Caribou Supper (July 19 2009)

Seth, Irina, and Ben

Seth, Irina, and Ben

We had not planned on posting until after our arrival at the Maymecha section, but we just couldn’t sit on this one.

Irina, the owner of our hotel in Kayak, does not speak any English. She used signs, boisterous noises and her booming laugh to let us know that she had a surprise for us after field work today (us being Ben, Seth, and Anya–we have been working on a different section from the others).

She ushered us into a room furnished with five rickety chairs and a giant hibiscus plant, which bloomed this morning, and a table with two liters of beer and a bowl covered in tin foil. We sat down, a little scared of what might be under the tin foil. But then she unveiled her masterpiece: tender pan-fried chunks of caribou garnished with onions and with a side of 2001-dated cocktail sauce. We worked hard today–we found an amazing 30 meter section of tuff, with giant clasts of coal!–and we were starving. It is difficult to convey how good that caribou tasted. And the beer was ice cold. Irina looked on like a delighted grandmother. Even after we had each eaten what seemed like an entire caribou leg, she kept smiling and nodding and encouraging us to take more. “Miesa! (Meat!) Kuzno! (Tasty!)”  Just like a grandmother–except instead of feeding us cookies and milk she was filling us up with cold beer and caribou.

During our feast we joked about the Russian words we were unsucessfully trying to repeat and used Anya as a translator to let our hostess know how much we loved the food. When the beer was gone and we could not stomach another chunk, Irina and Anya sat and chatted in Russian for a few minutes while we nursed our full bellies. As they talked the tone gradually became more subdued. After Irina had left we asked Anya what they were talking about.  She told us that Irina had been describing the slow decline of Kayak. The population has dropped from 111 to 80 in the last year. The coal mine, which is this small town’s only reason for existence and only industry, willl be closing for good this winter. There are plans for a new mine a few kilometers away but Irina, who moved from Ukraine 33 years ago, is skeptical that any new mine will materialize. In the interim, the entire town is surviving on government subsidies and the liquidation of mine assets.

We were shocked. Everyone we’d met in Kayak was so friendly and welcoming–from the owner of the lumber mill, who called off his dogs and let us snoop around his property, to the mildly inebriated duo who temporarily abducted us in their speedboat yesterday. Irina’s hotel has had only a handful of guests in the past year. So it humbled us to to see how delighted she was to share her amazing caribou and her “Big Size” Baltica 7’s.

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