Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Typical Day on the Tundra, Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay. We were fortunate with the weather. Yes, it was cloudy most of the time it was also relatively mild, with daytime temperatures in the 30’s (F) versus the teens that are more common at the beginning of November. We did have some snow flurries that iced up the walkways and plenty of wind.

Our accommodations were at the Northern Lights Inn. Our room had two double beds, a table with a flat screen TV on it, a night table between the beds, a dresser with a mirror and a small area with hangers. There really was not a lot of room to spread out but we managed. What I loved was being able to adjust the temperature in the room, something we had been unable to do at the Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

We spent three full days in Churchill, shuttled around by Lindsey who, when not driving a tourist shuttle, works at the one and only hardware store in town. We were up at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast at 6:45, a buffet of eggs, french toast or pancakes, sausage, Canadian bacon, potatoes, cold cereals, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit salad (yes, FRESH – cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, watermelon, orange slices), juice and coffee, and on the shuttle by 7:30. By 8:00 a.m. we were on the polar rover and on our way.

We went over (and through) some incredible landscape. Permits are required from the Canadian parks department for travel through this area. The company NatHab uses in Churchill, Great White Bear Tours, has permits that allow it to go the furthest out on the tundra than any of the other companies. We went on rocky roads, through water, up and down rutted ditches. The ride alone was an experience.

Out on the tundra, 17 pairs of eyes were looking for wildlife. We had 15 tourists, our driver, Brandon and our expedition leader, Brent. We saw bears, ptarmigan, snowy owls and more bears. (I’ll do a post later with bear photos and video.)

Mid morning we would stop at a good spot (read that as a place to watch bears) and have coffee and snack (brownies, cookies). At lunchtime we would stop at another ‘good spot’ and have a hot veggie soup, a choice of three sandwiches (one veggie, one usually chicken and one usually beef), a pasta or potato salad and dessert. Beverages were always available.

We were out on the tundra until about 4 p.m. when it was time to head back to the launch site. Then we climbed back onto the shuttle for our trip back to town. The trip back varied as we went in search of arctic fox or arctic hare, two animals we didn’t get to see. (However on our first night in town, J and I took a stroll and came across a blue fox.)

Dinner was a selection of soup or salad (again, nice fresh greens and other veggies), a choice of about 5 entrees offering fish, vegetarian, chicken, beef or pork served with vegetables, desert (every desert except one was carrot cake LOL) and beverages. We sat down to eat anywhere from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. depending upon what was scheduled.

We had one evening program of a slide show and another evening program visiting with an Inuit woman in her teepee. That was quite neat. The Inuit are the ‘people of the caribou’ and it was fascinating listening to how they made use of the entire animal, from thread to snow goggles.

Other evenings we had a bit of time to walk around town. We didn’t run into any bears, fortunately but we did spook a blue fox. On another night we were able to photo a great sunset and then, after returning to our rooms, were alerted at about 9 p.m. that the Northern Lights were visible. That night we were back at our room by 10:30 p.m. or so, as 10:00 p.m. is when the curfew siren goes off, part of the bear patrol routine during bear season.

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