Retire Mechanical engineer. Student at California State university Channel Island studiyingAbout Me

July 26, 2015

Alaska Cruise - Part Two

Our first port of call was Ketchikan. We were here nine years ago and it appeared that nothing much had changed except the city had built more houses expanding up into the steep hills.

There are many tours, but we walked to the downtown area instead, found an Internet café, The Sweet Mermaid, caught up on our emails and enjoyed delicious hot coffee.

After that, we walked down to Canal Street with all its myriad touristy shops and whorehouses which have been preserved from the Gold Rush days. On the way back to the ship, we did stop in at Tongass Outlets and played tourist.

The next stop was Juneau, the capital of Alaska.

We took the tram ride up to the top of Mt. Roberts, did a short half-mile hike with amazing views and then took the tram back down.

We began our long walk downtown to find an Internet café, passing jewelry shop after jewelry shop after jewelry shop.

Lured into one of the shops, we were introduced to the owner who was from Los Angeles.

I asked him why there were so many jewelry shops in Alaska.

I thought perhaps the items here must be cheaper, but was surprised to be told otherwise.

He said the prices were the same as Los Angeles, but the volume of sales was so much higher here because of all the tourists who buy jewelry while on vacation.

We finally found an Internet café, The Triangle Saloon.

At the counter, the bartender told me that I had to buy at least $5.00 worth of drinks and then the Internet was free. After our hike on Mt. Roberts and such a long walk downtown, that was no problem.

I ordered two Bloody Mary drinks and he asked if I wanted them spicy. I nodded. It was well worth it when he brought over two large glasses with celery, asparagus and of course, olives, although my wife immediately plucked out her olive and handed it to me.

We slurped and surfed, surfed and slurped. These had to be the best Bloody Mary cocktails we ever had.

I looked at my wife and said, "I don't know about you but I'm going to have another one." She smiled and nodded. Along with our second Bloody Mary round, I ordered two hot dogs with all the trimmings.

Maybe it was the second drink, or maybe it was because we were already tired of the food on the ship, but the hot dogs tasted so good that I ordered a second one and we shared.

Finished with our Interneting, full of delicious hotdogs, and a little bit tipsy, we walked slowly back to the ship, passing all the tempting jewelry shops along the way.

Up on the sixteenth deck, we prepared to watch the sail-away from Juneau.

As it got colder, my wife decided to go back to the cabin and warm up.

I went with her, picked up my camera and binoculars and headed back up to the bow of the ship to watch how they were going to unhook the massive ropes.

I surmised that the tightness of the massive steel ropes was controlled inside with a catapult which loosened the tension, allowing the workers to unhook the ropes.

I started speaking with the man next to me, who introduced himself as a geologist, newly graduated, and on his honeymoon. In return, I introduced myself as a retired engineer and somehow our conversation turned to nuclear power plants.

As I started speaking, he kept asking pertinent questions. I ended up giving speech on how nuclear power plants work; an easy task for me as I had given an official speech on nuclear power plants for one of my classes last semester.

His new bride, a beautiful young lady, came up to meet him and we were introduced. They soon left and I stood there watching the ship as it slowly backed, turned 180 degrees, and headed out to sea.

The sun was still on the horizon, not due to set until after 10 pm, something to remember as we were near the North Pole.

The Norwegian Jewel had sailed a half hour before us, and as it hit the open water, I watched it make a 90-degree turn to the north. I wanted to remain on the deck and see if our ship would follow the same course. After about a half hour, we were indeed turning that same 90-degrees to the north.

As we did, a gust of wind hit me so hard, I could barely stand.

Before I knew it everyone else had disappeared, but I stood there as long as I could, until there was no way to stay any longer without the holding tightly onto the railing.

Once back inside, I had the thought of what if a drunken person was on deck with that strong wind. He could definitely be thrown overboard. It was an eye-opener.

We arrived in Skagway the next morning.

After breakfast in the dining room with favorite waiter, Gary, we ventured out, took a shuttle to the downtown area, and wandered around.

Our schedule for the day was to take a morning bus tour into the Yukon Territory, a three and a half hour journey, and then the train ride up to White Pass later in the afternoon.

Actually, the entire cruise had been planned for the train ride which we had missed the last time we were here nine years ago.

My wife had first booked the bus tour, thinking that the cruise did not offer the train ride, but later found she could book it directly through the ship.

Knowing we could not cancel the bus tour, and knowing I would not give up on the train ride, we agreed to do both. We just hoped the schedule would work at the bus tour was supposed to end at 3 pm and the train was due to depart at 4 pm.

We boarded our small tour bus and were introduced to our driver, Marv, a very interesting man. Marv told us he was a scuba diver, piloted a small Cessna 150, a high-winged sea plane that lands on water, and had just opened his own travel office.

In addition, he was a professional photographer, having won several photo prizes of his photography used in Alaska tourism advertising. He reminded me of an English butler, well-educated, with a knowledge of literature, and well-rounded.

Marv's physical features also reminded me of my father-in-law; tall, blond, with a long face and slim body for his age. The only difference between Marv and Fred was that Marv was more the flamboyant type, whereas Fred was a very thoughtful man. I used to call him 'the quiet American.' He always thought before he spoke and was an honorable man.

To me, most Americans are known to be loud and confident, which irritates most Europeans.

Marv told us he was a retired U.S. Marine and was proud of the fact that his three sons were also in the Marines. After retiring, he took the tour bus job during the summers and spent winters in Seattle with his wife. He loved Alaska and knew the history of Skagway.

As we were leaving the downtown area, he stopped the bus in front of a house with a large U.S. flag waving in the breeze, and told us that ever since he took this job as a bus driver/guide he always stopped here because the owner was also a retired Marine. It was his way of saying thank you to the marine for having served our country.

We continued on and Marv talked about historical Skagway, giving quite interesting monologues.

He stopped the bus whenever there was a spot that had a great vantage point for taking pictures.

Mind you, we were not the only ones taking pictures.

There were other bus tours and private cars stopping to take photos, but Marv always seemed to find the best spot not impeded by the other tourists.

We all have seen mountains of some kind or another, but Alaska's mountains are rugged beauties and much higher from sea level. Due to heavy snow fall here, these mountains are covered with snow even in the summer months.

As we drove on, I couldn't help but notice the shear drop-off on the side of the mountains. No trees, just rocks and boulders carved out for the passage of the two-lane highway. At times the bus passed through precarious places, with the shear drop-off on one side and boulders hanging over our heads on the other side.

For over an hour we traveled deeper into the wilderness, stopping several times to take pictures. When we arrived at the Canadian border, two very attractive women border patrol agents boarded the bus to check our passports.

In their crisp uniforms and with firearms at their sides, they were pleasant to look at, but had that no-nonsense demeanor. We were okayed to continue and entered what was still considered British Columbia.

For miles we saw no trees, just snow-covered, rocky, barren mountains, with no wildlife as there was no grass for animals to survive.

Marv told us that, in this area, the mountains were seven to eight-thousand feet above sea level. We passed beautiful lakes, one of which was half blue and half green due to the formation of calcium carbonate deposits.

It was another half hour before we arrived at our final stop, the large sign indicating the beginning of the Yukon Territory. Marv was kind enough to take pictures of all of us.

At one point on our return trip, everyone yelled, "Bear!"

Marv drove a ways past until he found a safe place to turn around and then stopped across the street from where the bear was feasting on dandelions.

He told us he could not let anyone out of the bus, as it would not be safe, but he did volunteer to take pictures of the bear.

Everyone took turns handing him our cameras. When we arrived at the U.S. border, the agents decided to board the bus and check everyone's passports.

All the way back to Skagway, Marv continued with his most interesting monologues. Because we were behind schedule, rather than dropping us off downtown, Marv was kind enough to drive directly to the port and drop several of us off.

We were relieved as we had barely a half-hour before our train was to depart.

When we checked in, we were advised that it was running forty-five minutes late. That worked to our advantage as we had time to board the ship, enjoy a nice lunch and be back out in time to board the train.

Part Three