Friday, November 06, 2009

26 October: Churchill

Spent some time last night getting hopeful about our Niagara Falls trip ... only to have it thwarted this morning :( Unfortunately I can't change my ticket without it costing and extra almost 800CAD (to put that into perspective for you, that's not that much less than I got back from my single supplement that I spent on my new camera, it's roughly R6000 !). So sadly no, I wasn't going to do it.

On the plus side, @clairam is still going ahead with her Niagara detour since it only costs her an extra 150CAD. I am more than a little upset by the ridiculousness of this. Seriously, who understands how these airlines work cause it makes no sense to me! They gave me some nonsense about how I booked a 6-day trip and this would change it to a 5-day trip ... And then of course it was the fact that my ticket was actually Joburg to Winnipeg and back so altering one of the little legs in the middle clearly is just not something they're equipped to handle. But honestly, how can it possibly cost close to R6000? What kind of admin could *possibly* be involved? Besides, the way I see it, I would've actually been doing them a favour ... taking a seat on an earlier flight would've given them longer (24hrs or so) to sell the seat I was giving up. Grrr. For now I'm just chalking it up to "things that don't make any sense to me and still annoy the crap out of me".

One of the pluses of this little investigation tho, was getting to know Doug, the owner of The Churchill Motel (and the official Churchill School Bus Driver) a little better. He's a very interesting guy and made us feel completely at home :) Especially when one needs a little internet fix at 3am (cough, cough @clairam).

It snowed a little last night and the town is now looking as little more white ... like it's been dusted with flour. This morning after breakfast we caught the sunrise at around 8:30am and then headed out on a "Town Tour" (Churchill is literally like all of 5 roads!). So it was pretty boring, as you can imagine and I think I would've rather just spent the time wandering Churchill myself.

Highlights (a questionable description) of the Town tour included:

1. Watching the 2nd last boat (before the Bay freezes over) leaving Churchill (apparently it was en route to Spain filled with grain / wheat or some such similar produce).

2. Seeing the local Inukshuk, which they explained to us ... but which I still don't really understand. Basically it's some kind of marker the Inuit used. It's what's being used as the icon for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (must say it was sorta odd seeing 2010 being promoted everywhere and not for the Soccer World Cup)

3. Learning that the English name Eskimo was based on what the Cree Indians called the Inuit, Eats Raw Meat (Ee-skee-mo). Whereas Inuit means "The People" and is what they call themselves. (After a bit of an investigation on Wikipedia, however, it sounds like this is as much of a sham as the Coriolis Effect on the equator). Oh, and what I also found quite peculiar was that they kept refering to the aboriginals ... and I kept thinking, "Hello, but we're miles from Australia". But it's just the word they use to refer to the native people of the area (generally the variety of Indian tribes and Inuit).

4. A visit to the Anglican Church (yawn). (On the right is a "general town shot")

5. A lengthy stop at the local silos (yawn). As well as some not all that interesting facts about where Churchill ships the most grain / wheat (bushels?) to.

6. A photo stop with some orange lichen (double yawn!). I've seen plenty of it on the granite in Cape Town so didn't even bother getting out of the warm bus for this one.

7. A look across the Churchill River to the Prince of Wales Fort. From where we were it looks like a really tiny wall, absolute miles away. I'm not all that clued up on what all was going on here in Churchill over the years, but I know they were here testing rockets.

8. A visit to the Polar Bear jail. Okay, so this one had the potential to be interesting, but since they don't let you inside, it's less exciting than it sounds. Basically the jail has 30 separate bear enclosures where they house bears that have wandered into town. These bears are kept in the dark and only given water (since out on the Tundra they wouldn't be eating either) and then tranquillised, air-lifted and set free back onto the ice when the Bay starts freezing again. When we were there they had 15 bears in jail. We also got to see the "Bear Traps" which they leave around the town to try and easily capture the ones who wander in (you can understand how dangerous it could be having a Polar Bear wandering in your back yard, luckily they've only had 2 death-by-bear's in our driver, Fred's, memory). The Bear Traps look like really large humane mouse-traps and have a bag soaked in Seal Oil hanging at the back to entice them in.

After that it was back to the Motel for our lunch, which we spiced up with some Chocolate Milk from the one and only grocery store in Churchill. I also bought Varen the first of his 3 bottles of Root Beer and a lot of Toothpaste for Daddio (for some reason he's absolutely mad about Arm & Hammer toothpaste, which we don't get here ... so there are 10 tubes for his Xmas stocking ;) ) - the cashier thought I must've been nuts, haha!

And then we went for a very brief wander around one or two tourist shops (other than the grocery store, I don't think Churchill has any other kind of shop) before meeting back at the Motel to head off for our afternoon of Dog-Sledding with Wapusk Adventures.

We headed of to meet Dave Daley and his troupe of huskies. The dog-sledding experience, although fun, was not at all what I expected. Partly because there was no snow (so how does one sled, you ask) and partly because (the bit I didn't really factor into my expectations), this is what they offer for inexperienced tourists of all ages.

We got pulled by 12 dogs on a trailer-type thing where 8 of us at a time (including Dave and his son who was "steering") were sitting on benches. It also wasn't as fast as I was expecting (I thought it was quite leisurely) and the dogs also didn't look anything like I expected. I was expecting solid thorough-bred huskies (not dissimilar to ones owned around Joburg) but instead they were thin (but helluva strong, don't get me wrong) mixed-breed huskies.

On a very amusing note, we were still out animal-spotting while waiting our turn on the "sled" ... and I spotted what I thought must be an Arctic Squirrel, but what was in fact an Ermine or Arctic Weasel. He was a cute little beast but certainly distracted the dogs as they came upon his smell at the end of our sled-run! Haha. (Luckily he got away, he wasn't pulling a sled with 8 people!)

What I did enjoy a lot about the afternoon was that Dave gave us a very good introduction to his dogs and explained a lot about the attention and care they get. And they all clearly adore him! Another thing he told us more about was his heritage (he is Métis) and after only barely managing to keep up with his brief Canadian history lesson, I'm convinced that their tribal politics are even more complicated than ours!

Today was by far the coldest day we've had on this trip! And after the dog-sledding we wandered the town some more. I popped past the Churchill Post Office and got a stamp in my Passport :) We also visited the Eskimo Museum and saw a display they had on at the Railway Station. Nothing I found earth-shatteringly interesting tho :(

I browsed around all the little gift shops this afternoon and am struggling to find my "Polar Bear memento" tho (I get something on every trip).

Tonight we had dinner at The Northern Nights restaurant. @clairam and I shared the Chicken Parmesan and a Shrimp Fettuccine. It was delish :) The shrimp (prawns) were bigger than you'd get in a pasta dish back home. I also tried a Dr Pepper for the first time ... not especially impressed and I don't think we're missing out on much!

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Tamara said...

I quite like Dr Pepper, I must admit.

I can't imagine a dogsled with no snow. Just doesn't fit, somehow.

Tamara said...

PS: Dogsledding is spelt wrong on that sticker. Hehe ;-)

BioniKat said...

Loved that little Ermine chappie!

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