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…

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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!

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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!!!

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