The Salmon are Coming!

Salmon is a really big deal here. Really big. Most people in Cordova are fishermen (and women) and everyone is gearing up for the big day – May 17th. The Salmon Opener. The next few months are when most people in Cordova make their annual income…and it’s huge. Boats are taken apart, cleaned and inspected. Pick-up trucks drive precariously along the roads pulling their boats down to the water, and drivers give them a wide berth. Moving boats on land is very stressful. Fishermen do their laundry and stock up on mac and cheese. And it’s all in preparation for salmon.

There are five types of Pacific Salmon which are fished out of the Copper River and the surrounding bays, and there is a really handy little mnemonic device using your five fingers to remember the different types:

  1. Chum Salmon (Chum rhymes with thumb.) Chum Salmon got their name because natives used to feed this type of salmon to their sled dogs. There were so many, that the dogs had a delicious salmon feast each night. It is the second most common type of Pacific Salmon.
  2. Sockeye Salmon (pointer finger – the finger you would use to poke someone in the eye). Also called Red Salmon. They are red in color, but their head turns green when they return back to the rivers to spawn.
  3. King Salmon (middle finger, it is the longest finger; or you could be saying “fuck the king!) This salmon travels almost the entire length of the River (about 300 miles) so it needs to put on a lot of oil to make the trip. The King Salmon is the richest and oiliest (and generally the most delicious) of all the salmons…but you probably couldn’t eat it every day.
  4. Silver Salmon (ring finger – rings can be made of silver) Also called Coho Salmon. This Oregon staple is also pretty common up here in Alaska.
  5. Pink Salmon (pinkie!) This is generally the one you will buy if you buy canned salmon and is the most common type of Pacific Salmon.

Though I don’t have a strong desire to work on a fishing boat, I’ve been enjoying going on rides around the bay with friends as they test out their engines on their nice, clean boats. Locals refer to it as “yachting” aka…driving around with no purpose. On the rare days that the sun decides to shine, a boat is a pretty cool place to check out the views and watch the red, glowing ball sink below the mountains in the distance. And…snack on some yummy smoked salmon, of course 🙂

Pictures below of some water adventures to a nearby island (yachting)

Not to bad 🙂

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Intoxicating Alaska

It’s official. I love Alaska. Most days are rainy and don’t get over 40 degrees (4C) and I don’t even care. It’s just so pretty. The 37 minute flight from Anchorage to Cordova was easily the most scenic flight I’ve ever been on. It could have been a sight-seeing tour if the stewardesses would have stated a few facts as they served drinks. I spent most of the flight snapping pictures of the gorgeous mountain tops and the sparkling blue water as they slowly passed by my window…each landscape seeming better than the last. The burly fisherman who sat next to me on the flight was definitely judging me for being so touristy…but I just couldn’t stop. I was obviously from out of town – a contrast to the majority of the other passengers on the flight. I’m pretty sure most of them knew each other based on the greetings in the airport. Neighbors saying hi to old friends who had migrated south for the winter and were making their way back to town for the summer.

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I haven’t quite adjusted to my new scenery yet. The picturesque, snow-capped mountains which are always there, in the background, in every direction, give me the feeling of being on vacation. Even when I’m at work. Sometimes I look out the window to the looming peaks and for a split-second, I need to remind myself that they are real – not a backdrop or something fleeting, like a rainbow. It’s like living in a National Geographic photograph. I’m sure my friends will quickly tire of my Instagram photos consisting of one mountain after another…but oh well.

Yesterday was a sunny day, so I took advantage of the (almost) clear skies and soaked in some of the gorgeous views on some local mountains. There is one chairlift in town with some awesome ski trails, but there’s not enough snow anymore to ski this season. Oh well…it’s still great for hiking! Bald eagles and hawks flew above in close circles as we admired the views from on top of the mountain. The  wingspan and the sheer size of the birds was impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close in the wild. It was amazing.

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Know of some great hikes near Cordova? Let me know!

Five Alaskan Life Hacks You Probably Didn’t Know

Alaska is pretty disconnected from the rest of the lower 48 states. In fact, I see more similarities on a daily basis that resemble life in a different country than I see connecting it to my own. If it weren’t for the fact that I still have cell phone service, I might forget all together. The sheer size, the new culture and the contrast in climate make it completely different than anywhere else I’ve ever lived before.

There are also some completely different norms here, which only add to the feeling of living abroad. Here are five ways that Alaskans seem to have life figured out just a little better than their neighbors to the south (and elsewhere).

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Three Checked Bags Within the State

It’s a big state. And in most places (cough cough…Cordova) there is limited access to pretty much everything. Thank god for Amazon Prime…but that’s a different story. Most things here – if they’re available – are pretty expensive because they’re imported. It’s almost like living on an island. So in Cordova, for example, most people do all of their serious shopping (groceries, clothes, etc.) in Anchorage. To accommodate, Alaska Airlines gives all passengers traveling within the state 3 FREE checked bags on every flight. So a family of four going on vacation to Juno would get to take 12 bags with them. Or, a mother taking her son to Anchorage for his monthly orthodontist appointment can bring back 6 suitcases-worth of shopping.

And by suitcases…I mean Rubbermaid totes wrapped in duct tape. Sitting at the Anchorage airport for an extended period of time means that you see lots of people rearranging their groceries to stay under the 50 lb limit – heads of cabbage and bags of oranges are flying everywhere.

Fresh Air

Alright…so this is a little less of a life hack and a little more of me being extra-appreciative of the fresh air after spending the past 7 months in India. But Alaskans sure do know how to have some gorgeous cities with fresh air. And in the past week, I don’t think I’ve heard a horn honk…even once. I loved India, but this is just so nice. Okay, okay…I’m done.

Livin’ on Berries

When I found out that my house would be a cabin…I had visions in my head of a quaint, little cabin where I could finally have the space to make a little garden. Fresh tomatoes, basil, lettuce, you name it. I even arrived in the beginning of spring – perfect timing! As usual…nothing ever turns out quite as expected. The soil in these parts is terrible – nothing can really grow without a greenhouse and a person with an extra-green thumb. I have no greenhouse…and my thumb is basically black…so I guess there won’t be a garden.

What I will have is lots and lots of berries. Blueberries, kyani berries, salmonberries, nagoons, cranberries, and so many others whose names I’ve already forgotten. Wild berries everywhere. I love berries. And according to a study done by the US National Institute of Health in 2013, the berries here specifically have “extraordinarily high antioxidant levels” making Alaskans some of the healthiest people around. Now if I could just find some fresh goat cheese to pair them with…

Lots and Lots of Sunlight

Bring on the Vitamin D. Today, April 5th, the sun will set at 8:39pm and will rise tomorrow at 6:39am. Right now, Southern Alaska is gaining about 45 minutes of daylight per week. It won’t be very long until the Midnight Sun makes an appearance. There aren’t many other places around the world where someone can work all day and then climb a mountain, ride down the Copper River or hike up a glacier afterwards.

It’s a shame the soil is so poor in Cordova, because in other parts of Alaska vegetables are enormous due to all of the extra photosynthesizing going on.

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Working Half of the Year (or Less!)

Winter is pretty brutal in Alaska, (Or so I’m told – I’m not quite brave enough to fact-check this one myself.) so many business are only open half the year. Fishermen and hunters have a very limited season, some of them earning their annual wages in just a few days. As long as I don’t have to spend my winters off here in Cordova…this seems like a pretty sweet set-up – work six months in Alaska, and go migrate somewhere warmer once the temperature drops. Normally when I travel for work, I like to fly in a little earlier or fly out a little later, allowing myself to travel and explore. Arriving here before April, though, or leaving after October 1 just don’t sound that appealing to me, though. We’ll see.

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Know of other cool tips and tricks that are unique to Alaska? Let me know!

Greetings From Alaska

I’ve been primarily offline the past few weeks – I came back to the US in mid-March and spent a very nice two weeks at home enjoying some quality time with my favorite people, consisting mostly of endless Easter egg hunts, Legos and delicious food. Now, after what felt like a never-ending string of flights, I’ve finally landed in my home for the next six months: Alaska.

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Sunrise over the mountains surrounding Anchorage during the world’s longest layover

Though it took almost as long to fly to my little ocean-side Alaskan town as it did to get all the way to Bangalore, it was so much more pleasant. Even as I am writing this, sitting in Anchorage airport, the check-in assistants are singing songs to passengers and I’ve seen at least five frequent fliers come in and greet the attendants by name and get received with a big hug. It’s not in an obnoxious way, either…just sweet. Everyone is so friendly! I really loved India, but it was definitely time for me to take a break and try something new – and I think Alaska will be just the thing.

As usual…I’ve done my research and I’ve come up with my Alaskan bucket list to complete over the course of the next 6 months. Other than eating as much seafood as possible, soaking up fresh air and enjoying the wildlife…there are a few things I don’t want to miss out on.

Drunken Moose – This one might not be possible since I’m coming in the summer…I might have to settle for seeing a sober one instead. I listened to a podcast recently which described how moose end up eating rotting crab apples to make it through the winter in cities around Alaska. The fermenting fruit has an intoxicating effect, meaning cities sometimes have 1,400 lb drunken beasts roaming the streets. I think the winter has been fairly mild, however, and it’s already April. I’m betting that the foliage that is already available is much more appealing than fermenting apples…but I’ll still be on the lookout.

Glaciers – There are few other reasons to venture out to the freezing tundras…but seeing some stunning glaciers which aren’t likely to be around for much longer is definitely one of them. You will find me riding a dogsled pulled by some adorable huskies and kayaking through glacier rivers…among whatever other activities intrigue me as well.

Climb Denali – Denali, the tallest peak in North America, is obviously on the list…as long as my knees cooperate. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the US National Parks, so it seems only fitting to spend some time in Denali National Park and summit the 20,310 foot peak. Guess I better order those glucosamine chrondroitin supplements now!

Northern Lights – no Alaskan bucket list could be complete without seeing the Northern Lights! The strength of the lights depends on the year and the lights peak every 11 years. The last peak was in 2013…but there should still be plenty of solar storms and sunspots to fill the sky with colors and keep me entertained regardless!

Fly in a Float Plane – These are the small planes that fly low to the ground for amazing sight-seeing and can also land on water. They provide a totally different view of the wildlife and can land on the WATER! Sounds like something I need to do.

Know of other things I should try? Let me know!