Sunday 10th May
Clocks were wound back overnight due to daylight savings.
We woke to find the ship was berthed at Skagway, the starboard side of the ship faced the cliff and vegetation of a mountain beside the harbour.
Much of Skagway has timber boardwalks.
We both like Skagway. It is connected to other parts of Alaska, Canada and the US by a highway.
First up we took a walking tour with a knowledgeable park ranger…tipping permitted … who gave us interesting facts about how the town came to be. Basically the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 got the ball rolling. Prospectors arrived via ship then climbed the 37 mile snow covered White Pass and hiked a further 500 miles to the goldfields. Often by the time they arrived all available gold and claims were already taken.The numbers of gold crazy hopefuls ensured a regular shipping from Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco.
We decided to have a cup of coffee and a burger before starting on our next tour. The coffee was $2 plus tax plus tip. The standard of coffee was somewhere between instant coffee and the stuff we get on board PEARL.
Once upon a time in a land far away I tasted peanut butter Oreos. Which are no longer available in Oz or indeed Canada, I know because I have searched for them. In a little IGA store in quiet Skagway I found the Peanut Butter Orioles.
Another interesting fact about Skagway is how the roads and airstrip came into being. During WWII the US agreed to supply Russia with fighter planes. How to get them there quickly without Germany and Japan knowing? Fly them across the Arctic Circle of course. So thousands of Service Men and machines were delivered to Skagway and work commenced on airstrips and roads with co-operation from Canada to pass through their Territories. US Womens Air Force flew the planes to Skagway and were shipped back via road to fly the next lot of planes. Russian pilots flew into Skagway and flew the fighters back to Russia.
We then boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railway with two diesel electric engines towing about a dozen railway carriages, all filled with tourists from the one ship.
I do not have enough superlative words to describe this round trip to the top of the pass.
It stops just before the Canadian border,
the engines are unhooked, sent to the rear which becomes the front, the seat backs are reversed and passengers exchange seats so we all get a chance to see the amazing views. The further up the pass the train moved the heavier became the snow cover. In places the railway line and highway parallel each other but on opposite sides of a valley. Midway to the pass we saw the border crossing which is actually nowhere near the border. The border is way at the top of the pass and in winter suffers from below zero temperatures and blizzards. Staff became stranded. The new crossing is further down the pass in Canadian Territory and can be reached, at least from Skagway, in all weather.
The local cemetery appears on the outskirts of town beside the railway track. There are two well marked graves with history. These graves mark the final resting place of the town hero and the town villain. The hero had called a town meeting to decide what to do about the villain and his gang of ner do wells, con-men and ruffians all. Of course the villain and his gang were not pleased having not been invited to the meeting. So they crashed the meeting and words ensued. The good guy and the bad guy drew their guns and two shots rang out. The bad guy died on the spot. The good guy survived for a few days before he died. Hmmm. Sounds like a good reason for carrying a gun. Here is more detailed description, with thank you to Wikipeadia. Between 1897-1898, Skagway was a lawless town, described by one member of the North-West Mounted Police as “little better than a hell on earth.” Fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Skagway’s streets, and con man “Soapy” Smith, who had risen to considerable power, did little to stop it. Smith was a sophisticated swindler who liked to think of himself as a kind and generous benefactor to the needy. He was gracious to some, giving money to widows and halting lynchings, while simultaneously operating a ring of thieves who swindled prospectors with cards, dice, and the shell game. His telegraph office charged five dollars to send a message anywhere in the world. Consequently unknowing prospectors sent news to their families back home without realizing there was no telegraph service to or from Skagway until 1901. Smith also controlled a comprehensive spy network, a private militia called the Skaguay Military Company, the town newspaper, the Deputy U.S. Marshall’s office and an array of thieves and con-men who roamed about the town. Smith was shot and killed by Frank Reid and Jesse Murphy on July 8, 1898, in the famed Shootout on Juneau Wharf. Smith managed to return fire — some accounts claim the two men fired their weapons simultaneously — and Frank Reid died from his wounds twelve days later. Jesse Murphy is accredited as the man responsible for killing Smith. Smith and Reid are now interred at the Klondike Gold Rush Cemetery, also known as “Skagway’s Boot Hill.”
Skagway, like Juneau main streets are dominated by diamond stores, jewelry and watch stores followed closely by tourist junk stores. The employees of the stores stand at the doorway asking you to come inside, look at the amazing products and offer a free piece of junk jewelry.
A couple of tips or observations are in order here. As Australians we are unused to the habit of tipping. Tipping in the US for example is almost compulsory. Every bus driver, boat crew, waitress, taxi driver, guide and so on ad infinitum expects a tip. The first bus driver at Juneau spent 5 minutes of his commentary explaining how as a native American his name means “tip big”. The next bus also had signs up about tipping and the boat went one step further and explained how a tip could be charged on a credit card…plus taxes, plus exchange rate. Tipping rules in the US and Canada expects that you will pay a 15% tip. It seems odd that these wealthy countries, leaders of the economic world, have citizens reduced to…begging for a living.
The other tip is that the cruise ships have arrangements that you can book tours in advance. These are good but of course the ship adds a percentage to the fares. Most of the tours and more, are available on shore for less.
We arrived back at the ship and within an hour it was underway to our next destination. We would be cruising overnight through the Inside Passage. The ship moves with grace and we can feel no sensation of moving or vibrations or bumps even when docking.