Thursday, 19 September 2013

Polar Bear encounters in Churchill

Understanding that it was early in the season to see Polar Bears in Churchill, Hudson Bay, Manitoba and a little late to see the Beluga whales, we nevertheless decided to drive to Thompson, the nearest you can get by road and then take the lengthy train journey north to Hudson Bay. The train journey alone sounded like an adventure to be had!
On our way up, we stopped at the only campsite left open in Northern Manitoba this season, Iskwasum Campground, Grass River provincial park. It was run by friendly and helpful Ken and Carol, who really made sure we were going to enjoy our stay, even taking us out for a delightful paddle on the Lake in their canoe.

The next generous Canadian gesture was further along the road at Pisew Falls, when a group
of young people who had been chatting to us about our travels gave us some fresh Pickerel from their successful fishing trip.
 Pisew Falls
Pickerel, a popular fish here.

 To Churchill by train from Thompson

We left Man in McReedy's campground where they also ferry you to and from the station.
The train journey was due to be 16 hours long!! All sleepers had been booked and the dining car was rumoured to be not quite the Orient Express!
We slept OK across seats and the microwaved dining car food was fine. We had food supplies just in case the train derailed as has happened crossing the muskeg (bog) in the past but our journey through the night was without hitch.

 We had arrived at the Polar Bear capital of the world!
 The Tundra Inn picked us up and allowed us into our room before 9.00am. The joys of off season travel!
 We cautiously walked round town with a stinging cold wind visiting the shops and the Eskimo Museum
 A large room full of Eskimo art and other artifacts illustrating Arctic life.
 Bone hair combs.
 Many bone carvings depicted hunting scenes.
The railway also had a good display giving us a taste of what was to come.

 An arctic symbol, an Inukchuk. These have many different meanings and significance and were found all over town.
 We had good meals in the Gypsy bakery and restaurant where the saturday before a Polar bear had attacked a man in the early hours of the morning! 

 We spotted many white beluga whales from the shore here.
 The large grain silo in the distance is still used. The grain is shipped out from the Churchill port .
 We took the only tour of Churchill we could find at this time of year. It was different from the usual tourist tours which take you out in large enclosed vehicles. We were picked up in an old school bus and driven round on a nature and history tour for the day. Starting with this crashed pig transporter called 'Miss Piggy'.

 From over the metal we could see two  black eyes and a  nose looking at us.
 Wow what a site! Our first Polar Bear.

 The beautiful autumnal colours were a surprise.
 After lunch and a long walk over rocks with our tour guide we came across this sleeping bear. Soooo close!
I have been avoiding bear encounters for the length of our Canada and Alaska trip and suddenly I am close to a Polar Bear! 
Huge emotions going on! Tears! Fear!
 Oh! It is getting up! Our guide signals to us to start walking away!
 Stephen retreats knowing not to show your back to the bear so he sees it walking towards us and gets a better photo. I am focused on getting back to the bus!!!!and the others (including an 85yr old grandma) who didn't get to see the bear.
 What an experience!

More bears!

After lunch we went to look at the Polar Bear jail where naughty bears are kept for a month before being released elsewhere.

 The staff were just getting ready to relocate a mother and her two cubs.
The cubs were carried into the helicopter while mother, slightly heavier! was gently put into a net to be hauled underneath the helicopter.
What a bundle!
 The black nose and eyes again. They are supposed to be shut. Another tranquiliser.
 Preparing for lift off.
 Polar Bear overhead!
 Off to new territory.

 More forest colour amongst the grey lichen.

One more bear lounging, this time on the other side of a river.
What a privilege to see these magnificent creatures like this.
 A fantastic day!

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