Ten sleeps to the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”

I’ve always been fascinated by “comfortable extremes.” I’ll happily trek a challenging mountain route but, come evening, I’ll opt for a homey inn or warm bed and breakfast. I love snowboarding in the Laurentians, begrudgingly bearing the lows of -20ºC in exchange for the speed thrill, provided there’s promise of a hot chocolate and toasty log fire.

Churchill, Manitoba, has been on my bucket list since arriving in North America seven years ago. That 800 people live year-round more than 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg is incredible. That polar bears surround the town waiting for the vast Hudson Bay to freeze over in November should provide opportunity to see them up close in their natural habitat aboard a Tundra Buggy.

Unlike my vacations to date, there is no “on the cheap” option to see Churchill. While I wasn’t about to shell out several thousand dollars on a fully-escorted tour, I did want to include a trip out on the tundra.

Knowing that the long-distance ViaRail train – which rattles its way north from Winnipeg over 36 hours – is often extremely late arriving in Churchill; I’ve opted to fly one-way into Churchill Airport at the extortionate cost of CAD $560 to ensure that I wouldn’t miss a day up north. This will be one of two necessary splurges. The other is shelling out almost CAD $400 for a full-day Tundra Buggy tour.

I’ve arranged two nights bed and breakfast accommodation at Bluesky Bed & Sled in Churchill at CAD $114 a night. And I’ve booked the train back from Churchill to Winnipeg with a private cabin at $410 (thanks to ViaRail’s handy online discount coupons). With the nights drawing in at this time of year, I’ve no idea what to expect from the long journey except that the train is often up to 20 hours late; that it lurches and bumps its way along ill-repaired track; and that it is occasionally canceled altogether. The experience will be fabulous, exciting and a little adventurous for sure!

So that’s the advance logistics taken care of, along with a stock of thermal clothing and jacket which is apparently good to -40ºC. Given that the wind-chill should be biting, I’ll need those several layers for the relatively brief moments I’ll be outside exploring the small downtown area and hopefully gawping at bears from the Tundra Buggy deck! I guess I’ll find out when I arrive in Churchill on November 16th whether I have enough warm layers. And what life is like in this small frontier town located just below the Auroral Oval. I’m really looking forward to this one…

About Paul Chibeba

Paul Chibeba now lives in London and works for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew after having spent nine years living and working in New York City.
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