After the last post on Alaska, I thought I’d put together one more post with final thoughts and images on my time there. If you have not read the first post, or the second post, I’d recommend doing so before continuing on with this one.
If you have read the last two posts, you’ll know that my impressions were not incredibly positive. I felt that Anchorage–once you leave the touristy downtown area–is incredibly run down, and appears to be pretty poor and in need of development and reinvigoration. In this post, I’ll focus on the area that the tourists stuck to, for the most part. It was in this area that I got out and shot some street photography, albeit in many ways similar to the Upper Midwest in the sense that it is sparsely populated and people aren’t in close quarters. This means that you can’t easily get up close to people without being noticed; shooting clandestinely is what I prefer, since I can capture more genuine scenes and expressions than I can when people notice me and my camera.
Downtown Anchorage was nice. Streets are clean, businesses are open, and there are people (most of them tourists) milling around, enjoying the northern air, sightseeing, and shopping for trinkets with which to remember their trip to the largest state in the union. There was an open-air market with local vendors, and a fair number of hot dog stands. Mind you, these are Alaskan hot dog stands, serving “reindeer hotdogs”–something that is, perhaps, unique to the state.
The number of shops dedicated to all things tourism is a clear indication of what this part of the city is geared toward. Maybe even more than just this part of town, but that’s all I can really judge, based on where I went while I was there.
At the end of the day, I was really excited to go to Alaska, but when I came back I didn’t feel like I had the “typical Alaska experience”. Then again, from most people I’ve talked to who have been there, they were either on a cruise ship with a few controlled stops here and there for activities, or were in the wild parts of the state enjoying the great outdoors. Me, I spent a few days in Anchorage, walking around and trying to get a feel for the city. Whether my perspective is more genuine than others I can’t necessarily say (although I’d say it is more genuine a look at the state than those on a cruise ship if pressed) but I do feel like I got a real sense of what Anchorage is really like.
It’s not all glamour and the wild and unspoiled nature. In fact, it’s just as exploitative of the place and tourists’ preconceptions of it as any other tourist hot-spot I’ve been to, albeit on a much smaller scale than the great tourist destinations of the world. Anchorage seems to have all of the same problems of every other place–maybe a few novel ones, or some more pronounced, but nothing crazy–that I have seen.
I’m glad I got to see it, if for nothing else than to say that I’ve been there and to have an idea of the place when people tell me about it. I can safely say that my own preconceptions were not validated, but challenged, when I took off in search of “real Alaska”, and not just the one that I saw printed on every sweatshirt and shot glass in every store window in town. It may have been depressing, but at least it felt real; I’m afraid it would have been more depressing, in a way, had I not found anything to counter everything that was targeted at visitors to the city.
What should also be mentioned at this point, to anyone who doesn’t often travel to new places, is that this should be done anywhere you go. Whenever I visit a new place I make sure to get out and see where the people live. If you’re in London, and all you see in Piccadilly Circus, have you really seen London? What about Paris and the Louvre? Rome and the Coliseum? Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate? Moscow’s Red Square?
You get the idea. If all I were to see is the places that everyone sees–aside from being dreadfully dull–I wouldn’t have seen much of anything. Remember, I can see the Mona Lisa on google; in fact, I can probably find a million pictures of the Mona Lisa (and can probably picture it in my head without searching) online. Do I really need to fly all the way to Paris, book a hotel, pay the entrance fee, and battle it out with the hoards of other tourists who are there to see the exact same thing? Might my vacation not be a tad more productive and enjoyable if I actually learned and experienced something about a foreign place? If I met someone new, and enhanced my worldview, would not my money and time have been better spent?
Well, I think so.
So that’s what I did in Alaska, and I encourage anyone who travels to make sure you get off the beaten path and see something new. Something novel. Something that forces you to step out of your comfort zone, expand your horizons, and challenge you own preconceptions. It might be nerve-wracking, and you might even hit a bump in the road–but you will have gained so much through risking so little.
I hope you enjoyed this little piece on a
small remote corner of the world. I’m sure glad I got to see it, and would go back again to see more of the state if I had the chance. My hope is that this did not come off as sounding negative, as that wasn’t the intent; rather, I just hoped to share some of what I found there with you all. If you get the chance to get up there, go for it. And when you do, remember what I said and take a little time to get away from the other tourists and explore what Robert Frost (cliche alert!) called the “path not taken”. I’m sure you will find it rewarding…in so many ways.