Archive for Alaska

Quick Update

Now at Skagway, our last stop on the cruise.

Have taken loads of photos and lots has happened in the last two days.  When we return to Vancouver (sunday) we will update the blog with our diary entries and upload some of the pictures for you to see.  But for now, we are safe and having a great time.

We enjoyed reading your comments, keep them coming.

Gemma and Simon

Skagway


White pass Railway in Skagway
Originally uploaded by simmogem.

Skagway is our longest stop on the cruise and is a historic Gold Rush town that has been preserved to appear as it did in 1898. Reminds me of visiting Old Sydney town when I was about 5.

Skagway claims to have invented the board walk in an attempt to keep mud out of the shop fronts. Speaking of shopfronts, on entering Skagway I commented to Gemma that buildings all had false fronts or facades much like a movie set. Initially we thought this was to provide the illusion of being in the late 1800’s however, our tour guide later that day explaine that this was actually historically acurate. Skagway began as a tent city and some stores/resturants errected false building fronts in front of their tents to give the impression of a more classy establishment. Some of the buildings even have given the impression of additional levels through the facades.

The gold rush in Skagway lasted all of 3 years between 1897 – 1901. Skagway has survived ever since as a tourist attraction drawing visitors to the White Pass Railway which transported gold seekers from the sea port to the gold fields in the mountains 3000ft above.

This brings us to our shore excursion. At 9am we departed aboard the last carriage of the White Pass rail. The steam engine has been replaced with a diesel motor but the carriages are authentic. The railway was fantastic. Starting at…well sea level and climbing to just under 3000ft in about 15 miles is an experience. To think that the tunnels were carved from the solid granite mountain by hand over 100 years ago seems impossible. However considering the alternative of dragging food, tools and other supplies up the mountain by hand justifies their labours.

You can ride the railway to Yukon which is well into Canada but is a 6 hour return journey. We opted to take the 3.5 hour trip that takes you to the peak (which is also the Canadian border) and then turns around. We choose to do the trip in the morning as we thought the ‘evening’ summit may not provide as good photo opportunities. I guess we forgot that the sun sets at 11:45pm here.

Once back in town we had a bite to eat then took a free guided walking tour of historic Skagway provided by the parks and wildlife authority. They actually buy and restore historic buildings and then rent them back to the retailers for a tidy profit. A government authority that seems to be doing quite well and giving back to the community?

We finished off the day with a drink in a Saloon on the mainstreet. Having the longer time makes for a much more relaxing experience.

Check out the photos to see more.

Simon

Sawyer Glacier


Sawyer Glacier
Originally uploaded by simmogem.

After seeing a distant view of the Mendellhall Glacier while Kayaking I felt content that I had seen one of the main features of North America that had given interest in doing this cruise. I never imagine that later today our cruise ship that is `10,000 times bigger than our kayak would sail right up to the Sawyer Glacier through ‘Tracey’s Arm’.

An absolutely spectacular sight cruising through a fjord full of icebergs. Some the size of houses. It is quite humourus thinking about how many photos I took of that first iceber we saw, only to round an island and find the sea dotted with thousands of them. Some of the photos of the first iceberg are probably the best though as there was less things to draw your attention making it easier to focus.

We saw several Harbour seals sunning themsleves on top of the ice bergs. Many of them with baby seal cubs. Still no whales that are worth mentioning though.

As you can imagine it was a little cool outside. The water obviously only just above freezing and the wind, which was very strong, was like ice. Gemma lasted about 2 hours outside before retiring to the warmth of the observation lounge. I battled on for another half an hour until I had drained my second camera battery and my shutter finger was frozen.

Many of the photos will require some post production editing that I can’t do until we get a laptop so I have uploaded a few of the ones that look ok as-is onto flikr and will put more up when I can manipulate them.

I hope you can get a feel for the scenery we saw today but can’t strongly recommend enough how much better this is in person. Those who can, should definitely come and see this for themselves.

On a sadder note, I lost my beanie this evening in the observatory lounge. No one has seen it so I think it has found its way into someone elses bag. I haven’t seen anyone with similar headwear so I’ll keep an eye out for anyone wearing it, but otherwise I’ll have to buy a new one in vancouver.

Thanks for reading,
Simmo

Kayaking in Juneau


Kayaking
Originally uploaded by simmogem.

I have to admit I was a little nervous at the thought of sea kayaking, especially in water that was only 1 – 2 degrees, but the sun was shining and the wind was down so we were promised a good day on the water. When we reached Douglas Island, about a 15min drive from the capital, we jumped off our old school bus and straight into our wet gear – big rubber pants, gumboots and our life jackets. As you can see the ensemble was quite stylish. Simon sat in the back so he could steer and I sat in front so I could set the pace and get a good view. The fjord where we were kayaking was at the foot of the Mendall Hall Glacier and whilst we were still about 10 mile from the glacier the veiws were fantastic.

Along the way we saw a number of eagles and in the distance (which I was glad of) was a whale. The highlight though was a seal that kept following the kayaks and popping his head up to have a look. I maintain that I did most of the rowing but even still the trip was very peaceful and the water was like a sheet of glass. The guide said that it was the best weather that they had had in a long time.

After the kayaking the bus dropped us back into town which gave us a chance to post a few letters and buy some home made fudge -peanut butter of course. Simon has also started collecting fridge magnets so we went hunting for a good Juneau magnet. Overall, we weren't impressed bythe city of Juneau, apart from the governmet buildings the rest of the town was tourist shops. The sea kayaking however was well worth the trip and I am looking forward to doing a bit more of it on our other trips in Canada.

Ketchikan – do you Partake…

Port one on our cruise – Ketchikan the salmon capital of the world! There is so much salmon here I’m going pink just thinking of it – tinned, canned, boxed, dried you name it and you can find it here – I’m bringing you all home some salmon jerky, sounds appetising doesn’t it!

Ketchikan is one of the oldest fishing villages in these parts and as I look out of the cafe window the only thing that reminds me that it is 2006 is the mobile phone tower in the background. The town itself is what you would expect of a fishing village, it is colourful and messy and has a cheeriness that only a shoreline of timber shacks can produce. Rather than take a bus tour with the other ship dwellers we decided to grab a walking map from the info centre and explore ourselves which turned out to be a good idea. We saw the back streets of Ketchikan, where there were no tourists, as well as the tourist hot spots like Creek Street (Ketchikan’s former red light district).

It was on part of this walk that we headed down to the fishing docks and met a real life fisherman (white beard, sailors cap and overalls – the whole bit). He was strolling back from his rusty van toward is apartment. Actually apartment is probably the wrong word, his room in one of the big timber houses that line the waters egde. He was inspecting the side of the building to see if he could some how fit gas heating for the upcoming winter – this was his first winter here, he has lived in Ketchikan for 18 years but  always on his boat. This year he is renovating the boat so has stepped onshore till it is completed – not bad for an old fella. His final commments give title to this post, as we invited him to get on with his morning he commented that he was busy, carrying his glow lamp up to his room to set up his pot. I kid you not – in Ketchikan pot is very popular – he explained. He asked very politely if we partook of pot – we politely declined and with that we were all on our way. Looking back I am quite lucky that our morning did not end in Simon and I sitting cross legged on the floor of a dank fishers apartment… well you know. Till our next adventure on the high seas Gem