Travel Diary Alaska// People and Places

Note: The intent has been to publish a post more or less daily. However, there has been no time to write on this trip, if little time to take notes. From here on, I’ll break from the daily format and try to capture some of what we experienced, for those who might find it interesting.

“In 2018, there were 1.13 times more Asian (Non-Hispanic) residents (2.48k people) in Kodiak, AK than any other race or ethnicity. . . In 2019, the most common birthplace for the foreign-born residents of Alaska was Philippines.”


On Sunday, after a morning catching up on some rest (and a bit of blogging), we head out to a church picnic in a location the likes of which has been the site of no other picnic in my experience, church or otherwise. Fort Abercrombie State Park is host not only to the ruins of a WWII coastal military installation, with its rusting cannons and weather-battered turrets sitting high on windy bluffs, but to an impossibly green clearing, one backed by a dense mossy spruce line on one end, and a shallow, sloped meadow and steep cliffs on the other, above which is revealed the North Pacific and more of Kodiak Island beyond.

It’s just the right size for a gathering of families and new friends for a meal, some football, and some gazing at amazing natural beauty.

As we stand at the ropes delineating the meadow from the cliff edge, someone in the group says they spot a whale, and sure enough, we watch across the mile or so as the slick black hump of a whale’s back glides just above the water before disappearing below the glassy surface. It’s hard to make out at this distance, and if a local didn’t confirm that it was, in point of fact, a whale, you might convince yourself that you didn’t actually see it. We certainly didn’t know at this moment, as we strain to get a photo or video of that barely-distinct bobbing black dot in the distance, that in a few hours we would be seeing whales much closer. But even this far off glance it thrilling, and likely would have been enough.

Our hosts are excited about the Filipino food that is sure to make an appearance, and have mentioned it frequently in the hours leading up to this gathering. When I go through the line, I do spot a few items that COULD be Filipino cuisine, but most of the food looks fairly standard picnic fare. Not that I complain, as I load a burger with cheese and mayo and grab a double slice of apple pie.

At a point after we’ve all had at least a plate of food, someone in the group says, “the Filipino food just arrived.” I’m not certain what I’m expecting to see when I turn to look toward the covered pavilion where the food is being served. In my experience with church picnics – “potluck lunches” in Indiana vernacular – food is often transported into the venue in Tupperware bowls or glass baking dishes; an observed foil covered plate surely contains cookies of some type, chocolate chip or no-bake being a safe bet. What I do see are two men slowly carrying a large platform covered in foil. I will soon find out that the Filipinos have really come through with an entire roasted pig. As someone who more values my porcine meat in the form of dogs or chops, I decline; yet still I’m impressed, and happy for my friends, who can’t seem to get to the table fast enough. I have to nod politely when several exclaim that “The pig is here!” and “Did you get some pig?“ and “Boy, that pig!”

As someone with a connection to Filipino people, it’s interesting that they are so prevalent here, some 5000 miles from their homeland. According to our hosts (and confirmed via the Google), Filipinos arrived centuries ago, to work the fishing vessels and mining camps, among other jobs.

It’s an unexpected treat.

Back in the early 90’s, I traveled with my father to visit Filipino churches that were supported by some American believers. It was my first time leaving the country, and it would plant a seed of, if not wanderlust, exactly, then at least an appreciation of the power of world travel, in my heart. It also introduced me to people and culture which I’m sure, all these years later, I’m still processing. Such generosity and kindness mixed with frantic work ethic, an almost restless directness, and keen instincts for survival, these born in part, no doubt, from the archipelago’s dense city-center population and shifting economy. Even in the Philippines of the early 90’s, you could see the coming tech and pop culture wave taking hold, particularly in the younger generation. It’s interesting to think that the people I observed and met who were my age, who were bobbing their heads along to American radio in the Jeepneys that jammed the roads, are some of the same people building the new economy there today.

I have seen the same hospitality of spirit and dogged work ethic in the Filipinos I have interacted with so far on this trip, mostly in the service and retail industries. Imagine, if you will, a Walmart or Safeway worker (or several) who actually seem to enjoy their job, and who converse as if they, in all actuality, are glad you stopped in. Imagine those same workers stepping literally right in front of you while you scan a shelf so they can scan an item for inventory; “no offense intended, got a job to do.” I can’t claim that life is great in those jobs or that it’s not the legalized recreational drugs that make the jobs bearable, but man was it nice to see someone smile while they worked. You rarely see that in other parts of the world, no matter what profession you’re talking about.

The fact that we are breaking bread (or pig) with these brothers and sisters is especially gratifying.

After we all have eaten (many satiated with the bounty of our porcine benefactor), a few of us venture down the steep cliff side to the water’s edge. The tide is currently out, and the deep, damp beach consists of smooth pebbles of various sizes near the cliffs edge, with large, moss and small muscle-covered rock formations sticking out vertically near the water line, like the irregular ribs of petrified prehistoric sea beasts cemented in time and space.

The locals point out the sea anemones, and a few of our party pick up large rubbery pieces of sea kelp and proceed to slap their companions with it. We are assured the loud thwack sound the kelp makes when contacting skin sounds worse that it is, and I for one am happy to take their word for it. A few of us climb some of the larger rocks to watch more closely for the whales cresting in the bay.

Like many large, naturals scenes that are beyond my experience and even imagination, it is difficult to describe the view. This is a theme that will pop up many more times this trip.

Atop our sea boulders, we note that the tide is coming in. The tide here is notorious for its deceptively speedy return, and many people, taking advantage of the low tide to collect crabs and other items of interest, get caught out too far when the tide advances back to shore, and have to be rescued. This becomes more readily understandable as we watch the small puddles we easily jumped over moments before start to grow with each successive wave.

Making it back across to the rock-strewn beach, the kelp-slapping, anemone-touching merriment continues as we head back up the cliff to the picnic above. We will spend some more time with our new friends, and then head back to the house to prepare for a date with the sea, and the large, exotic-to-us creatures it hides.

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