Sarfaq Ittuk Coastal Ferry Trip – Day 6

(From 19 August 2012)

Greetings from 69*13’N  51*06’W.

I am now on Day 6 of my eight-day/seven-night adventure on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry operated by Arctic Umiaq Line that goes up and down the west coast of Greenland between Qaqortoq in the south and Ilulissat in the north.  We have reached the northernmost town on the line, Ilulissat, which means I have now seen all of the ports on this ship’s route (and consequently, most of the towns on the west coast).  I am quite proud to say that I have officially stepped foot in 16 places in Greenland, covering all five regions except for the National Park!  Of course, most of these were for quite short periods of time – a couple of hours at most – but I have at least gotten an initial impression of them.

This has absolutely been an amazing experience because it has been so educational on so many levels, and I would recommend it to every person that comes to Greenland!  The most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen REAL Greenland.  There are, of course, many interpretations of this term, but any time I have heard Greenlanders using it, they are juxtaposing a town to Nuuk.  So I think for Greenlanders it is all about the level of Danish influence.  Also, for me it is related to the level of tourism influence.  For example, a town like Ilulissat may not have a lot of Danish aspects, but the presence of tourists and businesses that cater to tourists does have an impact on the authenticity of the town.

I suppose I sound a bit hypocritical talking negatively about tourism when here I am trying to make a career out of the industry!  But, in my defense, I am concentrating on Sustainable Destination Management, so it is my concern to think critically about the negative effects of tourism on a local community.  Having now seen Greenlandic towns where tourism is in its infancy yet growing, I am inspired to help keep tourism’s negative impact to a minimum and preserve REAL Greenland.

The other thing about this trip that has contributed to my REAL Greenland experience is being in such close contact with the locals.  I realized after the first couple of days that this was so impactful because it was the most I had ever heard the Greenlandic language spoken.  In Nuuk, I really only hear it for a second on the city bus or passing people in conversation on the sidewalk.  Otherwise, I hear Danish at home with my host family as well as at work 99% of the time.  It was a reality check and a little embarrassing to realize that yes, I see Greenlanders every day and live in their country, but no, I never really interact with them for extended periods of time.  Sailing on Sarfaq Ittuk gave me that opportunity.  I met quite a lot of the staff and also passengers.  One woman in particular was very nice and struck up a conversation with me; her name was Magga-Rose.  We even exchanged phone numbers so that we can meet up in Nuuk some time.  Also, the Ship Guide, Linda, from Ilulissat has become a good friend, and I hope to keep in contact with her, too!  I definitely wish I had done this a long time ago!

A final stream of consciousness about REAL Greenland – how would the Greenlanders in Nuuk feel basically being called “Fake Greenland” by comparison?  Perhaps the older members who have moved to Nuuk from elsewhere do not take too much offense, but what about the younger generations who are born and raised in Nuuk?  I wonder, is there any discrimination between people from Nuuk and people from the rest of the country?  It is interesting to consider this sentiment in terms of the only other country that I have lived in and know well – the United States.  There is regional pride in the United States, but unfortunately, I think that conviction and level of identity only comes with political allegiance.

The second most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen a range of community sizes in Greenland.  As I mentioned earlier, I have seen sixteen locations throughout the country thanks to this trip and the Taste of Greenland trip.  I really feel now that I have quite a good overall impression of the inhabited portions of Greenland.  I have seen extremely small settlements such as Oqaatsut with 40 residents… small settlements such as Qeqertarsuatsiaat, Kangaamiut, and Arsuk with less than 500 residents… towns such as Uummannaq, Aasiaat, Maniitsoq, Paamiut, Narsaq, and Qaqortoq with 1,000 – 3,000 or so residents… airport towns such as Qaarsut, Kangerlussuaq, and Kulusuk… larger towns such as Ilulissat and Sisimiut with 5,000 residents… and of course, the big city of Nuuk with 16,000 residents.

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Sarfaq Ittuk Coastal Ferry Trip – Day 2

(From 15 August 2012)

Greetings from 60*43’20”N  46*02’25” W.

I am on Day 2 of my eight-day/seven-night adventure on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry operated by Arctic Umiaq Line that goes up and down the west coast of Greenland between Qaqortoq in the south and Ilulissat in the north.  We have reached the southernmost town on the line, Qaqortoq.  The whole trip from end to end is actually only 80 hours (3 nights) but I am doing the equivalent of two full trips.  My itinerary is:

  •  Tuesday 14 August at 13.00 – board ferry in Nuuk (middle point, headed southbound)
  • Wednesday 15 August at 23.59 – arrive in Qaqortoq (southernmost point)
  • Thursday 16 August at 07.00 – depart Qaqortoq (headed northbound)
  • Sunday 19 August at 13.00 – arrive in Ilulissat (northernmost point)
  • Sunday 19 August at 16.30 – depart Ilulissat (headed southbound)
  • Tuesday 21 August at 07.30 – disembark ferry in Nuuk

I am on board Sarfaq Ittuk to conduct interviews with tourists so this is a business trip, but as this is a brand new experience for me (like almost everything else in Greenland), it is hard not to have fun while doing it!  Every five minutes I look out the window and see something that I want to run up to the deck to photograph!

For instance, this morning it was foggy almost the whole way from Paamiut to Arsuk, but in Greenland even the fog can be captivating!  In the morning, I stood on deck at the back of the ship for close to an hour because I simply could not pull myself away.  The only word to describe the feeling was eerie!  I was the only one out there, and the fog was so thick and enveloping that you could hardly see 100 meters (300 feet or so) past the ship.  You certainly could not see land even though it was just right there!  The only sounds were the constant hum of the ship and the rhythmic sloshing of the waves.  Sarfaq Ittuk means the sound the current makes against the boat, so I would say the ship has the perfect name!  Every now and then a large iceberg would go silently by, although most were very small and almost transparent, as if only a few more hours needed to pass before they melted and disappeared completely.  The best part about the morning was a fantastic fog bow over the water.  Now, I have been told a time or two that I have a wild imagination, but I couldn’t help getting lost in a daydream while standing out on the deck.  I was one of the last humans on the planet, and there was just the water, the fog, and the fog bow.  And me!  There was no concept of time or space or anything, and I was not specifically on a boat or in the water.  I was just… there.

This whole experience of life on a ship and coming into ports that I have never seen before makes me feel a little bit like an explorer from a time past!  What must the Icelandic Vikings and other explorers have thought when they saw Greenland for the first time?  When they discovered that people lived all along the coast here?  I must admit that it was a cruise tourist who said something in an interview to make me think about this perspective.  He said that he prefers to see a country for the first time by ship rather than by airplane because it is a different understanding.  He could not quite articulate what he wanted to say, but I think he must have shared my same sentiment of exploration!

My room on Sarfaq Ittuk is very nice; I have my own personal Cabin on the third deck close to the Café Sarfaq.  It is quite like a simple hotel room but with a more efficient use of space.  This is a ship, after all!  When I first walked into the room, I had a strong sense of nostalgia.  The room felt just like the cabins on the Amtrak Auto Train that I took several times as a child with my family between Northern Virginia and Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  As a child, the first thing I wanted to do on the train was see what was behind every door, flick all the switches, and test all the features!  I had to resist the urge to do all of that when I got on board Sarfaq Ittuk!  The beds stow during the day to create a nice seating area; there is a little table for playing cards as well as a desk; the bathroom is compact but functional; and there are multiple electrical outlets and even wireless internet for purchase!  All in all, not the worst way to spend seven nights!

Tips for Tourists in Greenland

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Here you will find a lot of useful information about clothing, Internet/communications, transportation, language, food pricing, etc. in Greenland (in that order). It is a continual work in progress, and you are quite welcome to leave a message at this blog post with any questions or comments about these topics and others 🙂

I try to consider both tourists and people moving/staying for a while, but much of the information is applicable for everyone.

CLOTHES IN GREENLAND

* Bring items that are durable and have plenty of life left in them. Don’t come to Greenland with clothing that may not make it for the duration of your trip, i.e. jeans, shoes, etc. It’s not that replacing the items is hard, just that it is quite expensive to do so! While it may not be your thing to buy new items before a trip if you already have them, you would be wise to do it anyway if you have any doubt about their lifespan!

* Bring windproof and rainproof outerwear. Definitely bring a good jacket and a pair of pants that are wind- and rain-proof. They will come in handy both on the water for boat trips but also (and maybe more so) on land. The rain itself is not anything out of the ordinary, but rain plus wind makes for the potential to have very wet and uncomfortable clothing!

* Bring sturdy, supportive, and resilient footwear. Most people wear hiking boots or heavy-duty sneakers around town, and if you are going sailing or plan to be in wet areas, waterproof boots (wellies?) are best. If you are buying new shoes prior to your trip, I would highly recommend spending the extra money for a nice pair rather than skimping for something cheap. The worst-case scenario is that you must purchase new shoes in Greenland. As I mentioned before, it will probably be no problem to replace them, but it will be expensive.

* Bring many socks! For one thing, it’s just good to have extras, especially if you will be doing hiking or other outdoor activities. Nothing is worse than sitting in damp socks! For another thing, if you will be staying in or visiting a private home (for example, for Kaffemik or to visit a friend), the custom is to take your shoes off at the door and go around in your socks.

Funny story: I made the silly mistake once of wearing shoes without socks to Kaffemik. When I got to the door and saw all the other guests’ shoes lined up outside, I suddenly realized that I didn’t have socks on! So I ran home real quick to get socks! Fortunately I lived just across the street 🙂

* Bring clothing / accessories for many weathers. Layers are your best friend. The climate in Greenland is a bit tricky because there is very low humidity. What the forecast says and what the air temperature feels like can be two very different things. With no wind, it usually feels much warmer than it is. But if the wind picks up (and it probably will), it quickly starts to feel cold.

Basically, be prepared for many temperatures, many weathers, etc. Use multiple thin layers rather than a few thick layers to regulate your body temperature easily. Keep breathable, non-cotton materials close to your body; layer heavier knit/woven materials on top; always have windproof and waterproof outer layers available. And always have a pair of gloves and a hat available, even in summer.

* Check the weather. Make it a habit to check the weather daily, paying attention to temperature, wind, and precipitation. For one of the most comprehensive weather forecasts for towns and villages in Greenland, see Denmark’s Meteorological Institute – Town Weather.

COMMUNICATIONS / INTERNET IN GREENLAND

* AC Plug: You will need the 2-prong plug typical for continental Europe. It is the same for Iceland and Denmark, Greenland’s two largest connection points.

* Make an Internet game plan. You must pay for Internet in Greenland, and you must pay a lot, so you should decide before your trip whether you need/want to use the Internet or not. You can purchase Internet via wi-fi hotspots or, if you have a smartphone, you could use its data capabilities. (See next bullet.)

Cafés, hotels, airports, etc. use wi-fi hotspot systems in which you purchase a set amount of time (30 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hour, 24 hour) and you receive a unique log-in code and password to use. MOST times you are able to meter the time by logging in and out – for example, use 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, etc. But I have found a few places in Greenland that do not allow metering.

The best rate for Internet I ever encountered was 3 hours of Internet (metering allowed) for 120 DKK (22 USD).

Know your phone’s international capabilities before you leave home. Is it unlocked for use with a local SIM card?  What are the international fees for calling, texting, and data usage? Does it make sense for you to buy a cheap phone for Greenland specifically?

For someone staying in Greenland for a short period, it might make the most sense to use your smartphone (if you have one) and purchase an international data plan via your home carrier. For reference, my international plan via Verizon Wireless is 30 USD for 100 MB of data, plus calling and texting. Every additional 100 MB of data is 25 USD, and it charges automatically.

For someone staying in Greenland for a long period, it might make sense to get a phone with a Greenlandic number, but be aware that probably only the larger towns will have places to buy such a setup (Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Qaqortoq are my best guesses). A cheap one can be 490 DKK (84 USD) for the phone and 400 DKK (68 USD) for the SIM card, which comes pre-loaded with a call/text allowance called Tusas. It’s like a debit system for outgoing calls/texts, and incoming calls/texts are free.

General pricing for outgoing calls/texts:

  • Outgoing Local daytime call price (per minute, 7:00-18:00) 1.75 dkk = 0.30 USD
  • Outgoing Local evening call price (per minute, 18:00-07:00) 1.23 dkk = 0.20 USD
  • Outgoing Call tax (one time, per call) 0.15 dkk = 0.02 USD
  • Outgoing SMS price (per 160 character message) 0.33 dkk = 0.06 USD

So, the original SIM card purchase comes with approximately 114 minutes of outgoing calls or 567 outgoing SMS’s.

I personally use 2 phones when I am in Greenland, an iPhone 4S with an American phone # and a cheap Nokia phone with a Greenlandic phone #. I use the iPhone for calls/texts to people in the United States and for Internet usage away from home/office, and I use the Nokia phone for calls/texts to people in Greenland. Simple!

GROUND TRANSPORTATION IN GREENLAND

It is very easy to use the bus system in Greenland. There are buses in Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Kangerlussuaq. Nuup Bussii (Nuuk’s bus system) is of course the largest.

In towns and villages without bus systems, you must either walk or use Taxi transportation.

A single ride costs 15 DKK (2.50 USD), and you pay with cash on the bus. Keep your ticket stub because it is valid for unlimited rides for up to 1.5 hours. It is easiest to pay with exact change, and I’m quite certain the bus driver will not accept a bill larger than 500 DKK.

In Nuuk, there are many routes that reach all parts of town, including city center, Nuussuaq neighborhood, the airport, and Qinngorput neighborhood (the new development approximately 5 km/3 mi outside city center). In general, buses run from 6 in the morning until midnight, and they reach any given stop twice an hour. Always consult the Schedule/Route Map for your specific needs. It is available online, and it is posted at every bus stop.

For someone staying in Greenland for a long period, there is the option of purchasing an 11-ride per month card or an unlimited ride per month card. It can only be purchased at the Nuup Bussii headquarters. It makes financial sense to get a card if you anticipate using the bus a lot because there is a slight price break and it is, of course, easier than finding change every time.

For transportation to Greenland, see How to Get to Greenland.

LANGUAGE IN GREENLAND

Greenland is a multi-lingual country. Greenlandic (called Kalaallisut) is the official mother tongue, Danish is the official second language, and English is a third language that children begin learning in the 4th class.

* Language can be a tricky topic. Without going into many details about history and politics, language in Greenland is not clear-cut. There are Greenlanders who are fluent in Greenlandic, Danish, and English. There are others who only know Greenlandic & Danish or Danish & English, and there are others who only know Greenlandic.

* From my personal experience, there are three very general trends regarding language proficiency.

  1. The larger the town, the more likely people are to be bilingual (Greenlandic & Danish or Danish & English) or trilingual (Greenlandic, Danish & English).
  2. The people that have consistent contact with tourists are more likely to be trilingual. This is a broad range of people from guides to restaurant bartenders/servers to airline staff, and so on.
  3. Many people are even proficient in a fourth language. Due to the closeness of the Danish language to other Scandinavian languages, this is typically Swedish and Norwegian. German is another common one!

Signs are most commonly posted in Greenlandic and Danish. As a very general rule: signs are posted in Greenlandic and Danish always and in English sometimes. See my extensive photo gallery of signs around many towns in Greenland for a good idea.

* There are Greenlandic language learning resources available. Here I will give general tips regarding language according to your trip purpose to Greenland, your mother tongue, and your motivation to pick up a foreign language. Below, I will simply list the Greenlandic language learning resources that I am personally familiar with. Others may exist.

The vast majority of Greenlandic language learning resources are produced in Danish.

    • For those traveling to Greenland for a short period (i.e. tourists).
        • For Danish speakers. If foreign language is not your thing, all signs, menus, etc. are posted in Danish so you will not have any problems getting along in Greenland. But if you want to pick up Greenlandic for fun, there is a Greenlandic-Danish dictionary (available online and in smartphone app form) that you can use. There is also a DVD set and a workbook available. See below for both.
        • For non-Danish speakersAs a very general rule: signs are posted in Greenlandic and Danish always and in English sometimes. (See my extensive photo gallery of signs around many towns in Greenland for a good idea.) But don’t worry – spoken English is much more common than written English. If foreign language is not your thing, my honest suggestion for reading signs, etc. that are not available in English is to have a translator tool on hand (for example, Google Translate). It will be easiest for you to do Danish-English or Danish-Your Language because the Danish language separates noun and verb words. In Greenlandic, it can be hard to pick out the nouns and verbs because it is a polysynthetic language and looks different from anything you have probably seen before. But if you want to pick up Greenlandic for fun, there is a Greenlandic-English DVD set available. See below. Or you can use the Greenlandic-Danish dictionary (online or smartphone app) or workbook. You will have to use a translator tool to supplement both of these.
    • For those traveling to Greenland for a long period (i.e. moving/staying a while). Coming soon.
        • For Danish speakers.
        • For non-Danish speakers.

List of Greenlandic language learning resources:

  1. Greenlandic-Danish dictionary, called “Ordbogit”. Produced by Oqaasileriffik (Greenland Language Secretariat). Available online and in Smartphone App form.
  2. Greenlandic-English or Greenlandic-Danish DVD called “Learn Greenlandic with Per Langgård“. Produced by Oqaasileriffik. Available online, and I have also seen it in Atuagkat bookstore in Nuuk.
  3. Greenlandic-Danish workbook called “Qanoq: Opgave- og Grammatikbog” by Helene Brochmann. I have seen it in the bookstore in Sisimiut and in Atuagkat bookstore in Nuuk.
  4. Language Center in Sisimiut, called Oqaatsinik Pikkorissarfik. Provides intensive classroom courses in Greenlandic.
  5. Private Language Courses by Katrine Andersen at Katri.gl.

FOOD IN GREENLAND

This topic is a work in progress, but as a start, here’s a very random list of various foods prices at the grocery store or fresh market. Prices are converted DKK to USD. Please note: the exchange rate will, of course, change constantly, but these prices can give a general idea of the cost of groceries in Greenland.

For this week’s up-to-date information on food/groceries in Greenland, the two grocery stores chains, Pisiffik and Brugseni, post their Weekly Specials flyers online. You will have to convert DKK to your own currency, of course 🙂 test.

Pisiffik – Click on “Tilbudsavis” (Specials Flyer), then “Denne Uges Avis” (This Week’s Fyler).

Brugseni – Click on PDF icon that says “Uge 30” or “Uge 31” etc. (Week 30, Week 31)

* Prices for Greenlandic products (ex: reindeer, muskox, ptarmigan, sea mammals, fish, etc.) are set by the individual municipalities when sold at independent markets like Kalaaliaraq in Nuuk or Qimatulivik in Sisimiut. The prices of Greenlandic products in the Meat section below represent Qeqqata Kommunia, the Arctic Circle Region municipality.

MEAT

Steak 176 dkk/kg = $14.72/lb

Chicken breast 88 dkk/kg = $7.36/lb

Pork chops 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Fresh Reindeer 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Dried Reindeer 400 dkk/kg = $33.46/lb

Fresh Muskox 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Dried Muskox 400 dkk/kg = $33.46/lb

Snow hare 150 dkk each = $27.61 each

Ptarmigan 65 dkk each = $12 each

Fresh fish (cod, redfish, trout, salmon, capelin, halibut) 45-60 dkk/kg = $3.74-$5.02/lb

Smoked fish (trout, salmon, halibut) 180 dkk/kg = $15.06/lb

Lumpfish roe (Stenbider rogn) 60 dkk/kg = $5.02/lb

Fresh Whale meat (various species) 45-55 dkk/kg = $3.76-$4.60/lb

Whale mattak (various species) 100-250 dkk/kg = $8.37-$20.91/lb

Seal, various species (meat & organs) 45-60 dkk/kg = $3.76-$5.02/lb

PANTRY

Rugbrød 28 dkk for a loaf = $4.75 for a loaf

Wild Rice 35 dkk for 1000 g = $6.44 for 35 oz

Whole grain cereal 45 dkk for 375 g = $8 for 13 oz

Müsli 28 dkk for 1000 g = $5.15 for 35 oz

Fusili pasta 11 dkk for 500 g = $2 for 18 oz

Pasta sauce 17 dkk for 480 g jar = $3.12 for 17 oz jar

Wasa crackers (Delikatess, Frukost) 22 dkk for 285 g = $4 for 10 oz

Raisins 20 dkk for 300 g = $3.68 for 10.5 oz

Canned beans 17 dkk for 250 g = $3.13 for 9 oz

Marmelade 15 dkk for 400 g = $2.75 for 14 oz

Specialty Pesto sauce 14 dkk for 130 g = $2.58 for 4.5 oz

Pickwick tea bags 22 dkk for a box of 20 = $4 for a box

DAIRY

Yogurt 21 dkk for 1000 g = $3.87 for 35 oz.

Specialty yogurt (Icelandic Skyr) 30 dkk for 500 g = $5.52 for 17.6 oz

Sliced cheese 29 dkk = $4.91 for a pack

Large wedge Parmigiano Reggiano 50 dkk = $8.41 for a wedge

Cheese with Herbs 18.25 dkk for 114 g = $3.36 for 4 oz

FRESHIES

Apples 4 dkk each = $0.75 each

Bag onions 15 dkk = $2.52 for a bag

FROZEN

Mushrooms 22 dkk for 400 g = $3.70 for 14 oz

Haricot Vert Green Beans 22 dkk for 700 g = $4 for 25 oz

Peas 25 dkk for 400 g = $4.20 for 14 oz

Chopped Spinach 13 dkk for 450 g = $2.40 for 16 oz

ALCOHOL

White wine 39 dkk for 200 ml = $6.56 for 8 oz bottle

White wine 89 dkk for 750 ml = $15 for 25 oz bottle

Royal Summer beer 102 dkk for 6 pack = $17 per 6 pack, or $2.83/beer)

Beer & soda bottle deposit 2 dkk per bottle (refundable) = $0.33 per bottle – Greenland imports almost all of its beer and all of its soda, but it bottles the beverages locally.

Beer at a Bar 40 dkk for 200 ml = $6.80 for 6.75 oz (or $1/oz)

Beer at a Bar 75 dkk for 400 ml = $12.75 for 13.5 oz (or $0.94/oz)

Beer at a Bar 98 dkk for 600 ml = $16.70 for 20 oz (or $0.84/oz)

TOILETRIES

Nivea shower gel 51 dkk for 750 ml bottle = $8.63 for 25 oz bottle

Tampons 37 dkk for box of 20 = $6.26 for box of 20

Generic shampoo 12.45 dkk for 750 ml bottle = $2.11 for 25 oz bottle

Disposable razors 12.5 dkk for bag of 4 = $2.12 for bag of 4

KAFFEMIK IN GREENLAND

Kaffemik is a fun gathering of friends and family to celebrate birthdays, births, graduations, new homes, and other milestones! The person of honor hosts at his or her own home and provides coffee, tea, cakes, sweets, bread, and oftentimes Greenlandic specialities like reindeer, muskox, whale, seal, fish, etc. Kaffemik events are extremely common and can happen any day of the week, but they are most common on weekends when many people are free. The entire event typically lasts for multiple hours, but guests usually only stay for a short visit.

Should you be invited to Kaffemik, these are some general guidelines to being a delightful guest. Please note, some tour companies do offer Kaffemik as an activity. In this case, the gift is not necessary. Please consult the tour company with any questions.

  • Always take your shoes off before entering the person’s home (so wear socks!).
  • Taste as many of the cakes and food as possible! They are delicious!
  • Only stay a short while – enough time for a couple cups of coffee, say – so to give others the chance to take a seat and enjoy also.
  • Bring a gift for the person of honor – something around 50-100 DKK worth (9-17 USD) is nice.

July Update

I am finding myself quite dumbfounded that it has been an entire month since I last wrote about my experiences in Greenland! To me, it feels like just last week that I was in North Greenland. So I suppose this post will have to cover the gamut of my July experiences. I am actually sort of kicking myself for falling behind in writing because there’s no way I could possibly recall and write about everything that I would have written about in real time. But here goes my best attempt to pick up where I left off…

~ ~ ~

On 1 July 2012, coming home to Nuuk from Ilulissat I was delayed by a day due to foggy weather. I was not upset but rather a little anxious to get home at that point.  Despite being amidst the beauty of North Greenland, experiencing life above the Arctic Circle, and seeing places that only a fraction of the world has seen… the fact remains that I lived out of a suitcase for thirteen days, changed hotel rooms six times, and desperately just wanted to be home in my own space!

There is an old adage that says: Every cloud has a silver lining, and the flight delay was no exception. If my flight had not been delayed, then I never would have had the opportunity to go sailing into Nûp Kangerlua, the Nuuk Fjord! As I was sitting in the Ilulissat Airport waiting to board my flight to Nuuk, I found myself in conversation with the nice man sitting next to me.  We sat next to each other on the airplane, as well, and as the conversation went on, it became clear that this was no ordinary Greenlander with whom I was talking – this was Jens Frederiksen, the Deputy Premier of Greenland and also the Minister for Housing, Infrastructure, and Transport!  And not only did I get to talk to him for thirty minutes but also he invited me to go on a sailing trip he was leading for a tourist group the very next day!  You bet I will accept that invitation!

~ ~ ~

So on 2 July 2012, instead of facing the reality of the first day back at my desk after two weeks of gallivanting around North Greenland, I sailed all the way to the bottom of the Nuuk Fjord where the glacier Narssap Sermia lies!

I was very curious to see what the Nuuk Ice Fjord would look like after coming directly from Ilulissat, known as the iceberg capital of the world and whose very name MEANS “icebergs”! And to be honest, from my three weeks’ experience in Nuuk, I actually would not have even associated icebergs with Nuuk in the summertime.  From my desk at work, which has an unobstructed view of the mouth of the fjord from the Colonial Harbor, the water is completely blue with very few icebergs floating past.  In hindsight, I now realize that this was because it was not yet warm enough and not enough time had passed for them to reach that point.  Now, as I write this post on 5 August 2012, there are many more icebergs to be spotted.

So we sailed as far into the fjord as possible. Once the ice got to be too difficult to navigate, we stopped, turned off the engine, and just listened…

At first it sounds like silence but actually that is only the rare absence of human-made sounds that you are noticing. After a moment, you realize it is not silent at all!  You can hear the water sloshing against the side of the boat and against icebergs; you can hear the icebergs creaking and popping as oxygen slowly releases from them; you can hear the flapping of seabirds’ wings as they fly overhead; you can hear the glacier calving which sounds like a distant thunder rumble.  Jens said, “This is what it sounds like when we are not here.”

After having a nice lunch of bread with Greenlandic ingredients (lamb, reindeer, muskox, halibut, salmon) we headed back toward Nuuk.  Along the way we stopped at Qornoq, an old abandoned settlement that is now used as a summer weekend getaway spot.  Greenlanders lived year-round in Qornoq until the 1970’s, when they had to move to larger towns such as Nuuk and Maniitsoq because it was too difficult and expensive for ships to continue to make food and material deliveries to them.  The settlement is very nice and quiet.  We did not see any people there except for one woman who was down by the shore with her dog waiting for friends to arrive.  In fact, they did arrive while we were still there, and it looked like a very happy reunion!

On the way back to Nuuk, we also sailed past what is called Bird Mountain because in the summer thousands of seabirds make their nests on the steep cliffs.  There were quite a few birds when we sailed by, but I would not say thousands.

The final stop was sailing past the Sermitsiaq glacier, which is on the northeast side of the mountain.  Sermitsiaq is the symbol of Nuuk and is visible from practically every vantage point in the city!  The face that you see from town is the southwest side, though, so it is not possible to see the glacier from town.  In fact, I did not even know there was a glacier on Sermitsiaq!

All in all, it was a fantastic day on the water and I could not have asked for a better welcome back to Nuuk!

Here is a map of our highlight spots. (A) is Nuuk, the start and finish point; (B) is Narssap Sermia, the glacier at the bottom of the fjord; (C) is Qornoq, the abandoned settlement; and (D) is Sermitsiaq.

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On 8 July 2012 I went sailing/fishing with two members of my host family, Pia and Ulrik, as well as four others! The downstairs neighbor/friend Katja, Katja’s baby named Smilla, Katja’s friend named Julie, and Julie’s baby named Karl also came along! The destination for this trip was northeast into Nûp Kangerlua to a place called Qôrqut, a well-known spot to fish for both Rødfisk (redfish) and Torsk (cod).

It was a bit rainy, but that did not stop anyone from fishing, least of which the new moms on the trip!  Katja and Julie both had these great baby carrier frame backpacks where the baby is strapped into a seat and goes along for the ride! Another cool feature of the backpack is that when you are not wearing it, the frame can fold in a way that it can stand up on its own, just like a highchair!

 

The trip was quite successful! Between five adults, we managed to fill up an entire tub with Rødfisk and Torsk. I am not sure who caught the most fish – it might have been Julie, actually; at one point she pulled up five on her line at one time! I should mention that we did not fish with poles but rather we fished with rectangular-shaped handheld spools that you have to manually wind the line around. I am proud to report that I caught my very first fish on this trip! In total, I think I caught three maybe four fish – all Torsk. One was pretty large but the others were smaller. I guess now I can join that club where you sit around and tell tall tales about the biggest fish you ever caught! One funny thing is that anytime somebody’s line gets caught on the rocks, you say that they “caught Greenland”!

We cleaned the fish right on the boat, and then sailed home to cook up fresh-caught Fish and Chips! I am not sure I have ever eaten fresher fish!

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Between 9 July and 19 July 2012 I plant- / cat- / house-sat for a man named Salik who lives in another part of town called Nussuaq. I actually really valued that time because it gave me an alternative perspective of Nuuk than what I have living in Qinngorput.  For one thing, it is closer to town. Where Qinngorput is the furthest neighborhood from town, Nussuaq is the halfway point, more or less.

For another thing, Nussuaq is an older part of town, built in the late 1970’s, so the housing style and population size is different. There are many of the traditional colorful freestanding houses, and Wikipedia says about 6,000 people live in that area. On the other hand, Qinngorput started popping up in the mid 1990’s but most quickly in the 2000s, and most of the housing is taller five-story or taller apartment buildings. Because it is a newer part of town, it is home to only a couple hundred people at the moment, although that is all changing! Qinngorput is the fastest-growing neighborhood in Nuuk and could potentially house up to 10,000 people! This is Qinngorput housing (note that this picture is from late May 2012, and all that snow on the mountain, Stor Malene, has since melted):

Also, the landscape is quite different in Nussuaq. It is much more rocky and the houses are pretty much built right into the sides of the hills. Salik’s house was like this, and actually sitting in the living room looking out, you cannot see anything but the side of the hill! In the evenings when the fog would come in, it was quite eerie but cozy – the fog would literally just engulf the house! On the other hand, everything feels wide open and vast in Qinngorput, particularly in the building I live because it is right on the water.

 

I met Salik only because he is friends with Anders, my supervisor at work, who knew that Salik was looking for somebody to take care of his cats and plants while he was away. Anders asked if I liked animals, I said, “Of course I do!” and the rest was history! I actually consider Salik a good friend in Nuuk because we have spent many hours talking about Greenlandic culture and language! He is the only person I have found so far (other than my host family, of course) who has been willing to talk to me that much! Also, he is very encouraging for me to learn the Kalaallisut language!

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On 14 July 2012, I went to a birthday party for Katja, the downstairs neighbor and friend. This was really fun because I got to meet her friends, which were mostly Danish women in their late 20’s or early 30’s. I did not realize it until that day, but young Danes are members of the community that I feel like I do not come in contact with that frequently. If I think about the young people I see around town, Greenlanders are who come to mind most. In fact, when I first walked into Katja’s apartment, I remember thinking, “Where do you guys hide out!?”

Most of the day was spent on the balcony because it was a really hot day, and I think we all got sunburns! We spotted a whale out in the fjord; one of the girl’s boyfriends was inspired to go swimming and he actually did jump into the water that could only have been a few degrees above freezing! And of course we feasted on delicious food from the barbeque and ate homemade cupcakes and birthday cake!

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On 15 July 2012, my host family and I went on another fishing trip with the wonderful company of Katja, baby Smilla, and Katja’s husband named Angutivik. This time we went southeast to a place called Eqaluit Paarliit specifically in search of Ørred, which some people call Trout and others call Arctic Char. They are both members of the salmon family.

 

Since this is a type of fish that you find best in the rivers that spill down the mountain into the fjord, we had to drop anchor and row the inflatable lifeboat to shore. We walked along the shore with our fishing poles a short distance to the river and set up shop.

This was my first time fishing with a pole (since last time we used the spools that just drop the line straight down), and I have to say, it was pretty addicting! I really liked the motion of casting the line!! Unfortunately, I got a LOT of practice at it because nothing was biting at all! After making more attempts at a different spot, we finally decided to just row back to the boat and try deep-water fishing. Also, Angutivik and Ulrik set out a net to try to catch some fish that way. In the end, we got a few fish in the net, which at least provided us dinner for the night! Steamed ørred over brown rice!

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On 18 July 2012, Pia and Ulrik left for four weeks of holiday. Well, first they did some work in an East Greenland settlement called Ittoqqortoormiit, and then they went to their summerhouse in Denmark. So this has been my first time “alone” in Greenland, but it has been just fine. I am taking care of the family dog named Kasik, and he has been a lot of company and given me a reason to get out of the house more!

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25 July 2012 marked the halfway point of my time in Greenland – nine weeks down and nine weeks to go! I cannot believe so much time has passed already, and even now as I write this post, 10.5 weeks have gone by! I had originally thought that July would go by pretty slowly because of my host family and coworkers being on holiday, and because of Sharon, my fellow American intern and friend, being away on a business trip, as well… but no, July went by just as fast as June did! I think there is also probably no hope for August going slowly as everyone in the office is returning from holiday and I am doing a last-minute scramble for my project at work, the 2012 Summer Visitor Survey which closes at the end of August.

I actually got to spend my Halfway Mark Day doing fun things around town! Visit Greenland hosted a German journalist that week, and 25 July was my day to take him around town to his various interviews.  One of the people he interviewed was Jörg-Erich Sennhenn, the brewmaster at the local brewery, Godthaab Bryghus. We got to tour the facility and also taste a new recipe straight from the fermentation tank!

 

Another cool thing we did was meet Robert Holmene, a local artist, who took us to the Kusanartuliat, the craft house where local people make handicrafts such as tupilaks, jewelry, and artwork. It is a very plain building, and you would never know it was there unless a local took you! Inside there were probably ten people hard at work polishing stones, bones, and wood and carving them into beautiful masterpieces!

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27 July 2012 was a big day for Greenland – the first mall ever to exist opened in Nuuk, called Nuuk Center! This is something that I had been hearing about since I got to Greenland. A lot of the stores that previously had storefronts along the pedestrian street in city center (Imaneq Aqqutaa) closed their locations in order to move into Nuuk Center. All the stores had massive closing sales and then of course with the new opening, everyone had massive opening weekend sales, too! Nuuk Center was definitely the place to be that day!

There are a handful of nice clothing stores (in particular, I like Nønne.net and Torrak Fashion), nice cafes (Café Mamaq, Pascucci Corner), and a huge grocery store, Pissifik. This grocery store really is on the same level as Wegmans, a grocery store on the East Coast of the United States. The produce selection is very diverse, there are many aisles of pantry items, and the meat section is all nicely organized according to protein type. The real kicker is that there is an impressive “market” section with a butcher counter, a baked goods counter, and a cheese and charcuterie counter! I have already been there twice to get lunch!

This day also kicked off the Olympics with the Opening Ceremony, an event that Sharon had been greatly anticipating for weeks!  She was nervous that she would not get coverage of it at her apartment because she only gets a few television channels, so we did an Olympics party at my apartment! We made Reindeer Quesadillas, drank red wine, ate Haribo candy, and settled in for the evening. I think Sharon was probably the most excited person in Nuuk for the Olympics to begin! It did not seem like anybody else in town was especially excited – probably because Greenland does not compete, and there may be just one Greenlander who competes on the Danish team.

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The only other thing that I have to mention about July in Greenland is that I have been doing some light hiking and exploration of the mountainside with Kasik to get both him and myself some good exercise! The picture below is from the northeast side of town, on the Lille Malene low route around the base of the mountain. On this particular trip, we did not go all the way around, although I was originally planning on it. Not long after I snapped this photo, Kasik stopped dead in his tracks, stared intensely up toward the mountain, and started growling under his breath. I was so sure that I would look up and see a Yeti or whatever the Greenlandic equivalent is! Perhaps a Qivitoq (translates to “Mountain Wanderer”) is the closest comparison, but even that is a human spirit and not an animal.

Now don’t get me wrong – I fully believe in creatures like the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and the like. In fact, I WANT them to exist! I just don’t want them to exist right in front of me only a couple hundred yards away! Well, I gathered my chutzpah and looked toward where Kasik was looking, and fortunately, I did not see anything. But I did give him the benefit of the doubt, and we turned around and went back the way we came from. I think I’ll bring a friend the next time 🙂

Ta ta for now! Next adventure on the docket – seven nights on the coastal ferry, Sarfaq Ittuk, to conduct tourist interviews and see the entire West Coast of Greenland from Qaqortoq to Ilulissat!!!