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Where do you think you’ll be on your seventeenth birthday or better yet do you remember where you were?! Would you like to hear only your heart beat when you see polar bears or penguins?!
In October 2008, I headed for Churchill, Manitoba—polar bear capital of the world—to join 16 teens from around the world for the most unbelievable trip, sponsored by Polar Bears International. There were 12 girls, 5 boys, 6 leaders and NO PARENTS! We were named “Arctic Ambassadors” and asked to tell our stories when we returned home. (www.polarbearsinternational.org)
I packed for Churchill’s 30 degree October temperatures. Passport, camera, laptop and long underwear (in that order) were necessities. After connecting with the others on Facebook, I discovered we shared the same questions—“How close will we get to polar bears?!” and “How many will we see?!”
Churchill’s population is almost 1,000. It’s located on the Hudson Bay, where polar bears wait for winter’s ice. Only a 35 hour train ride from Winnipeg and an airport connect it to the outside world. I flew from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I met everyone for our five hour plane ride to Churchill.
All of Churchill can be seen on foot. We meandered through downtown, passing the polar bear jail—that holds wandering bears until the ice forms. We passed homes with nail door mats—that keep polar bears out. We shopped at the Tundra Buggy Gift Shop for polar bear souvenirs and we joined the locals at Gypsy’s for burgers and fries.
What’s a Tundra Buggy? It’s a train with gigantic tires and it was our “classroom on wheels” for six days and nights. The train with its sleeping, meeting and dining cars is parked on the tundra twelve miles north of Churchill. It is equipped with state of the art electronics that connected us to the world and has all the modern conveniences, including showers, where we (twelve girls) quickly learned about water conservation, i.e. shorter showers. A detachable buggy took us on daily excursions.
The purpose of our trip was to study global warming and its effects on polar bears. On day three we went “quietly” crazy, (hushed screaming) when a mom and two cubs were sighted close to our buggy bus! We watched in awe for three hours, taking hundreds of pictures.
On day four, six thundering Canadian helicopters approached our train from all directions to take us to a polar bear’s maternal den. I felt the thunder in my chest as I watched the barren tundra being pulled out from under me. Below, I saw only the ribbon of track leading to Churchill and a lone moose. Raindrops bounced up the windshield of the helicopter, as the three backseat passengers sang “Happy Birthday” to me through my headset.
For the next two days, emotions ran high and low as we watched the mom and her two cubs watching us. We all knew our Arctic adventure was sadly coming to an end, but knew we’d be returning home with so many stories to tell.
Yes, I made amazing life-long friends! Together we felt only our hearts beat when touched by the magic of just three polar bears! Most importantly, I’ve told my story to over 48,000 people in my community—because I traveled to Churchill, Manitoba! I will never forget where I was on my seventeenth birthday!
I will go back before I get old and I will go before they (polar bears) are gone!
P.S. You’ll have to go to Antarctica to see penguins!