Friday, February 13, 2009

my neighborhood

Here's life on the base: wake up 6am, shower, breakfast at 730, leave for observatory building (1/2 mile away from main building), work until 1145, lunch at 1200, back to work, dinner served at 1700, either back to work or hanging out watching tv news/reading with army guys. There are usually only 2 guys stationed here, and they rotate of course. When we arrived we met Jessie and Milton holding down the fort. On that very day, 2 more army people (one guy, one lady) and 2 contracted tech people arrived to stay for just a couple days and do testing of equipment and such. They were fun and livened up the place. They regaled us with stories of recent plane issues (flat tire while landing, abrupt turn-arounds, one engine blowing up, etc.) and old army stories of other Alaskan bases. Hans, by the way, is a walking encyclopedia, has the best stories and, as far as I can tell, he has been in multiple wars, on every airforce base in the world and on every type of plane imaginable. My favorite story of his so far was the battleship-shaped boulder out at another base on the northern Alaskan coast that fooled an entire navy into bombing the hell out of it for days for fear it was a Russian ship. The visibility wasn't all too good, so they spent a couple days wondering how the hell the Russians could withstand the fire so well.

Anyway, one day we all went into Kaktovik for the grand tour given by Milton.


First, we stopped off at some equipment by the airport (more like ice-covered landing strip in the middle of nowhere) so these army guys could check something. And for those of you who are excited by this sort of thing, this is the most Hoth-like picture yet!
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Here is the travel headquarters in Kaktovik. Frontier Airlines is the plane I flew in on. Almost every single building, with exception of the Elder's house and a few others, are made of rusty box car looking things. They're just pre-fab trailer things - doesn't look pretty but gets the job done. Well-insulated walls, no wood to rot out, simple to patch up and add on to.
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Imagine about 5 square blocks by 7 square blocks of these type houses and buildings and that's your town of Kaktovik. There's a grocer, airline, a (bright green) post office, a town hall and a school. A number of other "businesses" are just run out of people's homes, but that is IT. I didn't know what to expect, but contrary to a nice, romantic notion of the northern Inuit people, there are no native families sitting around a fire, making handicrafts and recounting stories of their ancestors. A few crafts were for sale in town hall (painted whale baleens and beadwork) alongside the sweatshirts and t-shirts with the Kaktovik crest on them. The most of the native people I saw were a couple of Inuits in the town hall sitting in front of the secretary's desk with a full-size industrial trash can, buying book after book of pull-tabs (like a lottery) and slowly filling the can with useless, non-prize-winning tickets. It was quite sad actually. They both looked forlorn and the man was missing part of his left arm. It's a dry town but the folks are so desperate that you can't even buy full proof isopropyl alcohol here or the residents will buy it and get drunk.
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As soon as the last house in town ends, this is what you see for miles around. In the summer, it's the sea, which actually sounds like it would be quite pretty. I think I'll have to come back someday in my life during the spring/summer. Some tour company has a deal - for a thousand bucks or so, they will fly you up for three days in the springtime and guarantee that you see at least one polar bear. Right now, they're all mostly far out on the sea ice, a long ways from shore, where the seals are a-swimming.
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The cemetery. Looks just a little ominous. But again, it's hard for anything to not look ominous out here in this vastness.
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After the Kaktovik tour, the army guys and I hiked out to the edge of the Arctic ocean and took turns taking pictures of each other. I am technically on the "beach" with the ocean spread out behind me, though it's all very thick ice this time of year of course.
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And, since I was asked for more pictures of myself, here is me at my little post where I spend my days in the Barter Island Long Range Radar Station Observatory building. Oh, and I'm sporting my Kaktovik pride with a sweet sweatshirt bought from town hall.

2 comments:

  1. I have to say this only reaffirms my feeling you are at hoths Eco base..

    But, despite being a 'dry' town and having more or less 'ground hog day' happen I hope your surviving well. Right now down here the wind is blowing so strong its ripping limbs off my pine trees and the snow bites into your skin, so your in good company in terms of weather.

    At some point you should give a food report .. im sudo curious as to your survival (go have some Muktuk :D ). Any ways many bottles of wine and good food await your return ... and happy valentines day - B & A -

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  2. aww, thanks for the vday wishes. i haven't tried muktuk yet (even the natives don't recommend it!), and definitely don't plan to, but i'm not starving by any means!

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