Today was a rainy day. Rain was very rare in Cambridge Bay: usually it snows, or it is dry. So in a way, I felt privileged to experience the Rare Rain. It was time to have some fun on the ground. What better way than exploring the surroundings of Cambridge Bay by ATV (or a quad as we Belgians use to call it).
I found a friendly ATV renter (who found it hard to believe I was a tourist and not connected to a company). The first stop was the tourist center (yes, it exists!) in Cambridge Bay. There I got a paper that said I was an Arctic explorer, since I crossed the 60° latitude. Woohoo!
The map I got in the tourist center showed me one road, leading to Mount Pelly: a slightly higher formation of rocks. It was a very nice ride on a surprisingly nice road. It also gave me the opportunity to see my first real wild life: a family of muskox (the Arctic version of a big fat goat) were running in the fields. The road drove me closer to them, which was fun at first, seeing them running away from me. Until they decided to change the roles and I became the hunted. Luckily they were no match for my ATV and I drove off to safety. Next to the road I saw the occasional shed. Every now and then a car would come out of nowhere, drive by and proceed into no man’s land.
Once I reached Mount Pelly, I was a bit worried about the amount of fuel left in the ATV, so I returned back to the crowded city of Cambridge Bay. There I started looking for fuel, which I found in the local supermarket for a rather democratic price. With the ATV fully fueled it was time do some more exploring.
I started my ride in mild sunny weather and drove eastwards. I passed the airport and soon left the small civilization behind me once again. The coastline made a turn which gave access to a new scenery: the small rocky beach was filled with a row of small cabins. These were used by the locals as a holiday/weekend house. The situation had a certain humoristic aspect: the people lived in a small community about 600km from the closest other city, yet they felt the need to build a cabin to get away from it all in the weekends… Oh, and the cabins weren’t water proof. Since it hardly ever rains there. Yaj!
The coastline was now facing the wind, which caused a lot of pack ice to drift up to the shore. A few brave seals popped up their head through the ice. I stopped a few moments to enjoy the scenery. When I tried to start the ATV again, it didn’t make a sound. I was very happy a local man came from his holiday building and managed to start the ATV again. This allowed me to continue my little journey. Because of the ice, the wind temperature dropped very suddenly and I had the feeling I was driving through a freezer. Half an hour later the road stopped. I had a beautiful view of the Northwestern passage and the Beaufort Sea. The clothes I was wearing were too thin for the icy winds, so I drove back.
Back in ‘my house’, I learned that the reason for the crash of the Beaver pilot the previous day, was that the local children stole fuel from the fuel drums to drive their ATV’s and replaced the fuel with water. The pilot apologized that he couldn’t take me for a flight (since he’d gotten the day off). I didn’t mind.
During the evening I joined my Couchsurfer contact in his visit to the weekend cabin of one of the local ‘elders’. The elders were older local inuit people who had gained a bit of a guru status in the Cambridge Bay society. The plan was to go fishing in the fishing boat, but due to the ice (as mentioned before) this was not possible. No problem for the fisherman: one takes an old piece of wood, a piece of iron wire/rope and a hook, one assembles a self made fishing rod, one jumps from one icepack to the other, while avoiding slipping into the water, one throws the fishing rod into the water, wait for 40 seconds and one catches a fish. The fish was too small so he threw it back, and repeated the previous chain of events for 8 more times. He didn’t catch a big enough fish so gave up and prepared another fish in “the typical western way”. Apparently this meant ruining the fish by adding flower and other stuff, chopping it into pieces and creating some kind of improvised fish sticks. Outside the local speciality (Arctic Char) was hanging to dry. I was offered a quick bite of the freshest sushi I ever tasted. It was much better than our fish cooked in “the typical western way”.
There were 4 people living in the cabin. The exact family ties were unclear to me, but there was one baby that was related to no one. It was common there to watch out for children of other people. The baby was put to sleep in a clever original way: you put them in some kind of bag pack and rocked asleep.
With this very lovely sight I longed for my own bed. It was time to go ‘home’.