There was an arctic fox hanging out on the porch of Hotel Kulusuk. He was just kind of lazing about; playfully jumping around as mountains larger than anything I’ve ever seen trembled in the fading light of a suspended midnight sun. That fox was noble and mysterious in his spring coat; he had a cat-like demeanour, and he approached me when I beckoned him with a catcall. The local Kulusuk women working the clean-up shift at the hotel poked their heads out of a window. “Dangerous!” they yelled, warning me about the perfidious fox and his biting ways. I laughed as I realised he probably had rabies. “Good old fox. You obvious metaphor, you. All mysterious, playful and treacherous; ready to launch your surprise attack. Just like Greenland’s unforgiving nature.”
Twelve hours into a 30-hour stay in East Greenland, I was already so awe-struck by the place that I found myself talking to an arctic fox. Laughing out loud at him. I will not be able to describe my experience of Greenland adequately in the written word, and serious attempts to do so verbally have thus failed me. Again, I urge you: go to Greenland. Now. If your time and money only allow for a day trip, do that. If you can stretch it further and stay a week or two: do it. The important thing is you go.
Now for an anecdote about arriving in Greenland: As the plane started its slow landing descent, I could see some mountains in the distance. “Look. That’s Greenland,” I said to Grapevine’s photographer, sitting next to me. We gazed at the jagged mountain-scape and gaped at the amazing display of countless icebergs floating in the oceans surrounding it. “Judging by the distance of these mountains, our plane ought to land in three minutes,” I thought. Three minutes passed. We descended further, and those mountains got bigger. “Just touching down now,” I thought. Our descent continued still. “These mountains are huge,” I thought. “Is this real?” I thought. We finally landed in Kulusuk airport, surrounded by those monsters. It felt good, and they were welcoming. Like soaking in time.
Hotel Kulusuk has an excellent and friendly staff. Its charm lies rather in its homeliness (i.e. cartoon polar bear patterned carpeting) than any luxuries, but they certainly provide most things the discerning traveller might want for. Post check-in we made our way down the dirt road to town, passing several tourists on the way. Clear and sunny skies coupled with a soothing breeze made for a wholly unexpected climate that had us soaking our expensive mountain gear in sweat. The local kids we passed, playing in their T-shirts, seemed better accustomed to East Greenland’s summer temperatures, but we were glad for our gear when it got cloudy the next day.
Entering Kulusuk, we find the town a sort of loosely knit collection of small, colourful (some faded) houses. Crushed beer cans were strewn casually about, remnants of a winter still in the process of fully passing. Shopping for a snack in the local everything-shop, Pilersuisoq, we encountered the mighty Einar, an Icelandic mountaineer that often guides climbers on expeditions in Greenland. He was shopping for a cartful of cheese, stocking up for a two and a half week excursion to seek out virgin peaks around the Knud Rasmussen glacier. He tells us that when he is done guiding the group he will return to the peaks of Greenland for his honeymoon.
Finding Georg Utuaq
Preparing for the trip, I rang up Jóhann Brandsson, an Icelander who runs the Kulusuk souvenir shop with his wife Guðrún. They’ve lived there for ten years. Upon hearing my travel plans, Jóhann gave some basic advice. “Just go to Georg Utuaq. He’ll arrange for you to take a boat trip to the glacier. If you give him a bit more money, and the conditions are right, he might take you to Ammassalik. Don’t worry about finding him. That won’t be a problem”
And it wasn’t. Stepping out of Pilersuisoq, I used my broken Danish to ask a local where to find Georg. “Over there,” he said and pointed to a house thirty metres in the distance. There stood Georg, amidst piles of wet sleigh-dogs, caring for a grounded boat of his. We told him we’d like to go on a boat trip. That wasn’t complicated at all. “Go to the hotel pier,” he said. “Either me or my son will be there in an hour to pick you up.”
Basking in Tasiilaq
After walking around the town for a while, wondering how the inhabitants of those small houses spent their days, we made our way to the pier. Georg’s 21-year-old son Justus welcomed us aboard his small speedboat before wordlessly racing off towards the unnamed island that hosts the Apusiajaak glacier. He deftly swerved between the icebergs, stopping for the occasional photo op. By the glacier, all fell silent, and we revelled in it.
We stopped by in Kulusuk on our way to Ammassaalik, where we picked up Justus’ 19-year-old girlfriend, Saalannguaq, and her friend. The trip was smooth and beautiful, and we barely believed our eyes when our boat docked at the town of Tasiilaq. Tasiilaq is East Greenland’s largest township (and first Danish colony), and looked positively gorgeous in the 7 PM sunlight. Basically a larger, better maintained version of Kulusuk, Tasiilaq used what little flatland it has for a football field and thus its houses are scattered all over the hillside. We spent two hours in town, walking around, talking to the locals and just plain basking in its quaintness. This trip had a lot of basking in it.
On our way back to Kulusuk, as we passed through the outsea fog, Justus and Saalannguaq pulled out their ultra modern cell-phones to show us a slide show of their life in Kulusuk. Their eighteen-month-old daughter featured prominently in the pictures, as did various scenes from their home life. They depict a happy life, full of love and laughter, one that honours their roots yet is firmly footed in the present. They told us about their life, about Saalannguaq’s growing up in Tasiilaq and Justus’ job at the Kulusuk airport. And how they spend their days.
When we returned to Kulusuk, we immediately got on a jeep driven by our fabulous hotel manager Lassi. He took us to the top of a mountain, where the U.S. Army used to monitor the Cold War through their radars. The sun was setting, and it was breathtaking. We drove silently back to the hotel, where our friend the arctic fox was rooting through some trash, looking for nourishment. We talked to him for a bit before heading to bed. Tomorrow would bring more adventures. We were beat, and awe-struck.
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