In late October of 2013, my friend Delia and I headed to Churchill, Manitoba for the journey of a lifetime. We spent a week visiting Winnipeg, Churchill and staying on the Tundra Lodge. The polar bear viewing was spectacular. It was a trip I will never forget.

Day Four- Churchill (Tundra Lodge)

I wrote my posts on the Tundra Lodge and we are back in Winnipeg,
so it’s time to catch up.

Wow! That kind of sums things up. We left for the airport where we took a chartered jet on Calm Airlines. So, no security, camera equipment safe, climb into and out of the airplane on the tarmac. I kind of like this bypass plan. Certainly was quicker.

Once we flew into the Churchill Airport, we loaded up to a bus that took us to the Churchill Wildlife Management sign for our “tourist” photo and then on to the polar rover. Within about twenty minutes, we saw our first polar bear. It was a long way off, but still an amazing experience. Another bear started walking across the tundra towards the second, who was sleeping on the shoreline. They never met up, but it was great to see. Then we saw a bear that was sleeping in the willows (bushes) along side the road. And this was just on the way from the airport to the lodge.

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This is the first bear we saw. It was a moment that took my breath away. He was clearly at a distance, but truly magnificent.

Then, once getting to the Tundra Lodge, we spotted a bear sleeping right next to the dining room/kitchen car. It would occasionally look up. It was incredible to be twenty feet from a large polar bear. I could have watched him all night. Beautiful.

The landscape is vast, remote, and incredibly beautiful. It is snowing hard and the wind is blowing the flakes sideways. One woman asked me about taking pictures of the snow. It was only the second time in her life to see it.

As I’m writing, I’m lying in my bed which is a lower bunk in a very small room. It isn’t what I would call luxurious, but it is comfortable and meets my sleeping needs. It’s actually kind of nice to have my own room. The bathrooms are much larger than I expected and have functional toilets and hot running water. Water is at a premium here so it will be short showers.

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There is a chef on the lodge and dinner was very good. We had chicken, couscous, broccoli and a tiramasu kind of dessert.

I put out my “Do Disturb” sign so that the guides would wake me up if there is any polar bear activity or northern lights, although it is a blizzard outside so the northern lights are a bit of a stretch. The lodge is swaying in the wind. Kind of like sleeping in a cradle.

There are twenty nine tourists on the lodge from mostly the USA, but also Australia and Brazil. Our guides, Bonnie and Annie, are amazing. They already know everyone’s name and go out of their way to make each of us feel welcome.

I had that incredible moment of watching the polar bear who was watching me. This is an amazing world with miraculous things. It’s part of the reason I travel. I just don’t want to miss anything.

Off the Grid

No internet!! I may suffer from withdrawal.

This morning we are leaving for Churchill. Luggage out by 6:45am. In the lobby by 8:20am and headed to the airport by 8:30am. We’ll grab breakfast in between. The flight to Churchill is about 2 1/2 hours. There are no roads, just planes and a train to get there.

Dinner last night was fun. We met a number of people at our table including three ladies that remind me of Sex in the City over sixty. They have been friends for many years. The first stop off the airplane, the liquor store to get their vodka. 

This has been a dream trip for everyone. Some people have wanted to come for over twenty years. I’m not sure I even knew about the trip that long ago, but as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to come. We’ll be on the Tundra Lodge for four nights. We have a helicopter flight on Thursday and a visit to the town of Churchill. Then it is back here to Winnipeg for a final group meal and the flight home on Friday.

I’ll keep good notes and hopefully have some amazing pictures. So I’ll be posting on Thursday night and then trying to catch up on summaries for each day.

I’ll talk with you on Friday!!

Day Three- Winnipeg

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The morning started early with breakfast and then meeting other travelers for our day about Winnipeg. This was an extra day extension to the trip.

We started with a tour around town and a visit to Oodena, the Celebration Circle established by the Native People to celebrate specific dates and cycles. It has metal style rods that reach up to the sky in a large circle. At certain times of the year, you can see identified stars through the circles attached to the rods. I would have loved to spend a little more time, but we had a lot to see.

Then it was on to the French area of town and the Saint-Boniface Cathedral that burned down in 1969. The church saved the beautiful stone facade and built a more modern Catholic church behind it. All of the materials and services are in French.

Phew! On to the next place, which was one of my favorites of the day. We went to the Manitoba Museum. They had some fantastic exhibits including a graphic video representation of what Churchill would have looked like several million years ago when it was under water. They based the video on the fossils and evidence gathered over the years. It was amazing. They also have a full sized replica of the ship, the Nonsuch, built to take pelts from Hudson Bay to England in the 1600’s. It was actually hand crafted with the tools similar to those used during that time and it was sailed for months around England and Canada prior to being installed at the museum. I don’t know how they managed to sail a boat that small across the Atlantic Ocean. Crazy… There were more exhibits, but those were some of the highlights.

Our final stop, after a brief visit to a local gallery, was to the Fort Whyte Alive Nature Area. That was also a wonderful place. They have a herd of prairie bison that was very active today. It was a blast watching them run around, kicking up their heels. There wasn’t much bird activity in the area, but I think it’s a great area to go if you are a birder. It was a nice walk on a bit of a blustery day.

I’m exhausted!! It was a very busy day. We meet the group we will be traveling with tonight for dinner. Apparently, some of the people we saw today could be headed to other Nat Hab Churchill trips. I already met Wendy, who shoots with a Canon camera and has a 500mm lens.  I have to admit, I have lens envy.

UPDATE: We went to the play “The Best Brothers” last night and it was hysterical. Yesterday was a great day all the way around.

Day Two- Winnipeg

webIMG_0190I had a wonderful night’s sleep and coffee delivered to the room. We were lucky enough to have breakfast with one of our guides, Bonnie, who grew up in Churchill. She has been working with Natural Habitat for almost fifteen years. Our second guide, Annie, stopped to chat after Bonnie left. They are both very friendly and very knowledgable and we haven’t even arrived in Churchill yet. I’m very impressed.

Then, we headed out hoping to visit the Human Rights Museum. We’d had conflicting reports on whether it was open or not. It turns out it is still under construction and won’t be open until the spring of 2014. After a quick swing around the upstairs shops at the Forks, we headed to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It was fantastic!

We viewed the Inuit sculptures and prints. The Inuit people are First Nations people. I loved the sculptures in particular.

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The gallery is also hosting an exhibit by Christian Marclay called The Clock. It’s in movie format and has thousands of film clips that run a total of 24 hours. The clips include clocks that are precisely at the time you are watching the film. It’s incredible and I could have stayed for much longer. One of the women there as part of a tour group said, “I guess we won’t be late to the bus”.

We’ve met some very nice people everywhere we have been who have provided tips on where to eat and what to visit next.

Delia and I are relaxing in the room for a couple hours until it’s time to leave for the play tonight. We are going to see The Best Brothers at the Prairie Theater.

Tomorrow we start the “official” trip. We have a day of sightseeing and then dinner with our whole tour group. Saturday, we leave for Churchill.

Having a great time!! Wish you were here. 🙂

Taking Flight

Flight

It’s magical to think that I can be almost anywhere in the world in less than twenty-four hours. The ability to fly still amazes me. So after finishing all my packing this morning (by the way, I’m less than 50 pounds on my checked bag), we headed to the airport to begin our travels.

I’ve seen a lot of things at DIA, but this was the first time I saw a man holding a mirror up in front of a woman as she sat there gazing at her reflection. It was a place to get your make-up done. Delia suggested that the woman might be traveling to meet someone she’d only conversed with online. Building upon her thought, I figured the woman was asking him to make her look like the photo she had posted online. Didn’t want to get accused of false advertising, maybe?

Our flight from Denver to Winnipeg was very uneventful, which is a great thing. I even managed to get my camera backpack in the overhead. I heard several people say they were headed to Churchill to see the polar bears. We didn’t have much of a chance to converse with them, although we did meet a man and his approx. six year old son that are heading there tomorrow.

Natural Habitat reps met us at the airport and we settled in to The Fort Garry Hotel. It’s 100 years old this year. The room is beautiful with antiques and old fashioned wall paper. We were issued our boots and parka and then headed to “Forks” to grab dinner. When someone mentioned Forks, I thought vampires. It is actually a unique indoor market. We picked up a couple bottles of wine and ate dinner at Beachcombers. Afterwards we bought dessert at the Human Bean Coffee shop.

It’s cold and snowing a little bit here. After some advice from our waitress, we are planning tomorrow to go to Osborne Street to check out the quirky independent shops and galleries. Then, we have tickets to a play tomorrow night.

Flying and all the drama surrounding it makes me tired. So it’s early to bed so we can be out and seeing the sites of Winnipeg tomorrow.

Packing

White suitcase on white bacgroundI think I’d travel with about any company who was willing to send someone out to pack my bags. I know…I shouldn’t wait until the day before to put everything in the suitcase. I just can’t help myself. Hey…at least I’m packing the day before and not the morning of. That’s progress.

My plan is to finish up tonight, drink a glass of wine, get to bed early and rise very early just to make sure all the batteries are charged and that I have all the right cables. I may need a suitcase just to hold all the cords. There’s the laptop power cable, the Canon 7D battery charging cable, the backup hard drive cable, the phone charging cable, the camera card installing cable…I hope that’s all.

Tomorrow at this time we should already be in Winnipeg and headed to the Fort Garry Hotel. That’s when I will probably discover what I forgot. Good news? I’ll be in a big city with my credit card to make it all right. Less than 24 hours to go. Yippee!!

(Thank you, Travis, for holding down the fort.)

It’s All About the Toes

iStock_000002244677XSmallIt’s 30 degrees out side in the fall Colorado weather and a week from now, I’ll be in Churchill where the over night weather will be below zero. Still, I’m headed out this morning to get a manicure and pedicure.

The manicure is so my nails look great during my everyday travels. The pedicure? There’s something luxurious about having my feet massaged and having pretty toes. I don’t imagine that anyone on my trip will see them, but I’ll know how cute they look.

So my first day of vacation begins with waking without an alarm and heading to my local nail shop  to be pampered and primped. The only difficult decision?  The color. So many options, so few toenails.

Regardless of what color I paint my toenails, it’s still a great start to a fabulous vacation.

UPDATE: I chose blue in honor of my cool trip. 🙂
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Wish You Were Here

It was seven months ago that I put down a $500 deposit to hold my slot on a Natural Habitat trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears. I have a good friend, Delia, who has traveled with me to Antarctica and South Africa. She’s joining me on this trip too. We leave on Wednesday and fly into Winnipeg, Manitoba. We’re spending a couple of days there before flying to Churchill.

I will be journalling, as always. As a matter of face, here is the front of my journal. It looks a bit rough already. That’s a good sign.

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I also headed to the zoo last weekend to practice with a new Canon 100-400mm L lens I rented. It is really cool. How’s this for a closeup from a distance?

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I’m trying something new this time. I’m going to track my experience on this blog as well as in my journal. While we won’t always have access to the internet, I’ll publish as I can. So, if you are interested in looking over my shoulder while I travel, feel free to follow along. I’m glad you can join us.

Now the only problem is the luggage weight limit. Hmmm…I wonder what poundage is left after I pack my camera gear? Should be interesting shooting photos in sub-zero weather in the nude. Don’t worry, I won’t be doing any self portraits. 🙂