Friday afternoon, 4:18 p.m., The Polar Bear Inn
I step off the plane to arrive at Churchill’s neat but tiny airport. It’s blue with CHURCHILL in big red letters. We’re told when we get on the bus that the runway and the road leading from the airport were freshly repaved this summer. We’ve also been told the runway is long enough to land the space shuttle if necessary. (!)
First stop: The scenic shores of Hudson Bay. The sun is shining and the tour guides are all commenting on the nice weather. This bodes well. The guides also tell us there have been huge numbers of polar bears in the past few days. Even better. Stepping off the bus, we have a quick look around. No bears.
Next stop: Polar Bear Jail, the only building, Pete the scientist tells us, that is air conditioned in Churchill. I step off the bus to get a closer look at the signs on the building, and promptly slip, land on my knee and send my Nikon flying. Luckily, the only thing that is cracked is my polarizing filter, and my pride.
One of the guys from the WWF starts turning a crank to a polar bear trap, opening it at the back. The bear climbs inside to get at the seal fat strung up at the other end, and WHAMMO, trapped bear. Jordan bravely climbs into the trap, skirting the polar bear poo and poses for photos. Others, including Theresa, also check it out. I refrain.
We head back towards Hudson Bay after going through town, which is mostly row houses, to take in Miss Piggy, the local wreck. No, not the muppet. She’s an airplane that went down in the ’70s and has been rusting on the shores of the Hudson ever since.
We then take a tour of a couple historical sites, but I can’t pay attention. The scenery is too beautiful. People assume the land around Churchill is flat – and it is – but it’s also wonderfully textured. Smooth rounded rock jutting from the ground, stunted trees stripped of needles on one side due to the North Wind, gorgeous cloudscapes.
We also check out the Inukshuk near the shoreline, and walk down to the shore to touch the waters if we want, dire warnings of possible bears trailing after us. We see no bears.
We head to a restaurant where we’re pleasantly surprised how simply fantastic the food is. It’s simple fare but prepared with love and it shows. Everyone chows down, since we’re all tired and hungry. The sun is wreaking havoc with my internal clock – it’s in the wrong place in the sky. At high noon, it looks like an hour before sunset outside. Weird.
Frontiers North hustles us back quickly – if we’re not on time for the polar bear lift, they don’t wait for us. This is single-handedly the coolest thing I’ve seen all day, and it’s also the first glimpse of a live polar bear. Unfortunately, it’s slack-pawed and tangled in a net, and about to be flown 60 km away. It’s crime? Wandering into town. The helicopter comes to take it away, and the only sound you hear is the clicking of cameras.
Half the group goes off to follow the polar bear. The rest of us head back to Hudson Bay Helicopters and board two ’copters so we can take a scenic tour. Things look great, but 10 minutes in we have to turn around – ice is forming on the ’copter and a snowstorm is quickly blowing in over the bay.
This doesn’t bode well for watching the Northern Lights later.