Our first stop in Alaska was the port of Ketchikan, and the view from our veranda first thing in the morning was awesome. We were overlooking the waterfront with all of its retail and food establishments, with a huge mountain in the background!
“Near the southernmost tip of Alaska’s panhandle sits a sleepy town with a very drmatic title. Squeezed between mountain and sea, it is had to imagine how the town got the Tlingit Indian name Ketchikan–Thundering Wings of an Eagle.
Ketchikan is a small town; its long main street skirts a waterfront built on pilings over the sea. Short side streets and steep wooden stairways lead to residential areas on the bluff above. Ketchikan is noted for the world’s largest collection of totem poles, an interesting and important Indian art form.” The town is also known as the Salmon Capital of the World. I think that’s because there’s a creek though which salmon swim upstream toward their spawning ground. You can actually see them jumping over rocks during this gargantuan undertaking.
Our plans for the day in Ketchican included a trolley tour and “The Great Lumberjack Show.” After a nice sit-down breakfast in the main dining room, we offboarded and walked around town until it was time for our trolley tour. Quite to our amazement, there were at least four other cruiseships docked near us, including the Celebrity Solstice; and Princess, Holland America, and Norwegian line ships . (All or some of these followed us to all of our stops except Seward.) The trolley tour guide told us later that they can have as many as 7-8 ships in one day, swelling their population from 3,000 to 30,000! Needless to say, the little town was way too crowded to enjoy browsing. Must admit, though, that we did do the touristy thing and bought some souvenirs (and got a free cloth shopping bag for our effort).
Ketchikan is apparently the first stop for Alaska Inside Passage Cruises. In retrospect, I must say that it is like San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf—all about tourists and retail, with shop after shop selling the same items at the same prices. One difference is the number of jewelry and other high end stores there are—guess those that can afford to cruise can afford to buy big ticket items. In fact, the ship’s daily newsletter included shopping maps and even had a TV channel dedicated to advertising the high end retailers.]
The trolley tour was interesting, showing us around the residential as well as business areas of town. The major stop was at the Saxman Village, a Tlingit (pronounced klinglit) Indian village. According to a sign, it that has one of the world’s largest collections of totems, including some moved from Pennock, Tongass, and Village Islands; and from Old Cape Fox Village at Kirk Point. There’s also a replica of a meeting house. A carving shop where poles are restored under a Federal Works Project directed by the US Forest Service that began in 1939 is also on the premises.
We learned a lot about totem poles from our guide, including the fact that they have a finite lifetime—60 to 80 years depending on the wood. But there are local carvers dedicated to reproducing them as a means of preserving Tlingit (pronounced klingit) Indian history—they had no written language, rather their stories are told by the totems. Each carving has a meaning, e.g. eagles represent the sky and whales represent the sea, etc. There’s one amusing totem with a figure of Abraham Lincoln on the top that represents a treaty that was signed on the USS Lincoln. Also families had totems representing their clans, e.g. the Eagle-Beaver clan.
The tour trolley dropped us off near the “Great Lumberjack Show” just as it was beginning. According to the tour description it is “…one of Alaska’s most famous attractions. …you’ll enjoy an action packed rowdy good time while the world’s best timber athletes go head to head in more than a dozen evens such as speed chopping, sawing, chainsaw races, log rolling, and the death defying speed climb. ….a historic view of the Alaskan timber industry that has shaped this rugged land.” It was all that—and a “been there/done that” experience for us.
We were leaving port early that day and had to be back on board by 2:45. Having had no time to eat ashore, we were famished and went straight to the Oceanview Cafe for a drink and some lunch. Then we retired to our cabin to rest a bit.
Due to our late lunch, we decided not to have dinner but just to get some wine and snacks—cheese, crackers, cold cuts, and fruit. Then we went to a 7:00pm show entitled “The Not Really Three Tenors.” They were very entertaining, interjecting comedy with some really good singing. The lead tenor, who had been with several opera companies and said he’d had the privilege of performing with Pavoratti, sang my favorite all-time favorite aria Nessun Dorma. Unfortunately, they were too loudly miked (we’ve been spoiled by attending opera performances) but, otherwise, the show was great. We called it a day after that, looking forward to being in Icy Strait Point tomorrow.
[NOTE: It is 29 August, and the cruise ended on 21 August. Since then, we have had little to no internet service (and/or time to write). Will get caught up, though likely not until after we return home on 31 August.]