My Greenland Sailing Staycation

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Staycation (n): a trip in which one uses his or her time off to remain home and, in fact, go nowhere. A play on the American English word “vacation”.

Okay, so I’m using a bit of poetic license with this one since I did not actually stay home for my summer holiday, but I did stay in the country as opposed to the vast majority of friends I know who travel to Denmark for summer holiday, plus another handful or two who venture further to places like Bali or Los Angeles. Plus, it is alliterative with “sailing” and “swordfish”, which made for catchy and unique hashtags.

I’m fresh back from a nearly three-week summer holiday in which I sailed along the west coast of Greenland between Nuuk (64*N) and Disko Bay (69*N) in my own private boat. By the way, when we say sailing here, 8 times out of 10 it is actually with a boat with an engine instead of with a true sailing vessel. I guess I’m not really sure what to call sailing with a motorized boat otherwise? Anyway…

To put it simply, my sailing staycation was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had! Of course I have been sailing before, and I’ve even been sailing along most of the west coast before, but when it is your own boat, and when it is YOU yourself as captain some of the time, it is an experience on a whole other level!

I’m nowhere close to being able to compose a concise post about my holiday, so for now I give a few teaser thumbnail photos and a suggestion to follow the trip in short-story form via my in-trip Instagram posts on @polarphile.

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Why I Don’t Want Greenland On Your Bucket List (*there’s a catch)

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Yes, Bucket Lists were virtually invented for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like travelling to the Arctic, glacier walking on the only Ice Sheet outside of Antarctica, and sailing under the midnight sun. So it sounds odd to say I don’t want Greenland included in that. 

And, given that I dedicate my professional and personal life to showing anyone who will listen that Greenland is simply the best land in the world, it sounds VERY odd that I don’t want it on your list. 

But here’s why.

Greenland deserves so much more than a line on a Bucket List and a little square waiting to be filled in with a red check mark and then left in the dust.

Because that very check mark indicates completion and finality. It means you have been there, done that, and are ready to move on to the next item.

If Greenland has half the effect on you as it did on me the first time, then you don’t simply just move on after experiencing Greenland. You don’t just go back to ‘life as normal’ and forget all about the peace you had every morning waking to such beautiful views like the picture above, or the human compassion you felt when you asked a local for directions to your AirBnB flat and she ended up walking you the whole way there. For many of you, Greenland will be your transformational destination

Therefore, I ask you to let Greenland transcend the bucket list. Don’t go because it’s on the list. Just go.

Take your time to plan the trip; live in the moment every day you have your feet on the ground up here; go home and continue to let Greenland have a place in your thoughts; go forth and be changed by your experience.

The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

Has travel transformed you?

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Transformational travel. Learn these words. Live these words. It is more than the latest trend; it is a new movement in life.

I believe this style of travel is a fated yet fortunate natural progression here in the anthropocene. It could only really take hold now, after sustaining this quite device-obsessed, time-crunched, attention span-less, and dare I say a bit depraved, age.

I believe transformational travel will save humanity if enough people get on board.

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The Journey

It’s said that humans are subconsciously called to travel to wake themselves up when they start sleep walking through life, or when they stop being themselves at home.

“Listen — are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

– Mary Oliver

Then they go on their trip and have high adventures, talk with people, pick up seeds of the new place(s) and plant them in the backs of their minds, and undetectably rework their perspective on themselves and home. All of this is fuel for something bigger brewing later.

When they return home, everything gets synthesised and internalised to some degree, and a transformation starts. For some it is a matter of a changed thought process and being more mindful. For others it is more behavioural – adding (or deleting) something to/from the daily routine. And for a few, it catapults them into, more or less, a whole new life.

What is Transformational Travel?

I’m still pretty new to this concept, so hopefully my friends over at The Transformational Travel Collaborative will cut me some slack if I formulate this incorrectly…

Transformational travel is a style of traveling in which one embarks on a trip to drive a needed change in his or her life.

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My Most Transformational Trip

For me, the obvious life-changing travel experience was spending four months in Greenland in 2012. 

At a superficial level, it made me painfully aware of behaviours, habits and customs that are ‘so American’.

At a meaningful level, it made me question whether those same American behaviours, habits and customs – which I no doubt had and probably still have to some degree, much to my chagrin – jived with my nature and who I wanted to be.

Upon returning to USA, the transformation began in which I deliberately decided that I preferred the different way of life to which my eyes were opened. After multiple trips back to Greenland, I started identifying much more with my Greenlandic life than my American life, and it all culminated with the decision to move permanently to Greenland.

I am still trying to figure out why Greenland of all places was the spark, but until then, I am just happy it was. 

What trip or place has changed you?

Hiking In Greenland – Kingittorsuaq Mountain in Nuuk

 

Beginning to scramble/use hands on the way up. Photo by: Raven Eye Photography – Visit Greenland

The rush you get standing on top of a mountain is a special kind of adrenaline. Photo by: Raven Eye Photography – Visit Greenland

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KINGITTORSUAQ is proof that there’s BIG adventure in Nuuk, the Arctic Metropolis of Greenland. It is one of the four mountains in the city’s immediate vicinity that most residents know by name. (The other three are: Ukkusissat, Quassussuaq and Sermitsiaq). While most locals will take Ukkusissat as a Saturday morning or even after-work fun trip, sometimes you just want something a little more extreme.

SEE TO THE BOTTOM FOR SOME QUICK BITS ABOUT WHY KINGITTORSUAQ IS MORE DIFFICULT YET MORE EXCITING THAN THE STANDBYS.

My Hike on Kingittorsuaq

Three weekends ago (on 18 June 2016) I had the privilege to hike Kingittorsuaq mountain for the second time. The first time I hiked it was back in June 2012, so that shows you how infrequently this opportunity tends to come along without special circumstance.

Here’s some photographs from the trip. I think the two best experiences of the whole day were 1) cresting at the ‘saddle’ for a view over snow-capped peaks that even fooled Greenlanders into thinking it was the tough and rugged mountains of East Greenland, and 2) taking a quick polar plunge in a little meltwater swimming hole near the summit!

IMG_0623Hiking from sea to summit is no small feat. Sometimes one thinks, “Can I REALLY do this?” The answer is Yes, you can! Just put one foot in front of the other. The bottom half of the mountain is grassy/mossy/shrubby terrain, which I personally think is tougher on the legs than the rocky part.

IMG_0625 And anywhere there’s lush green terrain, there’s fresh running water sources. It’s special about Greenland to be able to drink directly from a stream or waterfall. Here we are at approximately 219 m / 719 ft above sea level.

IMG_0639 Spectacular outlook point from the saddle at approximately 800 m / 2625 ft above sea level. This is the shot that made some locals think it was East Greenland! The first of two best experiences of the whole day.

IMG_0654Here solidly into the rocky terrain, between 800-900 m / 2625-2953 ft above sea level, looking southward. It’s scrambling / bouldering from here on up, with more than a few narrow passes.

IMG_0656 My favourite perspective, actually. There’s something about the steep wall of Kingittorsuaq in the foreground, Kangerluarsunnguaq fjord in the middle ground, and Nuuk Fjord beyond. You can see everything. Approximately 1169 m  / 3834 ft above sea level. 

IMG_0665 So beautiful and clear day. Feels like you could see all the way to Canada. Looking north into Nuuk Fjord. Four hours into the hike.

headstand kingittorsuaq Beautiful overlooks deserve a yoga moment. Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography.

alpine swim kingittorsuaqAnd little ponds of snowmelt deserve a quick dip. No, it wasn’t the slightest bit warm, but sometimes you just know when you’re NEVER going to get the same chance again, so it’s now or never. The other best experience of the entire day. Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography. 

So there you have a digital tour of hiking Kingittorsuaq in Nuuk, Greenland. Want some more info to decide if Kingittorsuaq is right for you? Read below.

 

Why Kingittorsuaq is more difficult than Ukkusissat:

  • It’s taller by approx. 410 meters / 1345 feet. (Ukkusissat is 780 m / 2559 ft and Kingittorsuaq is 1190 m / 3904 ft).
  • The top half (rough estimate) is pure bouldering/scrambling (i.e. you must use your hands to climb up) and, in some places, involves some “tight rope walking” along narrow passes.

Nearly to the true summit of Kingittorsuaq. The left picture is a view northward into Nuuk Fjord. The right picture is a more westward view; Nuuk city is behind the mountain in the middle ground, Ukkusissat.

  • There is no marked route, no slightly-trodden trail. You should absolutely go with someone who knows the way.
  • There are a lot of (sharp) loose stones and rocks in the top half. You must constantly pay attention to your hand placement and footing, and as one of my hiking partners noted, the conversation definitely dies down a bit as everyone starts concentrating more.

Why Kingittorsuaq is more exciting than Ukkusissat:

  • Kingittorsuaq one of the less-hiked mountains in Nuuk, so there’s absolutely a feeling of exclusivity and remoteness. The first time I hiked it, our group of 3 women + 1 man was the only group out there. This time, our group of 2 women + 3 men met just one other group: 4 men.
  • There’s a built-in sailing experience to get to the starting point. Unless, of course, you want to start with a 30 km walk or run through the Nuuk backcountry and Kangerluarsunnguaq lowlands – which, by the way, IS a thing. It’s called the annual KangNu Race, which I have run twice, both in the short version and in the seriously hard long versionTo sail to Kingittorsuaq like most people, you have the option of hiring a boat charter via Nuuk Water Taxi and then hiking on your own, or the other option is to purchase the experience as a ‘tour’ from a local operator, either Nuuk Adventure or Inuk Expedition.

IMG_0621 Kingittorsuaq is the double-peaked mountain. The left peak is, clearly, the higher of the two and is the true summit.

What to wear/bring with you in your daypack (NOT an all-inclusive list):

  • Breathable/ quick-dry layers, never cotton. Being able to regulate your body temperature ever so slightly with several thinner layers is infinitely more valuable than having one or a few thicker layers. For this particular day (light wind 10 m/s or less, air temperature around 5-10*C) I wore long running pants, a breathable short-sleeve shirt, a lightweight wool-blend long-sleeve base layer, a lightweight wool sweater (which came off and on periodically), and a ultra lightweight vest. Also a thin Buff headband. At some points I did take on a pair of gloves when I could feel my fingers were a bit slow reacting. It’s also good to have an extra pair of wool socks, and at least one extra layer along with you as backup.

IMG_0661 Taking in the sights at 1170 m / 3842 ft on Kingittorsuaq. FANTASTIC view over the entire world, it feels like. Note the clothing.

  • Sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, preferably waterproof. Good footwear simply cannot be stressed enough for hiking in Greenland. The granite in these mountains is rough and sharp, and it’s not really an exaggeration to say that it can eat the soles (and souls) of cheap or old hiking boots.

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  • Lunch. It can take a fitter-than-average person around 4 hours to reach the summit, plus nearly the same amount of time to get back down, so you will want to have plenty of energy store. Don’t let yourself get hangry. Chocolate and nuts are always good mountain snacks, but a slab of smoked Greenlandic reindeer meat is also perfect for the trip. When in Rome…
  • Water bottle. There are several places to collect fresh drinking water directly from runoff streams, and it tastes so refreshing!
  • Hat and gloves. Yes, even in summer a light wind can make it quite cold. It’s especially important to protect the dexterity of your hands given how much bouldering/scrambling you’ll be doing at higher altitudes.
  • Gaiters. Useful at the bottom half when traipsing through low brush and at the top half if there should be any snowy patches. At the very least, they can be an extra layer of lower-leg protection against mosquito bites.
  • Mosquito net hat. Speaking of… Arctic summers are notorious for mosquitoes and flies, and they can be especially gruesome when there’s little or no wind.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen. High latitudes plus high altitudes are the perfect combination for getting a lot of color on your face in just a few hours. Add in the sun’s reflection off of snow, and you’ve got a perfect combination for sunburn. Protect your skin and eyes!

How to Get Here

  • Fly through ICELAND.
    • Air Greenland flies direct from Keflavik International Airport to Nuuk International Airport (3 hour flight).
    • Air Iceland Connect flies direct from Reykjavík Domestic Airport to Nuuk International Airport (3 hour flight).
  • Fly through DENMARK.
    • Air Greenland flies from Kastrup/Copenhagen International Airport to Kangerlussuaq International Airport in Greenland (4 hour flight) and then on to Nuuk International Airport (1 hour flight).

Why I eat Greenlandic Food

In autumn I started a little unofficial ‘Portrait of a Greenlander’ series to highlight Anne Nivíka Grødem, the Greenlandic Foodlover. Now we’re cooperating in a new way. Here in February, I’m so proud to be a weekly guest blogger on her website, www.greenlandicfoodlover.com. Everything on the website relates in some way to food and health and Greenland – whether it’s delicious new recipes to try out or tips for keeping healthy skin in winter.

My posts on Greenlandic Foodlover are written in Danish, but I’m reproducing them here in English.

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ON APPRECIATING ANOTHER CULTURE

By: Sarah Woodall

When I came up here for the first time, I knew nothing about the Greenlandic food environment, and I knew nothing about the rules for importing and exporting food, for example. I had no idea how much vegetables cost, and I had absolutely never heard of seal- and whale-hunting.

Yes, I was completely new and unknowledgeable, but it also meant I had no preconceptions or prejudices against Greenland or the Greenlandic people. Everything I know about Greenland now, I learned here. With respect to food, I was totally open to eat anything that was served. One must try everything at least once, is what I learned as a child, and such a saying goes a long way here in the Arctic.

In the beginning, I ate Greenlandic food to show my respect and appreciation for the country’s culture. I thought to myself, When I am in your land, it should be me who adapts myself to your ways. Not the other way around.

I can remember the very first time I tried fried whale meat at a birthday lunch. Everyone at the table looked at me and waited to see my reaction (which was that I thought it tasted very good). And I can remember a time my friend came home with fresh raw seal liver. I ate that without a second thought, although maybe with just a small hesitation before the first bite. They were all completely taken aback that I could imagine trying such a thing!

P1000638 Whale on the barbie! Fantastic summer day on the terrace with short sleeves, sunglasses, and Greenlandic specialties! And with two (live) whales in the bay, too.

Now I eat Greenlandic food because I want to. It’s not every day, but, for example, I do buy whale meat and mattak (whale skin & fat), and I ask for Greenlandic food whenever there’s a choice. I have experienced overall that Greenlanders are surprised by my openness, my willingness, and even my desire to eat the Greenlandic specialties. One of my best friends always says that it is truly amazing I like the taste of ‘Arctic blood’. It makes me proud.

Top left: Boiled seal meat for suaasat soup. Top right: South Greenlandic lamb leg. Bottom: Mattak (whale skin & fat), served with aromat seasoning and strips of dark rye bread.

IMG_5051 An interesting find at the grocery store! Greenlandic Trio Pack of 1) ground Minke whale meat 2) ground muskox meat and 3) fish mashed with cream, vegetables, etc.

I think it is important as a foreigner to be open for the different food cultures you meet. It is also just as important for the culture one comes into to feel that it is valuable itself. The simple fact that a foreigner is open to take on new food habits and adopt them as their own is certainly a success, isn’t it?

I don’t mean that the value of a culture should be decided by the outside world. On the contrary! But when a foreigner wishes to immerse herself in the Greenlandic lifestyle and food culture, it’s a proof that such a lifestyle is unique and very special.

Therefore I eat Greenlandic food. Because it supports the Greenlandic culture, because I can, and because I want to.

The Greenlandic food scene: how to adapt and accept

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In autumn I started a little unofficial ‘Portrait of a Greenlander’ series to highlight Anne Nivíka Grødem, the Greenlandic Foodlover. Now we’re cooperating in a new way. Here in February, I’m so proud to be a weekly guest blogger on her website, www.greenlandicfoodlover.com. Everything on the website relates in some way to food and health and Greenland – whether it’s delicious new recipes to try out or tips for keeping healthy skin in winter.

My posts on Greenlandic Foodlover are written in Danish, but I’m reproducing them here in English.

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HOW AN AMERICAN ADAPTS HER HABITS IN GREENLAND

By: Sarah Woodall 

I was raised in Washington, D.C. in a huge food environment. There, nothing is missed in the grocery store, and there are tons of specialty shops with Asian, Mexican, and organic ingredients, to name a few. Everything is available everywhere, every day, and one can go shopping 24/7. When I would make dinner, I found inspiration by searching new and delicious-sounding recipes on the Internet and in magazines. There was never a question of whether I could find the special ingredients I would need for them.

When I got to Greenland, I experienced a completely different food environment. The choices were smaller, and season and price are always limiting factors. Due to these, most of the exciting recipes out there just don’t work in Greenland, especially in small settlements or in the middle of the winter season. But through the years, I have learned a few good tips about adapting to and accepting the Greenlandic food environment, which Greenlanders surely discovered themselves many decades ago:

  • Make dinner based on the daily specials at the store and market. That way, you will always be successful.
  • Harvest the Greenlandic nature whenever possible. Pick crowberries and blueberries to put into yummy sauces, smoothies, and cakes. Cut stalks of angelica to lightly flavor water. Go hunting for your own reindeer, muskox, seal, and ptarmigan. Fish for redfish, cod, trout, and capelin, for example.
  • If the necessary ingredients are sold out or otherwise unavailable, use your creativity and get similar ingredients instead. (For example: use pears instead of apples or creme fraiche instead of Skyr or greek yogurt)
  • Frozen vegetables are better than no vegetables.
  • Making food should be a pleasure.
  • Simple food is still tasty food. Meals made of 3 ingredients can be just as delicious as those made of 9.

But once in a while I find a recipe that sounds so good I simply must try to make it happen. A few days ago I found a recipe of Rachael Ray’s (the famous american TV chef). The recipe was for a stuffed chicken breast with potato pancakes. I thought it sounded so tasty, and it was completely different than the typical dishes I make. When I went shopping in Pisiffik, one of the grocery store chains in Greenland, I was actually able to find all the ingredients. So I thought to myself, Finally, a recipe which can be made in Greenland!

Are you looking for inspiration for dinner or just for some diversity to your recipe box? Try this Stuffed Chicken with Rösti Potatoes tonight!

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Photo from: www.rachaelraymag.com 

 

Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

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:

Celebrating the Return of the Sun in Ilulissat, plus 4 Things I (Re)Learned About Greenland Doing It

IMG_4974  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.

DSCN2786 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.

 IMG_4976 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?”

Touché.

DSCN2789 View over Ilulissat. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.

Polar darkness in Greenland

DSCN2686 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.