The Land of Many Pingos
Trip Start Jun 01, 2009
35Trip End Jun 31, 2009
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Luck was with us that day. Elaine was behind the counter, a really sweet and helpful young girl who told us of the gas and oil convention that was in town and helped us book a flight to Tuktoyaktuk that afternoon. We told her of our enjoyable encounter with an elder we met at the Gwitch'in interpretive centre near Fort McPherson and she replied that that was her father. So we managed to say the right things at the right time.
We lunched in "The Roost" a small restaurant in town, hoping to get musk ox burgers but apparently they hadn't served them in years because it was illegal to sell hunted and non inspected meat. As we ate our "cow" burgers, I couldn't help noticing that a stuffed polar bear behind us was wearing mitts. The waiter said that someone had broken in to the restaurant and had stolen the paws. Sad.
The Oil and Gas convention was a real treat. We met local native organizations who welcomed us with dried fish, dried meat, bannock, Eskimo doughnuts, pens, key chains and any information we cared to get. Tour organizations enthusiastically told us of places to go and the wonderful things we would see. We met Margaret (who we missed in Fort McPherson) and saw her beautiful bead work on her slippers and moccasins. At one booth we spoke to the designer of the proposed highway that would connect Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk and what the design issues were of building a road across the enormous Mackenzie delta. One fellow had welded together a wind turbine to generate power to charge batteries for remote power. Everyone connected to Oil and Gas was anxious to make a good impression. Many booths featured draws for prizes and we only had time to enter a few.
On the way to the airport, I got a call on my cell phone that I had won a jacket at the convention
Our guides, John, and his daughter Miranda, met us at the runway and we took a mini-bus tour through the town. We were assigned to Miranda who was really nice but not as knowledgeable as John. She told us she was educated in the south (Hay River NWT). Both were Inuvialuit but Miranda's grandfather was "a Texan who ran away from home" so some of the Inuvialuit features were softened. Her boyfriend however was very "traditional" and they often hunted and fished. She had shot a wolf, but she wasn't too happy about it.
By cell phone, Miranda's mother contacted a friend who sold us Kwok. In a town of 900 people, word gets around fast
As part of the tour, we climbed a pingo. Pingos are hills that form when ground water gets trapped by the permafrost above. As the water freezes, it forms a large underground ice lens with a distinctive muffin like shape. John told us that Tuktoyaktuk, in English, means "land of many pingos".
Someone in Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk for short) had the brilliant idea to dig a hole in the permafrost to make a deep freeze compartment. They dug 30 feet straight down, installed a ladder, and then ran horizontal shafts to underground rooms used by the local hunters to keep their meat. We needed a flashlight, an oddity in these nightless days. The walls were white with frozen breath mist from tourists and hunters.
A former school mate of Miranda was carving soapstone to sell to tourists. In my opinion, the quality did not measure up to carvings we all ready have. To start the bargaining process, the carver awkwardly asked "I'm thinking 150 dollars; what are you thinking?" I politely declined but advised another tourist that the price was 150 dollars and I was not interested
Water is delivered to the houses in Tuk by truck every two or three days. I suppose underground plumbing is impossible because the permafrost is 500 metres deep. I didn't ask where waste water goes.
We dipped our fingers, and Janie went swimming in the Beaufort Sea. The water was not as salty as I expected and according to our guide, it was because of the melting ice and river water from the delta.
We flew back to Inuvik in light rain and headed for the Mad Trapper Pub.
To be continued...