It was a spontaneous trip. Well, let me rephrase, it was a spontaneous trip for Tony. I had secretly been eyeing the one-day tour to Greenland for weeks. I started trying to convince Tony a few days before we got to Iceland. He gets so frustrated with my crazy ideas and constant need for new adventure. I knew this was no different, so when he finally told me he would go with me, less than 24 hours before departure, I was giddy with excitement. We booked the tickets and left Reykjavik the next morning around 10 am.
It was an hour and a half flight, over the ocean scattered with icebergs and random, individual snow covered mountain peaks. It was a place I truly never thought I’d visit. Our propeller plane landed on a dirt runway. The entire day we were in Kulusuk, Greenland, I don’t think we once encountered a cement or asphalt surface. The cockpit door opened and the pilot came out with his two kids, roughly 6 and 8, in tow. I guess the regulations around flying are a little more lax in the Arctic circle…
Our guide for the day, and local Greenlander, met us in the two gate airport. From here, we began the walk into Kulusuk. I knew that we would likely be walking and that there wasn’t any transportation, but I didn’t know exactly how rough of terrain it would be. So for 3 km (1.8 miles), I went up hills and down hills, over rocks, around streams. I have always wanted to hike, but let’s be honest, it’s just not in my cards. So I was a kind of thrilled with my ‘hiking’ adventure. It is likely the closest I’ll ever get to hiking, so I took it all in and decided not to complain even once. Tony, who did much of the work getting me up hills, might feel differently about the adventure. I don’t think he’ll be ‘hiking’ with me again.
The town we visited – Kulusuk – has a population of 267 people. There is one nurse and a local educated helper for those that might fall ill. The homes are painted three colors – red, blue, and yellow. They were designed this way years ago, when there wasn’t a common language. If you are a municipal worker, you live in a red home. If you are an electrician, you live in a blue home. And if you are nurse, you live in a yellow home. There is one yellow home and a few dozen red and blue homes. The homes do not have running water, but there is a central water closet in town where the local Inuits can wash their clothes, shower, and use the restroom. That is correct. The homes do not have toilets, and yes, it is below freezing most of the year. There is one church. There is one supermarket. There is one school.
When an Inuit passes away, they are buried in the local cemetery. A white cross is placed at their head, which always faces East so their souls can watch the sun rise every day. The crosses do not have a name on them because each deceased’s name is given to the next born child in the community. It’s a way of recycling names, I suppose.
As we walked through the village, up and down the dirt hills, my arms burning in pain and Tony’s legs aching from the push, we heard dozens of dogs. We were told that “they are not pet dogs, and we should not pet them.” Rather, they are hunting dogs and can take down a polar bear in a matter of minutes. If that doesn’t get you a little anxious, especially as you walk past a group of 4 or 5 huddled together, I don’t know what will.
There was an optional boat tour around the village, which sits on an island, that would bring us closer to the icebergs. It was about $45 USD, and the biggest selling point was that it dropped us off closer to the airport, which meant very few hills to get back. We signed up immediately.
Unfortunately, about halfway through the tour, a young Italian man (don’t ask me how an Italian ended up in Greenland), also working for the tour, advised us that we wouldn’t be able to get on the boat with the wheelchair. We begged and pleaded, told him about all of the things I have done in my travels, and ended up negotiating an ATV ride back to the airport for me while Tony took the boat tour. In the end, it was probably a good idea. Tony and I both saw the rock covered hill that led to more rocks which served as a dock for the boat. We wouldn’t have made it without a broken ankle or a concussion.
So after four hours of ‘hiking’ (which I am still thrilled to say I did, or my version of hiking, at least), we walked through the one door of the airport, onto the dirt runway, and up the four steps into our propeller airplane. Guys, I made it to the North Pole! I got to see Greenland. I got to see icebergs intermingled with snow covered rocks. I got to visit an eskimo town. Greenland has a population of 56,000 people and is roughly the size of the United States. It is mostly covered by glaciers, and it is more beautiful than I could ever describe. I detest the cold, and this was no different (even with the wool socks I bought in the airport that day), but I’ve never seen clearer skies in my life. The views of the mountains and glaciers and water, all together against the most pristinely clear sky, is something that will truly take you away from reality. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ couldn’t more accurately describe the views.
As we took off from the Kulusuk airport, Tony and I looked out the window and I told him, “We will probably never get to come here again. Thank you for going to Greenland with me.”