Buggies, Boulders & Bears (or not)

Churchill – Polar Bear Day

After sleeping on a train and camping for the 2 days previous to that, I slept like a log in a bed again, it was heaven. It was an early start for breakfast, though because we didn’t know where to find anything we ended up having greasy egg/cheese muffins which were pretty grim to be honest. We got picked up from the hotel by our guides who were really friendly and quite amusing – evidently a tightknit group/company. The tourist group hoping to see Polar Bears that day consisted of Aussies, Dutch, Canadians and Chinese – old & young. It’s funny to see the type of people the tour attracts. We were driven to the Tundra buggy launch site by our driver Joe who’s a local to Churchill and we were reassured by him that the last group a few days before had seen some Polar Bears along the way before the actual Tundra Tour! Everyone kept their eyes peeled but unfortunately there were no bear sightings.

The Tundra buggy was essentially a big rectangular block on monster truck wheels. As we all clambered on board it began to snow which gave us some hope that the polar bears might be around. Our driver was called Kevin and had been driving the buggies for over 30 years and is the only local buggy driver left! He told us that he’d actually moved from even further North than Churchill when he was 5 due to his parents getting new jobs. We had a full day out on the Tundra, basically driving through freshwater lakes and over the bumpiest terrain with massive boulders and potholes which made the buggy tip almost horizontal to the ground! Unlike what most people might think, the Tundra is not covered in snow and ice, it’s a dry-looking barren land of little wiry shrubs and trees and other plants with dozens of big and little lakes. The buggy really was a mean all-terrain machine!

To our complete disappointment, we didn’t see ANY bears at all that day, despite the amount of money we had to spend to do the tour. Looks like we were just in the wrong place and the wrong time. We did, however, come across an arctic hare and arctic fox and a plastic bag which fooled even Kevin into thinking that it was a Ptarmigan! It was an exhausting day looking at Polar Bear rock lookalikes but an experience nonetheless. The drive back to Churchill town was a little longer on the way there as our driver Joe wanted to optimise our chances of seeing a Polar Bear – he basically took us to where the rich people go to increase their chance of seeing a bear, although it has been known for them to have not seen any.

The Tundra was used throughout the 50/60/70’s for military training in cold climates and of the 2 watch out towers they built, only 1 is still standing – although apparently it is only a matter of time before a storm brings it down. Tundra buggies were actually a result of experimentation by Leonard Smith and he took his first trip on one of his creations when he travelled to Cape Churchill with a group of explorers and a National Geographic film crew who created the film ‘Polar Bear Alert’. Smith then created the company called Tundra Buggy Tours and went on to make 14 more buggies as well as the Tundra Buggy Lodge where you can pay extortionate amounts of money to stay for a few nights to increase your chance of seeing a Polar Bear. The buggies are only allowed to use the existing set of trails that were created by the Canadian and American Armies in the 50/60’s and are now owned and custom build by Frontiers North Adventures (the company we used for our tour).

We returned to Churchill poorer and more devastated as everyone had said we would see one – not a great outlook for jobs then eh?! No luck on the drive home either despite our coastal route past all the dumps and miss piggy’s plane. Joe told us a story about how they had to move the outside dump to an indoor facility because it was a Bear sanctuary and they were being a nuisance (supposedly the only indoor dump in Canada)! Miss Piggy’s Plane is basically a crashed plane on the coast where they were trying to transport fizzy pop but it came down because they overloaded the plane! It is also supposedly a bear haven as well as for scavengers.

After we have got back, we popped into the company’s gift shop, however, most of the items were a little higher than our price range! We relaxed at the hotel before going out for some dinner at the Tundra Inn again. Unfortunately, dinner was cut short due to me having an anxiety attack which was not fun. So it was back to the hotel to chill and sleep.

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