Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Voyage of the Glaciers (2015)

Morning in Ketchikan

I woke up in the middle of the night and almost immediately found myself engaged in an odd conversation with Bruce.
B: Is that you just waking up?
Me: Why? What time is it?
B: Two-thirty.
Me: Well then, what do you mean, is that me just waking up?
B: You've just slept through the roughest seas I've ever known!

Had it not been for the fact that I'd known Bruce for over 11 years, I'd have been tempted to say that, quite frankly, I didn't believe him! When I heard a description of what conditions had been like, I regarded it as a blessing that I had been blissfully unaware of the entire episode. The ship's log would later show that we entered Alaskan waters at 0223, so perhaps the experience had been some kind of rite of passage.

RIGHT: Early-morning floatplane activity at Ketchikan

The same log also showed that Grand Princess tied up at Ketchikan at 0604, nearly half an hour ahead of schedule. There was no great rush to be up and about, but we did spend some time on the balcony for a while before getting on with the usual morning ablutions, wrapped up in bathrobes as we took in the new setting. Of particular interest was the intensive floatplane activity; we were captivated as they buzzed around in the early morning calm like demented insects, taking off and landing in all directions despite hazards such as floating logs.

Ketchikan is the first significant settlement encountered as one moves up the coast from British Columbia into the narrow coastal region of Southeast Alaska known as the Alaska Panhandle. The little town of fewer than 10,000 people lies on Revillagigedo Island (a bit of a mouthful, in my opinion!), in a spot where it faces across a narrow strait to Gravina Island, with the smaller Pennock Island in between.

Following our standard International Café breakfast, we enjoyed another spell on deck to observe the arrival of other cruise ships, immediately prior to disembarking from our own ship.

Next, we met up with our guide Joe just before 10am for our pre-booked Historical Walking Tour of Ketchikan. I liked his introduction: None of this is scripted; it's what I know based on 73 years of living here! I scribbled in my notebook that the weather was 'mixed/threatening' and had no sooner done so than it started to rain. Joe went on to describe himself as 'Indian' (the Native American variety) and 'Eagle' (as opposed to a member of the 'Raven' clan). He explained that to say somebody is 'Alaskan' is as vague as saying 'European'; there are two tribes of Eskimos and four tribes of Indians, as well as white people, and they are as different as English, French, German and Spanish.

The tour began with Joe pointing out that the town began with buildings situated over the water, this being a cheaper way to get started than immediately pushing development onto the hillside. The tour then progressed through the compact historical downtown area, with Joe explaining various aspects of social history, especially relating to his own tribe and clan. He came from a society that was formerly very matriarchal, where women traditionally held both power and property. Marriages were arranged, with Eagles always marrying Ravens and vice versa. Perhaps most remarkable of all was that children were brought up by aunts and uncles, rather than their parents.

The highlight of the tour was the colourful and formerly infamous Creek Street. Built on stilts next to a busy salmon river, this area served as a red-light district during the first half of the 20th century.

On conclusion of the tour, we bought some salmon candy (much nicer than it perhaps sounds!) and explored some of the steep little hillside terraces before returning on board and, in my case, hungrily devouring a burger for lunch.

Grand Princess departed Ketchikan shortly before 2pm and began weaving her way between islands, around promontories and through narrow straits, as she sailed northwards towards Juneau. For some inexplicable reason, the rest of the day's activities appeared to exhibit a common theme of alcohol consumption. Around 3:15, we went to the Wheelhouse Bar for BOGOFAD cocktails - that's 'buy one, get one for a dollar'! Then, after lazing around in the room for a while, we started our evening in Crooner's for ... ahem ... more cocktails, and decided to stick with our allocated table in the Botticelli dining room for our evening meal. I had bisque followed by fish in a Thai sauce on this occasion; sadly the fish was overcooked and not nearly as nice as on Sunday's formal night.

After dinner, we listened in on the end of the 'Motor City' show in the Vista Lounge.

Monday 31 Aug

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