This is Greenland
This is Greenland
In the year 986 ostracized Viking, Erik the Red, toiled his way across the frozen northern seas in search of new lands to settle, eventually stumbling upon a vast continent of desolate arctic waste. In one of the world’s first shamelessly false advertising campaigns, he promptly named it Grønland (Greenland) in the hope that such a fertile name would encourage people to move there. But the results speak for themselves. Even today this enormous and autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark has a population of just 56,000 people, most of who are native Inuit. No great surprise, I thought, as my rickety propeller plane neared a berg-clustered coast devoid of anything other than scarred rock and ice. Forget people, Jordon Belfort would struggle selling this place to a fucking lichen.
So why the hell did I want to come here? Partly, it just seemed like a really funny idea at the time. Self-amusement comes with a price though, getting and staying here is punitively expensive. I was however also interested in taking a meditative retreat from civilization for a couple of days, to sort of self-equalize after the excesses of Helsinki. Additionally, getting an up close look at some of the largest glaciers on earth and seeing how the few people who do live there, live, seemed interesting.
Originally I was looking at going to the far north-western outpost town of Illusuiatt, known for it’s enormous glaciers, ice flows, bergs and all other ice related phenomena. But flights there from my base in Reykjavik were a good 4 hours away, as well as well been extremely irregular to the point of non-existent, now that summer was over. In fact flights to almost anywhere in Greenland from September onwards are difficult, with the exception of the capital, Nuuk, and the closer, much, smaller town of Kulusuk. Air Iceland did have a couple of package deals to Greenland from their website though, so I went with the Kulusuk deal, which included flights, accommodation and food. And the cost of this bizarre overnight excursion? 711 euros.
Kulusuk actually turned out to be even smaller and more remote than I thought. The plane touched down on an airstrip that in reality was just raked over rock debris. Most of the people on the plane were doing a day trip but me and 5 others were staying the night, and were met there by the hotel receptionist, a terminally bored looking Danish girl. The small hotel – and only hotel – was 2km or so from the airstrip, a bleak colonial looking outpost, that also served as a restaurant – the only restaurant – and barracks for a handful of maintenance contractors in the area. 20 minutes walk from there was the 250-person town of Kulusuk, 30km from which was its neighbor town of Tassilaq. And beyond that, nothing and no one for 750 km. All things considered, the early autumn temperature of 7 degrees felt relatively balmy.
Fortunately, the near complete lack of anything to do meant that I had plenty of time to see and do everything that there was. After dumping my bag, I wandered over to Kulusuk to take a look around. As a sparsely laid out smattering of multicolored, high arched buildings, Kulusuk is picturesque from a distance. But venture inwards and its authenticity hits you right in the nostrils. I eventually found the focal point of the stench; Dozens of clubbed and decapitated seal carcasses surrounded by hanging slabs of mystery meat. Amidst this were 30 or so Greenlandic dogs, mostly tied up and howling loudly in unison. There was only the occasional person about, each flashing me a big genuine smile as they went about their business.
Native Greenlanders are of course a people used to getting by with the rawest materials on offer. As one travels North through Scandinavia, local delicacies (i.e. the traditionally stored last resorts of Winter) become increasingly intimidating.
The Swedes kick it off with Surstromming, aka fermented herring. The Icelanders then take it up a level with Hakarl: Basking shark left to rot and ferment underground for several months, before been unearthed in slabs to wind dry. But Greenland sets the bar with Kiviak. To prepare Kiviak, take a small seabird (preferably auk) and tightly wrap it in seaweed, keeping the head exposed. Bury bird, and unearth some months later when desperately hungry. Snap off bird’s head and suck out fermented liquefied contents till content. Alternatively the birds can be mass packed into a seal skin to all putrefy together. Periodically, it actually kills people via Botulism. Having a national delicacy that kills people when your population is already dangerously low, is about as hard as it gets.
Next up I took a small boat with one other tourist to the glacier across the bay. All pictures I took of this failed to do it justice. It had to be at least half a kilometre wide, with a 20 metre vertical façade cascading into the sea. We hung back a good 200 metres from the edge – with good reason. Every several minutes or so, a sound like point blank thunder would reverberate violently around the bay – as a gigantic 300 ton block of ice would crash off into the water. This was nature at it’s grandest.
As we were coming back the weather started to pack in, so I spent the evening hanging around the hotel. Not that there was anything else to do. Company was limited to put it mildly. I’d been telling myself how much a couple of day’s isolation would be good for me, but by 7:30 I was bored stupid. It was however a Friday night and I flirted with the idea of packing up my bottles of vodka and cognac into my daysack and trekking over to the village to start an impromptu party with the Inuit’s. Apparently the natives love strong liquor but have a really hard time procuring it. I could have been the hero of Kulusuk. However, roaring rain and a lack of appropriate attire veered me out of this decision. Too bad I was by myself here, one more like-minded person and I probably would have egged into it. As an exciting alternative, I read a couple of sepia-aged National Geographic’s from the lobby and bored myself to sleep.
I didn’t sleep well though; I kept waking up to check the sky in the hope that Aurora Borealis may be visible (it had apparently revealed itself a few nights earlier). But it stayed stormy overnight and as such was impossible to tell. The isolation factor of the place crept. After a certain time, all lights on and in the hotel went off and looking out the window bared little difference from looking out a subermergable at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The only overture was the howl of the wind, occasionally punctuated by the distant rumbling of the glacier.
It was all clear the next morning. I still didn’t know exactly what to do with my remaining time, so I just wandered off the road over to some hills, sat down on a rock and tried meditating for an hour or so. I suck at this sort of thing, but the environment at hand made it all the more easier. Having forced myself into a tranquil mood, I spent the rest of the morning taking photos around the area and then boarded my plane back to Reykjavik.
So, was knocking off country number forty-eight worth it? Hmmm… Well I had it stuck in my mind that I wanted to check it out, and I have a hard time shaking ideas, good or bad, once they take hold. Unless you have a ton of money and have done everything else, the answer is probably, no. Even the most pedestrian of excursions cost a ton, as does staying there and getting around the country. That being said, been able to say that I went to Greenland makes me laugh out loud. Not sure why that is. So mission accomplished.