Sorry to leave you all stranded in Juneau, in the rain and drizzle with sore feet and a bad inner ear/sinus infection. Oh, wait, that was me... So, nearly one year after the trip of a lifetime dot two, here's the final installment:
The plane trip from Juneau to Sitka was mercifully brief and low altitude, so the ears weren't too bad. Sat next to a woman who worked for a mining/oil (can't remember) company on the other side of the island. Since no road circumnavigates Baranoff Island, she had to take a jumper to her town. Sitka was bright and sunny--apparently they knew I was coming. We caught a shuttle to our hotel, the swankiest one yet (and for the entire trip as it turns out), the Westmark Shee Atika. They were the only hotel to bend an effort to get me a hiking staff whilst in their care. We got up to our room and behold! a staff was leaning against one of the dressers! I think they heard my shout of delight all the way downstairs. And the view! The entire wall was a window overlooking the small boat harbour and across Sitka Sound to some impressive private homes and tiny islands. Again with the "mountains" rising up from the sea, a boa of clouds and a shawl of snow around their necks.
Took a bus tour with a fellow curmudgeon who not only did the regular sites, but took us on a real estate tour of the area and gave hard data on what it would take to live there. Yes, gas was cheaper than in MI (where isn't it in the U.S.), but everything else was much more expensive. After nearly two weeks in AK this was not a surprise to the writer, but I suppose for all the "boat trash" (a term picked up in Juneau) it was news. Well, guess what, folks, it's cheaper to live in HI than AK. Really.
Bus tour went past some modest homes with lush gardens, Japanese maples IN THE GROUND, cannas in full bloom, other tropical surprises. Azaleas/rhodes, CA poppies, etc. Pointed out several churches, including one with a gorgeous stained-glass rose window. The center had a Star of David in it. It was a beautiful window, but it was in the Episcopal Church. Apparently, the creator of the window either misunderstood or thought Episcopal was synonymous with synagogue.
We stopped at my highlight: The Raptor Center, where they rehabilitate birds of prey. We saw the flight room, which is where the birds are encouraged to fly, away from prying eyes (no flash allowed), huge, maybe 60'x100-150' and about 20' high. Lots of bald eagles, a few owls, hawks, and my favourite: Pele the sandbagger. He is a peregrine falcon that has flunked flight school three times and now is a permanent resident. There is nothing wrong with his wing, so the staffers say, but he refuses to fly and will often pretend like he still has a broken wing. No arthritis, but is a lazy sonofabird who knows he has it good. I got down on the ground and had him mugging for the camera, much to the amusement of the staff. Had lots of good conversation with them and wished I could stay longer, but the bus was honking. Off to Totem Park, where examples and recreations of 80' totems were scattered throughout the old-growth forest. Unlike pix of old-growth forests we usually see, these Sitka spruce and other evergreens were impossibly thin and tall. This is the northern edge of the Pacific Rain Forest, so the trees grow tall, but not in girth, the growth rings are very narrow. The native Alaskan people actually imported logs from further south to carve their totems and canoes. There was a building with examples of artifacts from the area and local artists/artisans minding their crafts. The bus driver was pretty sweet on one, as we found him chatting her up as she was carding wool for weaving. So I honked at him whilst pointing to my watch. He just grinned. All the tour bus drivers wear read coats with a hundred or so pins on them. As in Disney World, pin trading is a big thing with them. Unfortunately, the only pins we had were the ones surreptitiously given to us by the AKRR conductor and we weren't about to part with those. Last stop on the tour was a Russian folk dance presentation given by women from Sitka. From the start women have played both parts, as in the beginning no men were interested, and after they became well-known to the cruise lines and in demand, the men decided they'd like to join. Well, no dice, dudes and to this day it's women only. It was a fun end to the tour, and our bus driver was on stage for the finale, which included singing the AK state song. He was the flagbearer and your writer noticed he was standing at "parade rest". So, when we got back on the bus to go into town I asked him "What branch?" He smiled and said "Marines". I said I thought as much and he enquired how I knew. Told him about the "parade rest pose" and he nodded. We finally hopped off the bus in town, in front of St. Michael's Russian Orth. Church. and walked back to the hotel.
Walked down the street to a restaurant and had only the second decent meal of the trip, whilst chatting up the owners/cooks. Passed a church with the same family name so had to stop for angelically posed photo op. Oh yeah, more gorgeous, flower-packed gardens in front of said church.
After dinner, the spousal unit went two doors down to a movie whilst your writer rested the dogs and soaked up the view. By this time all the tourists had piled back onto their cruise ship and things had quieted down considerably. A final blast from the horn and the ship glided away past the cable-stay bridge that connected the two parts of Sitka, the airport and heavy business side to the "old town", where we were staying. A few teens walked down the street, the street lights were coming on (don't know why, it was still plenty bright out), and as I looked up in the sky, four bald eagles circled overhead. When the tourists leave, the eagles take over.
Was watching the fishing boats come and go in the slight drizzle that had started, along with the eagles. The clouds soon broke for a double rainbow across the harbour; landing on the far beach and houses as it travelled like a giant spotlight from left to right. An entrancing sight. Noticed something dark on the sea side of the breakwall and through the binoculars noticed it was a seal, thrashing about. Fearing the worst, I put on the shoes again, grabbed my staff and hobbled down to the shoreline (actually the end of a parking lot that dropped off about 10' to the sea floor--it was low tide again). By the time I got there I could see something silver flying out of its mouth. Estimating it was a small, 20# salmon--the seal was playing with it's food! The thrashing I saw was nothing more that the seal throwing the fish in the air and then catching it or chasing it down in the water! I stood there another 10 minutes or so, mist settling on my clothing but not soaking it. Thought about going out on the breakwall to my left and looked that way for a path over the rocks. Not 50' away was a mature, female, bald eagle, who spotted me at the same time. She regarded me for a few seconds, then blinked and returned to watching the sea floor to look for her dinner. Like two old fishermen nodding at each other and returning to their poles. Up to this point, Sitka and I were "just friends"; now I am truly enamored of this place and want to move here. I can be near the Raptor Center, and soak in all this beauty; and fish with eagles. OK, so I'll need to win the lottery and win over the spousal unit--minor details. I could easily call this place home. The climate is milder than MI (remember the Pacific Rain Forest thing?). I report to the registration staff at the hotel my decision, which they gladly accept. However, they tell me my room is booked for the rest of the summer, but maybe next year? I spend some more time chit-chatting, thanking them for my staff, which I'll now leave for someone else. But for the airlines, I would have brought it home as a souvenir. I check my reservations for the next day on their 'puter and return to the room, to savour more views out that marvelous window. The spousal unit reports the popcorn was good at the local theatre. See, one more reason to stay. Oh, and real pillows! King-sized pillows! Like Goldilocks, the perfect firmness. I finally got a good night's sleep, no headache or backache the next morning! As we checked out I enquired about them, where they were purchased, etc. After getting that information and the cost, the staff informed me they would be shipping two new ones to my house! So, dear readers, my last Alaskan souvenir is/are two king-sized pillows, compliments of the Westmark Shee-Atika. Hot dang!
The rest of the trip was anti-climactic. We spent two days in Seattle, did the space needle thing, but the best part was the mini-road trip around the sound. Coming home had the usual delays/horror stories, but we and our luggage arrived intact and the author headed off to the Dr., for some much-needed antibiotics. Wow, finally done! Thanks for hanging in there with me. If anyone wants a travel companion for AK, give me a year to save up!