Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Learning about village life

I had the chance to attend a neat program put on by the State of Alaska’s department of commerce to promote tourism in small towns and bush villages. I was surprised at how many folks I already knew who were there, among the 20 attendees. I forget what a small place Alaska is and that we’re all likely to run into each other time and time again.

I was glad to see Tamara again, from the village of Ruby. I’d met her two years ago at the B&B Association of Alaska convention two years ago in Fairbanks, closer to her home a couple hours down the Yukon River from there. She and her husband are building a lodge on their land. They brought in a portable sawmill to mill the logs they cut off their land.

I stayed overnight in Anchorage to be ready for an early start. While I was out walking the dogs, I heard wingflaps overhead. I looked up and saw an eagle with a torn up bunny in its talons, being chased in hot pursuit by a raven. I’d never seen that! I mentioned it to my innkeeper, a lifelong Alaskan, and she said that likely the raven was hoping the eagle would drop something—that it was unlikely the raven would try to attack the eagle.

This 2-day workshop was to pair mentors with mentees who are newer in business in the tourism segment. I’m a mentor to Brian James, who has created the Solomon B&B (www.solomonbnb.com) which is located outside o f Nome. He would like to learn more about marketing and how to reach birders who would appreciate the massive annual migrations along the Bering coast.

There were many speakers who addressed our group.

One woman named Tandy who leads expeditions into the Arctic in Alaska and Russia told about her mentee she worked with last year, a woman who wanted to start a tour to take clients to her family’s fish camp in the bush, and then she fielded questions about how to find good insurance. She said you want a tough time finding insurance—here was one that threw her agent: She had a high-end client who wanted a native-made umiak (a skin covered boat) from Russia. Tandy found five people in Russia to build it. Then, the client wanted to have it taken across the Bering Strait from Big Diomede island (Russia) to Little Diomede island (Alaska). Her insurance agent had not previously insured five guys in a skin boat rowing across between two continents.

Travis from Copper River Adventures shared his story of having created a tour that was well enjoyed but just didn’t have enough volume to keep it going. He did a tour of his little native village, Chistochina, and took visitors around to each home. They had tea with his nana, then went over to Lena’s where she was tanning moose hides in a shed. He knew that hides are tanned using brains, but he didn’t know until then that it’s rotten brains in a jar and just how bad those smell.

One fellow, Bruce, couldn’t make it to our group. Weather didn’t allow him to fly out from Kaktovik, up on the Arctic Ocean near the oil fields. He called in and when asked about his bio, he said he does tours up there, ATV, polar bears, caribou, whatever. He’s also on a whaling crew, he said.

At lunch, one of the guys in our group from an island in the Inside Passage bumped into long-time friends. Afterwards, I asked how he knew them. He said he went to high school with the woman, Cornelia Marie. He said she’s Cornelia Marie who owns the boat Cornelia Marie. I thought that probably meant something but I didn’t know what. He said it’s one of the boats on the TV show Deadliest Catch.

I have been learning so much about what it's like out in each bush village. I've been asking everyone about the price of gas out their way. One woman with a B&B in Tanana mentioned how hard it is for teens in the bush to get their drivers licenses. That never occurred to me. She said how expensive it would be to fly them into Fairbanks to go get their permits, pay to take drivers lessons, then figure out how to get a vehicle and insurance for it out in the village where they don't have any paved roads.

One last thing I found interesting—as several of us mentors introduced ourselves, I heard time and time again that each of us had been in business five or six years (I’m just over the 6 year mark). Only in Alaska would six years of experience make one the senior, wise, old-timer!