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Full Circle

Day 244: Nome to Wales

Michael Palin - Full CircleOn the wildlife bulletin board outside Fat Freddie's restaurant someone has written up the latest sightings. 'Bluethroats, Arctic Loon and Grizzly Bears (3).' There is no information on where the Grizzly Bears were seen. When I ask someone if any of them were in the vicinity of the Cape Prince of Wales, they just shake their heads and smile broadly. (The broad smile, I've noticed, is very much an Alaskan phenomenon, valid in all situations from the mildly humorous to the life-threatening).

Wales, a settlement of 150 Eskimos, lies at one end of a curving spit of land, between beach and low, spiky grassed, sand dunes, just to the north of Cape Prince of Wales. The cape, a two thousand foot granite outcrop, was once part of the Bering Land Bridge. This corridor between Siberia and Russia was estimated to have stretched 900 miles from north to south. Across it came the first human inhabitants of Alaska, and indeed all of America, eight to ten thousand years ago. Now since the end of the last Ice Age it lies submerged beneath a sea which at this moment looks increasingly surly.

I have with me Harry de Windt's From Paris to New York By Land. He came across the Strait in 1901. His description of where we are standing is not encouraging. 'There is probably no place in the world where the weather is so persistently vile as on this cheerless portion of the earth's surface.'

The Eskimos live in long low, modern huts. There is a landing strip, a schoolroom, a store, a washeteria, a post-office and not much else. I see Polar Bear skins hanging out to dry, but nothing grizzly.

We are as far west on the American continent as it's possible to be. Siberia is a mere fifty-three miles away, Little Diomede a tantalizing twenty-five. Now all we can do is wait.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 244
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Wales - Alaska
  • Book page no: 318

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