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Churchill and Wapusk National Parks in winter


3/2/16 – Oh Canada…


We flew from Hanover via Amsterdam and Toronto to Winnipeg. Even before take-off, the photo equipment caused the first difficulties. All batteries had to be taken out of the luggage and reloaded into hand luggage. This was then tested for explosives at the security checkpoint. Once everything had been properly stowed away and stamped as safe by customs, it was time to set off on the journey to polar bear country.

The long-haul flight was pleasant. Unfortunately, thick clouds hung over Greenland, so we were denied the great view we had hoped for. In Toronto, immigration and another baggage check through customs went smoothly, so to celebrate the day we treated ourselves to the first Canadian beer with the friendly name "Barking Squirrel".

After another 2.5 hour flight we finally landed in Winnipeg. We checked into the 4 Points Hotel directly opposite the airport, because the next morning we were supposed to leave early.


3/3/16 – To the North!


At 4:30 the alarm clock rang. Because of the 7-hour time difference, it didn't feel so bad and so 4 lively travelers sat at 06:00 a.m. at the airport café for a hearty breakfast, full of anticipation for the upcoming adventures. The plane to Churchill was larger than expected. Jets with space for around 70 passengers have been used here for 3/4 of a year. Our 10 pieces of luggage were also taken along without any problems. Very comfortable, even with a second breakfast, so the journey continued to Churchill.


The small town on Hudson Bay has around 900 inhabitants. In the "bear season" in autumn the place is buzzing, but now in March it is quiet and tranquil. Our rental car – a large Ford pickup – was already waiting at the airport. Crunchy -26 degrees, sun and a bright blue sky made a good first impression. Norbert Rosing has been to Churchill countless times since 1987. He knows everyone in town and everyone knows him. Wherever we went - handshakes, warm hugs and happy faces. Norbert hadn't been to Churchill for 8 years, so both sides were particularly happy to see each other again.

The first way in town led us to a shop where we could rent equipment. After everyone was equipped with warm parkas, boots, hats and gloves, we took the first pictures and quickly realized that the camera batteries drain extremely quickly in the cold, that touch screens pose a great challenge and iPhones for such temperatures are not at all seem to have been made. Nevertheless, the first good pictures came into the box.



After breakfast we were allowed to accompany Brian Ladoon on his daily visits to his dogs. Brian is one of the very few breeders of Canadian Eskimo Dogs, an original breed of dog that nearly became extinct in the early 1970's. Brian puts his heart and soul into preserving this remarkable breed, characterized by extreme toughness, strength and a friendly nature. Another special feature is that the dogs seem to have made friends with polar bears. The pictures of the bears and dogs playing together went around the world. We spent the rest of the day taking photos in and around the town and having nice conversations with the locals.


3/5/16 – The Sauna Train


I had offered to help Brian feed the dogs. No sooner said than done, I found myself sitting in the back of a pickup truck in -28°C, throwing frozen chunks of meat to the dogs as we drove. After half an hour, all the dogs were happily consuming their frozen meal. During the drive back to town, Brian told many interesting things about life on the Hudson Bay and how to deal with the cold. Very interesting and very educational!

In the evening we took the "sauna train" - it was at least +30 degrees. After about 2  hours the train stopped in the middle of the wilderness and we changed to tracked vehicles that took us another 45 minutes to Wat'Chee Lodge.


3/6/16 - Wonderful Aurora Borealis


After a hearty breakfast, 4 tracked vehicles were loaded with photo equipment and warmly wrapped guests. Then the ride went rattling and rocking into the middle of the wilderness. Two guides were out on snowmobiles looking for bear tracks while our trucks made their way through the snow-covered landscape. After about 1.5 hours the radio message came that a bear cave had been found. The trucks drove to the appropriate spot and parked about 100 m in front of the snow-covered cave. Tripods were set up, cameras adjusted and dressed in little doilies and jackets to avoid freezing. Then the long wait began. Some really tough guys stood outside at around -25°C, with wind chill at around -40°C, to be ready to fire immediately if they moved. But most of them were soon back in the warm vehicle, warming up with soup and coffee. We stayed at the cave for about 5 hours, but Mama polar bear didn't show up. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day with wonderful weather, nice conversations and some creative photos in a beautiful snowy landscape. Back at the lodge there was just enough time for a quick shower - in the form of a water bowl in the sauna - and a small snack, then there they were: Northern Lights, but what kind! They shone in all shapes and colors throughout the evening, a fascinating spectacle.



3/7/16 - BEARS


It is said that mother bears like to go hiking with their cubs when the Northern Lights have danced in the sky the night before. So the omens were good and the day greeted us with blue skies and plenty of sunshine at a crisp -27°C (wind chill -39°C). After breakfast we went into the tracked vehicles and off into the tundra. Shortly before lunch radio messages went back and forth and we were told to eat our soup quickly. Then the confirmation by radio: A bear with two cubs was sighted. Those who hadn't eaten yet tipped the rest of the soup into the snow and just a few minutes later we were treated to a superlative spectacle. The mother bear had made herself comfortable with her two cubs on a small hill and was not at all disturbed when 20 people, only about 100 m away, set up with tripods and cameras. The bear raised her head only briefly, sniffed the air and obviously decided that there was no danger. For the next 5 1/2 hours we observed and photographed the little bear family. The little rascals scuffled and played around on their mother. When they got tired, they would snuggle up to their mother and burrow their little bodies into the fluffy fur. When they woke up again, they were nursed and immediately started playing again until, exhausted, they snuggled down and fell asleep again. While the bears went about their daily business in a relaxed manner, we photographers were tested for organization and perseverance. Batteries gave out in the cold, memory cards were full and after a few hours the cold made itself felt despite four layers of clothing and heat packs in the shoes. Finally, at 5:45 p.m., the bear family left the site and “released” the frozen photographers. In the evening the mood was great, I think that everyone got their money's worth today and great photos were taken.



3/8/16 – Small breather


Temperatures rose overnight. -19°C, wind chill -27°C. The sky was overcast and the sun could only be guessed at behind a veil of clouds. The light was much softer than before and the landscape looked very different, barren and a little desolate. The bears obviously didn't like the weather very much either, they didn't show up all day. We use the time for some creative pictures, nice conversations and a nap in the back seat of the truck. In the evening it was still overcast, so that the northern lights could not be seen either. That's the way it goes, every day is different.


3/9/16 – Reunion with the BÄR family


Once again we went out into the tundra with the snow vehicles. No tracks were found for a couple of hours and by midday we had the feeling that the day wasn't going to bring much more. But then the news broke that Morris had found the bear family again. Unfortunately, it was quite far away, so it wasn't clear if we could reach it. We definitely wanted to give it a try and knew it was going to be a long day. About 1.5 hours later all doubts were suddenly forgotten, because we found the bear with her two cubs, lying very relaxed on a small hill next to some bushes. The little ones romped around and we got great pictures again. My last evening in the lodge ended with a glass or two of wine, nice conversations and lots of laughter. The Wat'Chee Lodge is a very special place, after a few days you feel a bit like an extended family.


3/10/16 - Back to civilization - a little bit at least


At 5:30 a.m., bag and baggage went into the snow truck for the last time and thus into the middle of nowhere, where the train stopped at an agreed point. After a 2 hour train ride I was back in Churchill. I moved into my room in the Tundra House Hostel and took a deep breath. After 8 days of traveling together, I was alone for the first time. Well, as alone as you are in a backpacker hostel. A short time later I had already met most of the other hostel residents – a Pole and a few Canadians. Nevertheless, it was a relaxed feeling to be on my own and to decide for myself what I want to do. Something like vacation? I spent the morning strolling and visiting the Eskimo Museum. At late lunch at Gypsy's Bakery I happened to meet the Pole from the hostel and he offered to accompany me in his rental car. We drove to Dave Dayle's Dogyard and then to a tower that offers a good view of the countryside around the Churchill River. We stayed until sunset and then drove back into town to pick up a Canadian girl and her boyfriend - 1/2 Canadian, 1/2 Finn. The four of us drove out of town to look for the northern lights. Luckily they weren't long in coming. We got some good pictures and drove shivering but happy back to Gypsy's for dinner. A nice, relaxed day ended in good company with a beer.



3/11/16 - Churchill


At 9 o'clock Brian picked me up to feed the dogs. Today he had two other helpers with him so I didn't have to do much and could just watch and chat with Brian. The four of us tried to catch one of two dogs that were loose in the dogyard, but they were too quick and too clever. A bitch will soon be in heat and then it is a problem if she roams free. The two boys were very interested in how it is in Germany and asked the questions that were important to them: “Is there ice hockey? Is there wildlife?”

In the afternoon I met my Polish roommate  and we went to the Canadian Royal Legion because they had a typical Canadian event today - a meat draw. You buy tickets, put them in a raffle box and when the ticket is drawn you win a packet of meat. This is done a lot in the country and is popular because meat is expensive. A ticket costs a dollar, so you can get good meat very cheaply. There are also drinks at affordable prices, which probably makes the place even more popular with locals. In the evening there was a small campfire at the bay  with locals and holidaymakers – how nice!



3/12/16 - Back to Winnipeg


Saying goodbye to Churchill was not easy. A final breakfast at Gypsy's Bakery, a few final photos and souvenir purchases, handshakes and hugs. I will this little  Visit the place with its special location on the Hudson Bay, with its equally special characters and the dogs and polar bears? Yes, definitely!

There was no stress at the airport. No ID check, no hand luggage check, just put a tick on a paper list after the name and off we went on the 2-hour journey back to Winnipeg. I was dead tired and didn't notice much of the flight. My friends were already waiting in Winnipeg  to us. We just rushed Marcus and Max's luggage over to the hotel across from the airport and hopped in the car because Nikki's son Noah had a hockey game and we were invited there. Forty-five minutes later we found ourselves at the hockey stadium in the small town of Lorette. Unfortunately, Noah's team lost 3-2 against the home team. For us it was still the perfect end to a great time together in Canada and we decided to meet up in Germany for an ice hockey game.


We took the boys back to the hotel and then drove to Nikki's family home. Here we were greeted by two excited dogs - Grizzly and Polar. I immediately felt at ease!


3/13/16 –  A normal Sunday


A lazy Sunday in the Manitoba countryside - A hearty breakfast of waffles and bacon, then we drove to the shooting range to see if the trail was passable or not because of the snowmelt and you'd get stuck in the mud. I rode in the back of the pickup truck with daughter Layne and the two dogs - cool! The dogs pointed their noses to the wind and we all enjoyed the ride. We got as far as the shooting range, but it was already very muddy, so we decided to shoot in the garden instead. That's how they do it here and the little bit of noise is ok even on Sundays - the neighbors do it too. I even met a few times and had a lot of fun. In the afternoon I showed the whole family a small selection of my Churchill photos and everyone was very impressed, especially by the polar bears and the Northern Lights. In the evening there was a delicious meal with roast beef and a glass of wine and I went into the whirlpool with Nikki. Now it really felt like  vacation on!


Grizzy & Polar


3/14/16 –  Back to Churchill, well  so similar…

There is a new exhibit at the Winnipeg Zoo called “Journey to Churchill” which of course I had to see. Considered the best polar bear exhibit in all of Canada, it is very informative indeed. There is a glass tunnel where you can watch polar bears swim, a sanctuary for orphaned polar bear cubs and an information center about Churchill and polar bears in general. So I was able to learn a lot about the place I had just visited afterwards. A beautiful end to a fantastic trip!

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