Paul and I had been planning this trip for months, but daydreaming about it since we were newly-weds. Our "someday vacation". I always knew he had wanted to go whale watching, but I never really got into the idea until he showed me a documentary on the Humpback Whale. We watched it on the brand new big screen we had gotten for our wedding. They were so majestic, breathtaking, and elusive. No matter what goes on in the world, with all the hustle and bustle of every day human life, all our worries and struggles, they continue on their annual cycle of migration from the warm waters of the tropics to the icy seas of Antarctica and Alaska as they have for thousands of years.
My wonderful husband had taken care of everything. The airfare, accommodations, researching restaurants and other activities (whale watching was just the main attraction), travel insurance, and of course, the tour company we would use and our itinerary. I mean, he certainly had enough time (over 20 years!) to think about it, and make it "perfect".
Although it seemed like the day would never get here, all of the sudden we were on the eve of departure, scrambling to get our bags packed. "What time is the flight again, honey?" I asked. "8:00 AM, dear, which means we have to be out the door by 5:30, if we don't want to scramble like this at the airport!"; he shot me a smile. Once we had everything seemingly ready, Paul pulled out the master list. "Clothes?"; he looks at me. "Check", I confirm. "Toiletries? Passports? Camera?" The list went on for minutes, but with each item, I confirmed, and he marked it off the list. "Did you get your precious travel insurance packet yet?" I jested. Paul always insisted on travel insurance, though I never saw the need. On all the vacations and trips we've ever taken, not once had we ever had to file a claim. I thought travel insurance was a scam. "Oh yes, it came in the mail today. I was worried I wouldn't get it in time!" He bounced over to the table, grabbed the information, and came back to put it in one of his already stuffed bags. Confident that everything was in place and ready to go, Paul grabbed me, gave me a big kiss and said, "Let's get some sleep. We've got a long day tomorrow."
The trip to the airport was quick, considering how early it was, and we beat the morning rush hour traffic. Boarding the plane was also rather effort-less, considering Paul has express boarding from all his frequent flyer miles. Before I knew it we were in the air, gracefully skirting the tops of the clouds. The movie was entertaining (the one about the guy that can't lie with Jim Carrey), and the meal so-so (slightly overcooked pork tenderloin). Even the landing was soft and smooth. "Wake up, dear.." I had to whisper in his ear.
Hours later we were in our room, a beautiful King suite with a jacuzzi tub, kitchen, and living room. We unpack and order room service. "Plenty of time to see the sights", Paul says. He puts a few items in the room safe; the travelerís cheques, whale watching passes, and his "precious" travel insurance packet, among other things, before plopping onto the bed. The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. We ate and talked about all the exciting things we might be doing and seeing, watched some TV, and attempted to stay up, as we were 5 hours behind our east coast schedule.
There were many sights to see, and Alaska is absolutely breathtaking. The location Paul chose was all inclusive and had many amenities and activities. We decided to start with a boat tour of the surrounding area. It took most of the day but we saw a variety of wildlife and beautiful scenery. We were taken out to the mouth of a large stream flowing down into the bay from a mountainside. Pink salmon were jumping wildly to get upstream, while black bears were doing their best to stop them. Suddenly a bald eagle swooped down, snatched a huge fish with its talons, and took off into the sky. I felt like I was at a recording of a National Geographic documentary!
Next we were off to the dining hall, but to our surprise and excitement, we found out there was an outdoor area at the end of a long pier. The tables were candle-lit and there were a few small torches around the perimeter; no electricity, and a very full moon. It was perfect. We ate to the sound of the saltwater lapping at the sides of the dock, enjoying each other's company and still talking about the magnificent things we had seen that day. Then I jumped as a loud sound kind of like an air-brake erupted from out in the water. When I looked over, even in the darkness, I could see a large "hump" rising up out of the water, and a large cloud of mist shooting into the air. A humpback! Slowly the massive creature sank back under the surface of the water.
"Did you see that?!" I exclaimed to my husband. His face was lit up with excitement. "Wow! It figures that it's night time and we couldn't get a good look. I hope that's not the only one we see!" he half joked. We were told that the whales came into the bay at times, but there was no guarantee of seeing them. The official cruise out into the ocean wasn't for another 3 days, and I could tell Paul was anxious. "Don't worry dear. You said it's mating season, right? That's why you booked our trip for this time of year. There will be plenty of activity when we get out there." I reassured him.
We spend the next few days having the time of our lives. We went hiking across the foothills of snowcapped mountains, with mountain goats staring down at us, and a whole herd of seals scattered along the shore. There were sea birds of all kinds, black-legged kittiwakes, bald eagles and cormorants. The landscape is like nothing I've ever seen before. It's hard to imagine our planet still has such untouched natural beauty and innocence. It was almost spiritual!
After this and many more memorable adventures (I could go on and on!), the big day finally came. We got our supplies ready for the day and had a quick breakfast, eager to get out onto the open sea. As the boat cruised into Glacier Bay, we could see the massive ice walls in the distance. As we got closer there was a loud "crack!" and one of the attendants on deck pointed quickly and said "look!". A huge chunk of the glacier had broken free and was hurtling toward the water at immense speed. The splash and the wake left by this amazing event was surreal. There were a few more instances, some of which I missed. You have to be ready to look when you hear the ice break, or you will miss it.
Attention was quickly shifted from the glacier as I heard a familiar sound. The same sound I had heard the other night at dinner. A female whale had breached the surface and was taking in some air. Soon after she submerged again, 3 males could be seen a few hundred yards away, right in tow. After all, it was mating season! The bulls put on an amazing display of showman ship. Leaping into the air, showing off their enormous tails, and smacking their giant fins onto the water with a thundering boom. I felt privileged just to be able to be there. Several times I would make a comment to Paul, such as, "Look at that!" or "Oh my, did you see that?" but he was just awe-struck the entire time, sometimes with his eyes wide and jaw slightly dropped. I was so happy to see his dream come true.
We ended up seeing two more pods that day. Just holding each other and watching this magnificent display of nature made me feel so close to Paul. I think, if it is even possible, that our marriage has improved because of this whole trip. There's not much more to say about the rest of the time we spent there. We enjoyed the ambiance of our surrounding for another night, went to sleep and woke up the next morning ready for departure. When we arrived home we were reluctant to unpack, realizing that the trip was officially over. We got everything put away, for the most part, checked the messages and mail, and cuddled up on the couch with the laptop, looking through the pictures and videos we had taken, soaking it all in one last time.
After reminiscing a while, Paul said, "So. If you were ever unsure that whale watching would be as fun as I thought, what do you think now?" I smiled and said, "Ok ok, you're so smart. What do you want, a metal? I had a great time honey, thank you so much." He smiled back and kissed me sweetly. "I know." he said, with a proud smirk on his face. "Ya know", I added, "for all your wisdom, I do have to point one thing out." He looked at me curiously and asked, "What's that?" "We still didn't have to use your precious travel insurance."