After a full day at sea westward through the Davis Straight, our expedition entered its final leg. We were at Torngat Mountains National Park in north-eastern Labrador; the newest national park in Canada. In the Inuit language Inuktitut, the word Torngat means place of spirits. A fitting name, as we all shared in some good karma while we were here.
Like in Nanortalik, we were once again met with the human element of the Arctic. Upon arrival, we were graciously welcomed by local Inuit elders, Inuit youth, and park wardens. We were very fortunate to have had them there to introduce us to the Torngat Mountains National Park. A hike that went down a waterfall and across a stream brought us to a still lake. The water was clear and stunningly reflected the grand mountains that rose behind it. During the debrief on the Clipper, a fellow expeditioner who was familiar with the park had told us that it was the most beautiful place in the world. The moment that lake came into sight was the moment I understood what she meant.
On the beach after the hike, we soaked in the coastal view and enjoyed iconic traditional Inuit cuisine. Throughout the expedition I have been embracing a new culture and trying new things, and this was an opportunity I did not let pass by.
The beach where we had our lunch soon became the site of our Polar dip. That afternoon we all became members of the Arctic swim team. Shoes off and bathing suits on, we dashed into the icy cold Atlantic ocean. The bravest of us were splashing and taking underwater photos while the timid stood with their teeth chattering in knee deep water. I don’t blame them, it was freezing! In a short time the cold became unbearable and we exchanged our underwater cameras for warm towels.
Not all our company at in Torngat was enjoyable, however. The mosquitoes there were large, thirsty, and plentiful. Not a single expeditioner returned to the ship without a few bites! These mosquitoes serve as a reminder of how climate change has impacted the Arctic. When an elder was asked how they dealt with mosquitoes, her response was subtle but suddenly very real. She told us that when she was a child, the mosquitoes never existed in such large numbers. The temperature has increased and become more suitable for vegetation. As the amount of vegetation increases, it becomes easier and easier for mosquitoes to thrive. This reality of climate change is not as glamorous nor as dramatic as others and is not given attention by the public. Regardless, it is real to us and to the people who live there.
The Arctic is a place vibrant with life. We all lived it today. We’ve eaten its food and swam in its water, and for today it has been our home. For us, it has been one day, but for others, this has been home for an entire lifetime. From the beginning of the environmental movement, the polar bear has been the icon for the Arctic region. In expressing Arctic subjects, the media has missed out on a face of this region that I believe is a much more accurate and powerful than the polar bear; the human. There is a human aspect of the Arctic that Canadians and others around the world do not see. While innocent polar bears suffer from climate change, so do innocent people. Our brothers and sisters to the north whom I’ve met today are some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’ve ever met. They’ve welcomed us into their home; let’s honour it with the respect it deserves.
Together let’s protect our poles and protect the planet.
While you’re waiting don’t just sit tapping your toe, find out more about Joey, Students on Ice and this amazing Arctic and expedition.