29 August 2015

Greenland: getting to Tunu

The day I would fly to Greenland I woke up to heavy rain. A good day to leave Iceland! But I was lucky; when I walked to the airport, it was uncharacteristically dry. I got there in good time. Soon the others appeared, and altogether we checked in. After the security check we took advantage of the duty free shop; on Iceland, this matters. And you can't go on a hike without a bit of whisky!

Two hours after leaving Iceland, Greenland came into view. It looked stunning! And the weather was good. We landed and got out. One rarely gets out of an airport terminal to such a vies. I have been spoiled and been to the airports of Longyearbyen and Ny Ålesund, but still I was impressed. But we were also confronted with the creatures that are so blissfully absent from Iceland: mosquitoes.

Greenland comes into view

The view from the terminal of Kulusuk Airport

Someone arrived with a quad bike with a trailer and we loaded up our luggage. This was the first time I'd go hiking without all my stuff on my back! We'd set up base camps and hike from there. I had been a bit skeptical; I am tough! Daypacks are for lesser people! But I had not found a "proper" hike and the best thing to do was to just enjoy it, and not fall into the trap of dangling my sense of self-worth from my toughness (be it imagined or real). So I plonked my bag into the trailer and together we walked to Kulusuk itself.

On the way Robert, our mountain guide, told us about Greenland, He had been many times before. He knew of its challenges, potential, and regional differences. It was rather interesting! It seems Greenland is financially maintained by Denmark, which has its advantages, but also kills regional initiative. If you're born in a Greenlandic village it's not easy to escape, and not everybody is content with a life of a seal hunter if they can see what the rest of the world gets up to on TV. Youth suicide is high.

We reached Kulusuk. The plan was to get there, jump on a boat, and be taken to our first basecamp, in a region we called Tunu. Technically, Tunu was one valley further north, but not all places have a name in this sparsely populated land. When Kulusuk came into view, however, Robert became a bit cautious. The entire fjord was clogged with icebergs. How would we get though that? But first things first: lunch! We were all hungry. Icelandic Mountain Guides owns a house in Kulusuk and we headed there first to fill up our stomachs. Afterwards, Robert phoned his local contacts, and we spent some time walking around the village. Julia immediately got herself a reputation for getting herself into strange circumstances and not caring; she saw a dead and decomposing seal lying around (not an uncommon sight in these villages), and she figured it was rather artistic. She knelt next to it to get a good pic. When she then wanted to get back up and walk on she found out she couldn't. Closer examination revealed she had been kneeling right in black ooze the seal had been oozing, and she was now stuck to it, to the extent she considered just leaving her trousers behind. A good first day! She did manage to free her trousers, but the stain would stay for the remainder of the trip. This incident kept us amused for days.

When Robert had managed to get hold of the boatmen, and agreed on a picking-up time, he hung up the phone, and then realised he hadn't changed his watch to local time. It was two hours earlier than he had realised! So we made another round through town. No punishment at all! It was our first Greenlandic village, and the weather was fab. There was ice in the fjords, and there were even whales. The cameras came out.

Kulusuk with its clogged up fjord

All villages we visited were full of dogs: the adults chained up (they seem to be dangerous) but the puppies roaming free. 

Finally the boats arrived; one for us and one for the luggage. We got in. And we managed to manoeuvre our way out of the fjord, and into what is known as Ammassalik Fjord. We were going at good speed, and I got cold. What had I been thinking, not putting on more clothes? But the views were too good to seek shelter from the wind.

We then moved into a side fjord. That proved a challenge! Soon our boat was stuck. No worries; the other boat came to our rescue. One of the men from the other boat (we had only one driver) jumped onto the iceberg of which the underwater part had grounded us, and pushed off. With some effort we came loose. Success! Little did we know this was only the beginning.

We struggled on. The men really were in their element! If there was no way they just made a way. They had pointy sticks for pushing away icebergs or for chopping bits off of icebergs, and they would even stand on an iceberg, dig in their heels, and then be towed away, iceberg and all, by a boat. But in spite of their efforts, we were not getting closer. I was afraid we would have to turn back, although that might not be easy either. The ice moved; our path in might already be blocked on the way out!

It's hard to navigate through the ice

Pushing the boat loose

Swanky iceberg surfing

We did turn back, but not in the way I thought. We would just go around the other way. It seemed more logical, and soon we were moving at great speed again. And then we slowed down: we were there! It should have taken an hour. It had taken four. I was very, very cold. But now we could get out, jump around, empty the luggage boat, lug everything to where we would set up camp, and all of that sorted me out quickly. And the site was lovely!

View onto our campsite from higher up on the hill

When we had pitched all the tents we were hungry again. Not so strange; we had reached camp at 8PM. So we fetched water (in a rather inefficient way), cooked, and had dinner. By then it was as good as bedtime. It had been a spectacular day, but in a way, only the next day things would start properly!

Night falls over our kitchen tent


Jesper Hansen said...

I do hope you enjoy your time in Greenland. And - as Greenlandic news are my business - if you find something of interest for my readers, please write...

Margot said...

Thanks Jesper! It was great! And I'm not sure what kind of things would be specifically interesting to your readers but I'll be writing the whole trip down...