Nunavut - As June winds to a close, the ice remains intact over Frobisher Bay and temperatures still hover around freezing. This is a world where there are no highways, no McDonald's, no Starbucks, where Winnipeg and Edmonton are referred to as "down south."
Getting to Nunavut is neither cheap nor easy, but the experience is unforgettable, far more rewarding than getting hosed for a week at an all-inclusive resort. The northern summer is surprisingly fresh and temperate, offering an endless outdoor playground barely touched by human sprawl.
Of course, family and friends are dubious about my plans to travel for a summer in the Arctic. Some think I'm losing my marbles. But is a summer spent in the stink and smog of Toronto any less crazy?
All flights from eastern Canada land in Iqaluit, but the true beauty of the north is found in the small communities and numerous national parks beyond. My fondest memories are of Pangnirtung - Pang for short - an Inuit town of 1,250 nestled in a massive fjord along southeast Baffin Island.
Pang is a place where doors are never locked and knocking is not the custom. Everybody is friendly and trusting, even to this scurvy pirate sleeping in a ragged tent on the outskirts of town. The freakish paranoia of Toronto feels a world away.
My first day in town, I'm allowed to explore the territorial government buildings freely and at my leisure, striking up conversations along the way. Try pulling that off at Queen's Park. I quickly befriend a local girl named Meeka, who gives me the insider tour around town. We randomly walk into peoples' homes, getting treated to meals and snacks all along the way. She also walks me through the local market - one-stop shopping for everything from groceries to MP3 players to hunting rifles.
The downtown printmaking shop is Pang's biggest claim to fame. The world-class Inuit art created here is featured in major galleries across North America. Inside, an artist named Jolly Atagooyuk shows me the secrets of his trade, hand-tracing stencil prints and colouring with oil paints. His work is some of the best I've ever seen.
Barely three days after my arrival, I already have a bustling social life, with more coffee and dinner invitations than I have time to accept.
Disaster strikes at one point when my ancient film camera breaks down. I'm directed to the home of David Poisey, a local independent filmmaker, and show up at his door without calling ahead.
Poisey invites me in, pours me a coffee, fixes my camera, then spends hours telling stories about his filming experiences across northern Canada and Greenland.
Unfortunately, I'm travelling solo and can't explore Auyuittuq National Park, which starts further down the fjord and offers some amazing trails. Help is a little far away if I take a tumble and bust an ankle.
The midnight sun certainly takes some getting used to. It sounds wonderful in theory, but try getting any sleep with a bright blue sky at 2 am.
My last night in Pang I'm invited to a community feast where the locals are serving "country food" - raw caribou and seal. This is a drastic shift from my vegetarian diet in Toronto, but why not?
Everything changes in the north. The raw seal is especially messy, resulting in a bloodbath all over my face, hands, arms and clothes. I try explaining to the elders that I don't eat meat back home; they just stare and laugh.
It sure feels cool to finally explore my own country. No experience from any mainstream tourist destinations - including Paris or Prague - can match this great northern backyard.
No passport or foreign currency is required - just a taste for something totally different and awesome.