The cruise ship went into three ports. The first of these was Juneau. Juneau is the fourth largest city in Alaska with a population of 40,000 people. What makes it so interesting is that it is land-locked. There are no roads connecting it to the rest of Alaska. The only access is by plane or boat. Small planes and sea planes are used much like trucks and are seen as an essential part of life. They bring in and take out all goods into the city. This also makes it an expensive place to visit.
Ian and I decided to have a real Alaskan experience and go kayaking. The weather was apparently typically Alaskan. It was wet and grey. In winter they have only four hours of daylight. We asked the guide what do the locals do for entertainment. “They drink a lot and get depressed,” he said.
Anyway, we only had six people on our little adventure. It began with a bus ride to the shores of the harbour which looked more like a lake. On the other side was the Mendenhall Glacier. Fortunately, the misty rain cleared enough for us to be able to see it. Sadly, it is receding so quickly that in 30 years time it will be gone.
On this stretch of water, the tide rises and falls quickly and there is a 21 foot (approx 6.5 metre) differential. To get ready for the kayaking we had to get into the appropriate gear. I felt more like a commercial fisherman than medal winning Lisa Carrington! Firstly, we put on bright yellow waterproof overalls, then added a heavy blue parker followed by a life jacket.
Then we slipped our feet into dark green gumboots making sure they fitted under the overalls. I think the picture on the right shows our elegant attire perfectly. The only problem was that if we fell out we would sink straight to the bottom. The water was 42 degrees – freezing, so between hypothermia and drowning, we had a good chance of a quick demise. That said, it was a fabulous experience. We saw dozens of bald eagles, a few harbour seals but sadly no salmon or bears.
In Skagway we took a train ride up White Pass Railway. It took two years, two months and two days to build and 35,000 men to build it. The guide cheerfully told us only 35 men died. I’m not sure their families would have though they were great statistics. It was built during the Klondike gold rush and has a 2865 foot elevation.
Our last port was Ketchikan. Ketchikan is an island and is the fourth wettest city in the world. It rains three to four days a week (13 feet of rain a year) and is more grey than sunny. We had 18 degrees and sunshine. This is where we decided to go snorkeling!
Whilst the sea-life was pretty average (I guess we are spoilt in New Zealand, Australia and the Islands), the whole experience was good fun. Firstly we had to squeeze ourselves into 7 mm wetsuits, hood, gloves and booties. This provided a good 15 minutes of entertainment for a group of travelling strangers. We were given a lesson on how to get into the wetsuits. I mentally scoffed at this at first but once I started the process I could see the wisdom of the instructions. Then we added a weight belt because the wetsuit was so buoyant. However, even with the weight belt, free diving was near impossible. I kept bobbing up like a cork. But as you can see, it was an unrivalled fashion statement.
I was surprisingly warm once the suit filled with water. When I took off my gloves warm water came out – heated by my body temperature. I did have an ice cream headache for a bit but that soon passed.
We had a lovely walk on the Ranbird trail enjoying the forest and fresh air. It also gave us great views of the town. We came out of the bush to the local 4th July parade. This was fun to watch. It was a nice foil to see the locals having a great time, lacking the sophistication of the cruises and the tourist shops.
There are jewelry shops everywhere. Apparently, they are owned by the cruise ships and shut up when the cruise season has finished. Tanzanite (a gem from Tanzania) is really big here, which seems very strange. They way it is marketed you would think it is a gem from Alaska. The gossip is, a million dollar jewelry sale took place in the last port…. it wasn’t me.