Feed on

Early this morning, we docked in Haines (population 1,200). According to our guidebooks, Haines is a happy and quirky hamlet that’s about as close as one can get to the fictional Cicely, Alaska from the television show Northern Exposure. It’s decidedly non-touristy and thus feels very authentic. It also really is quirky… but in a good way. For example, it’s especially proud of the town library (consistently voted one of the best small libraries in America) and has an odd assortment of small museums (example: one dedicated to a collection of hammers). In short, it’s my kind of place.

We booked the Alaskan Wildlife Experience Tour ($119/pp), which departed at 8:30 in the morning. The tour involved a 45-minute drive out along the picturesque Haines Highway. Our “unofficial tour guide”and bus driver, Suzanne (a full-time Haines resident transplanted from central Ohio three years ago) provided an interesting narrative about life in small town Alaska.

Here are a few highlights that I recall:

Aside from a few stores in Haines, significant shopping for provisions (called the “Costco Run”) must be done nearly 4.5 hours away (one way) in Juneau via a ferry.

The local school (K-12) has 224 students. The school’s curriculum (starting at age 5) includes winter weather and cold water survival skills (provided by the US Coast Guard). Students participating in competitive sports must travel to matches via either airplane or ferry (which can take days and thus a teacher is sent along).

Haines does have decent medical care for such a small town: at least four physicians, two dentists, a well-equipped 24-hour medical center, a pharmacy, nurses, a physical therapist, a chiropractor, some herbal medicine practitioners , and the local shaman of the Tlingit tribe. Visits to specialists of the need for more invasive treatment requires travel to Juneau or beyond (Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Seattle).

If the medical systems fails to save you (or you’re simply mauled by a bear), it’s your family’s responsibility to take your body to Juneau for embalming (likely in combination with a “Costco Run). Think: Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Alternatively, the local Ace Hardware will construct a simple pine box for your dearly departed to be buried year round in the town cemetary (graves opened with dynamite blasts). Conveniently, Ace also sells body bags (useful for the aforementioned trip to Juneau with the dearly departed in the bed of your pickup truck).

After Suzanne’s insightful commentary, we arrived at the Kroschel Films Wildlife and Education Center. Steve Kroschel’s center provides an important resource for the care of wounded and orphaned wild animals, as well as an opportunity for visitors to learn firsthand about Alaska’s wildlife. We witnessed, touched, and/or fed all kinds of animals during our two hour visit, from the tiny arctic lemming to the brown (grizzly) bear. Here are a few pictures:

Alaskan Wildlife

Alaskan Wildlife

Alaskan Wildlife

Alaskan Wildlife

Alaskan Wildlife

We returned to Haines via the same route with more commentary provided by Suzanne.

Upon arriving back at the ship, we ate lunch in the Pinnacle Grill. This is the Veendam’s upscale, specialty restaurant ($10/pp. surcharge for lunch). It was simply excellent! Libby started with a shrimp bruschetta, and I enjoyed a warm scallop “crème brulee.” We both followed this with a delectable “five onion soup.” My main course consisted of a blue cheese crusted beef tenderloin, while the culinary adventurous Libby opted for the “Pinnacle Burger” [I’m rolling my eyes while I type this]. :-)

We spent a leisurely afternoon in Haines and enjoyed a brief nap. The meal in the main dining room was also good this evening. It was the “Celebration of Alaska” dinner. We both started with the Yukon Gold potato vichyssoise. I also had the Alaskan seafood sampler appetizer, including different preparations of salmon, shrimp, clams, and crab. For main dishes, I opted for the Alaskan King Crab Cobb Salad (very enjoyable), and Libby had some sort of roasted hen with stuffing (clearly less memorable).

All in all, today’s been a great day on the cruise!

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