Greenland: A First Glimpse of Life Above the Circle

We landed in Greenland’s biggest airport, in Kangerlussuaq, above the Arctic circle, and stepped onto the tarmac. Inside the small airport, four youths stood in a row, as if waiting for us, they had features of eskimoes, the high cheekbones and Asian eyes.

We had a late dinner of reindeer, smoked halibut and salmon, and in the middle of the plate, a little bowl of 1/4″ long white squares with black at the ends. This was whale blubber, chewy, indistinct taste, but the flavor stays with you the next day. We were shown to spartan rooms, this is a former military base, common bathrooms and I fell deep asleep after some reading.

The next morning I got a glimpse of Greenland. It was stark, barren, and the only snow I saw was a dusting on a mountain faraway. The houses are all low slung, non descript, some with garish paint jobs. Our first excursion was into a huge wheeled tundra buggy that took us 38 km out onto the inland ice cap, that covers 85% of this home-ruled Danish territory.

It was breathtaking–aquamarine stripes in white, crevices and huge frozen streams where tons of water spews forth to a giant river during the summer. The glaciers here empty more water in a day than NYC uses over 2 years! The sheer mass of the ice that went on beyond my eyesight was hard to fathom…in places there was clear ice, and walking on the pack, you looked for snow to step on so you wouldn’t slip. There were crevices and places where you easily could perish in a fall. I wore my silk longjohns, lined flannel pants, down vest, thick down parka, gloves, scarf and hat, and felt totally warm, despite the blowing winds on the pack.

Greenlanders are hardy and reticent, they mostly look like eskimoes and have bright red cheeks like they’ve been outside in the wind a lot. There is almost nowhere to drive, so few roads, that nearly all travel is done by snowmobile or mostly, by plane. Air Greenland runs a fleet of helicopters and small fixed wing aircraft to get the folks to and from the towns, the biggest of which is Nuuk, with 15,000 souls.

We are in the small terminal building waiting to fly to Ilulissat, a town about halfway up the coast, where tomorrow we will board a boat for a five-hour tour. You know we will be bundling up for this trip!