The Aleut natives called it Alyeska, "the great land."
The notion of vastness has always been inseparable from this remote domain of the American continent.
Some numbers and geographic facts take care to clear up any doubts. With 1.717.854 km2, only eighteen of the countries in the world surpass it in size. Nationally, Alaska has a longer coastline than all other US states combined.
And more than two gigantic Texas would fit in its space as immense as inhospitable.
But the austere climate typical of the high latitude – 51º.20 N to 71 N – and the geographic loneliness in relation to the rest of the world are uninviting and neither the financial privileges nor the technological endowment of the main towns have arrived to sustain an immigration that, during the various gold rushes, excessive fear was feared.
With its 710.000 inhabitants, in terms of population, Alaska appears almost at the end of the ranking of USA
Kerby “Crazy Doughnut” is one of the last refugees from Anchorage, the northernmost city in the country and at the same time home to 40% of the state's population.
As he confessed to us, at one point, his existence in lush Los Angeles had become unbearable, and the reputation of the genuine, tax-free life of the last American frontier seduced him more than the blinding lights of Hollywood and plastic refinement. in Beverly Hills and Mulholland Drive: “Californians are cants…,” he vents as he downing his second shot of vodka in the last ten minutes.
“Year after year, I pretended it was my problem but I couldn't keep lying to myself anymore. What counts there is what is displayed and everyone wants to pass over everyone else. I had a relationship that I considered blessed until I realized it was just another lie.
It was the last straw. As soon as I felt energetic I moved here and, although it's not all rosy, I'm adapting and business is going well…"
The city that welcomed him is also thriving. From a port and railroad warehouse, it developed without return with the installation of several military bases and the discovery of oil at Prudhoe-Bay, on the north coast of Alaska.
Today, Anchorage has recovered from the devastation of the second largest earthquake on record in the world (9.2 Richter) – which shook a significant part of Alaska on Good Friday in 1964 – and its streets are wider, delimited by housing pre-built with a maximum of three floors.
In terms of construction, only the “downtown” was considered exceptional and is dominated by the high-rise headquarters buildings of the multinationals that trade the black gold, such as the powerful BP and ConocoPhilips Alaska and multimillion-dollar airlines that profit from the city's position , strategic for several routes connecting the Lower 48 states to destinations nerves in Asia.
Anchorage's success opened doors to the sophistication of nightlife and different cultural expressions with formal exponent at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
Kerby, himself defined as a “creator”, makes his contribution and continues to exist. Painter, designer and multi-faceted plastic artist, his talent impressed club and bar owners and, from the moment he decorated the first spaces, he was in frequent demand.
But Anchorage is also an almost mandatory arrival and departure point for visitors to Alaska who, from June to the end of August, finish their trips there, rent cars and caravans and make the last purchases, thus boosting the local economy.
We are no exception to the rule.
In two days, we finished the preparations and ended the exploration of the city, which modernization made less interesting than other places in the state. We then go to the Seward Highway and south of the Great North.
From an eight-lane lane exiting Anchorage, the road quickly tapers into two more as it approaches Cook Inlet, an arm of the Gulf of Alaska that separates the Kenai Peninsula from the mainland. For several tens of kilometers, we huddled between the foothills of conifer-covered mountains and a river-like sea.
Blue lingers in the sky.
We took advantage of the more than 18 hours of daily light and, in the same afternoon, we left for Homer, a place as emblematic as it is controversial, located in the almost western end of the Kenai Peninsula.
we interrupt the trip whenever the scenarios require it and to enjoy the bizarre sight of a huge salmon fishery that we spot on the banks of the Russian River.
Passing Nikolaevsk and Kasilof, we also stopped a few kilometers from the final destination, in Ninilchik, a village founded in 1820, also by Russian settlers, as the name suggests.
There we find its white Orthodox church and adjoining cemetery, full of conventional crosses and eight arms, headstones with Russian names, equipped with United States flags that form a posthumous monument to the delicate relationship between Alaska and the Russia.
In 1867, the two nations traded Alaska for 7.2 million dollars, (108 million at today's exchange rate), the equivalent of then two cents per acre.
Just a few years later, the scale of the Russians' error had already been realized.
Like a mirage, the long (7km) Spit of Homer invades Kachemak Bay and marks the end of the road as far as the Kenai Peninsula is concerned.
Despised by some (who consider him squatter) and idolized by others who appreciate him as "A Quaint Little Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem”, the village has changed little since the recovery from the tsunami that passed over it in 1964. Every year, it conquers new fans.
For Alaska veterans, Homer is sacred ground, a kind of sub-arctic Shangri-La that attracts worshipers like few other villages. The atmosphere of the place is relaxed, favored by the grandeur of the surrounding nature and the privileged climate.
Among the tourists – dazed by the profusion of bars and souvenir shops – there coexist radicals, artists and theorists disillusioned with society in general, and dedicated to the permanent exchange of utopias.
There is also a theater – Pier One – which now serves, above all, as a landing for seagulls.
This decadent concert hall is surrounded by countless RV's (recreation vehicles), the immense caravans that often tow huge jeeps or SUVs, shared by families who spend their holidays in the village fishing and devouring halibut & chips.
It's the last of the activities that we indulge in at the Salty Dawg Saloon, the most eccentric and revered of the local bars. When we enter that dark den where sunlight is forced through an old wooden window, we feel like intruders.
The tightness of the meager space retracts us, like the weight of the countless notes hanging from the irregular ceiling and the short walls that support it. Still, we move forward. We found a perch on the huge golden board covered with carved names that served as a table.
We ordered beers and soaked up the noisy atmosphere of that secular den, housed in a house built in 1897 and that, over time, served a little of everything: police station, railway station, grocery store, office of a construction company. coal mining, among others.
We knew that, outside, the sunlight was going to last so we savored Alaskan Amber unhurriedly.
From Salty Dawg we proceeded through the long “Spit” out with no greater expectations. Just a few hundred yards away is an informal weighing station for catches caught by resident fishermen and those arriving during the Alaskan summer excited by the genuineness of the hobby.
There, a group of workers in casual attire hang and display the specimens for a while.
They are, for the most part, huge halibut, shallow, voracious fish that feed on all the other species they can bite into and that the Alaskans, in turn, devour in industrial quantities even in times of fresh and easy salmon like the one in which we were.
The work took place in front of one of several wooden buildings erected above the highest level of the tongue of land (less than 6 meters high), in a stilt style, the way the local community found to protect them from the vagaries of the tides. , from storms and beyond.
Like much of coastal Alaska, Homer also suffered from the tsunami generated by the great Alaska earthquake of 1964.
On Good Friday that year, at twenty minutes from six in the afternoon, the zone shook with the intensity expected of a magnitude 9.2 Richter earthquake, the most powerful in North American history.
In Homer, in particular, no one fell victim to the tragedy. Even so, the “spit” sank almost two meters due to the sub-soil yielding and a wave of eight meters was generated. The old harbor and several buildings – including the old Salty Dawg Saloon – did not withstand the sea torrent, as did a portion of the once longest tongue of land and all its ancient vegetation.
What's left of the winding tip is still a lot. It continued forward.
We walked it through the long day and that Alaskan end of the world finally in its dying throes. As we reach the last few meters, we come across the frigid sea of Kachemak Bay contained by the still semi-snowy mountains of the Kenai Peninsula.
Successive fishing boats returned to the village's port, small metallic knot shells that faced the arctic waters so often in turmoil.
A flock of ospreys perched on the ground watched us and the sea, eager for food.
A father and two sons were entertaining themselves by throwing stones so that they would jump as many times as possible over the almost immobile water. Even if in a strange way, everything seemed to be in its place, so we soon traveled across the strange peninsula in the opposite direction.
In recent times, more and more inhabitants of the Lower 48 North American and even Anchorage seem to have had enough of the summer shuttles and settled on Homer for good, many of them because of the tranquility of life and the abundance of sun.
“Homer inspires the dreams of those who want to change but, in return, it requires a good dose of tenacity” says Asia Freeman, who moved from San Francisco with her parents when she was just six years old. Right now, she and her husband run an art gallery. “My parents weren't interested in the kitschy art that predominates in Alaska.
Instead, they invited artists of all kinds: writers, musicians, poets. Gradually, the city came to be desired by the most creative souls.
But not just anyone survives here. My husband and I share five jobs. Sale of works of art, teaching, a B&B, construction and real estate management.”
We soon found another of these examples. Michael – we only learned his first name – settled in Alaska to fly planes and show fishing boats the location of the best schools.
During Homer's high season, he operated guided air trips to the coast of Katmai, a territory par excellence of the local grizzly bears.
He invited us to join a group the next day, something we accepted with great enthusiasm.
We returned to Homer safe and sound and continued to explore the city.