Jaini’s Alaskan Chronicles | Ketchikan

This is the first of my four-post series based on my travels to Alaska aboard the Star Princess. Alaska is the 49th and largest state in the United States of America. It lies on the Arctic Circle, separating it from the rest of the lower 48 states. Ketchikan, our first stop on the cruise, is a charming seaside town of approximately 14,000 people, on Revillagigedo Island in Southeast Alaska. It is one of the rainiest places in North America, receiving about 152 inches of rain annually. Lucky for us, the rain didn’t bother us much.

A panoramic view of Ketchikan from the cruise deck
A panoramic view of Ketchikan from the cruise deck

Ketchikan got its start in 1900 as a fishing and logging community, although today it has become a popular cruising hub and now several gift shops and tour excursion operators are located on the waterfront. My sister and cousin, being the adrenaline freaks they are, decided to go zip-lining, so they left early morning. The views I am told were amazing. Then later on, the rest of the group, including yours truly, left the cruise to go explore.

Zip-lining adventures in the rainforest
Zip-lining adventures in the rainforest

We immediately hit the waterfront that was lined with shops and restaurants, spending time in the gift shops before reuniting with the rest of the group. I was surprised to see many jewelry stores selling gold and diamonds. Then we headed to a warm, cozy café that offered Wi-Fi (a 21st century essential that we had dearly missed) and decided what to do next. My cousins decided to go for quad biking in the afternoon, while we opted for a Duck Tour that would take us around Ketchikan. Ketchikan offers a wide variety of sporting activities such as hiking, kayaking, fishing and zip-lining for those who love the adrenaline kick. The Duck Tour was a tour that used a vehicle that could run on both land and water, hence the name ‘duck’. (Clever – I know!)

A hydro-land hybrid vehicle
Miss Jillian – our Duck Tour vehicle

To be honest, it was quite difficult getting onto the bus, but after a bit of a hassle, I finally managed to get on. And the tour started! The first stop was Creek Street, Ketchikan’s legendary red-light district until prostitution became illegal in 1954. During Creek Street’s prime days, it supported up to 30 brothels and became known as the only place in Alaska where ‘the fishermen and the fish went upstream to spawn.’ Today these wood-frame houses built on pillars along the creek have been renovated into restaurants, shops and art galleries. We even got a sneak peak of Dolly’s bright red House – once the parlor of the city’s most famous madam, Dolly Arthur. Thereafter, we got to look at the salmon ladder to see where the salmon go up to spawn. There are five species of salmon (king, coho, sockeye, chum and pink) which migrate to Ketchikan’s streams and rivers.

Dolly's House
Dolly’s House
A salmon fishery
A salmon stream

We then drove through the world’s only tunnel that goes under and around the mountain to find the totems that Ketchikan is so well known for. Ketchikan boasts the largest number of totem poles in Alaska; a collection that includes recently carved poles and some that are more than 100 years old. We saw several outdoor totems at Whale Park. Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved on poles, posts, or pillars with symbols or figures made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, by indigenous peoples of Alaska. I made sure to pick up a hand-carved mini totem pole as a souvenir!

A Totem pole
A Totem pole

We then drove out to the Bar Harbor; the largest marina in Ketchikan and the bus became a boat.  They – literally – drove the bus down the ramp into the water. Subsequently we enjoyed a harbor boat tour where we got an up close look at all of the remarkable fishing boats, views of the fish canneries, opportunities to see wildlife such as eagles and seals, and the ever-enthralling view of the city from the water!  We even got to see a seaplane take off. Since most of Ketchikan is built on the water, this was the best way to get a view of the city to get a genuine feel of the city.

Bar Harbor - the largest marina in Ketchikan
Bar Harbor – the largest marina in Ketchikan

Done with the water portion, they drove right back out of the water and did a quick fresh water rinse of the vehicle to get all of the salt water and seaweed from the tires and they took us right back to where we began. One unique thing about Ketchikan, that I love, is the staircase streets. The government discontinued building roads because it was hard to build them through mountains, and thus there came the existence of staircase streets leading from block to block. No wonder the locals looked fit!

The staircase streets of Ketchikan
The staircase streets of Ketchikan

While these staircase streets are not wheelchair-friendly, the tours are generally are and there is a lot to do for wheelchair users, including visiting the several museums, enjoying the finest fresh seafood that Ketchikan offers and even taking a seaplane to see the Misty Fjords, a national monument. After the Duck Tour, we hit the gift shops again and bought a few souvenirs (who doesn’t love a fridge magnet?) and headed back to the ship. And that was the end to an eventful day in Ketchikan!

All pictures are provided by Diva Shah Photography, unless otherwise stated.


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