Beautiful Desolation

We broke out of the clouds about 3 miles out on final for Barrow airport, to what we can only call a village in the middle of beautiful desolation. Arriving at the airport, there is no FBO, so we parked next to the FAA building housing the one “controller” for Barrow Radio. No number for a cab, no warm place to wait (it was in the upper 30s when we laded) and no one to greet us.

After finding a cab, (there are way more than you would expect for a village of 4,000) we made our way to the “Top of the World” hotel. A wander around the area gave us our first look at what life is like around here. Dirt roads – too cold for pavement, houses built on stilts -no foundations with the permafrost, and children playing outside after 9pm – they were outside playing until well after midnight.

We ate dinner at Pepe’s (the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the world) and decided to go on a larger expedition around the town via a taxi. Johnny (our cab driver originally from Michigan) made a pretty good tour guide by showing everything from the sewage treatment plant to the new (and very overbuilt) hospital.

Exploring the town via cab was our best way to experience the life these people live. There is a college for trade work, a brand new football field (well, for a few weeks a year you can play football), and even a roller rink.

The dirt roads are hard on vehicles, as one can expect, so you see many cars broken down and in disrepair next to and behind houses. The life here is hard on the people. Very hearty souls, sometimes you wonder how they make it through their -50 degree weeks or months without sunlight and not going completely crazy. (Which some do)

In the winter, there are about 2 months without sunlight. Yup, two months.

I mentioned the permafrost earlier. This is something I don’t think I truly understood the gravity of. A layer of the ground NEVER thaws. This affects everything in your house from its foundation to the routing of power, water, and sewer lines. There is a system of insulated pipes running in heated tunnels below the streets.

The town is a Inupiat Eskimo settlement, so whaling is a big part of the life for the villagers. The ice had not yet broken off, which is currently late for this time of year – this means no whales so far. When they do get one, it is a time of celebration and sharing as everyone gets a chance to take some meat.

I think it is an interesting study that to get to one of the most desolate places in the world, you have to travel through some of the most beautiful. It makes you stop and think, what else is out there I haven’t experienced?

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