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jorgesanchez Yellowknife - A travel report by jorge
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Yellowknife,  Canada - flag Canada -  Northwest Territories
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jorgesanchez's travel reports

Hitch-hiking along the Trans-Mackenzie Highway

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Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories. It is located on the shores of the Great Slave Lake, and has a population of 19.000 inhabitants. It is so called because of an Indian tribe which once lived there and used copper implements. report of the month contest
Dec 2008

 Mile Zero. Mackenzie Highway
Mile Zero. Mackenzie Highway
After having successfully made the Trans Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse, in Yukon, overland, now I had another challenge full of interest for the traveller: the Trans-Mackenzie Highway.

I arrived during the night to pleasant Peace River, Alberta, and the next day was Sunday (very bad day for hitch hikers), so I resolved to spend that full day there. I assisted to the Sunday Catholic Mass (when I am abroad I go to the Church much often that when I stay at home) and visited the nice town. On Monday, very early in the morning, I was given a ride to nearby Grimshaw, the Kilometre Zero (or Mille Zero) of the Trans Mackenzie Highway, according to a monument and a plaque on the road.

Then I started to hitch hike northwards.

The good thing to hitch hike in large and under populated countries, such as Australia or Canada, is that when you get a ride, the driver takes you for hundreds of kilometres.

And that is what happened to me that day. I got the first lift to Hay River, by the Great Slave Lake, having crossed the Parallel 60, and spent a couple of hours visiting that town.

In fact I got the ride to Enterprise, the junction to continue to the river Mackenzie and the crossing of the river by ferry (there are no bridges), but I wanted to know Hay River city and the driver, at my request, dropped me there, by the lake.

Afterwards I headed back to Enterprise to continue northwards until Yellowknife, seeing buffaloes on the road.

I crossed the Mackenzie River. The ferry operates from May to October. Out of that period you have to fly to Yellowknife.

In all, four drivers helped me. One from Peace River to Grimshaw, the second to Hay River, the third to the river Mackenzie and then a little bit further, to Fort Providence, and finally the forth one drove me to Yellowknife.

It had been a long day of travel from Peace River in Alberta to Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, from 6 AM to midnight, with a lot of impressions. I was happy!

Favourite spots:
Lovely Great Slave Lake
Lovely Great Slave Lake
Yellowknife is located by the forested shores of the Great Slave Lake, the ninth greatest lake in the world and the deepest in North America. Its main tributary river is the Mackenzie.

Dettah Indians were the first inhabitants of that area, and they are not happy with the Europeans naming all the Geographical accidents of their lands with new names. For instance, the Mackenzie River was known to them hundreds of years before the Scottish Alexander Mackenzie “discovered” it. They knew it by Deh Cho, in Dene language, what means Great River.

Canadians wrongly affirm that Mackenzie made the first transcontinental journey, from coast to coast, while USA claims that the first explorers to perform that exploit were Lewis and Clark. But owing to their bigotry these two countries ignore that the first expedition to cross America from Atlantic to Pacific oceans was the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca, during eight years, from 1528 to 1536, from Florida to the Gulf of California.

What's really great:
Inuit symbols. Look at the raven
Inuit symbols. Look at the raven
The historical downtown is the best part to explore. There you have to climb the rock to have superb views of the city, new and old, and the houses on small inlets in the middle of the lake.

Just in the port there are many wooden houses erected in the thirties of the XX century by the gold seekers, art galleries representing Inuit symbols, like the Inushuk (several standing stones forming a kind of human being, because Inuit means “person”), and paintings on the rocks with Inuit symbols, such as the black raven.

According to the Inuit legends the world was created by a raven. One of the more popular Inuit tales says that at the beginning of the time the raven was both, a God and a bird with a man inside, then he created everything and decided to remain in the Earth for a while because he loved the people and the animals and felt curiosity about them because he had given them a heart and a soul.

He promised the humans and the animals that he would return one day to this world.

Order of Arctic Adventurers, North of 60º Chapter
Order of Arctic Adventurers, North of 60º Chapter
The new part of Yellowknife is not much interesting (compared with the old part, founded by European origin people in 1935).
There are many modern buildings on the wide boulevards, although the main park is nice and offers a pleasant trekking along its path where many people practice jogging in the mornings.
Perhaps the only tourist attraction is inside the Tourist Information Office, where they issue a certificate stating that you crossed the Parallel 60 (called: ORDER OF ARCTIC ADVENTURERS, NORTH OF 60º CHAPTER), and they will supply you a lot of good information about Yellowknife and places around to visit (waterfalls, bears sightseeing, etc.).
Inside that pretty building of the Tourist Office there is a Diamond show (Yellowknife is known as the Diamond city) with internet, free mineral water, brochures, and a movie explaining during 20 minutes the history of the diamonds process in Yellowknife. When you leave they will give you a gift: a golden pin representing a yellow knife!

The Salvation Army on 45th Street
The Salvation Army on 45th Street
When I arrived late in the night to Yellowknife, I asked a beggar sitting in a bench with a tetra brick pack of wine for the Salvation Army, since it was cold to sleep in a park; I was too short of money and could not afford to pay for a room in a hotel, which are very expensive in Canada, especially in the north.

He gave me some indications to follow the 45th street, the main one, and finally, after fifteen minutes walking I found it. It was closed but anyway I knocked and the nice guardian let me go in. I had a hot shower, a coffee with peanut buttered biscuits, and around midnight I slept over a mattress, on the floor, besides many Inuit people, all snoring like horses.

The address is: 4925 45th Street

Yellowknife, NT X1A 2P9, Canada

Phone: 1 867-920-4673

You do not need to make any reservations. Just go there, take a hot shower and sleep. No passport needed, no questions, they did not even ask me my nationality.

Streetlamp with the raven, Inuit symbol
Streetlamp with the raven, Inuit symbol
The first night I arrived to Yellowknife at about 11 PM. In spite of being in June it was very cold. I walked around the downtown until I found the Salvation Army and, apart from a couple of Chinese kiosks selling cheap food, and one or two clubs with girls practising the oldest feminine profession in the world, I did not see any other nightly activities. Yellowknife is not a big metropolis. Nevertheless there must be expensive restaurants offering shows, and also discos and Irish pubs, but I was not interested under my circumstances (no much money) and I could not afford them, anyway.

The other two nights that I spent in Yellowknife I was in the dormitory of the Salvation Army in time for the dinner, and after that I played chess with the Inuit people and learnt about their culture and traditions until they turned the lights off at ten o’clock and everybody went to sleep in their mattresses. So, I did not experience much night life in Yellowknife, but I do not regret it.

Mackenzie River in the DEH CHO Travel Connection
Mackenzie River in the DEH CHO Travel Connection
“The DEH CHO Travel Connection” is a round journey starting in any place along three Highways: Mackenzie, Alaska and Liard, which includes cities like Dawson Creek, Grimshaw, Enterprise, etc., traversing fragments of British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Alberta, totalling 1800 kilometres.

This round journey is unique, following the old trade and transport routes used by the Aboriginal people in their canoes.

In the Tourist Offices of any town along these three highways you will be given a booklet with maps, in which you receive a stamp in every place that you visit, and if you make the round journey and show at least five stamps of the DEH CHO Travel Connection as a proof, you get a diploma. That is a cool journey for a group of travellers in a car, since that DEH CHO journey is rarely frequented by vehicles and hitch hiking is very hard. I was given that booklet, but did not fulfil it with five stamps, but only three, so I could not apply for the diploma in Yellowknife.

The charming Wildcat cafe
The charming Wildcat cafe
In the Tourist Office I was recommended to have dinner in the Wild Cat café, what was considered a “must” for any tourist in Yellowknife. I walked down there, besides a hilly rock, in the historical part of Yellowknife, on the shore of the Great Slave Lake. It consisted on a wooden nice structure built in 1937; one of the first houses constructed in Yellowknife and today is a Heritage building. In those times they offered meals for 1 dollar and they served caribou meat and lake trout to the gold seekers, geologists, miners, trappers, etc.
Now it has become a famous restaurant.
I looked at the menu and I thought: “Oh! Perhaps I can eat a dish of caribou for about 5 or 6 Canadian dollars, an amount that I can afford”.
But when I saw the prices I was disappointed: all the dishes started with two figures, even the appetizers, so I left without even ordering a tea and walked to the Salvation Army, where I was given for dinner delicious peanut buttered sandwiches plus hot chocolate.

Other recommendations:
Crossing the Hudson Bay from Yellowknife to Baffin Island
Crossing the Hudson Bay from Yellowknife to Baffin Island
Where to travel next? I did not have much money, but I wanted to visit Baffin Island, the sixth greater island in the world after Australia, Greenland, New Guinea, Borneo, and Madagascar. I had been in the first five, so I must go to the sixth one, I said to myself.
But I had to fly, the only way to get there from Yellowknife. There are no boats to Baffin Island, even from Quebec, and the flight from Otawa is at more or less the same price than from Yellowknife, so hitch hiking to Otawa had no sense.
In Canada the prices of the airlines tickets depend on the date that you want to fly, so I was offered the cheapest ticket three days later for 900 Canadian Dollars, a fortune for me, but I had to go, it would had been unpardonable to leave Canada without visiting Baffin Island, so finally I paid the 900 Canadian Dollars and three days later I flew, first to Rankin Inlet, in Nunavut mainland, and after a few hours I traversed the Hudson Bay to Iqaluit, in Baffin island, Nunavut.

Published on Wednesday December 17th, 2008

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Thu, Jan 08 2009 - 03:27 PM rating by hieronyma

Oh Jorge, I am envious. That's what I like to do: Just go and see what will happen. And then all those encounters happen which you can't plan. I didn't make it so far north, although I considered to hike the Mackenzie Trail, but decided against it, because doing it alone seemed to be too dangerous.

Tue, Dec 23 2008 - 09:53 AM rating by frenchfrog

Excellent report Jorge! Your encounter with the inuits must have been so special!

Fri, Dec 19 2008 - 12:53 AM rating by gloriajames

what an adventure!!
loved the report!
and cant wait to see what u did in Baffin Island.

Thu, Dec 18 2008 - 09:59 AM rating by krisek

Jorge, another beautiful report on a far flug place, so rarely visited. Thank you ever so much! I am always impressed how you are able to secure accommodation for nothing or next to nothing. This is something I need to learn, if I want to see ALL the countries of the world, unless I win a lottery :)

Thu, Dec 18 2008 - 06:43 AM rating by bineba

I always feel humbled when reading your reports. For me you are a true traveller and adventurer and not just a tourist like me!
I love the picture of the Great Slave Lake.

Thu, Dec 18 2008 - 02:34 AM rating by yuliangpang

You have all that a great travel need to have. I love your report, particularly that one how you succeeded to get a free accomodation at the Salvation Army. That's life, whether you are happy or sad, really not depend on how much money you have! The only thing is be yourself, do whatever you like to do and meanwhile benefit others. Your last part seems to be an unfinished story. What happened in that great island, you are going to give us another report on it, I am looking forward to it.

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