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.

PHOTO GALLERY: Greenland in Black & White

Greenland’s saturated sunsets and deep blue waters can challenge even the best painter’s palette, but Greenland can also be quite stunning in black and white. The chiaroscuro effect adds an element of mystery and enchantment, and at times it can be downright eerie!

So, as a complement to the photo gallery, Colourful Greenland, here I present to you some of my best black and white shots. They are old, but evergreen.

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Kangeq, 21 April 2013 (Abandoned settlement near Nuuk where the Danish colonists tried to make it for 7 years (1721-1728) before moving the short distance to the mainland, where Nuuk stands today)

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Nuuk Fjord, 21 April 2013 (Sermitsiaq in background)

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, 8 April 2013

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Tasiilaq, 27 April 2013 (Piteraq)

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Tasiilaq, 27 April 2013 (Piteraq)

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Between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq, 28 April 2013

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Between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq, 28 April 2013

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Tasiilaq, 24 April 2013

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Tasiilaq, 24 April 2013

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Tasiilaq, 27 April 2013

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Between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq, 24 April 2013

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Between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq, 24 April 2013

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Kulusuk, 24 April 2013

PHOTO GALLERY: Colourful Greenland

Erik the Red should have called Greenland “Rainbowland” instead 🙂 Reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigos, violets, whites and everything in between – it all exists in the nature here!

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Qaqortoq, January 2014 (Photo credit: Pilu Nielsen via Facebook)

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Nuuk, September 2013

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Ilulissat, April 2013

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Ilulissat, April 2013

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Somewhere between Nuuk and Maniitsoq, August 2012

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Nuuk, December 2013

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Uummannaq, June 2013

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Nuuk, August 2012

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Ilulissat, August 2013

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Sisimiut, August 2013

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Kangerlussuaq, August 2013

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Nuuk (Ilulialik), August 2012

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Nuuk, September 2012

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Somewhere between Sisimiut and Ilulissat, August 2012

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, June 2012

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Kangerlussuaq, March 2013

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Nuuk, August 2012

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Uummannaq, June 2012

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Ilulissat Ice Fjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site, April 2013

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Sisimiut, August 2013

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Ilulissat, August 2013

PHOTO GALLERY: Midnight Sun in Greenland

Photo taken at 10:15 PM on 28 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)P1000512

Photo taken at 11:00 PM on 22 June 2012 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1000256

Photo taken at 11:00 PM on 25 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)P1000424

Photo taken at 11:50 PM on 5 June 2013 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1010158

Photo taken at 12:30 AM on 29 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)IMG_0682

Photo taken at 12:30 AM on 8 June 2013 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1010267

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!

Takuss’

Welcome to Ilulissat! (69*N 51*W)

(Thursday 28 March 2013)

On Monday I flew on Air Greenland from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat. I have now been in Ilulissat for 3 glorious nights, and I have 14 nights more. I have had the pleasure of visiting Ilulissat twice before, so this has been a fantastic return trip! Last June, I spent 11 nights in Ilulissat with Visit Greenland, Ace & Ace, and Chris Coubrough to film the fifth and final episode of Taste of Greenland. Then in August, I spent half a day while sailing on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry run by Arctic Umiaq Line.

I am staying in the most perfect, cozy, little studio flat, Qupaloraarsuk 52, literally right on the water with not a single thing obstructing my view of the sea! When I wake up in the morning, I don’t even need to sit up in bed in order to see the icebergs! Here are some of my personal snapshots of the million-dollar view from the private balcony:

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I know about the flat because its owners are relatives of my host family in Nuuk, but it is for rent to the general public! It is a small studio flat with a private entrance and mudroom, private balcony, private bathroom with shower, and private kitchenette (two burner stove, mini fridge, shelves for storing dry goods, pots, pans, dishware, utensils, and tea kettle). There is a small table for dining, a chest of drawers, a television, and a radio. The flat is virtually next door to Hotel Icefiord where there is a nice restaurant and bar, and it is just a 15-minute walk to the center of town where there are plenty of shopping and dining options and all of the tour companies’ offices. What more could you need!?

I was very much looking forward to seeing the Ilulissat Ice Fjord and a sea full of icebergs during the winter season… and I have not been disappointed! My expectations were that the icebergs would be much, much larger than in summertime, and that they would be eerily locked in place because of a frozen sea. Well, I was correct about their larger size, but I was incorrect about them being locked in place. The sea is not totally frozen, so the icebergs are free to move around… and they do!

I am first and foremost in Ilulissat in order to work, but I do hope to carve out some personal time to enjoy this beautiful town! Weather, time, and availability permitting, some of my dream wish list items for Ilulissat are:

Sailing to Qeqertarsuaq (Disko Island)

Multiple-day doglsedge tour to Oqaatsut (Rode Bay)

We shall see… Takuss!

A Little Lesson About Ice

(From 25 March 2013)

Since I am gearing up to travel to Ilulissat, the town whose very name means “icebergs”, I figure there is no better time to give a small lesson about ice and icebergs in Greenland. As a disclaimer, I am no glaciologist, so please do not take everything I say to be scientifically precise J But I do know enough from what I have learned in Greenland to provide some useful information. If anybody is interested in a truly spectacular and awe-some portrayal of glaciers, do check out Chasing Ice, a big-screen documentary (by James Balog, National Geographic photographer/cinematographer) that artistically displays how glaciers flow, depress, and calve over time. The images document glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and the United States.

One may ask: Are there not icebergs all over Greenland? Why does Ilulissat have the pleasure of being the namesake town for icebergs? The answer is: Yes, there are icebergs all over Greenland. Icebergs originate from glaciers that flow into a body of water, creating a tongue that floats on the water whose front breaks off (“calves”) in pieces of all shapes and sizes – the icebergs. When I say that glaciers flow, one may think of liquid water; but a glacier is frozen ice. It flows due to its own weight, and it is not detectable by the human eye just standing and watching for a short period of time. The Greenland Ice Sheet is itself one huge glacier, and it flows into the water in hundreds of places all over Greenland. Therefore, there are icebergs all over Greenland.

Ilulissat is especially well known for icebergs because the glaciers in its immediate area (Sermeq Kujalleq and Eqip Sermia) are especially active. They move faster, and thus calve more frequently creating more icebergs, than other glaciers in Greenland and in the whole world! Sermeq Kujalleq, more commonly just called Kangia or the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, is one of the fastest flowing glaciers in the world. It currently flows about 35 meters a DAY while other glaciers in the world only move that far in a year!

However, despite the glacier’s fast pace, it is currently in a state of rapid retreat (moving closer and closer toward land). Glacial retreat IS a natural occurrence, but the rate at which Sermeq Kujalleq is currently retreating is what is unprecedented. Sermeq Kujalleq has actually been slowly retreating since about 1850. But in 1998, the glacier suddenly started flowing twice as fast as before, its surface level depressed, and its floating glacial tongue calved off entirely. In just 10 years, the glacier retreated 15 km (9 miles) when previously it took 80+ years to retreat that far. The Ilulissat Ice Fjord was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2004, so the area is now protected.

This is a picture of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, taken in August 2012.

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This is a picture of Eqip Sermia, a glacier just north of Ilulissat that calves very frequently, taken in June 2012. It is an extremely popular attraction for tourists. There are sailing tours to view it from the water, and there is also the possibility to stay overnight in small huts/lodges on land close by.

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This is a picture of Narsap Sermia, a glacier just north of Nuuk, take in July 2012… and an iceberg that originated from it.

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