Setembro de 2008 - Nº 11     ISSN 1982-7733
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Interchange Alaska

Sent by Gustavo Prouvot Ortiz

24 years, Oceanography Institute - USP

São Paulo/SP - Brazil


Sunshine by Gustavo P. Ortiz

As most people, I believe that Alaska was inhabited by Eskimos – “People who live in ice houses and wild animals” without access to knowledge provided by documentaries and pole adventure books. But, as I love travelling, I always wanted to visit this place. In an interchange agency, I realized that I should know this “inaccessible” place.

Aurora boreal  by the top of Ester Dome Fairbanks.

I had heard about the Work & Travel interchange program that lets university students, on vacation, to work in the USA, and I decided join this program as a trainee in an American University. I made the top ten list of Ocean Universities and in this list it showed many States, including Alaska. But in Alaska are there only “Eskimós?” I researched a little on the internet and realized that I was wrong.
Then I got excited with the idea of living near the Arctic Circle. I would live in a place completely different from any place that I had known before. This is very important: Our life is what we make of it. When we experience something new, we learn more! Certainly I have learned a lot there.

My frozen sweat

I knew that the winter weather would be severely cold, but I experienced it first hand when I arrived in Fairbanks. It was –12ºC and they said that the temperature was warm. Uau!! If –12ºC is warm (as they said) how would the cold temperature be?
However the strangest thing in the beginning was that the Sun wasn’t in the sky for long. I arrived on December 10 --the winter would start in eleven days and we had only five hours of sunshine a day. In January, the real cold started: the temperature was below –40ºC for two weeks, and for five days it was below –50ºC.

My home

In such extreme cold, everything is different. There is no liquid water! It is true the air is so dry as in a hot desert. The sky is really blue and the frozen humidity flies as silver particles. Another interesting thing was that when I went out for a walk, I always had to buy new water bottles, because the bottles that I carried in my backpack used to freeze in two minutes.

Walking on the street

The city where I lived, Fairbanks, is really different. Despite being really small (35 thousand inhabitants), it has an incredible infrastructure. There are many department stores, huge markets and fast-food net, typical of the American lifestyle. Besides that, bars, pubs and cinemas make a cold night into a hot night. Not to mention UAF, a University with ten thousand students.

Vulcan pool: Gustavo P. Ortiz

I enjoyed every second of my stay in Fairbanks. When I wasn’t working or in the university, I used to walk around the city. Unforgettable places and facts: Boreal dawn, ice bar, volcanic pools, dog sled race, ice art championship, UAF ski trails, hockey games, Santa Claus House… ah! There was so much…

I went there with four Brazilians. It was perfect, because being in a small group made it easier to stay with our host family, which was one of the purposes of the exchange program. So, we were very well hosted. And I am certain that we left them with a good impression about Brazilians.

In the end, when I was really comfortable with the routine of Fairbanks, I realized how true were the words of a man in the airplane when I was coming: “Alaska has no fences.” The sensation of freedom is incomparable! The city is surrounded by woods.
I, a Brazilian, believed that I knew woods. I discovered that what we know in Brazil, going to the country side, is going to farms. Almost 100% of the rural areas in Brazil is agricultural. In the southeast we can see some parts of woods and in the north we have the Amazon. Besides that, we only have farms! Even Pantanal is almost full of farms!


So, the huge wild Alaska caught my attention! There, you can live in the middle of the woods, and have a Sears ten minutes away. You improve the natural life with a service package from the first world. With this great quality of life, the people who live there are different from the other Americans that live on “lower 48” (expression referring to the 48 states below Canada). They are not cold and biased as the average Americans. It was an incredible experience, because I found a wonderful place that showed me it is still worth fighting for the world!!


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Winter time in Alaska

Gustavo Prouvot


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