Recently, we went to Yosemite National Park. This was our fourth visit over fifty years and it remains as lovely as ever. Those granite walls, magnificent waterfalls, and beautiful meadows are hard to beat.
What was different this time was how many people were there. The biggest issue in planning for a hike was not how physically demanding it would be, but if we would be able to find parking. Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park, is now a maze of one-way roads, many closed to private vehicles. The traffic is constant, and the huge parking lots are filled to the brim. The shuttle buses are so crowded that sometimes one has to stand most of the way. Just like the buses in Mumbai.
Of course, Yosemite is not alone. Going to Mt Baldy near Los Angeles for a hike has the same issues. We had to park, illegally, half a mile from the trail head to be able to hike. There were just so many cars! If you want to climb the peak, you would be out of luck if you arrived after 7 am. There would be no parking.
Reminded us of our international travels and how dismayed we were at popular places such as Santorini or Skagway (in Alaska), both stopping points for cruise ships. In Santorini, some of the well-known photo spots were so crowded with the Selfie crowd that you had to stand in line to get to your turn to take the glory shot. In Skagway, there were three cruise ships docked when we drove to the town from Yukon, and the streets were filled with tourists going to curio shops.
I have heard horror stories of people trying to get to Amalfi Coast in Italy. Our friends, in an expensive conducted tour, could not see it because there was no parking available for miles. We are told that the situation is even worse in Venice. That small city was crowed when we went there some twenty years ago, but now it is even more so.
A few observations:
· First, we are being a little hypocritical because by being at these places ourselves, we are adding to the crowd. Yes, I agree. But we do complain about the LA traffic while contributing to it, don’t we? It is the same thing.
· Second, the cruise ship passengers have as much right to visit a place as we do. It is a different type of travel but if they chose to take it, we have no moral authority to complain.
· Third, being older, we had the opportunity to visit many of these places when they were not overrun with tourists. The younger folks have no choice. It is what it is.
There is no specific solution, except restrict the number by instituting a permit system. Or a lottery, as they do for many hiking areas in US.
If you are not travelling in a group, it is good to know what places the tourists are taken to and when. Then avoid those places and times. Time and again, we have found that to be the solution.
So, in Juneau, we went a couple of miles south of the city, and could observe salmon swimming upstream, while passengers in cruise ships were shopping in the city or being taken by buses to see the Mendenhall Glacier.
In Santorini, peace prevailed after the cruise ship passengers were gone for the evening. Also, there were several spots on the island, accessible by local buses, that had a very manageable crowd of tourists.
In Alaska, Haines, a boat ride away from Skagway, was very peaceful, because it was not a stopping point for cruise ships taking the Inner Passage.
In the future, perhaps AI supported virtual travel experiences will be so realistic, many folks will avoid going physically. Or, some will find that it is impossible to distinguish between Instagram posting that is real from one that is artificially generated. For them, there will be no reason to brave the real travel to post that priceless selfie in front of Eiffel Tower.