DANCING WITH WOLVES
I stagger sleepily from my cosy bed inside the Mongolian yurt, open the airtight stove, and stir up the glowing embers inside. I add some wood shavings, kindling and logs, while blowing gently on the coals, gradually coaxing the fire back to life. It is minus 30 outside tonight, but if I keep the flames going it stays pleasant within the ornate shelter.
Suddenly, the quiet of the winter's night is broken by the haunting howl of the wolves. Perhaps they have heard me shuffling around in the yurt. Their deep-throated howl starts with a single voice, and then the whole pack joins the chorus. The sound is all-encompassing, beautiful and soothing. I step outside into the cold night air and peer into the vast wolf enclosure. Dark shapes dart about. I see their eyes glowing in the moonlight. I see their curiosity. Despite the chill, I stand in awe.
I have bedded down in a place called Parc Mahika, (the Cree word for wolf), in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region of Quebec. Here guests are able to interact with wolves – and the wolves are able, I will discover on this day, to interact with us. Aventuraid is an outdoor adventure company founded by French ex-pat Gilles Granal, who came to Canada in 1987 to experience the great outdoors. He never left. Now, he himself embodies that outdoors, with his long braided hair, wolf tattoos on his arms, camouflage clothing, and the easy way in which he relates with his wolf pack.
His Parc Mahican includes three large wolf enclosures, two of which contain packs which remain shy and reclusive – the Grey wolves that serenaded me in the night, and a well-appointed pack of Arctic wolves. A third enclosure, however, contains a mixed pack, which were imprinted by humans at a very young age. As a result they are comfortable and accepting – even welcoming, and it is this group that we will venture in to visit.
Though the wolves seem to eagerly anticipate our visit, (Granal points out that they have shown interest by choosing to meet us as the gate), he enters first to test their mood – which is obviously nothing more than supreme affection for the man. Luna, a 150 lb Arctic wolf, leaps on Granal's chest and playfully wrestles him to the ground. We are called in and instructed to let the animals approach us, and not to force ourselves on them. The wolves sniff and nudge, at first quite excited to have visitors. After a few minutes they calm down and accept us into their home. They are both playful and at times belligerent with each other, as their hierarchy is reinforced. With us, they seem almost as friendly as pet dogs. One sprawls on her back against my legs, wanting a belly scratch. Another jumps up with its massive paws on my shoulders, then tries to pinch my camera.
We move deeper into the thick boreal forest of the enclosure. Some wolves stay with us, trying to steal mitts or hats, while others, boring of us, melt away back into the trees. The experience is wonderful.
More than Wolves: There is plenty more fun to be had in the frozen winter world of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean.
Dog Sledding – After our wolf experience we meet up with some more canine inhabitants of Aventuraid, helping to harness and hook up a team of six willing Malamutes for a two-hour dogsled excursion. Aventuraid offers short tastes of sledding to longer, multi-day outings, giving you the chance to mush your own team of huskies.
Snow Shoeing – We take a snow cat up to the Valley of the Phantoms in Parc national des Monts-Valin, for a snowshoe trek through an eerily beautiful winter landscape. The valley receives in excess of 5 metres of snow annually, leaving the conifers heavy with powder for a ghost-like appearance. After a day on the mountain, we enjoy an overnight stay at the wonderfully rustic Antoine Debuc Lodge overlooking Baie d'Alexis, and head out onto the frozen lake after dinner in search of the Northern Lights.
Ice Fishing – Here, ice fishing is not just a past-time, it is a passion. Whole fishing villages are built on the frozen Fjord-du-Saguenay, with comfortable fishing huts and organized roadways complete with street signs. Jean Francois tells his wife he is off fishing, but, though he has a generator, a satellite dish and a television, he doesn't even have a hole cut under his elaborate chalet. He goes for the socializing, and I wonder if he grabs a frozen fish at the market on his way home.
IF YOU GO: Information:
Go to www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca and www.quebecoriginal.com for information on the region and Quebec, and to www.aventuraid.qc.ca for the wolf experience.
PHOTOS: by Jamie Ross
1. My Mongolian Yurt at Parc Mahika
2. The Wolf Whisperer - Gilles Granal
3. The Wolves Come to Visit
4. Call of the Wild
5. Exploring the Valley of the Phantoms.
6. Ice Fishing on the Saguenay Fjord.Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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