Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Barbara (author of this account) and Joseph Motter of Rohrersville, Md.
Where, when, why: Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, Oct. 19-24. We’ve dreamed of seeing polar bears in Churchill since before we were married 30 years ago. We saw a discounted polar bear tour advertised in The Post Travel section and decided that it was now or never.
Highlights and high points: Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world for six weeks every year when the bears congregate there, waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze and their winter hunting season to begin.
Every day on the frozen tundra was an anticipation-filled adventure. We spent three glorious days observing the polar bears from our heated tundra buggy. These heavy-duty buslike vehicles traverse the roadless tundra with ease, are lined with windows for wildlife viewing and have an open deck for those willing to brave the cold. We were able to spend eight hours a day on the tundra, and we saw lots of bears, plus arctic foxes and an elusive wolverine.
One of the most exciting encounters came when we spotted two bears sparring. Males need to keep fit for the upcoming seal hunt, and this display is more playful than violent. It was breathtaking to watch the bears rise up onto their hind legs and take six or seven steps toward each other. They were throwing and blocking punches like Mike Tyson.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Joe experienced one of those brief but magical cross-species connections. He was stretching out one of the open windows to observe an approaching bear. As she came closer to the buggy, she headed straight to Joe’s window. He could hear her breathing and the snow crunching beneath her paws. She stood up on her hind legs just below the window and locked eyes with him for a few brief moments. It was love at first sight for Joe, but unfortunately, the bear was only curious, and just as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone.
I believe the bears view us with the same curiosity that we have for them. There were many occasions when the bears appeared to try to sneak up on the tundra buggies to have a look at the occupants. Or perhaps they were just hungry.
Biggest laugh or cry: Our excellent wildlife guide had many jokes to share. For example: What do you get when you sit on the polar ice too long? Answer: Polaroids! So when we were exploring the tundra in search of our first polar bear, he pointed out a “polar rock,” and we all thought that he was going to tell a joke. Everyone on the buggy gasped as the “polar rock” came to life when the bear raised its head. Bears curl up like sleeping dogs, and because their fur matches the color of surrounding rocks, they are well camouflaged.
How unexpected: We shouldn’t have been, but we were surprised at how bitterly cold it was in Churchill. We’d packed our winter coats, which are fine for Washington winters but no match for the subarctic cold. Luckily for us, the tour company lent us the most amazingly warm parkas and boots. These jackets with their fur-trimmed hoods allowed us to spend hours on the open deck of the tundra buggy watching the bears.
Fondest memento or memory: Our best souvenir is a copy of the local Churchill newspaper, the Hudson Bay Post. It provides insight into local life and is full of such headlines as “Marauding Bear Locked up in Churchill Jail.” Yes, there’s a polar bear jail in Churchill, and the newspaper articles describe bears as “suspects known to the authorities.” There’s no way that we’ll ever forget the polar bears of Churchill. What a great gift to have seen these magnificent animals in the wild.
To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.