For Fox Sake

We got up this morning raring to go for our second day on the tundra, and our final day in Churchill, as later on tonight we would be flying back to Winnipeg.

After the usual hearty breakfast, we went back to Room 10 to pack up all our stuff and check out of the room.  We could leave our bags with the reception desk for safekeeping.  I bought a Lazy Bear Lodge sweatshirt as a souvenir, and we left our bags with Joel until later.

On the bus en route to the tundra buggy, we caught a glimpse of movement among the wasteland and spotted a couple of Arctic foxes.  They were half way through their coat transformation; during the winter months they are pure white.   There was a heap of spoil and the two foxes were playing; stalking and chasing each other, playing ‘dead’ and having a good frisk about.  The bus stopped for a good five minutes to allow us to watch their antics.

Once on board the tundra buggy and ensconced in its warmth, we set off to see what the day would bring.  We had a different route today; there are strict rules in place about the areas in which any tundra vehicles are allowed to go so as not to cause any erosion or otherwise upset the delicate ecological balance.

As the buggy rattled and rolled over the rugged terrain, several times we had spectacular views of the Hudson Bay. At one stage we could see the silhouette of a ship a short distance from the shore, and we were told it was the abandoned cargo ship, SS Ithaka.

The Ithaka was a freighter that departed Churchill on 10 September 1960 to collect her cargo, carrying supplies for the settlement. She was caught in a severe gale while making the voyage, losing her rudder. She dropped anchor, but the anchors failed to hold, and she ran aground in Bird Cove, about ten miles east of Churchill, on 14 September.

All 37 crew members were rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Sir William Alexander and were landed at Winnipeg, Manitoba on 18 September. The shallow water she grounded in meant that people could walk to the wreck at low tide, and her navigating instruments and much of her cargo, consisting of two generators and some plywood panels, as well as mission supplies, were salvaged. Strange to think we were looking at a ship that had just been rusting away for the last 51 years.

SS Ithaka, which ran aground off Churchill in September 1960, and has been there ever since

After driving around for quite a while, wondering if we were going to see any polar bears today, Trevor spotted some movement in the distance through his binoculars.  It was a bear!  Up went the shout on our side of the buggy, and everyone came over for a look.  It was quite far away; in fact, you really did need binoculars.  It was a very skinny bear, obviously quite hungry, and had lost a lot of weight.  It walked on the ice for quite a distance before disappearing out of sight.

At this point we decided to stop for a tea break.  We had a nice hot chocolate and a home-baked cookie each.

Continuing our journey, the tundra buggy lumbered over the uneven ground and through a shallow body of water.  Very soon the shout of “bear” was heard again and we spotted another one, this time on the right-hand side.  Again, it was close enough to watch, but not close enough to get a decent photo, unless you had a particularly good camera with telephoto lens.

The bear came closer and closer then, just as it looked as though it was going to cross a frozen-over pond, it decided to lie down and have a nap in a patch of snow! πŸ™‚  As the temperature was a couple of degrees below zero, the polar bears must have found it too hot and they tended to lie down and roll in the snow/ice for two reasons; first of all to cool down and secondly to clean their coat.

On the left of the buggy Trevor spotted another bear in the distance, and it too looked as if it was going to come closer until it also decided to lie down for a nap.  We had a bear to the left and a bear to the right.  πŸ™‚  The buggy driver decided to stay put for the time being in case any of the bears decided to come closer.  We therefore decided to have some lunch.

Like yesterday, lunch consisted of delicious hot home-made beef and vegetable soup, as well as big door-stop sandwiches, crisps, cookies and a soft drink.  Today we had come prepared, however, and we added a couple of healthy slugs of vodka to our cans of Diet Coke.  πŸ˜‰

During all this time, the bears never moved, apart from to stir a little in their sleep.  We eventually drove away, but it looked as though our close encounters with polar bears was limited to yesterday; we never got that close to any today.

We also saw a couple more Arctic foxes as well as various birds.

In total, since coming to Churchill, we’d spotted nine polar bears and four Arctic foxes.  Who would ever believe I’d been arm’s length away from a polar bear in the wild?!

Later that evening, back at the Lazy Bear Lodge, we tucked into an amazing farewell meal; Trevor went for the musk ox again while I opted for chicken with pasta.  After dinner it was time to collect our luggage and board the bus for the trip back to Churchill Airport.  We felt quite sad to be leaving this unique place.

During the Calm Air flight back to Winnipeg, we enjoyed a few snacks and drinks and everyone was on a high (in more ways than one) after our fantastic experience.  Some wag looked out of the ‘plane window and shouted “Bear!” πŸ˜€

Back at Winnipeg Airport we collected our luggage and waited for this shuttle bus; this time we were staying at the Inn at the Forks in Winnipeg city centre; a much better location than the Hilton Suites we’d stayed in earlier on.

We were well impressed with the Inn at the Forks.  We had a lovely big room, a bathroom well equipped with a great selection of toiletries (which ended up in my flight bag) and the usual massive bed.  We had a quick wash and brush up before hot-footing it to the bar downstairs.

The bar was really lively and there was a live band playing.  A lot of the people from our trip were there, and we all sat together talking.  We enjoyed quite a few glasses of wine and beer and it was after midnight before we got to bed.

Tomorrow we had the morning to spend in Winnipeg before our long journey home.

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