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Full Circle

Day 7: Kodiak Island

Michael Palin - Full CircleThis reminds me of our appointment with the US Coast Guard. All being well, we shall leave for Attu, at the end of the Aleutian chain, on Tuesday morning. That leaves us a day and a half to try and cover some of the attractions of Kodiak. Down at the harbour an outfit called Uyak Air offers a sporting menu that includes 'Scuba Diving', 'Horseback Riding', 'Fly In Fishing' (whatever that is), 'Kayaking' and 'Bear Viewing'. As my guidebook describes the Kodiak Brown bear as not just big, but the 'largest terrestrial carnivore in the world', there's really only one option.

I climb aboard the steeply-angled fuselage of an Uyak Air De Havilland Beaver float-plane. The pilot is Butch. That's his name, Butch. Early thirties, laconic, except when extolling the virtues of his aeroplane, he could be straight out of a Biggles adventure, as could his machine. Like so many aircraft that ply the world's remote places, the Beaver is no longer new - this one was built thirty-three years ago. Butch describes it, without irony, as 'a really good rough weather aeroplane'. Fortunately, we're spared the rough weather this time and, skimming the mountains at 3000 feet, we're treated to the sort of view you rarely get from commercial airliners. Ridges and peaks rise up to meet us then plunge down and away in a folded carpet of green that spreads itself around turquoise bays and quick, tumbling rivers.

Sixty miles south-west of Kodiak city we touch down on Karluk Lake and turn towards a small wooded refuge called Camp Island. We're met by Scott, the local ranger, and shown the tents and plain cedar cabins we shall be sleeping in tonight. Butch is soon away, racing up the lake and turning steeply off to the north-east. Peace reigns. There is barely a sound besides our own voices.

Scott reckons that, with the weather holding, we should stand a good chance of sighting bears. He and Kent the carpenter (who seem to be the only two running the place) load us, and the only two other guests - a very jolly German couple called Siggi and Rosie - into two aluminium dinghies which take us half a mile away to the point where a small river enters the lake. Scott, rifle slung over his shoulder, though he vehemently disproves of bear hunting for sport, leads us through shoulder-high banks of fireweed and extols the richness of the lakeside life. Apart from the Sockeye salmon and the Red-breasted Merganser ducks that feed on their eggs, we should see beaver, otter, weasel, deer and eagles. All I can see at the moment are black flies, which gather in such persistent clouds around our faces that we all end up wearing the anti-insect equivalent of beekeepers' bonnets. The first time I see any bears - a broad-shouldered fat-backed mother trundling down the stream with two cubs in tow - I am so impressed that, without thinking, I whip the net off my face for a better view. Within seconds, squadrons of flies home in on my eyes, lips and nostrils.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 7
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Kodiak - Alaska
  • Book page no: 22

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