A Travellerspoint blog

Ain't Getting On No Plane

rain
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Once again I have been foiled - just back from the tour office and apparently it's too windy to fly today.

My last day in Ketchikan and it's raining cats & dogs - my only options seem to be:

a) stay in my hotel
b) go to the pub

It's 11.50am. My fortune cookie yesterday told me to keep an eye out for yellow things - not many of those in my room...

Posted by LordGibil 12:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Bear Necessities

Ketchikan, Alaska and surrounding area

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Still no bears, so I have pushed the boat out and booked myself on a viewing trip for tomorrow, my last day in Ketchikan. Hopefully the bears won't be put off by rain because that is the forecast.

My last update was written just before a 19.5 hour ferry journey from Juneau to Ketchikan. To cut costs I had not booked a cabin, and therefore was expecting it to be somewhat uncomfortable and sleep-deprived - an accurate prediction as it turned out. What I naively didn't foresee was the lack of wifi on board the vessel, meaning not only no internet but no films and no e-books. Now my ability to both waste time and sleep has never been questioned, but even I was floundering in a sea of boredom on this occasion. When I look back at this journey it's hard to remember what I actually did, but it was with relief that I disembarked and made my way to my hotel - albeit after waiting a further 45 minutes for a bus.

Arriving in town:
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Ketchikan seemingly likes to blow its own trumpet. Here are some of the things it claims to be:

  • The Salmon Capital of the World
  • Alaska's 1st City
  • Home of the world's largest collection of totem poles
  • Home of the US's highest ZIP code - 99950 (this one at least is true)

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If by '1st' city they mean 'southernmost' then that is factually correct. If they mean 'smelliest' then that is also true, for reasons I will come on to. Ketchikan is situated on Revillagigedo Island at the tip of the Alaska Panhandle and, like Juneau, is a stop-off point for geriatric-filled cruise liners. It is right at the end of the tourist season here so the place is slowly shutting down and the locals going into hibernation. On Saturday night there were only two pubs that had any life in them (in one of which I was ID'd despite being twice the legal age) and that all seemed rather half-hearted.

Looking back at my time here, my abiding memory (apart from all the bears and eagles I will be seeing tomorrow) will be of fish. The main creek that runs through the city (imaginatively called Ketchikan Creek) is packed with salmon. So much so that in parts I could almost walk from one side to the other across their backs. At this time of year they are all heading up river to spawn, and once this deed is done their useful time is up and they begin to die. At some sections there were more dead fish than living ones, and in low tide their corpses litter the riverbanks. This brings into town the aforementioned vile stench.

Ketchikan Creek salmon:
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This also brings into town one of the salmon's biggest predators - seals. There are several bridges across the creek that offer excellent vantage points, and I witnessed a seal effortlessly snaffling its next meal on a number of occasions. This area is known as Creek Street, which is effectively a boardwalk linking a series of wooden houses built on stilts. Years ago this was a bawdy red light district ('both men and fish came here to spawn' as they themselves put it) but nowadays it comprises of art/craft/souvenir shops surrounded by totem poles.

Creek Street:
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Ketchikan airport is on an adjacent island (Gravina Island) only accessible by ferry, and on which only 50 people live. Funding was secured to build a bridge to the mainland but this was subsequently withdrawn. Despite this, they pressed on with building a road to the non-existent bridge and for this reason there is a road on this island (costing $25m) that nobody uses and doesn't go anywhere.

Apart from the usual tourist shops, museums and expensive tours (none of which I bothered with) there is not a lot to do in Ketchikan itself, so given the lovely weather we've been having I went out and about looking for interesting wildlife, including:

  • Hiring a bike, riding 13 miles to Beaver Falls, hiking 5 miles and riding back again (noteworthy animal sighting - a woodpecker, which defecated disdainfully in my general direction before flying off)
  • Climbing the 3000 foot high Deer Mountain (animal sighting - not a deer but this little chap which it turns out is the larva of a Spotted Tussock Moth)

Spotted Tussock Moth larva:
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I was given a fortune cookie tonight at a Filipino restaurant that advised me to "focus in on the colour yellow tomorrow for good luck" - I wonder what tomorrow has in store?

OK that's all for now, apart from a reminder to look at the photo gallery on the right, and that you can subscribe here to be notified when I make a blog update.

Next update will be from Vancouver...

Posted by LordGibil 10:34 Archived in USA Comments (5)

Juneau What?

Juneau, Alaska and surrounding area

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In today's update, I see a glory hole and several growlers. But more of that later.

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For the past week I have been in Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. Far from being the snow-covered wilderness I had previously associated with this part of the world, Juneau is actually predominantly rainy throughout the year, except in winter when it is usual to see 20 feet of snow. During my stay it was rainy for two days, sunny for two days (and plenty warm enough for shorts/T-shirt) and overcast the rest. Juneau was founded in 1880 as a gold mining town, but now tourism and fishing are the main industries here.

View into Juneau from part way up Mount Roberts Trail:
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At least once a day, enormous cruise liners arrive up the Gastineau Channel and cropspray out into downtown Juneau several hundred affluent old people of all nationalities. It's the tail end of the season here at present but, once the boats arrive, Juneau is awash with tourists for a few hours shuffling between souvenir shops before they get back aboard at the end of the day and sail off into the night. In the evening, the local vagrants, of whom there are many, emerge onto the streets. Although some can be gruff, and spitting appears to be socially acceptable (or at least commonplace), the locals here are generally pretty friendly (apart from one chap who incorrectly thought I was staring at him) and helpful towards outsiders, and drivers always wait for pedestrians to cross the road even if it is not their right of way. Most bars sell IPA which, as in New York, is an unexpected bonus, and judging by my headache yesterday morning it is potent stuff.

One other thing I've noticed is that there are very few bald people. Even the bald eagles have a full head of feathers.

The area surrounding Juneau is pretty spectacular. It is situated in the Tongass National Forest (the largest forest in the US), which is classed as a rainforest. Mendenhall Glacier is a few miles north of the city and there are several mountains and hiking trails nearby. Here I am with a rainbow coming out my ear and the glacier and Nugget Falls waterfall in the background:

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Since arriving here I have hiked around 25 miles across 10 different trails, and encountered several of Alaska's indigenous wildlife, including mountain goats, red squirrels, marmots, Steller's jays, a couple of eagles and a porcupine. I even serendipitously stumbled across a geocache in a tree stump. But... no bears. Most the locals I spoke to have regaled me with stories of how one popped into their back garden or wandered across the road in front of them or was spotted grabbing fish out of a creek. One had just appeared in the path of a lady I met on a trail yesterday and frightened her dog, and although I did see fresh evidence of its existence myself (of the steaming variety), whether due to my intimidating demeanour or repellent stench I am not sure, but they have so far kept their distance. There is a bear viewing tour I can take out of Ketchikan (my next destination), but it costs a fortune so I am in two minds about it. On the one hand, it's part of the reason I came to Alaska, and on the other... it costs a fortune.

As well as being incredibly cute, the marmots I saw near the top of Mount Roberts were docile beasts and happy to pose for photos. One of Sarah Palin's lesser-celebrated achievements was to introduce a bill declaring February 2nd as Marmot Day in Alaska.

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One highlight of my time here was most definitely a day trip to a couple of glaciers. This involved a 3-hour sail from Juneau up a fjord known as Tracy Arm in a boat capable of holding 40 passengers, but on this occasion was only a third full. The twin glaciers, Sawyer and South Sawyer, it is fair to say, were spectacular. I took nearly 200 photos and have posted the best of them in the gallery, trying hard to keep the number to a minimum (though it may not seem like it).

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We stayed by South Sawyer for an hour or so and saw plenty of 'calving', by which is meant sections of the glacier falling down into the fjord - with a thunderous crash. Even though it looked a lot closer, we were actually half a mile away from the glacier according to the captain. This was to avoid the hazardous 'growlers', which are chunks of ice that break off underwater icebergs and rise to the surface, and which can do a small boat like ours a fair bit of damage. Animals ticked off on this trip included seals, mountain goats and humpback whales.

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I am staying in a cheap (by Alaskan standards) old hotel on the main street, but despite the wafer thin walls, stale smoke smell, odd inhabitants and shared bathroom it caters adequately for my needs. I am currently in the adjoining hotel bar with an IPA and baseball on the telly trying to upload some photos and update this blog before I have to catch the bus to the ferry terminal as I have a 19.5 hour sailing ahead of me to Ketchikan. As usual, uploading the photos is proving an exasperating experience due to its refusal to work properly despite being sworn at.

As for the glory hole, here it is in all its glory. A bit of a disappointment if I'm honest, but a more glorious hole I have yet to see, on this trip anyway.
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Time to wrap up for now; the next update will be from Ketchikan, where I suspect I have booked myself far too much time. We will see.

Posted by LordGibil 00:59 Archived in USA Comments (9)

End of Part 1

New York, New York

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I'm sat here at 6pm in my hotel room in downtown Juneau (state capital of Alaska) having got up at 3.30am New York time to set off here. The journey involved 2 planes, 3 trains and 2 automobiles (actually buses), which in reality was not as onerous as that suggests. At NY JFK I was given the grilling about my plans and US exit strategy that I expected at Gatwick a week ago, and not only passed the examination with flying colours but charmed the lady enough for her to offer me the emergency exit seat (i.e. more legroom). Either that or she rightly identified me as the kind of authoritative strapping physical specimen you'd want on hand to wrench open an aeroplane door as you plummeted to your certain death.

The last few days in NYC were spent much as the first few, i.e. wandering around exploring. Highlights include:

  • walking across Brooklyn Bridge, down the piers and back
  • taking an open-top bus tour around uptown & downtown Manhattan
  • walking from Battery Park (Manhattan southern tip) all the way up to 50th Street over 7 hours via several bars trying to find someone to talk to (and occasionally succeeding)
  • taking the free ferry to Staten Island and back in the pouring rain and therefore not getting any good close-up pics of the Statue of Liberty
  • going to Central Park and falling asleep

There are loads of photos in the gallery but here is one just to give the Facebook link an icon:
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As much as I enjoyed my time in NYC, and the superb hostel in which I was staying, I was ready to leave. Manhattan was hot, humid, smelly and intense. There were plenty of tourist activities that I elected not to do (going up the Empire State Building, shopping at Macy's, going to Times Square, seeing a Broadway show etc.) as either I deemed them too busy/expensive or I simply wasn't that interested. I much prefer to go for a walk and get a feel for a place myself by doing my own thing... and then finding a bar. Beers were expensive even by London standards, invariably $7 (around £4.50) whatever I had. I had toyed with the idea of taking the train down to Philadelphia for a day or two but thought better of it given the time available.

So, here I am in Juneau, browner, fatter and beardier than I was a week ago and ready for a good night's sleep. Early impressions of Juneau are that I will need to find a lot of activities to keep me occupied for my 7-day stint here as the 'city' itself is pretty small: I just walked in a loop around the centre in about 15 minutes. There are plenty of things to do here but all at a cost; for example an 8-hour guided trek up the nearby Mendenhall Glacier costs $199 + tax + tip + the cost of any gear I need to buy. The weather here is cloudy & rainy for the next few days (par for the course here - snow is a rarity outside of Dec/Jan/Feb) so this may or may not spoil things.

It's my bedtime now... I'll post a further update in a few days, unless I get eaten by a bear. Today's numbers are as follows:

Number of times allocated a seat with extra legroom on a flight: 3 out of 3
Amount of money wasted on non-working electrical components: $10 (iPhone charger - which worked when I took it back to the shop, obviously)
Number of times felt irrationally compelled to tip bar staff for doing their job by serving me a beer, in case they told me off for not doing: 3

Posted by LordGibil 20:52 Archived in USA Comments (1)

A couple of pointers

sunny
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The web address for this blog is: http://lordgibil.travellerspoint.com

On the right you should see a More photos... link to all my travel photos.

You can also subscribe to the blog via the Subscribe link at the top right. This will notify you whenever I make an update, preventing you from having to check yourselves.

Posted by LordGibil 20:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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