The only thing I knew about Kodiak before we came here, was that those delicious King Crab legs come from this area. I couldn't even find Kodiak on the map. I was looking in the chain of islands that form the comet's tail from Alaska to Russia through the Bering Sea, but it actually is a blob all alone south of the main body of the state. Although the island is noted for cold, murky weather, we arrived on one of the three great days of the year. The bright blue sky illuminated the sea, showing the coastline and its deep fjords to their best advantage. The locals told us that the climate is mild - rarely below 30º in the winter and that they actually had two 68º days this summer. The wind was brisk and the tourists wandered around town all bundled up, while the locals were in shirt sleeves and shorts.
We learned that those crab legs I remembered have been fished out in the immediate area, but fishing is still the primary money maker here. The harbor was packed with working boats; 2700 residents are employed as fishermen. Close examination revealed a variety of different configurations depending on whether the goal was salmon or halibut or crab from the Bering Sea. The shore was lined with canneries, which process the catch immediately. Even on an early Sunday morning, everyone was hard at work.
Although the town of Kodiak has 6,000 people, it was a typical small Alaska town, with little to offer us urban animals. The island, which has about 100 miles or road, has a population of 12,000. A major contributor to the population is the large Coast Guard base, the largest in the United States. When you think about all those fishermen heading out to sea in all kinds of weather, it's easy to imagine how highly valued their potential rescuers are. Major efforts have been made to make living on the base as pleasant and comfortable as possible. The base had attractive housing, bowling alley, indoor pool, movie theater, etc. The rest of the population live in a tiny little town of 75 - 150 people that is inaccessible by road.
There's something about these small Alaska communties. People have a friendliness and sincere interest in tourists, that one doesn't find in more heavily traveled recreation spots. A sense of humor which gets you through those long, dark Alaska winters is also often apparent. We laughed our way through the T-shirt stores - one said, "Go jogging nude. Get some color in those cheeks." for example. One of the Kodiak hostels was called the "Bed and Make Your Own Damn Breakfast."
We bought Alaska from the Russians and some coastal areas have retained strong memories of this time. One of the more attractive buildings in town was the Russian Orthodox Church and there is also a small seminary here. Our tour included a stop for Russian tea, a libation that tasted more like spicy apple cider than any tea I've ever had. Our tea was served with French pastries, prepared by a woman who immigrated here from Paris. I would have liked to hear her story...
The entertainment was provided by young folks from the local mission, which was established to help abused and disadvantaged youth. The charismatic clergyman who lead them requires the youth to give back to the community and serve in some way. Many of them do so by becoming performers. They were dressed in Russian costumes as befit our Russian tea and they sang and danced to Russian music. While they were amateur performers, their enthusiasm made this a charming experience.
Our departure from Kodiak was delayed a bit as we waited for tour passengers who had missed the boat in Whittier. Considering how perturbed I was when I lost my suitcase, I can imagine who distressed them had been feeling. Considering there are only two flights a day to Kodiak from the mainland when the weather allows, they were lucky to make the connection at all.