Wildlife Tour to Point Barrow and long wait for flight home.
Jul 7, 2009
July 7, 2009
We woke up in Barrow, where the sun had not set. We had breakfast at Pepe’s. Our wildlife tour began at 10:00. Our driver was running a little bit late, but he made it.
His name was Sam Leavitt, but he looked like all the other Inupiat’s there at the village. He told us that his grandfather was from New Bedford, Connecticut and was a New England whaler who married into the Inupiats when he visited.
We took a wildlife tour with the hope of seeing polar bears.
We didn’t see much of any wildlife,
but Sam was pretty entertaining anyway. We started out going south and west with Sam looking out to the ice and to the tundra for wildlife.
We saw a few birds, but that was about it.
Sam took us down to the beach in a 4-wheel van and we drove for a couple of miles along the beach. He explained how the Eskimos got wood (driftwood from Russia and Canada) and how they still hunted the bowhead whale.
On our way back we saw some hunters coming in from the ocean. They had two spotted seals that they had shot with a 22 magnum cowboy rifle,
then harpooned them to get them before they sank.
The seals were heavy, but those guys loaded them up easily. When the truck wouldn’t pull the boat out of the water right away, one of the guys went and got another truck to help pull.
This was done almost wordlessly as part of the sense of teamwork that they have.
I am not even sure the guy with the second truck was involved in the hunt—he just pitched in because that is what they do.
Sam’s tour in many ways was more informative about the Inupiat way of life than Eli’s tour, maybe because we had more background and were more immersed in that lifestyle as a result of yesterday’s tour. We ate at the grocery store for lunch, then we headed out to Point Barrow. We got to see the carcasses of 13 whales that had been taken in the last hunt and slaughtered on the old airfield. After they slaughter the whales, the bones and leftovers are taken down the beach, away from the settlement.
The bones attract polar bears and scavengers, so they want those things to be far away from the people’s houses.
We went around the college students doing the archaeological excavation to get over to Point Barrow.
We got a close look at their digging. Sam said if we stayed too long they would make us start digging stuff too. The students are studying the evidence of early Inupiat life. There have been people living and surviving the harsh conditions of the Barrow area for over 3000 years. Sam’s tour sure gave us a sense of how hard life was out here, but also a sense of how sturdy and really happy the people seemed to be.
While we were waiting in the Top of the World hotel for a ride to the airport, we ended up watching the Michael Jackson tribute. For the last week the news was dominated by Michael Jackson’s sudden death and how the memorial would play out. Now it had come. It was so strange to see Stevie Wonder talking about how he never expected to be in the position he was. Unsaid, but what I heard him say, was that Stevie expected that he would be the one in the box and Michael to be singing at his memorial. He did a great job.
As we started our tour, Susan had realized that she didn’t have her sunglasses and asked Sam if she should contact the hotel. He replied that the glasses would be waiting for her back at the hotel . These were her favorite Maui Jim’s. When we returned to the hotel after the tour she asked the lady clerk if any glasses had been turned in, she said there had been sun glasses on the counter earlier today, but she didn’t know where they were now. And she made no effort to look. Susan was bummed that she had lost those glasses. Later in the day when we were leaving the hotel and going to the airport. Susan took one last shot at asking another desk clerk, who had happened to come in to do some work. He looked in a drawer and immediately found the glasses. She was very relieved, but really disappointed with the lady who could have eased a lot of her anxiety if she had just worked a little harder and opened the drawer next to her right hand.
When we got to the airport we learned that our plane was going to be late arriving in Barrow.
We had time to go eat dinner, so we walked over to the Shogun restaurant near the airport. It was chillier today (maybe high 30’s and windy ), so the walk was bracing.
After our pleasant meal at Osaka last night, our expectations were a little too high for Shogun. They didn’t have sushi at all, and the teriyaki chicken and salmon we tried was les than stellar. But it was edible.
By the time we got back we learned that the plane was even later.
After we had met and talked to all the TSA people, Bill and I decided to walk to the video store and get some expresso and chai. I think the walk was a little farther than Bill thought, and it was a lot colder than I thought, but it was worth it to see yet another side of Barrow life. In the winter there is not much to do, so the video store is a pretty important part of the community. It had popcorn, but the expresso wasn’t up to the standards we had experienced earlier when we visited Barrow’s drive-thru expresso stand.
At the airport we met a Dutch tourist named Kunja who is doing Alaska.
She rented a car and is traveling herself. She took a plane form Fairbanks like we did. She told us that she has been traveling in places like Madagascar. We had met her in the Shogun restaurant where we had our so-so meal. We ended up meeting her again a few days later.
Finally the plane came through
and we jetted back to Fairbanks. We did not get home until about 1:30 in the morning, and we had an early day the next day. Tomorrow we head to Denali