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Full Circle

Day 241: Prince Rupert to Nome

Michael Palin - Full CirclePrince Rupert is known, ominously, as the City of Rainbows. It has the third deepest harbour in the world, after Buenos Aires and Sydney. (One of the dubious pleasures of travel in North America is the amount of information available. You can cross China, Vietnam and the Philippines and search in vain for a single fact about what you're seeing, but in the Pacific North-West no tourist enterprise, however mean and humble, is worth its salt without a brochure or three.) There is a small, extremely well laid-out and informative museum in Prince Rupert which made me feel rather ashamed. Ashamed to have assumed that there was nobody round here until the nineteenth century settlers came along. There have in fact been native tribes here for five thousand years and their totem poles, erected and carved to commemorate important events, carry a record of history before the Hudson's Bay Company introduced guns, medicine and religion. One quite trivial fact sticks in my mind. Tax K'walaam is a Tsimshian Indian name meaning Place of the Wild Roses. When the acquisitive white man arrived he promptly renamed the same place Fort Simpson.

Yesterday it rained solidly in the City of Rainbows and today, although the downpour has eased, a watery mist clings to the islands as we embark on the MV Malaspina (named after Alaska's biggest glacier, 850 square miles in area), which will take us up to the city of Juneau. It is an American ferry, commissioned in 1962, and this is its two thousand and eighty second voyage up the inter-island channel they call the Alaska Marine Highway. There is not a lot to see from on deck, but there is a busy selection of mind-improving talks given in the forward lounge by representatives of the US Forest Service. The first one is mainly about how wet Alaska is. Learn More About Bald Eagles is promised later. The History of Alaska lecture pumps out facts relentlessly: Alaska is one fifth the size of the USA, of the twenty highest peaks in the US, seventeen are in Alaska, the Alaskan flag was designed by thirteen year-old Benny Bensen from Chignik and adopted in 1927.

Retreat to my cabin, away from all facts and figures, for at least three hours. After lunch I make a tentative sally out. In the forward lounge a young woman who looks like a square dance caller is talking about lichens. Up on deck, visibility is, if anything, worse. There is no one out there except a middle-aged Australian, leaning on the rail and gazing out at the enveloping veil of cloud.

'I've been looking forward to this for years,' he says, without turning.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 241
  • Country/sea: Canada
  • Place: Prince Rupert - BC
  • Book page no: 316

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