Adventures in the High Arctic (long)

Helloooo everybody…your intrepid Arctic correspondent is about to report! I know, as if you really care, but that’s what MPSIMS is for, right?


I left Whitehorse, Yukon Territory heading for Iqaluit, Nunavut on February 22nd. For some insane reason involving cheaper flights, my route was as follows: Whitehorse-Vancouver, Vancouver-Ottawa, overnight in Ottawa and then on to Iqaluit. I have clothes for a week, my Systems Management Server manuals, a laptop, and my travel hobby kit. Next time I am shipping those damn manuals on ahead. By the time I was through lugging that stuff through the airports, I was sure there were at least 150 kilos. Apiece. And the big chunk of jade didn’t help. More about the jade later.

I got to show off my hobby kit at every security gate, something about large opaque blocks of stuff (the jade) and spools of wire (sterling silver) makes airport security very nervous. However, they did admire the half-finished pieces I had done.

The adventure really began in Ottawa. I show up at 8:00, my flight leaves at 8:40. AM that is. Wrinkle number one appears. My flight is delayed for an hour. No problem. Then two. Jeez, if they were gonna do that, I coulda stayed in bed another hour or so. Then my flight’s delayed until noon. At 11:30, they finally announce that all flights are cancelled - there’s a blizzard in Iqaluit and nobody’s landing there. Great. Now what.

I do what every corporate drone in the world does when faced with circumstances like this - I phoned the office. They found me a nice hotel in Hull, (Holiday Inn at the Plaza Chaudiere) where I collapsed for the rest of the day. At this time, I realized that I had forgotten two essential items for this journey. My list of local dialup numbers for my Sympatico account (so’s I can get connected), and my username and password. I can’t even freakin’ well surf in my hotel boredom, and I don’t want to unpack my jewellreymaking stuff for an overnight … so I opened up some of my new goodies from the Body Shop and had a luxurious, decadent bath, free of the “Mom, I just gotta pee,” and “Honey, where’s the…” interruptions. I got to read a whole tacky romance while soaking in scented suds.

The next day, I am again at the airport, this time with fingers crossed. I get up to the First Air counter, and get the happy news that they’ve even put on an extra plane for us. Except that I don’t get to be on it. It would seem that since the blizzard shut down all flights for four days, all flights are packed. I’m just about half an hour late to make it on the direct flight. Now I get to go on the milk run. Ottawa-Montreal, Montreal-Kuujjuaq, Kuujuaq-Iqaluit. Fine, at least I’m going to get there. For those actualy interested and still reading by now, Kuujuaq is pronounced KOO-jew-ack.

My seatmates on the plane were Roger and his daughter. Roger is a traditional hunter from Pond Inlet who had taken his daughter to Ottawa for a medical checkup, as she had had open-heart surgery the year before. She was doing very well indeed…and she was in my seat. I didn’t have the heart to argue with a four-year-old over who got the window.

I am not amused when the captain announces that there are still high winds in Iqaluit, and we may not be able to make it. But he did say we were gonna try anyways, and we took on extra fuel in Kuujuaq to ensure we could make it. I had this horrible thought that if we couldn’t land, we’d return to Kuujuaq. :eek: Fortunately, the winds died down enough to land - barely.

Arrival was …hmmm… interesting. Been a long time since I had to hit the tarmac deplaning. In sixty-klick winds. I went straight to the hotel and flopped for a while.

The entertainment continued. It would seem that I “missed” the excitement the night before, when a disgruntled bar patron made his displeasure known by heaving a rock through the window in the newly renovated hotel dining room, so the view of the mushers running their dogs on the sea ice is blocked by duct tape. A $150 a night hotel, and my bathroom door doesn’t close. At least I’m not directly over the bar, like my partner and co-worker. The bar in the hotel is affectionately nicknamed “The Zoo” by the locals. The street theatre has been pretty good, and I’m far enough up that they can’t throw rocks at me when they catch me watching.

Why am I here? I was supposed to install a Microsoft Systems Management Server site. However, due to vendor b/s and the blizzard, my server’s not here. FedEx is backed up by four days, something about groceries and medical supplies being more important than my server. It will be arriving in Iqaluit the day I leave, on the plane I leave on. Fortunately, Paul can set it up for me.

Basically, I just got sent on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Iqaluit. And it really is very cool. It looks a lot like the place I grew up, only bigger, and no trees. I would like to see it in the summer, because I want to see the bones of the land. It’s beautiful. The people are pretty nice too. I got a deal with Napatchie to swap my jade (remember the jade?) for some soapstone or whalebone and I picked up a couple of awesome small carvings - the face of an Inuit hunter in walrus ivory and an inukshuk pin in ivory and muskox horn. $45 Cdn for the two.

If anybody ever does come up, you can get great deals on the artwork. You can buy directly off the carver for BUNCHES less than the gallery price, and the artist gets the whole thing. Those $11,000 carvings that you see in the galleries in your area? The artist got $400 max for it.

HOWEVER, BE CAREFUL what you buy. I can weasel my way out of trouble for the walrus ivory, but I can just about guarantee it would be very difficult if not impossible to get it out of Canada. The other be careful is to watch the quality. Some of the stuff that’s been offered to me is just chunks of crudely hacked soapstone, not even finished.

And the adventure continues tomorrow, as I attempt to leave. We shall see. I am already disappointed, though. I have to speak to the area management about the timing of that blizzard. It was supposed to start AFTER I arrived, go on for four days, THEN clear up so I could go home. Dammit, I wanted to see a blizzard! We don’t get them at home - too many trees and mountains in the way.

Any burning questions while I’m here?

I thought by the time I got to Whitehores I was already in the High Arctic!

I rode along with my dad once to Prudhoe Bay. My dad’s a trucker and he made over a thousand trips from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. This was during early spring everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere but still subzero weather there. The things I remember most were the gradual slope from the last of the hills to the ocean (you could only tell you were at the ocean because the lakes got bigger and bigger till they were one big lake) and the constant wind. And it was cold. I got out of the truck exactly once, to help unchain the load on the trailer, and even with all my gear on I was nearly frozen by the time I got back into the cab.

tisiphone, you have a good outlook on your difficulties. I enjoy being new places but I hate travelling to them. I’m sure I would have died of apoplexy before I would have thought to treat the trip like a free vacation. A friend of mine paid big bucks to take a trip like yours – it may even have been to the same place. (Do people go there to watch polar bears? That’s why he went.) Enjoy.

Um, that would be Whitehorse. My apologies to all the ladies of the evening in Whitehorse.

Nnnnnahhhh. Whitehorse is barely Arctic, by Northern standards. Same for Anchorage and Fairbanks. When I phoned home yesterday, Bev told me it was +5C and sunny. Here it was -25 and windy.

So I shoulda kept my big fat mouth shut. You know that saying “be careful what you ask for, you might get it?” Well, the snow was falling horizontally when I woke up this morning, and my flights already been delayed. The ladies in the office are laughing at me. I have now seen a baby blizzard, it can go now.

No polar bear tours here, that’s in Churchill. However, there is a guy here in Iqaluit who is going to hunt a polar bear using traditional implements - spear and dogs. There’s apparently quite a flap about it, the Powers That Be don’t want to give him a permit because they think it’s too dangerous. So far there has been a decision to not give him a permit, but that’s been reversed.

Ummmm. Looks like my flight home’s been cancelled. My husband’s gonna have a fit. Oh Gawd, I have to rebook my connecting flights. Well, I am about to have further adventures in travelling…