A Place Called Kangerlussuaq

In the valleys of the ice were clear blue lakes. Not the turquoise blue of a Greek island, but a truly clear blue, lighting up its surroundings. Melting water was creating rivers and water falls as well as holes deep into the ice sheet.

We have left behind the wonders of the Disko Bay and the Ice Fjord. On the small Dash 8, we’ve flown south to Kangerlussuaq, meaning Big Fjord. As so many other names in Greenland, the name Kangerlussuaq is used many places around the country. But this must be the best known. Kangerlussuaq in the Qeqqata municipality of Western Greenland is an old American Airbase, which today functions as Greenland’s international airport. This is where the flight from Copenhagen lands twice a day.

While it is possible to travel directly to Nuuk or Ilulissat from Reykjavik in Iceland, most people will find their way to Greenland on the Copenhagen flight to Kangerlussuaq. It is the entrance way to this beautiful country.

But Kangerlussuaq is more than that. The fjord from which the small community and airbase received its name is 190 kilometres long and at its widest 8 kilometres. With these measures it is the second largest fjord in Greenland, and the fifth largest in the world. The fjord waters come from Russell Glacier and the Ice Cap through Qinnguata Kuusua, in English known as Watson River, and spills into the Davis Strait.

Following the fjord and river inland, Greenland’s longest road leads directly to the Ice Cap. At Point 660, the very end of the 37 kilometres long road, only a small hill separates you from the Ice Cap. From here the Ice Cap extends 600 kilometres to the East. For the foolhardy, it would take approximately 25 days to cross the Ice Cap from here to the small settlement of Isortoq on the East Coast.

I have no desire to attempt a crossing.

What I did want however was to get an idea of this massive ice sheet, and we had therefore planned for an excursion to the Ice Cap, getting a small taste of walking on it.

Kangerlussuaq facts

It takes two hours to drive the 25 kilometres to the Ice Cap and point 660. Included in this was several stops and a lunch overlooking Reindeer Glacier, which is a small branch off from Russell Glacier.

This is the land of reindeer and musk oxen and on our way to the Ice Cap, we were lucky to catch sight of a young female reindeer walking close to our truck. Prior to 1941, when the area was used for an American Airbase, the original Inuit population never actually settled down here. but there are excavations showing that the area was used as hunting grounds by Inuits.

It was because of the stable climate that the Americans chose this place as a fuel stop on the way to Europe during WW2. The region is under an inland climate with 300 days of clear weather a year. It is an arctic desert, however difficult it is to imagine this.

The glacier grinds tonnes of rocks into silt, which is just as fine cut as the sand of Sahara. With the dry climate and the massive prevalence of silt, not much can grow in this area.

This however did not stop s couple of extreme entrepreneurs of the 1980’s to build a golf course. It is a desolate and sandy stretch of land as we drive by. The most northern 18 hole golf course in the world. A proof that the 80’s was an entrepreneurial time with lots of optimism and crazy ideas. I was later told that the golf club did a count a few years back of their membership archive and found that they had two active members. I guess that means no waiting around.

Apart from the golf course, the Americans used Kangerlussuaq as a radar station during the Cold War and made scientific investigations of northern light from 1971 to 1987 though the results were far from impressive.

In 1992, after the end of the Cold War, the US sold Kangerlussuaq to Denmark for one dollar. This agreement however stipulated that the airport should for all time have 4 months worth of fuel ready as well as allow the scientific research of the climate by US scientists.

By selling the area to Denmark, the US also left behind a testing ground for explosives. It was swiped once during the initial take over, but due to lack of funds the place was never swiped for unexploded bombs a second time around.

After the discovery by a school class of unexploded grenades in the late 90’s, the area has been off limits, closed as a mine field. It is very odd to drive by signs warning against a mine field in a country such as Greenland. But then there are also signs warning you from flight engine jet blasts and quick sand.

Walking on the Ice Cap

When we reached Point 660, we were given steel frames for our hiking shoes, so that we walked on steel picks. We each carried a walking stick and thus were ready to conquer the vast inland ice.

It was an odd experience to walk in a landscape only made from snow and ice. Everywhere you looked were hills and valleys cut from the melting water and created by the pressure between the ice further inland and the bedrock of the coastal region. We were told that travelling further inland, the ice cape would even out, but here it seemed a crumpled fabric.

In the valleys of the ice were clear blue lakes. Not the turquoise blue of a Greek island, but a truly clear blue, lighting up its surroundings. Melting water was creating rivers and water falls as well as holes deep into the ice sheet.

The ice is a mysterious and dangerous place, and one wrong foot could have dire consequences. Some off these holes made from melting water had been measured to more than 200 meters in depth. At one point we all had to jump over a narrow crevice of which I could not see the bottom.

But apart from a few scrapes from falling with the steel picks, we returned to Point 660 in safe condition. Having walked on the ice cap for four hours, it is even harder for me to understand why anyone would attempt to cross it.

Roklubben

We had booked a table for the weekly Greenlandic buffet at Restaurant Roklubben a little outside Kangerlussuaq. It was a weird experience. A shuttle bus picked us and most of the towns tourists up at 19.00 to drive us the five kilometres to Lake Fergusson. The old bus was darkened by steams of mosquitoes, making it almost impossible to see out the window. I truly felt for the guy on the seat in front of us, who had only shown up in a t-shirt and bare arms. We were covered from head to toe in clothes and mosquito nets, but still managed to get eaten alive. Thankfully we gave as good as we got.

The buffet was supposed to be a culinary experience, but felt more like the buffet at a chain café in provincial Denmark. It wasn’t particularly bad, but it was not particularly good either, and it seemed as if this was what they had dished up with every Saturday for the last 30 years.

I did buy a grouse schnapps made from the food stored in the gizzard of a grouse. It is quite a Greenlandic way to make schnapps, and I look forward to tasting it this Christmas.

Day trip to Russell Glacier

On our final day in Greenland, we’d booked a day trip to Russell Glacier. It was only us the guide and a middle-aged Danish woman, who had been to Greenland several times before.

It was a perfect way to say goodbye. The temperature was reaching 17 °C and the sun was shining. We were going off road to the front of the glacier. The van drove up and down steep hills covered in silt, and at some times it felt as if we would tip over. But it was fun and definitely worth it to almost fall off our seats.

Russell Glacier is approximate 700 meters wide and move 25 meters a year. Al Gore filmed parts of An Inconvenient Truth at Russell Glacier in 2006 and returned last year to show the effect of climate change through the massive changes to the glacier, which had shrunk much further back in the 10 years since.

Whatever the size was before, the glacier is beautiful. It does not have the same romantic appearance as Eqi Glacier, but it feels so much closer.

We spent our last day drinking coffee and eating biscuits at one of the true wonders of this world, a glacier in all its glory.

The only thing we seemed to be missing after two weeks in Greenland was a couple of musk oxen. Having tasted them and having seen so many other of Greenland’s wild life, it was a bit disappointing to not get a glimpse of the musk oxen, we knew were usually grassing across from the glacier.

But as it happens, on our way back our guide stopped the van to point out three dots moving around in the far distance.

And there they were, a family of three. Two grown musk oxen and one calf, which should actually be a kid since musk oxen are related to goats, but who cares. Here they were. We could family tick off the last remaining thing on our list of things to experience in Greenland, and with a few grainy pictures, it was documented.

The rest of the day, we walked around Kangerlussuaq and waited in the airport canteen for our midnight flight. We were going home from one of the most amazing travels of my life, in a world so different from anything we ever saw before. I would not be surprised, if we found ourselves on the Copenhagen flight to Greenland again some day.

Zofka

 

Ilimanaq and the Humpback Whales

While in Denmark people hunt for trophies, in Greenland they hunt for food and because it is such an integrated part of their culture to live off the wildlife.

Not long before we arrived to Ilulissat one of the massive ice bergs blocking the entrance to the Ice Fjord and the Jakobshavn Glacier had come loose from its position leaving an opening for tonnes and tonnes of ice to pass from the Ice Fjord and into Disko Bay before another massive ice berg would block the entrance again.

The Ice Fjord

Jakobshavn Glacier, or Sermeq Kujalleq as it is called in Greenlandic, is one of the most productive glaciers in the world. It moves around 25 meters a day sending 20 billion tonnes of ice into the Ice Fjord each year, which is 70 to 86 million tonnes a day. In other measurements, it is 35 km3 each year. It is 680 meters high and 7.5 kilometres wide. It opens up and deposits its ice in the Ice Fjord just south of Ilulissat.

The Ice Fjord runs 40 kilometres West from the ice sheet to Disko Bay transporting the massive amounts of ice. But since the water at the entrance to the fjord are shallower than further in many of the large ice bergs, which can reach a kilometre in height get stuck in the 300 meter deep entrance over the summer and sometimes for years. Here they block the fjord until they are broken into pieces are pressured out from the forces of continuous ice from the glacier.

Scientists are certain that it was an ice berg from this glacier which caused the 1912 sinking of Titanic. Later data has shown that some of the largest ice bergs can reach as far down as 40-45 degrees north, which is level with New York.

Day trip to Ilimanaq

Because one of the ice bergs had wrestled free from the the shallow waters, Disko Bay was full of ice around the entrance to the Ice Fjord. Some said they had never seen so much ice in the bay before.

This however also had the effect that any trips to Ilimanaq were cancelled since it was impossible for many to sail through the ice. Ilulissat lies to the north of the fjord, while Ilimanaq lies to the south, why one has to sail past the fjord entrance into Disko Bay.

I had been slightly nervous that our trip to Ilimanaq would also be cancelled, but after a week the ice was slowly spreading out allowing for boats to sail to Ilimanaq without having to make a large detour around the ice.

We had seen Qeqertarsuaq and Oqaatsut, and I was looking forward to comparing them to Ilimanaq.

Ilimanaq is slightly bigger than Oqaatsut, and is in Danish known as Claushavn. It lies 15 kilometres south of Ilulissat, but where the people of Oqaatsut can travel by land, the Ice Fjord makes it impossible to get from Ilimanaq to Ilulissat unless by boat. Winters here are therefore very isolated and the transport of goods to the settlement happens by boat in the summer months. During the winter, it is not possible to reach the settlement or with helicopter operated by government contract by Air Greenland.

As with Oqaatsut, the settlement originates from Dutch whalers who were active in the region from 1719 to 1732. The settlement itself is from 1741 and founded by Danes though named after the Dutch whaler Klacs Pieterz Torp.

What makes Ilimanaq interesting in Danish eyes is the missionary work of Poul Egede, one of the first Europeans to grow up in Greenland. Though born in Norway, he moved with his family to Greenland at the age of two, and therefore spoke Greenlandic from childhood. His mission as a Lutheran missionary in Greenland was to find and convert the lost colony of Norsemen. Greenland had been settled by Vikings at the turn of the first millennium, and at a time when Scandinavia was slowly converting to Christianity. Christianity had also reached the Norse settlers in Greenland, but this had been long before the Danish Reformation and break with the Catholic Church. It was therefore paramount to find the colony which it was believed still existed in Greenland and convert them to Lutheran Protestantism.

The colony had long since perished, but while searching for it, Poul Egede and others sent by the Danish king spent their time converting the Inuit population. And for Poul Egede it was a success as he had the advantage of speaking the language and knowing the culture.

In 2014, Realdania beautifully renovated two old colonial houses in Ilimanaq – the old shop and Poul Egedes house.

Lunch in the school teacher’s home

Ilimanaq sees a great many tourists in comparison to other settlements due to its close proximity to Ilulissat as well as its colonial history. Unlike in Oqaatsut, we were far from alone on our visit. But the group we were with was small, and our guide – the owner of Arctic Friend, was well acquainted with the locals of Ilimanaq. Thus, he had arranged for us a local lunch.

There are eight students in the school in Ilimanaq, all of them different ages and all of them requiring to be taught in at different levels within a wide spectre of topics. One school teacher provides the primary education for the children in these first years before they are sent off to the larger cities to continue their secondary high school years.

14 % of Greenlandic children leave their home at around 14 years old, because the settlements where they grew up are not big enough to support more than 7 years of education. Not only that, but these children who have grown up in a settlement of maybe around 50 people, suddenly have to become accustomed to being one amongst 1500 or so school children in a large city such as Nuuk, Sisimiut or Aassiaat.

We got the chance to visit the local school teacher in Ilimanaq, and hear about the life and school in the settlement. She treated us to a local curry fish soup and a Danish layer cake.

We were not the first visitors she and her husband invited into their home. There were a thank you note hanging on the wall from the Danish Prime Minister, thanking the family for inviting him and the EU President Donald Tusk to their home.

Moreover, our guide seemed to be intimately acquainted with the family and could tell us that the husband had received the price for catching most halibut in Greenland during the summer 2016. Outside the house were a pile of what others would consider hunting trophies, but what is merely everyday in Ilimanaq. Whale bards, musk oxen horns, reindeer antlers and much more from the husband’s hunting.

While in Denmark people hunt for trophies, in Greenland they hunt for food and because it is such an integrated part of their culture to live off the wildlife.

The visit gave this day an added feeling of being not merely a tourist, but a guest in this beautiful country and welcomed in the midst of the locals.

The journey of the humpback whales

But we had not merely come to see Ilimanaq. The boat trip south was also shadowing as a whale safari. We had already seen whales up close on our first day, but since then our luck had not been great. Therefore, it was quite surprising how many humpback whales we saw swimming north past Ilimanaq. Small families of whales were slowly making their way up the coast.

We were fortunate to have the company of a Spanish guy, who was an enthusiastic drone pilot.

While I am not very keen on the idea of drones due to their noise and the spying factor, I must admit that it was pretty cool to have the drone spy on the whales. While we only saw a fin or a tail fin, the drone caught the whales playing and feeding.

The below video was made by Joaquin Romera, who was so kind to let me post it here.

Ilimanaq was definitely worth a visit, and the fact that we came with a small and well integrated tour agency with close contacts in the area made the day even more special.

Zofka

Sailing to Oqaatsut – Walking to Ilulissat

They articulated and made understood by their translation app that as Chinese they had sensitive tummies.

I wont even attempt to pronounce the name of this small bygd (Danish name for small Greenlandic village) north of Ilulissat. rust me I have tried with several people looking at me confused. Oqaatsut is within an easy half an hour by boat if the icebergs are not in the way and two hours in the winter by dog sled. Here live 45 people in a small cluster of colourful houses.

History of Oqaatsut

The settlement was as Godhavn originally a whaling station of Dutch origin. The Dutch called it Rodebay, meaning Red Bay and named from how red the waters of the bay became during whaling season. Even today most whales in the Ilulissat area are drawn to land at Oqaatsut due to the natural harbour of the bay.

The place was used as far back as the 17th century by Dutch whalers at which time it got its name Rode Bay, but it was only in the 18th century that it became settled by both Inuit settlers and Dutch whalers. However, in 1876 the Danish King asserted the Danish claim to Greenland, monopolising Greenlandic trade, and in 1877, Oqaatsut was made into a Danish colonial outpost operated by the Royal Greenland Trading Department. Denmark held the monopoly on Greenlandic trade up until 1950 and some might claim that we still de facto are monopolising the Greenlandic import and export of goods.

The slow pace of life in a Greenlandic settlement

My reason for visiting and staying the night in Oqaatsut has been twofold. Partly, I wanted for us to have a chance to relax a bit and simply enjoy the quiet of this vast island. In addition, I wanted a chance to experience the life in a small and remote settlement in Greenland. In Greenlandic terms, Oqaatsut is relatively close to civilization, but for two city dwellers like us it seems hard to imagine something further away from everything than this place.

The settlement is situated 22 kilometres north of Ilulissat, and our plan is to walk back on what should be an easy hike. I’ve been told that it should take us slightly more than three times the time of a dog sled – around 7 hours. But the walk is not until tomorrow morning. For now, we simply have to enjoy the magical peace of this place.

Watch out for the Chinese invasion

While to us this small settlement seems far away it must have felt like a different planet for the two middle-aged Chinese gentlemen sailing with us to the settlement this morning. Knowing no English it seemed a daring adventure for them to travel to Oqaatsut without a Chinese speaking guide.

Our captain on the small open boat admitted that he probably had to keep an eye out for them since they seemed constantly confused and out of place. Communication was difficult, but was helped along by a translation app with which the Chinese could make themselves understood – though barely. The sentences that came out in English were to say the least ridiculously hilarious, but it worked to an extend.

The Royal Greenland Trading Department left behind four buildings, which in the days of the Danish monopoly were storage, cooperage, the settlement’s old shop and the old H8 warehouse. Today, the latter houses Restaurant H8 and upon our arrival I’d arranged with the friendly hostess Charlotte for us to eat there both for lunch and dinner.

We dropped by at 12.30 for our lunch, but soon realised that Charlotte as well as her husband Julien were busy attempting to understand the requirements of the two Chinese gentlemen from the boat.

After a long conversation through the computerised voice of the Chinese translation app, it became apparent that the two Chinese gentlemen were convinced that they could only eat food that was cooked, or as they demonstrated by the way of a candle – boiled. They articulated and made understood by the app that as Chinese they had sensitive tummies. It was hard to keep my face straight with the weird translations and ridiculousness of the situation. I might be insensitive, but it was impossible for me or Charlotte to explain to them that the traditionally smoked and dried fish which was on the menu was quite safe even for sensitive tummies.

To be fair, I would be extremely cautious with food in China considering the food scandals that have come forth in recent years, but the safety regulations of Greenlandic food are higher than in most places.  In the end the Chinese handed over their translation app which politely requested if it was possible to cancel their order. I felt sorry for them, as I enjoyed my own massive Atlantic Salmon Sandwich on home-made ciabatta – and even more so when we caught up with them at the hotel enjoying two pieces of dried toast and a slice of that American burger cheese which comes in plastic wrapping. Poor guys, but at least they got fed.

We spent the day relaxing, and for my boyfriend to get past his illness. While he enjoyed the view from our hotel room, I went on a walk up the hill north of the settlement from where I was blown away by a beautiful view of Disko Bay and the Paakitsup Nunaa highland to the east. Oqaatsut is most favourably located in this eastern corner of Disko Bay.

Walking, walking and then walking some more…

We set out from Oqaatsut later than planned and the clock was near 10 AM as we reached the first orange dot indicating the route we were to follow. I wanted to set a good pace, worrying that 20 kilometres might prove too much for us. But the landscape begged us to slow down and enjoy the wide horizon.

The Green line: Oqaatsut - Ilulissat Walking Route
The Green line: Oqaatsut – Ilulissat Walking Route

For the first stretch we followed the coastline south with the Disko Bay to our right. It was a beautiful vista and I felt as if we were alone travelling through the landscape from the ice ages. It soon occurred to me that that was exactly what we were doing. Greenland succumbs under an ice age and the fauna is Arctic and makes inhabitation difficult. Thus, we were alone in a remote plain with views of massive ice bergs close to an Ice Cap taking up 7% of the world’s fresh water reserve. Apart from my outfit and camera, I could almost imagine myself as Ayla travelling across the tundra of the Euroasian continent at the time of the last big ice age.

As we moved inland and to the east we found the small peninsula closing off the Kangerluarsuk – in English Broad Bay. Here we walked down to the waters edge to look for capelins, known as ammasat in Greenlandic. The shoreline was dotted with fishing shacks and as we moved east along the shores of Broad Bay, we saw locals fishing in the fresh waters of the bay.

It was already late when we reached the small pass between BroadBay and an inner lake feeding into the bay. It became the first of many crossings on rocks over water. As we followed the path south, we had a beautiful view of the bay to our right and the Iviangernarsuit highlands to the left. Reaching the southern shores of Broad Bay, we crossed several rivers, one of which offered us a shackled bridge and another giving me a wet foot. But we made it past and at around 6 PM, we had reached the cape at the southern entrance to Broad Bay called Nuuluk.

We were deadbeat tired and wishing for each bend in the route to give us a view of what we wanted to see the most – namely Ilulissat Airport. When we finally reached it, we had another kilometre to go as we followed a track beside the landing strip. We reached the airport entrance around 7 PM and had the woman at the Air Greenland office call us a taxi. It seemed she was pretty used to meeting odd hikers covered in mosquito bites and dead on their feet. We’d walked the route much slower than average, but we did it, and looking back, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. That evening, I bought an internet connection at the hostel and found the Children of the Earth series by Jean M. Auel on the the Danish library app.

Zofka

Eqip Sermia – the Calving Glacier

It had cleared up from a dull grey cover of clouds in the morning and we were met with a clear blue sky and calm waters which made the reflection in the icy water almost as sharp as the glacier itself.

I have wanted to visit Greenland for years, and I have for almost as long wanted to sleep overnight with a view of Eqi Glacier, one of Greenland’s most stunning glaciers.

In fact, it was close to not succeeding. When I contacted Arctic Friend in January, I was informed that the cabins at Eqi had been booked since October. By some fortune of good luck, it seemed there was only one available cabin left during the entire summer period.

I wanted that cabin, and therefore from I first called Arctic Friend to inquire about a trip to Greenland to having planned and booked the entire vacation only one week passed. Our entire trip was booked around this one availability. But I do not regret this for an instance. On the contrary, it has proven a perfect time to visit Disko Bay.

Disko Island and the view from the Lyngmark Glacier had been stunning and it was weird to imagine anything could surpass this, and it couldn’t – simply because the two cannot be compared. Everything in Disko Bay is so stunningly beautiful that making a ranking would be a ridiculous waste of effort.

But Eqi Glacier is still undoubtedly one of the most beautiful vistas, I have ever enjoyed.

Sailing to Eqi

We were picked up at the office of World of Greenland and taken by bus to the small dock on the other side of Ilulissat Harbour. Here we went onboard alongside thirty lively Chinese tourists. It was the beginning of quite the cultural exploration.

It was a beautiful route up the coast and for large parts of the journey, I was outside taking pictures. Inside the Chinese were having a field day and the cabin soon smelled of strong liquor from their savouring of Gammel Dansk.

When lunch came about, it was a traditional Danish lunch with open sandwiches (smørrebrød), which the guests had to make themselves. It was difficult for the Chinese and French guests onboard to figure out how the lunch buffet items of sliced halibut, fresh shrimps, eggs and much more were to be placed on top a buttered slice of rye bread.

One Chinese guest decided to take the bowl of mayonnaise and started eating from it with a spoon. I suppose that is another way to do it, though it left the rest of us without any mayo for our egg and shrimp open sandwich.

I imagine I would seem just as lost in the Chinese country side, if I was asked to figure out on my own how to prepare my own lunch of traditional dishes.

Close up of Eqi Glacier

After a few hours of sailing we reached the glacier front. It had cleared up from a dull grey cover of clouds in the morning and we were met with a clear blue sky and calm waters which made the reflection in the icy water almost as sharp as the glacier itself.

It is close to impossible to describe the beauty of a place such as Eqi Glacier and the mere fact that we had this view nearly to ourselves overnight was thrilling. But first we sailed close to the glacier front, absorbing the intricate pattern of the icy front. It was clear that large parts would soon fall into the water, but for the hour and a half that we stayed on the boat near the glacier nothing major happened.

A night in the cabin at Eqi

We were only eight people getting off the boat, and it quickly became evident that several of the cabins stood empty without guests. I later discovered that some of the large tourist agencies reserve many of the cabins, making it difficult to book without them. It pissed me off royally, and I must admit that the entire World of Greenland setup is making me extremely sad. They are creating a monopoly on tourism in Greenland, which does not benefit the locals and with the use of inexperienced and underpaid youth workers from Denmark. Of all that we have experienced so far, the only thing that has truly bothered me is the role and presence of World of Greenland.

Eqi Glacier Lodge is owned by World of Greenland, and the area around Eqi Glacier is the only place in Greenland, where it is not allowed to camp out. Simply because World of Greenland has received a monopoly from the Greenlandic state on this slice of heaven.

The place is run by youth workers and their knowledge of Greenland and the area is limited to whatever two hours intensive course they received on their arrival. It feels like a summer camp for children, more than a hotel experience.

But all of this did not minimise the absolute beauty of the place, and though my money went for a tourist agency, I do not wish to support, I do not regret for a moment that we paid the big bucks to sleep overnight at this stunning glacier at the end of the world.

Calvings…

After a night with sunshine over Eqi Glacier we woke to a grey dust of clouds. Though I prefer the blue sky, the clouds enhance the blue colours in the ice, making the the glacier more dramatic.

We did not join in on the shared walk to the moraine. We were weary from the days on Disko Island and preferred to enjoy a late morning and a shorter walk West towards the delta. This we got all to ourselves.

Reaching the delta, I couldn’t help wonder at how insignificant I am as a single human being. Being out here far away from everything disconnected from the rest of society even for just the briefest of moments, it became apparent how small I am in comparison to the nature that surrounded me. It truly feels like standing at the end of the world gazing into the unknown.

After our walk and a lunch at the restaurant Café Victor, we prepared to get the boat back to Ilulissat. We could see the boat as a small dot infront of the massive glacier, and were ready at the dock to board as soon as it came. But Eqi had been talking loudly all morning and massive calvings inside the glacier had sounded in the landscape for hours. It therefore came as no surprise when a massive amount of ice fell of the glacier side and into the water.

I was fortunate enough to catch it on film.

We were quickly pushed back up the hill by the guides before a tsunami of waves swept over the dock. It took half an hour for the waters to calm down again and for the boat to dock.

I cannot imagine a more dramatic  farewell from the beautiful Eqi glacier.

Zofka

Dog Sledding on Disko Island

I can serve you nachos, but you will have to wait a bit for the chicken. It is coming by boat in five days. Nachos without chicken it is then.

Dog sledding is a winter adventure in Greenland reserved for when the snow is new and deep. But there is one place which offers the experience of dog sledding during the Greenlandic summer. That is at Uunartuarsuup Sermia, also known as the Lyngmark Glacier. That this particular glacier allows dog sledding all year is because it is situated approximately 700 meters above sea level on Disko Island 80 km by boat from Ilulissat.

Since there is no knowing when we might return to this beautiful country, I had arranged for a two nights stay at Disko Island, including a dog sledding ride on the Lyngmark Glacier. What we got was so much more.

Disko Island

Disko Island in itself is pretty interesting. Apart from Greenland itself, it is the largest island in Greenland and one of the 100 largest in the world – slightly bigger than Zealand, the capital island of Denmark. It is in geological terms much younger than the mainland and was established some 25-65 million years ago through volcanic activity. Therefore, much of the island consist of steep basaltic mountains. Created from volcanic activity, the island offers a lot of hot springs and a plethora of plants and flowers. It is possible to find more than half of the 500 species of flora which Greenland has to offer on Disko Island, despite its northern position.

The island was first named in the Icelandic Sagas which chronicle Eric the Red’s visit to the island sometime between 982 and 985.

The main town on the island is in Greenlandic named Qeqertarsuaq, which means big island and is the same name as the island. In Danish, the town is known as Godhavn from its good natural harbour, which for centuries offered great whaling opportunities. It lies on the southern tip of Disko Island surrounded by Apostelfjeldet, Lyngmarksfjeldet and Skarvefjellet (Innap Qaqqaa) to the north.

While it has been possible to find traces of paleo-eskimo settlements around Qegertarsuaq dating back 5-6,000 years, the town itself was founded by Danish whaler Svend Sandgreen in 1773. It was the capital of North Greenland from 1782 to 1950

Apart from Qeqertarsuaq, only one small settlement remains on the island, namely Kangerluk situated 35 kilometres northwest of Qeqertarsuaq within Disko Fjord. Here 20 or so people live from hunting and fishing.

From 1924 to 1972, a coal mining town was situated on the north-eastern part of Disko Island. It was established by the Danish state and one of Greenlands largest communities, but after WW2 it was considered unprofitable and in 1968 the Danish Parliament and the Greenland Provincial Council decided to shut down the town. It was definitely closed down in 1972 and the remaining inhabitants forcefully removed. Some argue that the closing of the town was not due to the expensive mining of coal, but because of the strong workers union established there.

Our time in Qeqertarsuaq

Arriving in Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island, one is welcomed by an entrance port created by large jaw bones of a massive whale. It is a stark reminder of the past as well as present focus on whaling in the town. The town itself is quiet and relaxing, but not particularly pretty though the colourful houses make a wonderful contrast to the mountains behind.

One of the central buildings in town is called Vorherres Blækhus, or in English Our Lord’s Ink House, and is the local church. Though I did not get the chance to go inside, the church to me was akin to a Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik. This is the church used in Nissebanden in Greenland for the wedding between Gemyse and Skipper – and yes if your not Danish this reference will mean nothing to you whatsoever, but if you are you’ll instantly start singing Det er risengrød…

We had not had lunch prior to leaving Ilulissat, which was mostly due to me stressing over finding the tourist port in Ilulissat, which to be honest did seem slightly confusing as there are absolutely no signs indicating that you’ve found it.

But for this reason, getting something to eat became a top priority when reaching Qeqertarsuaq, and we quickly made it to the only restaurant in town Restaurant Tamassa, where we got a cheeseburger without cheese and tomato. In the evening we’d booked a table for the same desolate restaurant and was offered a dismal meal of trout in a classic 80s sauce with watery potatoes and carrots. Fortunately, we decided to enjoy a walk through town and made it to the newly opened Blue Café, where we got a very cosmopolitan Chai Latte in the pleasant atmosphere, while a couple at the table beside us enjoyed a game of chess. little did I know that they would be our guides on the following day.

Hiking to the Lyngmark Glacier

We’d been informed on the day of our arrival as we visited the small local agency SikuAput that we would be alone for the trip to Lyngmark Glacier, which weirded us out a little. To be the only reason for a guide to make the hike and stay overnight seemed excessive. As we arrived in the morning we discovered that not only were we alone, but we would be joined by two guides as well as the dog sled owner for our trip. It also worried me that three people would have to wait for my slow ascend for several hours.

But my concerns were soon put to rest and our hike became a fantastic experience both in regards to the natural beauty of the place as well as the possibility of spending time alone with three locals, who not only told us of the island, but also freely told stories of their own childhood as well as shared their opinions and hopes and dreams for Greenland.

Though we are only a few days into our vacation, I have already come to truly value the Greenlandic openness and hospitality. Rarely have I met so friendly and engaging people as the locals in Greenland.

The hike up to the Lyngmark Glacier was rough, and more so than advertised. Sometimes it ascended very steeply, while in some places the snow had yet to melt, so that we had to cross deep rivers of snow. I put my foot and leg through several times, getting snow in my boots.

But it was all worth it. The view was stunning despite a coverage of thin clouds. After three to four hours we reached the glacier where a snow scooter was waiting to take us the last part to one of the two small cabins on top.

Here we were treated to a light and very Danish lunch before a bit of free time. The wind was howling outside so much so that I was almost blown over several times but inside the wooden  cabin it was cosy.

Say hello to Gaddafi

After a Greenlandic dinner of trout and carry sauce, the wind had settled giving way to a clear evening. It was time for meeting the dogs. Dressed all in sealskin we left the cabin to join Atip, the dog sled owner, setting off across the Lyngmark Glacier. It was a rough journey up hill as the snow was too soft but the slow tempo left ample opportunity for taking pictures and enjoying the mountainous landscape encircling us. On top of the hill was a stunning view of the beautiful mountains further inland on Disko Island.

It was absolutely amazing and with the wind gone we could enjoy a break in the massive silence only broken by the happy yelps of the dogs. The nine dogs were beautiful and much more healthy looking than those in the dog areas of Ilulissat and Qeqertarsuaq.

Particularly the nine year old lead dog with the surprising name Gaddafi was in high hoops. Sled dogs are not pets and one should never approach them unless given a green light by their owner. But with Atip’s okay, we got a chance to get close to a very friendly Gaddafi.

The return journey went much faster since it was downhill. The dogs ran quickly across the snow, some of them trying to sneak their way under the ropes in an internal battle for a better position. It was fascinating watching the movement of their behinds with tails straight in the air as they flew across the deep snow.

In March, we rode a camel through the Sahara. To think that only three months later we would be crossing the Greenland snow on a dog sled. To experience two cultures in such different climates, both of them closely connected to the nature that surrounds them, both originating in a nomadic culture where very different animals become a necessity for living.

Comfort-wise and for speed, I definitely preferred the dog sled. It is a trip I will never forget.

Returning to Qeqertarsuaq

On the following morning, the amazing view of Disko Bay and Baffin Bay was gone and instead we looked into a sheet of white as snow fell atop the Lyngmark Glacier. I will admit that I was terrified of the idea that we had to return down during a snowfall, which would only make everything wet and slippery.

However, the return journey was not as scary as I had imagined. Only at the very edge of the Lyngmark Glacier where we walked close to the edge of the mountain with a direct fall was I nervous for a glance. But as soon as we had cleared that section, it was one step at a time slowly moving down, cutting across the sections of snow and finding paths down the side of the mountain. Soon we reached the more comfortable part of the hike while the snow turned into rain and then cleared off, indicating a blue sky over Qeqertarsuaq.

Before we knew it, we were back in town making our way to the Blue Café for a bit of lunch. We were keen to avoid another sad burger at Restaurant Tamassa and we’d noticed previously that the Blue Café offered a plate of nachos with chicken.

You’ll have to wait long for the chicken…

We must have looked pretty weary and dirty entering the Blue Café. My boyfriends feet were wet, and I had mud up the inside of my pants. All we knew to think about was lunch. We asked the waitress for a nachos with chicken – in need of something that wasn’t fish.

“I can serve you nachos, but you will have to wait a bit for the chicken. It is coming by boat in five days” said the smiling waitress to us, showing us a dry sense of humour. Well then, nachos without chicken it is. We ordered our nachos, and spent the next 15 minutes watching the waitress organising for someone to bring the cheese. It seemed they’d run out of cheese too, but this at least could be provided in the town. First a young boy came running with half a bag of shredded mozzarella, and a little later a young man came in with a package of 20 bags of shredded mozzarella. This was when it occurred to me that in the cheddar cheese hasn’t made it to Greenland yet.

We got our nachos with mozzarella and no chicken as well as a toast each and enjoyed the relaxed and local atmosphere of the small café.

After finishing, we made our way to the beach taking a walk a long the shore line. The sand was black and in stark contrast to the small ice pieces which had rolled up unto the beach from the fjord. It was so very different from any beach I’d seen before and the smell of the ocean so much more potent than back home. In Greenland you can really smell the life beneath the surface.

Hours later we caught the boat back to Ilulissat tired and ready to drop, pleased that tomorrow would be a quiet walk around Ilulissat. In the back of the boat an old Greenlandic woman said something to the captain pointing to something in between the icebergs. She’d seen a wounded seal. Without further ado the captain set sail for the iceberg, and true enough a slim seal was lying on the ice flake, colouring it red. The captain took out his massive hunting knife and jumped on to the ice flake in an attempt to kill the seal and end its sufferings, but apparently it was not ready to go yet, and gracefully slipped into the cold deep sea below.

I can’t imagine that a Danish bus driver would stop the bus if he found a wounded animal on the side of the road, much less bring out a massive hunting knife to kill it off. We are so decidedly in Greenland, a land where nature is so much closer than back home.

Zofka