There's always room for another boat in Southeast Alaska.
Isolated between the Pacific Ocean and the vastness of British Columbia, the region is fragmented by countless channels and fjords.
From them rise the Coast Mountains, a coastal range next to Tongass and one of the largest forests in the United States.
This rude nature makes the construction of roads unfeasible. With the exception of Skagway, Hyder and Haines, the local villages still lack a road connection to the outside.
The route of choice is, therefore, the Alaska Marine Highway, a kind of maritime highway that starts in the distant Aleutian port of Unalasca/Dutch Harbour.
And that goes through the interior passage of the «frying pan» to Bellingham or Prince Rupert, north of Vancouver.
We become your frequent flyers.
On one of several marine voyages, we boarded the “M/V Malaspina” in Skagway, bound for the Alaskan capital.
Alaska Marine Highway Down, Toward Capital Juneau
During the winter, practically no tourists arrive. Juneau lives a genuine life. State lawmakers entertain themselves here with their lobbies and political confrontations.
They meet daily to work at the Capitol and City Hall. Then, due to lack of space and supply, they socialize together in the few streets, restaurants and bars of the city.
From 2006 to 2009, the protagonist of this circle was the Republican governor Sarah Palin. Born in Idaho, she moved with her family to Alaska at a young age.
It didn't take him long to become attached to the state and to Juneau, where he has a poorly protected roadside mansion that he almost never inhabits, to the detriment of the original, in Wasilla.
But the Republican was not as fond of it as expected.
Twenty-two years after placing third in the Miss Alaska pageant, just days after taking office, Palin angered the people of Juneau by telling her commissioners that they didn't have to move to the capital.
The truth is that few politicians like the prospect of being besieged in the miniature capital, condemned by a dismal weather and hours on end in front of the television. Even so, the governor's sincerity was excessive.
In August 2008, Sarah Palin left the state capital to strengthen John McCain's candidacy for the White House.
The result was not what the Republicans expected and the objective of the presidential election was defeated.
Lower 48 Americans' Surprise at the Capital of Greater Alaska
Summer has always brought changes to Juneau. "This is it??" people just disembarked from summer cruises ask over and over again.
Juneau has the ability to leave many of the Lower 48's compatriots in disbelief. Its small size seems like a joke to them.
Especially when the shipping companies are present with several of their huge cruise ships, part of the city is “stuck” between the monstrous ships and the shops at the base of Mount Juneau.
The squeeze generates the same consumerist stimulus that governs Skagway, but suffocates the city.
Visitors with wide views and full wallets monopolize the few possible escapes.
From the ends of S Franklin Street, a cable car ascends to the summit of Mount Roberts.
From the same top, we unveil, in panoramic format, the townhouse in the city and the contiguous liners.
The long channel of Gastineau, furrows the dense forest.
We see it transformed into a busy airstrip, such is the number of seaplanes taking off to fly over other scenarios in the surroundings:
snowy mountains, lakes, the Mendenhall Glacier and the vast ice field that slips.
The latter are the region's great natural attractions, plagued by waves of outsiders throughout the summer.
Whenever the weather permits, helicopters after helicopters rise from the capital's airport to the icy domain of the Juneau Ice Field. where huge Dog Mushing camps await them.
On these expensive tours, cruise passengers combine divine scenic flights with quick baptisms on dog sleds.
The Breathtaking Visits of Orcas and Bossa Whales
Juneau attracts other visitors. As Alaska's warm months approach, huge colonies of humpback whales and other species arrive from tropical waters like those around the Hawaiian archipelago.
In about 30 days, they travel almost 5000 kms until they reach the frigid, krill-filled sea around Juneau.
With another marine menu in mind, hundreds of orcas follow.
As might be expected, its sighting has become one of the most popular activities in the region.
Contrary to what happens in other places as or more remote, it is simple and almost guaranteed.
We boarded at a busy marina in the immediate vicinity of Lake Auke.
We set sail for the open waters of Auke Bay. We're on our toes from repeated night trips but we barely have time to grieve.
With just a few minutes of navigation, we find ourselves side by side with an opportunistic herd of orcas. Shortly thereafter, we detected the tails of another of these sinking mammals.
Soon, we are gifted with the main show. A group of humpback whales is positioned in an almost circle.
In a flash, they produce huge bubbles around them that disorient and force a large number of fish from the target school to emerge.
Once the fish are close to the surface, it is the whales themselves that emerge with their huge mouths gaping open, eager to swallow as many fish as possible, harassed by hungry and fearless seagulls.
Passengers, a little in disbelief, rejoice in the phenomenon, in most cases, only witnessed by them in television documentaries.
Or never seen.
The American-Alaskan Way of the Short Juneau Summer
With the customers satisfied and the scheduled time running out, the crew returns the boat to the dock. From there, they take you to an international get-together picnic lunch.
Fresh salmon and root beer blend well in the cool of the hillside forest where we found ourselves.
Soon, a chauvinist American couple sits at our table. “Portuguese?
We don't have many there in Texas. And they have already decided in which part of the United States are they going to stay alive?” the plump, ruddy husband asks us as if nothing else in the rest of the world could ever matter.
We abbreviated the meal. We return to Juneau's waterfront, which is always flooded with passersby. It is unusually hot for these latitudes and we only dress up after sunset.
On that day, at that hour, we surrender to curiosity.
Killed by an Alaskan Amber beer that we hadn't drunk since Skagway, we entered the Red Dog Saloon, a bar, now considered by many to be in bad taste, famous for having opened in the days of the Alaskan gold rush.
The establishment maintains the old formula of live music.
DJ entertainers update it who, still at the piano but equipped with much more technology and a huge tip bottle labeled Viagra, take spectators to ecstasy.
“Anyone here from New Orleans?” the bald white musician asks the crowd indulging in home-cooked meals. "I'm going to take off my cap." You can see why I won the Louis Armstrong lookalike contest.
He grabs a kind of language from his carnival mother-in-law, husks his voice as hard as he can and starts a sort of euphoric Blues recital.