Wolves have always fascinated me, and when at a very early age I read "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang" by Jack London, I was hooked on wolf lore forever. Any movie, book or article that discussed wolves was high on my list. I loved watching "Dancing With Wolves" - although the film wasn't really just about wolves, and Kevin Costner was good to look at too!
When the movie "The Gray" came out I was there on opening night at my local movie theater. I must admit this movie scared the crap out of me and I developed an even healthier respect for wolves. I've followed the entire debate on their endangered status in Alaska and other parts of the lower 48 states and in Canada. I just can't see how killing this magnificent animal does any good for anyone. When I learned that every 20 minutes we lose an entire species on this planet, it makes me sad - and to think we might also lose wolves makes me even sadder.
You can imagine my excitement when I learned that there are places in this world where one can meet, sleep near or gaze at wolves in their natural habitats. Last November at a gathering hosted by Québec Tourism, one of the presenters mentioned that they had an adventure experience "sleeping" with wolves. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to go on this trip.
It was all settled, I was going. I thought that this was such a wonderful opportunity not only for me but what if my 11 year-old granddaughter Alex, went too? I'm all about intergenerational travel and found having a younger person on a trip makes the experience more rewarding for me; introducing travel to young people helps them understand the world is a lot bigger than their own neighborhoods.
So, on July 13th we were off to the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region in the Québec Province - Alex and me! Before we left however, Tourism Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean had another surprise. We were not only going to a private wolf sanctuary, Aventuraid, but also to an animal wilderness park - Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien. The zoo was in a stunning boreal forest, and we looked forward to experiencing a camping, canoeing and hiking adventure.
We arrived in Canada and were greeted by a perky, pretty and knowledgeable Tourism Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean guide - Amélie Simard. Not speaking one word of French made having her there a very good thing because all the road signs were in French!
Since this was Alex's first time in Canada and on an adventure with me, I asked her to share her impressions of our trip. What follows are her journal notes. Enjoy!
'I was invited by my grandmother to go on an adventure in Québec, Canada. It was my second trip out of the country and I was excited to visit another country and have the opportunity to sleep over night at a wolf conservation camp and inside a real wild animal park!
We left Chicago and flew to Montréal, where we changed to a plane I had never seen before - it had propellers and vibrated a lot. My granny said it was a Bombardier Dash-8 and was a rugged, reliable plane. She would know, because she worked for an airline for 30 years. I loved it because it didn't fly very high and I could easily see the ground. What an adventure!
When we landed, Amélie, our guide, was there to meet us. I really liked her and she spoke English really well, and that was good because I couldn't speak a word of French!
The next morning we drove to Aventuraid Base-Eco Aventure 4 Saisons, the camp where we would be spending the night with the wolves. The first person we met when we arrived was Mr. Gravelle, who told us he worked with the sled dogs. He took us down a road where we saw a lot of dogs tied up near little doghouses. He told us that there were about 60 dogs used for dog sledding in the winter. The dogs seemed happy and barked and wagged their tails at us. I'd really like to come back and try dog sledding here, as it's a little closer than Alaska.
We then met Mr. Granal, one of the other owners who took us on a tour of the grounds. He was also a wolf expert and worked hard for the conservation of wolves. As we walked through the area we saw fenced off areas where he told us he had gray and Arctic wolves living. I didn't see any but he told me they were there. Maybe it was hard to see them because they were shy, and maybe they were just checking us out! Mr. Granal then took us on a tour of the places you could sleep in near the wolf compounds. There was a "Teepee," a really pretty Mongolian Ger, (granny said some people call them" yurts"), and several wooden hand-made cabins. We slept in one of the wooden, hand- built cabins. It was vey comfortable and had three beds and a loft too. But the cabin had no bathrooms and if you had to go you had to go to the education building. That night, the owner's wife sent over baked chicken made with maple syrup. It was really good. Looking out of our cabin window near dark I saw a white shape. Then I saw more. They were the Arctic wolves all coming to the fence. We were very quiet because we didn't' want to scare them. They were big and beautiful. That night we heard them howling and calling to each other. Wow, that was exciting!
In the morning Mr. Granal went into the Arctic wolf exhibit and many of the wolves came running and surrounded him. He seemed really comfortable and I was impressed that the wolves seemed to really like him too. I'm not sure I could have entered the wolf area, but on some occasions Mr. Granal says some people are able to do that. If I visit again maybe I'll try it.
I didn't want to leave the wolves but we had to leave and drive to the wild animal park - Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien!
When you entered the main building you were in an educating center displaying facts about some of the animals we would see. Our guide Audrée Morin met us and explained that we would be a part of a small group that was experiencing the overnight camping and hiking adventure. In our group were people from Switzerland, Belgium and France. I met a girl named Clara who was my same age. She didn't speak English and I didn't speak French but it didn't matter. We had so much fun hiking, canoeing, exploring the campsite, and looking for caribou. I plan on contacting her and maybe taking her up on her invitation to come to Paris and visit her!
Our group was driven through the park so we could see the animals that lived in this part of Canada and the northern part of the U.S. - musk oxen, black bears, bison, caribou, moose, grey wolves and much more. We also stopped at a pioneer farm and met two ladies who were dressed like settlers from the early 1900's. They cooked a really good lunch for us and made jokes as they served yummy chicken and blueberry pie. They ware so funny, and acted like they had never seen cell phones or cameras before.
We went on a hike though the "boreal" forest where we learned all about the type of trees and animals that lived there. Once we entered our campsite we saw tents with our names written on chalkboards. Inside our tent I found a cute green paper caribou cutout with my name placed on my bed. The beds smelled great and were made of fresh spruce boughs on the bottom and a comfy sleeping bag on the top. I loved it and even my granny was happy too.
But before we had dinner that was being cooked over an open fire, a mother moose and her baby came strolling into camp. The guides told us to get out of sight and that this was the very first time they had ever done this. Scary but really cool! Our meal was great -fresh fish and vegetables. They had marshmallows too but didn't know about 'smores' and didn't have graham crackers or chocolate bars to melt. Clara and I still had fun eating the marshmallows.
The entire experience was the best ever. I learned a lot about Canada, animals living in this part of the world, and met a new friend. My granny told me that this experience was one of the best for her too and that she loved sharing it with me. I will always remember my adventure with my granny and seeing wolves and other animals up close.'
I agree with everything Alex says. This was a special and extraordinary trip with my granddaughter. What a great companion. She was supportive of me when I struggled to get into the canoe (fear in my eyes I must admit), or as we hiked in the forest with nets that covered our heads as a way to ward off the mosquitoes. Alex was as real trooper. The people we met were really nice and we developed a friendship with many of them that I know will last.
In each camp we had great food - fresh and tasty and well seasoned. Our guides were outstanding and well versed on their areas of expertise. Most of all, we were so happy to have Amélie with us and have now adopted her as part of our family.
Québec is beautiful, and a perfect place to take the entire family. A visit to the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is a must. Check out their website and think about planning a visit - there is so much to do there! For more information about this region of Canada visit - www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca.