The morning came quickly and we were boarded into
an all-terrain vehicle for an Inland Ice Cap adventure. It didn’t
take long to notice that we were about to see nature at her finest.
Around every turn of the road there was awesome scenery--so much to
see that the eye couldn’t take it all in at one time. We passed
frozen lakes and mountains of ice and rock that were millions of years
old and then the road abruptly ended at the edge of the infamous Polar
Ice Cap at Point 660—the only place it is (relatively) easily accessible.
We were looking at ice as far as the eye could see and none of it
gave evidence to the theory of global warming. What a thrill
it was to walk as far as we dared or perhaps opt to ride on a conveniently
available tooth-rattling snowmobile on solid but uneven ice.
We returned to Kangerlussuaq the home hub of Air
Greenland’s international service, but also home to 5,000 wandering
musk oxen. While we waited to board for our next leg some of
us toured the convenient Airport Museum at the airfield that houses
replicas of WWII U.S. aircraft and other memorabilia. After
the tour it was time for the flight to our next destination, Ilulissat,
whose name translates to icebergs and happens to be in UNESCO’S World
Captain Adam Grim welcomed about forty of us aboard
his ship, Najaraq Ittuk the next morning. He and his crew of four
then steered us expertly in-between massive icebergs. Words
like: Wow! Look at that! That’s awesome, flew out of everyone’s
mouth. On the return we stopped to watch fishermen whose boat
was anchored at the edge of the ice fjord that empties into Disko
Bay hauling in halibut without stop. We found out that they
were using a “long line” which allowed them to reel in fish after
fish. We waved goodbye to the fisherman and headed towards our
I happened to be on the bridge when the captain’s
eyes lit up. Apparently through his binoculars he could see that the
ice flow had opened slightly and that he could maneuver the boat through
the ice on a route that was not normally open at this time of year.
All of us were seasoned travelers, but still stared wide-eyed as we
went from dodging icebergs into solid ice that seemed to magically
part. Captain Grim carefully maneuvered the boat to Iliminaq
[Ill-im-e-nak] a small settlement of only 70 people. We trudged
through the snow to look at a lovely little storybook church while
the inhabitants were all in their warm houses...perhaps watching us?
These are very hardy people for there is no running water directly
into the houses and the community bath house requires each resident
to bring their own hot water. But as far as quaint, the fishing
village of Iliminaq is indeed that.
the return to Ilulissat the captain went aft with a net to fish for
sikuliaq-- pure ice. Chunks of iceberg went floating
by but most pieces were disdained by the captain. Curiosity
consumed us and we asked the mate, why only this chunk or that chunk
of ice? To us ice is ice, but it was explained that there are over
100 different classifications of ice and the captain was looking for
“new ice”—clear ice worthy of a journalist’s drink. Anyway,
among the thousands or millions of ice chunks that floated by we still
didn’t know how he could spot the three pieces he netted. Later at
our hotel, The Hvide Falk we enjoyed a lovely buffet assortment of
fish, salmon, shrimp, whale, reindeer, char and other native treats
which tasted especially delicious after our outdoor adventure.
next day it was still early, somewhat dark and cold when we went for
an exhilarating dog sledge ride pulled by a dozen of Ilulissat’s finest
5,000 resident Greenlandic Sled dogs. This pure bred descendant
of the Polar Wolf is not permitted below the Arctic Circle, however,
puppies may run loose until they reach the age of six months, after
which, they must remain tied up with the mature dogs in individual
outdoor kennels. This beautiful breed of dog (not to be petted)
loves to be outdoors in the cold especially in front of a moving sledge.
In the evening we dined at the 4-star Hotel Arctic that night and
were served a gourmet meal and entertained by three local kids’ that
demonstrated Greenlandic gymnastic games.
On the following morning we were off to Sisimiut,
a town of about 6,000 inhabitants where we were introduced into a
small part of life in Greenland. We attended a class in school;
learned to speak the native tongue and even to sing a Greenlandic
song (sort of.) All in all, it was a fun session. We also
had the pleasure of sharing tea and coffee with a native Sisimiut
family. The parents are retired, one son is the local policeman and
the daughter had recently returned from attending college in LA.
The entire family could not have been more hospitable.
I opted not to wait for our mini-van for the half
mile ride back to the hotel, but decided to walk through the snow
and take in the sites and breathe some of Greenland’s smog-free air.
I was impressed by the activity on the street. Both men and
women pushing baby carriages; kid’s playing on their way home from
school; and lots of pedestrian shoppers. On the way I came upon two
kids (brother and sister) one trying to push the other uphill on a
sleigh. I motioned for them to both get on and I’d push. After
they delightedly climbed aboard and we reached their destination a
quarter mile later I was rewarded with two big smiles, a one word,
“bye” and a waved hand. Inwardly, I was still smiling about
the kids on the sleigh when we arrived for dinner later that night
at a great local restaurant, Misigisaq that served us delicious Greenlandic-Chinese
Another exciting boat ride the following day took
us into the Sisimiut Fjord to an abandoned fishing village on Assaqutaq
Island . It was a beautiful, bright, brisk day when we boarded
the 35 foot boat skippered by Bo Lings, owner of Arctic Dive Service.
Boots with good traction were needed to maneuver the deserted, icy-snow
on the hilly island. Even though the island was uninhabited--except
for one hermit--the church was in excellent condition and still used
for special occasions. One other thing we squeezed in after
returning to the dock was a personalized tour of the Royal Greenland
shrimp (and crab) processing plant. At the plant we were
outfitted in plastic from head to foot to protect the shrimp from
being contaminated as it was being peeled, washed, split, sorted,
packaged and frozen; ready for European markets.
the capital city of Greenland was our last town to visit. Compared
to the other three towns, Nuuk was a metropolis with 15,000 residents.
Its busy main street had the only two traffic signals within
two million square kilometers. Our hotel in Nuuk was the Hans
Egede, a businessman’s type hotel--named after a Norwegian missionary—with
a good dining room, active bar and lounge with piano player, European
type breakfasts and comfortable rooms.
Due to very windy conditions our scheduled helicopter
ride to visit a Viking settlement on an Air Greenland Sicorski 61-N
helicopter was cancelled. Without seemingly missing a beat our
three guides, Jesper from Greenland Travel www.gt.gl,
Mads from Greenland Tourism www.greenland.com
and Pers from Air Greenland www.airgreenland.gl/
somehow conjured up a full day of sightseeing. The impromptu
tour took us to the Parliament and the Mayor’s office; visited the
Nuuk Art Museum that displayed fascinating artifacts and paintings
by Greenlandic artists; then moved along to the Nuuk (history) Museum
to view the internationally famous Qilakitsog Mummies; then
to the Institute of Natural Resources for an enlightening discussion
of polar ice, icebergs, Greenlandic animals and a scientific
perspective on global warming. Lastly we headed to the official
post office and mail box for Mr. Claus where all mail addressed
to Santa at the North Pole is delivered. Where else?
The final tribute to our visit in Nuuk was a reception
at “Katuaq”, the cultural center of Greenland where we socialized
with local residents. Also present at this social was Kevin O’Hara
who displayed his beautiful four-color coffee-table book on South
Greenland which may be viewed on www.greenlandphotos.com/.
The reception was followed by an elegant banquet
where our table included guest speaker, Prof. Yvon Csonka from the
University of Greenland ; Christian Keldsen with Air Greenland and
his lovely fiancée, Britta--who was taking time off from her judicial
duties. We attempted to concentrate on eating but attractive
models dazzled us dressed in the latest Greenlandic fur and leather
apparel followed by a local uaajeerneq (mask dancer) who made
scary faces at us. It was a memorable evening to take away with
us for tomorrow we would be leaving this wondrous country of Greenland—840,000
square miles of it whose beauty until now was selfishly kept to itself
and to a small number of Danes and Icelanders that cared to visit.
I’m now a believer, but Greenland is not for everyone.
If you’re the type that doesn’t like cold weather, gets sea sick on
any kind of boat or is not a fond lover of dogs, then you should perhaps
visit someplace else, say Malaysia where it’s warm and there are no
sled dogs. On the other hand, if you’re of the type that likes
adventure and drop-dead scenery and would rather brag about a snowmobile
ride on the Polar Cap or a sledge pulled by Polar Wolf descendents
then about shopping in Kuala Lumpur then you definitely should visit
this island of colorful houses.
Basically it is a hands-on or hands-off country.
Those that want to kayak fjords, climb unclimbable glaciers, heli-ski
through fields of powder, hunt or fish ‘til they drop can do it all
in Greenland. Laid back types can tour, photograph and eat the catch
of the day caught by the hands-on type. Providentially, we may all
have to return because we missed seeing Southern Greenland, the Northern
Lights, Reindeer and the many species of whales.
Post Script: The official America to Greenland
adventure begins in May 2007 when Air Greenland’s inaugural flight
will depart from BWI. Thereafter the schedule calls for direct
flights twice weekly until September and four hours later it will
arrive in Kangerlussuaq where your adventure will begin and ours ended.
There is excellent information available at