July 13-14 Ketchikan Layover

We stayed in Ketchikan for two full days, during which time we had some ups and downs.  I discovered that my wallet had gone missing, which was very distressing for me.  I tore the boat apart and backtracked all my walks through town, but the search proved futile.   I told the harbor master about my plight, and he immediately blamed the kids who frequent the docks here.  “If it’s around, I’ll find it” he told me.  The next day I reluctantly canceled my bank card.  In a dark mood, I went to pick up a package from my Mom at the post office.  The post office in Ketchikan is attached to a large taxidermy studio.  We made our way past the mink skins and stuffed grizzly bears to the clerk at the mail counter.  “General delivery goes to the other post office, at the other end of town” we were informed.  So we walked, and discovered that Ketchikan is much larger than I thought.  I think it was a 7 mile round trip.  The mail clerk at this post office looked like a bewhiskered civil war general.  “Ah, you must be the captain” he said, and turning to Colleen “And you must be the silent Partner”  We hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, and were not expecting such a long walk!  Luckily my Mom sent food in the package, which we tore into and devoured on the long hike back to the boat.   Amazingly, the harbor master found my wallet!   I guess I shouldn’t have doubted his words.  He was working on a boat in an up-side down position when he spotted it.  The kids had stolen all the cash out of my wallet and chucked it under a boat.  It was good to get it back, but now I have the problem of not being able to access any of my money…..  Sometimes Alaska feels as far away as India when it comes to “doing business”.  I literally feel like a penniless foreigner just trying to work the system, but the system is completely ignorant about the facts of remoteness, living on a boat, bad weather, and all other manner of particulars that come with living outside the box.  And so, I will press on with my empty wallet.  At least I have my driver’s license!  Theft is one of the last things I’d expected to encounter on the voyage.  After so many days of living by the bush rule, the rotten city comes as quite a shocker.

The Ketchikan waterfront is completely blocked by a wall of massive cruise ships.  Every day as many as four ships at a time unloaded their passengers all at once, who swarmed the small town in shocking numbers.  I am convinced that the spectacle is even more impressive than the throngs of gold-seekers who came a century before.  One minute the town will be relatively quiet, and suddenly all the shop doors swing open and the sidewalks are more crowded than those in Times Square.  People dash about with shopping bags, eying jewelery and talking to their friends from far away on their cell phones.  “OK, I’m like, seeing SALOONS here” said a valley girl.  I guess people have a perception of what they expect to see in Alaska.  The tourism sections of town do a very good job catering to those “feelings” and the people just eat it up.  Watching the waves of tourists from the cruise ships made me very introspective.  I thought that perhaps nothing has really changed in Alaska, that this massive population burst is akin to the gold rush throngs.  Long periods of stagnation (winter) interspersed with brief flashes of intense activity seem to be a pattern of the north country.  People patterns up here even mimic the way the salmon gather and swim upstream.  Here today, and gone tomorrow.  I’ve only seen Ketchikan during the “gone” months of March, but after this visit I understand the town a bit better now.  Soon the human tide turned, and everyone herded through gates and fences back to the ships.  Shops closed up and the town shut down as soon as the blast of the horn indicated the ship was headed out of the harbor.  Just like a fishing opening, I thought.

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