60-Second Tourism Evaluation of Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N 51*W)

(From Wednesday 11 April 2013)

I will make this post for the sake of keeping with the theme of this blog, but to be perfectly honest, Ilulissat does not need my help as far as promoting the town as a tourist destination!  At all!  So without any further ado:

Weather gods, Ice gods, etc. permitting… winter/spring in Ilulissat can offer you four of the Big Arctic Five aspects: Pioneering People, Icebergs, Northern Lights, and Dogsledding.  Summertime can offer you three: Pioneering People, Icebergs, and Whales.  But… keep in mind that Ilulissat, and also the entire country, is ALWAYS at the mercy of the environment and nothing is a guarantee.  There is a Greenlandic word – immaqa – that translates to “maybe”.  People do not always use it with the best intentions, but I choose to use it here in a positive way to prove my point.  This spring (March/April) the temperatures have been so atypically warm that the normal winter tourism activities have had to adapt. Some dogsledge tours have had to reroute or reschedule because of thin snow cover. There has been a lot more free ice in the water so sailing tours have been more like “ice road truckers tour[s]”, so said one American tourist.  Also, there are no farms or zoos or Sea Worlds in Greenland. Whales are wild animals, so people cannot just order that they jump out of the water right in front of them. The skies may be cloudy so perhaps the Northern Lights are not visible… About the only thing that can be counted upon as a constant is that there will always be Pioneering People here in Greenland who absolutely LOVE this country and who want to share it with others! And I suppose you can also count on there being icebergs as long as there is Inland Ice, and that is not going anywhere anytime soon!

So MAYBE you can check off all your to-do’s when you are in Greenland, but if not, I am willing to bet that simply being surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful people and landscape is enough to make you happy to be on this Earth 🙂


Last-Chance Tourism in Ilulissat (69*N 51*W)

As of late with the daily talk of climate change, there has been an increasing motivation to travel to precarious destinations “before it is too late” or “before they disappear”.  In some instances, this motivation elevates the destination to the very top of the Bucket List when otherwise it would have taken another 5, 10, or 15 years or more to get there.  The Galapagos Islands is the destination that comes to mind most readily, but also, here in Greenland it has been muttered from more than a few tourists last summer and this spring.

But, it is not the disappearing destinations to which this entry’s title alludes but rather the disappearing holiday time itself.  I have now spent 10 glorious nights in Ilulissat, and I have only 7 nights more.  I am starting to get that “last-chance” feeling that tourists usually get near the ends of their holidays that makes them think, “I have to do XYZ because I don’t know when I will get the chance again!” or “I have to soak up these last impressions because tomorrow it is back to the real world!”

Last summer, I did not encounter this last-chance feeling because I knew I was returning to Greenland before I left the first time.  And even on this trip, I know I am returning to Nuuk again in September, but as for the other fantastic places in Greenland that I have visited – that is unknown now.  I am starting to miss them before I have even left!

Honestly speaking here, I do not think I will miss Kangerlussuaq.  I know I will certainly look back on my time there fondly, but I do not anticipate sitting at home wishing I was there.

I do, however, anticipate sitting at home wishing I was in Ilulissat!  And it is not just about the icebergs or the howling Greenlandic sledge dogs or the gastronomic greatness… Okay, okay, it is a little bit about the natural beauty and the Greenlandic specialties, but mostly it is about the handful of people that I have met in Ilulissat who are really, really, really passionate about Greenland and its future as a sustainable tourism destination, and as a sustainable society, in general.  I can get lost in conversation with them for hours and they are inspiring!  It makes me so excited for the future of Greenland!  There is not a doubt in my mind that Greenland will be in my immediate life for a very long time if I can help it!  I do not know if it will be in a professional capacity or a personal capacity, but I do know that the people I have met in Ilulissat, the sights I have seen, and the experiences I have had have hooked me 100%!

So I am missing Ilulissat before I have even left!  It is making me want to picnic by the Ice Fjord a few more times, have another sortebær smoothie and chat out on the deck of Inuit Café, hike from Oqaatsut to Ilulissat again, and do many other seemingly small things that are classic Ilulissat for me.  Because as far as I know right now, this could be my last chance!


Global Greenland

I think most people write a personal blog because they feel a need to share their experiences, their stories, their photographs, etc. with “the world” assuming they will never actually come face to face with their readers or followers out there.

As I admitted in my Pay It Forward… entry, one of my recent goals of maintaining this blog is to inspire others to travel to Greenland.  So for me, the thought/hope did cross my mind that sometime in the future one or a few of my readers/followers would step foot in Greenland.  However, I did not expect it to be this Spring; nor did I expect to actually meet them!

Since arriving to Greenland 27 days ago, I have met TWO of my readers/followers purely by chance!  Well, I identified them as international tourists and requested to interview them as part of my job, which is why we came in contact in the first place.  But, otherwise I never would have known that we were right there in the same space!  I should say, though, that these people did not come to Greenland because of my blog; I cannot take that credit.  It is simply a random occurrence that they had read my blog AND that we were in the same place at the same time in Greenland.

The first reader/follower I met is The Fourth Continent, an Australian who, by the way, is also keeping a blog of her own Greenland experiences.  We met by chance in the Kangerlussuaq Airport on her very first day in Greenland!  It was not until after we spoke that she realized that she recognized me from blog.  But, fortunately she reached out to me, and we have planned to meet up in Nuuk in a few weeks to chat! Go figure!

The second reader/follower I met is an Icelander who has been traveling in Greenland since before I was born!  We met by chance in Hotel Hvide Falk in Ilulissat after he had been skiing in North Greenland for a few weeks and was literally catching his plane home in a few hours.  I interviewed him, and once all the formalities were over he said, “So you work for the tourist board? And you are from the United States?” At this point, there was nothing fishy about his questions because after talking with me for 15 minutes, most people can pick up that I am not a Greenlander, though they may have thought so in the beginning.  Also, most people are extremely curious as to why an American is living and working in Greenland, and how that came to be.  Then, the Icelander said, “And you live in Virginia? But you went to school in Chattanooga?” Clearly, at this point I was a little dumbfounded, and began wracking my brain trying to figure out how on earth this guy knew these details about me.  I wondered if he was in the tourism industry and maybe we had met in Reykjavik… I wondered if maybe I had actually interviewed him last summer and had just forgotten… but that was the least likely possibility because I NEVER forget a face… Turns out he had read my blog and just remembered my story, so when I asked for the interview, it jogged his memory.  Small world!

To put the cherry on top, I had a third “small world” instance just yesterday morning.  Again, it came about because I pinpointed people as international tourists, asked them for an interview, and the rest is history.  The people I met yesterday are a young Washingtonian couple who live less than 5 minutes away from me at home!  And yet here we found ourselves in the same place at the same time in Ilulissat, Greenland!

Even last summer it happened once – I met a couple who were the standby dog-sitters for my childhood best friend!  And there we were, in Nuuk on 3 July 2012 on the very same sailing tour to the Nuuk Ice Fjord!  The last thing I ever expected was to find someone only two degrees of separation away from me in Greenland!  Now, after four of these occurrences, I am just waiting to run into somebody that I know personally!!

These “small world” instances are becoming more and more common, and I am convinced that it is ALL due to globalization!  I think humans as a species have always been curious creatures that were interested in what is foreign and different from what they knew.  But in the last sixty years, the relatively cheap and accessible air transportation industry + the Internet boom of the last twenty years + the social media revolution of the last ten years = a perfect potion which allows people to travel to any corner of the world… and which opens the possibility that they will meet others that they know even though they are thousands of miles from home!

So, I am by no means saying that Greenland is “ruined”, that it has become the new Cancun or Gran Canaria, or that it is completely saturated with tourists left and right.  This is far from the truth!  Just ask me – on some days I have to hunt far and wide for tourists to interview.  But, it is a modern society, and in the larger towns one can find all the comforts of his every day life be he from Washington, D.C. or Paris or wherever!  One can find 3D movie theatres, Internet cafes, Thai restaurants, 4-star Green Key hotels, 5-star conference facilities, iPhones, ATMs, fine Scandinavian furnishings, and the list goes on.  And who knows, maybe he will even find his childhood best friend’s dog-sitter on his next trip to Greenland!  You never know…