Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Visit to Barrow

As principal at the local high school, my husband gets the opportunity to travel with sports teams, acting as the official liaison for the district and preventing problems that might occur with students. Last week when the wrestling traveled to Barrow for 4 days, Douglas ended up going with.

It was a process getting there, with a cargo plane ride from Homer to Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay to Barrow (the flights up to Prudhoe Bay were full, shuttling oil field workers back and forth). Just a few days before Douglas got there it was 50 degrees below zero, but he lucked out and it was 15 to 30 above the 4 days he was there--the same temperatures as Homer. The current principal at Homer High School was principal in Barrow for two years. He said that when it was 50 below, the two block walk from the airport to the high school was the longest walk he has ever taken in his life. Douglas was prepared with long underwear, coveralls, boots and all sorts of cold weather gear and was fortunate in not needing it.

The sun didn't rise the whole time Douglas was there, and the brightest it got was a mid-evening twilight (I lightened my pictures so they represent how dark it was). The school took the 6 or 7 wrestling teams that were there on a tour of the town. Pictured above is the sign at the highest latitude of land in the U.S. Behind it is the Arctic Ocean. The football field was under snow, which was a bummer because we've heard much about this high-tech wonder.

All of the buildings are built on stilts to prevent the thawing of the permafrost. Douglas described Barrow as "Any American town, a little run-down fishing village." There are 4 schools serving the 5000 or so people in Barrow: 2 elementaries, a middle school and high school. When sports teams come the high school houses them and feeds them, slightly alleviating the huge expense of getting there (approximately $1000 per ticket round trip, Homer to Barrow).

There was one store, with clothes, groceries, 4-wheelers and everything else sold in it. Prices were about 20% or more higher than Homer (which is already 20-50% higher than the Lower 48. For example, a can of soup was $3. A 5 pound bag of fresh apples and oranges was $14. A small container of laundry detergent was $15. Electricity, on the other hand, is relatively cheap because they pump the natural gas out of the ground and right into their generators.

As they were leaving, one of the coaches asked a local if they had some muk-tuk the kids could try. The lady said a whale had just been harvested and the blubber had been shipped in. She gave him a 10 pound box of muk-tuk. He shared it with the staff back at Homer. It was very chewy--impossible to bite off a piece in fact. A lady mentioned to me that her husband worked in Barrow and he would chew on two little pieces of muk-tuk and it had enough energy to last him for hours (despite that he lost 40 pounds while working in the 50 below weather). What you see pictured below is about four inches long. The dark part is the whale skin. I chewed on a piece like this for a minute or two this afternoon. Seven hours later, even after eating lunch and dinner, the taste of the muk-tuk is still in my mouth. It reminds me of a buttery flavor. I can understand how this would be a staple in the Eskimo diet. It is pure energy and it lasts a long time. I can also see why the Eskimo's teeth would get worn down from such a diet.


Lorraine said...

Wow - so dark and so cold. Thanks for the account of Doug's visit, it is very interesting. The treat you tried is especially intriguing. Not something I'd have ever considered tasting. Although your description makes it sound like it might not be too bad. Did it seem to melt as you chewed? What was the flavor (was buttery the flavor or texture - or both) & did you eat the skin? See - you really have made me curious!

Michelle Waclawski said...

The muk-tuk was buttery in flavor (that's the taste left in my mouth hours later; brushing my teeth finally removed the taste from my mouth); the texture is hard to say because I was chewing, chewing, chewing and it doesn't seem like there's any progress but when I looked at it the hunk I was chewing on was smaller. Nope--I think the skin is impossible to eat. It was extremely tough--tougher than the flesh.

It was a little weird, but I can see getting attached to muk-tuk. I don't think most people who try it are open to it.