Days 111 – 114 (Sept 16th – Sept 19th) Vancouver, Ketchikan and Sitka: heading north again in southern Alaska

We clocked up 6395 km from Calgary airport to Vancouver airport in 30 days so it was time to stop driving and move into our long-term “no-fly” mode of transport, a ship! But first, we had just over 24 hours in Vancouver. As we needed to get COVID tests before embarkation we booked to stay at the Fairmont Vancouver as the clinic was on-site. After months roughing it we were suddenly in a posh hotel, feeling very self-conscious.

An emergency dental appointment was required for a broken tooth, but luckily one was found across the road from the hotel. An hour later, a new wrapped tooth was in place with the great hope it would last until we get home in April 2023, or at least until we reach Australia. Then shopping and a meal with an old friend’s son and his girlfriend. Christopher grew up in Brockenhurst and was a year below Tali at school. He’s been working in Canada since 2019. We went to Chewies, a seafood restaurant, and had great Caesars, good food and lovely company.

After 2 days in Vancouver, we slowly joined our ship via the huge queues through US customs, this on the day that the queue in London to see the Queen’s coffin was starting to hit the news. This will be our home for the next 2 and a bit months, the Seabourn Odyssey. This is a small ship with perhaps no more than 300 passengers, especially when compared with some of the monsters also boarding in Vancouver which can hold several thousand people.

Seabourne had come to our rescue after our planned trip via Japan had been cancelled as Japan refused to accept cruise ships. This was a great alternative to getting to Australia visiting places we hadn’t thought of going to. The only drawbacks were that Japan was off the schedule after so much planning and a total of 60+ days on the ship.

Dwarfed by some of the larger ships in port

We set sail and recorded the inevitable sunset..

First stop, Ketchikan, Alaska.

The port was very busy, with 3 other ships in, including the Viking (our original ship to Japan). All shops were largely focused on tourists, selling precious stones and tourist. But the weather was uncharacteristically fantastic. Spending some time in the glorious sunshine avoiding the crowds we waked up the river looking for bears but only saw salmon jumping, spawning, dying and dead! The smell all along the river was very unpleasant and enough to make anyone think twice about eating salmon any time soon! Ketchikan was originally famous for fishing, mining and lumber but, as we have discovered in all these remote towns across Canada and Alaska, there was also a significant sex trade as a number of ex-brothels had been preserved. These were illegal on land but avoided sanction by being built on stilts in the river.

Red light district

Sitka, our next stop, was completely different. It was originally the capital of Alaska and was very pretty, with a much calmer atmosphere than Ketchikan, possibly due to there being no other ships in port but we were unsure as it got busier later on. On another glorious sunny day our first stop was the Sitka Sound Science Centre where they explained how they are dealing with declining salmon stocks. Here they harvest the eggs from spawning salmon, grow them in big tanks and then release them into the wild from 8 months onwards, depending on the species of salmon. Although immensely proud of their conservation work, hearing about salmon being knocked out with carbon dioxide, then hit hit over the head to kill them after the eggs are harvested, didn’t feel ok even if they’d die anyway. We then walked along the shoreline looking for sea otters (none), whales (none) but lots of sea birds. The walk took us through a forest with the usual “beware of bears” notices, and history boards about Russians teaming up with the native tribe who were at war with the local tribe. Interestingly the first nations and Russian orthodox have a similar understanding of various things which made it easier for Russians to settle in the area. It was also the home of the national totem pole collection.

Our next stop was the Raptor Centre which looks after and rehabilitates injured birds of prey, most notably bald eagles. They have a flight training area which has one-way glass for tourist viewing but is open to the elements for the birds so they can be observed and assessed for their suitability for release. Wandering further we just missed visiting the orthodox church and returned to the ship. Next stop, glacier country..