I was scrolling through the pictures on Sergio’s phone last night and realized he had taken pictures on his last trip through the Bethel airport. We always talked about doing that for a post because the Bethel airport is a pretty singular experience. I know there is no way to really express how it felt to fly through there, but we’ll give it a go.
First of all, you have to understand that it’s very small. It is an Alaska Airlines airport and has real AA employees and security and stuff. That’s where the airport feeling ends.
Second of all, you will know pretty much everyone there if you have spent any time in Bethel at all. The same can be said for the Bethel terminal at the Anchorage airport. It’s a strange feeling living in a place where you are never out of sight of somebody you know. At least, it’s strange for the nomadic way Sergio and I live. Here are some pictures of the Anchorage terminal. You’ll notice the delicacy nearly everyone took home with them to Bethel, if you look closely.
Finally, most of the entertainment comes in the luggage belt. It’s unlike other airports because so many supplies come through this way. You are allowed up to three pieces of luggage, up to 50 lbs each. Each trip out of Bethel was an opportunity to bring in anything you can’t easily order through Amazon. One time I brought an entire tote back from Anchorage filled with 12 packs of soda and boxes of Little Debbies. I can’t justify it. The days stretched in Bethel and sometimes a frozen cupcake helped the time go by with more ease. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, it was not at all unusual to see some weird things go by on the belt. It was also not unusual to see gross things go by. We once saw someone ship in a tote full of eggs. They did NOT make it. Gross. Wedding cakes. So much alcohol. Dead animals back from taxidermy. Live animals. Mysterious liquids dripping out of taped up cardboard boxes. You name it. If it could be considered a package, it shipped.
Anyway, that’s about it. You can see the whole terminal in these pictures and probably a 10th of the townsfolk.
I think what we are trying to get across with this post is that you can’t fly into this airport without getting a pretty whole idea of how living in Bethel is going to feel. You see the flat landscape stretch out endlessly below as you descend. You meet the town in the terminal. You see your first Yupik words on the bathrooms and feel thankful there are pictures. You watch everyone’s business go across the luggage belt. Eventually, you go outside and get a $7 per passenger cab ride along the one main road into town from a driver that may or may not smell like alcohol, and may or may not be a bootlegger, and may or may not pick up other passengers without asking and drive you all over town against your will.
The airport is, in every possible way, the official gateway to life in Bethel.