We started the second half of our day in Sitka with lunch at Victoria’s, a local restaurant near the church that was recommended by our tour guide. (Always, always, ask a local where the best place to eat is. It’s an eternal rule of travel.) The fresh caught halibut and chips there was delicious enough that I think it went straight from the hook to the coating to the fryer. Yum!
After that, we proceeded out to meet the fish, on a wildlife cruise. The tour company offered a refund if you didn’t see “a sea otter, a bear, or a whale.” For them, I think that’s like a New York City tour guide offering a refund if you don’t see a tall building, a bus, or a wino.
Almost immediately we saw a grey whale surfacing, which they said was rare in that area at this time of year. Then we went over to visit some sea lions and a raft of sea otters. The first group of otters we saw got scared off. The guides were saying someone in the general area of the boat I was in was using a flash, which they take great pains to get people not to do, including offering painters tape if you can’t or don’t know how to turn your flash off. One thing they hadn’t considered, I think, is the auto focus assist beam on most new cameras, which actually fires before the flash. It can be bright and fairly continuous on some cameras. That’s something I might drop them a note about.
Quite frankly, sea otters are the cutest animal on the planet.
After that, we moved into an inlet where the water was so clear you could see the jellyfish and sea stars under the water. I almost expected to see a sponge with a jellyfishing net. (It’s a Spongebob Squarepants reference…) There was also a fenced off area leading to an inland lake. They use the fences to run the salmon through some fish counters — only when the count reaches a point where they can sustain the salmon population do they allow salmon fishing there. Just seeing that gave me an appreciation for why eating natural and not farmed salmon is the way to go. They take great pains to try to maintain the natural population, but the fish farms that are dropped in areas like that cause all kinds of concentrated pollution that destroys the environment.
Going back our captain got word of some whales nearby. We pulled up near a fishing boat and got another spectacular view of a pair of humpback whales, probably a mother and a calf. Our knowledable guides were able to stay carefully behind the whales and time out exactly when they should be surfacing. At one point, the water just erupted a hundred feet or so off one side of the boat as the tale of one of the whales slapped the water! What an incredible view!
This was just the part of my appreciation of the natural wonder and uniqueness of Alaska that really changed the way I look at the world. While I intellectually know it’s important to protect the wilderness, coming this close to it gave me an appreciation for why. I had never seen anything quite at this scale in my life. And it speaks very directly to the soul about how important it is that we appreciate these areas more than any diamond they might be offering in the Diamonds International store back in the town.
Although, technically, there’s no DI in Sitka. Like I said, it’s a real town, with a tourist industry that is more homegrown than imported.