Whittier and Chenega Bay on the M/V Kennicott
Today we awoke in Whittier, a major shipping hub into the interior of Alaska,
and a connector to Anchorage. Although the town has only a population around
500, it is a very busy little port, acres of shipping containers, miles and
miles of train tracks, and trains coming in and out every few minutes.
There is an old government building, it looks like something the Soviets built.
It is huge, and was damaged by a bad earthquake several years ago so it has been condemned as unusable, but would be so expensive to destroy that they haven’t torn it down yet. It has become a sort of cult place, a favorite for raves and spontaneous parties, young people camp there. It is rumored to be haunted, which only makes it more alluring. No matter how secure they try to make the building, someone finds a way in.
There is some confusion in my mind about arrivals and departures – they are not
the same as the list I so carefully printed off from the website. If I had known we would be in Whittier until 10:30 we would have debarked, which we are allowed to do if we have tickets and ID to get back on. My little calendar showed a 0800 departure, so we waited, and waited – but the ferries make their own rules, according to weather and tides and what they are porting from one seaside village to another. We watched containers full of goods come on for the more remote locations.
I used to surprise my Kuwait friends, telling them it was a lot like Alaska, and the longer I am back here, the more parallels I see. One is that almost
everything you eat or wear or build with has to come from somewhere else. That
requires shipping, or flying something in. I remember my Mother used to order
our snow suits in August, so they would arrive before the ships stopped coming
in. Like Kuwait, groceries are expensive, especially specialty items that are
imported. Like Kuwait, people are dressed modestly, all the important parts
covered – it’s cold! Most women are covered from their toes to their wrists! If
the weather is bad enough, even their hair is covered, and occasionally their
faces! Men, too! Very modest people, these Alaskans 🙂
AdventureMan wanted to take a shower, but the ferry system asks that we not
shower while in port; they like not to dump waste water in port, so as soon as
we departed, he jumped in the nice warm shower. Once again, almost all we can
see is open water, en route to Chenega Bay, and fog.
During the trip to Chenega Bay, the big excitement is the once-a-week fire drill, and this time, the fire was near our cabin (pretend fire.) I am guessing some people would rather ignore the fire drills, but think about it – aren’t you glad the crew goes through these exercises in case there is some emergency? Aren’t you glad they know what to do? One of the guys laughed and said “We get a lot of respect and people step aside when they see us carrying these fire extinguishers!” The purser told me that sometimes people STEAL the signs they put on doors – imagine!
Lifeboat being lowered:
Chenega Bay – We arrive, foggy but no rain, to find an eagle perched in nearby tree, welcoming us.
Very short turn around time shown, so once again, we do not leave the ship, but wish we had when departure time is postponed. The dock is not near anything, but a short walk over the hill takes you to the small village of Chinega Bay and a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church and an Alaska Native arts museum named after fisherman Johnny Totenoff.
What love what happens here – this village of only maybe 50 people are welcomed on board whenever the ferry docks. They are isolated, remote. The men, women and children ride their ATV’s down the hill to the ferry, come aboard, and chow down on hamburgers, fries, and soft ice cream cones. Some of the young girls are dressed in long dresses, sort of odd, maybe a religious group. Others are wearing short short skirts and tank tops in the cool, foggy weather. Before the ferry departs, the Chenega Bay residents all have to debark.
Departing Chenega Bay: