Summer Journeys: An Arctic adventure

Officially, on the calendar, summer is sticking around for a couple more weeks. But with another Labor Day now in the past, the summer vacation season has indeed passed. Fun and carefree getaways, yes — and we all need those. But often journeys lead to unique, unexpected, meaningful experiences far beyond what was on the itinerary. This summer, by happenstance, Rappahannock residents shared such tales with this newspaper…

An Arctic adventure

By Roxanna P. Beebe-Center

After a long day of flying, refueling and bouncing along in the cars of local Inuit who kindly drove us to the water’s edge where we boarded Zodiacs — small rubber boats with outboard motors — we finally flopped into the beds of our cabin aboard the Ocean Endeavour, our floating home for the next two weeks. But we didn’t have much time to rest.

A fjord in Greenland. By Roxanna P. Beebe-Center

The three of us (my mother, father and I) were on a cruise through the Hudson Strait, around the southern end of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, as well as through fjords on the west coast of Greenland. My mother was writing a magazine piece about the trip, and my father and I happily tagged along.

Credit: Adventure Canada

After boarding the Ocean Endeavour, we had fittings for lifejackets — surely not needed on the ice-reinforced ship — and boots. After all the fizz of arriving died down, and mandatory drills had been carried out, we were briefed on a Zodiac cruise we would take the next day and some changes to plans because of drifting sea ice.

That Zodiac cruise was to an island in the middle of Ungava Bay called Akpatok. From the water we caught our first glimpse of wildlife — we ogled at a snoozing male polar bear, a galloping young one, soaring cliffs flocked with birds, and our first iceberg (shaped, oddly enough, just like a whale). Some lucky people even spotted walruses.

Due to sea ice, we didn’t sail into Frobisher Bay or Cumberland Sound but instead spent a day nosing through ice floes, searching for animals. After a few seals and whales, we found what we were looking for — on a small ice floe was a mother polar bear and her fluffy cub. Everyone whipped out their cameras and binos and oohed and aahed. We floated closer together. Protectively she charged the boat, because she’d never seen anything like it before. After a bit, she plunged into the Arctic water, and, with her cub hard on her heels, swam to the next floe.

Wilderness wasn’t all we experienced. We also stopped in a couple of towns. One town, Cape Dorset, is said to have the highest per capita concentration of artists anywhere in the world — stone carvers, painters, and printers. There, we spent two days. I met many Inuit kids, two of them little girls by the names of Sylvia and Pyulia. They were impish, handy with a bicycle and very nice. They showed us around town and took us to their school. It was sad to say goodbye.

In another town along the Hudson Strait called Kimmirut, we played a vigorous game of soccer. Despite the fact we had many more players on the field — actually the main street in town — the Kimmirut team prevailed. After the game we were offered raw seal meat.

Polar bears on sea ice. By Roxanna P. Beebe-Center

Kangamiut, Greenland, where we heard traditional songs and shopped for colorful bead necklaces, appeared more prosperous, yet less populated than the Canadian Inuit towns. Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, having been a territory of Denmark, showed an interesting mix of Scandinavian and Inuit cultures in its shops, government and people.

This arctic adventure introduced me to culture, animals, people and terrain I’d never experienced before. Adventure Canada’s scientists, archaeologists, scholars and cultural ambassadors taught me many things I didn’t know. I loved it all so much.

I want to move to Greenland someday. Already, this trip has given me a new perspective and memories I will never forget.

Beebe-Center is a student who lives in Woodville.

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