Thursday, 17 August 2006, Juneau, Alaska
Unfortunately the overcast and rainy weather has continued during our time here in Juneau - but as an Alaskan told us on the ferry, "in Alaska it is either raining or threatening to rain". We left Prince Rupert at 10.30 on Saturday morning and the cloud didn't lift until mid-afternoon to allow us some sight of the islands and coastline we were sailing between. The ferry follows the inside passage up the coastline of south-east Alaska, and should afford views of inlets lengthening into fjords, as well as the many islands which shelter the trip from the west and make it very smooth going.
The ferry stopped in Ketchikan at about 4.00 and we got off to have a look at the town. The first sight as we were docking was the inevitable cruise ship! We took a taxi downtown - unlike the cruise ship terminals, which are always walking distance to downtown, the ferry terminals tend to be several miles out of town - and asked to be dropped at the museum. It's not a large museum and only took us about 15 minutes to check out, but has some interesting exhibits showing the history of Ketchikan. We then wandered out to look around the town. Right behind the museum is Ketchikan Creek and the end of the famous Creek Street, which was the red-light district during earlier time - a sign at entrance to Creek Street says, "Welcome to Historic Creek Street, where fish and fishermen go up the creek to spawn". Now the quaint buildings house tourist-oriented shops which are managed and staffed in the main by non-residents of the area and are reputed to be owned by the cruise ship companies. They are only open in summer during the cruise ship season and then all personnel associated with them leave town until next summer. It goes without saying that this means the income from these businesses also leaves town! It's a sad state of affairs for such an attractive, small community but I guess they let it happen!
Leaving Creek Street, we stopped to watch a crowd on the bridge fishing for salmon. They hardly needed a fishing rod - there is so much salmon in the rivers here you could almost reach down and lift them out! We only had a little more than an hour in Ketchikan, but it was worth the time spent to see this little town. A number of Australians boarded the ferry at Ketchikan. We haven't met many Australians on our travels, and it was an unexpected delight to listen to them talk. It seems strange to me that I miss the accent of my home country. We made contact with them and spent considerable time that evening and on Sunday morning sharing our travel stories. One couple were actually from Kingscliff which, for those who don't know, is not more than a 40 minute drive north of Byron Bay. Another couple were from Tasmania and were travelling with a Canadian friend who was a wealth of information. And the fifth Aussie lives in Queanbeyan, just outside Canberra, and he was on his way to take a helicopter trip to the top of Mt McKinley, the tallest mountain in the USA. They all got off in Juneau, but the ferry was the last we saw of them.
We were up early on Sunday morning; partly because we were told we would be reaching an area where there was a good chance to see some whales, but also because it was not an easy place to get into a deep sleep. There were at least 5 announcements accompanying each of the two overnight stops which were broadcast straight into our cabin, and ships do make quite a lot of noise when they are moving as well as when they are stopping and starting up again. Needless to say, it was not the best night's sleep we have had. The morning was as grey as the previous one, but we did manage to see many humpback whales blowing and then showing off their flukes as they dove again into the sea, with an occasional sighting of a back hump. They weren't really close to the ship, but it was just amazing to see them closer than I've ever experienced them before. And the activity went on for several hours - on and off. We also saw some small icebergs that morning. They were somewhat in the distance, but their distinctive glacial blue colour made them stand out against the grey ocean and sky!
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