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Part 2: Blueberries and Belugas in Northern Manitoba, Canada
Continuing (Part 1) with my amazing adventure at Seal River Lodge, only this time, in addition to seeing Polar Bears up close, I was able to get into the water with friendly Beluga whales! And I cannot forget to mention that the meals at Seal River Lodge are really special. Breakfast and dinner are always served in the dining room, and some lunches are as well. Other lunches are sent out in coolers to enjoy as a picnic on expeditions. Most of the recipes come from the array of cookbooks written by Jeanne's mother, but the creative chefs come up with their own as well. Breakfast included homemade granola, a hot cereal call Red River, yogurts, and fresh fruit. There were also homemade muffins, breads, egg dishes - like frittatas or egg blossoms, and bacon. The coffee is strong and delicious. The chefs (usually related to the Webbers/Reimers in some way, or friends of the family) cook in the open and the dining room completely surrounded by windows. The panoramic views really make you feel you are on top of the world and make wildlife spotting easy and there is a telescope and a deck accessible here.
At every meal I witnessed Siksiks, which are cute ground squirrels similar to prairie dogs and also, the same arctic hare. Not to mention the different polar bears slowly trekking in the mud. Great entertainment while eating!
Appetizers and cocktails are served at 6 in the Lodge living room, with plenty of adventure stories in the jovial atmosphere.
Jeanne made her special Blue Passion Martinis one night with gin, Raspberry Sourpuss, and Blue Curacao.
Dinners were a healthy gourmet combination of a meat, sometimes wild game, and many vegetable dishes. Homemade breads and wonderful Canadian wines were included. Wild goose stir fry was amazing! I would say half of the group was vegetarian and they were very pleased with all the offerings. Desserts were not to be missed and tasted as good as they looked.
One night we had mushroom tarragon chicken in a cream sauce, butter egg noodles, strawberry, pear, and spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, nutmeg asparagus, homemade sesame buns, chickpeas with tarragon sauce served with Ecotrail Chardonnay from Ontario's Pelee Island Winery. Dessert was Helen's Heavenly Chocolate Cake!
It seems the cooking staff is always busy making something, however, they did have time off to accompany me kayaking.
Kayaking was a cool experience, because there were no bugs and the Belugas came quite close to us. At one moment, I felt like I was accompanied by many of them. Listening to their constant and highly physical breathing above the water was calming, like a meditation. I was in a single kayak paddling back to the lodge, when it dawned on me that polar bears can swim! I became a bit nervous. Luckily, the chefs who were near me in a double kayak, assured me that Mike was on shore keeping a close eye on us with binoculars, and was in constant contact on the two way radio.
There were several hikes just to see bears. There was also a history hike where we trekked up to Eskimo point and saw tent circles - circles of rocks covered with lichen. Biologists have learned that lichen takes hundreds of years to grow, and that these tent circles, attributed to the Inuit, could be 700 years old. Their ancestors are the Dorset and Thule people dating back to almost 2000 years B.C.!
We were taught about the wildflowers and saw birds such as eagles, eider duck, and snow geese. There was an ATV expedition down to the Seal River that took several hours where we saw bear, Caribou, and wolf tracks and made plaster casts from them. I saw a young moose running on the beach.
A big attraction to the area is swimming with the Belugas. Adult Beluga whales are white and named from the Russian word bieluii, meaning … white! They are 15 ft long and weigh between 1,000 to 3,000 pounds. There head has a rounded melon shape which helps to focus their echolocation tones. I went on two of the three scheduled trips to swim with them. Unlike dolphins, their neck vertebrae are un-fused, so they can turn their heads. The lodge supplies dry suits and flotation jackets and takes the group down to Seal River in two zodiacs. The whole undertaking is incredible and because the tide is only high for a short time, the trip has to be completed within several hours. The first ride was a bit bumpy on the choppy bay and the dry suit was cumbersome to put on and take off because I was sharing it, so I was a bit grumpy… until it was my turn to get into the water! The water was not at all cold (dry suit) and I opted not to wear the wetsuit hood. I had a snorkel and mask and was being "trolled" by my feet, face down on a 15 foot tether. An awkward position, but perfect for attracting the whales.
I did not get close enough to see the Belugas, as others did, but I heard them! It was absolutely magical! Their sounds are really incredible and I felt like I was on another planet surrounded by hundreds of welcoming, sentient beings talking to me in another language. I did not understand what they were saying, but I could FEEL their curiosity and their acceptance and love! I think the human group was disappointed that I did not see the Belugas underwater or get a picture of them, but I was completely satisfied. I would do it again in a minute, if I had the chance. It was undeniably another life changing moment within my 6 days at Seal River Lodge! As a travel writer, I have had hundreds of amazing experiences, but this is rated amongst my top five!
The other adventures at Churchillwild.com include going to the Dymond Lake Lodge in the spring to see the polar bear mothers and cubs, and September outings at North Knife Lake Lodge, for the Aurora Borealis and fishing (no bugs). Check out their website for descriptions of their programs and other lodges.
I highly recommend visiting the Seal River Lodge in Northern Manitoba if you love large mammals in their natural environment and want to get close and learn about them. It is also the perfect trip if you love wonderful, down-home gourmet food and hospitality while being pampered in the remote and mysterious sub-arctic world.
*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!
NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by Province of Manitoba and Churchillwild.com.
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