More on Being a Tourist in One’s Own Town

By , May 28, 2012

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been thinking about the importance of being a tourist in one’s own town. That attitude is far more common here in Alaska, where most locals are surrounded by the sights and sounds that other people have to pay big money and travel thousands of miles to enjoy. Those of us who live in towns frequented by tourists are especially aware. After all, when a cruise ship arrives and doubles the population of your town for a day, it’s hard not to notice what the “neighbors” are doing; when they crain their necks to watch a bald eagle swoop low over the town’s main street, one naturally follows suit.

Letnikof brown bear

A small brown bear lunches on the roadside near Letnikof Cove, Haines, Alaska (Photo: MIchelle Zeiger).

It’s easy, though, to become complacent, even here. Most of the tours are rather pricey for a locals, many of whom hold more than two jobs to get by. Our two excellent museums are free to locals, thank goodness; most tours offer local rates, which helps some, but must be carefully budgeted for, especially on our income. Still, Alaska offers a lifetime of adventure, exploration, and education for little or no cost, if one takes an interest. It follows that many of the experiences packaged and condensed for tourist consumption can be pursued on one’s own, on one’s own time and terms if one lives here.

Just as the best way to learn is to teach, the best way to see one’s hometown through new eyes is to escort visitors. Even with Michelle’s parents, who first visited Haines when we lived in Juneau, and have returned almost every year we’ve lived here, we see the town and region through fresh eyes accompanying them.

On their most recent visit, we stopped by Charles Anway’s homestead. Besides the interest of seeing the home of one of our town’s most important citizens, we enjoyed inspecting the on-going restoration. We found pallets of corrogated sheet metal laid out in the open, waiting to repair the roof. We were surprised that it had already rusted, and speculated on whether this had been done on purpose to make it more authentic, or if it had been a mistake. Then we touched it. The corrogated material was not metal at all—it was fiberglass, colored and even textured to look like rusted metal!

This was just one of many activities in town that we participate in particularly because we had visitors. Even those we normally enjoy, such as wildlife viewing, were enhanced by Mom and Dad’s visit. One morning, as we drove to rendezvous with them, we stopped to see a brown bear on the side of the road. Everyone always asks us about bear encounters, but they’ve been extremely rare for us, almost nonexistant. We were as excited as any lower 48 tourist to have a photo opportunity with this little “brownie.”

Of course, even now, in our sixth year of living in Haines, there’s still a lot we haven’t seen. In particular, there are some spectacular hikes around here that we haven’t tried yet. As you might suppose, we don’t hike recreationally very much. There are also a lot of great shops we have yet to visit. We’ll get to them all some day; in the meantime, we still have a lot to look forward to.

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