Tag Archives: solo travel

You Can Never Have Too Many German Freunds

One of the most common questions I get in regards to my traveling is:

“Daniel, how do you have friends that live all over the world?”

It’s simple. I meet them while I’m traveling. In trains, airports, buses, through volunteering, excursions, etc. One of the most frequent means is while backpacking and staying in a variety of hostels with other solo backpackers.

Meeting new people while traveling occurs totally naturally and usually with a lack of effort.

Even here in Melbourne, I’m technically backpacking visiting loads of Aussie’s I met through previous travels and still I’m meeting loads of new people along the way.

But for some reason, a good majority of them strangely are always from Germany.

And all the German backpackers are all here in Australia. Everyone I meet. German. German. German. German. French. German. German.

It’s def not a bad thing though.

If I were to guess, I’d say my German friends now outnumber my regular friends back home. It’s true. After my week in Melbourne, that scale has tipped even further by a hesitant decision I made on my first night back in the city.

I flew into Melbourne from Launceston fairly late in the evening. I landed around 9:30pm, retrieved my bags, and took the double decker bus to the main city. From there, I walked about 15 minutes to the hostel I booked prior, the YHA Melbourne Metro Hostel.

I highly recommend this hostel by the way. It had a great common area to meet loads of travelers.

I reserved a 4-bed dorm as opposed to the 12-bed dorm to reduce my chances of getting stuck with a snorer. It just so happened that underneath my bunk was the loudest snorer in all of Victoria. It was 10:30pm, I was tired and decided to call it a night.

I actually began to doze off in between his snores and not only a few minutes later, I heard the door knob to my room being tampered with from the outside and inaudible drunken chatter. Whoever was outside the door was having trouble getting in. Still, I laid there motionless and slightly annoyed, hoping they were just at the wrong room. Mr. Snorty McSnore below me and the two drunks outside the door…

…How did I get stuck with these people?

Once the two guys finally figured out how to get inside, I popped my head up to see the faces of the culprits making all the ruckus. One of ’em came to me and eagerly introduced himself as Connor (Scotland) and the other was Nicolas (Switzerland). They apologized for being loud which was pretty nice of them to do. Connor was even amazed when I told him I was from the US. We are a rare breed here I guess? Which I think he’s right. I only met one American in Australia so far and she was a nut house.

“We’re going out for a few beers with some people waiting for us downstairs,” Connor began in his Scottish accent. “You should join us! That would be cool!”

I already made up my mind as soon as he started speaking. No. I was cozy in bed already half asleep. It was an easy no, but I thought about it and for some strange reason, I said “Yeah, I’ll come.”

Why did I say that? Now I HAVE to go. I instantly regretted my decision but I went to bed without eating dinner so I was quite hungry, so maybe I’d find some grub on the way. Plus, they were both super nice.

I followed Connor and Nicolas downstairs to a group of backpackers waiting outside.

“Man, everybody knows each other and I’m the odd man out,” I thought to myself.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. Everyone literally just met and most of them were German. Included in that bunch, were two German buddies named Luca and Mahid. They didn’t stay at the hostel, but instead were living in a camper van parked just outside the hostel.

 

 

After the night was said and done (around 4am), I was glad I went out with them. These were the most generous group of backpackers I’ve come across since…well not too long. I met another neat group a couple months ago when I first arrived in Fiji.



Over the next few days, I became tighter with the German group. I would give Luca and Mahid my hostel key to take showers every morning and in return they made me sandwiches they created up from the top of their head which included a combination of bacon, dorito-esque chips, barbecue sauce, and sriracha sauce. It sounds kinda odd but it was actually mighty tasty!

“The chips give it a crunch,” Luca would say.


As a matter of fact, this specific group of backpackers proved to be extremely useful, as they can all cook! They even cooked for me a few times while I stood back and supervised. (I did my part by washing all the dishes afterwards.)

 

I’d also take rides with them in their van to nearby beaches filled with penguins and markets surrounding Melbourne.

Within the week, our group grew with the addition of even more Germans including Tarek, a guy from the outskirts of Paris named Jules and a few other randos, all from Germany.

A good measure to tell if I like ya or not is if I start to make fun of you. The more I can make fun of someone, the more comfortable I am around them. If I can’t poke fun, then it’s because you hold some power over me (boss, teacher, etc) or because I’m unsure about you. I was able to make fun of these guys within just a few hours of meeting them. But with Germans its easier to tease them because of their funny English.

Like the way they pronounce the word “clothes” as “cloTHIS” for example.

Their English was already great, but I took it upon myself to refine it with the help of a professional English speaker such as myself.

Guys, remember to swap your ‘v’ and ‘w’ sounds in the English vocabulary!

In addition, I was able to practice my horrible German and learn a few new words to add to my dismal German vocabulary.

During the week, I would periodically leave the backpackers to meet up with other friends I knew around the area. I met up with Ben and his friends again at the noodle market and later also met Nakul’s girlfriend Latha for the very first time. She gave me all sorts of tips for my upcoming trip into India.

I also met up with a former backpacker who joined my party while I was traveling through Nicaragua. Her name is Debbie and she lived in the Fitzroy area of Melbourne.

When I last saw Debbie, I departed from her and Luke while in Costa Rica to stay with some friends of mine there. When I met up with her here at a hip restaurant somewhere in Fitzroy, it was like talking as if we had seen each other just yesterday as opposed to two years. It also happened to be Thanksgiving and so we celebrated by pigging out on the tapa’s plates she chose.

The Fitzroy area is collectively trendy with a lot of unique bars and pubs scattered in the area. Debbie graciously took me through a handful of the ones she liked the best. The Pixel Bar was perhaps my favorite. A bar filled with classic arcade and pinball machines and retro 8-bit inspired art along the walls.

I mentioned to Debbie that I planned on traveling along the Great Ocean Road the next weekend and that if she found the time, she should join along. As a matter of fact, the ordeal of me going to the Great Ocean road was crazy spontaneous. I was presented with the generous gift of a free house over the weekend by my friend Alison, another backpacker I met back in Laos, who was out of the country working in Dubai. The house is situated right on the start of the Ocean Road. Initially, I had a few friends joining me. Mychaela, Josh, and Timo; three volunteers who I met while in Fiji who happened to be in Australia. Also Clint, my friend from the States who was studying here as well. Josh and Timo both got brand new jobs and weren’t able to get the weekend off like they wanted, while Clint got the dates mixed up. Oops.

So now it was just Mychaela and I. How did that happen? We can’t hog this big wonderful house all to ourselves, so I invited some of the backpackers I hung out with all week at the hostel. I knew they would want to go and they were appreciative of me for inviting them. Debbie planned on joining us a day later.

Onward to the Great Ocean Road!




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A Hawaiian Style Send-Off At The Paradise Cove Luau

paradise cove luau oahu

Two more events are left. The seventh event is one I looked forward to the most because it’s something that I’ve done in other countries before. Still I wasn’t sure if Veronica and Katelin would like the event because of the preparation it requires. I withheld that preparation from them because a big part of the League of Eight Extraordinary Events is the surprise aspect. To expect the unexpected. With that, I told everyone to wear their bathing suits and get ready for the seventh event. We woke up early Thursday morning and drove back up to Sharks Cove on the North Shore.

Event #7 of 8 – Scuba Diving Sharks Cove

First I have to say, don’t let the name Sharks Cove deceive you. There aren’t any big sharks here. Just lil’ baby ones the size of your arm. Secondly, I should have told Veronica and Katelin that we were scuba diving because the looks on their faces when they saw the scuba gear I pulled up next to was a look of uncertainty. Chris, as usual, was game. Scuba diving is a whole lot of fun but it’s also a serious endeavor. Freak out underwater and you’re in deep trouble (pun intended). Proper training and skills are required and today, my three amigos would get a quick introductory course. Sean sat out on the sidelines because this was an absolute ‘hell no’ for him.

We met up with Devin, our dive master, near the shoreline as he prepped us and explained to us what we would be doing today. Since this was an introductory/refresher course, we would only be diving a depth of about 12 meters, not too far from the shore. As Devin explained to us basic diving procedures, Katelin began to doubt whether she’d be able to do this or not. Breathing underwater is not a natural feeling so if there are any doubts, its understandably so. The instructors eased her and told her not to worry and give it a try.

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We put on our equipment and walked down into the coves. In addition to the four of us there were four other first time divers in our group as well. Once we entered the water, just a couple of feet deep, we practiced the basics like clearing our mask from water leaks and readjusting our regulators. It was a quick and dirty tutorial compared to the half day instruction I received back in Zanzibar, but hopefully it was just enough to get everyone by. Soon enough, we put on our flippers and swam out to the buoy in the deeper part of the cove.

Devin called for two of us to swim towards the buoy and practice the skills once more. Chris and I volunteered first and just a couple minutes later, we were 12 meters underwater, sitting on the ocean floor. Now we just had to wait for the others. We waited…and waited…and waited…

“What the heck are they doing up there?” I thought as I began to regret the decision of volunteering myself to go down first. The longer I was down there waiting, the more my oxygen tank depleted which meant less time to explore the coves.

I could see Veronica and Katelin up there practicing their skills, but dangling at the surface. Eventually three divers from the other group came down and then finally Veronica. But once Veronica touched the floor, she gave me a look of absolute terror from her mask and pointed up to the surface. If I could read her mind, she would have said said…

“GET ME THE F%€% OUT OF HERE!”

scuba dive oahu

One of the dive masters saw it in her face too and knew he wasn’t going to be able to convince her to stay down. So he escorted her safely to the surface where Katelin waded. Katelin was having ear issues and couldn’t manage the descent either so the two of them stayed at the surface but were free to snorkel while we dove. And so we went!

scuba dive oahu

This was one of the easier dives I’ve been on. The water was warmish, the currents were smooth, and there was an abundance of wildlife. The best part was the lone sea turtle that slowly glided by, entirely composed as can be and not afraid of us humans one bit. We could have touched it but that would have been illegal.

scuba dive oahu

scuba dive oahu

The dive itself lasted for about 40 minutes before our tanks entered the red zone. We swam back to the cove shore and rose to the surface to join the others. It was a successful dive! On to the eight and final event which also happens to fall on Chris’ birthday.

Event #8 of 8 – Paradise Cove Luau

We couldn’t go to Hawaii without having a proper Luau and with Chris’ birthday also on the same day, I thought it would be a fitting send off for my travel companions before they fly back to the mainland U.S. The night before the luau, we had dinner with one of Chris’ college buddies who was stationed here in Oahu. The local musicians in Waikiki at the restaurant we ate in serenaded Chris with a Hawaiian birthday medley.

The luau I reserved for our final event is well known on Oahu. It’s called the Paradise Cove Luau and it’s one of the more popular ones on the island, but also one of the most touristy. I came to this specific luau 12 years ago and loved it so much that I thought I’d give my friends a taste of it. Since this was the last event and a send-off, I told them prior that we’d be attending a luau and to wear something bright and on the colorful side.

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Once we entered the site, we were treat with a complimentary Mai Tai and cards loaded with $16 worth of credit to use towards beverages and souvenirs. Of course, we used them for the beverages as we walked around paradise cove beach. A stroll through the cove took us through festivities like arts and crafts and Hawaiian games. Periodically, different spectacles were put on for the guests such as the Shower of Flowers, the underground oven cooking at the Imu Ceremony and the Hukilau on the Beach. Merely casual entertainment as we waited for the main event: a buffet style feast served up by the locals of Paradise Cove.

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

The food was absolutely amazing! Roast, chicken, seafood, pastas, salads, and a few Hawaiian specialties thrown into the mix created the best dinner we’ve had on the League of Eight Extraordinary Events. And also the perfect meal to celebrate Chris’ birthday in Oahu.

paradise cove luau

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau

We spent the last couple of hours watching the incomparable Paradise Cove Extravaganza. Award-winning entertainers and performers put on an unforgettable display of songs and dances of Hawaii and Polynesian cultural as the sunset in the distance. That’s taken straight from their website and it is 100% true! This is the second time I was able to witness it with my own eyes.

paradise cove luau

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu
Courtesy of Chris O’Sullivan

The End of The League of Eight Extraordinary Events?

And with that, completes the league of events that took place over the course of two weeks. One week in Alaska and one week in Hawaii. Here’s the rundown of events:

  1. White Water Rafting Denali National Park (Alaska)
  2. Ace ATV Denali (Alaska)
  3. Glacier Bay Kayaking (Alaska)
  4. Shark Cage Diving (Hawaii)
  5. Lunar Legends SUP (Hawaii)
  6. Peddle Bar Honolulu (Hawaii)
  7. Scuba Diving Sharks Cove (Hawaii)
  8. Paradise Cove Luau (Hawaii)

Oddly, I loved planning the whole thing. It took months to execute but I found it to be truly exciting as I could have gone wherever I wanted and made any event I could have thought of. Alaska and Hawaii were the perfect hosts and the people we met there have but nothing but nice. We didn’t have a single issue with the locals we met in each community we visited.

Even though the League is over, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. I definitely plan on creating another one sometime in the near future, but I’ll be cranking the notch up a bit and taking this party international. I’ll keep everyone posted on that!

As for Veronica, Chris, and Katelin–my traveling companions for the last couple weeks–it’s that time where they head back home to the States. Veronica, Katelin, and Sean flew back to Michigan the morning after the Luau. Chris hung around for a couple extra days to kick back and relax before he headed back to Philadelphia to resume his teaching duties. Thanks for joining me guys. You’ve all been great!

scuba dive oahu

As for me? I’m continuing onto my Quest to the Seven Continents and flying to Auckland, New Zealand to spend a couple weeks there with a few friends from home as we road trip through the North Island.

The Quest to the Seven Continents continues in New Zealand!

The Crouching Lion, Hidden Hike

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

There aren’t any sign posts that point towards it.

You wouldn’t even know the name for it unless you looked it up. The unofficial start of the trail was hidden somewhere near a “Do Not Pass” road post on the eastern coast of Oahu. I’ve read about it and I’ve seen some amazing pictures from the top and I wanted to see it for myself. Crouching Lion is its name and it was my mission to find it.

We have just completed Event #6 (which I’ll talk about in moment) and now we have a full unplanned day to do whatever we wanted in Oahu. I mentioned to the others that there was a special hike I wanted to find that we all should consider doing. They were all down. It’s called Crouching Lion and it earned that name for the “crouching lion” shape the mountain resembles. I didn’t see it. There aren’t any road marks or sign posts for this hike, you just have to find it. But thanks to other bloggers who have found the trail and left a comprehensive guide for others to follow suit, most of the hard work was already done for us. We just had to find a place to park and luckily there was access to a small parking structure on the side of the road to where we needed to be.

Twelve years ago, I came to Oahu. We parked our minivan on the side of the road for a jungle trek and came back a couple hours later to find our van’s windows busted and several of our valuables stolen. I’ve been cautious ever since. This time, I had full coverage on our SUV and no valuables inside, just in case bandits were to try again. At the least, none of our valuables would be taken. We kept them in our day bag for the trek up Crouching Lion, which began just after the “Do Not Pass” sign, just as I have read about prior.

Crouching Lion Oahu
The trail begins just after the “Do Not Pass” sign on the east side of the road.

After finding the sign and entering the trail, we immediately came to a few battered trees to our left which we had to climb over and under to continue.

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

The ascent up itself was steep, but not difficult. It also wasn’t very long. Probably took about 30-40 minutes to get to the trail that lined the top of the mountain. Even so, we were already rewarded with a spectacular view of a large lake that barely reaches the east shore.

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

Once on the mountain top trail, the path splits into a fork: left or right. We chose left as it was the easiest. I’ve read that the other trail leads to some dangerous ventures that I wasn’t ready to risk with a few friends who rarely hike at my side. But the left path still took us to another apex where we could see a part of residential Oahu meet the Pacific.

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

Processed with Snapseed.

Crouching Lion Hike Oahu

If you’re keen on doing a hike that only lasts a few hours round trip, but not looking for anything too strenuous, I highly recommend Crouching Lion. Relatively easy to find, requires a low level of physical assertion, and is super rewarding. And if you have any questions about how to find the trail exactly and where to park, just shoot me a message!

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Now let’s backtrack a bit into Event #6…

Now the reason I began talking about Crouching Lion instead of Event #6, which happened the night before Crouching Lion, is purely personal reasoning. Basically, I’m not a fan of leading a post about drinking and drunken antics unless it’s something like a wine tour in a new country, Oktoberfest, or something purely unavoidable that I MUST blog about like a completely unexpected Sunday Funday pool crawl in Nicaragua. I don’t personally like opening a post about a semi-sloppy drunken mess, case in point, like what Event #6 turned into…

Event #6 of 8 – Honolulu Peddle Bar

I typically have control over the turnouts of each of the events, but not this one. It comes with the territory though. Getting hammered on a giant cart powered by 12 bike peddlers comes with just rewards and drunken consequences if one isn’t careful. Regardless of the fact, we all had a great time!

This event was catered specifically for Veronica. After torturing her with physical outdoorsy events, I thought she’d appreciate something a little more up her alley. Thus, a peddle bike bar crawl though Honolulu was born!

Honolulu peddle bike oahu

The idea was intriguing. About twelve ready-to-get-their-drink-on strangers get together and power peddle a large cart to three bars in Honolulu, guided by a man who steered as we all gladly slaved away. We weren’t allowed to have any actual drinks on the cart but were prompted to drink up at each of the bars we stopped at, which came very easy to all five of us.

By the end of the third bar, we were all feeling it. We had a pretty good group on our cart and wanted to keep the action going, so we decided (or actually one of the ladies in our group suggested) we all go to a bar about a kilometer away called Duck Butt. We graciously straggled our way there and suddenly entered Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Duck Butt was a Vietnamese karaoke bar! The staff, the atmosphere, the k-pop music videos on the tv screens, the waitresses who pretended to understand what we were trying to order; I felt like I was back in Ho Chi Minh again!

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We all squeezed into a small room with a couch that wrapped along the walls. We all made cozy, ordered drinks, and sang some songs. Well I didn’t. I was busy wondering what the heck was happening. Veronica became Vanessa who couldn’t read Chinese. Drinks were spilled all over the table, we thought we were eating chicken but it turned out to be goose or something, and lots of talk of the difference between queefs and fanny farts among the Americans and the Australians in our group. Before anyone forgot, I paid for the tab before the waitress told me that someone from our group ordered another round!

“Who the heck ordered more beer??” I thought. We certainly didn’t need anymore, but hey… we were at a place called Duck Butt!

We took a couple of ubers back to our house later that evening and on the way I mentally decided that if I were to ever do another League of Eight Extraordinary Events (which I definitely plan on doing), I won’t make any of the events based on getting drunk, unless it’s something iconic like an Oktoberfest for example. Bottom line, we all enjoyed ourselves and that’s what mattered the most.

On to Event# 7! My favorite event thus far!

The Opposite of Alaska is Hawaii

The League of Eight Extraordinary Events

The road rally wasn’t the only thing I was lying about…

Yes, the League of Eight Extraordinary Events takes place in Alaska. That is true. But what I haven’t told my friends was that it doesn’t take place only in Alaska.

This is what I told them:

“So you guys know the capital of Alaska is Juneau right?” I asked them. They nodded and responded with a yes. “Well, Event #4 takes place in Juneau but it’s impossible to drive there from here. We have to fly.”

That part is also true, you cannot drive all the way from Anchorage to Juneau without taking a ferry. However the part about actually going to Juneau was a sham. Still, they believed me and were all excited about going to a completely different part of the last frontier, especially Chris.

We packed our bags and headed back to the Anchorage International Airport, where I was able to return my rental. I wasn’t sure how I was going to reveal to them that we were flying to Honolulu, Hawaii instead of Juneau, Alaska. I didn’t plan this part out. But yes you read that right, I decided to go to a place completely opposite of Alaska, and what state is more opposite than Hawaii?

The flight to Juneau was at 12:30pm (12:30) but our actual flight to Honolulu was at 2:30pm (14:30). Just in case one of them checked for Juneau flights online, I made sure we arrived to the airport early, so they wouldn’t question it. Legit, they were convinced we were headed to Juneau. But how and when was I going to reveal it to them?

My unsuspecting crew thinking we were going to Juneau, Alaska...
My unsuspecting crew thinking we were going to Juneau, Alaska…

Since we were early, I had everyone sit down and told them I had to use the restroom and that I would print out our boarding passes. About 15 minutes later, I had all of our boarding passes in hand with the plan to hand it to them and let them see for themselves. I captured their reactions on video. Once they saw me recording, they knew something wasn’t quite right.

Here’s how it went down:

 

Shave your legs Veronica! You’re going to Honolulu!

From the video you may have noticed a few things which I’ll get to explaining. Firstly, Veronica was completely shocked (which I knew she would be) and had no idea that we were actually leaving Alaska and headed to Hawaii. Secondly, Chris didn’t seem as surprised as he suspected something was up the moment he saw me recording everyone. Also, I detected a hint of disappointment. Chris assured me that he was ecstatic about going to Hawaii but at the same time disappointed that he wasn’t going to Juneau. We all loved Alaska but Chris loved it more than any of us. If it weren’t for his keen eye, we wouldn’t have seen a single moose or a bear at all.

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There’s no doubt we will have a blast in Hawaii but going to Alaska was something he always wanted to do and to have it end unexpectedly, I can understand his reaction. Lastly, as for Katelin…you may have noticed her reaction wasn’t very genuine either, but there is a very good reason for that.
There was one more thing I’ve been fibbing about. All this planning for the fake road rally and the League of Eight Extraordinary Events in Alaska and Hawaii was a complete surprise to everyone, except for Katelin. She’s been in on the whole thing for months now. She initially wasn’t part of the league when I told her all about it months ago, but after I told her the secret, we both thought it would be great for her to join in and she could help sell my story to the others. Up until now, she’s been a great actress, going with the flow, pretending to be clueless about everything…well mostly everything. I left her in the dark about what the actual events are. Also, we both worked out a way for her boyfriend, Sean, to join us in Hawaii too.
Now that more truths were revealed, we just had to wait for our single flight from Anchorage to Honolulu. Once we arrived, I picked up a rental car and the four of us drove to our new accommodation about 20 minutes away. It’s another AirBnB with a kitchen, bathroom, a big bed and a pull out sofa bed. It was a little smaller but perfect for us.

Image courtesy of Chris O'Sullivan. Our view from our studio in Honolulu.
Image courtesy of Chris O’Sullivan. Our view from our studio in Honolulu.

Immediately after dropping everyone off, Katelin and I went back to the airport to pick up Sean who arrived a couple hours after we did. Sean would be joining us for the remaining events, but just like the others, he also has no idea of what the events are.
“Event #4 begins in the morning. Everyone wear your swim suits. We’re getting wet!”

The Land Where The Ice Age Lingers: The Kenai Fjords of Alaska

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The next event, Event #3, took us 24 hours to complete. 24 LONG ALASKAN HOURS! 

None of us realized how long it was going to take; not even me and I’m the one who booked this thing. All I knew for sure was that we had to wake up freakin’ early for it. I’m talking around 1:30am (01:30) to drive from our geodesic dome in Eagle View to Seward, the location of Event #3. After the first couple of events in Denali, we drove five hours south to our new accommodation right outside of Anchorage to a geodesic dome I found on AirBnB. It’s someones home that we rented, located on a bee farm but central to everywhere we needed to go. It’s perfectly Alaskan!

Our unique geodesic dome style homestay we found on AirBnb.
Our unique geodesic dome style home-stay we found on AirBnb.
After settling into our wonderful new home-stay, I decided to break some news about Event #3 to the gang. Out of all eight events that I planned, this particular event took me the longest to organize based on how elaborate it was. I sat them down on the couches in the main room.

“We’re going to Seward to kayak through glaciers, icebergs, whales, seals, and all that stuff,” I began to say, almost with a tone of exhaustion. “It’s an all day thing and we have to be out the door at 1:30am in order to make it to Miller’s Landing by 6am, which means we should all go to bed around 7 or 8pm tonight. We are kayaking for eleven hours!”

They were astonished. They couldn’t believe or really grasp what we were about to do.

I decided to tell them so they could dress appropriately for the glacial chill we were about to endure and to mentally prepare themselves for the fact we were about to be kayaking for eleven hours in elusive waters where whales like to play. We spent the next hour looking up videos online of the area we were going to, the Kenai Fjords, but more specifically Aialik Bay. Everyone was brimming with excitement!

I woke up around 1am and rounded up the gang for our drive south into Seward. Leaving at such an early time gave me peace of mind for the drive. If anything were to go wrong during the drive, we’d have plenty of time to get it resolved. Plus, getting there about an hour early gave all of us time to snooze once more before our long haul into the glaciers.

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Event #3 of 8 – Glacier Kayak in the Kenai Fjords of Alaska

I woke up my car mates at 5:30am (05:30) to meet up with our guide, Ben, at Miller’s Landing. I’ve been in contact with him for the last couple days to make sure the weather was fitting and our dietary requirements were in order. We walked up through the fog and the mud puddled road to the cabin property, where we were able to check in and grab a light breakfast.

“Meet me at the dock behind us in just a few minutes,” Ben said as he walked off with a random assortment of boating equipment. Ben was an older man, I’d say early 50’s, with a single yoga-style tone to his voice. He’s been doing this for awhile and you could tell. He wasn’t the most enthusiastic guide I’ve ever had but still he was kind and most certainly knowledgeable.

I walked outside to the dock…the eerie dock where our small boat bowed out into the mist. Ben told us that this boat would transport us about 100 – 150 miles into the fjords. But where in the heck were we headed? I could barely see a few yards in front of me.

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snapseed

We boarded the small transport boat and set off to Aialik Bay, wherever that was. On the way there, Ben said we could potentially spot whales and seals. I personally found the opportunity to catch a little more sleep. The drive back home was going to be exhausting, so any moment I could find to rest my eyes was absolutely necessary. Besides, the fog covered everything. I was still most anxious about actually kayaking through icebergs and glaciers, something that I’ve never done before. Same goes for the others.

This is the area of our event. Courtesy of Google Maps.
This is the area of our event. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The boat ride to Aialik lasted a little under two hours before we docked on one of the stone riddled beaches. We unloaded our kayaks and gear onto the shore. They were double kayaks while Ben had a single. We briefly went over proper packing and paddling procedures and what to do if the kayak flipped or if a wild animal approached us in the water. If anything, it’s important to remain calm because the last thing we would want is our kayak to flip. The waters here were the coldest I’ve ever felt in my life! If we fell in, our bodies would instantly tighten from the freezing sea and wouldn’t be able to function before we succumb to hypothermia. Thankfully we were bundled up and vowed not to flip our kayak.

aialik bay

Aialik Bay Kayaking

It was just the five of us on that shore. There were a few other kayaks around but we lost them in the murky distance. It felt like a weird dream. The water resembled a milky steel and was as calm as you could imagine, but teaming with mysterious life right below and even above. There were only sounds of nature and a sense of tranquility among the isles in the short distance. The only nuisance were the pesky flying insects that swarmed the shores. How are these bugs so active in the cold like this? The shore was piled with smooth stones and plates of slate. The stones were the perfect size for skipping rocks across the liquid steel.

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Veronica was my kayak partner for this event. Katelin and Chris manned the other. We put on our skirts and packed our kayaks with our bags and food that Ben prepared and set off into the mist. Almost immediately we could spot many small icebergs that have just calved off from an approaching glacier.


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Aialik Bay Kayaking

The first glacier we approached, Aialik Glacier, was massive! Ben told us that it stretched a mile long, even though it didn’t look like it from where we were. We couldn’t get too close to it just in case ice started to calve off. From our distance, we could see humongous thumps of ice fall off and two seconds later we would hear a loud “thunder” followed by an intense surge of water spouting into the air creating waves that we could feel from our kayaks. It was too surreal!

As for the whales? We didn’t see any around, which I wasn’t mad about but still a little disappointed something monstrous didn’t pop out of the water. Only a few otters and seals. The cold didn’t bother them one bit. It started to take its toll on us though. Our pants were drenched from the water that was already in the kayak. Veronica and I had the same mental thought process.

“This is fun and amazing. We both aren’t fond of kayaking. We both hate being cold. Why is our kayak going slower than the others? Let’s get the heck out of here.”

We followed Ben and kayaked around the isle back to our shore where Ben would prepare lunch that he made at his home for us. We were all starving and were ready for whatever he was about to serve us. But first he set up a tarp between two of the kayaks to shield us from the drizzle. It barely made do.

As he prepared our lunch, Chris and I went further along the shore to break slates while Veronica and Katelin built a fire to keep warm.

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After a cold yet much needed lunch (pasta with veggies on a corn tortilla), we geared up to paddle around and through the inlets around us, which proved to be way more strenuous than we all anticipated. We basically paddled out into the open sea of nothingness, with the current along the shorelines of the isles.

Aialik Bay Kayaking

“Why is our kayak moving so slow?” I would continue to say. Veronica and I were baffled. We were kayaking at normal pace and usually in sync, but for some reason, the other two kayaks were always out ahead in the distance. Thankfully after paddling for what felt like hours into a void, Ben had us dock at an isle inhabiting bears and some of the mossiest forests I’ve ever seen. The forest floor was essentially a giant blanket of cushiness. Like a natural downy fabric softener. Nothing but a soft baby green moss…with animal skulls lying around. I could have slept right on the moss if it weren’t for all those skulls laying around. There was a resident murderer around here somewhere.

At this point, I began to feel miserable. I enjoyed everything we were doing but I was soaked from waist down. I didn’t wear the proper pants for this event and I was tired of kayaking forever. Veronica felt the same way. However, that miserable feeling went completely away when we kayaked towards this…

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There were chunks of icebergs everywhere, all coming from another large glacier called the Pedersen Glacier. At what first seemed like a dangerous maneuver through the icebergs turned into a real life game of Frogger for me and Veronica.  The chunks of ice flowed every which way, with some even turning right-side up in the water creating small shocks of waves that shook the surrounding bay. It was impossible for me to perfectly steer our kayak through the ice and eventually accepted the fact that were just going to crash into a few chunks. May as well have fun with it? I was laughing the entire way at Veronica’s expense, since I was doing all the steering and she was sitting in front, she had no idea what direction I was taking her. Add on the fact that there was an evil-eyed seal chasing our kayak and poking its head out the water, leering at us. We definitely pinballed our way through the ice chunks, much to our amusement. We were fine as long as our kayak didn’t flip and that stalker seal didn’t come any closer. We were eventually treated to the Pedersen glacier, which was smaller than the Aialik Glacier, but the challenge was welcoming and rewarding. Thousands of ice chunks and dozens of seals surrounded us. It was by far one of the most amazing sights in all of my travels.

Aialik Bay Kayaking
Aialik Bay Kayaking
We explored our surroundings on foot for about 20 minutes until Ben suggested we head back to our original beach. This leg of the trip would be the longest so far. We had to kayak all the way back, but this time against the current!

The current was so strong that at times it didn’t feel like we were moving. It was a little frustrating but we knew we had to keep paddling or else we’d be stuck out here forever. It took us about three hours to get back to where we needed to be and by that time we were beat. Cold, dead, and beat. Shivering beats. Once we docked we saw that our kayak had all the heavy bags and the heavy bag of storage water. “That’s why we were going so freakin’ slow!”

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Now all we had to do was wait for our boat to come pick us up. The boat was about an hour late but came in the nick of time. We were all soaking wet and freezing. As soon as we boarded, everyone changed into their dry clothes while I remained a still statue nestled in the corner of my seat until we got back to land. I eventually changed at the car, thankful that the day is over, but even more thankful that I was able to witness everything we saw in the Kenai Fjords. We were the only ones out there and had the whole bay to ourselves. We didn’t see any whales up close but we did see a couple of whales breach on the way back to Miller’s Landing. Now all we had to do was drive a few hours back to our geodesic dome and become enslaved to our dry warm beds. We got back to the dome at the same time we left, exactly 24 hours ago. But WELL worth it. This event gave us more than we all expected.

I told Chris, Veronica, and Katelin that we didn’t have an event tomorrow, but instead it would be a day of rest. “Event #4 takes place on Sunday when we fly to Juneau, Alaska” I warned them.

What they didn’t know was that I was about to pull the rug from right underneath their unsuspecting feet once again…