Majestic beauty. Unspoiled landscapes. Spectacular wildlife. I must admit, we didn’t know what to expect when we boarded the gleaming white ship for our East to the Arctic expedition. Even the brochure for the trip leads off with the question; “where is this place, exactly? It’s about as far from Disneyland as you can possibly get.” But what we experienced was incredible.
The “sights” were of massive proportions. Whales, seabirds, icebergs and cliffs that looked otherworldly. How do you describe spotting an iceberg? Suddenly on the horizon there is a cathedral of ice of the most stunning blue hue floating your way. No two icebergs are alike in shape. Most of these frosty wonders weigh between one and two hundred thousand tonnes, though there are also “bergy bits” the size of cars, or as some of my fellow travelers affectionately called them, “iceberglets.”
On the same afternoon excursion where one of the Nunavut Arctic College students leaned out of his zodiac to plant a kiss on one of these iceberglets, we saw something else that was pretty enormous: a polar bear paw. It belonged to one of the two polar bears we found that day; this guy was just lounging out on the beach, unperturbed by the 30 or so of us gawking at him- from a safe distance away- in our zodiacs. The bear popped up from his nap long enough for one of our travelers to get a fantastic shot of his tongue- purple from eating berries.
And while on the topic of things that were getting kinda heavy, there were several areas of our ship that were off limits to passengers, but from them wonderful things emerged, including the magical soup creations from our chef, who along with his team of sous chefs drew rave reviews.
But the best thing we ate all trip wasn’t from the kitchen. In the Torngat Mountains National Park, the gloriously beautiful northern tip of Labrador, we returned from our contemplative walks and challenging hikes, to park guards cooking freshly caught arctic char on the beach.
I shared this experience with a gang of brilliant, well-traveled, adventurous McGillians. They told me stories I’ll probably get in trouble for recounting. Here are some: “It was legal at the time, but it was speed!” recounted Sondra and Ruth, describing a certain study aid that they used during their days at the Royal Victoria College Residence. “I basically found ways to get free food and lodging,” admitted Jim Robb to explain the abundance of activities he was involved in as a student. I also loved Cameron MacGuire’s story – told by his wife Suzanne- about seeking out the campus chapel after witnessing the peeling paint and shady characters who loomed by the entrance to RVC, where they’d just deposited their daughter in residence, some years ago. There were several more questionable tales by our other Canadian Alumni Travellers: “After a water polo tournament at McGill, I wanted to stay in Montreal for a few more days, so one of the boys on the other team offered me a free place to sleep. It was in the basement of the medical faculty. Turned out it was the morgue!”
Embarking on this expedition involved “unplugging” for two weeks. There was the odd Globe and Mail that circulated like contraband among some of the news hounds on the trip. But most were too busy with our day-to-day activities- or what was an amped up version of “show and tell.” Exhibit A: In the morning Dr. Lisa Rankins, professor at Memorial University and one of the resource staff on the trip, gives a presentation on Archeology in Newfoundland and Labrador. Just before lunch time we pick up 6 of her students from a nearby island. They join us for a meal and take advantage of our hot showers. In the afternoon we suit up and motor over to their dig site, where they gave us a tour.
Exhibit B: There’s 10 minutes until breakfast and I briefly pop up to the bridge. Our moustached Russian captain stands stoically, sipping his coffee. The nautical charts are laid out for the day; we’re passing through a “wiggle” before approaching Nachvak Fjord. A few staff and passengers gaze out the windows, binoculars in hand, looking for seabirds and animals on shore. It’s calm, peaceful, and the view is stunningly beautiful.
Exhibit C: With an ice mass blocking our way into Iqaluit, we switch course and as part of our new journey have an opportunity to visit more Labrador communities, including Rigolet, a special destination because it’s where Kerry, one of the students with us, hails from. The local people everywhere we disembark make us feel welcome; they’ll stop for a chat, show us their crafts, their church, their town; tell us about life today, and about years past. In many instances our travelers are moved and inspired.
Canada is a beautiful country. Explore the unexplored, be kind to our environment, enjoy the journey, and travel in good company.