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Friday, September 12, 2008

An Island In Alaska

A little while ago, I was asked to post some Alaska related stuff. I'm not from Alaska but I did live there during my four years in high school in Fairbanks and then later after college in Anchorage. So I'm going to post a huge flash-back for me...back to 1995. Scary!

Our family had just moved to Alaska and my brother and I were privileged to be asked to go to a little island community called Kaktovik on Barter Island which is in the Beufort Sea (in the Arctic Ocean) just North of the mainland of Alaska. Here's a map for reference:
The people there are native Inupiat and some of the nicest, gracious people I have met. We were just there for a couple days doing a vacation Bible school with the kids but we had quite the experience.

As we were flying up we saw the Brooks Range and a whole herd of musk ox (from the pilot that's pretty rare to see). Here's the island from the air from our little plane before we descended:
As you can tell...that far North there are no trees. The kids said that the things they liked when they went down to Fairbanks (a huge city to them) were the trees, automatic doors, large stores and Nike (I'm guessing Foot Locker?). I swear walking around, with no trees and just the big sky I could feel the curvature of the earth. It was pretty cool.

They were so friendly. When we landed tons of kids rushed out to meet us on the runway. They pulled up on bikes and everything! It was...I think August and we were freezing. They were wearing T-shirts. But they took us everywhere. We toured the town, the school, drove by a DEW site (I don't think it was an active site), and even got to dip our toes in the Arctic was beyond freezing. I think I saw a tiny iceberg in the distance...not kidding.
We even got to tour around the beach where they dice up the whales they catch. Believe me they use every scrap of meat and it's a big staple of their diet. I believe they are allowed to hunt three whales a year which feeds their entire village. I even remember asking one boy a common question "What do you want to do when you grow up?" And he just looked at me like I was daft and said "Be a whale hunter" like that was the most obvious answer and I should have known that.

Side note: A few months later I actually was able to try a piece of muktuk. It was a square half white half black...blubber and skin. Honestly I think it's an acquired taste.

I found this interesting article you can check out for more whaling info.

Here's my brother and I near some whale bones on the beach:
They have to keep the village pretty far from where they pull in the whale because predators will roam that area. Polar bears are a big deal there and when the kids walk to school there's usually a person on "polar bear" watch with a gun. Scary, huh?

But the trip went well, we had a lot of fun, and we didn't see any polar bears.

Things I remember:

1) No plumbing then (they do now, I believe) so their toilets were called "honey pots". Basically a trash can type of thing with a seat and you bagged it up and put it on the "curb" for pick-up like trash. Weird.

2) They have the most gorgeous school I have ever seen.

3) The kids are learning to speak Inupiaq from their grandparents. There were two girls with the same name so one went by her Inupiaq name. Very cool.

We did ask the kids to put on their winter coats because they were just too cute. What do you think?
Hope you enjoyed the Alaska story!


Additional links:

Polar Bear in Kaktovik
Kaktovik housing
Kaktovik students

1 comment:

  1. What an experience! Thanks for sharing. You have had such a diverse life. Its not everyday you meet someone who has lived in Alaska and got to go to the Artic Circle. Very cool


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