Trip Start Apr 30, 2009
17Trip End Jun 05, 2009
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Here's a trivia question for you... How much did the U.S.A. pay to purchase Alaska from Russia (who reckoned they owned it) in the 19th Century? And, more importantly, did they pay using rubles? U.S. dollars? Traveller's cheques? Seal carcasses?
Has this got anything to do with Sitka, or have we just been trying to win daily cruise ship trivia for too long? Well, Sitka used to be the capital of Alaska, and was the place where the U.S. flag was first raised on Alaskan soil in 1867. The Australian school curriculum just doesn't cover enough American history does it? Oh, and Alaska cost 7.2 million dollars in gold apparently, although there's probably some conjecture about that.
Sitka's very scenic actually and was probably even more unspoiled before the whole Russia-U.S.A thing, when it was the ancestral home of the Tlingit Indian nation. These days, at least one cruise ship comes along each day in the warmer months. There's lots of rules about ships not dropping oil slicks everywhere and the locals even voted against building a special cruise terminal (where the ship pulls up) in case it ruined 'the look' of Sitka. So, it's what we in the biz call a 'tender port', where they park the ship out a bit and zoom you into shore in the (rather posh) lifeboats. This is really cool because the wildlife isn't as afraid of a lifeboat as they are an enormous cruise ship (we saw a very gorgeous seal splishing around).
We're obviously getting a bit used to Alaska, with all the pretty Alaska-type trees (what are they called? Pine trees? Must investigate...), snow-capped mountains, splishing seals and whales and cheap T-shirts. Sitka though, has that 'Russian' twist. We initially thought this might translate to free vodka shots, but it actually means 'Russian nesting dolls'. You know, those Babooshka thingies that all fit inside each other. They are EVERYWHERE. Fortunate really, as we were tasked by one of our American friends (Maz) to bring a set with us to L.A., in a lovely shade of blue. Without giving too much away... I think we managed to find a set. There were also Obama nesting dolls (yes, the family all fits inside... very concerning as one would think Michelle might be the 'first' doll), nesting dolls in the shape of owls, seals, sled dogs, Eskimos, walruses (walri??). There are entire stores in Sitka devoted to the art of Russian nesting dolls.
It did rain quite a lot today in Sitka, and we suffered a bit of 'Northern Exposure'. Good news... the K-Mart parka held up well. I still look like a cross between a polar bear and the Michelin Man, but at least my fur's faux. I bring this point up for a reason, because we were 'exposed' to a few 'northern' cultural aspects today also. Besides nesting dolls, there's an awful lot of fur and other animal stuff in Sitka. You know, the kind (like mink coats) that activist people like me would normally jump up and down about and pour red paint over. So, over a rainy outdoor lunch of halibut and shrimp kebabs whilst watching splishing seals (which we refused to eat on kebabs in Japan just a week ago), we got to pondering how different cultures view the 'use' of animals.
Consider this conversation we overheard in a giftshop today:
American tourist (pointing to stick-like useless decorative item): Ohhhh, this is niiiiiice. What's is made from?
Shop assistant: Why, that's walrus penis ma'am. Fossilised.
Hmm. Just down the street was a shop specialising in whalebone and walrus ivory. Now, if we were Eskimo and lived in an igloo, we'd probably not have access to Gortex to keep warm, nor salad and tropical fruit as nutrition. Perhaps even living in a log cabin in the mountains of Alaska, we might need to 'access' animals to survive. But really...should people in retirement complexes in Phoenix and Orlando need walrus bits?
Granted, we were eating seafood at the time of this epiphany (but obviously not seals, sealions, otters, whales, walruses, dolphins or porpoises) and also decided were are definitely against hanging moose heads, bear heads or any heads on the wall. And we will not ever display walrus ivory or penises (peni???) in our igloo. But then, we do represent a country that eats the animals on our national emblem and sells kangaroo scrotum pouches at Circular Quay.
So, you ask, what DID we morally conscious rained-upon eco-capitalists buy in Sitka today? A T-shirt with a picture of a moose on it. Made in China of course.