Arriving in Ketchikan this morning was dramatic. The sun rose long before we were awake, but the heavy lined drapes let us sleep longer than we had planned. By the time I opened them wide to look outside we were very close to our first port. The mountains around Ketchikan are beautiful, lush and green. It is, after all, a rain forest, with precipitation over 100 inches a year. Our plan was to explore the town on our own, avoiding lines and costly excursions. Ketchikan is a small place, with few roads, and the town is clustered along the waterfront.
Leaving the ship entails a photo opportunity for the cruise photographers, and for some reason on this cruise they seemed to think that huge cartoon animals are cute. Later, when we looked for our photos, it was hard to see anyone in between the giant salmon and giant fisherman in a brilliant yellow slicker. We surely didn’t need to buy THAT photo, even though we both looked OK. Kind of silly, really.
On shore, we walked to the end of the dock, down the gauntlet of people hawking excursions, taxi drivers trying to get fares, and Princess personnel showing the way to the prepaid tours. It was surprising just how much it felt like any other cruise port in Mexico or the Caribbean. Still a lot of people around trying to sell you something and get your money. Then, along the main road next to the dock, there are all the Diamond International, Tanzanite International, and all the other jewelry stores found at cruise ports all over the world. What a racket! Duty free diamonds. But wait! Isn’t Alaska in the US? Would I have to pay duty anyway? Mo and I followed my daughter’s advice and avoided the first streets in favor of the smaller back streets and truly local shopkeepers. The big stores are dominantly owned by the cruise lines, and certainly don’t do much to bring in real money to the locals.
On this day, however, shopping was our second choice to walking. The town of Saxman was just a nice 3 mile walk along the waterfront and gave us a chance for some quiet and some nice views of the channel. Ketchikan has the largest number of ceremonial totem poles in Alaska. We walked past cannery row and the Coast Guard station, through thick forests with salmonberry and ferns, punctuated by small waterfalls. Along the way I met a sweet little very tiny lady with 5 cats and a gorgeous garden filled with flowers. She had lived in Ketchikan since the early 70’s and was happy to visit with us. I was surprised at the flowers everywhere, most of the shade and moisture tolerant types due to the heavy rainfall. The delphiniums, however, were in full bloom, farther along than my own in Rocky Point. The visitor center at the totem pole park was nice, and the local staff were helpful and informative. For a buck, you can buy a map of the poles with the history of each one. We learned that even though they are made of durable cedar, many of the original totem poles have deteriorated and most of them have been redone. The re-carving is considered an important work and done with great pride by superior tribal craftsmen. The gift shop on the premises is run by the tribe, and there is also a clan house, with traditional dancing and singing performed periodically. The carving shed is there as well, with a carver working on site. You can watch him through the windows if you wish, but he only allows visitors inside at his discretion.
After enjoying the totems, for another buck, we caught the local bus back to town and were dropped off right in the center. Things were a bit more crowded here, so we walked back to the Ketchikan Coffee Company for a cappuccino. Another great local spot, with art on the walls done by the infamous Ray Troll, famous for his creative wild art, and an Alaska favorite.
Creek Street is the classic row of one time brothels and bars, now converted to shops and a brothel museum. Most shops here are locally owned, and the boardwalk area is quite picturesque reflected in the creek. Spending three bucks each to ride the tram up the hill was well worth it, and the Tlingit lodge at the top is lovely, filled with art and informative photos about the local history and tribal economy. Walking back down to town, via the “Married Man’s Trail” was lovely as well. We sidetracked a bit, ambled along the creek viewing salmon ladders, checking out the local homes, and visiting a bit with some local residents.
Back to the ship for our boarding in plenty of time to find a spot on the upper decks as we left Ketchikan. Even though it was cloudy, there was no rain and the views were lovely. A local story of Ketchikan follows: Someone asked a young child, “how long has it been raining?” , and the child replied, “I don’t know, I’m only five”.