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We woke up in Ketchikan, Alaska’s fourth largest city with 14,000 inhabitants, which almost gets doubled by today’s visitors (via 4 cruise ships): 10,000 cruisers.

As is the case in many communities around Alaska, things are spread out between many little islands. So, for example, Ketchikan has an airport in which a 747 can land… but the luggage has to be picked up in another island, accessible by ferry, because the “airport island” is too little to have both the landing strip and the luggage collection area.

So it comes as no surprise the very large number of boats and hydroplanes (“seaplanes” or “floatplanes”, as they are known in the US) moving between those islands.

We took one of those hydroplanes, an old metal red and yellow one that would fit perfectly in a Tintin’s adventure comic book cover, my exact idealization of adventure, and headed to Prince of Wales Island on a quest to see bears and other wildlife.

For the next two hours we flew over islands, rivers, lakes, forest and sea shore, keeping our eyes opened, looking through binoculars, and listening to the pilots’ experienced comments and suggestions. From the plane we saw a mother and baby humpback whale, some seals and eagles.

One of Alaska’s largest bear populations lives in Prince of Wales Island, which is the United State’s third-largest island territory behind Hawaii and Kodiak Islands. Its overgrown logging areas and many salmon streams serve as an ideal habitat for black bears.

After our plane landed on the water, we disembarked the plane directly onto a pebble beach where we remained quiet for around 15 minutes waiting for wildlife to get used to our presence and show up. And they did. We saw a bear, who was much more curious about the plane than he was scared, and a mother deer and her fawn, frolicking around the breathtakingly beautiful landscape. After a while we flew back, seeing three more bears on the way.

Once back in Ketchikan we took a walk around town, going by the totem pole museum, and strolling through colorful Creek Street with the marina in the background. As was to be expected, there were many fishing boats docked there: Ketchikan calls herself “King Salmon Capital of the World”. As they say: salmon loves rain, and in Ketchikan they get and average of 12,5 feet of rain per year (16,88 feet or 202,55 inches in 1949!). The temperature here goes from an average of 32,6ºF in January to 57,5ºF in July).

Back on the ship, I attended the cocktail party my lovely travel agent (blog, web site, twitter) and I hosted at the Stars Lounge, and then we stopped at the library to get the “Hyde Park on Hudson” DVD. Interesting but not great story about the FDR-Prince Albert pre-WWII “negotiations” (too bad it felt as if it was produced by Disney), and went to bed early. More adventures tomorrow!