Letters from Yellowknife – Day Two – Bucket List Tour

Recovering from our first ever aurora fever the morning after, we had breakfast in the hotel and started to prepare ourselves for the second aurora evening. Su had found on the internet Bucket List Tour featuring evenings in intimate cozy cabins for chasing aurora. She had made bookings for two nights from Whistler, including one for the first evening we were to arrive, but was told before we set forth that the first evening was fully booked so that we had to be pushed to the second evening. The second booking was for the evening before we are to depart for Vancouver. We would be picked up from the hotel at 9:30p.m.

Armed with the new experience gained from the evening before, we suited ourselves up accordingly and proceeded downstairs 10 minutes early. The Bucket List Tour bus was already waiting outside. We went up the bus to find half a dozen or so men and women, all Asians, already seated.  As soon as we were seated, a somewhat business-like lady came up the bus and greeted Su. She introduced herself as Tracy, our host for the evening, and apologized she missed us coming out of the hotel lobby where she had been waiting. She then greeted the others, who were all from Taiwan.  The driver then moved the bus to another hotel nearby to pick up a couple, followed by yet another to pick up the last tour member, who is a tall young gentleman from Croatia having to be at the airport at 4:30am the next morning to catch a flight. By the time we set forth for the cozy cabin, which was 15 minutes drive on the highway west of the city, there were 13 on the bus, namely Milan the driver, Tracy the guide, six from Taiwan, the Toronto couple Brian and Francine, the gentleman from Croatia who worked in Toronto, and Su and I. Later on in the cabin, we learnt that we were the only people who had had the aurora experience.

Tracy is a very pleasant conversationalist with great EQ, seemingly endless energies and an acute business sense. She is half French and half Cree (an indigenous tribe), 59, has been in the tourism business for some time, mainly day tours, and has only taken on this Intimate Cozy Cabin Tour for a year after obtaining a lease for the site to build a cabin from the land owner, an indigenous inhabitant who lives in a sizable house at the entrance of the snow covered dirt tract leading to the site where we were to stay for the rest of the evening. It was a leisurely five-minute walk. As soon as Tracy opened the door, we immediately felt the warmth and coziness. Bucket List Tour has indeed picked the right title for the tour. Tracy gave us a brief account of how the cabin had come by as most of us began to take off layers of clothing. She had hired a bushman to construct the superstructure which took three weeks, after which she spent two months to fit out the cabin for maximum coziness and comfort. The interior was about 15 feet wide and 25 feet long. There was a fireplace at the rear centre of the cabin facing the entrance fueled by pine tree logs, which she always kept burning when she was there. She had plenty of kitchen equipment including stoves and ovens on one end and open cupboards lining the remaining wall space with shelves filled with wine glasses, mugs, pots and pans, memorabilia and pictures. There were four wooden tables, two on each side, with side benches of the type normally found in country parks, that could sit comfortably four to each, so that the cabin could host a party of 16 at most, but preferably fewer for better circulation and maneuverability. There were also stuffed Arctic animals around the place, under the benches and on the beams overhead, and imitation clothes and parkas of the indigenous tribes. Originals would need to be kept in frozen temperatures. Tracy pointed to one original parka which she said was falling apart because of the heat from the burning logs. She then mounted her phone on a little tripod which she offered to anyone who would use it to take pictures, for not all phones can take aurora shots. Milan the driver came in to assist. He appeared to be quite adept with aurora photography and offered to teach me how to use the night mode and various buttons on the phone, from which I was then able to take aurora photos for the first time, with improving qualities as the evening went on. It was cold, icy cold, probably -25⁰C, but Tracy said that it was not the coldest night. Besides, the cabin was warm.

When Su shared the photos Raymond took for us the night before with our fellow members on the tour, Tracy looked surprised, for she saw nothing at her cabin that same night, which was why she and the party had left by midnight. Such is how Providence and Nature work in practice. One simply needs to be in the right place at the right time to catch the moments that one has been waiting for; and people can wait for a life time without seeing what one wants to see, or more often than not, allowing such opportunities to slip before the eyes without knowing.

It seemed that we were second time lucky, for even before we had our first tea, the young Taiwanese were already screaming outside. We all rushed out, Su with her Leica camera on tripod and I with my Samsung Galaxy Note9, and marveled at the streaming aurora which came in rather strong, despite the bright half moon nearby.

Tracy had said earlier that she would offer fish chowder if we couldn’t pick up the lights, and it wouldn’t matter even if she offered dish-wash as soup after we had seen the aurora. Well, she offered us hot thick and creamy chowder soup with bread baked in butter and so on. She is quite a cook. The aurora came in strong more than a couple of times; the young group was enthusiastic and asked for group photos. Tracy noticed they were budget travelers and encouraged them to keep up the spirit while they were young and energetic. On the bus back to the hotel, Tracy realized that we two had another date in two days and volunteered to make us something special. We would soon find out.

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