Return to Greenland | #1

September 18, 2014

Return to Greenland | #1

Last winter, Greenland put us firmly under its spell. And we’re now returning to the Arctic in summer. This time, we’ll be setting off with tents and camping equipment and a plan to visit some of the small, scattered settlements on the rugged east coast of this huge country, making them the starting points for our hiking tours. The icy conditions had proven so difficult on our previous winter trip that we were not able to travel to the glaciers as planned in order to document them for our climate change report.

The wild east

The wild, rugged terrain stretches out beneath us as we land in the small settlement of Kulusuk. The Air Iceland aircraft comes to a halt on a dusty runway two hours after our departure from Reykjavik. Our luggage is driven to the tiny airport terminal in the shovel of a digger. We rummage around for our softshells, raincoats and Texapore pants, as well as our hats and gloves, as the next stage of the journey beckons: the boat trip over the icy water with its Arctic currents into the King Oscar Fjord to the Tasiilaq settlement. As in winter, East Greenland greets us with a brilliant blue sky, sunshine and clear, cool air. Icebergs glisten, the ice creaks and cracks around us whilst we glide over the water. How we couldn’t wait to be back!

Familiar terrain

Paula, Mio, Hannah and Frieda can still remember Tasiilaq. Hannah falls into the arms of our dear friend Robert Peroni when we finally reach his expedition lodge, the Red House. Then the children scamper off to greet the sledge dog puppies which the place is teeming with. The familiar aromas of seal meat drift from the lodge kitchen, freshly washed expedition suits hang from the washing line beside the house and bizarrely shaped icebergs float in the fjord. Jens and I sink onto our pack sacks in the sunshine and can’t stop smiling despite our exhaustion.

Canoeing between icebergs

Summer nights in the Arctic Circle are long and have a unique atmosphere. So why spend unnecessary time in bed? On just the second evening, Jens and Paula, along with our friend Caroline from Tasiilaq, make their way to the King Oscar Fjord to go canoeing between the icebergs in the light of the sinking Arctic sun. A soothing tranquility dominates the water, only interrupted from time to time by the cracking of the icebergs. Jens and Paula would have liked to have continued canoeing in the beautiful icy sea of calm for many more hours, but Caroline insists they make their way back as a thick fog unfurls between the icebergs.

Tasty berries...

We spend the first few days in Greenland with scouting expeditions around Tasiilaq. Mio has his fishing rod in tow in the hope of making a catch in one of the many lakes and fjords. A few weeks without snow, combined with some sunshine and warmth, have been enough to transform the barren landscape into a “green land” that lives up to its name. The native flowers, herbs and berries don’t just look great, they’re tasty too. Frieda has a particular liking for the blue bellflowers, which develop a sweet flavour in the mouth, whilst Mio and Hannah spend hours fervently gathering crowberries. They aren’t as tasty as blueberries, but they are a welcome refreshment for us all on our hikes.

...and hungry bears

We return to Tasiilaq from one of our hikes, completely relaxed, to find Robert already waiting for us. “It’s good that you’re back!” He points to the sign hanging on his door. “There’s been an attack on a camp.” A female polar bear with two cubs had ventured closer to the settlement than usual, driven by hunger. Although the tourists were able to be rescued by helicopter, the atmosphere is still tense. Even children know that polar bears are suffering from hunger as a result of climate change and disappearing sea ice. However, there hadn’t been any attacks on people in Greenland until now.

Danger - don't leave town!

The reports making the rounds the next day are even more confusing. More polar bears had been sighted, one even in the “valley of the flowers” that we had hiked through the previous day. “Extremely unusual!” explains Robert, shaking his head. In spite of this, the police order that people may only leave the settlement in an emergency – and only when armed. As much as we had been looking forward to meeting the polar bears at a safe distance, they had really upset our plans. Larger tour groups took it in turns to do night-time vigils in the camp. With four kids, it would be rather more difficult for us. We were unable to hike to any other settlements from Tasiilaq in order to reach the glaciers from there. We had to think of a new plan. But sometimes that’s easier said than done!

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