Homer + Seward, Alaska – Russia in America

From Homer viewpoint I am counting at least seven blue shimmering glaciers on the opposite shore. It would be probably more with better visibility. They all belong to the jagged, deeply snowy Alaska Range. Homer is inn the end of Kenai Peninsula, a small town with an ice-free port that lives from fishing and tourism. Homer Spit is a 7 km long slender sand promontory looming into the sea. Campgrounds neighbour souvenir shops. In the end of the promontory anglers are standing in 10-metres-distances, getting fish out of the water at minute-intervals. A female angler is enlightening us: Halibut is good fish, but flounder is much sought after. Cod is an all-eater and stinks, the big ones taste muddy, but some people prefer the big cods. Salmon is the best, a “clean” fish, but they don’t bite yet. In Homer. From time to time it is blubbering foamingly from an underground pipe. Nobody seems to take notice, but we are doing without the offered fish. Beside a Russian couple is angling. Americanisation must have missed them completely. The stout shoes, the long flowered skirt and the differently coloured floral headscarf belong to another age.

Many things point to the originally Russian settlement. First settlers probably came 12,000 years ago from Siberia across the dried up Bering Strait. The name Alyeska, “mighty land”, dates from this time. After Danish Vitus Bering found 1728 by order of Peter I the Great a strait instead of the expected isthmus he started in 1741 another expedition across the strait later named after him. Behind the Aleutian Islands he reached the North American continent at the Gulf of Alaska and took possession of it on behalf of the tsar. Ignoring Englishman James Cook’s surveying Russian trappers and fur traders settled from 1784 on in Alaska. After nearly exterminating sea otter and efficiently decimating numerous other fur-bearing animals the colony caused more expenses to the tsar than gaining profit and was offered for sale in the middle of the 19th century. The whole world laughed at that time at US Foreign Minister Seward who bought the assumingly useless “ice box” for 7.2 million Dollars from the Russians. It didn’t laugh long. Only 13 years later Joe Juneau discovered the first gold. In 1959 Alaska was constituted as 49. US state and 1968 petroleum was found in Prudhoe Bay as you know. Many town names like Skilak, Soldotna, or Kachemak still today bespeak the Russian heritage as well as some street names as for instance Kalifornsky Beach. In Ninchilik and also in Kenai that was originally founded as Nikolask Redoubt you find Russian Orthodox churches with their characteristic onion spires.

On our way back we are turning into Seward Highway. This road is said to be especially attractive because leading through Chugach Mountains. Unfortunately clouds are hanging into the valley so that there is nothing to see except the road and from time to time a turquoise rivers or lakes. We are driving to the end of the road in Seward that is shockingly touristic. At the shoreline one campground is glued to the next, but actually they are just ordinary parking lots where hundreds or more thousands of motorhomes, trailers, and tents are parked. We are leaving the horror quickly and turn into Exit Glacier Road north of town. Visibility isn’t better here, so we are parking and hoping for more weather luck for tomorrow.

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