Monday, August 9, 2010

The Iceland Greenland Story July 2010

(Pictures and Video at the Bottom and a Poem you must read at the very bottom)

Some of what you are about to read is true, but it all could be, as there are pictures and video to prove it.

I want to give credit to Iceland Adventure both Holly and Lynn did a great job of setting up an awesome trip and also taking care of us during our delay.

The Story Begins:
Here I am sitting on planes again. After twenty-four hours of flying on four different flights, I woke up and looked out the window of this cramped 757 to see Greenland. What a beautiful sight! It is 4:15 AM local time and we are at an altitude of 37,000 feet. The sun is lighting up this barren piece of ice with a cool orange and pink glow. Iceland is one and a half hours away. I then land at the Leif Eriksson terminal at the Keflavik airport 6:20 AM local time. I have no idea what time zone I’m in, I just know I am wiped out. Get me to a shower and a bed!!

When I fly all night, I try to get a shower ASAP and then nap for one to two hours. After the nap, I am good to go for the rest of day and trip, with little to no jet lag. Unlike most of my other travels, this trip was booked using a travel agent, so I have little to no control over the arrangements. I arrived at the Fosshotel Baronat 8:00 AM. The location seemed just right with the quality similar to a mid-level European hotel. As I went to check in, I was told check in was 4:00 PM and I would need to come back then. Here I was with very little sleep over the last 36 hours and now another 8 hours before I could get a shower and a couple hours sleep, so much for plan A on to plan B.

Plan B with 8 hours to kill… I might as well explore Reykjavik. I walked one block up and found Reykjavik’s main shopping street, Laugavegur. The street about a mile long, is lined with local shops and restaurants. At 8:00 AM on a Monday, Laugavegur was like a ghost town. Literally I was the only one on the street. I stopped at a small pastry shop and had some hot tea. I hoped the caffeine would help me stay awake until Reykjavik woke. The temperature was milder than I expected, maybe 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It appears as if the Gulf Stream helps keep Iceland’s temperature milder then you might expect. At 9:00 AM, the town started coming to life.

Though I have never been to Scandinavia, Iceland had the feel I would expect in Denmark, Sweden, or Norway. I continued exploring the town stopping at several tourist information centers. I wanted to plan out the few days I had in Iceland getting the most out of the short stay.

I found out about a few must do's while in Iceland: Whale watching, hiking, enjoying the thermal pools, climbing to the top of The Church Hallgrimur, eat an Icelandic hotdog, eat whale, eat puffin and lastly go to the Blue Lagoon. It was 11:00 AM and I was down at the harbor scoping out whale watching boats when I stumbled onto a quaint little family owned restaurant. The name is Hofnin Restaurant. And they served locally caught fish. I had a great meal of haddock mixed with onions, potatoes, and butter (Yum!).

As I continued on my walk through town almost in a zombie like trance, I stumbled upon a place called "MyReykjavik". They offered a free guided tour of the center of Reykjavik. The tour started at 1:00 PM and lasted 2 hours. It was 12:15 PM so this tour fit my schedule perfectly. I just had to stay awake. The tour was great! You got a great mix of history, geography, architecture and even the guide's philosophy on politics, economics, and religion. Well worth the price, I would have spent a hundred times what it cost (100 x $0.00 = $0.00). After the tour, I still had an hour to kill so I got a hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. This particular hot dog stand had been recommended to me by President Bill Clinton when he visited us last month.He said when he visited Iceland as President, it was his first stop to eat. I was told this place always has a line and sure enough at 3:00 PM the line was 10 deep. The hot dog was well worth the wait.

With a half hour to kill so I looked at my map and saw The Church Hallgrimur was between the hot dog stand and my hotel. The views from the church were great as you got a great perspective of how the town was laid out.

There are plus’s and minus’s to having a travel agent book the hotel. In this case the minus, I could not check in when I wanted. The plus the hotel upgraded me to a large water view room as a thank you for waiting. Again, well worth the wait.

The tour guide from the free city tour had recommended a tapas restaurant called Tapas Barinn. So after a shower and a short nap I went out in search of tapas. I ordered a sampler which featured whale, puffin as well as local lamb and lobster tail. Dinner was great. Eleven PM and the sun is still out I hope I can get some sleep.

Drugs are great… I took a sleeping pill and woke at 7:00 AM local time. Whale watching is first on the agenda. I decided to use Elding Adventures at sea. I had whale and puffin for dinner and now I am out watching them. The puffin is a cool bird, once hatched it leaves the nest (a hole in the ground, literally) and heads to sea for five years. Upon his or her return, the puffin searches for a mate. The puffin mates for life, no divorces for a puffin. The puffin has one chick per season and the Puffin live to a ripe old age of 50 plus years. They claim the longevity of life is due to one mate for life.

We came upon an island that was swarming with puffin. The day was cool but the sun was shining strong and the puffins were enjoying the warm air for Icelandic temperatures.

From the island, we cruised further out to find some whales. We saw four or five Miki Whales or maybe just one whale in multiple locations. These whales do not jump so you only see them as they breach the water to get a breath air.

It was time for lunch so off to the "burger joint" I went. Yep, that is the name Burger Joint. They only serve burgers and like the hot dog shop, it has a line all the time. The burger was great just the right amount of grease and the fries were perfect.

When I was on the free tour, the guide had mentioned a night tour he gives on Tuesday night’s and the name of the tour is “The White Night”. We traveled an hour outside of town up a mountain around 1,500 meters in elevation. You then hike an hour and a half down to some hot springs where you bathe and have dinner. The hike starts at 7:00 PM and ends at 1:00 AM. I decided I would go over and register for that night hike. Though there is no sunset the sun does go very low on the horizon and I am hoping the sun will create some nice colors.

A few observations about Iceland / Reykjavik: though the country is in financial ruin the city is very clean and the people are very polite. There is no crime. In fact so far I have only seen one police car. Walking by city hall, the parliament, and the prime ministers office I saw absolutely no type of police or security.

Another thing you notice is all the locals pay for everything with credit cards. At the hot dog stand everybody was paying with credit cards. The reason I was told this is everybody is broke and they just keep borrowing. You might think with the country in financial ruin things might be cheap, NOPE. The trip I took to Egypt last December was my least expensive trip with a 5 course meal costing just a few dollars. I am sure this will be my most expensive. In Iceland they use the Icelandic Krona (ISK) $1.00 US is worth 124 ISK. Dinner at the tapas restaurant was 8,450 ISK that is $68.00 USD, a huge sum for a guy living on a dollar a week in Botswana. Some of the high cost is understandable with almost everything having to be imported. The financial crisis has made things worse and rampant inflation has made imports more costly.

Iceland seems to have two main industries, tourism and energy. Banking had been big with the Icelandic Government back stopping bank loans creating a huge banking industry. In 2008 when the global banking industry went bust the Icelandic banks closed shop. This left the government on the hook for billions of dollars. This broke Iceland. I think the World Bank and some European countries have been bailing Iceland out but with so much debt Iceland won't be able to pay these loans, and this is causing high inflation or a devaluation of the Icelandic Krona. The energy industry in Iceland is based on thermal energy. The earth’s crust is very thin under Iceland, in some areas the crust is non-existent and the ground just boils. This makes the cost of electricity VERY low. So how do you exploit this natural resources. Though it would be nice, it is not practical to build power lines to North America and Europe so exporting this energy is not possible. Instead Iceland is importing industry with the promise of low cost energy. While the government and the economy needs these industries desperately, the population is concerned about the environmental impact this will have on one of the most pristine area of the world.

It is time for a run. The hike does not start until 7:00 PM so I have a few hours to kill. Reykjavik has a nice bike / running path that runs all along the ocean. As I was walking over to the path, I noticed a rather heavy man pushing a car and I asked him if he needed help. His car was all electric, which there are many in Iceland as well as hydrogen full cell vehicles. It seems this gentleman had run out of current. He wanted me to steer as he pushed. Worried about a heart attack, I said I would push, which I did while he steered for the quarter mile to the electric station.

As a thank you the man wanted me to take his wife for the night. Bill Clinton had told me about this custom found in Iceland and Greenland, if you do a man a favor, as a thank you they offer you their wife. If you refuse they take it as an insult which can cause a fight. President Clinton said while in Iceland he did more favors for unknown men and had never been rewarded so well, he never refused the wife as he did not want to start a fight.

In my case I simple said thanks but no thanks. This did not please the man, but I had an easy out I simple ran away.

After my run and a 3 hour nap, I met up at "MyReykjavik" to catch the bus for the hike. At the meeting spot I got a great surprise. There sat Margarite. I had not seen Margarite in months she had returned home to Holland from Botswana to care for her ailing mother. She had read on that I was visiting Iceland and Greenland and thought she would surprise me, and she sure did. Now, I was real glad I had refused the gentlemen's thank you gift a few hours earlier. Iceland is a small country with just 300,000 people and 200,000 of them living in the Reykjavik area. Margarite simple walked to a couple of tourist information centers and was able to locate where I was staying and find out what my plans were.

On the way to where the hike would start, we passed a small mountain range with a ski resort on it. Though we were told the resort had very little snow and was unable to operate the last few years. Apparently, this is a result of climate change.

We had a three person guide team for the hike, Jonas (who was the guide on the free tour I had taken the day before), Ymir and Ymir's wife. The hike started in a thermal area that was being investigated to be used for energy and sold to industry. If the energy company is successful the area where we are hiking will be changed forever, and not for the better.

The evening hike was started by our guides just 3 weeks prior as a way to educate the world about what they feel could be a huge environmental disaster if these power plants are built.

We hiked through some beautiful areas all with volcanic activity, steam vents and boiling mud pits. At 10:00 PM, the sun was just starting to set. The green colors of the moss were so beautiful with the sun light making the greens glow very bright.

Ymir had wanted to hike to the top of one of the mountains ever since he began this hike. His reasoning was that, as you hike by the mountain you could hear a whistle calling you up the mountain. Ymir asked Margarite and I to run to the top with him to find out what this whistle was. It was a steep rutted climb and Ymir, a heavy smoker, did well but was clearly pushing himself once we reached the top. The run took about five minutes and was worth every second. Once we arrived, we found a steam vent that sounded as if a freight train was coming through the mountain.

After our little excursion, we joined the others who were already bathing in the thermal pools. These pools are created by fresh water springs combining with hot water thermals. What a refreshing way to enjoy a break in the hike!

We were served a gourmet dinner that included appetizers of raw shark, whale, puffin, and smoked lamb, then a cream lobster bisque with a local fish that was cooked with the steaming bisque, basically the fish was poached with the soup. Following the soup, we had fresh smoked salmon sandwiches.

It was midnight when we finished bathing and dinner. The sun was still setting and it was very light out. As we hiked away from the thermal pools we passed a small canyon with beautiful water falls. The hike was a 6 KM point to point hike. Doing a point to point hike is so enjoyable compared to an out and back as you always see new sites rather then retracing your steps. We completed the hike at 1:30 AM and returned to our hotel at 2:20 AM. It was still light out and was as dark as it was going to get as the sun was starting to rise. I would HIGHLY recommend this hike for a true appreciation of the Icelandic landscape, the midnight sun, and a very nice dinner with an unbelievable atmosphere.

After a very short night’s or should I say short morning’s rest, we met our guide for what is called the Golden Circle Tour. We had heard that the Golden Circle Tour is one of those things you must do while in Iceland but that it will be somewhat touristy. We were using the tour company Netbus. We had heard they use smaller buses and run much smaller groups 10 to 15 people vs the other tour companies taking 50 - 60 people on a single tour. Our first stop was Hellisheidi geothermal power plant. This plant was built by a company that is publicly owned, think of it as a public utility. The power company is looking to help the Icelandic economy by exploiting its huge thermal energy reserves. The process of creating energy from the earth’s heat is very much the same as nuclear energy. With the exception of the fuel that is used. With nuclear energy, nuclear fuel is used to heat water to create steam that turns the generator turbines and creates electricity, with thermal energy the earth’s heat is used to heat the water to create the steam.

The power company also uses the excess hot water for heating homes, hot water for homes, heating swimming pools, and they even pump the hot water under the roads for snow removal. Once the water is cooled, it is circulated back down into the earth to be heated again. Geothermal energy is thought to be very “Green” as there is no carbon foot print, no emissions of any kind. I watched the process and wondered what it will be like in 1,000 years when this process has totally cooled the earth by extracting all its core heat and the planet dies.

Our next stop is Kerio Crater which is a crater in a range of craters formed by the volcanic activity. The Tour Guide is great, very knowledgeable and he also likes to keep the group moving. As I mentioned we are hitting a lot of tourist areas and he is working hard to keep us ahead of the big bus groups. We have the sights all to ourselves. You might call it speed sight seeing. Just enough time to see the sights, take some pictures, get some history, and then we move on to the next sight.

Our next stop is a bonus stop one that most tour companies skip, it is one of the original 2 Catholic Churches in Iceland. Seeing the painting of Jesus behind the alter is just breath taking and made the stop worth the extra time. The churches in Iceland are much brighter inside than churches I have visited in other parts of the world, it seems they allow more outside light in. I wonder if this is done to counteract the long dark winter days of little to no sun light. This church had a hidden passage way through the basement, kind of creepy.

On the road again to the Geysir if you have been to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in the United States then you have seen this. You know what they say "If you have seen one Geysir you have seen them all." Though I have been to Yellowstone, seeing these Geysirs is still cool. The power of the earth as the water shoots 30 meters into the air is unreal.

We had lunch at the Geysirs, as I had mentioned food is very expensive in Iceland but lucky for me I have packed my dozen or so peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The next stop is the Gullfoss “Golden Falls”. We had made a quick stop in between the church and the Geysir I forgot to mention where we saw some small waterfalls, the golden waterfalls are much larger though not as large as Niagara Falls, much more spectacular and beautiful. The golden waterfalls have been formed from the melting glacier.

Back on the bus to our next stop Pingvellir which has both political and geological significance. Politically, it was where the first parliament of Iceland was formed. In fact, it maybe have been the first parliament formed anywhere in the world. The parliament also served as the justice system with the most severe punishment being death by drowning. Because of both the weather (remember this was before climate change) and rugged terrain, parliament only meet once a year. The geological significance of this area is that it is where the continental plates of Eurasia and North America meet. These plates move apart at a rate of 2 centimeters per year. You can see the fizzers created by this activity. Another beautiful geological sight is the lake. The lake was formed by the melting glacier. This lake has many canyons formed by the movement of the continental divide. Scuba diving has become a popular sport within these canyons, these canyons are deep, but the pure glacier water is so clear you can easily see the bottom, there are many caves within these canyons that the divers can explore.

It was now time for a nap, with very little sleep the night before both Margarite and I were wiped out. We found a great place for dinner Potturinn Og Pannan and one of the oldest restaurants in Reykjavik. I highly recommend this restaurant. Tomorrow I head to Greenland and will have to say goodbye to Margarite.

Margarite and I had a nice run in the morning along the same route I had run the day before. I had to pack and be at the airport by 11:00 AM for my 12:00 PM flight. On the run Margarite said she would try to go standby and hang with me in Greenland. I had no complaints about that!

We flew out of the domestic airport (yes, Margarite got on my flight) which is right in town and a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel. There is no security at all. I just walked up and got on my flight. There was an x-ray machine but I am not sure it had been turned on in years. The flight to Greenland is 3 hours 10 minutes but you cross 2 time zones so it is really just a little over an hour. The plane is a small prop plane and I am sure the flight is at the outer limits of the plane’s capabilities. We flew completely across Greenland east to west. As we approached Greenland’s east coast we could see small icebergs and a mountain range coming right out of the ocean. The captain allowed us to come up in the cockpit and take pictures.

The interior of Greenland appeared to be a huge glacier; no sign of life anywhere just mountainous white snow and ice. As we approached the west coast, we could see a huge glacier flowing right into the ocean with huge icebergs that clearly had broken off the glacier. The water was so clear and you could see the part of the iceberg that was under water just the coolest blue you ever saw.

We landed at the Ilulissat airport which is just a building and landing strip. There was a sign for customs but just like the x-ray machines in Reykjavik, no one had worked customs at this airport in sometime. We were greeted by a representative of Arctic Adventures and Hotel Arctic. Once we got our bags, they took us to the hotel and got us all checked in.

The iceberg town Ilulissat means icebergs in Greenlandic, and the town has a beautiful location at the mouth of the 56 kilometer long ice fjord that is filled with enormous icebergs from the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere, Sermeq Kujalleq. The Ilulissat Glacier gives birth daily to 20 million tons of ice which also explains why it is included on the World Heritage list. Ilulissat, which is also known by its Old Danish name, Jakobshavn, has 4,500 residents today and 3,500 sled dogs, which underlines the importance of the dogsled as a means of transport. The harbor is full of fishing boats and trawlers that bare witness to the great importance of fishing for Ilulissat. The location of Ilulissat is breathtaking - all year round huge icebergs raising hundreds of meters above sea level are stranded at the mouth of the fjord.

The hotel was having a welcome dinner for the guests at 6:00 PM but it was only 2:00 PM so Margarite and I decided to walk (2 KM) to the town center. The town of Ilulissat is very interesting. I had never seen anything like it. There was an active fishing harbor and many residential houses all painted very bright colors. There were also several small shops catering to the tourist industry. I think the houses are painted bright colors to help the residents find their homes in the winter when they are covered with snow.

The hotel is very nice and the service is great. We were two hundred kilometers above the Arctic Circle and we had an awesome meal starting with the freshest halibut I ever had then roasted lamb that was out of this world. The rooms are spacious compared to European standards: furnished very nicely and very clean. The only disappointing part is our view. We look out at huge fuel and water tanks for the town, and buildings under construction. Here we are in one of the most beautiful places in the world and we have one of the worst views I have ever seen from a hotel. I actually went back to the front desk to have my room changed as soon as I saw the view but was told there were no other rooms available. So while I would recommend this hotel you need a commitment to where your room will be and what view you will have.

Tonight we are taking a midnight cruise through the icebergs the cruise leaves at 10:00 PM which is 12:00 AM Iceland time so I think a nap is in order.

The cruise got canceled as the fog was rolling in and out and at 10:00 PM it had rolled in. As luck would have it at 10:30 PM after the trip was canceled the fog rolled out and stayed out the rest of the night or should I say late day as it never got dark, not even dusk.

I am not sure what is above our room but I think it must be an all night dance floor or some real fat person pacing all night. I will have to figure this one out, I guess that is what happens when you have a room in the basement.

The next day we are off on a boat trip to a local hunting village of just 47 people considerably less than my village in Botswana. We arrived at the village Rodebay, after a 1.5 hour boat ride. The main industry is whaling! The town is self sufficient: a one room school house that is the church on Sundays, a desalination plant to make fresh water from the ocean. The most unique system was their sewer system. Each home gets a yellow bag that fits in the toilet. The bag is collected weekly by the sewer man and disposed of properly. The sewer man is the highest paying job in the village. This is a neat system, but when I return home I am going to send the village leaders information I have on the compost toilets we built, this maybe more practical and less expensive especially during the mild weather.

The have no running pipes to the houses for water and there are water stations that the villagers go to fill their water jugs. My guess is there are a few hundred Greenlandic Sled Dogs in this village many of them pups. These dogs are not Alaskan Huskies, but their own unique breed. In fact in all of Greenland, this is the only dog allowed and if one leaves the country it is not allowed back in. This is to protect the breed. To understand the difference between an Alaskan Husky and a Greenlandic Sled Dog, you can compare them to a sports car and a truck. A husky is fast and nimble, but can not pull a big load where a Greenlandic is strong and powerful built to pull large loads, but not very fast.

There was one restaurant in the village the name is H-8, a unique name with a story. The way the village receives supplies and mail in the winter is by plane. The pilot does not land but simple throws the goods out of the plane. The way the pilot knows what town is what is the trading station / general store would paint the village’s designation on the roof of the building. The village of Rodebay had a designation of H-8. When the restaurant took over the building that had been the trading station it thought why not H-8 for a name since it was already painted on the roof of the building.

For lunch we had fresh salmon, halibut, herring, smoked whale, a few other fishes, and some great pastry for dessert. The meal was well above our expectations. What fresh foods can do for a restaurant! I am sure the restaurant was built for the tourist, but why not if it helps the village.

The skies where clear as could be, the air cool almost cold very crisp with a fairly strong breeze. The water way, Disko Bay was loaded with massive icebergs. These things are bigger than huge buildings. The boat captain had to take care to maneuver around them.

The round trip was 5 hours door to door and well worth it. It is still hard to believe we are 200 kilometers above the Arctic Circle and how brutal the winters here are. Then you realize it is July 15th and the current weather is equivalent to winter weather in London, England.

We had another gourmet meal at a restaurant within the Hotel Icefiord I had smoked whale as an appetizer and rain deer (not Rudolf) as my main course. The view of the ice fjords from the restaurant is breath taking. It is funny how a great experience can be ruined by some business trying to make an extra buck. I went to pay the very expensive (which I expected) bill, the waiter took my credit card looked at it and said since it was not a local card he had to charge me an extra 5.75%. In all my travels I have never been told this on the restaurant’s door they clearly had displayed the VISA logo. Since the ATM was a few blocks away, I said I would simply go to the ATM and get cash. He then told me that the ATM was closed until Monday. I later found out this was a lie. So if you are in Ilulissat DO NOT go to the Hotel Icefiord for dinner unless you have cash or a local credit card.

Another pet peeve I have is hotels that charge for Internet access which the Arctic Hotel does, why? The cost for the hotel to provide wireless internet has to be one of the lowest of all the services they provide. I would guess the cost of electricity is much higher than the cost of the internet. When you check in they should ask you how many hours of electric you want and then bill you for the usage. This may sound stupid, so does changing for access to the internet.

We switched our midnight cruise from the night before to tonight. Not sure how smart that was since we have a 5:30 am roll call tomorrow for an all day boat trip to the glaciers. The midnight cruise started out somewhat redundant, if you have seen one iceberg you have seen them all, but around 12:15 AM as the sun touched the horizon the orange glow of the sun was just unbelievable off the icebergs. The one aspect of the icebergs I will never be able to explain is their shear size as these icebergs are the size of huge mountains. As pieces fall off them into the ocean the thunderous sounds you hear make you realize how enormous these things are. Our boat had 12 people plus the captain and the first mate. 10 of the 12 people were from Germany so the captain gave most of the tour in German and I translated for Margarite. The midnight cruise took place just at the end of the Ilulissat glacier. This is a very fast moving glacier 40 - 50 kilometers per day. So the icebergs that come off the glacier are very large. There are some parts of the glacier that are over a hundred thousand years old most of the icebergs are 200 to 300 years old. The reason the icebergs are so young is the glacier is fast moving producing over 20 million tons of icebergs a day.

We had a wake call at 5:30 AM which was rather early considering the midnight cruise was over at 1:30 AM. The sun never set it touched the horizon and the skipped along from the west to the east then rising again into the sky.

We are heading to Eqip glacier the only glacier in the Ilulissat area where you can experience the glacier calving. This is the icebergs breaking off the front of the glacier. We have a 5 hour boat ride to get to the glacier and I hope sleep is on its way. The Equip glacier is a much slower moving glacier then the Ilulissat glacier only 2 kilometers per day. For this reason, the icebergs are much smaller and this allows the boat to get much closer to the glacier. When the glacier calves huge chunks of ice break off and fall into the water creating huge waves and iceberg, the bigger the iceberg the bigger the wave. There was a group of Danes on our trip to Eqip most them staying the night at the ice camp. This is a camp with primitive cabins that sit a few hundred meters from the glacier. The next day they will hike on the inland ice. You can think of the glaciers as a river and the inland ice as a lake. For the boat ride back we picked people up that had been at the ice camp for the last few days they all seemed to have enjoyed it. For me not having the comforts of home like our compost toilets and electricity from our wind generator would not be a vacation. Five hours back to Iluissat.

It is our last day in Ilulissat we took a walk through town and then did some hiking out along the Ilulissat glacier. Actually where we were hiking technically is no longer a glacier but a true river of ice. Over the last 150 years the glacier has recede about 20 kilometers. Some claim this is due to global warming (climate change) and others say it is just the normal changes the earth goes through. I have no idea which it is, but I am pretty sure the Grand Canyon in the United States was formed by an ice glacier, during the ice age and that ice was all gone before the first car or industrialized factory was built.

After the hikes we visited the two museums in town. The first one was a history museums which gave a nice history of the area (traditionally the area was made up of hunters and fishermen they were nomadic and would follow the animals and the seasons). The second museum was an art museum that displayed and sold art from local artists.

When we checked out of the Arctic Hotel we realized there is a small recreation center above our room. The center has a ping pong table in it, thus the sound of ball room dancing above our beds.

This afternoon we are boarding a ship, Sarfaq Ittuk. This vessel was built for Greenlandic waters, and its beautiful ice-filled coast so we will cruise through the 700 miles of Greenland's west coast. Part of the Arctic Umiaq Line, the Sarfaq Ittuk is a coastal passenger vessel, with lots of Greenlander’s (and a crew that’s mostly local) and a few visitors who see the country as the Greenlanders do. Greenland is not a place that’s easily travelled - we are hoping the Sarfaq Ittuk will be a great way to see this special place!

There is one issue as we have no ticket for Margarite and we are being told the boat is sold out. We are going to try to sneak her aboard by having her act like a deck hand loading the baggage.

No go on our plan, all the deck hands were native Greenlanders so Margarite was quickly discovered. But plan B worked, we put Margarite inside this bin full of fresh fish. Once the bin was loaded onto the boat I dug her out of the bin, she smelled a little fishy, but so is the story.

There are 5 decks on the Sarfaq Ittuk the bottom or first deck has no cabins just chairs, there are mostly locals on this deck. The second deck has very small cabins with common bathrooms. On the third deck (our deck) there are small cabins aft similar to the second deck and large cabins forward with a cafeteria in between. We are in the forward section. The cabin is specious and designed to sleep 4 and has a full bath. The fourth deck has similar cabins as the large cabins on the third deck just a few feet smaller. Also on the fourth deck is a lounge and movie theater. The fifth deck is an open air observation deck. We will be spending the next 72 hours on this boat.

Our first stop is Aasiaat a very small fishing village. The fog has set in so visibility is very low, we stop for 30 minutes to pick up and drop off passengers. This ship is used for transportation very much like a train in Europe. I would say the passengers are 85% locals just getting around Greenland traveling with their families and 15% tourist touring Greenland. The cabin is very comfortable for sleeping and roomy enough not to get claustrophobic. While the sleep was restful we would be woken up throughout the night from the noise of the boat hitting small icebergs. The fog burned off over night, this might sound strange, but remember the sun is always shining.

Our first stop today is Sisimiut and we visit here for only two hours. Sisimuit is the second largest town in Greenland. Unfortunately the town’s history museum is closed on Mondays and yes today is Monday. We did visit a local artisan shop where locals were showing off their talents from painting to fabricating pieces of art from whale bone. The Inuit people are closely related to the Native Alaskan Eskimo in fact their native language is similar.

Back on the boat at 11:00 AM after our 2 hour stop. Our next stop Kangamiut is in 6 hours. There has been a lot of fog as we have been heading south. Kangamiut was not really a stop; we simply slow down and lowered the tender to let one passenger board the tender. The tender headed to shore and a few minutes later the tender returned with 4 additional passengers. The tender was raised back onto the boat and we were on our way. It seemed the only way to get to the village of Kangamiut was by boat. This very small fishing village seems to be the most isolated village we have visited so far. One exciting thing about Kangamuit is this is the first village below the Arctic Circle we have visited. Somewhere between Sissimiut and Kangamuit, we crossed below the Arctic Circle. We later learned that the only way to get in and out of most villages in Greenland is by boat or helicopter.

We meet an environmental historian from Australia and she explained to us that Greenland recently got it's independence from Denmark and is promoting itself as a tourist destination. In fact in just a few weeks Ilulissat will host 2 large cruise ships each carrying 3,000 passengers. The 6,000 visitors will quickly overwhelm the 4,500 residents. She went on to explain that Greenland is in a catch 22 because they really do not have the infrastructure to host a huge influx of tourists, but in order to finance the building of this infrastructure they need to first get the tourists. We are glad we are visiting Greenland before the explosion of tourism.

As we went by an Ice Field we saw a local, ice fishing. What we saw next we could not believe I was just glad I had my video turned on.
Click to Watch Video

Our next stop is Maniitsoq which lives up to its name meaning rugged place. The terrain from Kangamiut to Maniitsoq is beautiful rugged snow capped mountains. Very similar to the look and feel of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming (USA) which I back packed through a few years ago with Larry and Eddie. Most of the distance we have traveled between these two towns has been via deep narrow fjord with mountains on both sides of the boat. We did see whales in this fjord or should I say we saw them breathing as they surfaced we could see the water spout from there blow hole.

Nuuk the capital of Greenland, our first stop of the day is the most modern and industrial town we have seen so far. There is a small section with small colorful buildings that are similar to the traditional towns of Greenland. The rest of Nuuk has modern glass building some several stories high. There is also some very ugly tenement type building (low income type housing). The Danish government several years back took an entire village of native Greenlanders and relocated them to Nuuk, thus the low income housing. The reason for this relocation is the Danish government wanted Nuuk to be the industrial center of Greenland and for this to happen Nuuk needed a strong workforce. We were suppose to have a guided tour of Nuuk but no guide showed up so we walked the town on our own. The weather is cool and foggy it really chills you to the bone.

Our second stop of the day was a very small island village of Qeqertarsuatsiaat. The ferry boat clearly is a big event for this village a total population of 261 and everyone in the village came out to greet the boat. From the looks of the large fish processing plant at the dock, fishing is one of the main industries. Seal hunting is also big for this village, the women of the village hand make well know Qeqertarsuatsiaat bags from the seal skins.

It actually got dark tonight yes the sun did set! We have traveled 600 kilometers south plus we have now been away 10 days so the days are gradually getting shorter as we approach fall. We made one short stop at 11:30 PM (in the dark) in a small village called Paamiut and again, the whole town came out to greet the boat. The seas have picked up and the boat is rocking substantially compared to the smooth voyage we have had so far.

Our first stop this morning is Arsuk but it is just another stop using the tender let passengers on and off. We continue cruising through the fjords created by the great glacier flows of the past. We continue to see icebergs though much smaller than we saw in the north. In the area we are currently cruising there are no icebergs in the winter, only in the summer. The reason is the icebergs we see here actually float down from the north. In the spring and summer the icebergs break off the northern glaciers and float south to these parts. The northern glaciers do not produce icebergs in the fall and winter thus no icebergs in the south during those seasons. The weather has warmed my guess is the temperature is 14 degrees Celsius.

Our second stop of the day is a town called Qaqortoq with a population of 3,100. It is one of the larger towns we have visited, and while very traditional compared to Nuuk, it does have two must sees. The first is the only public water fountain in all of Greenland, and it is set directly as you walk out the harbor area in the main square of the town. The second must see is actually 30 to 40 must sees. In the 1980's, some local native folk artist from the local school carved sculptures out of the grant rock that the town is built on. These sculptures are all over town each with its own creative design. There is also an active tannery that offers one hour tours unfortunately, it was closed while we were in Qaqortoq. Qaqortoq is built into the granite hills of southern Greenland so just walking around town is worth the visit, both from and exercise and beauty point of view.

Two hours until our final destination Narsaq where we will spend two and a half days. The weather has turn to a light rain and overcast. This is our first real rain on the trip. We were met at the dock in Narsaq by our Arctic Adventurer guide Matis and the owner of the Hotel Narsaq. The hotel was a 1 kilometer drive from the dock. Here is the description we got from our travel agent of the hotel.

“Hotel Gedebakken - This is a cosy little apartment guesthouse that is near the Hotel Narsaq. Rather than just a double room you’ll have a little apartment with sitting area and small kitchen. All apartments have a bathroom with a shower, a small kitchen for making tea and light meals, a TV, and a phone. Located on the hill with wonderful views of the town, the fjord and to the icecap. The Hotel Gedebakken is only about 300 meters from the Hotel Narsaq. Here you can find all the services you’ll need. There’s a front desk, as well as internet access, and a dining room for breakfast and an excellent choice of options for dinner. While it’ not a hard walk, your outfitter will be happy to transfer you back and forth between the Hotel Gedebakken and Hotel Narsaq."

We arrived at the Hotel Narsaq and were given our room key. Our room had one small window that faced away from the water into someone’s back yard. I asked about the Hotel Gedebakken and was told we rather stay in the room we were assigned as it is much nicer, but if we wanted we could switch the next day. After our experience at the Arctic Hotel I insisted on seeing the other room. If you removed the word cozy from the above description and added un-kept, the description would be a perfect match. The room was not prepared for guests so again we would spend our time in just a beautiful place and have a hotel room with a god awful view. After traveling for ten days, I was not prepared to switch hotel rooms from a clean room to an un-kept room just for the view.

Margarite and I took a short walk through town prior to meeting our guide for that days hike. It seems this village has more Danes living here vs. the other town we have visited. Maybe since we are further south the climate is more hospitable to non-natives.

Matis meet us at the hotel at 9:45 AM. Joining us on the hike is “The Babe Devine” and James Hughes, a mother and adult son from Australia. We have been crossing paths with “The Babe Devine” and James over the last 8 days, also joining us is Gaven Adcock who is visiting from London, England. Our hike followed the Narsaq River up toward the glacier. Along the hike are several beautiful water falls. Behind us the harbor full of deep blue icebergs was an awesome back drop. The sky was overcast with fog continually rolling in and out, creating constantly changing views. The hike was 17 kilometers just over 10 miles. What a great way to celebrate our first day off the ferry boat.

The plan for today was to take a boat up one of the fjords to an ice glacier where we would be able to climb up to the inland ice. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, with off and on rain that was sometimes fairly heavy. The boat captain did not feel comfortable taking us out in this weather. No one wanted to disagree with the captain. Instead, we spent the day in town and we visited a local Danish man who has lived in Greenland since 1959. He has collected precious minerals and made jewelry from them, some very gorgeous items. The man was very proud of his jewelry and at age 75 he was still very active.

Our last day in Greenland, we took a boat to the village of Qassiarsuq. Qassiarsuq is the village where the Vikings first settled. You may have heard the name Leif Erickson, it is his father who was the founder of this village. There were excavated ruins, a reproduction church and turf house from the time of 1,000 AD. We had a very pleasant lady give us a very detailed history of the Vikings and why they left Norway and how the found their way to Greenland.

As I had said today is our last day in Greenland or so we thought. From Qassiarsuq we took a ferry boat across the fjord to Narsarsuaq ( where we would get our flight back to Iceland. When we arrived we saw our flight posted with a time of 13:45 or 1:45 PM and the Danish word "aflyst" next to it. I do understand all languages but some times I get a few words mixed up. I thought "aflyst" meant on time. At 1:00 PM I asked if we could check in I found out that "aflyst" meant canceled. Yes, our flight had been canceled. We headed to the Narsarsuaq Hotel a 300 meter walk from the airport and got a room.

Here is a big plus to having a great travel agent. One call to Holly at Iceland Adventure and our hotel, day tour and flight were all corrected. Great job Holly! We saw other delayed travelers stressed and on the phoned trying to figure out what to do.

Narsarsuaq was a United States and Danish air force base in World War II. Even though it was 70 years ago you could see a lot of the remnants. We are fairly certain the two wings of the hotel are old army barracks. We found a locked entrance to the interior of the mountain with the date 1942 above it. We also found an unlocked entrance which James bravely explored and realized it was an ammunition depot and still had live munitions in it. No big deal until we realized James had a lit cigarette. We quickly made a U turn and went for our hike.

We did not want to waste the day as the sun was out and it was actually getting hot I would say 20 degrees Celsius. So we hiked to the top of the mountain for some great views of the fjords and glacier. You could clearly see how the glacier had receded over the years.

Up until this time, we had for the most part had very nice meals throughout Iceland and Greenland. That all changed tonight. We had mystery meat and soggy vegetables for dinner. We have a feeling with 2 flights canceled the hotel and kitchen were overwhelmed.

The important thing was we had a fun day and saw some great sites. We did not come to Greenland for the food.

"aflyst" again. Yes another day in Greenland. I just wish there was more to this town than a World War II air force base and a hotel made out of old army barracks.

I need to give kudos to the Narsarsuaq Hotel. They have been super helpful and basically are letting us stay for free. Margarite and I went for a run / hike just to get some air and kill some time. At least if we have to be stuck somewhere we have great scenery.

Gavin, “The Babe Devine”, and James also had their flight to Copenhagen canceled, so it looks like our “The Party of Five” will stay in tact. Have you ever seen the movie "The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes" with Kurt Russell (my guess is from the late 60’s or early 70's)? Gavin is just like the guy Kurt Russell plays. It is like traveling with a live goggle robot. He knows facts about everything. From what I can tell his facts are accurate, from religion, geology, geography, politics, and everything in between, he is a great guide to be stuck with on the trip.

The biggest negative about being stuck in Narsarsuaq is the food.

Hopefully tomorrow we will make it to Iceland.

We fixed the food issue. I am quite confident Gavin and Margarite, were about to go on a hunger strike if we did not find some quality food. The hotel had another restaurant on the top floor or second floor. This restaurant was much better.

“The Party of Five” had a very good conversation about world politics and solved most of the current problems, way to go team.

What a gray foggy day we woke to. Our buddy (Sam) at the airport 300 meters from the hotel had suggested we check the status of our stay in Greenland at 8 AM. I arrived just as Sam was getting in. He did not look hopeful that we would be leaving today. He said he would know more at 10. “The Party of Five” was hoping to do the boat trip to the glacier we had missed a few days before. The issue was the boat trip would not return until 12:30 PM. Sam said enjoy our morning and if for some reason our plane showed up he would make sure it waited for us.

We took a classic 1958 wooden trawler out to the glacier. What a beautiful boat. Christopher, our guide, gave us a nice education on the ice. This glacier (Qassiarsuk) was much smaller then the two we visited in Northern Greenland. Qassiarsuk produces 200,000 tons of ice a day. Christopher served us martinis with glacier ice. On our return the fog was burring off, Christopher committed that by 1:00 PM the skies would be blue. When we returned to the airport, Sam had good news! We would be leaving Greenland at 5:00 PM that evening. Good news for Margarite and I. The earliest the 3 remaining “The Party of Five” members would be heading out of Greenland would be tomorrow at noon. It seemed their airline Greenland Air could not find a plane for them. Not a good sign.

For our afternoon activity we decided to go to the dump. We had heard stories of some wonderful finds. Gavin had been voted “The Party of Five” guide through a unanimous vote. It was a no brainer why not have a walking encyclopedia be our guide. We walked the length of the runway through the forbidden zone to the other side of the runway. At that point James freaked out and ran as fast as he could and jumped toward the ocean! None of had noticed but there floating in the ocean about 6 meters off shore was a small iceberg floating in the water. James jumped through the air and landed square on the back of this Iceberg as if he had just mounted a wild stallion.

It seemed like the fun was just beginning. James, sitting on an iceberg, was now 12 meters offshore, the water temperature 3 degrees Celsius and no clear way for him to return to land. The dump 800 meters away. With all this going on Margarite realized “The Party of Two” would have to leave “The Party of Five” if we wanted to make our flight. So we said our goodbyes waved to James who was now 25 meters from land and we headed back to the airport.

Air Iceland was not taking any chances they brought in to Fokker 50's, the planes were lined up like 2 corporate jets. The passengers were split in two groups we boarded the planes and I am confident the pilots raced each other to Iceland because the scheduled 2 hour 55 minute flight took 2 hours and 25 minutes.

As we took off Margarite and I looked for James floating in the fjord but could not see him. Once in Reykjavik we checked in the Fosshotel Baron. Though it was 11:00 PM in Iceland, Margarite and I were wired. Happy to be out of Greenland and back in civilization, we went to a local pub Dillon for a drink. We reminisced how great and beautiful our trip to Greenland was.

In the morning we reacquainted ourselves with Reykjavik and ran into Jonas and Ymir's wife (I am sorry but I forgot her name) these are the folks that took us on the White Night Hike. We talked about our trip and as a going away gift they gave us a gift certificate to Og Pannan for lunch. What a perfect lunch it was we had just a few hours before we would be departing our vacation for other parts of the world. We did make the commitment to return and visit the Blue Lagoon the one must do that we did not do. We had planned to do that our last day in Iceland but with all our travel changes we choose to save it for another trip.




POEM you have to read

I hear them speak of Greenland
As the land that God forgot
Where the Arctic does confuse the mind
And the bitter is the lot
But to me it’s something different
It’s a place you can enjoy
And tell you something of it
I’ll now attempt to try
This land of mystic beauty
That by God alone was planned
There’s something here that holds you
That’s hard to understand
This land of snow capped mountains
That go towering to the skies
Unless you’ve really lived here
You’ll hardly realize
There’s hunting and there’s fishing
There’s game to fit the taste
I now you’ll not believe me
About this Arctic waste
If you want to see real beauty
On the glacier take a stroll
And see the everlasting ice
That reaches to the Pole
And go to mountain climbing
Just to breathe some real pure air
See the sun go down at noontime
In this place is not rare
See the aurora borealis
In the heavens dance a tune
And the sunshine out at midnight
See the moon shine at noon
And look at an Eskimo village
Not a minute you’ll be bored
See the towering mighty icebergs
Drifting in an out the fjord
Icy ringlets on the mountain side
That Mother Nature she has curled
It is real beauty as it’s’ best
Far from this busy world
And to this sand flats fishing
A sport that is real great
Hear the music raven
As he serenades his mate
And now that I am finished
My pen I’ll lay away
I’ll only told you little
Not half I’d like to say
If all the world was Greenland
So pure, so clean and white
Oh God, let there be peace once more
And make things go just right
As each one has his job to do
So let us join hands
And make this place worthwhile to live
As Narsarssuaq, Greenland

Author – Unknow Airforce Pilot stationed in Narsarssuaq Air Force Base World War II


Shawn said...

Great history of your travels...I'm jealous!

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