Sunday, 8 September 2013

An Alaskan Un-Cruise Adventure - Pt 5, Sitka

Continuing our magnificent Alaskan Gold Rush voyage with Un-Cruise Adventures on their unique new SS Legacy...

Legacy Cruise Day 5

After two immensely rewarding days at sea, we were heading for port again today, but only after a morning cruising the intricate interior waterways between Baranof and Chichagof islands, with a narrow passageway that afforded genuine close-ups with both shores in turn.

Another humpback whale passed by, lazily cruising close in to the rocky shoreline, and a huge colony of sea otters were spied among great clumps of floating kelp along several rocky outcrops.

Chief barman Jason provided another highlight of the morning with his own speciality Bloody Mary mix, featuring a bacon-wrapped whole shrimp. Here was a meal in a glass, and mighty tasty to boot!

The approach to Sitka itself was equally breathtaking, the mountainous hinterland still topped
by snow and ice while the busy working fishing harbour maintains a constant flow in and out. The Japanese-built suspension bridge served as an iconic entryway and the extinct volcano of Mt Edgecumbe appeared offshore out of the clearing cloud.

After a quick lunch, and with the cloud giving way to unseasonably warm sunshine, we embarked on our included tour for the afternoon, on the Tribal Tours trolleys with native Tlingit guide Toby.

Our first stop, at the 
Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi tribal heritage centre where the Naa Kahidi Dancers (below left) provided a traditional Tlingit welcome and song and dance show, demonstrating traditional dances and activities in heart-warming fashion (several of the ‘performers’ were barely four years old, but joined in with gusto!).


Next up was the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, where we were given a close-up of an (injured) bald eagle and told about the highly successful volunteer-led rehab programme, that takes in many injured eagles, hawks, owls and even ravens and returns them to the wild if at all possible. The handful of birds that cannot be treated and returned to flight are, instead, treated to a five-star rest home for the rest of their lives.

There was an optional extra tour at this point, to go kayaking, but we decided we would prefer to stick with the main group and see more of the area.

Back on the Trolley, it was time to take in the Sitka National Historic Park, where we learned more about Tlingit history and especially their long-established tradition of totem pole carving and narrative story-telling. A side-trip to the park's central stream revealed a narrow waterway positively choked with salmon, many dead and the rest in the slow process of coming to a halt and dying. A sobering if macabrely fascinating sight.

Finally, we had time for a half-hour wander through the town itself – and the central icon of St
Michael’s Cathedral
(right), the 19th century Russian Orthodox church that burned down in 1966 but has been faithfully rebuilt.

Back aboard, we said a fond farewell to Sitka amidst a beautifully mild evening, sailing away from the shadow of Mt Edgecumbe while the crew prepared yet another excellent dinner.

An evening showing of the classic John Wayne film North to Alaska concluded proceedings but, truth to tell, we were nodding off long before the end.

Next up – a visit to Norwegian-inspired Petersburg.

To learn more about Un-Cruise adventures, call 1888 862 8881 in the US; or visit www.un-cruise.com. In the UK, specialist cruise agents The Cruise Line can also help with bookings.

Be sure to read the full report of the cruise in the Autumn edition of World of Cruising, out September 20. You can subscribe here: http://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/subscribeOrder.html