We get bird’s eye views of the rugged, volcanic chain of the Aleutian Islands during the flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak island in Unalaska, Alaska.
In the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the westernmost portion belongs to Russia, we expect harsh weather conditions.
However, we didn’t expect to be held captive in our hotel room!
Once on land, brutal wind blows rain sideways, pelting our hotel window and making eerie howling noises.
Ah, saved by the complimentary shuttle, and we are off to the Harbor View Bar, which is attached to the only other hotel on the island.
“What should we see here?” Mare asks the bartender. We often get better information at bars than visitor centers.
“Nothing.” She frowns at us. “I mean it, there’s nothing to see. Though Summer Bay Road is a pretty drive and you can see wild horses. I like horses.” She looks down the bar. “Hey Bob, what’s there to see here for a couple of tourists?”
“Some folks like the visitor center and museum,” Bob says. “But they’re closed. The Russian Church is the oldest Russian built church in Alaska, or so I’ve been told. I’m sure it’s closed too.”
Another patron lifts his head and with a mouthful of fried halibut he says, “You could walk up Bunker Hill to see bunkers from the Second World War. That’s about it.”
The rain turns to a sprinkle, so we take advantage and walk back to the hotel. Hoards of Bald Eagles spar around topless trash bins along the way. A fishery worker has to shoo them away in order to toss out trash.
I hunt and gather at the hotel restaurant where a bottle of wine costs thirty-five dollars. Better make that two bottles, because we’re being held captive. For some strange reason, Marilynn and I love this. It goes back to what our friend Jack said, on a hike around Lake Baikal in Siberia, “Some folks just got to see it.” Click on these links to see those posts: Lake Baikal Siberia
Rained-in the next day, Eagles and Sea Otters put on a show in Margaret Bay outside our window. Small fishes, Hooligans I suppose, fill the bay where eagles steal catches from each other, and sea otters dunk underwater when the big birds try to steal theirs. More wine over here!
Viola! The sun sneaks out the next morning! We bite the financial bullet and rent a jeep for $125 to ride all 28 miles of Unalaska’s roadways. Feels so good to escape the confine of our room.
It seems that the land population here do nothing but work most of the time. There’s no hunting to speak of, little wildlife, and no bears in this barren land. Wages are high and many include room and board due to the high cost of living.
No trees either. Just mountainous rock covered in tundra up to the snow line. Rugged beauty. Fresh air.
And on Summer Bay Road we’re lucky to spot a fox. No wild horses.
We thought that there were lots of eagles at the trash bins, but the city dump marks the grand finale of the show. Eagles wait on the forklift for the next load.
The hike up Bunker Hill gives great views, close contact with WWII memorabilia, and a long overdue heart-pumping. The Battle of Dutch Harbor was fought here in June 1942.
We simply leave the rental jeep at the ferry dock, next to the abundant crab pots, the following morning. “Just leave the keys in the cup holder and please don’t lock it.”
Fans of “The Deadliest Catch” will recognize this dock and the “Cornelia Marie.”
Only 28 passengers ride on the Kennicott ferry, which could hold 499 max. Seas are relatively calm this first day’s ride, with spectacular views of countless tundra covered rock islands.
We forgo renting a stateroom, and sleep on a cold, hard floor in the aft sun room the first night. The next night we head to the solarium, which is warmer, but the chairs were as hard as the floor.
Other passengers remind us repeatedly why we travel the way we do, for as long as possible:
An 80-year-old man from Oklahoma recently had his knee replaced. “I can’t walk so well or long anymore. So, we figured to take this ferry out as far as it goes. At least I can sit and see this fascinating area I have always dreamed of visiting.”
A 70-year-old woman traveling with her 90-year-old mother walk around the deck every morning for 30 minutes. They are taking this same journey for the second time, and already planning a similar trip for next year.
A 75-year-old, obese woman in a walker says with a smile, “I have always wanted to take this journey. My body doesn’t seem to have much time left, so I better do it while I can.”
We swallow Meclizine the second day, on advice from the Captain over the loudspeaker: “We’re facing 25-foot seas for the next 24 hours or so. If you need medication, take it.”
The man from Oklahoma advises us to put an earplug in one ear. “I don’t know why, but it seems to help.”
With the exception of a brief stop at the town of Chignik, we bounced around all night inside of our sleeping bags on top in the enclosed, heated solarium.
The next morning greets us with calm seas, and an early arrival to our destination, Kodiak Island, where we feast on “the deadliest catch.”
Yes, there is a little more to our travels than just needing to see it. We’re in a race with time as well. Thank you, Abundant Universe!