Barter Island, Alaska, USA.
I arrived in the Barter Islands in a nine-seater plane, I am used to New York winters, but this was bitter cold, even in August. I was picked up by a lady driving a school bus and taken on a short drive to my hotel.
I stayed at the Waldo Arms Hotel and at $350 a night you might be expecting five star treatment, but not at the Waldo Arms. It’s one of two hotels on the island it’s constructed of modular structures and metal storage containers. Inside is the lounge, the furniture is old and dated, There are four buckets in the lounge area that are put out to catch dripping water, on the wall is a large map covered in a large brown stain where it leaked from the ceiling. There is also an area with a pool table, darts board and a treadmill.
What possessed me to stay here some may ask? Wells, it’s one of only two hotels on the remote island, it’s historical with lots of personality.
Staff are friendly it feels very homie. The food is made to order, and nothing fancy just tasty comfort food. Plus you can help yourself to tea and snacks anytime.
Locals come in to eat, so its a great place to meet them and hear their stories. One local named Papa has been living on the island since 1979, originally from Barrow, Alaska. Papa says he has to look around before he leaves the house as he does not want to become polar bear meat.
The iñupiat (native Alaskan people) have learnt to learn to in severe weather conditions, and one resident recalls a time when it was 120-mile wind, another talks about a time he went out in a blizzard and could not see anything around him and had no idea what direction to walk in.
I was on the Island to see the polar bears that came to this small island between July to October. I had booked back to back tours to see these bears and spent many hours around the whalebone piles where they were known to congregate, as well as a boat tour. Unfortunately, the only polar bear I saw was the stuffed one in the glass case at Fairbanks airport.
Until the late 19th century, Barter Island was a major trade centre for the Inupiat people and was especially important as a bartering place for Inupiat from Alaska and Inuit from Canada, hence its name.
There is one post office, and one police station on the island, with only one policeman who is, rotated out every couple of weeks.
It’s illegal to drink alcohol in the Barter Islands, but of course, people sneak it in, where you can pay $150 for a bottle of liquor.
School and basketball court are new, a big contrast to the rest of the buildings on the island. If was fun hanging out watching the locals play with the hip hop music playing.
This golf ball looking structure is The Distant Early Warning Line, also known as the DEW Line or Early Warning Line, was a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska, in addition to the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. It was set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War and provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion.
No trees grow on the island, but plenty of driftwood washes up from Mckenzie’s river in Canada. Littering certain parts of the island. It can be used for firewood, smoking fish and building homes.
Cotton grass, its a wonder anything can grow in these conditions
Airforce hanger built around 1943
It is being cleaned up of its toxic waste. The large white bags are being filled with the toxic waste, and will be shipped out and dumped somewhere else.
“Ghostbboat”. Barge from late 40s and 50s
Arctic loon bird flying.
Riverboat Discovery, boat tour.
The scenery on the boat tour is spectacular, and the trip
Is well thought out and put together, the downside is very touristy, staged, and a little corny.
The boat slowly rides down the Chena River as you listen to commentary by a narrator who has a great voice and sense of humour. There are numerous stops on the tour.
First, an Alaskan bush pilot takes off and lands right next to the boat! (left side of the boat) The pilot will share stories using a microphone and explains the role planes play in remote Alaska.
Further down the Chena River, Dave Monson will be waiting on the river bank ( The left side of the boat). Which is the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher. Dave who was Susan’s husband talks about kennel life and the gives us a dog mushing demonstration.
The last stop is at a replica of an Athabascan Indian village.
where you get off the boat and do a tour.
Free blueberry doughnuts and tea throughout the ride, I had a few doughnuts to many.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Located behind a hotel car park, this museum is a real gem whether your a fan of cars or not it ’s well worth the visit. The vehicles are well preserved and 99% still work (all but three cars work) cars date from 1898 to 1936.
Billies Hostel, Fairbanks, Alaska.
The hostel Is set up, In her home which is clean and Cosy with an Interesting mix of people from young to old.
There is a kitchen, where you can bring your food and cook, and a dining area where everyone hangs out. There is also a separate lounge area if you need space. There are regular shared rooms but I stayed the night in a mixed glass roofed house, the bed was comfortable surprising it did not feel cold even with the door open all night.