Friday, October 7, 2011

Back from the Bush

I made my first trip out to the bush this week. Galena, AK is an Athabascan village accessible only by air and boat. Galena is a small village of approximately 675 people and sits on the edge of the Yukon river. And that about sums up Galena!

I didn't get around to taking many pictures. Partly because I was too tired and partly because Galena is in it's awkward between seasons stage. The trees are bare, the grass is brown, and there hasn't enough snow yet to make everything glisten. It's pretty much a mud pit at the moment.

It was a good trip though: I met all the kids (I managed to only make two of them cry!), got the lo-down on village happenings, managed to get lost driving the village streets. Well, lost is a bit dramatic. Turned around, really. I didn't recognize my turn since every tin house and dirt road looks the same.

Galena has a statewide boarding school for high school known as GILA (Galena Interior Learning Academy). The kids stay in dormitories, which is where I also stayed. The adult-only dorm, not the kids' dorm. Basically a low-budget hotel room. I've seen worse. Trust me.

GILA is located on the grounds of the former Galena Air Base that is currently being excavated to clean up toxic waste. The water had a funky taste yet I was assured it was safe to drink. The battery in my steri pen died and I was without an extra. I drank a lot of diet coke.

My dorm.

My days consisted of dining in the dorm cafeteria for breakfast and dinner; and each day I rode the school bus to the elementary school. Getting up on time to not miss the school bus was a challenge. But I was hesitant to walk to school after hearing the story about the woman jogger killed by a pack of wolves. It didn't happen in Galena, but still. I was the first one on the bus. Every. Single. Morning. 

Galena has two stores, a bar, and a coffee shop.

The grocery store as seen in winter. There wasn't any snow when I was there.
I shamelessly swiped this image from someone else's website.

Galena also has a health clinic. For serious medical needs though people have to go "to town". Town being Fairbanks. I asked several people where they like to eat in Fairbanks, hoping they knew something I didn't. They did not.

The plane ride to and from Galena was freezing! The heat wasn't turned on in the plane until after we started to taxi down the runway. I wore my fleece vest, wind bloc fleece and another parka laid over me like a blanket both flights. As I've been reminded though, it's not even cold yet. It was only in the low 40's this trip. An occupational therapist that I work, with who also goes to Galena, told me that she always wears her snow pants on the plane in the winter. Oh, and should you be wondering...Era airline pilots are not to be missed. I'm gonna like traveling to Galena every month!

The Galena airport:
The two white bins in front is the baggage claim area.

Inside the Galena airport.
You can purchase a bagel and cream cheese for $3.

When leaving Galena, the airport had lost it's electricity. Thank goodness we still have daylight until 8ish. When it was time to board the plane, the pilot walked through the waiting room and called out, "Passengers to Fairbanks and Anchorage, follow me!" We followed him across the tarmac and into the plane. The cold plane.

While in Galena I ate dinner one night with the woman who may be the village's next mayor. This sounds fancier than it was. Dinner was at the dorm cafeteria at GILA, and Suzette runs the cafeteria with her husband, who is the chef. While having dinner one night, Suzette sat with me. She had recently run for mayor and was still waiting for the final election results. At that time the count was 63-60 with 15 votes remaining to be counted. If she wins it'll be quite the upset! The current mayor has held the position for some 20 odd years.

Sadly, Galena is not unmarred by the effects of alcohol, drugs and suicide. Worse still, those troubles leave their indelible marks on the kids I see. Yet, it was nice when a kid who wasn't doing more than pointing for what he wanted at the beginning of the week, ask me at the end of the week, "It's centers time, can I go now?" Lest you think I'm a miracle worker, I'm not. I merely told the adults to stop talking and let the kid speak.

Next week I'm off to quaint, Cordova where I'll be staying at the Reluctant Fisherman. This summer I spent a few days in Cordova and had dinner at the Fisherman. I'm looking forward to visiting again.
Cordova in the summer.

Too bad Baja Taco is closed for the winter -- it's been the best food I've had in Alaska!

Baja Taco in Cordova.

The week after Cordova I'll be going to Adak Island in the Aleutians, followed by a trip to Tanana. I'll try to do better at taking pictures.