Friday, December 27, 2013

cold winter vacation

some people take winter vacation to somewhere warm and sunny to soak their weary bones in tropical sun. but when my canadian friends offered buddy passes to the visit them in the arctic i couldnt resist.

so i assume you have heard of canada right... well canada added a new territory in 1999 called nunavut comprised almost entirely of native Inuit land north of hudson bay to greenland.

i asked my friends ian and tove, who teach school in the village of pond inlet (directly south of bylot island on the map @ 73 degrees N), when i should come visit.

'how about i come in the spring when its warm and sunny?' 

'nope come around november or december when the ice is in.' 

soooooo nov 7th i left 70 degrees in new orleans for -38 degrees in nunavut.  because i was flying standby i couldnt be sure if i was confirmed on flights. so i spent the first night sleeping on a bench in the ottawa airport lulled to sleep by the sounds of floor waxers and french speaking janitorial staff.

the next day i flew to iqaluit the capital of nunavut.  the cosmopolitan center of the great white north. i was told upon arrival that the flight to pond inlet was cancelled bc the weather is too bad to fly out today and the next flight wasnt going out for two days.  'no problem, andrew' i thought 'just go with the flow dudeits just the unpredictability of the north'  i took a cab to the hotel arctic and was told the cheapest room costs $250 colorful pretend canadian dollars!!!  i asked if there was anything cheaper. i was informed that there was but all the rooms come with all you can handle pubic lice and all night 80's rock music for $200 colorful moneys.

i decided on the hotel arctic

i sat down for lunch and perused to menu. hamburger... $18 colorful dollars. spaghetti... $33 colorful dollars. ouch this could get expensive quickly.

lebanese folks are every where...

i explored iqaluit the next day.  population 9,000.

the local paper was very interested.  polar bear attacks, amateur wrestling at the high school,  lost snowmobiles etc

nunavut is almost entirely populated by inuit people.  most everything is written in english, french and innuktitut.

translation: stop, stop, stop

local museum

semi-frozen bay outside of iqaluit

i was worried that the sea ice wouldnt be in, in pond inlet yet.  what i didnt realize was that pond inlet was another 662 miles to the north and was well frozen over.

i watched this inuk guy try to pull his boat out before the bay iced over.  the temperature was -15 i had on 4 layers and a down parka; he had on shoes without socks and he fell in repeatedly with little reaction.  i also watched in amusement bc his 4 wheeler didnt have reverse or a brake so he would drive forward and his machine would slowly drift back into the ocean.  he told me he needed to go get his truck so he struggled to cast off the boat and trailer and lets them drift back into the water and he drives off at full speed completely soaked.  when toughness and stupidity meet. 



after 2 days i finally flew out from iqaluit to pond inlet. they had told me that there is only one sealift (barge delivery) per year so they make a $5000 food order in the summer for the entire year. i imagined ian and tove living in this remote village huddled around a single gas heater eating cold vienna sausages and baked beans out of the can so i asked them if they needed me to bring anything from down south, knowing that pond inlet was a dry town.  they told me they had plenty. when i arrived, their apartment could be anywhere usa, with a entire closet filled with alcohol. they have two co-ops with fresh fruit and vegetables albeit very expensive (and even duck dynasty merchandise).
ever attentive father watching hockey as his daughter eats glue and snorts drano.

mama and the baby squirt

ian and tove teach at the school and their daughter, wren is in playschool there also. so i busied myself as any good suburban eskimo stay-at-home mother... butchering caribou for stew, cleaning blood off the seal bibs, and making biscuits for the hunters.

ian took me out hunting the first day during the 5 hours of light.  we snow machined up a frozen river. -30 weather @ 40 mph is very cold. at the first stop they told me the top of my nose was black w frostbite but i couldnt feel it.  we were looking for ptarmigan (like a grouse) and arctic hare on the snow covered cutbanks along to river.

we made it to Utuk (lady parts) lake and saw tons of hare tracks climb the ridge.  we spread out and followed tracks along the ridge.  sweating and puffing i stopped to take off clothes and caught the slightest movement out of the corner of my eye.  i focused and barely made out the shape of my quary, sitting perfectly still except the twitch of an ear.

arctic hare are truly adapted to their harsh environs; huge broad feet, snow white down; they are masters of camouflage.
their black ear tips are their give away

field dressed - the blood congealed within seconds.  i could only work for a minute or two with my gloves off.  incidentally i bought a pair of extreme conditions, military-grade OR mitten but ian let me borrow a pair of seal skin mitts and i was always warmer.

a couple days later we went out on the sea ice (*as a southern walking around on the open ocean even if there is 6' of ice seems like a terrible idea) looking for seals. equipped w a shotgun and rifle and harpoon you drive along looking for small bumps on the ice with a thumb-sized hole in the top.  once to find one you crouch over the hole listening for the exhalation of a seal as they surface through the abscessed cavity below the breathe hole.  this process can take 15 minutes or an hour or never if they have abandoned the hole. squatting perfectly still in -30 degree weather is a exercise in perseverance.


ian giving an explanation of the process

new floe ice with bylot island (14 miles away)

ian asked me to give his students a presentation about louisiana.  i brought in alligator, wild hog sausage and my mothers angel biscuits and a bunch of hot sauces.  the kids got a kick out of eating alligator and ever greater amounts of hot sauce.

scenes from pond inlet: two worlds collide
the majority of the households still supply most of their meat from subsistence hunting.  5 frozen seals sit out in front of their car. when the family is hungry they hatchet a hunk of meat off and bring it into the house.

 seal skins dry on the clothesline

in the distance is a huge iceberg in the bay and the lights of snow machines heading back before nightfall

only variations of white and blue.  i hiked out the the iceberg thru a maze of pack ice.

thousand year old, dense ice berg

ian and i collected glacier iceberg for drinking water

lower mandible of a bowhead whale lays on the side of the road.  canada native communities seem much better organized and tidy than their neighbors in alaska.  though they both face incredible difficulties alaskan communities appear much less put together and depressing.

the cold makes keeping water and sewage in a liquid state critical.  therefore the daily visit by this odoriferous truck a necessary evil of arctic life.

this must be a record for most northenly display of a confederate flag.  im pretty sure this guy isnt related to robert e lee

after a great visit i headed back south to ottawa on canadian north air

i arranged to couchsurf with a french-canadian in ottawa.  melanie was great and took me to great poutine spots *for you neanderthals - poutine, the national dish of quebec, are freedom fries covered in gravy and melted cheese curds.  ottawa, ontario sits across the ottawa river from quebec and the differences are immediate. we crossed into quebec to watch the carolina panthers monday night football game.  i was definitely the only carolina fan in province that night.  i got a lot of looks when i slammed a table apparently they like hockey in canada, who knew?

 canada has crazies too!!!

ottawa has interesting, sturdy architecture and lots of parcs (thats the culturally sensitive way of saying it)

i spent a day walking around ottawa and was told i should visit the canadian WAR museum.  yeah... i thought it was a joke too but its a real thing.

they are soooo cliche there, they even have canada geese out front. keep it classy canada

i have never seen a national museum so solely dedicated to differentiating themselves from americans

i did get back some interesting snacks. narwhal, moose, and arctic char


mixed reactions at work

even melanie the french canadian wasnt very impressed