Dates: 05.09.2016 - 14.09.2016
Place: Narsarsuaq, Extreme South Greenland
I had the chance to visit South Greenland during a 10 days treck with my grand-mother (who was aged 71 at that time!) back in 2016. In Greenlandic, the country is called “Kalaallit Nunaat” which means “land of the Kalaallit”. The Kalaallit is the name of the western Intuits.
We travelled with Tasermiut, a specialized agency. It is mandatory to have a guide when visiting Greenland, since there is not car/boat rental and the distances are huge.
- It is the largest island in the world
- It is part of the North American continent
- It is politically attached to Denmark
- It is the least densely populated region in the world (under 60’000 inhabitants)
- Inhabitants recieve a pension from the Danish government
- You cannot move to Greenland without marrying an Inuit
Less Funny fact: The temperature reached over 23°C when I was there, in September, which is absolutely insane even at the end of summer for Greenland. In the night, we could expect on average between -5°C and 0°C. Due to those heat waves, the landscape was changing daily. The ice melted at a record speed. The local guide told us that some ice walls lost ground over 100 meters since the started working there. Some maps from early 2000’s were not even up to date anymore.
We left from Reykjavic, Iceland. We only had time to explore the city before taking off. There’s a funny atmosphere, it gets dark early at that time, and a good part of the economy of the city seems to be concentrated in the harbour.
We had the chance to do a boat tour and see dolphins before flying to Greenland!
We then took a flight to Narsarsuaq, a city at the extreme south of Greenland. This city is actually located more at the south than Reykjavic.
Narsarsuaq is the only city with a valid runway in South Greenland. The airport is actually an old American camp used during the second world war. When we landed, the weather was surprisingly hot!
We then headed to Qassiarsuk, a village of 35 inhabitants. There is a tiny school for the 4 kids of the village, some inhabitants fish, one of them has a small shop with basic goods delivered by cargo once a year.
The only way to get to our hotel in Qassiarsuk was to take a boat. We arrived in a small hostel, the Leif Eriksson Hostel, which was by the way the only moment of the trip where we had Internet access and hot showers.
Leif Eriksson was an explorer from Iceland, son of Erik the Red who is famous in Greenland for establishing the first settlements. The name of Greenland is supposely coming from Erik the Red who arrived in Greenland in summer, and there’s no ice at that period of the year. The fields were green, and the temperature quite nice. Many vikings were sent to Greenland, but most of them died in the first winter.
The hostel itself is lovely, offers local meals and there’s a great atmosphere between the owners, the employees, the guides and all tourists.
The view around the hostel is breathtaking. In this single place you’ll find mountains, a fjord and green fields.
After a few walks in the neighborhood, we were off to a boat ride!
Taking the boat in Greenland is often the only way to reach another village. There are really few roads, no driving licence, few cars and a very mountainous landscape. The boat offers amazing landscapes and it’s really fun. However, it remains rather slow, so each ride could easily take one hour. Since the air was around 5°C on average on water, the wind made it feel like -10°C for a whole hour. We wore 2 to 3 ski jackets, 2 pair of gloves, a hat and still were cold. The guides easily handled those temperatures (and were in T-shirts most of the time).
Taking the boat can also be dangerous, since there are lots of icebergs in the Fjord near Qassiarsuk, and you can’t always see what’s under an inceberg unless you are really close. Here’s a small compilation of the most impressive icebergs we saw during the 2-3 boat rides we did in the first days.
After 3 nights in Leif Eriksson’s hostel, we moved to a wilder part of the trip! We took the boat for 1.5 hours to reach a base camp made of tents. On our way, we stopped at small villages such as Igaliku. Those villages mostly live on fishing, and pensions paid by the Danish government. Greenland relies on imports obviously. Cargo reach the shore once to twice a year in South Greenland. There is a surprising culture mix in this region. You’ll meet teenagers with Nike t-shirts, playing on their smart phone and a having Facebook account. But at some point, you’ll see some of them posting a picture on Facebook of the polar bear they shot for winter. We saw that through our guide’s Facebook account, and although occidnental culture might be present, modern Inuits have other concerns, and their use of technology reflects it.
There are also some really modern equipments, mostly schools. I guess the Danish government sometimes provides funding for new infrastructures.
We then reached the second “hotel” of the trip. We were in fact sleeping outside, in rigid semi-spheres. The camp felt like we were landing on the moon. The closest village was at 30 minutes by boat. We carried food and water with us, on the boat.
The camp is dismanteled at the end of every summer, since such equipment wouldn’t resist the tough winters Greenland faces. We were much closer to glaciers, so the temperature dropped. The temperature at night easily went below -5°C. This camp offered a scenic view on the glaciers in fron of us. This impressive wall of ice was the beginning of what Greenland is: an absolutely massive block of ice that goes on for thousands of kilometers. We could easily walk ahead of us on this block of ice for a few weeks without meeting anyone. Obviously, nobody lives on this ice wall. People either live on small islands such as in South Greenland, or close to the shore.
We managed to get closer to that wall by boat:
We also had the chance to walk on a small portion of the glacier. From the camp, this block of ice looked rather smooth. But it’s just an illusion. The surface is a continuous mix of peaks and holes of more than 5 meters. It also looks quite flat, but again, we just kept climbing for 3 hours without ever reaching a flat surface.
The camp offers no shower, no drinking water, no kitchen. We had out drinking water from a source nearby of melted ice. We picked some mushrooms with our guide during a walk for a special meal.
At nice, another show started. The Aurora borealis, although not as visible as they can be according to our guide, made us feel like we reached the North Pole. These green waves seemed to be dancing in a sky of stars for several hours each night.
We did several hikes in the mountains behind the camp. These hikes took us around 6-7 hours, and offered scenic views on the sea and animals.
We also had the opportunity to do some kayak one day. One needs to be careful no to hit small icebergs. We also encountered a lot of seals, it was a unique moment.
Finally, I could not leave Greenland without trying to swim in the Fjord ! It is truly freezing cold, it took me around 2 hours to get back to my normal temperature afterwards, but I have my picture :)