Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Part IV, Day 1: 080721

For Part IV of my summer, I am scheduled to be based mainly in Resolute. I won’t actually reach Resolute for another couple of days, but I consider my flight North from Manitoba into Nunavut to be more Part IV-ish than Part III-ish. Not that I really need an excuse to divide my summer up any way I like.

This morning started pleasantly enough, with an early morning check-out from the Thompson Days Inn, and taxi ride out to the local office of Welders Supplies Limited. I’d previously arranged with both the Winnipeg head office and the Thompson branch of this company to fill two cryoshippers I’d left in Winnipeg last week and ship them here. Not surprisingly, they routinely send things like liquid nitrogen and other hazardous materials from Winnipeg to Thompson, so this arrangement was relatively easy. I think now might be a good time to once again thank the nice people at Welders Supplies Limited for their help.

Anyways, the taxi driver didn’t have a problem with driving me all over town first thing in the morning, and I got to the airport before the ticket agent. Thompson’s airport is pretty small. One can get a sense of the Northern attitude of the place from the sign above the Enterprise car-rental booth: it clearly states that only trucks (i.e. pick-ups) are to be taken on gravel roads, and it lists destinations that can only be reached by gravel roads. I guess normal cars would suffer unacceptable suspension damage on those roads. Having met a few really bad dirt roads in the past, I can see why the rental agency would be strict about such things.

Eventually the ticket agent showed up, and I checked in all of my gloriously excessive baggage. I can tell already that I’m going to have fun hauling all my stuff around, which includes a wetsuit, chest waders, clothes for 12 days, collecting equipment, computer, and two cryogenic dry shippers in hard plastic shipping cases. I’m carrying around nearly 100 kilograms of gear. I guess I need to learn how to pack lightly…

My flight was a little chopped up. In order to get to Resolute, I need to fly from Thompson to Rankin Inlet, change planes in Rankin, then on to Iqaluit, stay for two nights in Iqaluit, then on to Resolute. My return flight includes a stop (without changing planes) in Nanisivik, changing planes in Iqaluit, and a night in Ottawa.

My flights going North will take me to Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit before I reach Resolute Bay.

The flight to Rankin was basically uneventful. First Air, the airline I’ll be using throughout Part IV, has divided all of their planes in half. Only the rear half of the passenger compartment is actually used for passengers, the front half is reserved for air cargo. I guess First Air gets much of their business from cargo handling. There is a large door in the side of the airplane, just behind the cockpit, that allows access to the baggage area by large forklifts. The communities of the far North are so isolated that most things that would otherwise arrive by truck or by train must be flown in.

The approach to Rankin Inlet: dusty roads winding between lakes and ponds on the tundra.

I had to pick up all of my abundant luggage from the carousel in Rankin’s airport, and move it over to the departures / check in area (about 20 metres away) to check in. I had about 2 ½ hours in Rankin, so I was in no hurry and I let the people staying in Rankin grab their stuff first. I did have to get into the crowd to get my shippers out, though, since they need to stay upright.

After I checked my luggage in, the guy behind the counter told me that if I leave the airport I need to be back by 12:45, about 1 ½ hours away. Surprised, I asked “is there anything outside the airport I can walk to?”, to which he replied, with the characteristic combination of resignation and polite friendliness of the local explaining the obvious to the tourist: “Yes, Rankin is right there. You can walk to it easily”.

Indeed he was correct, and I took my carry-on luggage and walked out of the terminal, across the gravel parking lot, across the street, and into the town. My experience of Rankin Inlet was a little strange. It’s a small place, dominated by the now-closed mine. We’re well North of the tree-line here, and there are no plants taller than a few centimetres; mostly in town there’s some grass and a bit of moss, and a few flowers. It’s a dusty little place, with surprisingly few people out doors on a Monday lunchtime.

The town of Rankin Inlet has a large Inuksuk standing on a low, rocky hill in the center of town. I gather it’s mildly famous.

The post office was open, and I tried to buy a postcard. However, the post office had no such cards, the Northern store across the street had no postcards (they suggested I look in the post office; the post office suggested I look in the Northern) and the drug store recommended by both places was closed. I eventually gave up, and bought a generic “Canada” postcard (with a picture of a seal) at the airport. There wasn’t a post box even at the airport, so I failed in my attempt to get a Rankin Inlet cancellation stamp on a postcard sent to someone. I took it with me to Iqaluit.

I sat on the right side of the airplane from Rankin to Iqaluit. We flew directly over the Northern part of Hudson Bay, which has scattered ice floating on it. These patches may be the source of the ice I saw near Churchill.

Southern Baffin Island near Iqaluit has much more relief to its terrain than the Hudson Bay lowlands of Churchill and Rankin Inlet.

I had previously made reservations at two different hotels in Iqaluit. Only three hotels maintain accessible websites; of those, one was completely booked this week, and the others had rooms for only one night each. There is a conference in town, soaking up all of the available lodgings; it’s about climate change, I think in a social-sciences context rather than a physical sciences context.

I once again gathered up my abundant luggage, rescuing the cryoshippers from the end of the non-looping conveyor belt. The taxi into town was quick and easy, not surprising since Iqaluit’s airport is only slightly further from the center of town than Rankin’s. I’m not used to airports being so small and so close to the towns they service.

The Navigator Inn hadn’t quite finished preparing my room, so I had to wait in the overheating hallway for about 10 minutes while the staff vacuumed and laid out towels. They were nice enough, I suppose. I was told some towels were still being laundered, and they’d bring them by later. OK. Since it was hot – apparently, a record-breaking 26 degrees – I took my shirt off and just sorta hung out. The elderly cleaning lady didn’t bother to knock before entering with my towels; she apologised, and gave them to me once I’d put my shirt back on. The door locks here are the simple type built into the doorknob; there is no deadbolt or chain, so there’s no way to keep a determined employee out of one’s room.

After dinner in the hotel (I ordered from the Chinese menu, it was a little cheaper, and quite good) I wandered around town. I wanted to see the nearby ponds and lakes indicated on my map, and decide how to sample them. English and French may be Canada’s official languages, but around here they’ve added Inuktitut, too. I didn't see much French.

The road signs in Iqaluit, as well as most signs on most buildings, are listed in both English and the Inuktitut equivalent, using the Inuktitut script. I gather this script is named “pigiarniq”, from the font I installed on my computer when I needed to get my research permit proposal translated.

I was highly amused by these signs. There are sidewalk areas in Iqaluit that are at the same level as the road; they’re merely dusty paths alongside. Some of these sidewalks are separated from the road by a line of wooden posts, with these signs every 100 metres or so. I like the implications: walk here to avoid getting run over by a snowmobile.

I saw this sign in the entrance area of the Iqaluit post office. Somebody is selling their winemaking equipment. This is particularly interesting to me because I had been informed that Iqaluit was “dry”: alcohol wasn’t available in town. It turns out there are levels of “dry”, at least in Nunavut. Iqaluit has no liquor stores, but does have licensed restaurants. Some of these are called bars, but their licenses will specify customers must purchase food. Other communities lack licensed restaurants, but alcohol can be ordered by mail; apparently, juice (probably concentrate), yeast, and other things are also available, somehow.

Iqaluit is South of the Arctic circle, so even in July the sun does set (technically). It never really gets dark this time of year, but the sun does dip just below the horizon. The town is surrounded by low, rocky hills; I climbed one on the North-east edge of town to watch the sun go down.

I took this at the base of the hill I was climbing, because the headlights of the cars stood out so clearly against the deep shadows.

Taken from the top of the hill. The long straight line on the far left is the airport runway.

The descending sun highlights the bright colours most of the houses and other buildings in town are painted. I suppose the tradition of bright paint probably relates to what this place looks like in March, covered in snow and sitting at -40°C.

After watching the sun set, I walked back to my hotel. I probably covered most of the town in my evening of walking around; Iqaluit is about 7000 people, and by far the largest community in Nunavut, but its really not very big compared to towns and cities in the rest of North America.

Tomorrow I need to move my abundant luggage to the other hotel, and I’m planning to sample from a lake and its outflow stream I saw this evening.

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