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Trip 6 -- Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland

Message 5: Copenhagen to Sisimiut

Date: 9 Aug 2002 18:39:39 -0000 
From: seth@sethweinstein.com (Seth Weinstein) 
Subject: Scandinavia update #5: Copenhagen to Sisimiut 

It's hard to spend two weeks in Greenland and not spend a great deal of time contemplating ice. I entered Greenland in Kangerlussuaq, where I took a tour to the edge of the icecap that covers about 85% of Greenland's surface area. (Some hearty souls try to walk the 700 kilometers across the icecap!) The most impressive feature at the icecap was the little streams of water that develop when a crack in the ice exposes a surface to above-freezing temperatures - these streams are then trapped, and run underneath, a layer of newly formed ice.

From Kangerlussuaq it was a two-night ferry ride (all inter-city transport in Greenland is by ferry or air, since there are no highways or railroads) to Ilulissat. On the second night of the trip, a girl about eight years old gave me a pronunciation lesson in Greenlandic by reading (and having me repeat) the words in the language section of my guidebook. When we got to "Tuluttoorsinnaasoqarpa?", a word of typical Greenlandic length meaning "Does anyone speak English?", everyone around us laughed.

Ilulissat sits at the entrance to a fjord, and its harbor area and the surrounding water are replete with icebergs ranging from fist-sized morsels to apartment-building-sized mammoths, in various shades of white and blue, and in all sorts of shapes. It's quite a sight to see a chunk of ice fall from one of the larger specimens, causing the berg to shift balance and roll over in the water. It can also be downright dangerous, as the rolling creates a giant wave - three travelers camping by the sea were recently swept into the water by such a wave. Fortunately they were rescued.

With a whopping 4200 residents, Ilulissat is Greenland's most-visited city, and as such it was a good place to attend a Greenlandic buffet. The evening started with about 30 cold seafood dishes, including king crab, smoked halibut, and dried cod accompanied by seal fat and seal oil. Then we helped ourselves to musk ox, reindeer, and seal meat, among other things, each with its own sauce - before you all go Greenpeace on me, realize that the natives have hunted seals and whales for centuries with no noticeable drop in the animals' numbers. Especially welcome at the end of the buffet was the fruit - as you might suppose, not much fruit grows in Greenland (except blueberries), so most of it must be imported, which makes it tremendously expensive.

On the island of Uummannaq I arranged a home stay; my hosts - a couple that run a gas station - invited me to join them on a motorboat ride around the island as they went...seal hunting! I came along for the ride, though I was taken aback when they took out _three_ rifles. Fortunately they didn't actually offer me one, and in any case they saw only one seal, which didn't reappear and thus escaped turning into our dinner.

From Uummannaq to Nuuk (the capital) was a three-night ferry ride. I shared a cabin with a Dane who invited me to join in the card game (a Danish game called 31) he and some other passengers were playing. Several hours of 31 each night precluded any hope of my catching up on sleep, which was my original intent when booking three nights on a ferry. But through the games, friendships were fostered, and one of the passengers invited me over to her sister's house last night for more cards and Greenlandic treats such as reindeer stew, whale skin, scallop-and-shrimp chowder, and various kinds of dried fish and seal fat and oil. (It's very tasty...really.)

There's not all that much to do in Nuuk itself - it's easy to run out of sightseeing activities in a city where "the other side of town" is a five-minute walk and one of the primary tourist attractions is the red lamppost on which Samuel Kleinschmidt used to hang his lantern on the way to work. But the city is surrounded by mountains, so the hiking possibilities are excellent - I spent much of yesterday hiking around one of the smaller ones, and this morning climbing it. Tonight I head back on the ferry to Sisimiut, where we had a three-hour stop on the way to Nuuk - so I already know it's another picturesque town with brightly colored houses, splendid scenery, and mosquitoes with the size and belligerence of angry wasps.

And there the trip ends. I'll be home on Tuesday - after a month and a half of traditional Viking pillaging and plundering, I'm beat.