Saturday, October 13, 2012

Canada, Churchill Polar Bear Tour


Although my alarm goes off at 7am, I am startled awake at 7:30am by a banging on my hotel room door. All of this might have been avoided had I heard my name being called down the halls of the Polar Inn the night before around 9pm. However, expecting to see the Northern Lights from 1 to 4am, I was fast asleep at 9pm.



SAMCA 027As it turns out, I am the first one to be picked up for a day trip with Great White Bear Tour company and discover a sweet story.





Not knowing exactly which room I was staying in,  Sheila and her husband, Great Bear employees both of whom I had met earlier in the day had come by the Polar Inn looking for me.

They had walked the halls of the Polar Inn whispering my name because the Northern Lights had shown up earlier than expected last night.

By the time I went out on my own around 2am, the final curtain call was being made on the Northern skies. The lights were fading, the show was practically over. I am told I missed a brilliant performance.


CANCA 013A few more hotel stops and we are traveling to the outskirts of town.

We cross a lightly snow covered landscape as we are headed to the launching spot for our tundra buggy tour.





SAMCA 097Great White Bear Tundra Buggy


This is only the second tour day of the season for Great White Bear and in some ways it turns out to be fortunate for us.

We are on the maiden voyage of the newest buggy that just arrived here by train on Saturday. Since there is only about seven of us on a buggy designed to holds thirty six, it is going to be like having a private tour.

Typically, Great White only runs about 18-19 passengers per tour to allow less crowded viewing. This buggy has two by two airline type seating, a huge slanted windshield and a rear open air platform available once the vehicle is stopped.



Sticking My Neck Out For Polar BearsAlthough the morning snow will be gone by afternoon it gives a cool dusting to the off road terrain we are now traveling across.

We are told in a few weeks this area will be covered deep with snow.




The small lakes which now have thin sheets of ice will begin to become frozen over.






As the sun breaks through the morning clouds its rays provide nice reflections on the shallow lakes. It is not long before we spot our first wildlife, a lonely caribou.

Then someone in our group, not the driver, raises our excitement as she is confident she has just spotted two bears in the distance.



SAMCA 045We must cross a lake to get there and it is a very cool experience as our buggy does so.

It has no problem navigating across the shallow and very clear waters.







CANCA 020Sparing Male Polar Bears



At a stop, we watch in awe as two male polar bears spar with each other. We are told this is more of a playful exercise as there is no real aggressive behavior.


CANCA 042Exhausted, the play time comes to an end and the bears eventually go their separate ways.






However, both of their paths passes close enough to us to give us a better view of these impressive animals.

Although these ones are a bit dirty from playing around in mud, their true color is more yellow than Coca-Cola or Madison Ave would have you believe. Also, I am sure their preferred beverage is a Standard Larger.




CANCA 053Yeah, I’m Looking At You



Even with temperatures in the mid thirties this weather is still considered warm for polar bears who are accustomed to temperatures in the minus thirty degree range. As we continue our tour we leave one of the sparing bears trying to cool down. He is camouflaged against a rock and bush plants.



SAMCA 060More puddles and small lakes to cross as we head North across the tundra in search of more bears and wildlife.

Our lunch stop comes as we find another bear reflecting by a rock which often makes it difficult to spot them from a distance.





CANCA 093A Reflecting Polar Bear



Bill, our buggy driver and tour guide now becomes our host with the most as he dishes up bowls of vegetable beef stew accompanied by dinner rolls. Tasty and light enough to not be too filling.



SAMCA 076Bill gets compliments on the meal which he promises to past onto the chef.








SAMCA 080Aussie’s, Canadians, Franklin The Turtle & Me




CANCA 103A pleasant surprise comes as we are driving along the Hudson Bay.

Running almost besides us is an Arctic fox with a fresh kill that it is going to have for lunch.




Extremely light on its feet as it trots along, we are told that these foxes are so light that they can be picked up and carried by the Arctic wind.



CANCA 110Arctic Fox



Next, our drive takes us by Gordon's Point one of the bear sanctuaries off limits to any type of tours. It is here and a few other places that are set aside to allow the bears to rest without being disturbed.

Soon we are at another point that marks the end of the road for our tour just beyond where we have been before.


CANCA 130Still laying where we left him a few hours ago is one of the sparing bears.

He raises his head to acknowledge our presence then goes back to sleep.



In the coming weeks will be the peak of the season, end of October, for seeing the bears in Churchill migrate to the frozen ice in Hudson Bay. Once out on the ice they will remain there hunting seals and an occasional whale until probably sometime in June.

Today, although we saw only four bears compared to 20-25 later in the season, we did see something that is uncommon to witness on tours like this, bears sparing. That alone made the trip worthwhile.



SAMCA 058Tundra Landscape And Tower One



Our tour comes to an end around 4pm and we are driven back into town by shuttle bus, the same way we came out to the buggy launching site. This time an interesting building is pointed out to us. It is the Polar Bear Jail which is believed to already have a few inmates.

Incarceration normally amounts to at least 30 days in solitary confinement sometimes more for the really dysfunctional ones. And no, conjugal visits are not allowed.




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