From balmy Bogotá to embracing a Winnipeg Winter
One year ago, in December 2018 I was like you probably are now, wondering how cold can Winnipeg really be. Is winter the ultimate challenge to prove you can survive any environment? Would a tropical species like me be able to manage winter? * Or do locals have a secret cure, like a travel mug full of brandy on a cold winter morning?
*Later I discovered that I am a mountain species more than a tropical one, but that belongs to a summer conversation.
It is January, that means I am here to talk about my first Winnipeg winter experience. And I don’t mean my first winter at all, but my first real one. Seven years ago I was in Germany wondering similar questions and ready to face the saukalt when the hottest winter in 200 years destroyed my dreams. So I picked up my courage to try again, this time in 2018 in a more certain place: Winnipeg.
I am Colombian. Specifically a “Bogotana” who has decided to make Winnipeg her new home. As I was making my final trip preparations I was really anxious, this was going to be a huge change in my life and also an unforgettable season.
I bought the basics following the recommendations of the wise Google. I gained familiarity with the layering system. My adjusted budget and the scarcity of specific winter options in the Colombian stores made me feel discouraged some days. In my last day of shopping, a big haul of pants, sweaters and one light down jacket made me feel that I was going to make it even if I had to use all my new gear at the same time.
The big moment arrived on January 2nd 2018 at 11:25 p.m. when my plane landed at the Winnipeg James Armstrong International Airport. I didn’t feel tired after 16 hours flying; the excitement was too great for that. At almost midnight I was ready to cross the door and finally experience this winter. I grabbed my bags and decided to step out. I was so excited for everything that was happening that my first thought was, “hey it’s not so cold, it’s not so bad.”
This is like an ultra refreshing-energizing sensation; my adrenaline, my expectations and my skin were aligned to receive the weather.
The next day was a little bit rougher. It was the coldest day I have experienced in Winnipeg so far, the temperature was -35°C. I felt amazed by the fact that in every breath I could feel how all the contents of my nose froze, one breath at a time. Like the first time you see your breath, this experience in my nose was really cool. I just wanted to communicate with everyone what was happening in my nose.
That same day I realized that walking in the snow requires some practice. Lenka, the kind person who was helping me to settle in my Winnipeg accommodation bought grips for me after seeing how miserably I was falling in the snow on my first walk.
After a few days the cold just became part of my routine. I prepared myself every morning the best I could to walk 15 to 20 minutes to school at the University of Winnipeg with all my layers. I have to confess that sometimes I was using more than three layers, and undressing in the classroom freed me of six kilos of clothes.
The cold was there for me every day to wake me up, to make me feel alive, to make me feel that my skin was alert. I discovered that even when I was feeling the cold it was not unpleasant if I was properly prepared with my winter gear (and I didn’t even have the best gear).
Actually the heater in my apartment was so strong sometimes and impossible to regulate that a fast escape in the middle of the night to the kitchen window to cool down was the best sensation.
After one month I discovered two of the most pleasant experiences that you must experience in Winnipeg in winter.
The first one: ICE skating. I have to stress ICE because all my life skating was a matter of roller skates and here those are considered Palaeolithic devices. The river trail at The Forks is an incredible place to practice skating for the first time. Some remote memory in my muscles helped me from falling, but I have to admit that it was a great opportunity to laugh at the deterioration of my motor skills -- not to mention seeing other people trying skates for the first time is also incredibly funny.
The second was Festival du Voyageur, where an exposition of terrific ice sculptures and the ice bar showed me why some pleasures in life belong to winter. The lights, the music, the beer, the new artists, the maple taffy, the slides, the food and the energy of the people made this festival one of my best winter days in Winnipeg.
Before I knew it, I realized that winter was gone and I was proud of myself because this season was not the survival experience my Latina mind was expecting. Winter was an incredible season that I enjoyed (almost) every single day.
Jhoana Duque is a marketing professional, and a proud Latina and food lover who is currently working with us at Tourism Winnipeg. She finds inspiration in art, jazz and satiric humour, while you can also find her working with watercolours.