So, Alaska!

So, um, hi!

For our 10th Anniversary (10 years? REALLY?) we took a cruise on Princess Cruises up the Inside Passage from Vancouver, BC to Anchorage, AK.* Fascinating thing about being in the middle of nowhere: a distinct lack of the Internet. Not that we missed it. We were too busy on an adventure. We had some mild peril. We had some not-so-mild peril. We saw stuff! Some of it was huge! Most of it had mountains!

Places we have been:

Vancouver, BC, Canada
Ketchikan, AK
Juneau, AK
Skagway, AK
Haines, AK
Whittier, AK
Anchorage, AK

Things we have seen:

Whales
Bald Eagles
Mountains
Alaskan Primary Campaign Signs
Glaciers
More Glaciers
Even More Glaciers
Fjords
Ford Seward
Crazy Native American Anthropologists with Awesome Fishing Hats

Thing we had to go to the zoo to see:

Bears**

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is the strangest airport I have seen. It was very clean, very neat, very tidy, and completely devoid of human life. I don’t know if we hit it in some sweet spot but people were few and far between. Canadian customs is like all things Canadian — polite. But the moment I hit YVR I no longer had phone service.

Now that we have seen Vancouver, we have decided to run off and move to Vancouver. Eventually. Someday. Or at least return for more than a few hours. We failed to see Scott Pilgrim in Vancouver but we did manage to see some of the city, and eat sushi there, and have a huge breakfast, and be asked by the cabbie why the Detroit Red Wings suck.  I had no real answer.

The ship itself (Diamond Princess) is a floating bar with bars inside of bars. The point of a cruise is to drink and spend money, and we drank and spent money. On a cruise ship, it is always booze o’clock. After a while the constant hovering service, especially in the dining room, got to us, but the ship was always nice, neat, and well designed to slice up the huge floating population into small groups so it did not feel crowded. For Glacier Bay it also boasted the US Forestry Service to give us a tour over the loudspeaker and, afterward, their own on-board crazy Naturalist. He was my favorite guy on the ship, that Naturalist. He was Very. Enthusiastic. About. Whales!

Ketchikan, AK is a disappointment but everyone who has taken this tour has said the same thing: Ketchikan, AK is a disappointment. It’s a tourist trap that exists only to fleece tourists on cruise ships. It’s full of horrible shops full of horrible, crappy things.*** It wasn’t even fun like, say, going to Ishpaming with its bizarre Yooper-based gift shops. We should have taken a tour to Saxman Island, as that’s the only thing of worth to do there, but live and learn. We did get a few nice pictures and luckily we only spent half a day there.

Juneau, AK is, on the other hand, neat even if it is unreachable by land.  Who puts the capital of a state where it can only be reached by sea or air? It’s an odd place.  Mendenhall Glacier! Top of Mount Roberts! I found the local knitting shop with my super tingly knitting senses! Juneau is very walkable as cities go. It’s neat and tidy — not the sparkling clean of Vancouver but a long way from dirty. We walked Juneau until I was convinced my knees were going to blow out and then we walked a bit more. Then it was drink o’clock.  My plan of living off the guide book worked well here.

Skagway, AK is like Henry Ford Village. It was a mining town in the gold rush but now it’s sort of a touristy trappy town preserved in time and tiny. But we were there only for an hour before we joined our tour and took a 45 minute ferry to Haines, AK. We took a bus to a mountain and then I drove a glorified 4×4 golf cart up a mountain on unpaved roads. Then came the more interesting part — driving the ATV back down the mountain. It was a complication I hadn’t though about. I thought about it very hard around the hairpin turns.  It was worth it, though — the view from the top of the mountain over the fjord was amazing. I absolutely recommend taking the insane Sub-Alpine ATV excursion in Haines, AK.

Glacier Bay is amazing but cold. Mountains! Glaciers! Mountains! Glaciers! Between the rain, the wind, and the air temperature, I was convinced I would never be warm again. They were selling hot spiced wine to go with the glacier and somehow I resisted until I caved to coffee.  We stared at the big glacier (Marjorie) for a while and went ooooooh but it only calved off some smaller bits of ice. On the way out, though, we saw 16 whales. 16! 6 in a pod! I had the binoculars so I didn’t get pictures but Eric did. 16 whales!

By time we got to College Fjord, though, I was tired of being cold so I don’t have any pictures of the Harvard Glacier. But that sucker absolutely did calve off great bit huge chunks of ice into the water with a huge thundering splash and because we’re all suicidal morons we sat in the bar that gave us a good view, drank, and applauded Mother Nature. Woo! Go Nature! Trying to kill us with ice! WOO! Do it again!

Only 250 crazy people live in Whittier**** but Anchorage wasn’t bad. The room was a bit dumpy but not somewhere one uses to dry out from their drug habit. We ended up renting a car in Anchorage. I wish I knew it was a “car is necessary if staying for more than 4 hours” sort of place because we would have a) gone straight to the airport and b) had a car waiting for us at some cheap rate. But I did not know. Now we know. Rent a car in Anchorage. The city is a grid. It’s simple to navigate.

We saw Scott Pilgrim at the local mall. We went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. We went to the Alaska Zoo to see bears. We went to the Glacier Gardens. We drank the local beer. Mmmm beer. The local beer is fantastic.  Anchorage is like Grand Rapids with mountains. It’s very, very, very Northern Michigan with mountains. I could not shake the feeling of deja vu.

It was at the Heritage Center where, listening to a pat talk about Aleut Indians, we were invaded by above anthropologist who simply started talking to us. He was making a visor out of wood by planing the wood down to very thin and then planning to soak it in water. One of the people there was fascinated by the hat and would not accept that it was just a hat. But it was a hat. And a cool hat! It was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

We had fun. We spent a ton of money. We currently have 1800 pictures up for the brave — but I’ll post something weeded down in a few days. It was different. Different from going to the Caribbean. I think, yes, I would happily return to Alaska. It is much less psycho than it seems from the outside. People do not randomly claim they can see Russia from their house.*****  I would take a different trip. We’re more drinking and adventure people over drinking and shopping people. That’s something to consider on balance.

If I did another big cruise it would be with Princess as we were very pleased with the cruise overall but if I could afford it, I am tempted by the National Geographic offerings. I can recommend this trip. Except for Ketchikan, it was amazing.

The only sad thing was how obvious global climate change is up there. Go to Alaska and learn not to doubt.  A few of the glaciers are still growing but most are receding. They are growing apple trees on Kodiak Island.  See Alaska before it melts!


* I believe a few others have taken this trip this year. To which I say: we were past the mosquito season.
** I was informed I should be thankful about the lack of bears-in-the-wild.  Eric was damn well not leaving Alaska without a picture of a bear.
*** Later in Anchorage I would pick up a pamphlet that helped to identify real Native American arts from the stuff in the gift shops. I wish I had it when we started — not that I bought anything — but it would have helped. They have a special seal on the real things.
**** When the locals describe someone as “strange” it is time to run.
***** We were tempted to drive to Wassila. It’s only 40 miles outside of Anchorage. But it is way too far to see Russia from anywhere. That assertion is just dumb.