Day 11 (Ketchikan) – Wednesday, 20th July

Well, we appear to have docked right in the middle of town! Ketchikan is our final stop before we reach Vancouver on Friday.

We left the ship by coach, driven by a very knowledgeable young feller called Scott. He had his work cut out trying to get people set up on the really effective QuietVox system used by Viking to broadcast the guide talking to the group using headsets. The instructions were both written in that invaluable publication, the Viking Daily, and spoken over the ship’s PA system – bring your headsets! Why don’t people follow simple and clear instructions? At least half a dozen idiots didn’t have the headsets, so poor Scott had to try and source them. He was also dealing with idiots on the shore, so the odds of success were too great. He gave up.

He then drove us to Potlatch Park, a privately owned estate dedicated to the Tlingit culture and, in particular, their totem poles – the area around Ketchikan has the greatest number of totem poles in the world.

Scott led us through a dizzying amount of detail about the stories and legends told by these poles. Bottom of the totem pole is supposed to be bottom of the pile – the reverse is actually true.

I will pass on just one of these legends, as there is no written language.

At the bottom of the pole is an owl. Above the owl is a whale. Above the whale is a woman – Sea Woman. Above her is an eagle.

The very abbreviated story goes that the woman’s husband, who was a fisherman, went missing in his boat. The woman called on the eagle to fly out and find her husband. The eagle tried, but was unsuccessful. The woman then called on the whale to help. No joy there either. Finally, the woman called on the owl, who had night vision. The owl was successful, and found the man shipwrecked and out of sight amongst trees. Once he reported back, the eagle and the whale helped to bring the man back. The owl is at the bottom as he was the solution to the problem.

Absolutely fascinating stuff. Scott also told us that the Tlingit were a matriarchal society and that, at the very top of the hierarchy were two clans – Eagles and Ravens. There might be sub-orders like Beavers, Bears, etc. (all animals) but a Raven had to marry an Eagle and vice versa. I’ve commented before that this is remarkably similar to the way the Australian aborigines set things up. A man had to move in with a woman, not the other way round, and the role of the men was to pass on the traditions and customs of the clan to their nephews.

There were far too many other stories as told by Scott that I can relate here, and he was terrific value. He thoroughly deserved his tip at the end.

The final exhibit was a totem pole in the carving shop.

This is all done with hand tools – no lathes or sandpaper. Absolutely incredible – this thing is 40 feet long. One can commission a private totem pole, but the very top carvers, like Nathan Jackson, can command prices in excess of $5,000 per foot!

Back to the ship, where we attended an interesting talk from Charlie Armstrong, the other astronomer aboard, about the moon – today is the 53rd anniversary of the first moon landing. Plenty of work being done by NASA towards a manned landing in 2024 as preparation for a trip to Mars.

Ketchikan is officially the first city of Alaska, incorporated in 1900. The population of the whole Ketchikan Borough is about 13,000 people, so large by Alaskan standards. We didn’t get a chance to walk around it, but it didn’t look particularly inspiring. Fairly utilitarian and unplanned. It gets around 230 days of rain a year, but we were lucky. No rain and even a bit of sunshine.

I had a Swedish massage booked for 5 p.m., so then experienced the toughest massage I have ever had, delivered by Paula. God, it was painful at times – I am as stiff as a block of concrete – but it was expertly done. Very relaxing and chilling at the end. Wonderful.

After dinner, down to the theatre again to watch the Viking Vocalists deliver the Beatles Songbook. Once again, very professional indeed. One of the male singers, Harry, had only joined the singers at the start of the cruise! Remarkable how he kept up to a very high mark with relatively little time to practise.

Thence to the Torshavn nightclub for a proper marathon night of dancing. And the clocks go forward an hour tonight as we move into another time zone. So it is now 1.30 a.m. and I’m knackered.

It’s a day at sea upcoming, so probably little to report. I’ll do my best.

2 responses to “Day 11 (Ketchikan) – Wednesday, 20th July”

  1. i hope you have commissioned a totem pole for back home it would look great in your front garden!
    Simon would love the astromnoy section he loves thngs to do with space always watches sky at night
    sounds like your having fun times in the evenings and i bet it includes a few bevys!

    1. Whatever gave you that idea, Adele? šŸ˜‰

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