From Colombia with love for 60th Birthday

Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Maria Valencia and her friend Emilia Zorrilla traveled nearly 10,000 air miles from Bogot, Colombia to visit her sister in Soldotna, Alaska for her 60th birthday.

Neither had ever even seen snow before, let alone stood on a glacier or mushed a team of sled dogs, drifted a wilderness river and flown a kite on an arctic beach. So when it came to the day for Maria's birthday party atop the Godwin Glacier near Seward she was filled with superlatives in describing the experience, "I can hardly talk, there is too much emotion inside my heart, to see all the beauty, the whiteness, God there and everywhere in even the dark spots and all the green and the people, it's hard to find the words, but it is something that I will always treasure in my heart," exclaimed Valencia.

There may not have been a traditional birthday cake and candles, but there were birthday cookies with happy faces that were shared by all, including the 85 some sled dogs at Dog City atop Godwin Glacier. The special day was facilitated by Godwin Glacier Dog Sled Tours in Seward, a unique idea started five years ago by Loraine Temple. From their meager beginnings of 130 visitors, the glacier tour has grown to topping 2,400 guests last year, winning the Princess Cruise line tour of the year award. "It's been a long road, a lot of people have put a lot of energy into making this all work out, but it's worthwhile when you see all the happy faces come down from the Glacier," said Temple. The operation is heavily regulated and practices no trace camping techniques, which means that anything and everything that dogs or people deposit on the snow has to be picked up and packed out by helicopter, including the hair the dogs shed, and everything in the camp has to be white to conform with the glacier.

Maria Valencia never thought she would even get close to a dog sled, "I had seen it in the TV, I love everything that is Alaska because my sister is here and I have hundreds of pins just because they say Alaska, but I never thought I'd get near a dog sled let alone be the one driving the team," said Valencia. However, when asked what was the highlight of all her Alaskan experiences that included, fishing, hiking, motorcycle riding, and dog mushing, Maria without a second of hesitation said, "The Parade, the Soldotna Days parade was beautiful. I loved the parade it was the most beautiful thing to be together with all the people that were giving out candy to the children, and I could leave my purse on the ground and not be afraid that someone would steal it away. Everyone came and said Hi and I felt part of the Soldotna town and it touched my very soul!"

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