[All photos in this and subsequent posts about this trip were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.]
For some reason that has fled like vigor I decided to go to Greenland. I stumbled across a listing for the small ship, the Clelia II, that offered at trip from Toronto to Greenland and one in the reverse direction. Faster than you can say credit card I had booked a room on the return voyage. About 80 sojourners assembled in a Montreal hotel. Two buses got us to the airport where we boarded a chartered 737 jet operated by First Air. This company, new to me, calls itself The Airline of the North. That’s the direction we went. North until we reached Iqaluit where we refueled. The plane then went northeast to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. This town is just a few miles west of the icepack which covers most of the world’s largest island. Australia, I’m informed by geographers, is too big to be classified as an island though it sure looks like one on a map.
Kangerlussuaq is up to date, at least its bureaucracy is. When we reached the bottom of the stairs of our airplane two Greenland customs agents eagerly stamped our passports. The intent was to ease our passage into the country, but as is the scourge of modernity the opposite happened. We we directed into a small room where we waited. Our group of adventurers docilely stood around giving no indication that were bothered by inactivity no matter how protracted. After a half an hour I decided to seize the initiative. I approached a young man standing by the room’s exit. He seemed to be an official. I asked what we were waiting for. He throw a few circumlocutions at me that I interpreted as signifying that we were waiting for the customs and immigrations people to stamp our passports. I tried to explain that our passports had already been validated, but my Greenlandic is rusty. Resorting to sign language I began gesticulating like a semaphore operator. The obstructing bureaucrat looked at me as if I were an Amazon parrot. Then he said in a Maine accent that I should calm myself and wait for the two customs agents who were by now on their second beers at the Kangerlussuaq Arms. Desperate to be nearer to an iceberg I opened my passport and showed him the stamp that had been affixed to it about an hour earlier. He looked at for at least 15 seconds whereupon the scales were lifted from his eyes.
“Everybody can go,” he said in his nasal twang.
We went – into a slightly larger room where we were instructed by a member of the expedition staff to wait for our bus. He said we’d leave in five minutes. In this only slightly larger room were the passengers who had been on the northbound voyage and were about to return on the plane that had brought us. As they had certainly come on the same buses that we were instructed to wait for I was both peeved and mystified. I asked one of the departing travelers how he had enjoyed the cruise.
“The elevator didn’t work,” was all I could get out of him.
After 30 minutes more of standing around we got into one of two buses that had been waiting in front of the small airport for over an hour. I was later told that time warps as you get nearer to the pole. This effect has something to do with magnetism and ice. I could be wrong about the latter. The buses took us over what was supposed to be the only paved road this side of the ice pack. Paved proved to be an elastic term. Unfortunately, my back was not. Twenty minutes of verifying Newton’s third law of motion moved my kidneys to my thorax. At the end of the paved road was a small pier about which floated three Zodiacs. These rubber boats took us to the Clelia II.
After being helped into and then out of the Zodiac I went to the elevator as our cabin was on the 6th floor – the ship’s top deck. The elevator didn’t work. Since the average age of the passengers on this voyage was super senior the lack of an elevator presented a greater challenge than getting in and out of a Zodiac. The elderly of today appear to be more adventurous than their forebearers in that they allow neither infirmity nor years to stop them from going where they are likely to encounter serious difficulty. The elevator returned to life the next day, died again the following day, and rose for good the day after that. On the days that it was down a number of passenger elected to eat in their rooms. The dining room was on the second deck.
After everyone had successfully dealt with the initial Zodiac experience, we sailed out of the Kangerlussuaq Fjord and then headed north to Sisimiut. Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town with a population around 5,000. It’s a pretty austere place. Dogs are chained to their houses and are found just about everywhere. They seemed more like wolves than dogs. They are allowed to breed indiscriminately. The puppies, a little more approachable than their parents, are allowed to go untethered. The adults not having much to do in Summer mostly lay around occasionally rousing themselves to snarl a few times after which they relapse to sleep.
After seeing the sights we convened at the Hotel Sisimiut for what was describes as A Taste of Greenland. The menu featured different kinds of fish, musk ox, reindeer, crab, shrimp, caribou, and my favorite dried whale skin. The last has a consistency between that of mahogany and ebony with a taste similarly in between. The caribou was very tasty – a sort of Arctic pot roast. If Sam’s Club starts carrying it I’d definitely buy some.
All excursions on this trip were included in the tariff. The only exception was a helicopter ride scheduled for the afternoon in Sisimiut. A number of guests had signed up for the ride. I was not one of them. A helicopter ride over the world’s largest highball did not have allure. Apparently the pilot felt the same way as he was in another city visiting his girlfriend. All attempts to reschedule the helicopter ride failed. Things cannot always go your way I unctuously told the disappointed tourists.
Kayaks used to be an essential part of Inuit life. Today the Inuits use them in competition. I watched in awe as a local kayaker did 360 degree turns in freezing water. The breadth of human accomplishment is astonishing.
At 1715 the ship sailed for Ilulissat and its adjacent ice fjord. At 1730 Ron Smith a climatologist in the Department of Geology at Yale gave a lecture on Living in High Latitudes. Smith was one of a number of lecturers aboard who gave talks throughout the journey. I’ll briefly touch on the lectures in a latter post.
To be continued
Orion Expedition Cruises announced the forthcoming long-term charter of Clelia II, a 100-passenger, all-suite luxury expedition cruise ship, to be renamed Orion II.