Call of the North (11): Greenland

July 21

The trip to Greenland was ultratouristic. Even so, it was highly memorabile.

A one-day trip, departure at 10am from the local Reykjavik airport with Icelandair, arrival after 2 hours in Kulusuk, Greenland (still 10 am given the time difference), time spent there till 1:30, and back.

After waiting in the wrong bus station for the right bus, I ended up taking a cab to the airport and made it in time. [sigh of relief]

Was a bit nervous as I heard it’s a small plane. Was indeed, but not too small, about 50 seats.

and very stable. I fell asleep of course, as usual, this time against will, and woke up when the destination was already in sight.

The first impression upon exiting the airport was of the fog on the mountains

and of the cold outside. Although Kulusuk is almost on the same latitude as Reykjavik, it is significantly colder (no Gulf stream…). 5 degrees Celsius.

We met the guides, a tall seemingly bored Icelander and a young more enthusiastic German dude. The Icelander was not a Greenland-specialist, and you could tell. The German dude stayed in Greenland for the second summer and was more knowledgeable, but didnt get to speak too much. His role was more keeping tourists together, which this time wasn’t hard, as there were only 2 Swedes, 2 Polish people and myself.

We walked to Hotel Kulusuk

3 stars, all amenities. The coolest thing was the moskito water bag at the entrance.

In summer there are herds of insatiable moskitos, but when they get close to the bag, they see themselves in the convex mirror much bigger, get scared and fly away. 😀

The next stop was at a cemetery. Not too interesting. Much more so was the view from the hill we eventually climbed, from where you could see the village.

Around 300 Innuit people live in Kulusuk. And their dogs, and dogsleds.

They live in a fascinating mix of stone age and 21st century technology. They hunt to live. Completely self-sustaining community, they don’t produce anything in excess, except a few souvenirs. Just that they don’t hunt with a reindeerhorn-topped harpoon, but with iron. And the kayaks (like harpoon, an innuit word given to the world) are not from seal skin any more, but like the ones below.

Fog persisted.

And we reached the village. First stop at the local supermarket, next to the post office.

Then, the souvenir shop, small, few items only.

The more interesting stuff was about to come – they had just shot a polar bear. I thought it was a touristic story they tell us, but then they took us to see the skin.

They have a quota of 20 per year. This is no. 21, and they were allowed to shoot it because it came less than 50m from the village. In that case it is self-defense, given that the polar bear, along with the tiger, are apparently the only animals which see humans as standard meal.

This is seal fat

and this is a seal skin.

which concluded the hunting results of the day.

Next stop, the church

for a short presentation of the icelandic guide. “from the books”, but at least I learned stuff. Greenland has a population of 56000 people (! – Iceland seemed crowded all of the sudden), is under Danish rule for a long time, from about its discovery by then danish vikings around the year 1000 – just that for long periods in history people just forgot about it altogether. The local population, Innuit, was almost exterminated, less by violence than by… common European viruses, such as the flu, for which they had no antibodies! Only around 1970 (!) could they stabilize the situation and managed to beat the diseases! Very few people are left though… the largest island in the world has the population of a small town in Romania…

The next “attraction” was the drum dancer.

I felt a bit awkward to watch the man come in front of us and start to sing just like that:

The atmosphere relaxed though when kids arrived.

They followed the show very attentively, and seemed to know the lyrics

– meaning the old man didn’t just sing rubbish mocking us secretly. Or maybe he did :).

“Kayak” and “hanorak” are Innuit words what made it to the world. The kayak has long been at the centre of the Innuit civilization, so we watched a “kayak show”.

They even hunted small whales from these boats…

The way back to the airport turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences from the entire Northern Trip. Icebergs.

Like with waterfalls, I could watch icebergs minutes in a row without getting bored. They have an elegance I could not have realized from pictures.

And the colors… that turquise reflected in the water,

stunned me.

Sadly we reached the shore pretty fast – I could have navigated a day among those beauties. On the shore, even more sadly, we saw traces of “civilization”:

Remainders of the American military base which functioned here till the ’90s. It was them who built the  Kulusuk airport as well.

There are no streets in Greenland. To reach another village you have to travel by boat or helicopter. Our return plane waited for a helicopter which couldn’t take off from a neighboring village because of the fog. We departed ~3 hours later, but this is nothing special here, as weather makes schedules highly… flexible. Time enough to take some more pictures right outside the airport.

Thinking back, one of the things that impressed me in Greenland was the lack of “tourist harrassment” found in other poor areas of the world. These people live in the harshest environment it probably gets, hunt to live, produce little else, are poor to the bone. Little money, a bit of tourism, that’s it. It seems though friendliness and wealth are not two correlated variables. At the village entrance were some men drinking to something. they invited us to join, but when we kindly refused, no problem, they said “welcome to Greenland” and went on with their business. Those kids kame to see the drum dancer and left as discretely as they came. No “take a picture of me, stranger, and now give me money”, like it happens in other parts of the world.


One more thing – about Global warming – here there is a theory circulating, “local cooling”. if the  water in the glaciers melts, it will cool the ocean around Greenland and Iceland (and who knows, even around Western Europe, as the Gulf Stream becomes thinner and thinner), which will make these places… colder. Meanwhile, two polar bears crossed the 300km from Greenland to Iceland. Although it is said they can swim only 150km @ open sea. They were shot, since they have nothing to feed on in Iceland except… humans. Sad.

People and icebergs were the strongest impressions in Greenland. Then, the surreal landscape, with the fog at sea, sky-blue water and sky, snowy mountains.

My trip was very short and touristic, one of those “to be able to say i’ve been there” things, but even so, I found it fascinating. Came in contact with things and people I had seen only on Discovery Channel-type TV shows.

300km like 300 years away from Iceland, which seems now “crowded” and “urban” – funny how benchmarks change perspectives.

We returned flying above icebergs

which i could unfortunately soon not see very well, because of the fog.

With that I said good bye, Greenland. And good luck!


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