Return to Greenland | #2

October 5, 2014

Return to Greenland | #2

Luckily, Robert Peroni already has the solution ready the next morning. It’s 6.30 a.m. and I stagger drowsily to the expedition kitchen, where I encounter Robert. “I’ve organised a boat to take you to Sermiligaaq”, he explains. “It’ll be ready to depart at 7 a.m.”, he adds in a slightly apologetic undertone. My tired brain just about manages to work out that this leaves us just 30 minutes and I dash off to make tea and get four sleepy kids into windproof winter clothing – whilst Jens takes care of the mounds of luggage including mountain bikes.

Hissing giants

It’s still slightly foggy when we leave the King Oscar Fjord and navigate our way across the Arctic waters. On the open sea, between cracking icebergs, we feel as though we are in a nutshell zooming through an unending, unknown universe. Vigo runs down the motor in Ammassalik Fjord. “There! What was that noise?” I want to know. We listen carefully to the silent polar sea. It sounds like steam escaping from a colossal kettle. “Humpback whales!” Vigo points to the eastern flank of the fjord and we can make out the plumes of water from the giant mammals. The children are giddy with excitement and Vigo lets the boat float noiselessly for a while.

Arrival in Sermiligaaq

After three hours in the boat we reach Sermiligaaq. We like the settlement in the fjord with its imposing mountain backdrop instantly. We make our way between the colourful wooden houses and meet Edvardine, who works for the community and speaks good English. “Where would you like to stay in Sermiligaaq?”, she asks us. We left the tents in Tasiilaq this time, as the children have demanded at least a wooden wall between themselves and the Artic nature since the polar bear sightings. Edvardine picks up the phone and sends us to Magdaline, who will provide us with accommodation for the next few days. Her one-room house is on a hill with a fantastic view over the fjord. The long walk over wobbly wooden planks and accumulations of rubbish to the spring is only for collecting water (and emptying the slop pail).

Finally, the glacier

Edvardine and her friend Rasmus will be indispensable over the coming week. Rasmus makes his living from hunting seals, whales and polar bears and from fishing. As he’s always out in his boat in the fjord anyway, he drops Paula and Jens off near the glaciers each day, where they can then explore on foot. Rasmus knows the dangers of calving glaciers well, and approaches the icy giants with care. They have to complete the last stretch on foot, with a rifle to hand, walking along the shore before they finally reach the craggy ice masses. While they’re doing that, Hannah, Mio, Frieda and I hike to the lakes above the settlement, always accompanied by a crowd of children and rebellious young sledge dogs, who follow us curiously.

Retreat at speed

What we notice in the evenings when comparing the pictures of the glaciers and the maps in front of us, is confirmed by local hunters: just a few years ago, several ice tongues ran together in the Karale Glacier, like steps in a huge amphitheatre. Today, the glacier has retreated quite some distance – at a speed which puzzles the people in Sermiligaaq, just like the devastating storms that are increasing year on year. Edvardine tells us that she is happy to interpret for us. This means that we can conduct interviews even with the eldest locals, like Boas Nathanielsen, where they can tell us about the changes in the glaciers, unusual weather events and the effects of these changes on the lives of the people in Sermiligaaq.

Moonlight tour

There can hardly be a more beautiful place to go canoeing than Sermiligaaq. The full moon is shining brightly and the jagged mountain tops, the bays, the wooden houses and the polar bear furs on the verandas look even more magical in this light than during the day. Jens has got two canoes from a local teacher. “Maybe you’ll see narwhals, they like coming into the fjord when it’s a full moon,” says Edvardine. Our neighbour adds a warning: “Just don’t get too close. If they feel threatened, they’ll hit you with their tail fins.” We already feel a little uneasy as we paddle off. A world spreads out beneath us whose extent we can only guess at. And this feeling is mixed with the realisation that we are nothing more than tiny little creatures, who are crazy enough to go canoeing between towering ice giants at the feet of glaciers in the vast wilderness of East Greenland. There are surely very few places on our planet where man is so relentlessly confronted with himself as we are here. That’s exactly what makes Greenland so addictive.

J. & J. Steingässer

J. & J. Steingässer

“It doesn’t matter how, we just want to be in the great outdoors, experience adventure and meet people.”

Jens (photographer/journalist) and Jana (ethnologist/writer of children’s books) are passionate about hiking and canoeing. They travel the world with their four children, showing them what nature has to offer and the effects of climate change.

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