December 4, 2014 | By Donna Evans
Tundra, cold, ice, snow, and wind – I experienced all of them on my trip to Churchill, Manitoba in November. The polar bear sightings made it all worthwhile.
Our expedition began with a flight into Winnipeg and an overnight stay at the very convenient Sheraton Hotel at the airport. The next morning our charter flight left early and whisked us to the windy and freezing Churchill, where we were met and escorted onto an old bus that conveniently shuttled us from one sight to another, including a polar bear holding building where polar bears who venture into town are detained. The length of their confinement is determined by how many times they have committed this “crime”.
We saw many signs warning of the danger of polar bears. We were warned not to wander out of populated areas alone or without a dog or a weapon, a reminder of the true danger of these beautiful and cuddly-looking animals. They are carnivores, after all.
After our tour of the holding building and a really nice lunch, we had time to enjoy the hurricane-like wind blowing freezing arctic air on us as we blew from shop to café for hot chocolate or tea. Before dark we boarded our bus and drove to the tundra buggy (about two hours away) that would take us to the tundra lodge.
The tundra buggy was a very open, wide vehicle, akin to a bus but much wider. There was a heating furnace in the back to keep us warm. Tundra buggies are high off the ground, so any curious bears standing up cannot see into the back “open deck” where the viewers may be standing and clicking away on their cameras. This vehicle was our daily transportation into the tundra. The tundra lodge could be described as raised rail cars with sleeping compartments. Ours was bunk beds and each pair was curtained from the main corridor. There were three bathrooms, two of them containing showers. There were two accommodation cars, a lounge car, a dining car, a kitchen and staff quarters, and all are linked together, just like a train. Each car opened to the outside as we went from car to car, allowing us to experience once again the arctic wind pushing or pulling the doors and our bodies.
The meals were very good, especially considering where we were. The service of the staff was excellent and accommodating. Emma (the lodge mama, as she was called) had a permanent smile and baked amazing desserts. Our guide, Angele, was so knowledgeable and engaging to each guest. She was with us day and night and never seemed to tire of the endless questions she had answered more than once. We also enjoyed lectures in the evening about the area and the plight of the bears, due to climate change.
Of course, the highlight was actually seeing the polar bears, which we enjoyed daily. They have very unique personalities and they were so excited by the biting wind and cold, signaling the start of their favorite season — the ice. They prepared for their upcoming fine dining on seals, by eating kelp to prepare their digestive system for their favorite food. As they enjoyed the snow and cold, we were able to watch several pairs sparring (playing and acting like children), sleeping, eating, rolling in the snow, stretching and just being polar bears.
This experience was very special and unique and a “must” for anyone who enjoys wildlife, nature, and an adventure off the beaten track.