Featured image: Crystal Serenity navigates Arctic ice near Cambridge Bay, escorted by the RSS Ernest Shackleton. (photo: Katie Jackson)
As Crystal Serenity continues through the Northwest Passage, guests visited Cambridge Bay for a peek into the culture and wildlife of the wild Arctic. Travel journalist Katie Jackson shares her experience here on the Crystal Insider, with a special added account from expedition team member Emily Woods.
“We’ve arrived into Cambridge Bay, and halfway through another exciting expedition day. The helicopters are in flight, kayaks deployed and a town full of history and culture is alive. You can even see the Maud afloat across the harbor…the historians (and Norwegians) amongst us are effervescent. We are lucky to make our first stop in Nunavut on time for the Arts Festival, where we have a chance to meet and support artists from across the territory. On the beach, we’re greeted by Annie who has been busy cooking up Arctic char and kettle upon kettle of life-giving tea. Perfect after a brisk Zodiac ride from the Crystal Serenity! An extra unorganized treat came out to greet us in the form of pups and beautiful working dogs to fawn over (from a distance, of course).” – Emily Woods
Halfway between ship and shore, the zodiac driver turned the engine off. His guests, bundled up in their parkas and bound for Cambridge Bay, sat silently and patiently. Even in the morning chill, they didn’t mind waiting. The black bowling ball they were staring out in the distance dropped beneath the water. If they were lucky, it would resurface, perhaps close enough they could see its whiskers.
“It’s a harbor seal,” said the driver, breaking the silence. He’s been hanging out all morning. I think he’s the unofficial greeter.”
On the beach, the official greeters, Cambridge Bay locals, waited to greet Crystal Cruises guests. They stood next to their modest summer homes and tents, frying bannock and stirring moose stew guests could sample while they waited for taxis—in the form of any vehicle available—to town, 10 kilometers away.
After being dropped off at the high school, guests were greeted with more food: musk oxen sliders, char (local fish) antipasto and an Arctic rhubarb berry cobbler. Bolder guests went for the toothpicks piercing squares of bowwhale skin and blubber. Trust us, muktok is an acquired taste. Even many of the Inuits in this community of 1,500 prefer to get their fix of fat from the town’s KFC and Pizza Hut.
Just down the street from the high school guests shopped for handmade souvenirs and met local artisans at the Nunavut Arts Festival. “I’m bridging the gap between folklore and futuristic,” said Geronimo Inutiq, a musician who doesn’t quite identify with his Inuit heritage but is inspired by it. “I’m a resident of the world,” he said while selling his CDs featuring compilations of native drumming and throat singing fused with electronic sound effects and classical music like Bach and Beethoven.
Further down the street, a polar bear towered over guests reading up on the local history at the visitor center. Many had just wandered in after walking along the waterfront to see the Maud. Still partially submerged in Cambridge Bay, the Maud once belonged to famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen who became the first to successfully cross the Northwest Passage. Nearly 90 years after sinking in 1930, she is in the process of being reclaimed and taken back to Norway. “Maud’s coming home!” proclaimed Crystal Serenity’s captain, Captain Birger J. Vorland. He’s happy to see the ship returned to hers, and his, homeland.
At the earliest, the Maud will be Norway-bound by 2017. That’s because Cambridge Bay is frozen much of the year. The water is bitterly cold, but deceivingly, its color, an inviting turquoise, is straight out of the Caribbean. “We thought we were flying over the Bahamas,” said one couple on a Crystal Cruises helicopter excursion. They said one of the highlights of their flightseeing tour was flying over the airport and getting a bird’s eye view of the Boeing 737—filled with provisions for Crystal Serenity—being unloaded on the barebones gravel runway.
Highlights for guests who participated in the Crystal Cruises Cambridge Bay hiking excursions include coming across animal tracks and even caribou remains and a random fox tail. They also had the pleasure of meeting a local who proudly showed off his robust greenhouse—a rarity in the Arctic—filled with peas, beans, turnips and herbs. He also showed off his furry sidekick, a friendly husky with piercing blue eyes.
Meanwhile, out in the Bay, a set of big brown eyes peered up at the paddlers in their neon orange vests and bright yellow vessels. Were these the Crystal Cruises kayakers his friend, the harbor seal, had told him about? They had to be. Who else would trek all the way up here to see him? He had been waiting three years for them. Now was his moment!
Dramatically, and slowly enough that the kayakers could capture his good side on their cameras, the bearded seal dove back into the cool water.
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