One Minute Cruise Log – Day 5 (and David)

by kelly

“Overnight, Coral Princess transited the southern section of the Lynn Canal en route to Juneau. In the early morning we set the final courses through Gastineau Chanel passing abeam Sheep’s Creek and Juneau Island, before staring to swing the bow to starboard approaching the berth at 0452hrs.”

The sun rose at 5:11 a.m. on this, our fifth day of vacation, and the ship was fast alongside Franklin Dock by 5:56.

We woke up just after that – we had another early schedule to keep on shore. We were seated on the tour bus by 7:40, and that’s where we met tour guide, David.

Keep in mind that our tour guide from the day before had impressed me as one of the best guides by whom I’ve ever been led. He spoke of the area’s history and current physical, economic, and political climate. He pointed out geologic formations and introduced us to past and current issues and thoughts – even literature – relevant to the area.

David was not that kind of a tour guide. And we found that out before he even started to drive the bus.

Holding up pink strips that I recognized to be wrist bands, most likely a prerequisite to our entry at the first destination of the day, David, a middle-aged guy who had come to Alaska from Detroit in the early 70s, announced, with regret in his voice, “I don’t know how to say this.”

Interesting, I thought to myself. He must find it unfortunate for us that we have to wear pink wrist bands. He must find the wristbands to be a tacky tool of corporate tourism.

But my speculation was wrong.

Still holding up the wrist bands, David struggled, “you have to wear one per couple. No. Two for two people. No. . . . I don’t know how to say it.”

A moment of quiet followed.

“You mean each individual should wear one wrist band?” asked a passenger.

“YES! Thank you!” said a relieved David. Whew. Someone had articulated that challenging concept for him and thereby removed that responsibility from his shoulders. He simply hadn’t known how to say it….¬†

As David began to distribute the wristbands, someone behind us volunteered to his travel companion that “David hasn’t had his coffee yet today.”

David then drove us through Juneau to our first destination, Mendenhall Glacier Park. This being my first, and likely only trip through Juneau, I had hoped that our driver would throw us a few tidbits of information about the local landscape and city.

But that wasn’t to be. I noticed that David was very visually oriented. His only comments directing our attention to things seemed to be triggered by his seeing that very thing. We would approach a road and a sign for “Glacier Highway,” for example, and David would tell us that “this is Glacier Highway.”

We passed some large white birds on the side of the road, and David told us “there are some big white birds.”

Others in the bus were beginning to speculate that David had been drinking.

Finally, we arrived (wearing pink wristbands) at Mendenhall Glacier National Park, and I forgot all about David for the next hour and a half.

Near Mendenhall Glacier

Near Mendenhall Glacier,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

I had been unsure whether we should plan to visit this park, but I’m so glad we did. We spent a lot of time walking the nature trails, where we saw¬†bald eagles, a porcupine in a tree, and lots of northbound salmon. Some in our group saw a baby bear, but we missed it – although it was clear that bears frequented the area. We saw several recently eaten salmon remains just off of the trail on which we were walking.

Mendenhall Glacier, itself, was beautiful and surrounded by exquisite pools of clear blue water.

We had such a nice time wandering the gorgeous grounds that we didn’t have much time left for the visitor center. But no matter. I’m sure our time was best spent outside.

Then it was back onto David’s bus and over to Auke Bay to board a double-decker boat for a three-hour whale-watching trip.

Whale Watching Brochure

Whale Watching Brochure,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

On the Whale Watching Boat

On the Whale Watching Boat,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

Our Whale Watching Boat

Our Whale Watching Boat,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

The whale-watching excursion was our favorite of the entire vacation. The first wildlife we spotted were harbor seals. A little further into the trip, we began to see humpback whales – lots of them! We saw several whales diving, spouting up water as they breathed near the surface, and most spectacularly, breaching! During a breach, the whale jumps up vertically out of the water and crashes back into it on its side. It was an amazing sight to see – and we were fortunate to see it so many times! We were told that our boat’s crew had only seen breaching activity on twelve other days this summer – and they sail every day.

We met a family of Wisconsinites, first at the glacier, and again on the whale boat. They live not far from Milwaukee. The man we spoke with most owns a restaurant there – one that features “German Night” on Tuesdays. We exchanged information and promised to eat there soon.

David picked us up after the whale-watching and had a hard time counting the number of passengers on board. Apparently working on their own theory of David’s behavior, some other passengers asked David if it was his birthday. It wasn’t. But David found the question as amusing as we found it perplexing.

Given David’s poor guide skills, I had already decided that we should probably not tip him for his services. But as David drove us for the last time that day, he attained such great form as a bad tour guide, that I gained a whole new respect for him.

On that last stretch, he pointed out to us (not that we would ever need to know) both the first and second most expensive gas stations in the town (“but you can save three cents a gallon if you join the club.”) He pointed out the road down which his sister lives, and generally provided other info of absolutely no practical value to visitors, whatsoever. He was telling us the kinds of information that you would tell your visiting Uncle Louie, on his third day in town, after¬†everyone had already run out of things to say. Observing this, Paul and I became positively mirthful at how good David did bad. With each new impractical observation he offered up, we laughed even harder.

Where I developed a whole new respect for salmon

Where I developed a whole new respect for salmon,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

We parted ways with David as he delivered us to our last on-shore event of the day – an outdoor Salmon Bake. And we ended up giving him an extra large tip. I decided that the poor guy had lived a little too hard in the 60s and 70s and could use a couple of bucks. Besides, we hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time.

The Salmon Bake was great. We ate delicious salmon, grilled over an alder wood fire. There were various side-dishes available. We ate near a British couple as we listened to a folk singer. After eating, we roasted a couple of marshmallows around a fire, and then walked along Gold Creek where we saw more determined salmon, up to that old swimming upstream thing. There was a substantial waterfall there, too, and we were SURE that the salmon wouldn’t be able to make it over such a barrier. But a local there assured us that they did, and looked at us like we were a little odd for doubting it.

The Salmon Bake Bus

The Salmon Bake Bus,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

Finally, we took the “salmon bake special” bus back to the port in Juneau. We popped inside the Red Dog Saloon for a few minutes before heading back to the ship.

That night, worn out from our two days of on-shore exploring, we dined at Sabatini’s, the Italian restaurant onboard that serves a 17-course meal! Each course was very very small, but I was still¬†so full at the end that it was hard to walk back to the room.

“With all passengers on board, at 1549hrs we let go the lines and commenced thrusting off the berth moving astern. Once our maneuver was completed, we commenced moving ahead and retraced our steps southwards through Gastineau Channel. At 1647hrs we entered into Stephens Passage and set a southerly course towards Chatham Strait. We continued southbound for the remainder of the evening.”

The sun set that evening at 8:53 p.m.

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