Exploring the Great White North
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My life has been filled with amazing experiences and I've had the chance to travel to some of the world's most exotic and remote locations. Last year I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Antarctic. It was a life-changing experience. When the opportunity arose this spring to visit the Arctic, I just couldn't turn it down. I had seen penguins, now it was time to see polar bears.

Travel affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and climates in a unique way that would not be possible otherwise. I have been travelling my entire life, but it has only been over the past 10 years that I have really begun to appreciate the art of capturing what I experience on film.

One photograph can tell a story that would be impossible through any other medium. I could write an entire novel and still never elicit the emotional response that one photo can have. My family can attest to the fact that my camera has become not only one of my most prized possessions, but also my obsession. I am not obsessed with getting the ‘right' picture, but instead cannot wait to capture as much as I can through one single image. The Arctic is truly a photographer's paradise. With its unique, vast and often stark landscape, it takes a well-trained eye to truly appreciate and capture the beauty of ice. I wouldn't call myself a master, but I was certainly going to give it a try!
My Arctic adventure, much like my Antarctic one, presented a number of clothing challenges. Choosing the right clothing can be the difference between life and death in the Arctic. Thankfully I had the gear from Canada Goose and the tutelage of the company that made the whole trip possible, Adventure Canada. Having booked my Antarctic trip with Adventure Life and having had such a life-changing experience, who better to see the other pole with than the same company. Although I booked through Adventure Life, the operator for this trip would be Adventure Canada. 

Adventure Canada prepares you for every aspect of your Arctic expedition. From how to behave around the wildlife and in villages to photography tips and zodiac travel, Adventure Canada covers it all. Truly a family business, Adventure Canada was started in 1988 and offers expeditions to both poles, western Europe, the Galapagos, Upper Amazon and New Zealand. The company prides itself on utilizing local knowledge and truly teaching its passengers about the unique destinations they visit. Each passenger truly feels they are part of the team; their professionalism and organization is second to none. Whether you are a retiree looking for relaxation or a 20-something looking for adventure, Adventure Canada has something for everyone.

My trip to the Arctic began in Greenland. With 95 per cent of its landmass covered by a blanket of ice up to 3-kilometres thick, Greenland is the largest island in the world. Habitable land is located on the east and west coastlines of this beautiful country.

From Greenland, we boarded the Sea Adventurer and headed toward the Canadian territory of Nunavut. With a 118-passenger capacity, the Sea Adventurer is one of the only vessels in the world specifically constructed for expedition voyages to the far reaches of the Arctic. Her ice-strengthened hull permits her to glide easily and safely through ice-strewn waters that are not accessible to conventional cruise vessels.

The Sea Adventurer has advanced communications and navigation equipment and newly installed state-of-the-art Sperry Gyrofin stabilizers. She is a handsome expedition vessel, done in the style of great ocean liners when ships were ships. With lots of varnished wood, brass, and wooden decks, the ship has new outside cabins, with lower beds and private facilities. Along with state-of-the-art Arctic expedition equipment, the Sea Adventurer is also made for comfort, boasting a bar, library/card room, gymnasium and gift shop.

After a few days of travel, we arrived in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Nunavut became Canada's newest territory April 1999 and is located in the Eastern and Central Canadian Arctic. At approximately 200,000 hectares, Nunavut is the largest native land claim settlement in history.

When most people think of the Arctic, they think of ice and wildlife. Visiting the villages was like stepping into a whole different world. Inuit culture in the Canadian Arctic has left little to no physical evidence; there are no pyramids, palaces or temples, yet the culture has been around for four millennia. The greatest achievement of the northern people is that, for many generations, they survived Arctic winters and thrived in a country regarded by many as uninhabitable.
The Northwest Territories and Nunavut cover an enormous area, nearly a third of Canada, yet the entire population would barely even fill a standard football field. Scattered across the coastal areas of the region are small Inuit Communities. Few have populations numbering more than 1,500, and, despite the introduction of snowmobiles, satellite communication and video, they remain faithful to their traditional hunting culture.

On each of my trips, I try to buy at least one thing from the local towns and people. This time I decided to buy a pair of handmade seal slippers and mittens. I had the unique opportunity to watch my slippers and mitts being made and was in awe at how careful the local people are to ensure that the entire seal is utilized. 

Leaving the village behind, we once again ventured into the icy wilderness. I started each day aboard the Sea Adventurer by waking up every day at 3 a.m., in full sunlight, to have a cup of coffee with the first officer on the bridge. It is amazing the things you can see and the stories you can hear when the rest of the world is asleep. In addition to my early morning conversations, I also took full advantage of the ships lecture series. Never one to sit in a classroom, I was blown away by how much I appreciated and learned from the lectures available onboard. Lectures included everything from wildlife biology and drawing to photography and ornithology.
Spending two weeks on board with some of the best photographers in the world is a truly humbling experience. I am always amazed at how much can be learnt from the people you are travelling with. For example, I met a fantastic professional wildlife photographer named Mike Beedell, who has a vast and intimate understanding of the landscape and how to photograph it. Also aboard was John Houston who lived in the Arctic as a child and is an award-winning writer, director and producer of Canadian and international documentary films.

In addition to photographers, bird lovers also flock to the Arctic and for good reason. Visitors are often struck by the abundance of bird species found in this glacial environment. Although most spend their winters in the warmer southern climates, in the summer the vast ice landscape is home to more than 100 mostly migratory bird species, including the peregrine falcon, ringed plover, snowy owl and the fulmar. Although I am not an avid birder myself, I can admit there is something magical about the birds of the Arctic.

As one can only imagine, my bucket list is quite extensive. With that said, one of the experiences near the top of my list is to photograph a polar bear in its natural environment. Having grown up in Bermuda, the idea of such a large mammal living in such a frigid climate, and on a sea of ice nonetheless, has always been inconceivable. I couldn't wait. 

I finally managed to fulfill my dream while out on the bridge with the first officer, early one morning. I had my binoculars focused and waiting. All of a sudden there he was; one of the most amazing mammals to walk the earth. What a fantastic surprise, and a wonderful opportunity to put my photographic skills to the test. Polar bears are the largest living land-based carnivore in the world. The largest males can weigh up to 800 kg and can reach 13.5 feet in length, about the same size as a compact car. They can be seen alone, but often form groups of two to 20 and sometimes herds of a few hundred are seen in areas where prey is aggregated.

These magnificent animals are built for the cold. Their coarse outer fur is made of translucent hairs that allow ultraviolet radiation in. The fur also serves as a wet suit, trapping in heat when the bears swim and their small rounded ears minimize heat loss. What an incredible animal and an amazing experience!

Throughout the voyage, I couldn't help but realize how lucky I am as a Canadian to live in such a vast and diverse country. Many people don't ever get to experience that this beautiful country has to offer. It is a destination that most people don't even think about, but it's right on our doorstep and is something that should be on everyone's bucket list. Once you go, you won't be able to stop thinking about going back.
Bart Card is a food and travel editor.
To travel with Bart call or email:
(905) 251-1258 or bartcard@rogers.com


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