Goodbye Irene...Hello Alaska!

Seat-back worry aboard Continental Airlines

Exactly a month ago, I was at Newark Airport at 8 AM to catch a flight to Alaska. On that same day, one  hurricane named Irene was spiraling its way up the East Coast, headed for the New York area. The skies were gray, the mood was somber. Not really a perfect day to fly. Especially when you hear the pilot announcing on the PA "please expect a bumpy ride on our way up". Never in my life have I buckled up on my seat as tightly.

taking the AirTrain to Newark Liberty International Airport

Despite the gloomy weather, my mood was upbeat as I took the train to Newark. I've already signed up for this trip. If the weather was to turn for the worse, then I'm in deep s--t. It's almost fall up north and travel companies will be wrapping up soon before the temperatures begin to plummet. The free ticket I've redeemed on Continental Airlines is only valid till January 2012 (unless of course I want to freeze my butt in an Alaskan winter).

My flight to Anchorage via Seattle/Tacoma is still On Time

It was my first time to fly via Newark, notoriously known for flights delays. When you add the threat of an approaching hurricane, it felt more like cancellations will be the order of the day. But no, because of it, our flight scheduled to depart at 9:29 AM was in fact pushing through. All other flights leaving after 10 AM were canceled as airport operations at Newark was being suspended. In other words, we were among the last few planes to leave that morning.

Good to see my backpack is flying with me to Alaska and not to Alabama

As I settled on my seat, personal TV monitors hooked up to 'Direct TV' were already broadcasting a marathon coverage on NBC News. OK, keep bringing in the bad news - never had such local media blitz been given on a storm. Hurricanes are quite rare in  New York but the way it was treated, it's like the end of the world. There were even mandatory evacuations in lower Manhattan where I work! After the Katrina fiasco down south, I guess Mayor Bloomberg had to let New Yorkers suck it up with an "over-abundance of precaution".

Our plane was pushed out of the gate 5 minutes earlier than scheduled and I could sense the urgency, as if the aircraft tug operator was in a hurry to go home. As for me, I was happy enough to see my own backpack earlier made its way into the aircraft's belly - at least it's a reaffirmation that I'm reuniting with my bag later on. After a long take off roll, our B737-800 plane shuddered a bit as we went up. "Is this it, is Irene going to slam us back down to ground?" Thank God,  it wasn't as choppy really as the pilot had wanted us to anticipate. Just a few bumps. Weather is so fickle anyway so I can't complain. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, it was smooth all the way. I finally relaxed my seat belt (it always stay on while I'm seated).

Wish I knew what park this belongs to

Halfway through this 10-hour journey, we descended into Seattle for a stop-over. While I've been to Seattle on a previous trip, this is the first time I've seen the glorious snow capped peaks east of Washington State. I couldn't identify exactly what national or state park those peaks belong to - even my seatmate who suddenly got interested of the views outside could only shrug his shoulders. As our plane banked lower in preparation for landing, the huge, glacier-clad volcano Mt. Rainier suddenly appeared like a ghostly apparition. I was so trigger happy. The weather in usually rainy Seattle was a complete opposite to that of the East Coast!

4,392-meter high Mt. Rainier is a ticking time bomb

After an hour, we went back to the aircraft, along with new passengers. It's almost 4 hours to Anchorage. The grilled sandwich I bought earlier is long gone and now I'm hungry again. I decided on buying something onboard and was surprised at Continental's selection. They were actually decent. For $5.49 (credit card only, no cash), I enjoyed "Asian Noodle" which reminded me of the yummy take-out noodles I bought at 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo and Hiroshima. The view outside however were not as good; clouds were blanketing much of the Alaskan coastline as we began our descent.

Noshing on noodle up in the air

From the airport, I took a taxi to my hostel. The temperature was a pleasant 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I could have taken the much cheaper public bus but at that point, I was too tired and the thought of transferring from one bus to another with a big backpack wasn't appealing anymore as I had originally planned. I booked one night at the tongue-twisting Qupqugiac Inn - all I said to the taxi driver was "The Q" and apparently, this was better understood than trying to pronounce the native name.

The Qupquigiac Inn

The Q  has 25 really quaint rooms, some with shared and some with private baths. Because I booked at the last minute (through hostelbookers.com), I only got the single room with shared bath which went for $89 a night! I know it's expensive but wait till you see the prices of  regular hotels in downtown Anchorage. At least brekkie is free as well as a fast WiFi connection. There's even a PC for use and some added touches in individual rooms like books to read. But what's really convenient was that the trip I've signed up for will be meeting here the next day.

It was almost 6 PM and the sun was still high (in summer, you could still sun-bathe at midnight!). Hungry for dinner, I began searching for food like a hungry black bear: on The Q's PC. A simple Google search yielded a Pinoy restaurant close by. Fifteen minutes of walking later, I was in front of Angelina's Philippine Cuisine on busy Minnesota Drive. I must have been their first customer for dinner as it was empty. A heavy-set man was behind the glass display which showed trays laden with familiar dishes. Joe Pineda, who turns out to be the cook/owner, welcomed me to his temple of buffet goodness. 

Joe Pineda & wife named their restaurant Angelina after their granddaughter

While I was eating ravenously, Joe came by for a talk, intrigued at this new Pinoy face. I told him where I flew from that day, and was surprised he himself was originally from the East Coast. With his wife and kids, they decided to move not just west-ward but up north where the winters are more frigid. His move is not as unusual as it seems - there's a sizable Pinoy population in Alaska which began with Pinoys working in fish canneries. "And we still do", Joe opened up. "That's how I started, in Kodiak Island. Marami kami doon". Until he put up this this restaurant. "There are only two of us Pinoy restaurants left in Anchorage. But we're still doing good".

With a glass of Diet Coke included, I paid less than $12 for the entire meal. It was a great meal, made all the more memorable talking to a man who has made a niche for himself searching for that proverbial Great American Dream. While I've come all the way from the big city to see and experience wilderness, it's very heart-warming to see success stories up close right where you least expect them - in America's last frontier.

Thankfully, we didn't have to talk about one Sarah Palin.


  1. Wow, 89 USD a night! I definitely need a lifestyle upgrade before I visit Alaska!

    Were there plenty of visitors when you were there? I remember taking a China Airlines flight from New York City to Taipei during the summer of 2010, which stops in Anchorage, and there were plenty of Korean and Chinese tourists that boarded the plane in Anchorage, something I was totally not expecting!

  2. Alaska is in my wish list. Hence, I particularly liked films which were set there. The photos in this entry are remarkable as always, but your account of conversation with Angelina's owners made it more appealing.

  3. I've done the cruise, now on our list is the land tour.

    I would be a bundle of nerves if I were flying under those conditions. I already am when the weather is pleasant, what more with hurricane threat.

  4. Jeruen,
    Not as many as I thought, probably because it was almost the end of the summer season. Cruise line passengers were the most people I saw at another Anchorage hotel I stayed in.

    thanks! what got me really hooked on Alaska was the Discovery Channel series of shows shot there: Flying Wild, Surviving The Final Frontier, Gold Rush, & a few others.

    Photo Cache,
    oh yes, I do remember you saying that you've been on a cruise there. It's something I'd like to do to be able to see the Inside Passage up close!

  5. There you go again with your awesome aerial shots. It's a dream for me to visit Alaska, dog sled and see bears in the wild. I didn't know it has long hours of day light like Norway at certain time of the year.

  6. i know nothing about alaska but somehow i had a hint that you'll find a pinoy store there and you did. haha!

  7. lakwatsera de primera,
    thanks! it was close to fall at the time I was there yet sunset was still almost at 9 PM! so just imagine what it's like during summer solstice.

    I Googled it, that's how easy it was. Thankfully, finding it was easier as well since the restaurant was not so far away from the hostel.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...