Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

Alaska Cruise: Day Seven

Leaving the Grand Princess out in the water.


Huzzah! It’s time for another day on land – this time in the Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan! Mom and I booked a tour for the afternoon, but the morning was wide open. Back in Skagway, Mom had picked up a coupon book that promised things like “free hat with $10 purchase” or “free tote bag with any purchase”, and so she wanted to spend the morning finding as many of the shops in the book as we could. (So clearly, the coupon book works wonders, if any marketers up in Southern Alaska were wondering.)

I would totally make fun of Ketchikan’s claim to fame, but I live within spitting distance of the “Garlic Capital of the World”, so…

The main street of Tourist Ketchikan (which I assume is completely different from the main street of resident Ketchikan) was crammed with jewelry shops. Every other door, it seemed, led into a small shop with glass cases filled with rings, necklaces and earrings. When you walked inside, the customer service rep would immediately start asking what you wanted to buy. If you told them, “I just noticed that you have a sign in the window that says you’re giving a free charm to cruise ship visitors, so I want the charm,” they wouldn’t hand it over unless you tried on at least five things. (Once or twice, the seller whined, “I’ll give it to you after you buy something,” and Mom or I would have to point out that it clearly says “no purchase necessary” on the sign. I know you’ve got to make a living, sir, but don’t run promotions if you can’t handle the cost!) The jewelry in the shops really started to look identical after the first two or three places we stopped in, and I was more or less ready to stop collecting trinkets, since little golden cruise ships or whale tails aren’t to my taste, anyway. But Mom wanted them for her miniature collection, so on we went. To my surprise, my mom eventually broke down and bought a ring with a large green and purple gemstone – I think it was called Northern Lights? But she also ended up with a handful of other jewelry bits and bobs, so she certainly came out ahead. I succumbed to a lesser degree – I bought a pair of earrings, cheap little gemstone studs, and a bear pendant.

Row after row of “rare” jewelry…

Jewelry wasn’t the only obviously junky tourist trap. There were so many stores selling the exact same thing – ugly t-shirts, ulu knives, trucker hats, boxes of smoked salmon, magnets, keychains, and so on – and at every store, they would insist that they were “family-owned” like it somehow distinguished their crummy Chinese-made goods from every other shop on the street. It was like being in Disneyland and finding the same toys and t-shirts in every single shop on Main Street and Adventureland and Fantasyland. But by soldiering through, I managed to find some gifts for just about everyone I had planned to pick up a souvenir for, so in the end I guess the goal was accomplished.

We were nearly late getting back to the dock in time for our Rainforest Sanctuary tour because the jeweler from whom Mom bought her ring was late resizing it. Mom had finally told them, “I’ll be at the dock until 12:30, when my tour starts – get it to me down there!” Somehow, the guys at the jewelry store managed to do just that. While I was running back into the cruise ship to drop off our shopping bags (and grab a cookie because we hadn’t any lunch) one of their employees managed to track Mom down outside the cruise ship and hand over her ring.

So the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary is, as I understand it, a former logging site that was turned into a park after the company shut down in the early 2000s. Today, you can go ziplining through the trees, taking in the majestic forest from the view of a mighty eagle. Or, if you’re traveling with your mother, you can do a hike leisurely stroll on the forest floor with a nature guide. It turns out that the second option was the superior one, because our guide, Matt, was amazing. He knew everything about the forest plants and fungi, and over the course of an hour shared his knowledge with humor and enthusiasm. The guy was hilarious, and you could tell that he just loved his job and being out in the woods.

You’ve been warned.

While Matt never managed to produce an actual bear (grrrr!) he found plenty of evidence that they were around. Bear scat, paw prints in the mud, and claw marks on the trees…all that was missing was the critter itself.

Matt reenacting a bear’s retreat up a tree trunk.

So I know that when I heard “Alaska rainforest” I thought that someone had misspoken. Nope. It turns out that rainforests aren’t necessarily tropical, like the Amazon – any forest that receives over a certain amount of rain in a year qualifies. It seems so obvious in hindsight, but c’mon – when was the last time you saw a documentary about temperate rainforests on the Discovery Channel? The floor of the forest was covered in lush green growth of a sort you’d never seen down in California.

Dense thick greenery.

Hey, I’m in a tree!

It’s not just a sanctuary for plants, either. The Rainforest Sanctuary is also home to a care center for wild birds and raptors, a pack of reindeer/caribou, and a salmon hatchery. All in all, it was a pretty lively place. The final stop on our walk was the workshop of a master Totem carver, who was working on a giant salmon sculpture when we popped in.

That, my friend, is a future fish.

The ship was scheduled to depart at 5:00, so when the bus from the Rainforest Sanctuary dropped us off in front of the boat there wasn’t really enough time to go back into town. (Besides, I was all shopped out.) The ship was still serving afternoon tea, however, so Mom and I decided to go in and have some snacks.

Now to understand why this next bit was so entertaining to me, you have to understand that despite being half-Chinese, my exposure to actual Chinese people has been minimal – virtually nonexistent since my grandmother’s death. Most of the Asians I hang out with are Japanese or Vietnamese or Filipino. I wonder how things worked out that way. Anyway, so while I am aware of a lot of the stereotypes about Chinese people, and frequently employ them when it works to my advantage, I don’t actually see them in play very often. When we went to the dining room for tea, we were seated with a group of Chinese people who live just outside of San Francisco. First, we introduced ourselves and where we were from. Then, we proceeded to talk about the sales and promotions and free things we’d managed to score in Ketchikan that morning. (“Oh, you didn’t get the free shirt at _____ store?” “No, but we bargained a ring down to $150 instead of $275 and they threw in a free bracelet!” And so on.) After that topic was exhausted – which took a while, for the Chinese are a frugal people and the deals scored were legion – we switched to food and how to score all the best meals on the cruise ship. As tea was wrapping up, and the waiters started to hover so that they could clean up, Mom and some of the others began comparing which village their families had come from. The main spokesperson for the group, an amiable guy who had immigrated to the US from Hong Kong over thirty years ago, was amused that Mom can understand some Cantonese if she’s listening to another speaker, but can’t converse in the language herself.

After the busy day, I just wanted to settle in and read. I ended up finishing two books - The Mermaid of Brooklyn and The Registry - and starting another one before the night was over.
Tags: alaska, cruise, ocean, travel, vacation

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