Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!
Here’s a few snapshots from the last week:
Southerly view over the Ilulissat Icefjord toward the sunrise, standing at Seqinniarfik. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.
First sunrise in 6 weeks
Yesterday the sun rose above the horizon in Ilulissat for the first time in six weeks. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on 30 November last year? Probably not; it feels so long ago. Now imagine that you have not set eyes on the sun – the very thing you’re taught not to look directly at – since that day.
Needless to say, there’s a bit of a celebration in Ilulissat to bid the sun welcome back. Schools and offices close early, and everyone trudges in one way or another out to a viewpoint called Seqinniarfik in the UNESCO World Heritage Site to watch the sun come up over the mountains on the south side of the Ilulissat Icefjord, take a small skip across the sky, and go down again a mere 52 minutes later.
I joined the masses out there on the hill and was so happy the share the time surrounded by people. Much like most of my experiences in Greenland, it was an instant renewal of my appreciation for the country and a reminder about these 4 things I’ve come to learn about Greenland over time.
Starting out toward Seqinniarfik. Check the tiny dots (people) on the top of the hill! And that’s not even the final spot. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016
1) Nothing comes on a silver platter
A nicely-plowed plank boardwalk all the way from the road up to Seqinniarfik could have been a dream, but this is Greenland, where even a well-defined sidewalk in town is sometimes too much to ask.
The route to Seqinniarfik was through sled dog territory and over natural terrain, perfectly easy to clear in summer but slightly challenging in winter conditions. The snow was crunchy sheets that didn’t always hold my weight, sending me sinking into knee-deep snow beneath. The high winds of the last two weeks continued and were so strong at my back it gave me a pressure headache and made me dread having to walk into the force on the way home. I didn’t dare to grab my camera out of my pocket for fear of either dropping it or, much worse, having one of my precious sealskin mittens blow away in the midst of a juggling maneuver.
Of course, I did dare because I just had to take a picture, but after even just a few minutes with gloves off, your fingers start to lose mobility to even press the shutter button. Then you have to make the really difficult choice between ‘getting the shot’ (or taking a selfie, let’s be honest) and feeling like you might lose an index finger. All mittens stayed thankfully in my possession but the minus temperatures rendered both my iPhone and digital camera frozen in place after a mere four or five times coming out of my pocket.
No, it’s not always a piece of cake to get out into the Greenlandic nature in winter, but it sure is worth it once you’re there.
Seqinniarfik selfie. At the top. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.
2) There are no words for how stunning Greenland is
Sometimes you can sit looking at the Greenlandic landscape and you could just cry. I have said this myself, and I have heard tourists say it, too. It is a natural reaction when you have so many impressions and feelings swirling around in your body that can’t get out in a normal way with thoughts or speech. Instead, they jump out themselves in a most physical manner.
This country is breathtaking and incredible. The nature is pure and raw and strong and powerful. In pictures I have seen other places that the world calls beautiful, maybe because they are colorful or peaceful, and I always think to myself, ‘Did those places challenge people’s willpower, make them stronger, and generally put humanity to the test?’ To me, that is beauty.
Greenland is not beautiful despite its extreme conditions. It is beautiful because of them.
3) The weakest Greenlander is still stronger than the average person
If someone had a mere single breath in him or her, they made an effort to reach Seqinniarfik, it seemed. It was not only the young school kids skating around in their high top sneakers on the icy rocks and holding their thin jackets overhead like sails in a summer breeze.
Not even poor physical condition could keep some people away from the hill. I saw older people out there walking through the snow at a pace of maybe two kilometers an hour, one foot in front of the other, but determined nonetheless to see the first sunrise in six weeks. I even saw a woman on her motorized scooter at the end of the road waiting, hopefully, for someone to pick her up on snowmobile. One could imagine they have done this every year for their entire lives. One could imagine this was maybe one of the few times they got out into the nature anymore.
4) Greenlanders do appreciate their own nature, even on the 25000th day
I have heard tourists speculate sometimes that Greenlanders probably forget how fantastic the landscape is since they see it day in and day out, coupled with their observation that Greenlanders rarely exclaim “Oh my gosh! How pretty!” and “Look at that!” toward things a tourist definitely would point out.
On the contrary, living close to and appreciating the nature is an innate element of Greenlandic culture. Regardless of whether one is in the biggest city in the country or in the smallest settlement, the nature is always there and always central to life. Greenlanders can be a people of few yet profound words, hence the lack the exclamations, and my own friend explained this very phenomenon in exactly this style.
She said, “Why ruin the moment with words about something that is already obvious?”
View over Ilulissat. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.
Photo taken on 7 January 2016 at 12:40 PM
Come to my world for a minute. I’m in Ilulissat, Greenland at 69*N, some 297 km / 185 mi north of the Arctic Circle.
At this time of year, early January, Ilulissat is at the tail end of the polar darkness period. From the end of November until the beginning of January, the sun does not rise above the horizon.
The unknowing ‘southerner’ might think polar darkness is a formidable and scary period to be avoided at all costs. They might think that no sun = no light, or 24/7 nighttime. But in fact, this is not true, at least not in Ilulissat. (If we were talking about Qaanaaq, up at 77*N, it would be a different story.) The good news is that if you are a tourist who enjoys real experiences, can be a bit independent, and can accept just a few hours of light at the middle of the day – you could absolutely visit Ilulissat in winter!
During the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, there is actually quite a diverse range of different lights. Meteorologists have fancy words for them like night, astrological twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight.
The picture above is taken at the brightest part of the day, in the middle of the civil twilight time frame. Today, 7 January, that happens to be from 9:51 AM to 3:11 PM. This will extend for a few minutes each day until Tuesday, 13 January, when the sun officially rises above the horizon again. First for a transient 50 minutes and then gaining 10 to 15 minutes more sunlight each day.
By the end of the month, there will already be 5 hours of sunlight. By the middle of March (the height of the spring tourism season), there will be 12 hours of sunlight. And by the end of May, the sun will be up 24 hours a day – until the end of July!
Want to hear more? Read about the very first time I experienced polar darkness back in November 2013.
And follow me at @polarphile on Instagram and stay tuned here for more in-the-moment photos as I document the tail end of the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, the return of the sun, and the path full steam ahead into the light.
Happy New Year! I’m marking it with my 12th trip northward to the best place in the world: Greenland. I’m a little biased, so if you don’t believe me, just ask Lonely Planet or National Geographic Traveler.
Getting to Greenland comes as second nature for me, and I could almost make the route with my eyes closed, so in a way I do become blind to how much time and how many steps it actually takes to get door-to-door. All I know is, it’s all worth it once I start seeing those East Greenland pointy peaks on the way to the west coast.
47.5 hours across three different days and three different airlines is what it’s going to take this time around to travel from Washington, D.C. to Ilulissat, Greenland. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. True story.
Here’s a fun little chart to show how I’m using my travel time to get north. Need some ideas for how to do the Reykjavík stopover? Check these.
Sila nuan’! Nice weather! Summer in Tasiilaq, Greenland.
In Greenland, sila reigns all. Sila is the entire worldly environment which can be seen with one’s own two eyes – the world of humans. The word is most commonly used in everyday Greenlandic to talk about the weather, and everyone knows that absolutely nothing can be done when sila acts up – so if your travel plans are affected, don’t even use your energy to get angry over it. That’s just how it is.
I recommend preparing yourself by checking the weather in Greenland a few days before departure/arrival. Most Greenlanders rely on the Danish Meteorological Institute for a weather forecast. Since the website is in Danish, here’s a small Cliff’s Notes to how to read the graphs, using the current weather for Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, in the next two days, Saturday-Sunday, 2-3 January 2016.
NOTE: The DMI website changed its entire look as of Week 6, 2019, so the following graphs are now irrelevant. I have not yet had the time to update this post fully.
There’s 5 things to look for on the graphs – general weather characteristics, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, and wind direction. There is a 2-day outlook, a 3-9-day outlook, and a 10-14-day outlook, but really the only one that should be taken seriously is the 2-day outlook. Weather can always change.
The time is measured in military time, so for anyone that isn’t accustomed to this, 15 is 3:00 PM, 18 is 6:00 PM, and so on.
General Weather Characteristics
The top line of the graph shows the typical weather symbols to give a quick impression of what the day will hold. Fun fact: if the outlook is clear skies all day long on a winter day above the Arctic Circle, the symbols will be all stars 🙂
“Nedbør” means precip (rain or snow), and if there is any, there will be dark blue vertical bars beneath the blue line. The amount is measured in mm along the y-axis on the left.
In the graph below, there is no precipitation predicted.
The blue line indicates air temperature and is measured in degrees Celsius along the y-axis on the right.
For a general rule of thumb for conversions, for every 5*C you go up or down, the *F goes up or down by 9. And for even quicker reference:
Wind Speed & Wind Direction
The red and black lines indicate wind speed, both the gusts (“vindstød”) and the persistent winds (“middelvind”), and are measured in meters per second along the y-axis on the right.
10 m/s is approximately 22 mph or 36 kph, and is nothing that gets people worried in Greenland. There has definitely been 40 m/s (89 mph or 144 kph) before – or higher in East Greenland when the Piteraq comes – and that’s cause for worry!
The arrows along the x-axis on the bottom indicate the direction of the wind. Keep a watch for downward-pointing arrows – this means the wind comes from the north and makes for very chilly temperatures!
Now you’re all set to check the weather in Greenland!