AngiePen (angiepen) wrote,

Trip Report 2 -- Ketchikan and Juneau

Yesterday (Sunday) we were in Ketchikan and that was a lot of fun. It's the southernmost city in Alaska, so the sign says "Alaska's First City." They get an average of thirteen FEET of rain per year [boggle] and the lady who led our tour said that they'd gotten seven inches of rain this last fourth of July, which is a heck of a lot of rain for mid-summer anywhere outside the tropics. There were only about eight of us on the tour, which is the smallest tour I've ever been on, but it was cool.

We went to a salmon hatchery which has a wild raptor rehabilitation place attached to it, so we saw the hatchery, with examples of what the eggs and fry look like at various stages of the life cycle, and then walked around the hatchery itself. Fish farming (where the fish are kept in captivity until they're harvested) is illegal in Alaska, so all the hatcheries release their fish into the wild when they're old enough. They swim around in the ocean for a few years and then come back later, those that haven't been caught by fishing boats and various otters and eagles and bears.

Apparently there's been some criticism that hatchery fish are losing their wild instincts. Our guide demonstrated that this isn't the case. The fish returning to their hatchery are about twenty-one generations hatchery-bred, and if you lean out over the tank and hold your arms out and flap like an eagle, the fish all get very agitated and swim over to the other end. If you go down there and flap, they'll panic again and swim back to the first end. They seem to at least still know that eagles are dangerous. :P

On the way in we saw a mated pair of bald eagles. All the raptors at this center have been injured in some way that prevents them from surviving in the wild -- most of the ones we saw had lost a chunk of a wing, having been injured and needing to have all or part amputated. This pair of bald eagles had a nice, big enclosure to live in, with a chunk of stream running through it that came directly from the stream outside where the salmon swam. The raptor lady said that this was the only place where eagles in captivity had the opportunity to fish for themselves, although once they caught on to the fact that they were going to be fed regularly anyway, they lost interest. :P Smart birds, I guess. Next we went into a room set up like a small auditorium with five other raptors on stumps on the low stage. There was another bald eagle, a horned owl, a golden eagle, and a couple of others I don't remember. [duck] The raptor lady told us about them, and in between birds a lady in traditional Tlingit (probably spelled wrong, but at any rate it's pronounced KLINK-it) regalia came up and told us stories, and that was fun. Amazingly enough, there was no gift shop at this place; once we were done we were done and that was it. This was a great tour.

While we were on the bus, and while we were walking around the park before going into the hatchery, our tour guide, who was born and raised in Ketchikan, told us stories about living there. They put their kids through survival training starting in sixth grade, since they're on an island in an extreme climate and the possibility of finding yourself in an emergency survival situation is relatively high. Most families have boats, which just increases the likelihood. So they learn about what wild foods you can eat, no matter how multi-legged or slimy, and how to make a fire and build a shelter and stuff. By eighth grade they go out on a three-day survival test.

There's very little crime up here, mainly because there's just no place to go once you've committed your crime, and even the larger cities are pretty small and everyone knows everyone else. When you're on an island, there's no grand theft auto -- the most you can do is joyride, and kids do that periodically. Getting a bit ahead of myself, our guide today (Juneau, state capital) said that a few years back someone robbed a bank in Juneau and got about $175. Since the only way he could've gotten out of Juneau was to fly, and a round-trip plane ticket costs a minimum of $350, the robber must've actually lost money on the deal. :P

It really hasn't been as cold as I was expecting. I've been wearing something sweaterish whenever we've gone outside, and brought along another sweater, a zip-up cardigan, which I've worn whenever it started raining, and so far I've only zipped it up once. I have a hat I wear (one of those bucket-type hats, sort of, like a fishing hat) that I wear as a sun hat when we're in the tropics and a rain hat when it rains, and that's been enough so far. One of the few benefits of being fat is having a layer of built-in insulation; I've seen a lot of people wearing much more and warmer and more waterproof clothing than I was who looked a whole lot colder. So Nyah! on all the skinny people. ;)

After we got back to the ship, I went and worked on my Flist in the internet lounge for a while, and Jim walked back to town (which was right across the street from the ship dock) and did some shopping. He got me an absolutely adorable stuffed husky dog, and I heart him. (Both hims, actually. [grin])

And today (Monday) was Juneau. The best part of today's tour was our guide. [grin] He's a college student (to you Brits and Australians and such, read that as "university student") down in Washington State, up here working for the summer. We were his last tour (this is the very end of the Alaska cruise season) so he was telling us (or said he was) things he wouldn't usually tell his tourists 'cause it's his last day on the job and he doesn't care. :D When he was recruited to come up here, he got the impression that "they" were paying for everything, so he persuaded his two roommates to sign up and come with him. It turns out that "everything" didn't include housing, which is very expensive up in Alaska. A 500-square-foot apartment in Juneau costs about a thousand dollars a month, with no utilities included. (For purposes of comparison, when Jim and I had an apartment in Long Beach, it was about 1400 square feet with some utilities paid, and when the rent got up to $1350 it was sufficiently outrageous that we bought a condo.) He and his roommates ended up taking a one-room cabin. Not one-bedroom, but one room -- four corners. In a row against the wall was the shower, the stove, the sink and the fridge. They were looking around when the landlord was showing it to them and asked where the toilet was. Landlord says to go look in the shower. :P Ever been on a yacht...? Or some campers are like this too, with the toilet IN the shower. That's what they had in the cabin. Landlord said that if millionaires were willing to use that kind of toilet in their yachts then the three young men should feel honored to be able to use it too. Umm, right. Whatever. :P

So when they got there, they got some survival-ish training, including what to do when you see a bear. If you see a black bear, you should wave your arms and speak in a commanding tone. If you see a brown bear you should play dead. If you see a grizzly, you're gonna get eaten so you can do whatever you want. The problem here is that the only difference between a brown bear and a grizzly is a couple hundred pounds of body mass (the grizzlies are the smaller ones -- I guess it gives them a complex or something), so if you're not too sure about your estimates of weight on bears you might have a problem. Although since nothing you can do will save you from a grizzly anyway, I guess laying down and playing dead won't get you eaten all that much faster than trying to run. :P

So one time he's leaving in the morning to go to work and there's this black bear between the door to the cabin and the door to the car. He remembers what he was told and waves his arms and says in a commanding tone, "Step away from the vehicle." [snicker] The bear just looks at him for a bit and then starts growling. He goes back into the cabin and calls work and says he'll be in as soon as the bear goes away.

Oh, one time he was driving for the same tour we were on (yeah, I'll tell you about it eventually [grin]) and for the first part you need these big plastic tickets -- you show them to the rangers to get into the glacier visitor's center for free, and then you give them back to Chad (that's the driver) when you get on the bus. So he's collecting people from the glacier park and he's counting tickets as they're handed to him. At the end he has enough tickets and calls, "Everyone on?" Everyone yells, "Yes!" so he takes off. A few minutes later he gets a radio call saying that he'd left someone behind. Oops! It turns out this woman's husband had been holding her ticket and handed it in when he handed in his own, and either said nothing or said yes when Chad asked if everyone was on board. They go back and get this woman and she's bitching and complaining, which is understandable, but she just doesn't stop talking the whole time. Chad said he later heard her husband say that it was the quietest fifteen minutes he'd experienced in years :P: which makes one wonder if he'd been trying to get rid of her. LOL!

Anyway, the whole point of the tour [duck] was three things -- the Mendenhall Glacier, another salmon hatchery, and a salmon fry at a campgroundish place. The glacier was gorgeous. We took a hike out to the edge of the lake and the glacier was right across like a quarter or third of a mile away, with bright blue ice showing. Ice inside a glacier is blue because of the way the crystals have been compressed. Once it's been exposed to the surface for a bit it turns white like other ice. The ranger said there'd been some heavy calving the night before so there was a lot of blue ice exposed and it was really pretty. Off to the right there was this gorgeous waterfall -- one of the ones that sprays out from the rockface before falling so it's all white spray coming down. There were also a couple of smaller but higher falls coming off the surrounding mountains, just thin, white lines.

Chad tried to explain how the glacier can be advancing and retreating at the same time, but I don't think some people got it. Figure, if the glacier advances 500 feet in a year, but in the same year 1000 feet of it melts, you get a net recession of 500 feet, right? Easy. I'm sure all of you get this, but apparently simple, addition-and-subtraction arithmetic was beyond a few of the folks on our tour. [eyeroll]

Oh, one interesting thing -- until recently the glacier was receding at a rate of about sixty to eighty feet per year, but last year it receded over 500 feet. And people in both Ketchikan and Juneau commented that it's been warmer, and snow has started a lot later the last few years, than when they were younger. Global warming, anyone...? :/

After the hike out to the lake, we went back to the visitor's center, which is where you show the ranger at the desk your plastic ticket. We got there just in time to catch a short film about the glacier, and that was interesting. We walked around the displays and the gift shop, and I got a couple of books -- one was a cookbook with recipes for stuff like salmon pizza :D and the other was called Alone Across the Arctic by a lady named Pam Flowers. She's run the Iditarod, and the book is about a solo trek she made across northern Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. I've only started reading it but what impresses me at this point is that she only has eight dogs, and she's never lost any. Jim and I watched the Iditarod on TV this last year and most mushers start out with a dozen or more dogs and expect to lose a few along the way; some actually die on the trail and others become injured and are left behind at a checkpoint with the vets there. Pam obviously takes excellent care of her dogs. More about this later as I read.

Next stop was a salmon hatchery. It was bigger than the one in Ketchikan but not as interesting. The tour part was much less informative, and most of it was just a "Go look around" thing once we hit the gift shop. :P There were some displays, and a series of tanks with non-salmon fish in them, and they were interesting, but I didn't find anything I particularly wanted to buy. I enjoyed the Ketchikan hatchery more.

Last stop was the salmon fry. It was raining medium-heavily by the time we got there; this is the point where I actually zipped up my cardigan. The food was good but not spectacular. Chad left us here, since the salmon fry place runs its own busses back to the downtown area and the ship docks and you can leave whenever you want to. Jim and I left as soon as we'd finished eating. I'd have actually been happy if the tour had only been to the glacier, with a bit more time up there.

And that's about it so far. We're going to be in Skagway tomorrow, and we're going to go hang out with sled dogs. :D There's no snow, but during the warm season the dogs will pull you around on wheeled sledges, so that works.

Oh, mentioning Skagway reminds me -- Juneau is landlocked. It's surrounded by either water or glaciers on all sides, or was until recently. Enough glacier has receded that they could build a road to Skagway now if they want to, although the debate about whether they should has generated some heat in the community. The lady driving the salmon fry bus back to the ship said that you'll see bumper stickers around town, some saying "Build a Road to Skagway," and others saying, "If You Want More Roads, Move South." [snicker] I'll have to ask someone in Skagway how they feel about it.

One last note. :P I'm the only person in the universe who actually loses weight on cruises. No, seriously. I eat about the same amount of food as I do at home, but I eat much healthier food on cruises, and I get a lot more exercise, so I get off the ship (a bit) skinnier than I got on. When we came aboard I was kind of depressed because none of my trousers fit me -- I wear shorts at home and hadn't tried to get into my (regular, non-elastic-waisted) trousers in months, and none of them fit. :( I packed a couple of pairs anyway, hoping, and I've been wearing these elastic-waisted pants I have that fit, sort of, but cling to every [cough] curve, and are a dark purple and white tweed and thus limit what tops I can wear with them, and have NO pockets. (No, I didn't know that when I bought them. I'm tall as well as fat and the only place I can get pants that fit is the JC Penney catalog, so I have to order them all through the mail.) I've been carrying my room key-card around in my bra, which is tacky but what are you going to do? Anyway, I got back from dinner tonight and on a whim tried my trousers, and they fit!! [beam/boing/party!] So I can start dressing like a normal person again. Yay!

Tags: travel

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