Thursday, October 18

Trip to the big city

Mountains near Anchorage
May 2007

About 12 years ago, I arrived in this country with the honest intention of staying just for one year. My first culture shock episode happened inside of a supermarket. I was used to small privately owned stores, and I believe there was only one supermarket chain that had opened in my hometown at the time, which I didn't use very much anyway. Here in the US, on the other hand, the great majority of the supermarkets are enormous stores where you can find at least 100 different brands of cereal. Who on Earth needs one hundred brands of cereal? I thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, a perfect example of the obscene abundance that characterizes this country.

In the little rural Alaskan town I live in, we have a supermarket where there is probably not more than 5 brands of cereal to choose from. A store where prices are too high, vegetables look too much like plastic, and there is lots and lots of dust. We use it basically to buy eggs, those sprinkled with who knows how many types of hormones and antibiotics. And that is just because it would be hard for eggs to arrive safely in the mail or in our luggage. The rest of what we eat and otherwise consume we buy in the city.

Once every two or three months, just like we are doing now, we come to Anchorage. It's the closest city and the biggest one in Alaska, though it's not the capital of the State. This is also something that has always been interesting for me about this country. The biggest and best known city in the State is never the capital of the State. Completely the opposite of the Spanish logic, where the majority of the capitals have the same name as the provinces they are in, and in most cases they are also the largest cities. One would imagine, coming from Spain, that New York would logically be the capital of New York State. But no, it's Albany. And who has ever heard anything about Albany?

Anyway... since there is no other possible transportation from Aniak, coming to Anchorage implies an hour and a half flight over tundra, rivers, lakes, mountains and glaciers. A simple shopping trip then turns into quite an adventure. We spend hours and hours running from one place to the other buying wholesale food, tools, construction materials, clothes and everything else we will need in order to spend a few months in the bush until the next upcoming trip to the city. Then we have to pack everything you bought into boxes and take them to the Post Office or one of the cargo business at the airport. Mind you, there are very long lines at the Post office usually. And we finally go back home loaded with huge coolers full of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as refrigerated and frozen items we could not send through the mail. This shopping style is called here "guerrilla shopping." It is a true pain in the ass and pretty stressful, believe me.

On the other hand, a trip to the city also implies the possibility of going to a restaurant, getting a cup of coffee or a drink, going to a park with the kid, walk into a store just because you feel like looking around, driving a car... Many things that you take for granted living in the "civilized" world and that nowadays are an amazing luxury for me.

I would have never imagined that walking into one of those huge stores that scared me 12 years ago, say a Safeway, would feel so comforting. Yes, a Safeway, comforting!! And I don't just get this feeling when grocery shopping. I get it even when experiencing most of those things that I have always disliked from the cities: traffic, noise, concrete, people that pass by without looking at you, or the innumerable straight lines in the urban landscape.

The peace that you get from that which is familiar is something truly powerful. Regardless of it is supposedly "good" or "bad" for you.

Monday, October 15

My environment

"The Kuskokwim's break-up"
Aniak, Alaska
May 2007

Since today is October 15th and a few days ago I signed up for Blog Action Day, I'll take this chance to talk about why I happened to land in this corner of the world. It has to do with environmental issues.

David, the man I share a journey an a small and beautiful family with, accepted a job in January that implied leaving everything behind and moving to a small town in the Alaska Bush for a period of at least three years. The decision was not an easy one, but we took it and here we are.

Now, David works as the Director of the Kuskokwim River Watershed Council, trying to build the organization from the ground. It is a bit surreal that a guy from Andorra de Teruel, in Spain, has come to Alaska to create an environmental organization that represents the interests of the 29 Yup'ik and Athabascan tribes that live along the longest free flowing river in the US. It is not an easy job, believe me.

The project is still in its initial phases, creating a board of directors with representatives from the different towns and tribes. The idea is to eventually start developing projects that will help in the conservation of the river. The work will focus on environmental issues, though the social and cultural areas are also tremendously important aspects of it. Projects such as river water quality monitoring and recycling programs are starting out. An interesting project that is developing is a summer camp in which elders and children will share a few days together and explore a variety of cultural traditions. Those traditions that with the impact of western civilization and especially television, are slowly dying out. If you are interested, you can visit the Kuskokwim River Watershed Council's website.

Meanwhile, at home, we try to live a life as sustainable as possible. This implies reducing as much as possible the use of fossil resources, trying to recycle as much as possible in a town with no recycling programs yet, and obtaining a big portion of our protein through hunting and fishing in the area. Hopefully, next summer we will have a garden big enough to produce vegetables that will last part of the winter.

What seems impossible to avoid here is the use of one of our biggest contaminants and resource suckers nowadays: airplanes. I recently learned that 1 out of 69 people in Alaska is a pilot. And it is not surprising. Most part of Alaska is like the area of the tundra we live in, with no communication by road other than to get to the dump, which is about 2 miles outside of town. We live far away from Alaska's small road system. At least here we have the river in the winter, and for a few months out of each year, it freezes over and turns into a giant Ice Road, connecting all the villages in the area and allowing people to ride in snow machines or trucks from one place to another.

I'm still scared of going on the frozen river, but I hear that there are trucks that drive on the ice when the ice is at its thickest, so it must be pretty safe. You'll hear all about it! :)

Wednesday, October 10


"Inside the fire"
Aniak, Alaska
October 2007

One of my daily jobs, in this new "mother and house-wife" life that I lead lately, is the one of tending the fire and keeping it alive all day long. It's our only source of heat. Yes, there is an oil stove under the stairs, but we are hoping to use it only when temperatures drop below -20C (more or less 0F). Brrrrr......

Living with fire is a new experience for me. I've never had it in my life on a daily basis. Fire has always been a sporadic thing: during vacations, camping trips, or those moments in which a lit fireplace adds a romantic touch to a lazy winter afternoon.

Six years ago, I shared a weekend with a Lakota Native that spoke to us about his culture's "Sacred Fire." It is a ritual that facilitates the transition of the spirits from this world to the next. When a loved one dies in the community, a man of the family starts a sacred fire. It must stay lit for four days and four nights. In this tradition, men protect the sacred fire and women give them support and food during the process. Smoke leads the way and becomes the connection thread between both worlds.

Each and every one of us carries inside a sacred fire. Its flame can be more or less awake, and even at times it may look like it is completely dead. But no, this flame never dies. It is dormant, transformed in amber and hiding under the ashes. It waits patiently for the moment we have the courage to question our own inner emptiness, look at it directly, and feel its chill. Only by doing this does the fire resume its dancing liveliness. Only when we pay attention to it and take care of it. Only when we take care of ourselves. And only by doing this can we take care of others and at the same time allow others to take care of us.

I must care for my sacred fire in order to care for our fire... I must tend the fire...

Saturday, October 6

Skin and Fur

Photographer: Chío
Seattle, WA
August 1997

Skin. That primordial organ that offers us our first and most vital information. The largest of all the senses. That elastic wrapping that is capable to stretch in amazing ways and then come back to its original position, with more or less success. That eternal companion that contains us, protects us, and draws our boundaries. That skin I always envied in my sister, because she was the one that inherited Grandma Rosa's, instead of me. That which I see changing every day in front of the mirror while it shows me that life really is passing by.

And here, in Alaska, being in contact with other types of skin. Skin that far away, in the "civilized" world, I would've never considered putting over my body. That other sister skin, the ones that the animals wear. So necessary here, such a part of what living in contact with nature with a subsistence economy really is.

Yup'ik believe that when an animal crosses your path, it's because it is offering itself to you. And the correct thing to do is to be grateful, receive the offering, and hunt it. Of course, to truly honor the animal, you must utilize all the resources it is offering. They generously give up their meat to feed us, and with that same generosity, we must offer it first to the elders. They offer their fur as well, which will be transformed into warm and soft gloves, hats, and mukluk boots. Nothing goes to waste, it would be an offense to the animal.

It is easy to understand that the local people are against hunting as a "sport." The type of hunting that the white man practices so much here. The tourist, that thrilled by the adventure of bow-hunting a bear in the mountains of Alaska, leaves the animal to rot in the wilderness, decapitated and dishonored, while he leaves proudly with his trophy. One more head that will soon hang in some wall in Munich, Chicago, or Madrid. I have never liked to see heads hanging from walls. Though seeing them here in peoples homes takes a different meaning, like so many other things.

It is impossible to see this world through civilized eyes. I am in the process of a full mental reconditioning in order to be able to accept that some of my truths and values will have to step aside for the time being. As with everything, there is a process of adaptation that transforms you, and you never know who you will be at the end of that process.

Friday, October 5


"Sunset with friends"
Beach in Queiruga, A Coruña
August 2007

This image, captured this last summer in Spain, makes me think about how important friends are. I know that the quality of the friendships that we will develop in Aniak will be one of the key factors in determining how well we adjust to this wild and frozen land.

Little by little I'm starting to socialize and meet some people in town. The summer has gone by and with it the frenzy that accompanies it. Most of the subsistence activities last the few months between break-up and freeze-up. Once the salmon fishing, berry picking, and moose hunting is over with in the Kuskokwim River, frost has arrived. So, as we pick up our first crop of potatoes, people start to look for activities that will help them get through the long and dark winter months.

One of these activities is gym class 3 times a week at the Elementary School gym and volleyball twice a week at the High School gym. Basketball season is also coming up as well as wresting for the school kids. There are other activities in project, too. I want to be able to contribute with something to the community activities... so, we'll see what happens...

I very much appreciate technology at this time in my life. It helps me feel close within my distance.

Wednesday, October 3

Magic places

Breitenbush Hot Springs
Oregon, USA
September 2004

This is one of my favorite places, one of the most magical ones I've even been at. Lost in the Oregon mountains, it used to be an old hippie commune. Today, it welcomes visitors that want to disconnect from the world and spend a few days enjoying the outdoor natural hot springs, the organic food, and most of all, the silence. There are no televisions, no cellphones, no cars, an no one seems to be in a hurry. There are none of the things that abound so much in modern daily life in the city.

Our home in Alaska has recently brought me memories of Breitenbush. I like this unconscious connection and it makes a lot of sense, really. On one hand, we don't have TV, or cellphone, or a car, and we're really not in a hurry to do much of anything. On the other hand, we have turned our shed into the original steam house that it used to be. To come out of the intense heat into the most clear and starry nights I have ever seen, adds a touch of intense mysticism to my life. Regardless of the -20F temperatures.

Castro de Baroña, A Coruña, Spain
December 1999

I remember many afternoons, a long time ago, up on those cliffs at El Castro watching the waves below us for hours. The power of the Atlantic Ocean crashing repeatedly against the rocks was mesmerizing.

That power of nature is the same one I encounter around me here, though in a very different form. It's at once more subtle and wild... and it intimidates me...


"Good Morning"
Castiñeiras, A Coruña
August 2007

This image represents for me the closest thing I have to this thing called roots, a place of origin... To wake up each day looking at the Atlantic ocean washing into the sound is a privilege I have enjoyed for a little over twenty years and for which I am greatly thankful...

In those moments in which I resource to images to find my center and my inner peace, I tend to wander out this window...

Tuesday, October 2


"Sunrise over the Kuskokwim"
Aniak, Alaska
April 2007

I started this blog in Spanish a few months ago because I needed to learn to love this place. More than anything, because I planned on being here for a few years and I wanted to be able to remember this time in the future and know that I had been happy here. It's inhospitable and cold, but I was sure it could also be cozy and warm. It would depend on the mind frame I decided to look at it with, each and every day.

Through photography, one of my passions that had been sitting still for a while, I wanted to start this journey and put it out there in the cyberworld, to share with friends and anyone else that would like to hang out in Alaska for a bit.