Today this windy village of 800 is the standard jumping off point for travelers who want to visit the three most popular cities and towns on the country’s western coast — Ilulussat, Sisimiut, and the capital, Nuuk.
To get there we flew the new air route being opened in late May by Air Greenland, a direct four-hour flight from Baltimore/Washington into the former air base, a remote village and the only runway in the country capable of landing a big jet. There is not much here except the ice — and that is reason enough to go!
The polar ice cap is rapidly melting, as many environmentalists have proclaimed, and we were given plenty of first hand evidence by Captain Bo Ling, who takes visitors out in his 35-foot charter cabin cruiser the Sirius.
Ling will be offering dive trips to a few wrecks near Sisimiut that offer stunning detail and untouched grandeur. The masts are upright and even the china is still in the cupboards of the Portuguese sailing vessels that went down hundreds of years ago, but were well preserved and untouched in these 3-degree Celsius waters.
He is also planning to offer trout fishing excursions up some of the nearby rivers, offering anglers some of the best fishing anywhere and the experience of a coastal voyage, then travel by Zodiac boat to reach the further reaches of the many rivers and streams that empty into the fjord.
Ling is confident that the new air route from the US will bring him many clients, and that the natural beauty that he and his wife Annette, who works for Greenland tourism, both so much love. They have grown up here in Greenland, and though both were educated in Denmark, they’d live no where else.
We were shown maps that show the extent of the shrinking ice fjord. Back in 1923, it covered the entire fjord. When we visited and took a boat excursion the pilot said he hadn’t ever gone this far up, he usually had to stop much farther back when he reached the solid ice.
The ice fjord here in Ililussat has been proclaimed a World Heritage sight, but this doesn’t stop the daily melting that will some day forever change this hard and beautiful place. The glacier sheds a daily total volume of water equivalent to the entire consumption used by New York City — EVERY DAY! While today there are floating icebergs here that are the size of the city’s skyscrapers, and the chunks that break off cause mini-tsunamis, someday these ice-filled fjords will be forever changed.
Seeing them up close is a stunning thing to behold. Dressed in today’s innovative clothing makes even being up on the windy deck watching the icebergs float by a comfortable experience. My clothing included gloves, polartec scarf, silk long underwear, a polartec undershirt, flannel-lined chinos from LL Bean and a combination of an Old Navy down vest and a down parka. Topped with the good watch cap, I truly was never cold despite the ferocious winds and blowing snow we found just about everywhere. It’s all about the layers, even in Greenland, and it works.
Nazis in Denmark
The Allies took over administration of the Danish province when Denmark fell to the Nazis during World War II. In exchange, they built fourteen military bases, and left an indelible mark of the small number of inhabitants, besides instilling a fondness for Juicy Fruit chewing gum and camel cigarettes.
To the people who lived here in their remoteness, these products were all new and fascinating.
At the museum of culture in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, we viewed a collection of artifacts that told the story of a civilization evolving in the modern world, just by proximity to these soldiers. We visited an abandoned fishing village just outside the town of Sisimiut where the roof was painted with a 6-foot high E8, to direct the planes that dropped supplies to these villagers during the war.
In Nuuk the capital, we found a great little internet cafe just around the corner from the snowy main drag. It's called Well -- not little exactly, there were more than 45 computers, all arranged in pods of four machines all facing in. Kids wore big padded earphones and enjoyed games on the super fast connection. It cost about $6 an hour.
Hungry, Crazy Dogs
At night when the sun goes down in frozen Greenland, the wind whips and the Aurora Borealis emerges like a Salvador Dali painting come to life, on cloudless nights. Outside north of the capital city of Nuuk, the unceasing yap and yip of chained up sledge dogs never ends. But that is not the point.
"These are working, hungry, crazy dogs who will bite you if you get too close to them." She used to have 14 working dogs, but now like many other Greenlanders, doesn't run with them any longer.
Because they lost a source of free food for the beasts when the fish factory closed, it's tougher to find people willing to pay to feed a pack of dogs. But they still sit on windy hillsides, yipping and braying and curling up against the wind.
Greenland is home to just 55,000 residents. Last year only 30,000 travelers stayed here overnight. Most of the American visitors just came for the day from a visiting cruise ship; these dock and debark in South Greenland during the summer.
My first impression of Greenland was to contemplate how far away it is from everything — yet like so many places modernity has touched, it is not that far after all.
You’ve just got to see this for yourself.
Like this on Facebook: