue because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue) against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, floating on icy waters under a canopy of blue skies. If the Alaskan skies were a canvass, then this was God’s masterpiece in snow.

Tears sprung unbidden to my eyes and I tried to discreetly wipe away my tears till I heard the woman beside me, another guest of the captain, sniffling. “I feel so privileged,” she told me in between quiet sobs.

Another mesmerized spectator beside me whispered, “I feel so lucky being able to see this I need to buy a lotto ticket!”

Such is a trip to Alaska. You feel privileged to be able to witness a spectacle in snow and ice that is larger than life, larger than you.

Ahh-laska. You deserve a standing ovation.

(For more information, please contact your preferred travel agent or Arpan Air Inc., international representative in the Philippines of Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, at tel. nos. 892-2701 to 03 or send an e-mail to rylcaribbean@arpanair.com.ph or operations@arpanair.com.ph.)

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

 

AHH ALASKA ARPAN AIR INC CELEBRITY MILLENNIUM COM CRUISE GLACIER HUBBARD GLACIER MENDENHALL GLACIER
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