Here We Go Again
Originally posted Feb 04, 2016
When Cindy and I returned from Africa a couple of years ago, I just kind of assumed – and told folks – that I envisioned one more big adventure, and that would be going into the far north to photograph polar bears. It seemed to kind of fill out the trilogy that began with the Alaskan trip – to photograph Alaskan grizzlies – in 2011, and would pretty much take care of my wildlife photography bucket list. Plus, they’re a magnificent animal but one that is in real trouble. Like with all the really cool animals, it seems, if you want to see them in the wild, best be doing it.
But at some point, there was an outbreak of common sense, when I looked at what a polar bear trip would cost, and I decided to abandon the idea. And because my role at the firm will take on a different cast next year, I began to cast about for an alternative venture to send me into my new professional life fully sated.
But actually? None came. Oh, you can drive a de-tuned Indy car three laps at the Speedway for a thousand dollars, and I’d love to, but at 150 mph, it’d be over pretty quick. I thought of going back to Silver Salmon Creek, Alaska, which is totally isolated and we enjoyed it so much, but we’d be going back, and I want to go forward with this undertaking.
Then I got to re-examining some of the research I did on polar bear tours and realized that some of the prices at least, were in Canadian dollars, which makes them about a third less expensive in U.S. currency. And from there, I undertook a whole new assessment of the issue and finally have decided that we can indeed visit the Polar Bears in northern Ontario…I’ll just need to live one less year!
Like with Africa, there are three levels of polar bear adventures, and all of them run out of Churchill, Manitoba, way up on Hudson Bay. The most elaborate ones take you from Churchill by bush plane out to rustic themed lodges surrounded by bear-proof fencing. And like we did at Silver Salmon Creek, you walk out over the tundra - or ride in a four-wheeler towed cart – to where the bears are and get close-but-not-too-close and photograph them.
The lowest level consists of a family that already had a restaurant in Churchill and decided to add a lodge, buy a tundra vehicle and get into the bear tour business. If the choice were to go with them or stay home, I’d agree to go with these guys in a nano-second, but their reviews weren’t quite as good, and they don’t guarantee you’ll see bears.
But as with Africa, there is a middle ground. It’s anything but cheap, but to me makes the most sense for all but the rich and aimless. And that’s what I chose, and I expect that – just like it did in Africa – it will be ideal. In this option, we’ll be staying in Churchill but heading out two days and one evening on a tundra rover, which would be like a school bus on massive doses of steroids. Each of the ten tires on the thing stand at least as tall as I am. There’s an open viewing platform at the rear, everyone gets a window seat (and the windows open easily for photography) there’s a bathroom on board, as well as capacities for cooking and eating. The agent assured me it’s a rough rider, but ideal to go looking for bears in. And, they guarantee you’ll find them!
Some other appealing things about this trip are that they meet you in Winnipeg the evening of your arrival for a dinner and introductory briefing and the next morning fly you to Churchill on a chartered aircraft (which sounds like a Dash-8), as opposed to mailing you a hotel voucher and a ticket on a local service airline. Also, they have available for clients’ use, parkas and boots suitable to the polar climate. So it costs a little – actually a fair amount – more, but we’ll only be doing this once, and we’ll remember the adventure long after we’ve forgotten what it cost.
The trip itself comes in November. That seems a long way off, but I’m sure the calendar will surprise us with how quickly gateway day gets here. The preparations for this trip won’t be nearly so extensive as they were for Africa, especially as you don’t need any specific inoculations to go to Canada…apparently no malaria or yellow fever up there!
From here I only see one problem: The walls of our home and at Jensen♦Rogert are so full of framed photos of lions, leopard, elephant, grizzly bears and wild dogs, that I’m not just too sure where the white bears will go. But I’d bet we’ll find some spaces.
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