Written by Traveler Kris Knaak about her recent trip to the Polar Bear Capital of the World on our Tundra Lodge & Town Adventure
The Cookie Sherpa
On my latest adventure to Churchill, Manitoba I became the Cookie Sherpa.
I joined Nat Hab as a solo traveler, but being “alone” did not last long with this group.
We started as 22 strangers (guests and guides), but the magic of the North bonded us immediately. Everyone returned home with a tale (or 20) to tell.
This is my story…
The Great White Bear Tours Tundra Lodge allowed us to be immersed in prime polar bear habitat.
The lodge was structured like a train, which was pulled out onto the tundra for close-up wildlife viewing. There were two cars containing “roomlets” and bathrooms, a lounge car and a kitchen/dining car.
The dining car housed a giant jar of chocolate chip cookies. Amazing, soft cookies—at least three inches in diameter.
Of course, I discovered them on the first night of our stay.
The Kitchen Staff said I could have a cookie for every bear joke I told. One of my jokes was, “What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear!” Another one was, “Why do pandas like old movies? Because they are black and white!”
Two cookies earned!
Bad bear jokes had become a theme of the trip. It all started the morning we left our hotel in Winnipeg and headed to Churchill.
After a generous serving of dinner and dessert, we bundled up to wait outside on the decks for northern lights.
While we were bonding under the stars (clearly distracted), a Nat Hab content creator named Meg decided to look down instead of up.
She spotted a polar bear!
He was lying on the ground, not more than 10 feet from us!
One of the Lodge Staff turned on a spotlight so we could get a better look.
Suddenly, the aurora took the back seat as everyone admired the massive bear.
A cool thing about our group was that everyone silently rotated around, allowing others a spot up front to take pictures or just take a closer peek.
I couldn’t tell if the polar bear didn’t know he had an audience or if he just didn’t mind our presence.
From that moment it was apparent that our group had a lot of respect for one another and for the wildlife.
Eventually, the polar bear was finished with his photo shoot and walked away.
Our attention returned to the sky for a mind-blowing light display. And it only got better as the night went on. At around 1 am my jaw dropped as the view out my bunk window looked amazing. I enjoyed the show while staying cozy in bed.
One of the women I befriended on the trip shared my love of cookies and we celebrated whenever one of us “scored” one. Suddenly, it seemed like the whole group had been consumed with cookie mania. Two other travelers even went as far as having cookies with their eggs for breakfast. (Not in them, just on the side).
After noticing how popular the cookies were, I took the initiative to bring a handful of them along on our daily Polar Rover rides…Not that I needed the snack—the Rover lunches were incredible.
The Kitchen Staff insisted the jar was for everyone and they challenged us to eat all the cookies before the trip ended.
On the final night of our Lodge stay I “stole” the cookie jar from the kitchen and brought it into the lounge car for all of us to enjoy during Happy Hour.
The next morning the jar was no longer in the lounge car. We were momentarily concerned that it could be gone forever.
We investigated our whereabouts from the night before.
The cookie jar was there at 11:30 pm when the three of us went to bed as there was no sign of the aurora. The jar was seen at approximately 3 am by a guest who was awoken by a howling wolf circling the Lodge.
Then, at 6:30 am as we waited in the lounge car for the “coffee is ready!” light to go on, the cookie jar was nowhere to be found.
We were explicitly told that coffee would be ready at 6:31 am every morning.
NOT 6:30. Six thirty-one on the dot!
I suspected that this boundary had to be set by the Staff to prevent guests from plodding into the kitchen car looking for coffee (or cookies) at 5 am.
One grueling minute later, we entered the dining car and noticed that the cookie jar had been returned to its home on the kitchen counter.
Whew! Mystery solved!
During breakfast, someone was craving a cookie so I went up and fetched one for her. She thanked me by endearingly referring to me as her “Cookie Sherpa.”
And so it began.
After our meal, I snuck up to the now 3/4 empty cookie jar and asked the Chef if we could take the rest of the cookies with us on the Rovers. He got a bag and I loaded it up with our victory treats. Others observed the scene and giggled or rolled their eyes.
To make things official, I pulled out my polar bear name pin and added “Cookie Sherpa” to it.
As we searched for bears and other wildlife I periodically asked my Rover-mates if they’d like a cookie snack. Bouts of laughter followed, but in the end, they couldn’t resist a hand-delivered dessert from the Cookie Sherpa!
Even after our time on the tundra was over, I still had a secret stash for our days in town. It was like I had a never-ending supply!
One evening a few of us gathered in the lobby of our Churchill hotel to wait for news of northern lights. Our Expedition Leaders planned to pick us up by 9:30 pm if there was going to be any action.
Nine thirty came and went but the eight of us stayed. We managed to occupy our time by sharing funny stories and reminiscing about the past few days.
“I have an idea!” Shouted Brittany, a Nat Hab Adventure Concierge. “Let’s take turns going around the room and doing our best bear impressions!”
What followed was an event I consider to be just as precious as when I saw real polar bears.
We didn’t have the northern lights but we made our own fun. It is a memory of infectious laughter and wild imagination that will not soon fade.
There may or may not have been video evidence of our bear behavior, but as they say, “What happens in Churchill stays in Churchill!”
It was probably for the best that we didn’t go out on the town, as only the night before, we had a close call with a polar bear encounter in town.
A few of us were watching the northern lights from the beach of Hudson Bay when a flare to our left was fired into the air.
It was a warning to take cover because a polar bear was near.
Fortunately, our bus was only a few steps away and we quickly and safely evacuated the area.
We learned that flares and “cracker shells” are commonly used as tools to deter stray bears away from town.
Another adventurous experience with the crew!
On our final night in town, we attended a poetry reading by Churchillian Koral Carpentier. She shared a special story about a woman named Joyce Urbanovitch, who made it her mission to not let anyone go hungry in Churchill. After school, kids would go to her house and the “Cookie Lady” would greet them on the porch with a plate of cookies.
When Joyce passed away, the town named a park in her honor. Cookie Lady Park.
Before heading to the airport the following morning, the bus made a surprise stop.
As we approached the “Cookie Lady Park” sign I pulled out the LAST cookie from the Tundra Lodge!
No one expected it and there was no way I could have planned for it.
We took a group photo with the cookie. I then broke it up into pieces and gave a little bit to everyone and we had one final group cookie toast.
That is how I became the Cookie Sherpa of the Tundra Lodge & Town Polar Bear trip.
One of my lessons from this is to go with the flow of the jokes, be open and let the fun evolve.
It took all of us.
We laughed a ton but when you let things just unfold, you never know what good things can happen.