A ferry cold way to Alaska

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November 19th 2015
Published: November 20th 2015
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R: We started our next day at 4am - we didn't want to mess with US customs and The Canadians we had spoken to, including our friend, Tracy the train manager, said get there 2 hours before. Nothing could have been further from the truth - they were still accepting passengers 15 mins before, and customs took less than 5 mins. Except for the people at the desk next to us who, when asked if they had anything to declare, said "No, all we have is a cooler of Kangaroo meat we picked up in Canada". When we saw them again on the boat they did not have their cooler of Kangaroo meat...

We have splashed out on a cabin here - given our early start, it was nice to have our own space. It consists of a set of bunk beds, two windows, two chairs and a wet room/shower. This was our home for the next two days.

When we got on at Prince Rupert in Canada there were only 27 people on board a ship that hold up to 500 passengers, so we have rattled around inside not coming into contact with many people.

After 6 hours or so (during which we were napping), the ferry made a 5 hour stop at Ketchikan, Alaska. This small town mainly owes its existence to salmon canning, and still is an active fishing port today. We headed into town and headed straight for Creek Street, which is a series of boardwalks built on stilts over a creek where the salmon used to come and spawn. Apparently, with the fishing trade came a certain "underworld" of industry, and the area became a red light district, leading to the motto "Creek Street; where salmon and men come to spawn". In the creek was a pair of harbour seals bobbing around and having fun ; while I was looking at these Cate had found a fluffy cat basking in the sunlight - I suspect it doesn't see sun very often. Nothing changes...

Ketchikan has a large native population and the tradition of totem carving is popular here. We went to the totem heritage centre, where we had the curator to ourselves for a bit, and she talked us through more of the history and technicalities behind it. Apparently, any pink colouring you may see on totem poles from the 1800s is down to the tribe's womenfolk chewing salmon eggs and spitting out the saliva/salmon egg mix which is then combined with minerals to give a long lasting, pink paint. Tasty....

Day 2 on the ferry was a complete day on the water. The scenery around us is stunning. The boat winds its way around the inside passage - an area of narrow waterways between steep, snow and fir tree covered mountains, with small towns clinging to some of the more gentle edges. The ferry stops and picks up and drops off at various towns along the way - including the town of Kake (pronounced Cake) - which was much less exciting than we had hoped. The boat only stops for 45 mins at most ports, excelt Sitka, which I got off at. There are plenty of whales around out there. We have seen a couple of beaches and I figure we would see more if I wasn't staring at this iPad writing to you!

The cinema room shows films and documentaries about Alaska - last night we caught the back end of Inside Out, which Tim and Emma Mean have been recommending to me for ages. Now I'm going to have to watch it from the start...

I got off at Sitka - we arrived there after dark, so I went with a Belgian guy we met on the ferry, and had a bit of an explore. Sitka is the old Russian capital from when Alaska was owned by the Russians - theres a few Russian churches etc left over and a Russian fort, but otherwise there's not much there. Like Keitchikan, there isn't much there except for tourist tat shops for the cruise ships (all closed) and a few pubs. I got talking to a teacher who had a volleyball team on the boat, going home from a tournament, and he told me the town shrinks in size when the cruise ships are gone, otherwise it's hunting and fishing mainly. Apparently all families are given a quota of six deer they can hunt, kill and eat each winter.

Anyway, on to Juneau, Alaska. Apparently the ferry will arrive there anytime between 4 and 7am.

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