June 29th: We have docked in Ketchikan. Lesley and I had previously scheduled the 'Clover Bike Pass' ride but unfortunately she had aggravated a previous shoulder injury the day beore during our hike when she braced a fall after slipping on a slick stone. I had heard previously during the cruise that if you informed the outfitters desk prior to 9:00 AM you could recieve a refund. When I inquired at the desk I was told that any excursion cancellation request had to be filed before 9:00 AM the previous day and that a visit to the ship's doctor with his stamped approval was currently required.
Not wanting to forfiet about $180, Lesley and I made our way to the ship's well equiped infirmary where she filled out a medical form describing her shoulder's surgical history, all the result of a serious horseback riding accident. The Doctor was a kind looking affable gentleman, who after just a cursory scan of Lesley's medical procedures signed off on our request without a single prod or poke. He explained that this meeting was necessary because too many passengers in the past have attempted to squirm their way out of reserved excursions due to hangovers and other self inflicted maladies.
We were a little disappointed in being unable to enjoy our bike ride but with an additional $180 in hand, set out into Ketchikan determined to have extra fun there. There was a large store right next to the pier and for the first time I decided to venture in, as it was not a jewelry shop and was retailing more interesting items than just standard Alaskan bric-a-brac. I ended up purchasing a number of fall season type coats with Alaska and the state flag printed on the front. They were extremely reasonable in price, under $20 apiece and seemed to be of fairly good quality but I suppose time will tell on that front. I also got a beautiful Inuit doll dressed in traditonal parka with an embroidered hem and fur lined hood as a gift for my little niece.
Outside the store was a man who appeared to be indigent and who was soliciting photographs with his beautiful, obviously well cared for dog. Half malamut and half husky this handsome, gentle dog had numerous bills sticking out of its color and we added a some of our own after posing for a snap shot.
Lesley wanted to continue shopping as Ketchikan seemed to have the best variety and prices that we had seen thus far. I on the other hand left my purchases with the store and explored on my own. Ketchikan is a quaint little town although considerably bigger than Skagway. Here too were the ubiquitous jewelry stores but there were other shops as well as eating establishments and pubs. Unsurprisingly, I found myself in one of these pubs, 'Mike's Elbow Room', for when traveling I find it is here and places like it that you can garner an authentic feel of a town as well as getting the straight poop on local interests.
The clientele of 'Mike's' was diverse as I had expected. Most people from Alaska are from other places and this pub was no exception. I met people who migrated here as a form of adventure, another who worked on the pipeline and then decided to stay and a couple others who needed an escape from the lower forty-eight. I believe the latter were attempting to distance themselves from ex's or love gone awry rather than being on the lam from various arms of authority. It was here that I began to unravel the mystery of why there were so many jewelry stores. One of the locals said that a number of the local jewelers come in after work for a drink. I interrupted and said, "Let me guess, they snicker." He said no, the buyer is not getting ripped off but there is a healthy profit earned on most pieces, plus the jewelers have a built in advantage in that the customers are in port for just a short time and do not have the luxury of mulling over a purchase. This leads of course to lots of impulse buying which account for so many of their sales. Another patron said that these jewelry stores are so profitable that Princess itself, (ie. the Carnival conglomerate) is attempting to buy as much office space and real estate as they can in order to create a 'Princess Town' where a traveler will leave a Princess ship only to then spend further money in a Princess owned business. I don't know if this is true, (but it is certainly not unfathomable) but the news delivered to me that just in the past year, a pub and two diners have been converted into jewelry stores left me feeling that perhaps there is some corporate deviousness transpiring here. Lesley called on my cell while I was inside and I gave her directions to 'Mike's'. Now this is not a place she would normally frequent but I was confident that she would warm to these friendly and interesting Ketchikanians and I was soon proved right. In no time at all she was recieving gratis, a lovely whale tail pendant and soon after another man ran to his car and returned with a little pouch for her to put it in. Needless to say Lesley was very grateful and in between trading stories she bought a few rounds in thanks.
Later in the afternoon we returned to the ship. We were hungry but had early dinner reservations with our new friends for the second formal evening. We opted for just a slice of pizza on the lido deck, (very good by the way) and then headed forward to the bow. We were the only people there and we sat on the deck and enjoyed our snack. We had a wonderful time the next 90 minutes on the bow in one of those great, unexpected, unscripted moments. As I said we were all alone and even looking behind us gave no perception that there was anyone else onboard. We sat quietly, the ship to ourselves, overlooking Ketchikan harbor and just watched the scores of fishing vessels and charter boats sailing back to dock, their numerous wakes glinting in the afternoon sun. To our right, droning seaplanes took off and landed with a frequency that would rival our own Logan Airport. It was bustling, yet so placid and serene. Indeed, a time that we won't soon forget.
It was the second formal night and since I retired early on the first I was determined to remain in my tux as long as possible this time. I was ready to go when Lesley was just stepping into the shower. She sensed the peacock in me and said, "Babe, go walk around or something. I'll meet you in the Wheelhouse in an hour and we'll go to dinner". I did just that. I must say that I really do not possess a large ego but something about donning a tuxedo makes me feel really special and I enjoy just strolling about.
That evening we dined at Vivaldi's for the second time. I had the Beef Wellington which after Sabitini's was the best meal I had on the cruise. In fact, for the first and only time I had two entrees as I requested another round of Wellington. Delicious!
After dinner we went to, where else, the Wheelhouse for after dinner drinks. Our friends accompanied us as well, having converted them earlier and we all had a wonderful time dancing and now at this point reminiscing about our trip. The end of the trip was now in unavoidable sight and though Lesley and I to this point had done an admiral job in keeping it at bay the unescapable reality was beginning to rear its ugly head. Still, we had a full day tomorrow cruising along the coast of Canada, a full evening for entertainment and then another day and overnight stay in Vancouver. We were wringing every last drop.