Alaska Cruise 2014 travel blog

Welcome to Ketchikan

Saxman Village Total Pole Park

Kats & Bear Wife Totem Pole

Close-up showing the Labret through the wife's lip

Rock Oysterman Totem Pole

Close-up of Rock Oysterman Totem Pole

Re-boarding the Pearl

Happy Birthday!

Salmon grilling at poolside

Performance in the Stardust Theater

Farewell Performance on Stage


When I awoke this morning, the ship had already docked at Ketchikan, which is the south-easternmost city in Alaska. (There’s a city way out on the Aleutians that’s actually further south than Ketchikan.) As such, it’s usually the first or last stop for all of the Alaskan cruise ships. For us, it will be our final port in Alaska.

Ketchikan is famous for its totem poles. It has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles. After a quick breakfast, I headed out in search of some of those totem poles. While the others on our ship slept late or got in line for board a tour bus, I walked to a nearby bus stop and waited for a local bus that would take me to the Totem Pole Park in the nearby town of Saxman.

The other famous thing about Ketchikan is its rain. They get an average of 153 inches of rain per year. In preparing for this trip, I would often check the weather forecast for Ketchikan. The forecast would vary from “light rain” to “showers” to “rain” pretty much every day. Occasionally, I’d see “cloudy with a chance of rain”. Today would be no exception. There was a light rain as I disembarked from the ship.

While waiting for our bus to arrive, I chatted with some of the locals who were also waiting for the bus. Curiously, one of those waiting is a bus driver. A bus driver taking a bus to work! Well, he was a great source of information about the area. It explained that the area near where we were standing is not where the locals go to shop. Here, nearly all of the stores sold jewelry, t-shirts and souvenirs for the tourists. A few miles north of the piers was another shopping area. This area had a Walmart, an IGA grocery store, a hardware store, and all of the other stores to fill the needs for the 8,000 or so residents.

The bus driver left me know when we reached Saxman. It was a short walk to the Totem Pole Park. I was the only tourist to arrive that early.

Although I’d heard about totem poles all my live and have seen many modern reproductions, I still didn’t know much about them. Here in the park, they had collected many totem poles from the 19th and early 20th centers. They brought these poles from nearby villages and put them on display here as an educational exhibit. I bought a small booklet at their gift shop that described the age, history and meaning of each totem pole. Some were memorials; some were essentially family histories. Each told a story.

For example, the Kats & Bear Wife pole would have stood near the entrance to the Tribal house. The figure at the top of the pole is one of the Kats Bear children. The man figure is Kats being held by his bear wife. The face at the bottom is his human wife. These carving have minor details characteristic of the individuals that they represent. In this case, the wife has a Plug or Labret through her lip.

The Rock Oysterman Pole tells the story of a young man who lost his life fishing for octopus. The top explain who he was by what clans he belonged to, in this case the Eagle and the Beaver. The human figure represents the young man, who drowns when the giant shell oyster closed upon his arm and he could not get away from the incoming tides. The two-toned human face represents his violent death.

As I slowly walked around the park, the light rain was slowly becoming heavier and heavier. It became impossible to continue reading the book as the pages were becoming too wet to turn. To complicate matters, my camera and my glasses were fogging up. Before I could finish my tour of the park, it had become an absolute downpour! Unable to see or read about the totem made it useless to stay any longer. I walked to the northbound bus stop and waited. As I was leaving, several busloads of tourists arrived in the totem park in the torrential rain. At least they had a tour guide with them and didn’t have to depend on deciphering the diagrams in the guide book.

When I arrived back at the cruise ship, the rain was slowing down and Kathy was ready to go ashore. We spent a little time at the tourist shops and a lot of time at the Tongass Historical Museum.

When we returned to the ship this time, the steward had decorated our cabin for my birthday, which was today. The cake was lovely but we couldn’t find anyone to share it with. There’s so much delicious food everywhere that no one had room for a piece of birthday cake!

At 2pm, on schedule, our ship left port. As has become customary, they had a BBQ by the pool. Today, specialty on the grill was salmon and corn on the cob. Kathy and I claimed a couple of lounges near the pools and concentrated on doing as little as possible while enjoying the sun which had finally come out. We finished the afternoon with square and round dancing with our friends and relaxing in the spa.

This evening was the last big performance in the ship’s theater. The show was called “Encore” and consisted of songs and dance routines from major Broadway hits like Wicked and Mamma Mia. Following the show, they had a farewell performance that brought the officers and many of the staff up onto the stage.

I’m sure that they would have preferred to have their final show tomorrow, but we’ll be in port all evening in Victoria, British Columbia. And, the next day we’ll disembark in Seattle. So, we had a grand finale tribute a little earlier on this cruise.

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