Woke up to another cloudy morning on the move somewhere on the Clarence Strait and slogged my way to the sardine-can bathroom after a night of imitating John Travolta in his heyday. Think I ripped my pants when I dropped down on the parquet dance floor. That’s ok as everyone had a good time, even if at my expense. We were close to the “First City” of Alaska… Ketchikan. I have clogged my toilet three times on this trip so I didn’t take anymore chances and donned some checkered shorts and walked the half-mile to the only “public” bathroom on the floor. It seems these “public” bathrooms have more pressure, so to say, so I had no trouble doing my business. I swear, it’s like I drop a deuce twice a day after eating so damn much. A full breakfast, a pre-lunch snack, a stuffed lunch, an afternoon delight, and then a multi-course dinner. Sex, dancing, and weights have not offset the tidal wave of caloric intake, as much as I have been watching the calories (which is not much). When on a cruise, there are no restrictions and no deadlines. I get enough of that on land at work.
Skipped Mass, Pilates, an Alaska Short Story Club meetup, and the daily Sudoku challenge all to pickup some tips on traversing the maze of shops in one of the wettest cities I have ever set foot in. Ketchikan averages over 150 inches of rain every year and this year has been above average. What Seattle gets in an average year, they get in a good month. This is why it is essential that you pack raingear when cruising Alaska’s panhandle.
As for excursions, there is no shortage compared to the other cities. I heartily recommend the floatplane ride to the Misty Fjords National Monument ($270) as you are whisked away over pristine evergreen wilderness to untamed territory and land on a serene lake deep in the Monument with water so clear, you can easily see the lake bottom. Our pilot toyed with us and basically shaved the top of a mountain on our way in. Ya know, whether it’s a helicopter or floatplane, it is phreakin’ loud in the cramped cabin so industrial headphones are supplied, along with a microphone so you can ask questions and listen to the commentary. Anywho, taking these flyover trips will make you understand the expanse of this little corner of the 49th state. We flew over enough board-feet to rebuild every home on the West Coast, with nary a civilized landmark in sight. You think Montana is big??? F- you, try getting lost in the Misty Fjords. You will never be found.
Other tantalizing options include a short floatplane ride ($365) to an area where black bears frequent, if that’s your thing. The only time I want to see a bear in the wild is when I’m packing my Remington. There are crab feasts ($162), fish camps ($320), snorkeling adventures ($110), remote island hikes ($120), zip line expeditions ($177), Saxman Native Village tours ($59-89), Totem Bight State Park and other city highlights ($45), and even a duck tour ($42). You badasses can take the ultimate private skiff tour and explore the local terrain for $900 per skiff (up to five lean people) or a flight on a DeHavilland Beaver for 3 hours ($1849 with a maximum of six souls).
My group returned after noon, cut in the disembarkation line and took the gratuitous souvenir photo with a costumed moose and eagle, similar to group photos at a wine blogger convention. Take a walk around the downtown area, just past the tourist trap shops selling $300 watches and $5 gold flakes in a bottle and you will soon arrive to Ketchikan’s jewel– Creek Street. Since the salmon were spawning, I watched from a distance as the salmon were literally jumping out of the water in front of a horde of slacker fishermen lazily hanging their rented rods over the Creek Street Bridge. Several kids had bludgeoned a few salmon and so there was some blood on the concrete walkway, along with some salmon eggs dangling outside a carcass. A poor infant a few inches away from the eggs appeared scared as she clutched her mother, but that’s how these Alaskan kids get tough.
Cross the street and you are welcomed by historic Creek Street’s former bordellos and bars that were strategically designed to avoid the authorities during Prohibition, with their foundations built on stilts as Ketchikan Creek ebbed and peaked with a tidal change of some 15 feet four times a day. These days, places like Dolly’s house are happily patronized as there is no longer any illicit activity going on within its shingles. Today’s oddities are more like the current shelf occupiers in “fireweed jelly” and “spruce tip jam”. Oh yes, and don’t forget the kelp pickles jar, which was quite delicious, actually. A good substitute for relish. Since the salmon were running, it was easy to find more carcasses littered throughout the creek and someone had the gall to toss one of them onto the grass knoll.
Had some time to kill so I paid the two bucks and took a ride on the lone funicular in the middle of the shops up to Cape Fox Lodge for a look around. The ride was somewhat worth the price but you end up at a small lodge with not much else to do. There are the gratuitous totem poles in front of the lobby entrance, but little else.
I got hungry and settled on a Chinese restaurant frequented by the boat crew. I tried the soup noodles and was warned it was made with spaghetti noodles. How authentic. Regardless, the soup base saved the dish as it was not bad. Now fully nourished, I walked back to the souvenir section in downtown (right by the salmon-pink colored Federal building) and meandered through the many shops essentially selling the same knockoffs. That is, except for the furry nard-holder G-string ($25). That was different. Across the street was about as old-fashioned a chocolate store as there is. Named “Ketchi Candies” and with some young tasties behind the counter forming chocolates for sale, the inner workings resembled a small chocolate maker from, say, the 1920s. Everything is oddly imperfect except the taste of the chocolates. While I heard comments of “tastes like See’s only better,” the selections were a refreshing piece of Americana. You cannot get this taste of chocolate confections anywhere else. Wonderful, and I ended up purchasing several pounds ($20/lb.) to take back to the powers-that-be.
There were four other cruise ships in town and that alone was a sight to behold. That meant some 8000 passengers had invaded this quiet district for the day and my suspicions were confirmed when I wandered through the mini-malls after a couple boats left. By 4:30pm, the place was void of tourists. It was just me and the rain and when I encountered a bar and liquor store combo, I found several objects of my fancy. First was the bottle of 2009 Quilceda Creek cabernet. There, resting next to it were bottles of Alaskan wine for $25. Too bad they were only fruit wines from Homer but next to that stnad of wines were some cheap-labeled “Fat Stan’s” wines that were produced by none other than Northwest Cellars in Kirkland. Also for $25. This confirms that wine above the 49th parallel is gawd-feckin’ expensive and not worth the price.
Safely back on the boat before the 5:30pm “all aboard,” I met up with the gang for dinner and bid adieu to a fun exploration in Ketchikan. The dinner menu choices I selected were: crab and shrimp tower with avocado salsa, chilled strawberry bisque, and apricot-glazed salmon (served with baby vegetables, new potatoes, and a drizzle of soy, garlic, and ginger). I know, really odd stuff… but it’s a cruise, so I’m not into the standard “crème of asparagus soup, radicchio salad, and broiled flank steak” fare. I can get that on land. What is the point of eating on a cruise when all you choose is the same old standards you can get any other time of the year? Apricot-glazed salmon? Nobody does that in Seattle. And, it worked quite well. Cruising is about discovery, and not just limited to the port destinations. You have opportunities everywhere, especially on the plate in front of you. It pays to try something new and, although not always worthy of remembering, you just might discover a new favorite. And, let’s not forget the views at dinnertime. Look up and out the wall of windows… another color-saturated sunset with the entertaining city of Ketchikan fading fast into the distant mountains. These moments are why you cruise.
Just got back from a rousing dance show put on by some talented passengers and the employed troupe of dancers. Then, I traversed over to the Crow’s Nest for an always comedic gameshow edition of ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ of which the men actually beat the women! I tells ya, those women have some dirty, dirty minds. The beauty of cruising is that everyone generally lets their guard down a little in order to enjoy this most special of vacations. After all, there maybe 1500 to 2500 passengers but everyone becomes familiar after a few days as we pass each other in the hallways or share the same tour bus on an excursion. Realization sets in that we are all “related” to this trip so we become friendly with each other. I mean, why make enemies on a cruise? Heck, you’ll have to see them again (and again) so cut the rudeness and always leave a good impression. When the full elevator stops at a floor and there’s an elderly couple, do the right thing and make room to let them on or step out and take the stairs the rest of the way. Good little deeds go a long way on a cruise. They are remembered. Just like acting like a crabass. It confounds me how people can be grumpy on a cruise. YOU ARE ON A CRUISE, MOFO! There are well-built women who go bra-less on a cruise, and I applaud their unhibition.
For adults, you think alcohol is easy to find on a boat? I counted nine, NINE, bars neatly scattered throughout the ship. It’s an easy profit generator when a mojito costs $9 and it is made by a bartender who makes about $1.25 an hour. And don’t forget that $2 tip that goes to feed his kids, parents and grandparents and cousins, and neighbors back home. Sounds like a joke. It’s not. The greatest endeavor you can do on a cruise is to (1) get to know the staff and ask them questions about who they are back in their homeland; (2) be gracious when they serve you (keywords here are “please” and “thank you” which are not a foreign language unless you are a hipster); and (3) leave a little extra for tipping– it shows you care about them and you want the very best for their families. That little extra will be more appreciated than if you left it on a table in Seattle. And, in walking the walk, let me just say that I left a sweet $50 tip to my masseuse in the Greenhouse Spa.
This wine was one of three featured on the dinner menu. Cost was $49 and the sales descriptor was, “deep cherries and raspberry characters with vanilla.” What the fuck is a “deep” cherry? Raspberry “characters”? I’m hoping they meant “lengthy ripe black cherry, black raspberry, and soft cedar notes.”
The other featured wines were (white) Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve chardonnay ($54) and (sparkling) Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut ($47).
Tasted at 55-61 degrees on the IR temp gun. Color: dark magenta. Nose: black cherry, black raspberry, red licorice, bbq pit. Mouthfeel: medium. Tail trail: 9 seconds. Flavors: black cherry, blackberry, stinging nettle, soft cedar, and coffee grounds. Probably the best of the Grand Estates lineup for vintage 2009.
Alcohol: 13.5%. Columbia Valley AVA. 11% syrah, 4% cabernet sauvignon. pH 3.77. TA 0.51%. Power: 2/5. Balance: 2/5. Depth: 2/5. Finesse: 3/5. Rated: 89. Value: $20. Paid: $8. Music pairing: “Time And Tide” by Basia. This is WAwineman… uncorked and sailing the Inside Passage!