Tuesday, March 06, 2007


You can't get there from here

Link surfing is a wonderful thing.

I can't even remember where I was, but I caught sight of something about a lunar eclipse on March 3. Turns out it wasn't visible from here, only in a wide swath on the other side of the planet through Europe and Africa. Disappointing. I love stuff like eclipses and meteor showers and the northern lights.

Then further down on the same page, I was reading about the solar eclipses for later this year. (Did you know that there are two lunar and two solar eclipses every year? A lunar eclipse is when the moon travels through the earth's shadow, and a solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the earth and the sun.) Unfortunately, the solar eclipses for this year will only be visible in eastern Asia and South America.

And THEN, I saw that there will be a total solar eclipse ON MY BIRTHDAY next year, AND it will be visible from Canada. Now that's way wicked cool.

Except, I kept reading and found out that it will only be visible from the very northern tip of Canada, through Nunavut. And I noticed that the path of totality runs right across Alert, Nunavut, which is the northernmost settlement not only in Canada, but in the whole world. It's a mythic sort of place, this northern outpost, and I started to think about how I'm always saying that I haven't seen nearly enough of this gorgeous country of ours, and how I've always wanted to see the far north, and an embryonic plan started to hatch in my busy little brain.

Wouldn't it be way wicked cool to make a family vacation out of going to Alert for my birthday to see the solar eclipse? It's north of the Arctic circle, but it would be high summer, so not only would the temperatures be moderate, but there would be 24 hours of sunlight - and then an eclipse. Really, could you imagine anything cooler than that? It's Canadian, it's astronomical, it's my birthday: three of my favourite things. This was obviously meant to happen.

So I set out to find out how to get to Alert. And that's when I started to grasp just how big this country of ours is, and that north as I know it really isn't so very north at all. I mean, Alert - that's seriously North. Let's put it in relative terms. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just over 2000 km due north of here. (By comparison, Miami is just about the same distance due south.) Well, Alert is DOUBLE that, more than 4000 km due north. In fact, it's only about 800 km from the North Pole.

Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps, used with permission.
Embellishment courtesy of Beloved.

Not only is Alert north, or should I say NORTH, but it's isolated, and kind of desolate. Just about the only thing that's up there is a Canadian Forces Base and an Environment Canada weather station. But neither the northness nor the isolation deterred me. I live in a generation of extreme vacations, after all - I never imagined there could be a populated place in this country that doesn't have some form of tourism. (Okay, so 'populated' is a bit of a stretch - according to Wikipedia's citation of the Canadian 2001 census, Alert has a permanent population of six.)

Typically, all of this actually encouraged me rather than discouraging me from my summer holiday plans. I spent quite a while googling various combinations of terms and surfing travel sites only to find out that for all intents and purposes, you simply can't get there from here. And even if you could get there, it's not exactly a tourism hotbed.

Nothing comes up, for example, when you search on "hotels in Alert" or "tourism Alert Nunavut". And the closest you can get to Alert on a commercial airline is to Iqaluit, about half way. If you're curious, it would cost a family of four somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6000 to fly to Iqaluit from Ottawa in August. That's not including the charter flight up to Alert, which seems to be of the principal that if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it.

Sadly, I think Alert is now off the table as a summer travel destination. Lucky for me, it's currently -42C with the windchill right here in Ottawa, so I can have my very own Arctic experience simply by waiting for the bus.

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