The cruise ship gold rush

We’re in Skagway, Alaska right now, checking in via a public library computer. After three fantastic weeks aboard Complexity, sailing the Inside Passage with Barbara and Jim (and Scuppers the Bear), we bade them farewell and headed up the dock, wearing the frame packs we’d borrowed from them.

We were only a half mile down the road when a fellow with a van stopped and offered us a ride to the ferry dock. So we haven’t actually hiked more than a half mile with the packs! Still, it is a weird feeling to have gone so quickly from “cruiser” or “yachtie” to “backpacker.”

We’ve ridden ferries in places like Seattle, Brazil, and Newfoundland, but the one from Juneau to Skagway surpasses them all for beauty. My camera failed to capture it: The wide angle lens wasn’t wide enough to take in the width of the sky filled with towering rocky snow-capped peaks. We had over seven hours of breathtaking beauty, and that’s after three weeks of the Inside Passage!

Skagway has a lot of gold rush history, and they make a big deal about the historical buildings. But the cruise ship ports all look the same, selling the same plastic tourist junk from shops with cute wooden sidewalks. I’m getting more of a feel for it from Tappan Adney’s book, published in 1901, than from the town itself.

The saddest thing we’ve heard, and we’ve heard it in Ketchikan, Juneau, and now Skagway, is that the cruise ship lines are not putting money into the communities. Instead of supporting local businesses, they run their own jewelry stores and souvenir shops, driving the locals out. It’s a crying shame. “We’ve sold our soul,” said the folks from Juneau. “You can’t even walk down the sidewalk,” was the comment from a Ketchikan native.

We’re making our way into the interior, heading up to Whitehorse and Dawson City soon. Out of the range of the cruise ships, the beauty of the country will come through, and there will be more local folks to talk with. Right now, I think I’ll end this, because we need to hit the grocery store, and there’s an interesting local guy right here to chat with!