Strange Things in Alaska

On August 8, Alice and I left Vancouver on a cruise ship called the Volendam for a week-long journey to and from Alaska. We had never taken a cruise on a big ship before. Whenever we travel out west, we visit our four kids and their families who live in Calgary; in Vernon, B.C.; and in Vancouver. But that has been the extent of our traveling. This summer, however, we wanted to include an all-expenses paid cruise to Alaska. It turned out to be a wonderful cruise on a large ship that quietly cut its way through the waters, unlike the much smaller Volendam on which Alice and I at different times had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the 1950s. That Volendam had been a troop ship which brought Dutch solders to Indonesia, and, later, immigrants to Canada. This Volendam was much bigger and steadier. Over a thousand passengers were fed and entertained on this journey, and the ship laid anchor at different tourist places along the way: Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Glacier Bay.

At Juneau, Alice and I decided to take a bus to a small ship at the edge of town that promised to take us for a two-hour boat ride so we could watch whales in the ocean. We were a little uncertain about the wisdom of this decision. The cost was rather steep for a short boat ride just to watch some whales. But the decision had been made, and we went along for the ride. 

When our bus arrived at the launch, we took a short walk to the ship over a boardwalk. Alice stopped for a moment to dig something out of her pocket. As she did so, she pulled out her Visa card, which fell from her hand to the floor of the boardwalk. Actually, it fell between the cracks of the boardwalk into the water below. Just like that, it was gone – into the sea beneath us. We were both shocked. Alice needed that Visa card to pay for expenses and to open and close the safe in our room on board the Volendam. What to do? The card had vanished into the water. 

We shrugged our shoulders and decided to continue with our excursion for the day.

It was an exciting boat trip as we sped through the waters to see if we could spot whales. We did see one whale after a while. He surfaced and then dove down again. We were not very close to it, but we saw the tail fin very clearly. We waited for 10 or more minutes until he surfaced again. Another brief breathing opportunity, and he disappeared. Then the boat captain told us to hang on for another wild ride – another whale had been spotted elsewhere. We were several hundred feet away when this whale surfaced. After following it for a while, we again sped forward to come to a little island, where dozens of sea lions were snorting away. Eventually, the boat turned around and raced back to the harbour from which we had launched.

As we stepped back on land, we had to climb a steep walkway to where the bus was parked. When we passed the spot where Alice had dropped her Visa card, we tried to peer between the planks, but it was useless. The water had receded now; it was low tide. As we were about to leave, a gentleman who had seen us trying to peer through the gaps in the boardwalk approached us. He asked what we were doing. We explained what had happened. He said nothing, walked to the side of the road and descended to the water’s edge below, under the bridge. A few seconds later, he shouted, “I found it!” 

WHAT??? We couldn’t believe what we heard. As he climbed back to the side of the road, he walked over to Alice and handed her the Visa card, in perfect shape. We were ecstatic! As we climbed back into the bus we told our fellow passengers what had just happened. They all cheered.

And so our boat trip, which we had reluctantly begun, came to a triumphant ending. The money we had spent (about $300 Canadian) seemed paltry compared to the joy we had experienced. We both thanked God for a wonderful ending. We felt that Alaska is a most amazing place after all. I probably got carried away a bit. Somehow our journey made me think of the poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” which supposedly took place not far from where we were watching whales, although much earlier in history.

“There are strange things done 
in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret 
That would make your blood run 
The Northern Lights have seen 
queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of 
Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Maybe I was dreaming that night, and it was time to get up out of bed for breakfast on the Volendam.   


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