Dave's Polar Bear Safari
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

November 14-19, 2007

Our group for " Lords of the Arctic, part deux"

We really had a great bunch of folks. Almost all were extremely well traveled, including several folks who had been to Antarctica already, at least one person Africa several times, etc. Most of us were from the UK, US, or Canada. Most were older than me, with the exception of one 11 yr old (wow, imagine doing this trip so early!) and a recent college grad... Also perhaps a third of the group had some serious photography equipment, above the pro-sumer level that I carry, so that is always interesting.

"1000 places to see..." page #759

Did the tour with Churchill Northern Studies Centre for about $2200 CANADIAN
Timing is half of anything in life, and I must take a moment to bitch about this fine example of my bad timing for 2007. I've been thinking about this trip for a few years, and finally execute on it when the US dollar is close to its ALL TIME low against the Canadian loon. What should have been a discounted trip is now a more expensive one.

"The CNSC is an active research facility. You will have an opportunity to meet and interact with researchers studying a variety of topics in the Churchill region. We hope you take satisfaction in knowing that all proceeds from your program go to funding scientific research at the Centre."

Wednesday the 14th- fly AUS to Winnepeg

AUS to Winnepeg flight about $690, but did 55k freq flyer miles through Continental
Northwest #NW1672 5:47pm to Minneapolis 8:32pm, #NW499 to Winnipeg (YWG) 10:15 to 11:36pm

I spotted this Nat Hab van while waiting to be picked up by the hotel shuttle. I've included it because I actually had a deposit down to do a polar bear tour with them in 2008 since 2007 was sold out. Then I started reseraching further to try and put it together myself for 2007, and ran into the Research Center website.
In the mail waiting for me returning from this trip was a NatHab newsletter, one article announcing their new van in Chuchill which is run completely on vegetable oil. Pretty cool.

Stayed at Howard Johnson Airport $79
Free airport shuttle

Samara and Ken, who I would end up chatting with for several hours and ordering 3am pizza from Jumbos with
Cheap hotel little known fact- this one is conveniently located right next door to a strip club (full nudity allowed and alcohol served- or so I was told), which is owned by the same person that owns the hotel. The HoJo even had people who lived at the hotel, including several dancers and hotel staff. The place seems ripe for some sort of HBO series.

Thursday the 15th

Winnepeg to Churchill flights through Calm Air $967 round trip
#515 Winnepeg (YWG) 7:30am to 10:15 Churchill
I didn't know this when putting the trip together, but there is second airline that services Churchill as well.

Checking in we were warned of the bad weather in Churchill, so we could be forced to land somewhere else and then sit around hoping to get into Churchill later. So...

Deep thoughts while sitting in the Winnipeg airport:


From a discarded newspaper, I read "The Globe and Mail" article “ Single-singles and the art of living alone”. It had some interesting points, like "Among the benefits of marriage is that someone else is a buffer between you and yourself, helping you not to fall into bad habits such as drinking too much wine, leaving your clothes on the floor and, worst of all, eating your dinner out of a container as you stand beside the sink.”
Gee, never done that before…This year I even found that when picking up food I would manage to eat most of it while driving home in the car- talk about reducing the act of dinner to all function and no form.

“’A good meal is like a present,’…That may be so, but preparing food for one is the greatest challenge of living solo. The act of cooking is an act of generosity, done for others. It’s an expression of love, so it can feel weird doing it for yourself, a bit like culinary masturbation.”


In “Up Here” magazine there was an article on Devon Anderson, who hopes to be the first Jamaican to run the Yukon Quest sled-dog race. Eh? Even as a proud Jamaican I do think that Britney Spears not wearing underwear should be more of a human interest story than this. So following the theory that where there is supply there is a darn good chance there is demand, people obviously must want stories of Jamaicans doing firsts in cold places- following in the tradition of the Jamaican bobsled team, there is now the dogsled team. Are Jamaicans that exotic? I wonder if I was the first Jamaican to visit Barrow, Alaska? Or the first Jamaican to navigate his way (via commercial airliner) to Easter Island perhaps? Perhaps I should blaze a new path for my countrymen on this trip- The first Jamaican to run naked around Churchill (hopefully without frostbite)? The first Jamaican to kiss a wild polar bear and live? The possibilities for publicity stagger the mind.
Funny enough my fraternity brother Jimmy Buffett is apparently sponsoring the dogsled team, maybe he would back me for something.

Visit to Town (museums, gift shops, local culture) on my own. Then introduction, orientation and first lecture.

"One of Canada's few accessible northern outposts, remote Churchill's lifeblood is the 1.5-day train journey linking the town with Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital, a mere 1600km (992mi) to the south. It's a major grain-handling port, but eco-tourism is an increasingly important industry for the town.
Despite the subzero temperatures and minimal facilities, visitors flock to see the region's huge array of arctic wildlife - from polar bears and beluga whales to caribou and Arctic foxes - and to catch a gaudy glimpse of the aurora borealis."

I was picked up by Dr. LeeAnn (science director for the facilty and an environmental geochemist) at the airport, given a quick orientation of town and dropped off at Gypsy’s, to be picked back up at 5pm sharp.

All the staff and natives describe this place as THE place to eat. A great example of two things- everything in life is relative, and location, location, location. It really is basically a cafeteria. I bought a pre-made egg salad sandwich, a side of crispy bacon, and some pretty good turkey & rice soup for about $11.
But big kudos to having the front door far enough away from where some people sit, so you don't freeze your butt off if you sit close to the door, like I did at the Seaport Hotel where I later ate some potato skins.

I then set off on a clockwise square around town, to include buying souvenirs and presents

This caught my eye because I remember in old MASH episodes they would look forward to getting the new Sears catalog that they could order things to get sent to them in Korea. That time and the internet has made that idea pretty trite, but I guess when you are this remote the 'ol Sears catalog is still relevant.

OK, let's take an intermezzo to have a 70's style acid trip about polar bears...

All right, back to reality...

Whoa, flash back...

My "Oooo, look, real life natives" slice of life pics below

Here you can see polar bears are typically 2-3x the size of a medium Chinese-Jamaican American

Native Eskimoan nativity scene

Churchill website

Churchill Info

Churchill weather

I was done with the town with time to spare, and after the sun went down it was really freezing.
After LeeAnn picked me up we went to the airport where I would meet my first fellow travelers- Allison who does something with databases from the DC area, Becky from the UK but currently living in Canada, and Emilie, my trip buddy from the Toronto area.

"The weather in Churchill can be quite cool in early November with temperatures dipping into the 16°F to 3°F range.
The bedrooms are dormitory-style with bunk beds that provide accommodation for 4-8 participants per room. Communal washrooms are separate from the bedrooms and are equipped with limited number of showers."

Hmmn, perhaps why our accomadations are so cheap?

Lecture 1: Introduction to Polar Bears with Rupert Pilkington
Everyone has their thing, and Rupert's thing is bears! He founded Ursus International to help with their conservation as well.

Dinner would typically be at 5:30 and we always had salad available, and this night Salisbury steak. We would also make sandwiches for lunch the next day.