August 7, 2012

We woke Monday morning to find  storybook houses  and touristy shops lining the harbor at Ketchikan. We watched from our balcony as the Diamond Princess nosed up and propellers shut off.    Though Ketchikan Alaska gets something around 170 inches of rain each year, (similar to living in a fish pond), the sky was mostly clear and cool. Every inch of ground that wasn’t paved or built on, seemed to be green!

  We dressed in layers, as we’d been advised to do, and wore our hiking/walking shoes. Jeff hadn’t planned any paid excursions for that day, but having studied his guidebook, he called a taxi for us and we rode up the 45 degree angle road to a trail head.  (We girls had to convince him to hike first, shop later. I don’t know if we thwarted his strategy to minimize purchases (You don’t really want to carry that up a steep, slippery trail, DO YOU?) or whether he just hadn’t thought about it.)

The hike was labeled moderate, and that was only because it was so meticulously maintained.  Think about a 1300 foot rise in a mile. That’s about a 20% grade.  They put warning signs on highways when there are 5% grades! 

The path was crisscrossed with brooklets and waterfalls . A plant called ‘devil’s club’ looks very tropical, but is covered in vicious thorns.  It is said to have medicinal properties, but the berries, though eaten by bears, are toxic to humans. The moss was mattress-thick with Disney Land style red and white polka dot mushrooms nestled in secret little nooks.

The first overlook rewarded us with a view of the bay and the islands beyond. To call it breathtaking would be untrue. Our breath was long gone from that steep hike!  BUT if we’d had any left, the view would have taken it.

We clawed up another half mile or so with another 700 foot elevation gain. We crossed an avalanche scree  field on an 8 inch wide path. But I suddenly remembered that nobody gives out blue ribbons for enduring difficulties and so I yielded to my fellow hikers pleading and turned back. :>)

On board, they’d given us a booklet of on-shore bargain coupons so we’d be lured into the tourist shops. Just as there are soaring green mountains enclosing Ketchikan, there are mountains of cheap souvenirs for collecting green stuff near the dock.  But many of the stores offered free stuff with any purchase and when we poked around a little, there truly were some bargains.  We got a nice ulu knife, (a skinning knife with a curved blade. . .you never know when you’re going to need one of those) and some other clever odds and ends.  Ironically, they had nice rain coats embossed with “Ketchikan Alaska” for $20.  They were good quality and an ideal fall/spring weight.  I kept reminding myself that I had a rain coat and didn’t know anyone that needed one but I kinda wanted it.  I resisted the temptation and then later in the trip, I left my new black rain coat in a Wasilla restaurant.  The coats like that in other tourist traps cost at least double and mostly quadruple. 

Thomas was jealous of the wool socks I bought. I got some free jewelry that I really like and will either give as a gift or wear myself. The fun thing was that they were all cheerful about giving the free stuff, and it wasn’t embarrassing to collect it. Tricia is resolute about her souvenir budget and helps me to consider the who, what, and why of vacation shopping.  

The ship was set to leave at 1:00pm, so we made it back to the ship by about noon.  We didn’t want to miss the midday feeding frenzy on board, or have to pay for something in town.  But I had stashed my ulu (or is it Oloo?) knife in Tricia’s backpack and we had to go through ship security every time we got on board.  The backpack set off the alarms and the fellow asked Tricia if she had a knife in her backpack. 

‘Uh, I don’t think so,” she answered. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do!” he said. “You have an Alaskan Ulu knife in there.”  Happily, they didn’t throw her overboard as a terrorist and merely told her to stow it immediately in her luggage and not to have it out while on board.  I admit it was a dirty trick to put it in her backpack but it was innocently done! 

We were a little earlier than other on shore travelers and got a nice window seat in the dining room.  Something of a common fear drew many passengers to watch the docks for late comers.  People came running from the dark reaches of Creek street, (the red light district in earlier years),
their arms loaded with embroidered sweatshirts and Hematite jewelry. One set pulled up in a minivan, right to the bottom of the gangway, a full 15 minutes after the “all aboard”. They left the van and all ran into the ship. That got the folks in the dining room chatting to be sure.  But after another 10 minutes, the driver returned to the van and she didn’t seem especially stressed. I  guess she was a tour guide and not a passenger.

That night we went to a comedian’s show.  He had given a short presentation in the welcome aboard show and he was very entertaining. 

I’ll write about Juneau tomorrow.  We had the most DARLING tour guide, I could write volumes.  I think it’s safe to say that I LOVE that tour guide and always will. In fact, we invited him to come for Christmas with his adorable wife.  We even have his phone number on speed dial on our cell phones!  But I’ll save that story for tomorrow. 

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  • Reply Rob and Marseille August 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    ulu is definitely a must-buy in alaska!

  • Reply Beth M. Stephenson August 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Yes, but I was wise to hide it in Tricia's carry-on!

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