Co-ordinates: 63º43’07N, 068º24.8’W
Weather: cold, strong winds and driving, heavy rain
Air Temperature: 5º C
As predicted, I awoke to the sound of rain thundering against the portholes. Poking a nose out onto deck confirmed a decided chill in the air, the climatological double-act becoming a trio when the strong wind was factored in. Not an auspicious start to our Canadian sojourn and the first outing for my thermals.
It was also an early start (07.00.) This being our first port of call in Canada, the Prince Albert II had to be cleared by Canadian Immigration before we could commence activities ashore, and the two officials required all guests, staff and crew to present themselves in person. The Expedition Staff and Deck Crew went first in order that once the officials had completed their procedures we were ready to begin disembarkation for the day’s activities.
The schedule was for a visit to the town of Iqaluit (translation: ‘many fish’, population: 6,184 as of 2006), the capital and largest community of Nunavut territory. With the ship at anchor, the journey ashore was by Zodiac and given the inclement weather was a very wet one. But any unpleasantries were stoically born by all guests.
First stop was the Visitor Centre, which offered a very interesting exhibition on the local wildlife and Inuit cultures. At 09.30 it was into the yellow school bus and off on a driving tour around town, which took in the various suburbs including the Apex. Constructed in 1949 when the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company relocated here to take advantage of the runway built as part of the 1942 American airbase.
The penultimate cultural stop was the beautiful Legislative Assembly where we were provided with a very interesting commentary, permitted to enter the chamber and admired the mitre - a bejeweled narwhal tusk. Via a couple of brief stops for retail therapy we made our destination, the Parish Hall, at noon.
While the snacks were arranged - we were treated to local and delicious delicacies including roasted Caribou, raw and smoked arctic char (very similar to salmon) and the filling Bannock breads - we surveyed the range of sculptures for sale, carved from soapstone by local artisans.
And then the highlight. A musical recital by a group of local schoolgirls, who sang a number of locally composed songs and gave us a rendition of throat singing. As a rule I cringe at the words ‘traditional performance’, so often the portent of tourist kitsch. But this was everything the words should mean: unadulterated, eminently listenable, thoroughly enjoyable, and above all charmingly performed with delightful unselfconsciousness.
Then it was time to head back to the shore for the shuttle back to the ship, while others returned to the museum and the shops. Due to the substantial tidal range of 6.5m we had to use a different landing site from the morning’s drop off, but at least the sea and wind had calmed even if the rain persisted.
All aboard, we set sail at 16.15, but not for our intended destination. The calm was due to our sitting in the centre of a deep low pressure (971mb) and so, in true expedition fashion the Captain and Robin announced that the itinerary for the next two days would be reversed in order to avoid the predicted 35 knot winds and swell impeding Zodiac operations.