In 2008 I went to Alaska and for the very first time I put my foot on the northern-american continent. It wasn’t yet the beginning of my immigration, but everything has started from that trip and many things in my head have changed after it.
On the third year of my studies, a friend of mine told me that there was a possibility to go to Alaska with Work&Travel (Work&Travel is a program for European students who want to spend summer in U.S.). We went to the agency together to ask about the details and we found out that working in a fish plant in Alaska is a pretty expensive undertaking. My friend got discouraged right away and it seemed natural, that since she is not going I would not go either. In the initial euphoria I had told everyone about my Alaskan adventure. A few months later, when I already forgot about it, my dad asked me excited, how the preparations to the trip were? I had to say that they were not going, because I was not going anywhere. The twinkle of glee in his eyes disappeared and it made me think. I understood that if I always waited for other people and subordinate my decisions from theirs I won’t achieve too much. A few days later I was enrolled into the program.
Early in the morning, on June 18th I arrived at the airport in Warsaw. There I met with Maja and Henryk, who were the only people from the program flying on the same flight as me. Earlier I had exchanged e-mail addresses with Maja through the Work&Travel agency and we had met once before our Alaskan adventure.
The first flight from Warsaw to Paris went smooth. The troubles started at the De Gaulle airport in Paris. Even today, I still feel a mix of resentment and sentiment towards this place. We didn’t have too much time to change planes and because of the confusing airport marking we kept running in circles. Who would know that an arrow pointing down means to go straight? Finally, sweaty and out of breath we arrived to our gate. Most of the passengers were already boarded. We joint the very end of the line. Before we could enter the plane, we had to pa through a metal detector. Henryk went first and without any problems he disappeared down the jetway. When Maja went, the detector started to shriek. At that point I lost her situation from my sight, because the bar code on my boarding pass didn’t work and I was refused to go further. Airlines’ employees tried to use different scanners, but nothing worked. Someone asked if I was travelling with anyone else, so they could check the bar codes on their boarding passes. In panic I started to search for Maja, and when I spot her she was standing barefoot on one leg in colorful socks, while some lady was checking spaces between her toes. Tentatively I pointed to terrorist Maja and said that I am with her. The person who asked me the question said ‘anyone but her’ and if there was anyone else traveling with us, but Henryk was long gone. Eventually the bar code worked and Maja was clear so they let us pass. When we got into the plane all passengers were already in their seats. We were running with happiness beaming from our faces to the very end of the plane where our seats were. When we bumped into a flight attendant she welcomed us on board saying: “Oh, I see someone is very happy to go to Seattle today”. Indeed we were very joyful, because for a moment, we had both lost hope that they would let us on board. I am wondering how long it would have taken Henryk to realize that we are not on the plane.
While we were waiting for our luggage in Seattle, we heard some funny sounds over the speaker which Maja figured it must be an American version of her name. We found out that one of her suit cases didn’t make it and that she would have to pick it up at the airport in Anchorage in two days. None of my suitcases showed either, and no one knew where they were, nor when they would arrive. After that we were passing the passport check point. It was the first time that I was going to use English in its natural environment. When the custom officer asked me, what I will be doing in Alaska, all I could say was: “I will work without fish”.
In Seattle we had to separate. Maja and Henryk had a flight to Anchorage shortly after we went through the border and my flight was 12 hours later. I noticed that there were flights from Seattle to Anchorage every hour. After my first unsuccessful english attempt I decided that shortening the wait time will be my next language skills test. I approached an agent standing next to a gate and learnt that indeed I can go on an earlier flight. The agent gave me a standby card and told me that if there will be an open spot on the flight they will call my name. Unfortunately I didn’t get on Maja and Henryk’s flight. I was waiting patiently with the card in my hand in front of the gate for another two hours. I noticed that other people with standby cards who came after me were being boarded, while I continued to wait. I decided it was time for my third English attempt. This time I learnt that the Standby card I had, expired when Maja and Henryk’s flight took off. I needed a new one for each flight and each flight to Anchorage took off from a different terminal. For another few hours I got to know the airport quite well, while riding on a little metro underneath it there and back. Finally, I got on an earlier flight to Anchorage. After all I didn’t short my waiting time too much but at least I found myself a pastime and kept myself busy.
We decided that Maja and Henryk would wait for me at the airport in Anchorage. I arrived there around 10 pm and I was so excited to see two familiar faces that I shouted out loud. At that moment I realized that everyone was sleeping and a bunch of sleepy faces were looking at me with questions marks in their eyes. We spent rest of the nigh sleeping on chairs. In the morning we refreshed ourselves in the airport bathroom and took off to take care of our Social Security Numbers. We walked outside the airport and spotted a free shuttle bus. For a moment we thought that we finally got lucky and found a free transport downtown. Five minutes later we were struggling with our three big suitcases, trying to get out of the free shuttle bus at the same spot as we got on it. It happened to be a shuttle around the parking lot next to the airport. At that point we were probably thankful that other three big suitcases had not made it with us and we don’t have to struggle with six of them.
Eventually, we had to take a cab to get to the center to get our Social Security Numbers. Although it was early in the morning and the office was still closed, a big group of people were in front of the building. Thankfully everything went smoothly and an hour later we were walking through the streets of Anchorage, each of us pulling one big suitcase behind us. We found out that most of the hostels were located on the other site of the city, so we had a long stroll ahead of us. Again we were grateful that we have only three, not six suitcases to pull. Most of the time we walked up hill, which combined with general tiredness and lack of water made those 32 kilograms behind us weighting even more. During this long walk I made my first nature observation in Alaska: dandelions. They were everywhere and they looked exactly the same as those in Poland.
It will remain a mystery how it came that none of us had thought about booking a place to stay before such a big trip. I can’t recall either how we heard about Arctic Adventures, but that was where we were going with one little, generic map and our deficient luggage. Our happiness was enormous when we finally arrived at the hostel. It didn’t last too long though. After we walked in, we met Joseph, the owner. When we told him that we don’t have a reservation and we are looking for a place for three people, he looked at us with a big interest. Then he broke the news to us, that this is the peak of the season and all hostels were fully booked and so was his. Joseph let us use his living room and kitchen to rest a bit. In the meantime we told him about our missing luggage and other stories. Joseph, the man with the appearance of Shrek and a twisted sense of humor spotted the entertainment in us, suddenly he changed his mind and said that we can stay. He gave us a room with one single bed in it, but at least we could partly unpack, take showers and change our clothes. When we started to brainstorm how to resolve the sleeping situation, Joseph showed up again and said that he had a room with three beds for us. This way we finished our day full of events.