Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Town That Tourism Built

The dogsled thing got cancelled. We were s'posed to take a helicopter up to a glacier and then go to some sort of dog sled camp where we get introduced to dogs (and sleds) and then drive a dogsled ourselves for something like 20 minutes. This sounded way cool. I bundled myself up like the Michelin Man (found a use for the heavyweight fleece long underwear -- underneath the heavyweight fleece pants and the rain pants; the aforementioned big honkin' sweater was one of my three upper-body layers). All of the other tours left early -- between 7:30 and 8:30. The helicopter/dogsled thingie didn't go until 9:15.

By 9:00, the five of us who were scheduled for the tour were the only ones left on the ship (besides crew). We got an announcement that our van was here to pick us up. We started on down towards the gangplank. Another announcement followed saying the van wasn't here. Third (and last) our Exploration Leader tells us the tour has been cancelled. He said none of the helicopters made it up the dog sled camp and they've all turned back. We didn't even get in the van.

As all the other tours had already left, we were pretty much left with wandering aimlessly around the town at which we were docked: Skagway. My folks headed out immediately. I hung back to take some time to change from "dogsledding" clothes into "wandering aimlessly around the town" clothes (a good trick, seeing as I'd packed up most everything last night -- but I am nothing if not adaptable) -- and ultimately headed out to the town.

Skagway is, for all intents and purposes, one shopping street and a dock. The dock being the key part of this sentence. Our small ship (96 passengers) had sidled up to the "ferry dock." On one side of us are two huge NCL ships; on the other, two large Princess ships. All are unloading passengers into Skagway. Skagway, for its part, is prepared. The shopping street houses about ten jewelry stores; ten "crap that says 'Alaska' on it" stores; a few tour agents; and a coupla cafes. Now, the fact that there are multiple jewelry stores and multiple crap stores doesn't mean there's any point in comparison shopping. Not only were the prices pretty much the same up and down the street (all caps "regularly $6; sale price $4!!!") but I noticed some of the very same pre-printed signs in different shops, and our Exploration Leader later confirmed that some of them are even owned by the same people. All the owners don't need to get together to price-fix; they're the same guy. (And the jewelry stores relocate to the Caribbean during the winter -- to sell the same jewelry to the same cruise ship tourists.)

The very first shop you approach (when coming from the docks -- which is where everyone comes from) is one of those "crap that says 'Alaska' on it" stores. I stroll in and here get my first look at the prices I will see all morning. (I speculated that, being the first store you hit on the way in, and the last you hit on the way out, they were in a position to charge slightly more. This turned out to be untrue.) What amazed me, though, was how much business it was doing. The cash registers were ringing like Vegas slot machines. Tourists were pouring off of the boats, into this store, and stocking up on crap to take home.

I walked to the end of the street and back. I was happy to get a little exercise and figuring out the town's pricing scheme was keeping me amused. At every intersection, I poked my head down the side streets and looked for something different. I was rewarded by a little yarn and needlework shop, where I picked up some locally-made yarn for a friend who knits (and does not read my journal) back home.

Back to the ship in time for lunch. We're heading off to Haines, about 15 miles away. My mom and I are scheduled to do a "float trip" down a river in a bald eagle preserve. (Barring cancellation.) This is our last night on the ship. We disembark in Juneau the next morning. Our Juneau plans are a bit up in the air (ha) as we're trying to make up for the lost helicopter/dogsled thingie there (weather, time, and tour operators permitting) but we're already prebooked for a float plane thingie (also weather-dependent). The next day, we fly to Anchorage, then travel up to Denali. No idea what internet access will be like in any of these places, but I'll try to post when I can.

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