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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

On the move: passage to Alaska, part 1: signals fade

We’re the only ones there. Already, the mobile phone signals are waning and the UAE seems a very, very long way away

Olympic National Park, Washington State. Rosemary Behan
Olympic National Park, Washington State. Rosemary Behan

After a tortuously long wait at immigration at Seattle’s international airport, I arrived in the city with just a few hours to spare before my “UnCruise” departure to south-east Alaska. Despite taking off from Dubai at 8.30 on a Friday morning, because of the time difference the 14-hour flight would arrive in time for a 5pm sail the same day. If ever the miracle of air travel were evident, it was here.

And while I wouldn’t normally choose to cruise, the geography of south-east Alaska – a long narrow strip of land hanging by what looks like a thread to the state’s main hulk, with most of it only accessible by boat – means water transport makes perfect sense. I had considered the Alaska State Ferry system or a shorter, one-week trip, the full scenic route through the entire, 1,600-kilometre Inside Passage was only possible in comfort on a 14-day trip. Plus it had the added bonus of not needing any connecting flight. I had been warned that the boat had no Wi-Fi, so made a quick trip to downtown Seattle to shop for a local data package to grasp what little internet access was possible. Armed with a new Seattle phone number, I made my way to the historic Fisherman’s Terminal, where the Safari Explorer was waiting. A smart 44-metre long small ship capable of carrying 36 passengers, and I’m pleased to find that with only 12 booked on this trip, the number of crew members is about 1:1. We meet our guides for the week, Americans Jeremy and Sarah, and the on-board naturalist, Dr Caroline Fox, from British Columbia. All of the other passengers, or “UnCruisers”, are American or British, and Caroline and I have the honour of being the youngest non-crew members on board.

Before I can even start unpacking in my cabin, we set off, passing weekend yacht cruisers as we transit through the Hiram M Chittenden Locks, which lower us into the Salish Sea.

We head north up Puget Sound and after a decadent dinner of panzanella salad, grilled black cod and black sesame tart at a leisurely cruising speed of less than 10 knots, I go to bed early, relieved at having the luxury of the same room for the next two weeks.

One benefit of being up for almost 48 hours is that I’m so tired jet lag is virtually overriddden. I wake up bright and early with sunrise over the Olympic Mountains, part of the wild Olympic Peninsula which juts out directly across the water from Seattle.

After breakfast we disembark at Port Angeles and are taken by minibus into the heart of Olympic National Park. We hike through giant, old-growth trees – temperate rainforest. From Lake Crescent we walk to some waterfalls, talking among ourselves, greeting fellow walkers and listening to Jeremy’s excellent commentary. I inhale the air and marvel at the casual way in which Americans – in this case families and tech types packing their weekends – enjoy their spectacular backyards.

After a packed lunch on the lake we head back to the boat before setting off for the nearby San Juan Islands. Just before dinner, a humpback whale appears. We drop anchor at Stuart Island and, just in time for a perfect late-evening sunset, we head to shore for a fire and smores on the beach. We’re the only ones there. Already, the mobile phone signals are waning and the UAE seems a very, very long way away.

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Read more of the travel editor's thoughts:

A stay in the 'in-between' zone

Planning a trip to Alaska

Reverse culture shock in London

If you want peace, travel

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