The Tiny Fishing Villages of Western Alaska: The Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands on the Looney Front, Part 3

It takes 18 hours from Kodiak aboard Alaska Marine Highway System's good ship Tustumena to reach our next stop, Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula - allowing me ample time to get along with the dining-room staff like a house on fire.
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It takes 18 hours from Kodiak aboard Alaska Marine Highway System's good ship Tustumena to reach our next stop, Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula - allowing me ample time to get along with the dining-room staff like a house on fire.

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Zoom in on Chignik

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Another zoom

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Getting closer

I want to pay by credit card but the silly oaf has pressed the wrong button for cash. He tries to cancel it but can't, so he calls over a lady oaf. After about 10 minutes of tinkering she announces the problem resolved and swipes my card. The machine says the bill's already been paid. After another 10 minutes of fiddling, I pay in cash.

'I hope you two aren't in charge of the lifeboats,' quoths I in merry jest. Well, it was only meant as a joke. They don't have to scowl like that. Clearly, a smile doesn't seem to be a sine qua non on board. Anyway, come to think of it, it's quite a serious observation. If they can't manage the till...

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Almost there

Thus do we arrive in Chignik - the minutest of villages nestling in a mountain-girt bay amid snow-streaked pinnacles and waterfalls tumbling down sage green lichen-covered precipices. Its main raison d'être seems to be commercial fishing, mainly salmon. It's cloudy and drizzly, just as Alaska is meant to be.

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At the wharf

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A friend

It's muddy, too, with fishing nets everywhere. There are a couple of board walks. On one a blue wooden board in the shape of a coffee cup advertises: '300 Steps, Mochas and Lattes.' After 300 steps you come to a little shack which also advertises Wi-Fi at $5 a day.

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Chihnik's boats and waterfalls

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A backyard

As for the good ship Tustumena's forward lounge, people are sleeping all over the floor. Fancy doing that for four nights. But the padded chairs are very comfortable and I find a nice empty one with a window view.

So here I am, minding my own business, sitting comfortably, sipping a nice hot cup of tea, watching the lady next door crochetting away like some superannuated Penelope - well, she keeps on undoing stitches every few minutes - when I apparently nod off.

The next thing I know, I wake with a start to my almost full cup falling to the floor. I spend the next half hour running back and forth to the men's toilets with handfuls of paper towels to mop up the flood. Noah!!! Most undignified.

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A Chignik street

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A nice little walk

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A Chignik stream

Meanwhile my relations with the dining room staff are racing to a new low. For some reason, they're serving lunch to the local Chignik community with take-out orders, while we passengers have to sit and wait. Is this the only time the locals eat - when the ferry passes by twice or so every month?

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Signpost to the swinging Chignik cafe

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Close-up

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The cafe

At last they start serving us - the choice is not good and I take a chicken soup and tuna salad sandwich. Everybody else has their meal on a plate but Lady Oaf brings my sandwich in a take-out box advertising Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que. Is she suggesting I get off like the locals?

'What about my soup? Are you going to bring that in a cardboard box too,' quoths I in yet another merry jest. Well, she doesn't have to sigh as if all hell's hounds have broken loose. Gawd, it costs an arm and a leg to raise a smile out of this crew.

Thank the Lord the heavens aren't run by Tustumena's dining room crew. In one more manifestation of my Alaska spring weather miracle the clouds have lifted and the sun is shining brightly. But oh dear, the ruddy ship's begun to rock'n'roll here, boogie there, and Yours Truly's racing for his Dramamine. Thank you very much you 'know-nothing' AMHS officials for promising me calm seas.

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Chignik boardwalk

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Bridge across a stream

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Another friend

We progress south-west from Chignik past spectacular Castle Cape, where two giant pointed monoliths soar from the rocks, piercing upwards, the most spectacular sight on a stretch of coastline filled with spectacular sights. As we round it a third lower pinnacle appears between the first two. High jagged cliffs push out to sea in numerous promontories.

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Castle Cape

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Rounding the cape

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The other side

Interestingly, perhaps my 'know-nothing' AMHS officials know a thing or two after all. The waves have becalmed themselves and all is fair weather sailing. Another miracle now occurs, too. Many crew members suddenly seem very pleasant with a smile-smile here, a smile-smile there, everywhere a smile-smile. Even Lady Oaf's face half-cracks once or twice.

Oh dear, perhaps it was me all along.

Views on the journey from Chignik

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It's already 10.30 P.M. but still clear daylight when we arrive in Sand Point on Popof Island, a few miles off the Alaska Peninsula, not yet the Aleutians, since Popof belongs to the Shumagin group, but we're getting closer.

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Sand Point

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Another view

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Sand Point boat harbour

With 962 people Sand Point, founded in 1898, calls itself a city and lives from fish processing and cold storage.

Two volcanoes soar to precipitous, perfectly pointed cones on Unga Island across the strait, with clouds shrouding the volcanic slopes in between - a vision of perfect enchantment.

[Upcoming blog on Sunday: Of birds, bears and volcanoes]

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Unga Island

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Another view

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Zoom in

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Zoom in some more

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By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.