Which Came First: The Tourist or the Egg?!

I've sailed on cruise ships to see different areas of the world. Slowly. Although the ships stop in different ports, the shops near the piers offer similar wares.

Like seagulls flocking near the shore, the merchants hover and swoop in on tourists. Some passengers are really just glad to be off the ship for a bit. Stepping on stable ground is reminiscent of those first steps after removing your roller skates.

Cruising on a Princess ship to the Panama Canal, my excitement was fueled by the ship’s lavish buffets as well as regional lore. I admired the determination of those canal workers that tried again and again to complete it despite horrible diseases and government resistance by Colombia. Finally, the U.S. bought Panama a humongous can of repellent, called Revolution. Colombia succumbed to the heat, and our giant moneymaking geographical gash was completed.

The cruise's brochure said that the native Panamanian women still go topless and would greet our ship in such fashion. Of course I giggled. As our ship approached Panama, I leaned over the ship’s railing to catch a glimpse of native boobies, anxious to make my childhood National Geographic voyeuristic mammary memories pendulously swing to life.

Ships often hire locals to dress in native garb and greet the ship for photo ops which the guests will have the chance to purchase later. Some of the illusion is lost when you see a man in a fabulous feathered headdress with a bedazzled goat’s skull around his neck texting his order to Chipotle on his iPhone.

Docking in Panama City, there wasn’t a local topless woman in sight. Even in NYC, women have the right to go topless. One freely has the chance to see a bike messenger careening down Madison Avenue, nipples to the wind.

Instead, I was swarmed by t-shirt stalls and the ubiquitous Panama Hat shops. And diamond merchants for some reason. I thought perhaps this was a terrific chance to buy some blood diamonds at prices unencumbered by conscience or tariff. Nope. But high-end watch shops were everywhere. I remembered a friend who bought a watch duty free while on a cruise and then simply tossed the box. He wore it on his wrist through US Customs like he had owned it before the trip. He might have sweated a little, but he avoided paying that $40 duty.

That doesn’t seem worth it. I’ll sneak something back illegally in my pants if it is something I really need, like pigeons or a live person. If caught and thrown in prison, which crime do you think keeps me from being someone’s bitch -- smuggling in a Bulova or a Bolivian?

I cruised the coast of Viet Nam on Silversea. Their ports also had watches, though replicas, plus plenty of really yellow gold and trays of tiny diamonds; but I was distracted by a horribly disfigured child. I looked away as I handed the child a wad of Vietnamese dong and slunk off into my waiting car, feeling imperiously removed yet lowly and responsible as an American that caused the war, and thus the scars on his face.

Someone kindly reminded me that the war occurred even before this child parents were born. If the lust for tourist dollars caused someone to harm this child, I'm helpless. At the border of Tijuana, tiny children are hawking boxes of Chiclets gum to the American drivers waiting to cross through customs, sitting in their cars trying to look like they are not carrying boxes into San Diego of cheap medications bought at Mexican pharmacies.

Sailing the Caribbean on Celebrity was beautiful. At one port, I got off the shop to sit in a weird saddle and ride a frisky horse in the surf along clean, white beaches. I ignored the tour operator’s plea to slow my horse down, thinking, "Why now?"

But I still had to pass through the port stores offering me great prices on David Yurman jewelry and diamonds that I didn’t want or need.

Part of the fun on a ship is to wake up and look outside your window to see if you have landed in Wonkaland, or Oz if the seas were rough. The huge ship slowly and carefully approaches the ports from the sea. It's hard to park any boat, much less a huge vessel burdened with countless demands from fat passengers.

The slow approach is a buildup for the passengers, like a creation unfolding before their eyes. From the high vantage point of the upper decks, the passengers get excited to get off the ship and start shopping. Most don’t even know why they want to shop so badly. But the constant non-subliminal messages sponsored by the ship’s Shopping Guide must get to them and once we are cleared by customs the passengers flee like rats from a non-sinking ship.

Sailing in Alaska this summer on Silversea I witnessed spectacular scenery, and not just at the Lumberjack Show. I cruised a similar Alaskan path on Crystal Cruises exactly ten years prior. I was hopeful that there weren’t many negative environmental changes since I'd found it so marvelous.

The wildlife has increased. The eagles are almost pests. The whales, whose numbers used to be so few that they were counted and measured by environmentalists like misers in the disco days estimating their cocaine supply for the night, are gaining in numbers. I watched several grey whales frolic, practically within arms reach, sending a rush of terror and hope through my body.

Seeing sea otters swimming freely evoked passion and warmth, not the guilt I had last month watching the confined otters in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

And if you ever get to take a helicopter to a glacier and get off to drive a team of dogs pulling a sled, do it.

But back on the dock, the diamond and watch shops have taken root on the pristine Alaskan shores. Sure, look a block down and you will see local homes and businesses; but you only have a brief time in the ports.

Still, I notice that everything in the port towns is supported by tourism. I stopped in what was billed as the only truly native-owned shop in Juneau. The clerk told me he'd been open for eight years, but the nouveau foreign-owned trinket and jewelry stores changed hands often. He slung his summation around like a cocktail in Joan Crawford’s uber-scrubbed hand at one of Jack Warner’s parties, bemoaning the loss of her career to upstarts like Tuesday Weld and Madonna.

I thought of the evolution of port towns in Alaska, and who-bothered-who first, which is analogous to any other destination -- just switch the language and the weather around a bit.

The junky trinket shops selling Palin shot glasses erupted on the scene and bothered the diamond and watch stores. Those stores had upset the original cruise entertainment venues, like salmon fishing and seal clubbing.

Before cruising became possible, Alaska had an oil rush. A huge pipeline was laid across its entire length like a giant black puka shell necklace. That brash pipeline pissed off the gold miners, who'd sensationally bothered the fur trade.

Furs wouldn’t have been so necessary if people had stayed on their own continent instead of creeping over the now-gone Bering Strait land bridge like bothersome ants and inhabited frozen North America.

Before people, the animals evolved from the sea or air. I can imagine the anger the tree felt when the first eagle violated its virgin branches by building a nest in it.

Why, Mother earth herself must have cried out in agony when the first seedling burst through her surface. Live birth is painful.

The Creator sat in the heavens, looking down helplessly as his simple, perfect little ball of earth began its journey into chaos. Holding his wine a little tighter, he put his head in his dominant hand and sobbed, “Lord, what have you wrought?”

Poor guy had no one to answer him.

getting some tail in Alasaa
I'll happily take a slow boat to China.....

1 comment:

  1. I bought an autographed book from this writer who was selling them in Seward, Alaska. , the book was about killings in Alaska which I though might be an interesting read. What I really wanted to buy but didn't were the Eskimo moccasins with the tassels on them. I was with the aunt so I knew flats were out, maybe next time they will make them with a cute wedge


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