This morning looked surprisingly similar to last night, which confused many of our bodies as they attempted slumber. When Google claims there’s four hours of darkness a night in Alaska, what Google doesn’t actually know is that “darkness” is more like a quick twilight before going back to full-on noon.

 

After mingling and a light breakfast, we were off to the Alaskan Heritage Cultural Center. Here, we were privileged to watch a presentation on the Alaskan cultures, several dances, and demonstrations of traditional Alaskan games (which included imitation of seals) and a tetherball-like game that involved leaping and kicking a ball suspended in the air). Outside the center, on a path that wound around a pond, structures hid in the long grass, each an example of a living structure for different native states. These included everything from longhouses to homes which reminded me of hobbit holes, dug in the ground to retain heat. After rain chased us away from a planned afternoon hike, we returned to the hostel to relax, reviewed trip guidelines, and essentially braced ourselves for the remainder of the trip.

View from the Native Settlement section of the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. | Photo: Kassy D.

View from the Native Settlement section of the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. | Photo: Kassy D.

The evening brought with it quite the surprise.

Most of us would have never imagined hiking at 9 pm. Certainly, most of us would have never imagined that hike could take place under an overcast sky that still looked like noon (common trend here? We’re certainly not running out of daylight on this expedition).

 

A bend in the path took us on a scraggly path up the side of a mountain, I don’t think any of us were prepared for our first glimpse of Alaskan frontier. The scenery swept out from around us, mountains towering up like the leftover feet from ankles of stone gods. To the west: The Pacific Ocean, right up against the mountain’s base. It’s impossible not to feel dwarfed and awed by the mountains’ presence. In the end, we returned to the cars at 10 pm (it still looked like noon, in case you were wondering), exhausted, but fulfilled and energized from the scenery around us.

Alaska group A_003

We returned safely to the cars, and began to wind back down the mountain when suddenly, one of our leaders, Alessandra, slammed on the brakes. A collective cry of “moose!” Pulling the van over to the side of the road, we shuffled out and there in the tundra stood a moose. A real, living moose, munching grass.

 

Needless to say, at tonight’s debriefing meeting, many people made the comment that today “felt like two days.” Already in one day we’ve seen an incredible amount of Alaska. The rest of the journey to come is sure to be one of exploration, improvement, and expansion of empathy. If we’re lucky, we just might get a few more mind-bending moments that challenge us to reimagine our ideas of what it means to be a human on this planet, and the diversity of life on this little sphere.

 

Here’s to the start of a fantastic voyage.