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jorgesanchez Juneau - A travel report by jorge
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Juneau,  United States - flag United States -  Alaska
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jorgesanchez's travel reports

The Inside Passage

  13 votes
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The journey by ship through the Inside Passage, between Juneau and Vancouver Island, is an unforgettable experience. During four days you will constantly be surprised by the sight of whales, seals, rare birds and the awesome grandeur of the Nature

My ferry Columbia
My ferry Columbia
Having reached Alaska by chance (I was, literally, expelled from Chukotka, in Russia, and forced to cross the Bering Strait), I resolved to get the best out of that unexpected circumstance in my journey. So I bought a cheap ticket in a regular ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway, called Columbia, through the, so called, Inside Passage, starting in Juneau with destination Bellingham, in the state of Washington, although during the journey I decided to get off in Vancouver to explore that island hitch hiking.
Many cruise ships also offer that journey for tourists, but at a much higher price than the Columbia ferry.

This Inside Passage goes right the way through the Alexander Archipelago, comprising about one thousand islands. After that it reaches Canada, and continues along the Hecate Strait, between Queens Charlotte Island and the coast of British Columbia. Finally it arrives at Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island.
The schedule of the boat was as follows:

- Juneau: sailing at 8 AM
- Hoonah: 2 hours stopover
- Sitka: 5 hours stopover
- Petersburg: 1 hour stopover
- Wrangell: 1 hour stopover
- Ketchikan: 3 hours stopover
- Prince Rupert: change of ferries. A whole day
- Port Hardy: arrival to Vancouver Island at 9 PM. End of my boat journey

On board we would have a Pilipino whose task was to entertain the passengers giving lectures about the places that we had to cross, plus some historical lessons. He would explain us about the Titus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov discovery of Alaska in 1741, about the tribes Tlingit and their traditions, about the gold seekers in the Klondike during the gold rush, about the whales, seals and birds that without interruption we would see.
Every time that the loudspeakers advised of the sighting of whales, all the passengers would run from one side to the other of the boat, with their cameras, to take incessantly pictures of the animals.

The ferry would sail the next day, so I still had time to discover Juneau.

Favourite spots:
The glacier Mendenhall
The glacier Mendenhall

Juneau is considered the most scenic capital in the United States. It is located in front of an island called Douglas, surrounded by high mountains.
Daily cruises with hundreds of tourists invaded the main road buying souvenirs in the shops. Some of them booked a ticket to climb a high mountain in a cable car, but the price was not cheap and, furthermore, it was raining, so I would not be able to enjoy the superb views. Instead, I entered a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, called St Nicholas. It was not dated from the Russian times since it was built in 1893 (Tsar Alexander II sold Alaska to USA in 1867).
Russians are not anymore in Alaska, but still 30.000 Aleutians and other aborigines profess the Orthodox Faith.
Afterwards I hitch hiked to a fantastic glacier called Mendenhall, and a few hours later I walked to the port, spent the night sleeping in a wooden bench and the next day I boarded the Columbia.
After a few hours of navigation we reached the first port: Hoonah.

What's really great:
Approaching Hoonah
Approaching Hoonah

Hoonah means in Tlingit language “The Place where the wind does not blow”. It is sited in the island of Chichagof, discovered by the Russians.
Since the stop was not long, most of the passengers got off the boat and walked quickly around the city, called Port Frederick, with less than one thousand inhabitants, all working in the salmon canneries.
I noticed that most of the population was “First Nation”, or Native Americans, but everybody could speak English.
It is not an old village. The original one had been abandoned by the Tlingit when a glacier advanced invading their community. Then, they settled down in the present location, and only at the end of the XIX century European origin colonists started to arrive, founding canneries.
Some tourists from my boat disembarked in Hoonah to spend some days fishing Halibut.
When we heard the first siren call, all the passengers ran back to the ship.
We continued our navigation until Sitka.

St. Michael's Russian Ortodox Cathedral, Sitka
St. Michael's Russian Ortodox Cathedral, Sitka

Sitka is a precious gem in that extraordinary journey.
During Russian times, Sitka, situated in Baranoff Island, was the capital of Alaska, until it was transferred to Kodiak Island, in the Aleutians archipelago. Today it has a population of 9000 citizens.
I visited an authentic Russian built Orthodox Cathedral, called St. Michael (although it was paying, unlike the one in Juneau, but I spoke in Russian and they let me enter for free), then I walked several kilometres until I got very close to the lovely mountain Edgecumbe, which crater looks almost like the Japanese Fuji Yama (In Sitka it is called “Little Fuji Yama”). All around Sitka was beautiful, like the many totem poles, the statues (one of them devoted to Alexander Baranoff, the first Governor of Alaska), the reproduction of ceremonial canoes used by the aboriginal people, and in general the easy going atmosphere. There were many shops selling salmon sandwiches.
The Columbia continued its course until Petersburg.

Petersburg in sight
Petersburg in sight

Before arriving to Petersburg we traversed the Wrangell narrows, an amazingly beautiful channel about 35 kilometres long.
The sight of Petersburg, when approached by boat, is awesome! It is a charming little town of about 3000 people who live thanks to the shellfish processing.
At the pier it was written (partially in Norwegian language): “Velkommen to Petersburg, Alaska little Norway”, in honour of the first European origin colonists, having arrived to Alaska from Scandinavia.
Because the previous night had been stormy, the Columbia had slowed down the speed, and consequently the call in Petersburg was reduced to one hour only.
But in spite of that, most of the passengers, the most passionate, managed to visit the most interesting tourist attractions of that pleasant town, considered by our Pilipino lecturer the prettiest in the Alexander Archipelago.
After Petersburg we continued our journey to Wrangell.

Wrangell seen from the ferry Columbia
Wrangell seen from the ferry Columbia

In Wrangell, a town established by the Russians at the beginning of the XIX century, the stop lasted one hour only. Fortunately the village is just close to the port.

In a sign I could read that Wrangell is the only place in the United States having originally been Russian, English, Tlingit and American territory respectively, so governed by four flags.

During the Russian times, Wrangell was known as Fort Dionysius, but after they sold it to USA the Americans changed it for Wranglell, an admiral in the Russian Army descending from a German Baltic noble family who made an around the world journey calling in many places of Alaska and Chukotka. He was one of the founders of the Russian Geographic Society, and was contrary to the sale of Alaska to USA. The Wrangell Island, north of Chukotka, was also named in his honour.

I managed to visit some totems and the rest of the original fort Dionysius before running back to the Columbia.

After Wrangell we continued to Ketchikan.

 Ketchikan Museum with totem poles
Ketchikan Museum with totem poles

Ketchikan was another great stop in the Inside Passage.

I was anxious to reach Ketchikan because is located in Revillagigedo Island, discovered by the Spanish explorers many years earlier than British navigators, such as George Vancouver and Captain Cook, arrived to those waters.

Revillagigedo was a Earl and at the same time the Viceroy of Nueva España, territory today called Mexico.

The downtown was a little bit far from the port. I hitch hiked and soon a young man took me in his car to Creek Street, a sort of Little Venice, with many houses with balconies supported by palaffitos incrusted in the banks of the river.

It was beautiful!

Ketchikan is known for sheltering the biggest collection in the world of standing totem poles.

I managed to see, at least, twenty totems, and even entered in the small but rich Museum. Just across the gate I visited the Public Library (Internet is for free in the public libraries in USA and Canada).

After Ketchikan we continued until Prince Rupert.

Prince Rupert. Norwegian flag and Norwegian star cruise
Prince Rupert. Norwegian flag and Norwegian star cruise

The Canadian authorities checked my passport and, without any compromising question, stamped my passport giving me a three months stay in the country.

I waited in Prince Rupert for a whole day for my ferry to Vancouver Island.

It was a very touristy city with cruises filled mainly with Americans calling in its port and invading the shops to buy souvenirs.

In the waterfront they offered tours by motor boat to sight whales. The price was 100 Canadian dollars per person. Many tourists bought that excursion, but not me because of the price and also for the reason that after having watched so many whales in Chukotka Peninsula and during the journey in the Columbia ferry, I had enough of whales.

I slept in a wooden bench in a central park, to be awaked several times by the deer, walking placidly around the town. Nobody disturbed them, not me. When they woke me up licking my face with their tongues, I just smiled.

The next day I boarded a new ferry to Vancouver Island.

Other recommendations:
The magnificent Grenville Channel
The magnificent Grenville Channel

In this Canadian ferry we did not have lectures, the showers were paying, and the prices in the cafeteria were higher than in the Columbia. But, in compensation, the best views of the whole journey were yet to come.

We traversed the walls of the breathtaking Grenville Channel, the captain slowed down the speed and nobody dared to speak because of the subjugating beauty; we all were in a sort of ecstasy.

At 9 PM I arrived to Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island. The ship would continue to Victoria. A few passengers disembarked and hired taxis. I could not afford it. The town was at about 12 kilometres.

I walked hitch hiking at the same time, but nobody picked me up.

After one hour or so, a car stopped and the driver and his wife cried to me:

- “Are you crazy? In this area there are many grizzlies! Come with us!”

And they took me to Port Hardy. They were “First Nation”, the most humane people that I met in British Columbia.

And that’s the end of the story.

Published on Saturday November 15th, 2008

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Mon, Dec 15 2008 - 01:45 AM rating by hieronyma

Oh, Jorge, all those memories which come up reading your report. I did nearly the same trip through the panhandle, sleeping on the boat, visiting during the day. In Wrangell I met an old Norwegian lady in the library who told me her story of life. And Ketchikan with its red lamp district with these small houses on stilts high above the river was a treat, not to talk about the beautiful totem poles. Yes, you caught the atmosphere and the excitement of this beautiful area.

Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 12:55 PM rating by marianne

Wow, amazing and adventurous

Thu, Nov 20 2008 - 02:39 PM rating by rangutan

Adventurous, excellent "journey" report! The purpose and structure of the report is well defined and by adding the ship schedule the report works perfectly writing across the normal structure and headings.

Thu, Nov 20 2008 - 12:12 AM rating by gloriajames

Well, Jorge, another wonderful report with a personal touch, after a long while. Glad that you were spared from the grizzlies...and my heart went out for you having read that you had to sleep on a bench :(

Wed, Nov 19 2008 - 10:26 AM rating by louis

Perfect read for me - great place, great pictures from great traveller. I am happy that I did not missed this report.

Tue, Nov 18 2008 - 07:50 PM rating by bootlegga

What an excellent adventure! Keep it up and be sure to keep writing about your travels!

Mon, Nov 17 2008 - 05:37 PM rating by christianj.

Makes me remember my own Alaska-Trip - it's such a great landscape. These must have been impressive four days! Very good report!! Christian

Mon, Nov 17 2008 - 01:21 PM rating by krisek

Jorge, thank you so much for this wonderful report. It is beautifully narrated, stimulating imagination from being expelled from Russian Federation to snapping the whales, to sleeping in the parks, to deers, to hitching in a grizzlies land! I was surprised to learn that there were so many tourists in this remote area. Please can we have some more of your reports!

Mon, Nov 17 2008 - 07:34 AM rating by frenchfrog

Great report, this the way to do it! Well done!

Sun, Nov 16 2008 - 08:39 AM rating by yuliangpang

I like the way you writing the report, it is not necessary to do it as required, especially those parts about accommodation, hangouts. I think we can get more complete information from the website or travelling book easily. Travel is to dicover, i see the whole things in your report. As someone, i like that part about the deer who woke you up by licking your face. Lovely and lucky you are, it is a deer, not a lion!!!

Sun, Nov 16 2008 - 05:28 AM rating by pesu

So good, Jorge, that you have been saved from the grizzlies...;-) That way we can hope to get a lot more of your wonderful spirited reports - thanks for sharing!

Sun, Nov 16 2008 - 03:46 AM rating by robynallen

I love the bit about the deer! Good report

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