The Land of Many Pingos

Trip Start Jun 01, 2009
Trip End Jun 31, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , Northwest Territories,
Thursday, June 24, 2010

We drove north, passing Campbell Creek, a fishing hole that many people told us of, and arrived in Inuvik. Inuvik is the north end of the Dempster highway and as far north as you can drive in Canada. Our first stop was the visitor's centre so that we could find out what was in town and plan our day. A beautifully carved rock, an excellent example of northern art was at the entrance of the centre.

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. We made arrangements to pick it up just before the connection was lost. Our 400$ per person flight to Tuktoyaktuk left at 5:00 pm. Now you may think that this is rather late in the day to visit a new town but remember that the sun isn't setting so the time really doesn't matter. More people than normal booked the tour because of the oil and gas convention so the first plane wasn't big enough. So Rosamund, Janie and I loaded ourselves into a four passenger plane and flew separately. Viewing the Mackenzie delta from the air was a real treat. All flat, and about 50% water with meandering streams generally flowing north west.

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. Kwok is dried whitefish that has been smoked for four days with cotton wood that had drifted on to the shore in this treeless land. Kwok is also the Inuvialuit word for chilly according to Miranda. It was a kwok day.

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. So he bought it for 150 dollars.

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...
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John Neville on

Nice description. Thanks Richard

darkstar on

Hold on a sec, you guys went to Tuktayoktuk for the afternoon? Talk about jet set! Impressive.

richardvanleeuw on

There is no hotel in Tuk! (and no restaurant).

Jean on

The best one yet! Fascinating.

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