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Western Greenland
North for Ice
South for Vikings (and ice)
 

 

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Travels in Greenland,

A few of our observations thereon.

First Findings The East coast The West coast Ilulissat and the dogs The Inland Ice
Iceland and/or Greenland Cruising - Kangerlussaq to Ilulissat Dog Sledge on Amassalik Some Changes  

First Findings

Greenlanders can't imagine a land more beautiful than Greenland. They may be right about that. While travelling with Greenlanders we discovered that, like ourselves, they often stop to look at the scenery.Most villages in Greenland have a well-worn path or even sets of steps that lead to a vantage point with the best views. On our trip in November '06 we experienced and observed some new aspects of Greenland. We are "packaging" some easy ways to get to Greenland, including flights from the US.

 

We've often sent travelers as side trips from Iceland and now we have more variety in travel to, and tours within, Greenland. (One of us [BV] got real interested in the Inuit culture and artifacts found there, and built (and rebuilt) several Greenlandic kayaks - but that is another story.) Here are some photos and words on that story.

East Greenland.
It's easy to reach from Iceland, it offers a glimpse of a culture far removed from the modern "busyness" world and it means experiencing landscapes very few people have seen and experienced.The West Coast has relics of the Viking settlements from 1,000 years ago, access to the ice cap and icebergs of sizes and volumes that warrant inclusion as a UN Heritage Site. It's now accessible direct from the US

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The East coast of Greenland is called "Tunu" It's a Greenlandic word that means the "back "of the country.The center of this area is Ammassalik, (or as it is lately being known, Tasiilaq). Because of its geographical location this area is, and always has been, relatively isolated in from the rest of Greenland (and, as one might guess, from the rest of the world).This has left its mark in the East Greenland dialect and the old culture that has felt little influence by outside forces.
In fact it is only a little more than 100 years since the first Europeans "discovered" this area. In East Greenland the old traditions are still very much alive. During the winter (which starts in October) hunting trips with dog sledges (several weeks in duration) are still common. Many families choose to live at isolated spots, to improve their hunting of seals and polar bears, and pick home sites close to good fishing.Once summer comes, and the ice breaks up, the families are fetched by ship and visit town to sell the winter bounty and buy new supplies of cartridges, coffee and other necessities. In addition to its grandiose nature, the east coast is particularly known for its exceptional and beautiful production of handicraft which, like the drum dance, is rooted in traditional culture.Although sled dogs in Greenland are restricted to latitudes above the Arctic Circle, the exception is the Eastern areas of Kulusuk and Amassalik which have a large abundance of the animals because of climate and the short summer.

Here are Greenland East Coast Tours. They're offered in several lengths and locations some have several days in Iceland.

.The West coast of Greenland has much variety in both landscapes.and activities. In the southern part are the remains of the Viking settlements. The discoveries and excavations of these sites caused historians and archeologists, in part, to re-evaluate their attitudes towards the medieval Sagas as history, as not just a set of rambling stories but pretty good history.The land has areas of sharp and precititous mountains and also deep fjords with broad grassy slopes. Trails to the ice cap winding through some very distinctive landscpes. Icebergs and the occasional whale found in in the area's fjords and bays.

 

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 Ilulissat and Dogs

Ilulissat is a few hundred kilometers above the Arctic Circle. We get into Ilulissat and with the light snows of the recent days it's apparent that winter is edging itself into the country above the Circle. Winter's palpable in the air and the people and the dogs. And because of this snowfall we'll get to go on a dog sledge for a short ride!  We're staying at the Arctic Hotel overlooking Disko Bay and its ice bergs (more to be told of this ice), and the hotel manager keeps his dogs staked out where we can see them just behind the hotel. We are reminded that not many generations ago winter was the time of plenty because harvesting food got easier with the coming of sea ice.

 

The sledge ride we get to go on is out in the "Dog Valley", and is really just out and back for twenty minutes or  so.....But to see the teamwork between man and dog and to slide along and bounce about with straining, racing teams of a dozen dogs ahead of our sled and on both sides of us is to see mankind at a certain peak of his adaptabilty.We ride out towards the mountains, take a short break and then start back. The dogs are not harnessed in tandem, that is all in a line, instead they're in a fan. Each dog's trace comes basically right to the sled not to or from a dog in front or behind. In wooded country sledgers use a  tandem harness to make sure that all the team goes on the same side of trees, but in open land or sea ice without obstructions letting the dogs fan out works best.We observe a detail about the fan hitch in the first minute of the race back home.

 

One of our driver David's dogs has crossed its trace with several of another team's. In, out, over, under; it doesn't look good to me. I guess that we'll come to a stop and fix it. David grabs the tangled trace at the sled end, the dog is brought closer in, hand over hand, still running hard . At his point it's obvious that there is some kind of attachment in the line. It turns out to be a toggle and loop arrangement that David disconnects. He holds onto the toggle in one hand (remember there's a dog on its nether end who is running hell-bent-for-leather to get up with the team!). The loop end, which is tied to our sled is unthreaded from the other team's lines and the toggle is slid back into the loop. The errant dog is up with the pack in three strides, and with full power restored we pull slowly ahead.

 

We were in the town of Sisimiut yesterday when a team passed by on the street. It was a large team of 13 or 14 dogs and it was working hard to pull the Toyota pickup it was harnessed to.We assumed it was a training run, but we later learned that it was a team that was kept out on a nearby island for the summer. I don’t know what arrangement was on the boat but the dogs disposition precluded leading them through town on leashes so they were given work, somewhat erzats, but at least they had something to pull.On the west coast of Greenland the Polar Circle divides the canine world – only sledge dogs above it, no sledge dogs below it. The East coast, being colder and icier is all sledge dog turf.An interesting aspect of dog-rearing in the two different cultures and coasts is their diets. In Kulusuk, on the East, we saw many seal carasses anchored in the cold waters of the bay. They were being held (and aged) for the dogs to eat. Our guide in the west was really taken aback when I suggested that the seals we saw being brought in by the hunters would make a lot of dogs happy. She said that people will eat all the seals they shoot and the dogs never get seal  (she has been hunting seals since she was eleven years old). Most of the dogs on the west coast are fed the scraps from the fish processing plants.

Ilulissat can be visited in several ways.

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The Ice Cap, or the Inland Ice
We were on the ice cap at Kangerlussuaq a few days ago and with a little wind it was quite cold. But on the ice cap there was almost no snow from this season, just the ice formed from many millenia's accumulation of snowfalls. The sky cleared as the sun rose (9 o'clock or so) and a blue sky with a rim of cumulus clouds added just a bit of sparkle to the textures that the wind and blowing ice and snow had cut into the surfaces.

 

Another trip to the Inland Ice, this time by helicopter from Nuuk, was under a sky of hazy cirrus clouds that spread ethereal light and soft shadows over this alien and inhospitable landscape, a landscape I never expected I’d get the chance to see.Flying up the fjord to a landing spot we pass over an isolated settlement that gives a sense of perspective and scale to apply as we approach the almost incredible cracked and folded ice sheet that feeds itself into the fjord.

 

The next time we see the ice cap sending icebergs into the sea we are at Ilulissat, a UN World Heritage Site so declared for its masses of ice. Its daily output of ice represents the amount of fresh water that New York City uses in one year. It has the name Kangia which translates to “river of ice”. This river of ice flows into Disko Bay and past Ilulissat. There are some photos showing the town of Ilulissat and the river of ice behind it which looks like a nearby mountain range!The individual icebergs we saw were impressive and we even saw one calve, or split, with some roaring and cracking, and much splashing and bobbing as it sought its new center of balance.A few minutes after we sail out on the bay (a fairly forbidding body of water in this late autumn’s gray afternoon), in a cruise boat that can hold near a hundred passengers we started seeing little runabouts, occassionally with two pasengers but usually with a single hunter - out looking for seals.

 

On a few of the level ice floes hunters can be seen gutting seals. Back in town later we are passed by several of these seals being pulled by hunters on foot or tied to vehicle’s bumpers. All the seals we see have been shot pretty cleanly behind their ears. A few will probably be offered for sale in the meat market though in our visits to the meat market we’ve seen only birds (murres mostly) and fish.

The Inland Ice is the background for most of Greenland.

 Iceland and Greenland

Iceland and Greenland are about two hours, by air, apart. They are very different. The canard "Iceland is green and Greenland is ice" is true but doesn't begin to express the differences. Icelanders are Europeans. Greenlanders are still very close to the values and ethics of a hunting society. We have heard unease expressed several times by friends in Iceland when we say that we like being in Greenland. Icelanders feel that Greenland doesn't have a sense of style... or something like that.One of the most striking differences noted in comparing Iceland and Greenland is that the Greenlandic villages and cities are quite active with pedestrians.

 

And, possibly because Greenlander’s smaller buildings are on rock, not soil (which is underlain with permafrost and liable to move around if a building sits on it and the building's presence allows it to “warm" up) the towns are built into hilly and rocky places and the roads are mostly up or down hill.Bigger towns and cities have apartment blocks to house the people who were displaced when settlements were cut off from their services. They are offered cash work in the fish industries. A lot of Greenlanders are not really interested in apartment life.The Greenland page on our IcelandAdventure.com website has some more of our findings from our travels to, and research of, Greenland. And a few more photos.

The easiest source for information on seeing these sights is our Map Page

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