Inuvik, NWT, to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, and return to Inuvik
We were scheduled for a flight to, and tour of, Tuktoyaktuk (known here, familiarly, as "Tuk"). Tuk is an Inuvialuit village on the shore of the Beaufort Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean). In the winter, there is an ice road between Inuvik and Tuk, but in the summer the only access is by plane. We were supposed to depart at 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., and return at 4:30 p.m.
But it was foggy this morning. We sat in the tour office, hoping that the fog would lift. At one point, I dashed across the street, looking for some snacks to take with us, since we didn't know when we would get a chance to eat. As I was hurrying into a shop, an old Native man stopped me, held out his hand, smiled, and introduced himself, "Hi, I'm Winston." I regret that I was in such a hurry (not knowing when our tour might leave for the airport), because he was such fun to talk with. When he heard that I was from Alaska, he told me that he had relatives in Fairbanks. "A long time ago," he said, "our people were divided, and some became Alaskans, and others became Canadians - because of an imaginary line someone drew."
When I got back to the tour office, I learned that the morning flight to Tuk had been canceled, and we were told to return at 12:30 for a 1:00 flight (hopefully).
We returned to the tour office at 12:30 and began loading into a 15-passenger van to go to the airport, which was south of town. As Dan stepped up into the van he smacked the top of his head on the door sill and made a 2 to 2-1/2" long gash on the top of his head. I was worried that he wouldn't feel up to going, but he folded a paper towel, placed it on the cut and held it in place with his baseball cap. He was ready to go.
There were ten of us in the tour, including a lady from Tokyo, Japan; a man from Belgium; a couple from Houston, Texas; a couple from north of San Francisco; and a couple from Ottawa. The man from Belgium had taken the same tour three years earlier and was back for a "re-run."
Our pilot and co-pilot, Chad and Ian, were young. The plane was just large enough to accommodate a small group like us. The flight up took about 25 minutes and was smooth and pleasant. At one point, the pilots pointed out, on the horizon, the polar ice floe. They said it was not always visible from here, so we were lucky to see it.
At the little airport, in Tuk, we were met by a man named Rick, our tour guide, who loaded us into another van. We spent the next hour or hour-and-a-half getting in and out of the van, over and over, to see one sight after another. Rick's son, William, rode along with us, but was shy and didn't want to talk much. I figured, since English was not his first language, he was probably not comfortable speaking with us.
Our first stop was at the "Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk" sign, for pictures. From there we went to the pingos - odd, cone-shaped formations that occur in a pond when permafrost is present (I didn't get a very good picture of the pingos, so here's a link where you can see one); and to the beach, where we all took off our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and waded in the Arctic Ocean. One man actually went clear in and immersed his entire body a couple times (YES! It was very cold). He explained that he had gone swimming in five of the seven seas, and this would make the sixth. After this trip, he would only have one more to go.
Among the other sights Rick showed us were the old Roman Catholic and the even-older Anglican churches (we got to go inside both of those); the entrance to the underground community freezer (just dug into the permafrost); and the remains of an ancient sod house.
Finally he took us to Maureen's house. Maureen is a Caucasian lady who came to Tuk to teach school in the '70s, married an Inuvialuit man and has lived there ever since. She prepared some Native food for us -- dried whitefish; dried whale meat (the red meat), called "bipsy"; cooked muktuk, (whale blubber); and caribou soup. We tasted everything, even the muktuk, although I ate only one small bite of it. It was not so bad, but not so good that I asked for a second serving. To my palate, the bipsy was the most objectionable; it had a strong, strong flavor, not like anything I had ever tasted before.
Maureen also helped us to understand the day-to-day life in this small whaling, hunting, subsistence village. She showed us various animal pelts she had tanned and some traditional parkas she had made. She let us try on a couple of the parkas for picture-taking. Her husband and son were due back, today, from a whaling trip, and she was keeping one eye on the water all day, in hopes of seeing their boat approaching the shore.
Maureen took us outside to see her family's dog team. She explained that these dogs are not pets, but are work animals - valuable and well-cared for. Once they are beyond the puppy-stage, they do not come inside the house. For the most part, they are kept on a short chain, unless they are going out to pull the sled or to be exercised or trained. That way, they are always eager to run. There are only a few dog teams in the village, because a lot of the villagers are now using snow mobiles. But, there is a big advantage to having a team. The Canadian government does not permit the taking of polar bears by hunters using snow mobiles. They can only be hunted with the traditional dog teams.
After our visit with Maureen, she took us back to "town" where we went into the grocery store and a small craft store. (She had to go get the craft store owner to open up for us.) The grocery store was quite well-stocked. Prices were very high, but we expected that. Produce and dairy products were especially expensive. I was disappointed in the craft shop; I had hoped to buy an authentic souvenir here, but all we saw were little trinkets made of felt or seashells. Nothing that tempted me.
After about 40 minutes walking on the beach, and being devoured by mosquitoes again, our hostess, Maureen, picked us up in the van and took us to the airport. She left us there by ourselves, just the ten of us. There were no airport employees anywhere to be found; no other travelers. Maureen told us that a plane would be there to pick us up in awhile. But time passed without any sign of an airplane. At one point a Native man dashed into the little airport, on some kind of errand, and we asked him if he knew when our plane would arrive. "No," he said, "Only the man upstairs knows that." Of course, we thought he was using "the man upstairs" euphemistically, but NO, he actually meant that there was a man, upstairs -- probably the traffic controller. We all got a laugh out of that. We waited about an hour and 45 minutes (from 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) before our little plane finally did show up.
Once in the air, I realized that I'd accidentally left our "Toe Dipping in the Arctic Ocean" certificates, that Maureen had given us, at the airport. I'm really disappointed about that. I'll never be able to get a certificate like that again!
A van was waiting at the airport to pick us all up, but not far from the airport the van had a flat tire. The driver didn't know where the jack was, or how to change the tire ["I'm a driver, Jim, not a tire-changer!" - for all you Star Trek fans]. It took the cooperation of several of the men, including Dan, to figure out where the jack might be hiding and to change the tire. We, the women (and the driver), all stood beside the road, smacking mosquitoes. It was nearly 11:00 when we finally got back to Inuvik. A few crackers and peanut butter served as a late "dinner," and then I took a hot bath before bed.