Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ferry Adventure Along the Inner Passage

Sunday, July 5, 2009 – First thing this morning we moved the motorhome to a less expensive site in the campground since we will be gone for several days. Bill and Pam drove us to the ferry terminal in time for our 8:00 AM check-in time for the 9:00 AM ferry to Juneau. As we were in line to board the M/V Malaspina we met a young man with a bicycle loaded down with gear and adorned with flags. We asked about the flags and discovered that he is the young man we have been hearing about throughout Alaska who is traveling all the way from Anchorage to Argentine by bicycle. His name is Axel Miguez and we talked to him a little about his trip as we were boarding for the 4 ½ hour trip to Juneau. We got settled in the forward observation lounge where we read, watched the scenery, and listened to short presentations by the on-board interpreter from the U.S. Park Service. We had planned to check into a hotel and stay in Juneau for the night and then re-board the ferry at 8 AM for the trip to Sitka but when we arrived at the terminal we found out from other passengers that the ferry that usually leaves at 3 PM had been delayed until 10 PM with a scheduled arrival in Sitka at 7:30 AM. In what we initially thought was pure genius on our part we decided that rather than pay for a hotel we would change our tickets to the 10 PM ferry and sleep on the ferry for free and have an extra half day in Sitka! We got a cab into town and at the recommendation of the driver we had lunch at the Hanger. We both ordered fish and chips and found that although the cod was good the halibut was much better. The restaurant is right on the waterfront and you can see all the cruise ships docked and watch the float planes taking off while you eat. After lunch we walked around a little and looked at some of the dozens of jewelry, fur, tee-shirt, and gift shops. When we were dropped off we scheduled an 8:30 PM pick up time with the cab driver to take us back to the ferry terminal and the driver arrived right on time. As soon as we boarded the M/V Matanuska we headed up to the solarium to secure a lounger for the night before they were all taken. The 10 PM departure turned into 11:45 PM by the time we finally pulled away from the dock so the arrival time should still be around 9:30 AM right? Wrong! Because of the currents and tide changes our arrival time was almost 2:00 PM the following afternoon. We slept part of the night on the lounge chairs in the solarium and then at different times abandoned those to find more comfortable sleeping on the couches in the observation lounge. In spite of the delays it was a good experience as Axel was on the same ferry again and we spent most of our time with him and got to know him. He is very interesting and has a good command of the English language and we both really enjoyed his company. Through Axel we met a young Australian woman, Emma who is bicycling from Anchorage to San Francisco with a friend. I never realized there were so many bicycling adventurers in this world. In addition we saw the most beautiful full moon and many whales during the trip.

Monday, July 6, 2009 - When we arrived in Sitka there was a shuttle bus waiting who charged only $10 per person round trip (way cheaper than a taxi) and the driver agreed to hold our luggage until we had to re-board the ferry at 3:45 AM. Sitka is quite small and doesn’t even have the large number of shops that most port cities seem to have. We were starving at this point so stopped at the Agave Mexican Restaurant for a very tasty lunch. After lunch we did the little tour of town with stops at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Bishop’s House, the small boat harbor, and the Sheldon Jackson Museum featuring the Eskimo and Tlingket cultures. The weather was very hot and by the time we had finished at the museum the prospect of walking further to the Historical Park to see the totem poles and the nature walk seemed very unappealing. We walked back into town to find someplace to get a drink and after talking to one of the residents we were given directions to walk to McDonalds – cheap drinks that are refillable! We walked about 1 ½ miles through a pretty seedy section of town along the commercial fishing docks before finding our destination. By the time we arrived we were both completely dehydrated and drank about 5 glasses of iced tea apiece. We really got more than our money’s worth for the $2.74 we spent on drinks. When we finished we walked back into town and although it was still early there was not a cruise ship in sight so the town had rolled up the sidewalks. We still had hours to go before the bus driver was going to pick us up so we bought movie tickets for the 7:30 PM showing of Transformers. The show has great special effects but as usual in that type of movie most of the time I didn’t know what was going on – those robots all look alike to me but it did take care of almost 2 ½ hours. After the movie was over the only place open in town was the local Subway so we got a sandwich and then waited in the lobby of the Westmark Hotel for the bus driver to take us back to the ferry terminal.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 – We boarded the M/V Taku back to Juneau at 2:00 AM and promptly found a place to sleep for the night. Although we were sleeping in recliner chairs we fell right to sleep and slept until almost 10:00. After we woke up we read and explored what little there was to see on board which wasn’t much since this ferry was quite small. When the cafeteria opened we got a little lunch on board to save time when we got to Juneau. We arrived back in Juneau at 1:00 PM and called for the free shuttle van to the Driftwood Lodge where we planned to stay for the night. The van arrived very quickly and we checked into the hotel. The rooms are clean but lacking in basic amenities such as shampoo, lotion, and Kleenex. As soon as we checked in we walked down to the cruise ship docks and arranged a narrated city and glacier tour. The tour took us past the touristy section of Juneau where we learned that most of the shops are actually owned by the cruise lines themselves. Further up the street is the historic section of town that was the site of bars, brothels, and boarding houses servicing the miners during the Alaskan Gold Rush. We went past the Governor’s Mansion, a very small Russian Orthodox Church, and the State Capitol building. We then headed out of town and stopped at Mendenhall Lake where we had a good view of the glacier. After a short stop at the lake for photographs we headed to the Shrine of St. Terese. The Shrine is a simple wooden church on a beautiful little island. There are stone monuments depicting the Stations of the Cross along a wooded walking path. The view of the mountains and water was spectacular and was complemented by sightings of a stellar sea lion, a pair of humpback whales, and several bald eagles. When we got back to town it was about 5:30 PM so we had dinner at the Twisted Fish. It was a good choice for dinner and specializes in sea food as the name implies. After dinner we walked through a few more shops to pick up a couple of gifts we needed for friends back home. We stopped in at the Alaskan Bar for a drink and found that it is more authentic, less touristy, and much less expensive than the famous Red Dog Saloon where all the cruise passengers stop. We walked back a short few blocks to our hotel and both enjoyed a good night of sleep in a real bed for after our two nights of sleeping on the ferry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 – We took our time getting ready this morning and then walked down to the Sandpiper Café for breakfast. The restaurant is recommended in the Frommer’s Alaska Guide and its reputation is well deserved. They serve a very good breakfast, give generous portions, and are reasonably priced. After breakfast we made a last quick trip to town and then took the free van shuttle back to the ferry terminal back for our return to Haines. We boarded the ferry and got settled in the front observation lounge for the 4 ½ hour trip. Along the way we spotted a few whales and a Dall Porpoise and the onboard interpreter from the U.S. Park Service gave talks on bald eagles and the towns of Haines and Skagway. We arrived right on time and Bill and Pam were there to pick us up. We dropped them off at the campground, opened up the motorhome and then headed over to Mosey’s Cantina for Mexican food. The food is a little pricey but it is great. The restaurant is in a converted house on a hill just up from the cruise boat dock. The décor is colorful and charming and the staff was very nice especially considering that we arrived only ten minutes before closing time. We arrived back at the campground and did a little reading and catching up before going to bed. The ferry trip along the Inner Passage was an experience but is good to be back in our own bed.

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