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Winter has been lingering on and on here in Prince Albert, Canada…normally, by the first week of April, most of the snow would have melted, and our daytime highs would be around 10 degrees Celsius (48 F), with lows at night in the -5 (25 F) range. This year, the ground is still thoroughly snow covered, with the drifts along my driveway still well over 1 meter / 3 feet!
I have to admit, I am pretty sick of winter. As I write this, it is -22 C (-7.6 F), with a forecast high of -4 (25F). I have been trying not to let it get me down, though, and I decided that if winter is going to aggressively linger, I might as well take advantage of it to do something truly winter-y. I have tried cross country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and even ice fishing, but I realized that despite living almost my entire life in western Canada, I have never, ever been on a dogsled. Time to rectify that!
There are not a lot of dogsledding outfits in Canada that cater to tourists, and only one in Saskatchewan that offers short (one hour) rides. Fortunately, that outfit, Sundogs, is less than an hours’ drive from Prince Albert. I sent an email to Bradley Muir, the owner, to see if they had any time slots available, and I was in luck! They had an opening for a Saturday run. Bradley commented that April 7th was the second-latest he had ever done a tourist run; normally their season is done in early March. Because of that, there weren’t any pre-booked tours, and I was able to sneak in for a short ride – a longer run would have been too hot for the dogs, unfortunately, as they are bred for running in truly cold temperatures, and have thick fur coats that cause them to overheat easily when they are working hard on (relatively) warm days.
Ten thirty found me sweating in a hoodie, watching Bradley and his crew tidying the dog pens and choosing my team. Bradley did an orientation, with an introduction to some dogs, a safety briefing, and some practice getting on and off the sled…which was surprisingly awkward! Six dogs, ranging from tiny 35 pound Aspen, a lead dog, to bulky 60 or 70 pound Murphy, a ‘wheel’ dog, were soon harnessed and waiting on lines by the sled.
Bradley cast a critical eye over my outfit, and asked if I had brought a heavier jacket or proper boots. As it happened, I had thrown my parka and snow boots in the car…an afterthought, to be honest, given how warm the day was (for Saskatchewan in winter, that is). I told Bradley that I only ever dust off that parka when it’s below -25, as I just sweat in it if the weather is any warmer. He told me to wear it anyhow. Dubiously, I put it on, and was too hot in about ten seconds.
I awkwardly settled myself onto the sled while the dogs were being hitched to the lines. It only took a few moments, then all of the dogs were yipping and howling, excited to go, or maybe sad to be left behind. Bradley pulled up the snow hook, and we were off!
The sled was simultaneously more comfortable and tippier than I expected. There was lots of padding on the bottom, which also helped to keep my behind warm, but there were no real sides to the sled, and nothing to grab but a couple of ropes. While I wasn’t in any real danger of falling out, the whole contraption felt a little insecure until I settled into the padding. We weren’t far from the yard before I realized how grateful I was for my heavy parka and boots – the day was fairly warm, but the combination of sitting still, shady trails, and windchill felt shockingly cold, and I regretted not zipping my jacket up like Bradley had told me to.
Out on the trail, the dogs were silent – I couldn’t even hear their footfalls over the soft swish of the sled on the snow. Bradley, a former Park Interpreter at Prince Albert National Park, shared some observations about the forest, talking about the age of the trees, and that he had seen a lot of lynx tracks this year. Bradley clearly loves both the dogs and the forest, and it shows in how he treats the animals and the environment. Sundogs is primarily solar powered, and Bradley and his crew strive to follow environmentally sound practices. Sundogs has been recognized with both certifications and awards for their sustainable tourism practices.
We encountered a few snowmobiles on the trail, as part of the 10km run is on groomed snowmobile trails. They were much less disruptive than I would have expected – the operators politely pulled over and stopped, and the dogs ignored them entirely as we ran by. Even the noise was minimal – I did not hear any of the snow machines we encountered until a few seconds before we saw them. Most of the run was extremely quiet.
If you have any interest in a dogsled tour, I highly recommend getting in touch with Sundogs. Bradley is an engaging and knowledgeable guide, the dogs are friendly and well-trained, and the experience of gliding over the snow in near-silence is amazing!
This is not a tour for young children, though – it is too cold, and requires being still for longer than most kids under, say, 8 or 10 would be okay with. While I was fascinated by the dogs and the forest and the conversation with Bradley, I know my little ones, at five and three years old, would have been fidgety after about ten minutes, and unbearable in half an hour. Sundogs does offer programs for children, but they don’t include a dogsled ride, as the 10 kilometer loop (which takes 45-60 minutes) is the shortest run that satisfies the dogs.
People with mobility constraints would likely struggle with getting into, and especially out of, the sled, even with assistance. Getting in essentially involves standing with feet planted on either side of the sled, then a low squat to sit down. Getting out can be accomplished by rolling out of the sled onto the ground, or by putting your feet down on either side and standing up; both are awkward at best.
Bradley advises that bookings fill up quickly, especially for Christmas, weekends, and school holidays. As of April, they are already taking bookings for the Christmas season. Bradley recommends getting in touch as soon as you know your travel plans.
The winter 2017/18 price starts at $110 for a 45 to 60 minute dogsled ride; the sled can accommodate two people, as long as the combined weight is under 158 kilograms / 350 pounds; it is also possible to take two sleds. Half-day and multi-day runs are available, and if you need something they do not have listed on the website, Sundogs is happy to work with you to arrange a package – they can even arrange catering! Sundogs does not accept credit cards, but does take cash, cheques, and e-transfers.
Sundogs also has an arrangement with nearby Elk Ridge Resort, where mid-week visitors can get a discount on their stay at the hotel, if they also take a tour with Sundogs. This is a good option for people traveling in from Saskatoon or further afield – just ask Bradley about it when you are making your Sundogs booking. There are also accommodations available at Waskesiu Lake and Anglin Lake, both of which are less than a half-hour drive from the Sundogs location.
Bring your warmest winter clothing. While Sundogs does have some winter gear available for rent, it may not fit well. A parka, snow pants, and heavy snow boots, as well as mitts, a touque, and a scarf are recommended, even for a warm(ish) day. On cold days, Sundogs will also provide blankets in the sled.
Sundogs is located approximately 65 kilometers north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (about 230 km north of Saskatoon), just off the #2 Highway to Prince Albert National Park.
All of the opinions in this article are my own. I did not receive any compensation or other consideration for this review – I was really impressed with Bradley and his crew at Sundogs!
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Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala is a spectacular religious display, based on Catholic ceremonies imported by the Spanish in the 1500’s. The ceremonies begin on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, but from Palm Sunday to Easter, there are huge processions through the streets, with floats carried on the shoulders of the faithful, each with different symbolism, commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The streets are decorated with elaborate floral and sawdust alfombras (carpets), which people spend hours creating, but which are obliterated by the processions as they walk over them, only to be remade for the next procession. Thousands of local and foreign tourists converge on the city of Antigua to observe the procession, taking Antigua from a laid-back colonial town to a bustling and crowded little city.
The parades begin on Palm Sunday, with huge hand-carved wooden floats, carried by groups of men, women, or children, depending on the float and on the day. The floats depict various scenes from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, while the women’s floats carry images of the Virgin Mary. These floats are carried on the shoulders of the bearers, and weigh thousands of pounds; the bearers are switched out every few minutes. The men and boys are dressed in purple ceremonial robes with white sashes up until Good Friday, after which they wear black. The women also wear black during the processions, and the girls are dressed in white. Processions are preceded by boys swinging incense-holders, and followed by musicians, who play mournful music on timpani drums and horns.
The streets are filled with people awaiting processions, as well as the float bearers who are awaiting their turn to carry the floats; the latter are dressed in the purple robes, and many carry three-headed spears. The incense smoke fills up the streets, and the processional music is so loud that you feel it, physically. On Good Friday, dozens of actors dressed as Roman soldiers also appear, many on horseback, and read out charges against Jesus; the biblical Roman costumes with their helmets and billowing capes add a whole other level to the sense of everything being surreal. The processions start early – 6am – and go late into the night. After dark, the floats are lit by generators pushed along behind them, adding to the noise and chaos.
Trevor and I honeymooned in Guatemala, and went specifically to Antigua over Easter. We planned the trip well in advance (eight or nine months), but still almost didn’t get a room; hostels and hotels apparently start filling up a year or more in advance. We spent hours walking up and down the cobblestone streets, admiring the various alfombras – elaborate carpets made of colored sawdust or of pine needles and flowers. The sawdust alfombras were particularly elaborate, with both Catholic and Mayan symbols incorporated; however, the pine-needle and flower alfombras were also very pretty. The amount of work that went into them was staggering, considering they were destroyed nightly.
The processions were amazing to watch. Here is an excerpt from my journal one of the nights we were there:
“I´ve just come in from one of the famous Antigua processions, and it really is a sight to behold. This one was led by men in Roman uniforms, complete with red capes and horsetailed helmets. Then come hundreds, maybe thousands of men in purple robes and headcloths, some swinging censors billowing sweet-acrid smoke. Twelve little kids holding up large framed drawings of the disciples, followed by three children carrying a huge cross, then came the floats. They are huge, highly ornamented wooden affairs, with statues of Jesus and Mary. They do not have wheels, but rather are carried on the shoulders of men – thirty to a side – over the treacherous cobblestones in the dark. Accompanying the floats are marching bands, 30 pieces or more, playing funeral-dirge music, heavy on the timpani and mournful horns, and loud enough to make your chest constrict. The only concessions to technology are the long forked poles that are used to hold the power lines out of the way of the floats – they are very tall – and generators on wheels to light the floats. The whole thing is even more impressive when you consider that the processions leave the churches at six AM, and it is after eight PM now… “
There are Semana Santa processions all over Guatemala, though the ones in Antigua are by far the most elaborate. We ventured out to the town of Chichicastenango during Easter week, and saw processions there, as well, though they were much smaller affairs than those of Antigua!
If you want to check out Semana Santa in Antigua, you definitely want to book accommodations well in advance – a year is best. Prices go up substantially during Easter week, so be prepared for a bit of sticker shock, though this is relative, as Guatemala is not an expensive country to travel in. The Lonely Planet guide warns of a lot of pickpocket activity during Semana Santa, but we took normal, common-sense precautions (not carrying valuables or large amounts of cash, and keeping wallets in front trouser pockets), and did not encounter any trouble.
Semana Santa in Antigua was one of the highlights of our trip, and if you have any interest at all in religious traditions or Catholicism, this is a can’t-miss stop on your Guatemala itinerary.
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