Monday, June 9, 2008

Cruise To Alaska: Juneau, Skagway, Mendenhall Glacier, Sawyer Glacier (Part III)

We are going to see some Indian dancers followed by a salmon bake dinner. The dancers were the Chilkat Indian dancers and the dancing was performed by young children, it was rather amateurish, and not something I particularly enjoyed. We saw a lot of dances, all depicting a story or a legend. The bear and raven dance I quite enjoyed, the Indians believe that the Raven created all the world.

When we went to dinner the rain was still hammering down. We sat in an open fronted marquee with the rain crashing onto the canvas. We were all dressed in heavy anoraks, and were cold and wet, not really the sort of evening for this sort of trip at all.

The next day we woke up and found we were sailing past small icebergs and will soon be entering the Tracey Arm, a very narrow gorge which leads up to the Sawyer Glacier. There were lots of waterfalls falling hundreds of feet from the snow caps and glaciers into the gorge.

I saw a seal sitting on an iceberg. The crew lowered a lifeboat and collected a lump of glacier ice for tonight's midnight buffet. The boys started to carve it up on deck and we all wondered what they were carving. We later discovered it turned out to be a horses head.

The glacier sounded, at times like gunfire or thunder as it was constantly moving with ice breaking off from the glacier into the sea. The colour from the glacier is such a beautiful blue. The boat stayed at the Glacier face for a couple of hours. It was so peaceful. It was a wonderful quiet peaceful morning and we were so lucky with the weather which was bright and sunny. The sun, unfortunately was in quite the wrong place for photographing the glacier but you can't have everything right.

During lunch we again got the call that there were humpback whales off our port and starboard bows. We saw eight or nine whales.

This afternoon we again went to a talk by Bill Tauck, the naturalist. The subject was 'The Rush for Gold'. Bill's slide lectures all this week have been very interesting and his slides are superb. His voice over the ships loud speaker system telling us that whales, dolphins, seals or whatever are off the starboard bow are most exciting. He has a wonderful soporific voice.

Bill's talk with a lot of old photographs of the gold prospectors was great. He had a picture of Soapy Smith and had some funny stories to tell us about the old timers.

The next day we arrive at Ketchikan. Ketchikan is located in a rain forest and is known as the Rain Capital of North America. It was also once known as the salmon capital of the world because of the number of fishing canneries found here. In the early 1900's Ketchikan grew as a result of the gold rush. When the gold and copper mines closed down during World War 1 the salmon fishing and lumber once again became the city's major industries.

Ketchikan is the epitome of a waterfront town. Discoveries of gold and copper gave rise to a booming mining centre and the population reached 800 at the turn of the century. When the mining boom folded in 1907, Ketchikan's fishing industry was strong enough to sustain the community.

We went on a City tour here which we found pretty boring. We visited the Totem Heritage Centre. The most interesting thing here was the creek which was full of spawning salmon. Inside the centre were four old totem poles. The lady here had a flat uninteresting monotone voice and as she droned on we learnt that totem poles were of no sacred value. They depicted the history of the Indian tribes, and could be thought of as a sort of family "Coat of Arms". We then were driven through town and up to a National Park. We hoped to see brown bear as there are a lot here and they often wander into town at this time of year, but it was raining so hard that any sensible bear would be in a nice warm, dry cave!

After coming back to Windward for lunch we went exploring Ketchikan on our own. We first make for Creek Street which is where the town started. There is a sign as you enter the street which says 'Where Fish and Fisherman go up the Creek to Spawn'!!

There are hundreds of salmon in the creek spawning like made, we didn't see any fisherman though! We met Dolly and her friend, the local red light girls.

The creek was fascinating, a wooden broadwalk with brightly painted wooden houses and shops, left just as it was in the old gold mining and fishing days.

Back on board and tonight is the traditional night for the parade of the baked Alaska and what better place to have this served. The waiters had the baked Alaska on their heads as they paraded through the dining room.

The next morning we enjoyed a very pretty cruise along the Inside Passage, very narrow in places with waterfalls falling great heights down between heavily wooded cliffs.

As we came out of the Inside Passage into the Pacific Ocean the boat started going up and down and people were walking around the ship looking drunk. One man we passed wondered if they had laced his soup at lunch.

This afternoon Bill Tauch gave us another interesting talk on Living in Alaska which he and his wife do every winter. He had some very good slides of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, something we have always wanted to see.

About 4.30pm we started to sight killer whales. For about 40 minutes on all sides of the boat they followed us, it was a wonderful sight.

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