The Great Alaska Salmon Bake
Certain foods and beverages taste better in certain places. Ham and cheese croissants taste better in Paris; gyros taste better in Santorini; Guinness tastes better in Dublin.
Following the debacle at Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, Lisa and I boarded a cruise ship with Kevin and Nancy, destination Alaska! The girls had forgiven us for the mountain climbing incident, but they wouldn’t forget. They would never forget.
On these company cruises, each couple is given an amount of money on their shipboard account. It can be used for excursions or other on-board expenditures at the gift shop. On this particular trip, each couple was given $600 to spend. As we had done in Vancouver, Kevin and I took it upon ourselves to plan a couple of excursions. You can accuse me and Kevin of being a lot of things, but you can never say we’re not thrifty or frugal. We started looking at the various shore excursions that were offered at our ports of call.
One was called the Whitepass Scenic Railway Tour: cost, $379 per person.
Another was the Taku Lodge Feast & 5 Glacier Seaplane Discovery Tour: cost, $389 per person.
A third was the Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter Tour: cost, $399 per person.
All these day trips sounded fabulous except for one small detail. If we chose any of them, not only would we use up our entire shipboard account in one fell swoop, we would have to take money out of our own pockets to make up the balance! This was not something that Thrifty Dan and Frugal Kevin wanted to do. We kept looking. Finally, we saw an excursion that was offered when we stopped in Skagway. It simply said Salmon Bake. We read the brief description and then noticed the most important detail. This excursion only cost $35 per person! Kevin and I looked at each other, nodded in implied agreement, and booked the salmon bake for the four of us.
When we arrived in Skagway, we told the girls about the fantastic tour we had booked. Thankfully, they didn’t ask many questions. Up until this point on the cruise, the weather had been sunny and warm. As we disembarked for our excursion, we noticed the weather had taken a turn for the worse. A local tour guide was waiting on shore with a sign that said ‘SALMON BAKE.’ The four of us lined up and followed her to our transport. When we got to the parking lot, we saw all sorts of fancy coaches that would ferry people to various day trips. The guide walked us past all of these and directed us toward our coach. It was an old, beat up yellow school bus. I’m not making this up. It looked like the vehicle had been built in the 60s. It was long and dirty. By this time the girls started asking questions.
“Was this the only excursion available?” said Nancy. Kevin and I shrugged innocently.
“It looks like it’s going to rain. Did you guys bring umbrellas?” asked Lisa. We shrugged again.
We boarded our school bus and saw three other people, a single woman and one other couple. The driver of the bus closed the door, made a lame joke about ‘limousine service’ and off we went. Turns out we had to drive 30 minutes to the interior of the country over washboard gravel roads. We bounced and jolted over the narrow trail, huge pines on either side of us. Kevin and I tried to keep the girls’ spirits up.
“Isn’t this fun?” Kevin said.
“This reminds me of being a kid on a school field trip!” I chimed in.
When we arrived at our destination, it looked like an old abandoned campground. There was a picnic area with tables and huge grills made out of barrels that had been cut in half and filled with coals. Next to that was a small covered stage and a seating area that had a large tarp spread over the top of the bleachers. Our guide gave us a short talk about the history of the camp and the salmon fishing industry and then told us that before we ate our salmon lunch there was some entertainment. The entertainment turned out to be a couple of female folk singers that went by the name of the Glacial Erratics.* Think Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell minus the talent.
Just as they began to play, it started to rain. It wasn’t a soaking rain, just an annoying drizzle that got everybody damp enough to be uncomfortable. We sat glumly and listened to the Glacial Erratics sing some of their hits like Yukon Women, Fishing with Grandma, Mansion on the Tundra and On Thin Ice. That last song pretty well summed up where Kevin and I were now walking.
After their performance, we felt obligated to purchase the CDs they were selling, which pretty much doubled the cost of the excursion. Then we had lunch. Despite the less-than-stellar conditions, it turned out to be the best salmon we had ever eaten.
We rode back to the ship in silence. When we got back on board, there was a buzz of excitement in the lobby as people returned from their various excursions. Our friends started telling us how exciting the helicopter tour was. “We saw grizzly bears and everything! It was amazing!” one couple said. Another couple raved about the float plane ride to the Taku Lodge. “One of the most beautiful tours we’ve ever been on!” they said. “And the food was amazing! What did you guys do?”
“Thanks to these two geniuses, we rode a rickety old school bus to a salmon bake and got rained on all day,” Nancy said with a shot of venom directed at me and Kevin.
Certain foods taste better in certain places. Salmon tastes better in Alaska, served up with a piece of humble pie for dessert.
*A glacial erratic is a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests.