Cruise travel Pt. 2: The Hermit of Alaska

Yesterday night when I heard we were stopping at a place in Alaska for a few hours, I didn’t really care. Frankly speaking, I thought Alaska was a dull place where nothing happens and where no one lives. A few hours after the cruise docked at Juneau, Alaska, the ship was virtually uninhabited. Everyone had gone out hiking or whale-watching or on some other day-trip. After a while, I was getting bored of relaxing in the hot tub and staring at the sky and thought “what the hell, let’s go see around this dump.” The process of departing from the ship was far from easy though and for the stupidest reason: my mom. When I politely asked her if I could go she immediately asserted her disapproval of such a deed. Going out by myself was seen as a major safety threat. It was the regular-parent equivalent of traveling to Mars. After some inflamed conversation, I finally got the ‘ok’ thanks to a pivotal intervention from my dad, but I vowed not to do anything ‘stupid’ and you know, not die. The shuttle bus took 8 minutes to get to downtown Juneau, which surprisingly did have some ‘downtowny’ features despite my stereotyping. First and foremost, people actually fucking live there. Not wild indigenous people who hunt polar bears with bow-arrows, but real, normal people like myself. Secondly, it was a lively place with lots going on. Bars, restaurants, cafes and the streets, in general, were filled with Alaskans and tourists alike. Walking into the city, there was a very snug feeling and it seemed as if all the little shops with wooden exteriors were glued together side by side. The streets were fairly narrow and lively and not as empty as I stereotyped. Juneau almost felt a bit like Salzburg or Hallstatt in Austria that I had seen numerous times in Travel documentaries because of its snugness, mountains, and olden-style structures. This feeling quickly dissipated with the mysteriously strong smell of pot fused with what I discovered to be Alaskan Birchwood roaming in the air and buildings that were far from European and pristine.

Another thing which I had not expected to see in Alaska was fairly modern buildings that had more than 4 stories! I had seen four or five, like the Alaska State Capitol which was my favorite. Those structures seemed oddly gargantuan in that area even though I had seen 20-40 story edifices in Vancouver and Seattle many times. On my traipse back, I saw this little shop nestled between a cigarette store and post office with some beautiful artwork. I went inside and asked the owner, an old man in his 50’s with light grey Einstein-like shaggy hair and a ragged blue shirt if I could take a few pictures of his beautiful paintings and he allowed. After exchanging some pleasantries, I asked him where he was from and with his slow, lagging voice he replied “New York.” I was a bit shocked. “Why leave such a vibrant city for a dull place in the middle of Alaska?” His story was interesting. He said he grew up a Brooklynite, went to college in Queens and worked as a sales manager in NYC. But after forty-something years, he felt the need to leave the bustling, overwhelming city-environment which was making him an insomniac. His golden area to live a troglodytic life was Alaska, a place that is the epitomic antithesis of New York: “naturalistic, peaceful, and uneventful” he eloquently stated. This was fascinating to me because I viewed this place as utterly boring, drab and isolated. But that is the beauty of travel: seeing a new perspective. Growing up in a fairly rural place like Rosedale, in BC I crave the city life. I have always dreamed of living in a vibrant metropolis like NYC, but this hermit-like man was fed up with the hectic, sleepless city-life. He continued to slowly rhapsodize about his naturalistic lifestyle talking about his daily regimen of fishing, painting and drinking beer and I felt kind of happy for him that he had found his happy place. Perhaps living in a big city, I will find mine. Reaching my bus-stop I noticed it wasn’t the average city atmosphere which made Juneau somewhat attractive but the dramatic backdrop of dark green mountains and the soothing views of the placid sea. Thanks to rebelling against my mom (she was glad I came back alive) I got to meet the hermit of Juneau, and explore Alaska which isn’t as deserted and forlorn as I imagined. I would be foolish to visit humdrum Alaska again on my own accord, but I would’ve been equally foolish to not have explored it in the first place.

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