A Day in Minca, Santa Marta

Minca, Santa Marta is a village atop the Sierra Nevada range very close to the town of Santa Marta. While we were in Taganga, we decided to spend a day in Minca. We took the bus from Taganga to Santa Marta. Upon reaching, we enquired about the collectivo (shared jeep) station to Minca.

After asking about 4-5 people along the way, we managed to get to the station. We hired two spots in the collectivo which costed 7000 pesos (USD 2.50). The ride was about 35 minutes from Santa Marta.

Minca has various spots which can either be walked to or there is the option for taking a moto taxi – basically transported by motorbike.

Walking in Minca, Santa Marta

Pozo Azul

We opted to walk to Pozo Azul which was a beautiful series of two waterfalls. The walk was probably 45 mins long and an easy one. Each waterfall formed a pool, the first one was shallow and the other was deep. Shruti even managed to jump into the deep pool along with the locals. After the swim, we sat there and watched people dive from the top of the waterfall which was a height of around 12 feet.

First waterfall, Pozo Azul, Minca, Santa Marta Second waterfall, Pozo Azul, Minca, Santa Marta

La Victoria Coffee Plantation

Once dry, we took a moto taxi to the La Victoria Coffee Plantation. Walking up hill for an hour or more would have been a nightmare. The ride on Bajaj Boxers was quick, dangerous and noisy but we loved it. We never thought we would be seeing a Bajaj vehicle in Colombia of all places. Hamara Bajaj!

Moto taxi, Minca, Santa Marta

La Victoria Plantation has a coffee tour, coffee for sale, a microbrewery, a great bistro and amazing view. We had sandwiches and house beers while enjoying the view. Though we didn’t get to do the tour because the guide who spoke English was missing, the place is still a must go.

La Victoria Coffee Plantation, Minca, Santa Marta

Other Spots

Minca also has a few other highlights like Marinka Waterfalls and Los Piñas. Both of these can be done in half a day but it is recommended to hike and spend the night. As we didn’t have the time to do so we had to skip them.

Instead, we walked down from the plantation to Minca while breathing in the clean air, enjoying the view and hearing the birds. In the end, we were happy to get a small taste of Minca and it was great fun!

View from Minca, Santa Marta

Taganga and Santa Marta

After spending 3 days in Bogota, we wanted to check out the North of Colombia. This region is famous for its beaches as it is part of the Caribbean sea and natural areas. After doing some initial research we figured there isn’t much to do in Santa Marta, an attractive town for tourists. It basically is a destination to explore the region, so lots of day trips around the area. Some of the popular spots to go are Minca and Tayrona National Park.

We looked through the accommodation for Santa Marta and it was a little expensive. So we looked into nearby smaller towns and found a pretty seaside village called Taganga. Turns out, it is the backpacker hub and has plenty of options. We checked AirBnB and found a nice place and great opportunity to stay with a Colombian family.

Rancho Aparte

Rancho Aparte is located at a hill in Taganga. It has great view of the beach but also of the hills around Taganga. We were able to book a room for a very good price not knowing much about the ranch at all.

Rancho Aparte, Taganga, Santa Marta

Normally, I don’t like the flight landings but in Santa Marta you land right between the sea and mountains and the sun was setting too. It was certainly a beautiful start. Ingrid, our host and her husband Jeff picked us up from the airport.

Santa Marta Airport

The journey from airport to Taganga was eventful. A police pulled over Jeff for no apparent reason. Jeff and I got off the vehicle, went through a body check, our IDs were reviewed and we were done in 5 minutes.

We stayed with Ingrid and her family for 8 days and had a great time. Her mother was gracious enough to offer us fresh juice upon our arrival and cook us a Colombian breakfast and dinner. Everything was very delicious!

Dinner at Rancho Aparte, Taganga, Santa Marta

Rancho Aparte, Taganga, Santa MartaWe relaxed at the ranch couple of afternoons enjoying the strong cool wind and swaying in our hammocks. It truly was relaxing time.

Taganga Beach

Taganga became a backpacker mecca sometime ago. Though we don’t know when it happened but it certainly amazed us. Everything in the town is catered to the tourists and some of those who stayed behind and now have businesses catering to other tourists.

Playa Taganga, Santa Marta

The beach has several restaurants, few bars, cafes and tiendas (shops) selling alcohol and eatables. Bonsai Bistro is a small cafe run by a Dutch couple and is worth checking out. The breads are baked fresh everyday! Another place to check out is Pachamama. It is a nice joint in a small alley from the beach strip.

On any day, you can find people haggling prices to take tourists other beaches along the coast by fishing boats. Playa Grande, Playa Crystal and Playa El Cabo are some of the options and the cost varies depending on distance.

Playa Taganga, Santa Marta

However, it is the freedom that the backpackers love here though the village itself has no sealed roads. You can drink on the road, on the beach and outside bars and no one will say a thing. The locals are friendly and safe.

Playa Taganga, Santa Marta

We had the chance of taking a dip in the Tanganga Beach as the sun was going down, it was raining unusually and there was a rainbow. Add in the hills around and the sight was picture perfect. Para para para dise!

Playa Taganga, Santa Marta

Playa Grande

Aside from Taganga’s main beach, there is also Playa Grande which can be reached by walking 20 mins along the hilly path or boat taxi for between 6000 to 10,000 pesos ($2-3.5 USD). We decided to walk it. It was an easy walk and the view of Tanganga from top of the hill was a sight to behold. While it has developed slightly, Tanganga is still a pretty fishing village at heart.

Taganga view from hill, Santa Marta

Playa Grande too looks beautiful from the top of the hill. In comparison to Bondi Beach or beaches in India, it is small and overly crowded but one can easily hire chairs in a beachside restaurant for 5000 pesos($2.5USD) to sit, tan and enjoy the cerveza.

Playa Grande, Taganga, Santa Marta

We enjoyed the water for a good hour in the calm waters and were able to go in quite deep in the water. As we swam, people were being thrown off banana boats around us.

Playa Grande, Taganga, Santa Marta

A funny thing happened as I got out of the water. I noticed my slippers were gone. As I looked around, I saw a young local girl coming back with them on. At first, I thought better of it but then yelled at her in my bad Spanish “Oye! Este son mis zapatos”. She immediately took them off and apologised. She probably thought she shouldn’t have walked past me. Lucky me, I managed to get my lost slippers back while Shruti couldn’t stop laughing. Fingers crossed we don’t have to deal with this again!

Santa Marta

We did a day trip to Santa Marta while here. This historic city was one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in Santa Marta. It has beaches, historical buildings and great food. The bus from Taganga took only 1400 pesos($05.USD) to get us to the historic centre and dropped us right at the Bahia beach with its port and cargo ships.

Santa Marta, Colombia

We spent the first couple of hours just waking through the streets and taking in the sights, sounds and the colours. The colors of the houses, the blue sky and the strong sun made the city look remarkable. While Bogota had it rustic beauty and Taganga its natural beauty, Santa Marta looked much more beautiful than both. There are lots of parques in the old city which looks more like plazas then parks but they were great places to sit, people watch and have a coffee in.

Santa Marta, Colombia

The Cathedral, Santa Marta, ColombiaThe Cathedral of Santa Marta shined like a white sheet against the Sun. Both from the outside and inside, it was stunning and showed the former glory of Santa Marta. An interesting thing about the Cathedral is that Simon Bolivar, the Liberator General of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador was buried here but his remains were exhumed and moved to Caracas, Venezuela.

The Cathedral, Santa Marta, Colombia

Our next stop was the Museum of Gold in Santa Marta. We didn’t intend on visiting as we had seen the Musuem of Gold in Bogota but another museum in the area was closed and this was free. It ended up being a good decision as the museum had lots of information on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Foundation and Trade in Santa Marta, natives of the region and Simon Bolivar. The information was well written and just the amount without boring us.

Museum de Oro, Santa Marta, Colombia

Post lunch, we decided to take a dip in the beach. At first, we went to the close by Bahia Beach but then decided against it. Rodadero Beach is the famous one in Santa Marta so we decided to head there instead. Buses to Rodadero beach are available from the main street in Santa Marta and takes around 15 minutes to get there. Once we had corssed the hill, the conductor dropped us on the main road in Rodadero, about 10 minutes walking distance from the beach.

Bahia Beach, Santa Marta, Colombia

Rodadero Beach, Santa Marta, ColombiaThe sun was almost setting as we arrived at Rodadero beach. The beach itself was packed to the brim. The best thing about popular beaches in Colombia is that they have plenty of food and drinks right at the beach itself. There were people selling arepas, alcohol, tours to the national park, sweets and DJing right on the beach itself. The atmosphere is like a party and you can easily stay all day.

Rodadero Beach, Santa Marta, Colombia

Food

Manish enjoying burgerWhile in Santa Marta and Taganga, we tried a lot of local food from street stalls, which was mostly cheap and tasty. One of the first things I had was the local fish in Taganga. It was fresh and flavoursome. Another local food we had a few times was the arepas with cheese and sauces. It was cheap, only 1500 pesos (USD 0.50), tasty and fatty with all the cheese. I even had a massive chicken burger from a street vendor for 5000 pesos (USD 1.50). Similarly, Shruti tried the vegetarian salchipapas which was salad, cheese and french fries. It costed 5000 pesos (USD 1.50) and was a sufficient dinner meal.

Shruti enjoying street food

Moreover, we had one of the best lunches in Santa Marta. The lunch special was kidney beans, rice, plantain and a choice of yuca or chicken with a maracuya juice. It was similar to thali lunches in India and we were incredibly full. And surprisingly, the entire lunch only costed 20,000 pesos (USD 6.50).

Delicious lunch in Santa Marta

3 Days in Bogota

We arrived in Bogota after a long layover in Atlanta. Our flight from Fairbanks got delayed, thus resulting in missing our connecting flights. We ended up with only less than 3 days in Bogota but they were certainly action packed. However, Bogota was a lot of fun and different to what we had read on forums.

Museo Del Oro

Our first stop in Bogota, like most travelers, was to the Museo del Oro or the Gold museum of Bogota. You may have heard of the term ‘El Dorado’, the land of Gold. That legend was primarily based on the Andes region of Colombia.

There are more than 50,000 pieces of gold jewelery and artwork in the museum. The natives of Colombia believed that gold was a gift from the Gods and wore it to celebrate the Gods instead of accumulating riches. There are displays of gold artwork from each region of Colombia and it can take upto 2.5 hours to see the entire display.

Museum de Oro, Bogota, Colombia

The sad part of the museum is that once the Spanish arrived they either traded the natives for the Gold with Cotton or simply conquered a tribe and took all its Gold by force. In addition to the Gold, there were some excellent videos about archaeology, Colombian Life in different regions and chanting of the natives.

One beautiful thing we found is that the natives of Colombia believed in something similar to rebirth and spirit staying in this world. They put the ashes of the dead in an urn which is really round at the bottom as the round shape represents a woman’s body which is the path to come back to the world. Beautiful!

Museum de Oro, Bogota, Colombia

P.S – Museo Del Oro is the best value museum which we saw in our travels so far. It costs 3000 COP which is close to $1 USD. Bargain!

Carrera 7

Fresh Fruits, ColombiaCarrera 7 is the cultural heart of Bogota. This street is strictly for walking, no motors at all. Bogotans love to walk with their families, dogs,veat in the shops, watch the street shows and buy things on sale on the road. From the 9am to 7:30pm there are hundreds of people on this street. There are street vendors selling exotic fruits with a recording which goes something like “Mil! Mil! Mil! Mangoes a la orden!”. It means something like “A thousand pesos for mangoes. Buy it now!”.

Carrera 7, Colombia

As a non-Spanish person, it is amazing to just see life go past as people whizz past you on roller blades, bikes and skateboards. Moreover, Colombians love to walk with their dogs and you can see dogs of all sizes following their owners with no leash on. We saw some people playing chess next to a band singing about beer where people were dancing. Welcome to Latin America!

Carrera 7, Colombia

Plaza De Bolivar

Plaza De Bolivar is the historic square of Bogota named after its First President and the General who got freedom for Colombia and other countries in the region. The legislature, judiciary and the administrative arms of the Colombian Government are all around this square. Like any touristy place in the world, there are people selling postcards, photos and booklets about Bogota.

Plaza de Bolivar, Colombia

One unique thing we saw was Jukebox around on various streets and corners. Basically, it is like having a personal DJ in the middle of the a packed square.

On Sunday, the Cathedral is open and one can see the beauty of it from the inside though it looks amazing even from the outside. There are all sorts of museums within 5 minutes of this square and most of them are free on Sunday!

Plaza de Bolivar, Colombia

La Candelaria Walking Tour

We did a free walking tour of La Candelaria with Beyond Colombia. The walking tours of Bogota are usually free with tips. Daniel, our guide, told us the history of the native tribes, the Spanish looking for gold and setting up of Bogota itself. As we walked, we learnt of the contested sites of the beginning of Bogota and the people who fought to make Colombia free and modern.

La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia

As we walked through the streets of La Candelaria, we visited a local cafe for an introduction to the local culture and drink, Chicha. It is made from fermenting rice or corn and sweetended with apple or sugarcane pulp. It was a nice introduction and we took the cups as souveneirs. Lets see if the Australian customs will let it in!

Chicha, Bogota, Colombia

We learnt more of the history of Bogota especially Chorro de Quevedo. It is most likely to be the first Spanish settled area of the city. Funny thing is that we were living within 5 minutes of it without knowing it. The 12 original houses are now bars or restaurants and the Chapel still serves the local area.

Chorro de Quevedo, Bogota, Colombia

We ended up hanging out with Daniel, our guide, for lunch after the walking tour. He helped us pick traditional Colombian dishes, Gracias Daniel! The portions were huge and we had a great chat with Jonas from Sweden and Daniel while having a huge Colombian portion. Daniel’s knowledge helped fill in the blanks of all the main buildings which we saw in La Candelaria. A great end to a great tour!

Colombian Soup with Chicken

Tip: Please refrain from walking around La Candelaria on a Sunday night. As the area empties of Colombians, homeless people and drug addicts try to prey on tourists. Though they may only ask for money, it can quickly turn into a robbery.

Montserrate

As you get to Bogota and look above, you can see a mountain with a big white building on top. At night, the building glows blue and is an amazing sight. The white building is the Church of Montserrate which is a pilgrimage for many Bogotans as the Church watches over the city. We walked up to the colonial house which serves as the starting point for cable car and metro that goes to the top.

Montserrate, Bogota, Colombia

Since we were there on a Sunday, the crowds were huge and we spent 45 minutes in a line to get in the cable car which was made worse by the fact that we were in the wrong line. We started queueing for the train instead of the cable car.

The trolley of the cable car is like a bus and can easily fit 40 people in it. As we boarded, I could just get a little window space for video while Shruti got a couple of shots of the city as we ascended. Unfortunately, as with all big cities there is a pollution problem in Bogota and the haze was all over the city making it harder to see most things except the oldest parts. It was picturesque nonetheless!

Montserrate, Bogota, Colombia

Montserrate, Bogota, ColombiaHowever, one has to admire the Church. The location is perfect and the Church itself is beautiful. The original was built in 17th Century but was replaced in its current form in 19th Century. As it was Sunday, we attended the mercado (market) next to the church. As backpackers, we don’t have the space to buy anything but we like to view the market nonetheless.

Montserrate, Bogota, Colombia

We saw some water bottles made out of cow’s bone and that disgusted us to the core. However, we washed that down with an expensive coca leaves tea at a little tienda (shop). The tea was sweet with no taste of the coca but we were happy to do the touristy thing anyway. As a final hurrah to the place, I accidentally broke a chair while getting up. They didn’t charge us and we all had a good laugh about it. Phew!

Coco Leaves tea, Bogota, Colombia

Botero, Banco Colonial and Casa Moneda Complex

This entire complex is only a block away from Plaza de Bolivar. As you follow the last street of Plaza de Bolivar up, you reach the complex. There are multiple musuems that are interconnected, have several doors and is a mish-mash of architectures. You can enter any of the museums mentioned and you will be able to see the entire collection. There is no charge and the museum is open all days even on Monday when the others are closed.

Botero is the richest artist in Colombia and his paintings are extremely different if not strange. All Colombians have an opinions about the paintings. However, the artist himself has a great rags to riches story in that he was an average artist who realised this fact and went back to study the circle shape. Hence, his paintings all have round people, round objects and round animals. It may be strange but it is kinda clever.

 

Botero, Colombian Artist

Banco Colonial, an art museum, has a large art collection from the abstract to modern to protest. As you walk through the museum, you question your inner artist and wonder what the hell was the artist of the painting thinking. Why did they get into naked bodies in the 60s Colombia? Am I high? In seriousness, the collection is huge and we definitely recommend seeing it.

Casa Moneda means the House of the Mint. Coins were minted here for Bogota and the surrounding regions for a long time. The entire history of natives mining the gold to the first mints of Bogota and the modern day reality is showcased in this complex and it is amazing.

Graffiti

Bogota seems to have gone through a graffiti movement. As we drove into the city late at night, we were surprised with the amount of art along the side walks. It was just so pretty and colourful.

Within the La Candelaria area as well, small alleys and side walks had drawings and messages on. We didn’t have the time otherwise would have loved to do a walking graffiti tour as well.

Graffiti, Bogota, Colombia

Local Drinks

We tried a few drinks while in Bogota with the best being Chicha. It is fermented corn alcohol mixed with apple pulp. It is made at home by the local women in La Candelaria and it tastes amazing. The alcohol content depends upon the place and it best to ask instead of being knocked out quickly.

I also tried a couple of beers, namely, Poker and Club Colombia Roja. Unfortunately, both had a mass produced average taste.

Fruits

Colombia is famous for fruits and somehow we never knew that. When we got to Bogota, we realised there are all sorts of fruit. Shruti tried the mango bought from a street seller mixed with salt and lemon and it was sour but tasty.

We tried the mora fruit juice. Mora is a fruit similar to black currant and it was sweet. Shruti also had maracuya and feijoa juices which were again amazing. It just amazed us that there are these fruits here which we have never heard of and they are sooooo goood!

Exotic Fruit Juice, Colombia

Bogota Breakfast

On our last day in Bogota, we thought we will try a Rolo breakfast. People from Bogota are also known as Rolo and their breakfast consists of 2 buns, 1 of which is buttered, hot chocolate and cream cheese.

One is supposed to cut the cheese in small pieces and put it in the hot chocolate. As they cheese melts, you can sip the hot choloate or eat the cheese with you spoon. Meanwhile. you can also dip the breads in the chocolate. It is a contrast of tastes, and definitely an acquired one, but the locals love it!

Things to do in Fairbanks

If you have been following our blog, by now you know we loved Alaska. You need proof? Well, here is a video for it.

Clearly, we had a little too much fun. The northern lights and Alaskan winter were great for us! We spent couple of days checking out Fairbanks, a small Alaskan town, as well. Here are top few things to do in Fairbanks.

Museum of the North

Museum of the North in Fairbanks is located in the University of Alaska precinct. Museum of the North is dedicated to all things Alaska. Upon entering the museum and buying tickets, we fell in love with the interactive style of the museum. We found parts of reindeer replicas of those used by native Alaskans with the sign “please touch”. We did not only touch, we took few videos and few photos with them too.

Museum of the North, FairbanksThe main exhibition starts with the Human History in Alaska, dating back to the Athabascans, the Spanish, the Russians and finally, the Americans. The exhibition is then divided between different areas of Alaska like the South East, South West, Interior, North and Aleut Islands.

In addition to this, there are excellent displays of the extinct and existing animals in Alaska. The traditional lives of native Alaskans and their outfits were displayed as well. Those attires helped them live in some of the most hostile areas on the planet. It is quite amazing how much you learn about Alaska from the main exhibitions. E.g. Not all natives of Alaska are eskimos. Eskimos live on the coast while the Athabascans live in the interior.

Museum of the North, FairbanksMuseum of the North, FairbanksFinally, there are the art exhibitions ranging from paintings, sculptures and native Alaskan everyday wear. There were artworks with animal bones and outhouses in the Alaskan regalia. The king of them all was a room with lights and sound which alternated according to the earth’s geological changes like sunrise, sunset, earthquakes and auroras. We sat there for 15 minutes taking it all in.

 

Museum of the North, FairbanksWhile we were in the museum, we also watched two half-hour films about Aurora Borealis and Bowhead Whales in Bering Sea. Both videos were brilliant with incredible visuals and great information.

In addition to the art and history, the museum sits on a high hill overlooking Fairbanks. We finished from there and took some photos of the scenery. Great day out!

View from Museum of the North, FairbanksMorris Thompson Culture & Visitor Centre

This centre is the first stop shop for any visitor to Fairbanks. The centre has all the information on tours, adventures and activities in Alaska. It also has videos, books and classes for more knowledge.

The exhibition in the centre takes a visitor through the seasons in Alaska and how life changes with the changes of the season. It has great displays of life in the summer with fishing, boating and repairing the house/cabins while also having displays of winter with cross country skiing, snow mobile and dog sledding.

Morris Thompson Culture & Visitor CentreMoreover, there were displays about Athabascan Culture as well as the sporting achievements of Alaskans.

Morris Thompson Culture & Visitor Centre

The centre aims to show the visitor is the Akaskan Way of Life through a series of displays and it does a great job at that. It is a must visit if you are ever in Fairbanks!

Santa Claus House

When we got to Fairbanks, Shruti found out about Santa Claus House and insisted that we visit. Luckily we had nothing planned on our final day and the bus in Fairbanks connected to Santa Claus House. We had to go.

Santa Claus House is located in North Pole, an area 15 miles away from Fairbanks. We finally got there only to find out that Santa only works weekends post Christmas. Bummer! We walked around a little and took some pictures.

Santa Claus House, North Pole, Fairbanks

There was a reindeer herd in a distance so we walked up to it for a closer look. Turns out, a couple look after Santa’s 7 reindeer! At least the walk out in cold was worth something.

Santa Claus House, North Pole, FairbanksWe ended up waiting around for 50 mins for the next bus to take us back to Fairbanks. It was cold and our toes were freezing but it was an experience.

By the way, Santa here replies to all his letters. So you can write a letter to below address and sit back and wait for his response.

Santa Claus House
101 St Nicholas Dr,
North Pole,
AK 99705,
United States

Alaska Gallery

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Alaska in Winter

We came to Alaska in winter simply for the Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights. However, we leave having done so many more activities and learning so much about this US state. And, btw, Alaska is our favourite place for now. Let’s see if that changes in next 7 months.

Before you get into all the details about our exciting activities, here is a video compilation of all the fun we had. I hope it makes want to come visit Alaska :)

Arctic Circle

Fairbanks is close to the Arctic Circle when you look at the map. But in reality it is 200 miles (320 kms) from Fairbanks. Since we were so close to the circle, we figured that we might as well ride the final ‘few’ miles. When again are we going to be here really!?

Our guide Randy, from 1st Alaska Outdoor School, met us at the hotel and we realised we were the only ones on the trip. As we headed out, our first stop was the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. This pipeline runs for 800 miles (1,287 kms), almost through the height of Alaska, from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, port at Gulf of Alaska. It is the backbone of Alaskan economy as it provide jobs and financial benefits to all Alaskans in form of at least $2k cheque every year.

Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, Fairbanks

Our next stop was Hilltop Truck Stop, on Elliott Highway. It is the last place to get food, essentials and petrol for 500 miles. It is also famous as the first stop in the show Ice Road Truckers.

Hilltop, Elliott Highway, Fairbanks

Elliott Highway, way to Artic CircleWhile most of our journey was on the Elliott and Dalton Highways, we rode on mountain roads with very few flat stretches. Along the way, we stopped at Winchester Dome to stretch our legs and take couple of photos. While there, we saw some real mushers training the dogs while their kids helped around. The dogs were cute, the mushers were busy and it was absolutely freezing. We wanted to pat the dogs but decided against it as they are working dogs.

Dog mushers, Fairbanks

As we jumped back in the car, we realised the sun was ready to go down. We informed Randy about wanting to take pictures and he drove a few miles down the road to his secret spot for sunset shots. Truly, the spot was amazing and we couldn’t have got a better sunset. The landscape of the area was stunning with mountains and snow everywhere. We found some good pack snow and decided to make snow angels (see video above or on YouTube).

Elliott Highway, way to Artic Circle

We didn’t stop until Colorado Creek for a bathroom break. The creek was completely frozen and the outhouse was disgusting. At this stage, Randy informed us that wilderness starts once you are 20 or so miles out of Fairbanks. After this it was only truckers, trappers and tourists. We did not see any other cars or people except truckers for the next 150 miles.

Outhouse, Colorado Creek, Elliott Highway, way to Artic Circle

The game changed completely once we hit the Dalton Highway. Dalton Highway is not a state road, but privately owned. It was built only to supply Prudhoe Bay and other sites along the pipeline. At the start, Randy had to turn on his short wave radio and alert the truckers where he was. It felt like we were trespassing on a private road.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

As we went further and further, we realised why they made a TV show out of this road. The road is literally ice for large parts. The trucks drive at 70 miles per hour on this ice road and mostly they drive in the middle. The two way radio was mainly to alert them that we were sharing their road.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Along this road, we saw the ghost trees which are hit by snow winds almost all year so they are completely white. They truly are a sight. One may confuse them to be dinosaur skeleton!

Ghost Trees, Dalton Highway, Alaska

We also went over the Finger Mountain and Beaver Slide. Both these places have gale force winds and beaver slide is aptly named as trucks regularly slide off the road. At this point, we were incredibly scared. If the trucks didn’t kill us, the gale force winds might bow us off the road.

Further down, we saw a frozen Yukon River and the Yukon Bridge. It is the only bridge on the mighty Yukon River in Alaska.

Yukon Bridge, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Finally, after driving for almost 8-9 hours, we made it to the Arctic Circle. You know how they say the journey is more important than the destination, well, we certainly find this to be true at the Arctic Circle. There’s nothing there really. A campsite, a bill board, a toilet, pitch black darkness and the boreal forest is all there is. However, it felt like an achievement simply because of the roads we had passed. We made it to a place where few will ever go in their lives. It has to mean something!

Artic Cirlce, Alaska

The return journey was uneventful for the most part. We briefly saw the Aurora as we left the Arctic Circle and then went through a wind storm, a snow storm and ice fog for 120 miles. At Winchester Dome, the sky was clear again and we saw the aurora again. Seeing the aurora move overhead is a very deep and humbling experience. It puts your life and problems into perspective for sure.

Dog Sledding

Another unique thing about Alaska and the Arctic is the use of dogs for travel. The word used out here is “mushing” and the people in the business are “mushers”. The word itself comes from the French March, which sounds like mush in English. We took a trip out with Ben for it and drove about 4 miles outside the city. As we arrived, the mushers’ cars were parked on the road but they and the dogs were missing.

Fairbanks, Alaska

While we were waiting around, we heard the dogs bard and knew the mushers were arriving soon. Now, it was our turn! We put on some oversize jackets and pants and got a quick tutorial on dog sledding.

Dog Sledding, Fairbanks, Alaska

For the first 15 minutes, Shruti sat in the sled while I was standing and we reversed the next 15 minutes. Our guide, Zach, with only a few layers of warm clothes was on the main sled at the back. There wasn’t much to learn except that if the dogs turn too fast around a corner and the sled is about to flip, don’t try to break your fall with your arm. Doing so will almost certainly break it so just go into a fetal position.

Dog Sledding, Fairbanks, Alaska

With that much needed instruction, we were on our way. The dogs were anxious, they are born to run and know little else. The sled glides through the snow at a rapid pace with 7 dogs running. Every couple of minutes, Zach put the breaks on and let the dogs rest. It was too hot for them at a warm -9 degrees! The first thing they would do is to eat snow to keep cool. Zach would yell a few words of praises and encouragement for the huskies and they kept running.

Dog Sledding, Fairbanks, Alaska

While the dogs and Zach felt warm, Shruti and I were slightly cold in the hands and feet but loving the teamwork of man, dog and nature. We had our teamwork going on as well. Shruti clicked pictures while I took timelapse video in the saddle. It was the perfect time of the day and the sun shined on the flat snow and the boreal forest, turning everything golden. It wasn’t the best for the dogs but Zach gave us extra 10 minutes on the sled. Perfect end to a perfect ride!

Chena Hot Springs

On our second last day, we decided that we should warm ourselves a little bit in the hot springs nearby. Ben, Alaska Northern Lights Tour, did an entire package deal and we went for it. He drove us to Chena Hot Springs Resort, which is 56 miles (90 kms) away from Fairbanks. When on the road, we were glad we didn’t drive ourselves because most part of the road was covered in ice.

Once we got to the resort, Ben told us about all the activities we will be doing. We started our tour by visiting the ice museum. The artwork was delicate and cold.

Ice Museum, Chena Hot Springs, Fairnbanks

We spent about 45 mins there and enjoyed appletinis in ice glasses, sitting on ice stool at the ice bar. That was really cool, literally!

Ice Bar, Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks

Once done with museum, we headed for a geo thermal tour. Basically everything in Alaska is about sustaining themselves. The resort have two water generators that produce electricity for the resort.  Additionally they have few greenhouses as well where they grow their own lettuce, tomatoes and often herbs too.

Geo Thermal Tour, Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks

The best was left till the end thanks to Ben’s organised tour. It was finally time to check out the hot springs! We changed into swim wear and chilled in the warm jacuzzi before heading out to the hot springs. It is important to know that the distance to the hot springs is about 20 steps, but as soon as you open the door to step out, you are greeted with cold wind.

Jacuzzi, Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks

Also, I have to mention that the outdoor hot springs pool was pitch dark, with red and green led lights at various spots that created a soothing mood and steam everywhere. If it wasn’t for the hot springs, it could have been the set for a bad porn film.

We put our towels on the hanger and ran out into the water. It was an unreal feeling going from -10 degrees to 30-40 degree water. At that point, the water felt like your best friend. We swam around for a bit and the water got hotter. The funny thing was, our face and hair was getting cold while the body was hot. In fact, if I kept my wet hair unattended for 15 mins, I am sure the water in my hair would freeze to ice!

Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks

After half an hour, we had had enough and moved inside. It was so relaxing that we could have stayed longer but that hot water especially with the sulfur is not great for a long time. We showered and got ready to leave with our eyes half closed.

Outdoor swimming in Alaska, in middle of winter – Done!