Dates: 05.09.2016 - 14.09.2016
Place: Narsarsuaq, Extreme South Greenland
I had the extraordinary opportunity to spend 3 weeks in Senegal between November and December 2019. I went there to give lectures on Machine Learning for VIVADATA, an french AI bootcamp which had just opened in Dakar. I won’t be talking much about work here, but mostly about what I had the chance to see.
I landed around 2AM on a Friday night at the international airport of Dakar, which is about 45 minutes drive from the city center. There are no hotels near the airport, so taking a taxi is almost mandatory. Taxis will apply a general tourist fare of around 25’000 CFA, around 40€.
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.
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.
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 hostel itself is lovely, offers local meals and there’s a great atmosphere between the owners, the employees, the guides and all tourists.
The landscape around the hostel is incredible.
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 american 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. We could easily walk ahead of us on this block of ice for a few weeks without meeting anyone. People in Greenland live either 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. It also looks quite flat, but again, we just kept climbing for 3 hours without ever reaching a flat surface.