travel


swinging from a purse seine boatSo a few weeks ago while I was sitting in the Cordova Library playing around on the internet and looking for a job a somewhat familiar looking guy  (I must have spoken to him in the bar) asked if I was looking for a job, then told me to call a random number about a deckhand job.  After a short phone call, I was given directions to the boat and told to meet in a half hour.  After some sailing talk on the dock I was offered a job, moved out of my van and onto the boat, and rode out of Cordova on the F/V Advantage that evening around 6 pm, without much of an idea – other then some preposterous Cordova bar rants I’d listened to- as to what I should expect.

Now that I’m back in Cordova and living in a tent, since my boat and crew members left for Kodiak to fish for pot cod , I still haven’t really gotten my head around the last couple of weeks action on the boat, so this post may read like a bunch of unrelated thoughts.

Despite not having any previous experience to use as a baseline the fishing seemed extremely slow.  We struggled to catch in three weeks what my captain was claiming we’d catch every day on that first evening leaving town.  Talk of 70,000 pound sets and catching 100,000 pounds by noon and taking the day off began to seem like a farfetched fantasy on days we made 16 plus sets for a total of 10,000 pounds and caught nothing but water, weeds and jelly fish on a regular basis.

salmon purse seine fishingThat first night on the boat I was told repeatedly that I’d be working harder then I’d ever worked before and have sore muscles that I didn’t now existed, but other then having to skip around semi frantically as I tried to keep from slowing the operation down and some tiredness in my admittedly puny forearms things were generally pretty easy.  After learning to look away from the exploding jelly fish in order to avoid 20 minutes or so of eye pain things became remarkably easier. The realization that every 30 minutes of actual work is followed by a 20 to 200 minutes of standing around as we either re-set our net, or as we waited in line behind other boats really took the fear out of the 18 hour work day.  And after the initial 3 day opening, we were never allowed to fish  more then day on day off, so every actual day of work was followed by a day of lounging around on deck trying to kill time.  The amount of reading I got done in three weeks actually frightened me.

Seine fishing in PWS Alaska

Rather then the complete solitude and days that go by without spotting another boat while sailing with Gary and Norm out of Seward, I don’t think there was any point in the last 3 weeks when another boat wasn’t within eye site.  Despite our Captain’s reluctance to wait in line and penchant for avoiding other boats  all but one day was spent fishing the same spot as 3 or more other boats. I was expecting cold wet and rainy weather, but on average it was sunny and in the 70s with glassy water the entire time I was out.  At no time was it ever too rough to read and overcast and rain days were a pleasant change as they’d keep me from getting overheated or squnity eyed while working.

I’ve always been amazed by the frivolous complaints I hear from skiers and sailors about some combination of anything and everything, so I got a continual laugh about the level and type of complaints dished out by my crew, captain and various other boats overheard on the radio.  Victimization was the main norm as the tide was seemingly always against everyone, the wind was never co-operative and the poor fishing was always the result of a nefarious plot by either ADFG, marine mammals, sharks or the Japanese.  The site of some whales within a half mile would inevitably result in screaming and a sea lion swimming up and biting the head off a single fish in our net was treated like a mugging.

Despite not catching many fish, hence not making much money, I’ll look back on the last 3 weeks with a huge smile. I easily surpassed the longest I’d gone without walking on land, I picked up some new boat skills and a couple of knots, saw some fantastic scenery, read a couple books I had been putting off and laughed a lot.  I guess I’d even go again if given the chance.

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Now that I’ve skipped town I’m feeling a  lot more confident about trashing on some of my old neighbors so I figure it’s time to put together the 2nd post in this series.  First off, the Durango pictured above lived across the street from me.  Despite the THUMPN vanity the car didn’t seem to have an aggressive stereo or anything, and mostly just sat parked in the grass, with the celestial tail gate on display for passersby.What  I can say is that it’s owner was involved in an extended feud with my roommate that occasionally escalated to shouting across the street and calling the cops over each others poorly behaved dogs and children.

This was a constant once the snow melted, although they weren’t so much yard sales as they were semi-permanent gypsy style markets taking place in peoples lawns and driveways.  They seemed to be selling 90s televisions, fitness equipment and various other junk more days then not.

PT Cruiser enthusiasm was alive and well on the east side.  My local coffee stand was even home to a PT vs HHR rivalry amongst the two girls that worked there.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the murdered out red PT  often seen cruising our streets with a windshield brim and a 1BADPT vanity plate.

Both the name and the aggressive signs on the door of our local convenience store always got a laugh out of me, but if I’m honest the store was pretty awful and I won’t miss their outrageous ATM fees.  Cigarettes were actually cheaper at the place across the street anyway.  There was a lot of discussion in the neighborhood about the relationship between the store’s owners and the shady Asian massage parlor in the same strip mall.

I’d seen this regional MPV driving around with the HOOCH plates for weeks but hadn’t managed to get a picture so one night I chased him down on my bike and got the above shot while he was stuck at a traffic light.  Have I mentioned how much I love not waiting at 3am red lights with no one around since moving out of Anchorage, well if not, it’s fantastic.

This guy was parked at the local liquor store on most days just as I was riding home from work.  Unfortunately I happened to take the picture just as the owner was exiting the store and was on the end of a stare down as I rode away.  Pretty pumped to be out of town, hopefully I can get some windsurfing video put together here soon.  Conditions on Eyak lake have been prime, I just don’t haven any of my camera stuff available due to the move.

As regular readers have realized,  my bijanxed knee is keeping me from enjoying the snow (which I’m told has been fantastic) so the posting around here has slowed.  But in an effort to cure boredom, and keep this place from becoming stale, I have been searching for material to write about.  Graham suggested another neighborhood profile, but my current neighborhood lacks the quirks of the old one, so I’ll have to hold out on that for a bit.  I’ve considered documenting vanity plates, but I never seem to have my camera handy and tales of 1BADPT and MY24CR aren’t nearly as cool as pictures.  But yesterday in an attempt to avoid reading about skiing, I began some ratebeer reminiscing.  After stumbling upon old stories of smuggling a Founders keg into Canada, and reading certain memorable ratings  I realized I’d forgotten the fact that my local brewers provide me with all the material I ever need.

Despite being in this sites title, and a low level of drunkenness pervading most the activities I mention around here, it’s been a few years since I’ve written anything about beer.  That said,  I’m currently trying to limit my booze intake, as alcohol consumption seems to stiffen my knee. And after taking some time to re-read my friends vintage ratings, I don’t think my ratings of the current Anchorage offerings  can live up to the lofty standards we set back in ’02. I still feel more beer ratings should read like this:

“All hopped up like Carlton Banks in the Fresh Prince episode where Will has speed in his locker during a high school dance. A golden-orange color, a little on the lighter side. Not my favorite style, but it’s decent”

Or this gem:

“Roasty smell with coffee aroma, a deep brown like a high school freshman’s first dime bag it. A very light head. The fire department was too late, it is oh so burnt and i like it. “

The other problem I have with pivoting to beer talk is that I’m also particularly ashamedthat I have yet to write anything about  Zach’s new brewery in Portland, despite seeing it being mentioned in numerous articles over the past couple of weeks.  But last night, with memories of  the New Basement and that Brettanomyces obsessed trip to Montreal fresh in my mind a spotted a bottle of Anchorage Galaxy White IPA inside a BrownJug cooler and the words, “bottled with Brett” caught my eye.  With my a craving for something sour I figured I’d test my taste buds and see what I could do with my first beer rating in 4 or 5 years.  Results bellow.

3.7 Aroma: 8 Apperanace:4 Flavor 5 Body: 5 Overal 15

Very floral hop aroma with some dry yeast and wood smells that have me thinking of a midwestern bar on a crisp fall day.  Pours with a large head that dissipates to a frothy 1/4″ of white cream.  Straw yellow and cloudy.  Not much of the sourness I was expecting, opens up with some bready malt, and rounded hops, and finishes with a sharp dose Brett bitterness.  Wonderfully balanced body and lively feel.  Very interested in trying their other beers now.

Jai Alai can't be fixed or they wouldn't play so aggressivelySo a night of playing the 2-5-7 Q Box at Dania Jai Alai has got me hooked.  The racquetball – horse racing – keno like combination makes for fascinating sport.  The heckling of the pelotaris (who’s every mistake is greeted as proof of being on the take) by physically upset degenerate gamblers adds a touch of comedy to the occasion.  Enjoy the videos, and if you find yourself in Florida check it out, the relative scarcity of the sport makes it unlikely a single experience will send your  life careening into a Jai Alai handicapping abyss.

Well after some technical problems I finally logged the video I shot in Cochabamba.  I have to wip it all into a 15 to 20 minute video for work, but since I haven’t posted anything around here for a while I figured I’d give all you readers a little taste (7-8 quick shots) first.  Watching makes me miss the Latin American press lifestyle.

Tuesday Liam and I took advantage of our 12 hour layover in Miami to go to the beach.  I think it helped put the Bolivia experience into perspective.  Everything in Miami was so sad, sterile and clean.  Hours went by without either of us seeing a single animal or finding a decent spot to get a rum drink.  Without either loafers or a rolex everyone seemed reluctant to even give us directions.  I said I wanted to stab someone. Liam approved and said something about death metal originating in Miami; it made a lot of sense at the time.  After a couple of hours we took the bus back to the airport hoping to forget the experience and imagine we were back in Bolivia.  Oh, and I have to say the beaches in Michigan are infinitely nicer anyway.  Sorry to begin the report with such a downer, but my recent trip to Bolivia could not have contrasted greater with my brief experience in Miami.

Immediately After landing in Cochabamba and clearing customs I had a camera thrust into my face.  “Welcome to Bolivia, where are you from?”  “Where’s Alaska?”  The second question caused me to take a brief pause (It was a 36 hour, 8,000 mile trip after all), and when I managed to answer something about the north, Canada and the Pacific Ocean the camera man (who I was soon to learn was Alejandro and was wearing and early 90s purple windbreaker) responded with a friendly “fuck you”, then a laugh before handing me a glass of coca tea.  After some brief formalities at our hotel I spent the rest of that first frantic day rambling around Cochabamba with Alejandro and his partner J_____. One moment we were taking shots in the street and asking the cops if we could stand on their car, the next we were avoiding a two hour line by a brushing aside a few soldiers (who all looked under 17) and claiming Alejandro’s massive camera and my microphone were all press credentials we needed.  In between a couple more drinks, some delicious food (grilled hearts!) and an interview with an 85 year old Bolivian school teacher we actually made into the accreditation center where Alejandro bullied some local youths into giving me the international press credentials I so didn’t deserve.  The rest of the day continued at pace, crisscrossing town in J______s’ car, shooting some video, drinking beer, eating beef and yuca, drinking coca rum, changing money, interviewing a couple of elderly Quechua women, (but sadly forgetting the three or four Quechua words they struggled to teach us)  and getting a small taste of Cochabamba. Then, after spending my first 16 hours in South America being in constant motion, Alejandro dropped me off at my hotel and I drank whiskey on the balcony with Brad until two or 3 in the morning.  Four hours later we woke up, slammed a couple glasses of coca tea, and got on the bus to catch the opening of the convention.  The sun was shinning, I was hung over, and the bus passed a burro carrying 5 mattresses.  I was in love with Bolivia.

via KK+ at Flickr

It was at that opening ceremony that I first put Alejandro’s teachings to work.  Jess and I cut the line that morning by brushing some soldiers aside, waving my press pass like a spastic and having Jess follow me holding the microphone.  (I’ve since learned that the latin american press behaves like  such animals that if your not foaming at the lips with rage you won’t be taken seriously)  It was also at the opening ceremony that I met Azucena, who acted like a personal translator and tour guide for the rest of the trip.  It’s due to her that I understood at the time Evo’s crazy chicken comments that became a national joke in Bolivia.  Afterwards, fighting through the crowd trying to follow Azucena, the rhythm of the convention became clear.  A blissful rampage broken by strange speeches and the occasional state dinner.

Before I go on I need to say a few words on the fantastic Cochabamba.  My first impression of the town was that the mountains and sprawl gave the it the look of an extremely green version of Salt Lake City.  But once inside I realized that Cochabamba possessed a diverse liveliness that the desert sun and Mormon church have long since cauterized in Utah.  Driving in town was completely organic, with lane lines, traffic lights and roundabouts all treated as merely advisory.   To get to J____’s house you were forced to drive against traffic on the shoulder of a major highway for 200 yards, it was frightening.  Cab drivers would burn through red lights without hesitation.  Dodging pedestrians at speed was common on the main roads, and passing cows and burros was normal on the side streets, which rotated between dirt, cobbles and pavement at random intervals.  I’ve never seen anywhere near the number of half finished buildings, at times it seemed like most of the homes had rebar stretching skyward waiting for an additional story.  The conference and our hotel were slightly outside of town (in Tiquipaya and Colcapirhua respectively) and existed in a wonderful state of urban ruralism, with cows and cornfields existing alongside apartments, large brick buildings and small factories.  Central Cochabamba was hypnotically diverse as well.  A two minute walk could go from european feeling squares and tree lined boulevards too chaotic narrow markets or allies filled with crazy bars and savage partying.  Everyone was extremely friendly, and with Alejandro’s and Azucena’s habit of starting conversations with strangers, I felt like we met more people in a few days then I would in a month at home.  It was an enchanting city that I’d love to visit again.

Throughout the conference my main duties were to shoot some video, facilitate interviews or interactions with the press, and to attend as many of the discussions as I could.  The press stuff was incredibly easy.  With Carlos translating, Brad repeating speeches and the press eager to hear from a bunch of strange Alaskans all we had to do to get airtime was convince our delegation to show up.  In one average afternoon Brad spent over an hour  on Radio Fidel, Jess was interviewed on live Bolivian TV, and I got to provide the translation for Fred on french radio station.  Most of the video I shot while following around Alejandro, as he was so determined to get good footage all I had to do was follow in his wake.  At one point while chasing an interview with Naomi Klein I watched as he bull charged over 3 people with a camera on his shoulder.  The panel discussions were interesting, and usually sparked a lively conversation between Azucena and myself.  As part of the Alaskan delegation I had to attend both a dinner and brunch with Evo Morales, Leonard Boff, and Hugo Chavez.  Normally attending dinners with various foreign heads of state would be enough to make me miserable, as I ceremonies of that sort bore me to tears.  But both events proved to be pretty entertaining, the food was pretty good, Evo danced with a member of our group (the extra sharp will spot both Brad and I in this video).

As soon as the conference was over I took off for La Paz with Azucena.  Our friends from the embassy strongly suggested flying (20 minutes), but with a local guide the seven hour bus ride offered better scenery and a chance to experience normal Bolivian life.  Throughout our trip the local Bolivian papers were filled with stories of public transportation deaths, and after riding the bus it’s easier to understand why.  The roads in Bolivia are the craziest I’ve ever experienced.  Narrow, perched on top of massive cliffs, and occasionally washed out by small streams or cluttered by rock slides; veering over the edge of a massive cliff never seemed too remote a possibility, especially when passing oncoming traffic.  Azucena even insisted on sitting on the right hand side of the bus to avoid any direct impacts with oncoming traffic.

While in La Paz Azucena showed me a bit of the town, we ate some fantastic food and went to a hysterical party with a few of her friends; but our main activity was to go for a fantastic hike up Mururata.  After riding in a van heading south of La Paz for 3 hours on the craziest roads I’ve ever experienced, we spent 7 hours hiking past numerous lakes and llamas while taking in the stunning views of Mt Illimani (top picture).  We made it up to over 5000 meters. It would have been nice to make the summit, but the altitude was crushing me (despite chewing coca leaves I struggled to pace with Azucena all day) so after eating some delicious eggplant sandwiches next to a waterfall we turned back.  I was tired but feeling proud of putting in a good days work getting as high as we did before I began seeing the potato harvests near the base.  The number of potatoes (see above) that the local indigenous farmers pick axed out of the mountain side while we were hiking was astounding, and acted as further proof of the delusional nature of my idea of hard work.

So now that I’ve gone on longer then any of my posts for at least a year I think it’s time to start winding this story down.  If given the time I could go on talking about Bolivia for weeks, but I think that will only serve to depress me as I try to return to my real life.  First off I have to thank the Bolivian Embassy for making the entire trip possible.  Second thanks to Alejandro, Carlos and Azucena for taking me out of the tourist realm and giving me a glimpse of how people go about real life in Bolivia.  It’s been an unforgettable trip,  and I made so many friends I feel like I have no other choice but to return.  Also, I can’t get the thought of skiing this line on Huyani Potosi out of my mind.  Thank you Boliva!  I can’t wait to return.