The Alaskan Cruise 2009
So it took over a year to prepare for this trip, last August I went to the travel agent and learned what my options were, picked a cruise and room, and began the process, over the next year we decided on plane flights, shore excursions, bought dresses, and other minor preparations. It's kind of like standing in a 3 hour line at Disneyland for a 30 second ride. It seems like a long time and a lot of work, but in the end it's really worth it.
Because of our preparations and the efficiency of the cruise staff everything went so smoothly it felt like I hadn't done any work at all. Our neighbor took us to the airport early Thursday morning and we checked our luggage then decided to get a wheelchair for mom instead of her walking and standing in line through security and to the gate. John Wayne's not that big of an airport, but it still would have taken her quite a while to walk through. With the wheelchair we went quickly through security and to the gate with no problems. The same can't be said for the two poor girls who were taking a couple of companion dogs in training through.
One of the first things we noticed while waiting for the plane was there were several people in purple and yellow, with LSU written on them. There were even more on the plane. We were a big squished in the seats but not bad, the seats were at least a few inches bigger than say Southwest's seats and with the armrests up it was even better.
Our arrival in Seattle went smoothly and there were Holland America people already next to the baggage claim. They took our bags and headed towards the bus. The guy was super speedy though and mom fell back very far. I went back to her and was looking around for a wheelchair when my Aunt brought one over, it's a good thing too because we were still very far from the doors. After that, it was a bus ride to the hotel and soon we were hungry.
As we walked out of our hotel we saw that across the street was the convention center, which would have been really great and convenient had we stayed the whole weekend I could have had a chance to see Wil Wheaton at the PAX (Penny Arcade Expo -- a gaming convention). I am somewhat happy that I did not attend though, as apparently they had several confirmed cases of Swine Flu there. Glad the ship keeps itself so sanitized, I never got sick the entire time.
After eating dinner, we took a taxi to the Space Needle, the obligatory stop for any tourist in Seattle. It was a nice clear day and we could see quite far and watched as helicopters from the TV stations took off, and seaplanes fly by the windows.
Then of course the obligatory stop for any geek: the Sci-fi Museum. We were really lucky on this one as we just happened to get there between the hours of 5-8pm on the first Thursday of the month when they open it up for free! There was plenty to drool over here, though there were more books on display than anything else, but seeing Robbie the Robot for me was the highlight. They had some interesting Star Trek props too.
The "dam ship" ms. Zaandam
Leaving Seattle 9/4 and life aboard
The next morning we woke bright and early went down and registered for boarding and then had breakfast and sent our bags off. The lady was real nice and kept telling me that I had to be "proactive" to get mom a wheelchair because going through boarding was a long walk and standing in line for a while. So before we even got off the bus the guy came on asking how many wheelchairs we needed. Who needs to be proactive when they are? Before long she was being pushed by the cruise people into the terminal. They changed wheelchairs and the guys who would be our servers on the cruise came in white gloves pushing people through security and to the check in desk then up the ramp. It was so smooth and quick we didn't need half the stuff we brought paperwork wise.
We had lunch on the Lido before going to our rooms because they weren't quite ready yet. The ships have a quick turnaround rate. They just got into port at 8am that morning and we were scheduled to sail at 1pm. You'd think they'd need more time to clean and all but they kept that thing so spotless, and of course they want you to use hand sanitizers every time you turn around, that there really wasn't much for them to clean up. We got to our room and waited for our luggage; mom's chair was already there.
The room was better than expected. I mean I got a Verandah Suite so we could have a balcony since mom liked it so much on her last cruise, plus my travel agent said it would be better for the wheelchair. I expected we'd still be squeezed together, but we really weren't. The couch was made into a bed and I slept on that, but still had plenty of room to walk around. I figured we'd have to sidestep against the wall to get around the beds but there was plenty of room to walk normally, just couldn't have two people pass each other, but really there was room for a person to step aside too. The bathroom was nearly the size of a normal bathroom with a tub and everything. The toilet was at an angle so there was plenty of room to sit without your knees in your chest.
Our little Steward, Yamin, was a funny Filipino guy, always laughing and smiling. He thought mom would be a man based on her name so he originally put the two main beds together (you know for husband and wife *wink*), so we joked about that for some time and with my Aunt about letting her sleep with him.
While we waited for the luggage we watched Seattle shrink in the distance. Not long into the cruise they had a fun party where we get to put on funny orange costumes and act like sardines for ten minutes. This was our lifeboat drill, the life jackets were large square foamed jobs that seemed a bit awkward, but who really cares if they'll save your life, right? We made our way down 3 flights of stairs to stand under our lifeboat, I still don't see how all of us would fit in it as they squished us together and still didn't look like we fit under it, and wait for role call. I kept forgetting our room number so messed up a couple of times when they were calling us by rooms, but at least I wasn't the only one. Thankfully we only did this once.
Afterwards we walked the promenade for a bit to get the lay of the ship. Before long it was time for dinner and we met our server Joko and sommelier (wine steward) Jude, both Indonesians. Come to find out, most crew were either Indonesian or Filipino, and the officers seemed mostly to be from the Netherlands. The Indonesians and Filipinos leave their homes for a year or two and live on these ships, some save their money but a lot send the money home, most seem to enjoy it, I think a lot were ready to stop going to Alaska and go to Hawaii which was the next tour the ship was going to do after three more trips to Alaska.
Joko was always friendly and joked with us and flirted with mom a bit. Jude also wanted to get her drunk, and every time we turned around he was trying to convince her to have another drink. That first night we each got a drink then he offered us after dinner drinks to get some shot glasses. That first night we were at the table by ourselves with 3 empty seats. The second night we were joined by another lady and it wasn't until the last couple nights that the last two joined us.
This was a sweet old lady that sat at our table almost every night. She retired from the army after 23 years, the post office, and some medical receptionist job, plus I guess she did some inspections for air liners at one point. She had some interesting stories, but we couldn't hear half of them because she was so soft spoken if you breathed you'd miss what she was saying. One of the stories she did tell was cute, we all were talking about how hard these crew people worked and how we felt bad in a way. Well, she said that she had seen a crew member polishing some of the brass railing on the ship and she told him they had done so much for her she was going to do something for him. She made him sit down, took his rag from him, and started polishing the rail. He nearly fell over laughing. It's something we all should have done to show our appreciation of these hard working guys. Two other ladies joined us the last two nights and were southern women but I forget their names. They were pretty much living off their husband's retirements and enjoying themselves.
The food was to die for. Ok, it may not have been the best meals I've ever had, but it was darn close. It was like eating at a grommet restaurant having four course meals every night. They had something different on their menu every night and each time there'd be at least two things I'd have to choose between. The portions weren't huge but we never left hungry. And I probably had more fish in that one week than I've had all year. And I even ventured to try escargot. It wasn't as gross as I thought, but I won't go out of my way to try it again. For lunch we usually ate at the Lido restaurant or grill. The first day we heard they had THE BEST hamburgers you've ever had. We were like, yeah right, sure they're good but... Holy cow, these ARE the best! They were so juicy and tasty that you didn't need to put condiments on them. In fact you didn't want to put much else you took away from the wonderful flavor. They also had a really good nacho bar that I raided a couple of times. Then of course there was the dessert bar... Mmmmm.... I will stop here for fear of making you fat just reading about it.
After dinner we went to the theater they had there and watched their introduction of their singers and dancers, the main male singer was really good. As part of their introduction they did several games; Stack that Plate, Hit that Ball, and yes, you guessed it; Make that Bed. They used a variation of the same song for each and got a little annoying (as the songs solely consisted of those three words), but it was still a short fun thing to watch. Make that Bed was the best in my opinion because they introduced the little towel animals that are placed on our bed every night. Each night there was a different animal, like a sting ray, butterfly, elephant. Very cute. No, we didn't take pictures.
We attended a couple other shows on board. A saxophonist Craig Richard who was quite good and played some sweet songs and good tributes. A comedic magician named Jeff Peterson and his dog, Indy, really stole the show (Indy was the steal of the show whenever she walked around the ship), then there was a variety type show with those two and the comedian that we had missed the night we were in Juneau. And finally we saw another one from the Zaandam singers and dancers which was a tribute to water having all songs about H2O.
There was other entertainment: a piano bar, a not so great singer with a rock band, a DJ, a string quartet I listened to the few times I went downstairs to the Internet cafe, and a contemporary band, the Neptunes. The latter were a nice bunch of guys we listened to a couple of times. The drummer was cute, and the lead singer was nice, he admitted he never remembers words to any of the songs so he has to keep the lyrics in front of him. So they make sure you're "out and about," as Cruise Director Michael would say, while on the ship doing activities, eating, shopping, and having fun.
You might think a lot of the details in this would be hard to remember, and for someone with my bad memory especially (that's why I'm writing it all down now) but there's two things that helped me in this, the first was everyday we received mail. We always received a schedule of the day's events, but also received other things like information on the ports were would dock at, helpful letters about getting help with taking the wheelchair on and off ship and the like. Between these letters, the information we got before boarding, and the people on board, everything went very smoothly and we didn't have to think or worry about a thing. The second memory helper is they recorded many happenings around the ship during our cruise and put together a DVD with the highlights, such as the marzipan art. So even after the cruise I still don't have to think about a thing. Holland America has you covered. And no, they didn't pay me for this advertisement.
Sailing: 9/5 and a little more life aboard
The next day was sailing only, lots of the big, blue, wet thing out our balcony. There were many activities we didn't get involved in, some cost extra money like Bingo, others offered prizes like the scavenger hunt, I didn't feel like I needed any of the "techspert" classes, and we didn't even try the casino during the entire trip. We did go to the Cake Decorating and Marzipan Art demonstration. This day also was the first of two formal nights. Before dinner we got our pictures taken with the plain blue screen, after dinner we got our pictures taken by the stairs with Mo. Mo was a cool guy who might have been Jamaican because he had a slight accent. He was very energetic and knew just how to pose us to compliment our features, always calling us baby and the like. We got to know Mo a little better when we bought our pictures a couple of days later and he talked and flirted with us. Near the end of the cruise I was pushing mom on the promenade when Mo comes quietly up behind me and motions to take over, so I let him. He takes off like a bat outta hell and mom's freaking out a little. She knew I was not pushing and was trying to see who it was, but Mo bent down so far that she couldn't see him. When he finally stopped he told her he was going to pop a wheely but thought it might scare her too much. And this happened a day after Yamin pushed her to the room and she thought it was me, I had already gone ahead to open the door but she hadn't seen me leave, and when he bumped her into the wall by accident she complained she would take my drivers license away and that I'd have to pay for banging up the ship. When they turned the corner and I said something from the room she had to do a double take and found our Steward pushing.
They spoiled us quite a bit. It was a fairly casual experience, yet you felt like you were rich having people wait on you hand and foot, and all involved enjoying it. It was probably the first vacation I ever took with such a relaxed atmosphere and where everyone was comfortable and happy, staff and tourist alike. And for more advertising for this line, it's not just me saying these nice things. We met people who had been on anywhere from 2-45 cruises, each and everyone said Holland America really was the best, from room size (even some of the cheaper rooms were as large as the suites, but without balcony) to how they treat the people. One of the men I talked to even said that he'd been on bigger ships in their line, and it wasn't that bad because they keep the proportions of people to area the same, but on other ships you might be stepping over drunk people all the time. So I felt even more spoiled knowing that I'd had one of the best cruise line experiences I could get for my first cruise.
The great thing about most of our ports of call is we didn't get into port until after noon, so they still let us sleep in which we needed since the night before was a very rocky night and took a while to fall asleep, I felt a little vertigo lying in the bed but otherwise wasn't affected. On our third day we arrived at Juneau. I awoke a little earlier than the others and watched the land sail by.
They stuffed us full of food before we got off the boat and we headed for the ramp, I'd watched them put it down and thought from my state room it was steep and that they weren't done, but when we got there yep it was just the one gangplank straight down. Not bad for us to walk, but mom's wheelchair would fly down it. A little surprisingly (as we'd not quite gotten used to these guys waiting on us hand and foot) one of the crew started to push her then they decided to get two guys and they took her down backwards, the look on her face was priceless, like she was riding a roller coaster. I think they misjudged one of the bumps though and nearly popped her out of the chair, which I did a couple of times while driving her too. A short while after we went down, guess what, they changed the gangplank to have two ramps on it making going up much easier.
We had a little time before our first tour so we went shopping there in Juneau and found they were having Huge sales since they were in the last 3 weeks of their tourist season (so if you're going to go and shop this would be the time of year to do it in), the other ports also had sales but Juneau had the largest sales by far. Unfortunately, I didn't do much shopping there, and considering such a full day we had ahead of us it was probably a good thing.
Our bus driver was a pretty cool guy and he drove us around the town a bit pointing out interesting things. He was super helpful with the wheelchair and very nice about it. He was the first to tell us that Juneau, the capital of Alaska, was land locked and there were only three ways to get there; by plane, by boat, and by birth canal. Hehe... You think that's funny now; just wait.
He dropped us off at a place pretty far from Juneau (Auke Bay) where we got on the whale watching boat. It was a great day for it as the sun was mostly shining. We weren't even that far out of port when the captain spotted the first whale it spouted in the direction I was looking and I never even saw it. As we drew closer, it surfaced again and we got our first good look at a humpback. We stayed and watched that whale for some time, it took a feeding dive, this is when you'll see their fluke as they go much further down so they need more momentum, thus their tail goes in the air as they dive, try it in a pool sometime. This was actually one of the best pictures I got, and it was thanks to the bus driver telling us how to set up our cameras in action mode with burst on so that it would take multiple pictures. Sometimes this didn't work great for me, as my camera only took three pictures at a time and I would miss the fluke but I still did pretty well with it. We also saw a sea lion poking its nose up out of the water from time to time but the naturalist on board assured us we'd see more.
After the first whale sighting, we moved on and I went upstairs. From that vantage point I could see some things really well and had some nice cool air blowing on me. We soon came upon a bald Eagle's nest that still had two eaglets in it; I was surprised to see that since all the eagles on the web cams in the continental US had fledge in July. The colder weather must make them lay their eggs later up there. Looking carefully you can almost see one of the "babies" on the right side of the nest. They don't get their distinctive "bald" heads until they're about 5 but they're just about full grown after a few months. As we're watching this nest a bald eagle (presumably mamma) flies directly overhead and fairly low to us. The Tlingit (pronounced "TLIN-git" or "KLIN-kit") Indians believe it's a sign of good luck and often say "gunalchéesh" (sounds like gu-nall-chaish and means thank you) to the eagle.
A short way away, true to the naturalist's words, was a small island full of Stellar Sea lions. They were quite active and sounded to be growling. Then in amongst them one began barking, it was nothing unusual to me, but the crew seemed to think it strange and that there must be a California Sea lion that invaded the island, and in fact there was one smaller one that some seemed to be shooing away.
After this we came into an area where we found 3 or 4 whales, I'm not really sure how many there were, but there was one not doing much and one mother and calf pair. The young calf was rolling in the water, which was kind of cool, couldn't see him much but you could tell what he was doing. Another whale in the same area was "logging," kind of like sleeping at the surface -- they don't really sleep but rest -- and resemble logs and sometimes you can't even tell if they're whales or not. Then on our way back we spotted another bald eagle sitting high on a tree top then two more at the end of that island on some rocks.
This wasn't the end of our day in Juneau. Oh no, we had much more to do. Right after this we drove to the Mendenhall Glacier, well to the end of it, as the entire river of ice is called the glacier and when we go to look at glaciers we mainly see the face of it that has flowed as far as the water.
As we started up the trail to the glacier there was a small river in which only two salmon were left, they were big sockeye salmon. There was another fish in there trying to eat the eggs as they laid it but they kept chasing it away. They weren't getting very far anyway swimming against the current. We went a bit further down the trail and someone had spotted a porcupine in napping in the tree. Not far from there was clear evidence of a bear having been there recently with half eaten fish, "scat," and fur on branches.
We got closer to the Mendenhall Glacier, and as close as we could get was to the edge of the lake where small icebergs, having calved (process of chunks falling from the glacier due to its contact with a body of water) from the glacier and melted floating near the shore. The water wasn't as cold as you would expect. Not cold enough to freeze over at least.
They did have a couple chunks of ice out where you could observe the interesting patterns in them and touch them. After we played with the ice we went to eat salmon. Just like on the cruise there was too much good food. The salmon was baked in large metal cage like racks and we watched them flip them as a musician played on a little stage near us. It was a fun little outing and we got to roast marshmallows at a camp fire. We got back rather late, so late in fact that we were literally the last on board. Right after we went through the metal detectors they began putting everything away and closing the doors.
Glacier Bay 9/7
That night's sailing was comparatively smooth and even more so by the time we woke up as the water was smooth as glass. We'd already entered Glacier Bay and taken aboard the park rangers and by the time we had breakfast (also nearly the last to enter the dining room that morning) we were nearly to the glaciers.
We sailed all the way up to the northern most glaciers the Grand Pacific and Margerie Glaciers. The ranger spoke over the loudspeaker as we approached talking about how the glaciers are moving as they are still rivers, they're just frozen over. While most are receding right now there are glaciers that are growing. As these are tide water glaciers, most of the receding isn't necessarily global warming and has to do with the sediments that accumulate and protect them under them (called a shoal) washing away. The glaciers in Glacier bay have receded and advanced several times over recorded history. Noise does effect the glaciers and cause it to calve, so the ship had its motor off most of the time and they did say that the time you'll see the most calving is when the ships begin to pull away, and indeed there was a large chunk that fell off the Margerie Glacier as we pulled away from it. It is also the most active glacier in the bay according to the ranger and its face is different each time they see it. In fact from the time that I stood out on the bow with everyone else (having some delicious pea soup -- yes I hear it's better than Anderson's) to going in and looking at pictures, running around the ship from our cabin to the opposite side (the ship turned in that time) there were some changes to the glacier. One piece in particular did not fall off but now sat at an angle that it hadn't before.
The Grand Pacific glacier (named because it is the widest of the ones in the bay) was not as interesting as it neither calved nor even looked like a glacier. Maybe it's because it comes from Canada. It seems only the face in the Tarr Inlet was part of the park, and the rest was in Canada. But this is an example of the different way glaciers form and shows it truly is a moving river, just as many rivers are different, some muddy others clear, this glacier looked like the side of a mountain, looked like it was covered in dirt but really the dirt and rocks were mixed in with the ice.
After some time there we moved to the John Hopkins glacier which was quite pretty because it was very bright blue (don't worry no physics lesson here about how light absorption and reflection of the snow and ice cause it). There were also several snow caves and even, from what we could tell, a waterfall within one of those caves causing water to spray up a bit. This is the only glacier in the bay that is advancing, so there wasn't as much ice in the water around this one. There was one dark colored iceberg that looked a little like a submarine though.
After this we went back to our room to rest and when the ship slowed we went to the balcony to see a small boat come along side and then snuggle up against the ship. We watched the rangers climb the ladder down to disembark and waved good-bye as they pulled away.
This, of course, was the port I was most excited to explore. Between the promise of bald eagles and putting visuals to my friend Pat's stories (he lived in Sitka and had many fun stories to tell), I couldn't wait to go ashore. Again we slept in and missed the entering of the port, this time we dropped anchor some ways off shore and would use tenders (a few of the lifeboats, but more comfortable) to go ashore.
Now something I noticed (and didn't bore you with in the slide show) is that everywhere we went the water was a bit different. Some places it was rough, others it was smooth as glass. Almost everywhere it had a slightly different color as in some places it had sediments from the glacier and others it was locked in a bay. Near the glaciers it was a bright and colorful blue but very opaque, near Sitka it was dark, but yet it was the clearest water we'd seen. I watched jellyfish float by
The first thing I noticed was the many little islands around the main island. I recalled Pat talking about going to some of them, but I always imagined them much further away from the main island and not all bunched together. St. Michael's Cathedral sat in the middle of the downtown area and I recalled Pat's stories of "joy riding" around it (read: being bored and driving in circles). When we got off the boat I saw the lady from the cruise that tells people about each port of call. So I asked her if she knew the story of Porky and the Volcano. No, it's not a cartoon, Porky is a living legend there that decided to fool the island one April as he and a friend dumped a bunch of old tires into Mt. Edgecumbe which is a dormant volcano, doused them in gas and set them on fire. That apparently scared the heck out of the locals, they sent out a lot of different people including the coast guard to investigate the volcano to see if it was about to blow, and when the helicopter flew over the rim they saw Porky and his friend lounging there with a drink and the words "April Fools" spelt out on the side of the mountain. I'm sure Pat tells it better, but this woman knew nothing about it. While waiting for the tour, we had hot-dogs made from reindeer meat, mmmm.... Actually, didn't taste much different than normal dogs. Pat didn't tell me about them.
On the bus one of the first things our tour guide told us was the story of Porky and the Volcano (I still think Pat tells it better). He tried to point out the volcano but unfortunately it was too overcast to see it. Our bus tour guide also told us what I already knew: that crime rate was fairly low, because you can't go anywhere as there's only three ways to get to Sitka: by boat, by plane (an apparently really scary landing strip too), or by birth canal. The biggest crime was domestic violence and that was mostly because people got so drunk in the winter since there really was nothing else to do.
We drove around the town and were taken to the Totem Park where there were plenty of totems to see. We didn't go far into the park what with the wheelchair and all, it wasn't too easy. I also wanted to get a look at the salmon in the river hoping to see more than two and whooboy did I. Apparently not as many as there is during the peak part of the season but quite a few, lots of seagulls snacking and lots of dead fish on the side of the river. It was noisy and peaceful at the same time, kind of strange. But the place is absolutely beautiful and green as it is a rain forest as Pat always reminded us. I just never really thought the trees were so close to the buildings.
We listened to one guy talk about the totems in the museum there and told us something I hadn't known before; that many totems are just house markers, telling you who lives in the home, some are wedding gifts, and some are "shame poles." The shame pole is erected with a likeness of the person to be shamed at the top (but more about this in Ketchikan). I just always thought they told stories and nothing more. The one that has two faces with the tongue going from one to the other is to show the transfer of knowledge or communication between two people. Another thing I found interesting is I always though all totems were 360 degree carvings, but apparently a lot of them are only the front half. Of course every tribe is different and has different ways of doing totems so even some of the people that study them will never know the meaning and use of every totem.
We saw the Russian dancers who were neither professional dancers nor Russian, plus they were all women, but they were really good! Probably the best dance they did, I unfortunately can't remember the name of, but it was like they were the little figures in a clock. They wore large hoop dresses and glided, practically floating, across the stage. It was beautiful.
They also told us the history behind the state flag, how a kid designed it in a contest and a woman wrote a poem inspired by the kid's designed and another person was so inspired by the poem they put it to music and thus got their state song. It was a cute story.
Then came my favorite part of the whole trip. Now you'd think I'd have gotten my eagle fix by now, I mean I'd already seen more eagles than I had in my life at the previous port. Ah, but here we get up close and nearly personal with these beautiful birds. They first showed us their enclosure that had a couple of eaglets and a couple full grown ones. It was kind of sad to see them hoping around, but they seemed happy since they had a bunch of fish and a stream and everything. They use that area to train and help the birds get ready to go back into the wild.
Even though they're not on the endangered species list anymore they are still trying to recuperate the population. This facility brings in injured eagles and nurses them back to health. Because of certain laws no facility is to keep any bald eagle that can survive in the wild in captivity, so birds like Volta (injured by a power line) who are used for educational purposes were injured so badly they can't go back. The bird they had at the Santa Ana zoo down here only had one wing, the other was shot off.
The lady that brought Volta out didn't tell us anything I didn't already know, but then I wasn't paying much attention to her. I was watching Volta. She's a beautiful huge bird, but still not as big as some, she was only eight pounds, female eagles are usually larger than the males yet in Alaska they can get up to 15 pounds. I liked watching her take food from the lady and another thing that surprised me was that she would clean her handler's fingers without biting them off. The lady said it hurt a little but not a lot. Despite the handler's repeated requests not to stand, use flash, or make noise some people did and poor Volta started to get nervous so the lady took her away.
As if it wasn't cool enough to be less than 10 feet away from a bald eagle we walked around the area outside where they had two beautiful birds in a fairly open area. They also had quite a few other birds of prey including owls, red tailed hawks and kestrels. The real winner here though was seeing Sitka (the male educational bird) and Volta up close, yeah even closer, they were in their cage not 3 feet from me, if the cage wasn't in the way I probably could have touched them. I stood there staring and talking to Sitka for a while who kept tilting his head to me, so he was probably sizing me up to see if I'd taste good. Mom thought they'd leave me behind, and as much as I wouldn't have minded, I got back on the bus. Sadly after this we returned to the boat without seeing one Moose. There were a couple more tenders after us, but not many. We like stretching our time out to get the most of it.
Ketchikan 9/9 (apparently I forgot to fix the date on the slide show)
This was the only place it rained all day. In Sitka we got a few sprinkles in the morning but that was it. It apparently rains 13 inches a year in Ketchikan, so they hardly know what to do with a sunny day.
In Ketchikan we had two tours of the city, we didn't know the Duck (amphibious vehicle) tour was going to go all over the city and thought it would mostly be on water, and the trolley tour took us to most of the places the Duck did. Patrick, the native American tour guide on the Duck, was quite funny and told many horrendous puns, not the least of which was telling us that there were three ways to get to the island... By boat, by plane, and by birth canal. Yes, folks I warned you. He did have other better jokes and kept us laughing, but mostly he kept trying to sell their duck quackers and telling us the price went up every time he told a bad joke.
They drove us around showing us Dolly's (the last brothel in Ketchikan, she's only still in business 'cause the original Dolly had hundreds of little black books that she made her "guests" sign and of course guess who some of her guests were) and the red-light district. Then their salmon ladder and their baseball/football field that was all asphalt 'cause to even try to grow grass is silly as it becomes mud as soon as it rains and the players step on it.
Once we got out on water we only went to the island across the way, saw their tiny airport on the edge of it, and spotted an eagle's nest with an eaglet in it and momma and papa bird perched on a tree nearby. Patrick told us how he watched the male eagle there try to grab a fish so large it dragged him underwater and the eagle managed to let go before drowning and swam slowly to shore. Just when you think you know everything about a subject you learn something new. Sadly, we weren't out on the water much longer than that to watch the birds do anything but sit there.
After the Duck we had a little lunch and then went to our trolley. She showed us most of the same sights, like the baseball field and salmon ladder. Though in the trolley we actually got out at the totem park and were told the story of one of the totems.
For some reason this story sounded familiar to me, but I can't imagine where I've heard it before. Especially since I don't think I've ever met an Indian from that area before.
The one with the three little bears and mama bear holding a man. The man was one of the natives who went out to kill a bear but when he approached the big mean bear he noticed the bear's daughter and fell in love with her. This man loved her so much he took her as his wife, grew hair and claws like a bear and had three cubs with her. Well, she made him promise he would never look on his human wife again and he agreed. They lived happily for years until something happened (can't remember what) and he had to return to the village for help. He tried very hard to avoid his wife, but at one point she confronted him. When he looked upon her he remembered the love he felt for her and he turned human again. Still he wished to return to his bear wife and as he was going through the forest the three cubs saw him only as a human and dangerous to them, they killed him and knew their parents would be proud of them protecting their home. Their mother realized who it was and told them. They were so distraught at killing their own father they jumped off a cliff. The mother saddened by the loss of both husband and children in the same day she went to the top of the mountain, began crying and never stopped, and that's where waterfalls come from.
There are several other major poles here one that is completely blank except for a man sitting on top. We were told that the reason it's blank is because that adds importance to the message that the creator of the pole is trying to get across. So if something was very very important they would carve just on figure on it so you would focus only on that figure. Well, that one in particular has a man with a white face and red nose and ears, this denotes it as a shame pole. So this guy did something very very bad, in his case he did not repay a debt to the natives, as they had thrown him some celebration and he was supposed to return the gesture of hosting one within two years and he never did. Had he or his children ever paid this debt the pole would be taken down, but it remains to tell everyone of his shame.
Similarly there is also one with a guy who looks like Abraham Lincoln, unfortunately they never met Lincoln so they didn't know that he was tall, so they thought he was compensating for his shortness with his hat and thus gave him stubby legs. Now he too is being shamed, as the natives had kept slaves and didn't like that he freed the slaves. However, not all natives felt the same, since they were freed, so he is not painted with a white face and red nose and ears.
They're not all bad, as most of the other poles are not shame poles but I didn't get the stories on them. There is a large pole facing the shore that is a welcome pole, as all visitors at that time came from the ocean. There are also several really really old poles here, they are in the process of recreating them because you can see the wear they are getting.
Moving on we stopped at the red-light district which is just shops now and walked around a little. The salmon were hopping through the water and suddenly were disturbed. If you looked closely you could see a sea lion under the water chasing them. We watched him for some and by the shops, it was nice because you had a green hillside, shops, then the stream, so it was pretty quiet and peaceful. After that we returned to the boat and were far from the last people aboard.
Whale watching wasn't limited to our trip in Juneau. Mom and I sat out on our balcony for some time and just as we were getting up to go in a hump broke the water not 100 yards from the ship. He never came back but it was kind of exciting.
The next morning at breakfast several people had been watching out a window, apparently they had seen a whale out there. I caught just a glimpse of it. A while after that more people were talking about spotting whales, so we must have come upon a bunch of them making their way towards Hawaii.
Going into Canada was the easiest I've ever gone to another country; we just walked by the two security guards and out. Going back to the ship was only a little harder as we had to show our room key. We didn't get into Victoria until late, later than expected too so they canceled a few of the excursions as there was no point to do them in the dark. Ours were not, but probably should have been. We drove by a dark park, saw nothing but tree silhouette. We drove around so many buildings and he tried pointing out murals and what not, but it wasn't impressive at all. We could hardly even see The Empress as we drove up to the hotel, despite it being huge.
In the distance we could see their legislature building all done up in lights for some reason. The grounds of the Empress would have been pretty in the daylight as they have a rose garden, and gazebo. Inside we had High Tea, with little sandwiches, scones, and some delicious sweets. They sat us with some lady from Australia that still had her New York accent and attitude. As she rushed through the tea, I enjoyed mine. As if the food wasn't enough on the ship. Afterwards the bus drove more around the city but if I tried to take a picture it would come out black.
The one cool thing we got to kind of see (if we squinted in the dark) were the eagle statues they had placed around the city. I guess every year they commission animal statues to auction off for charity, this year was eagles and they were pretty.
Then the tour guide told us; you could only get to Victoria by boat or plane... Wait... what? No bad joke here? This guy really wasn't that great of a tour guide. Plus he just got done telling us that Canada's Highway 1 starts/ends there. Besides we really do believe all of these tour guides went to the same joke school, besides that one he told the same joke as a bartender on the ship, and two of the tour guides in Ketchikan told the same joke, though at the moment I can't think what it was other than a yet another bad pun.
As we climbed back aboard we found we were yet again the last ones to arrive, well there were a couple of people that got on after us, but not many. Not like we'd be late getting into Seattle. At normal speed it would have taken 2 hours or less to get there, but no, we weren't scheduled to arrive until morning, so slow and steady got us home.
Back home 9/11
Despite the superstition of the date, everything went really smoothly as we disembarked, well except we lost my Aunt for a few minutes since the wheelchair pusher guy went really really fast and she'd dropped something so she didn't see where we went. He pushed mom all the way to the bus and the bus took us around the city. We stopped at the space needle again, but this time we explored their garden a little.
Then they took us to the Farmers Market and since they made a big deal about the first Starbucks being there I asked where it was, then purposely avoided going near it. We ate lunch then got the heck away from there as it was really crowded and people watched while we waited for the bus.
We drove by the baseball and football stadiums, the Boeing airfield, the Starbucks headquarters (ewww) and several other places looking at the strange art they had there. Apparently the city requires them to use 1% of their profit or building cost (can't remember which) to art projects.
The flight home was smooth and our neighbor was right there at the baggage claim ready to take us home with a smile and a hug.
A couple of days later I still had a little trouble standing up straight after lying down and not having the room rock and roll, but it wasn't too bad. All in all, a very good trip.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please send me any comments you might have, good or bad. Copyrighted 2009 by Christine Schnell. Go ahead and share it with others just keep my name with it.