On Monday, August 16, the Clelia II was in the ice fjord near Ilulissat – aka Disko Bay. Fog is very common here at this time of year; but we were lucky. The sky was clear, the wind calm, and the temperature around 50. In other words, the weather was as good as it ever gets at this spot. The floating islands of ice are a photographers dream and easily explain why people who venture to Greenland all head for this locale.

The picture to the left shows the effect of isostatic rebound. When dense ice covers the land it compresses it. When the ice melts, as has been happening for the last 14,000 years, the land rises. When the mountain of ice in the picture was still on land the sea once reached a level that was higher than that which prevailed just before the ice broke off and fell into the water. The shelf like elevation just above the water line shows the old water line. The height of this shelf is the distance that the land on which the ice once rested has risen before the berg calved. The temperature was so warm, considering the way we were dressed, that no one seemed cold even after about two hours among the icebergs.

The exceptionally favorable conditions allowed us to get very close to the ice. The vista’s were unique. The only wildlife we saw in this region were numerous birds. The picture taken very close to the ice contains small images of numerous birds who seem to find the ice and water perfect for their needs. The amount of ice below the water line varies considerably, but it can approach 90% of its total volume. Thus the size of these floating ice cubes is gigantic  as most of each piece is not visible.

The afternoon was devoted to a tour of Ilulissat Greenland’s third largest community, which sprawls over a large and hilly area. The town tour included the fish plant, Mt. Zion Church, the Turf House and the Knud Rasmussen house, the birthplace of Greenland’s favorite son. I skipped organized tour; but I did walk around for a half hour or so. There wasn’t a whole lot to see. The works of man here pale beside those of nature.

The next day and a half was spent crossing the Davis Strait to Baffin Island. This was the only part of the trip during which we experienced rough weather. The Clelia II is not a large vessel, 4,000 tons, and in rough seas it bounces about a bit. There were a lot of seasick passengers and crew during this segment. As I lack sufficient imagination to suffer from motion sickness, I used this respite from relentless touring to get extra food as there were unused portions readily available. One of the lecturers was struck by this malady, but gamely made it to the end of his talk which was appropriately disorganized and featured 70 You knows. He bolted to a relief station before he could take any questions.That evening when asked what she wanted for dessert my wife understandably replied, “Nothing.” That’s what she got.

Our next landfall was at Auyuittuq National Park. At first glance the place appears desolate, lifeless, forbidding. But when you walk a bit it feels like you’re on a giant sponge. Close inspection of the tundra shows that it is thick with life, but life that grows horizontally. This is a survival strategy that allows plants to get through the ferocious winters. There are countless pine trees, cones and all, that are only an inch or so long.

I am a little curious why the Canadian government felt it necessary to make the whole region into a national park. There doesn’t seem to be much likelihood that swarms of real estate developers along with oceans of concrete will invade the place. Perhaps their aim was to create jobs for the local Inuits. We were given a “mandatory” briefing by a park ranger as we sailed up the Pangnirtung Fjord. He seemed like a very nice chap, though I can’t recall anything he said. That tells more about me than the quality of his talk.

The afternoon was spent in the town of Pangnirtung. The visit was described in the ship’s program thus: On shore we are met by local guides for a town tour that passes the old whaling area, the St. Luke’s mission hospital and church.  We make a stop at the Uqqurmiut Center for Arts & Crafts, a locally owned business selling woven tapestries and prints.  Guests may also independently visit the Angmarlik Interpretive Center – a community museum with display on traditional Inuit life run by Parks Canada.  A time will be set to meet at the community center for a small cultural show demonstrating Inuit games and perhaps throat singing. I fell asleep after lunch and missed the whole thing.

The next day’s outdoor activities were canceled by fog. We were in the vicinity of the Lady Franklin Island group, located about 20 nautical miles off Cape Haven, Hall Peninsula, southern Baffin Island. This is where the polar bears were said to roam. The fog prevented seeing anything and made an approach to any of the islands impossible. There was only one thing to do – watch a movie. The small screen played Zacharias Kanuk’s Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (161 minutes). That’s two hours and forty one minutes! In Inuktitut!! The first time ever in that language!!! And it was great.

The story is taken from an old Inuit legend about a curse placed by an evil and mysterious shaman over a small group of people living in the far north at a remote time before the impact of Europe was felt. The details of life at the edge of survival are brilliantly displayed, but what grabs the viewer’s attention is the basic commonness of human emotions irrespective how exotic the setting. If you want to fully understand the details of the myth that supports the story you’ll have to watch the film more than once. It’s good enough to deserve, in fact it virtually demands, a reviewing. You may have trouble getting everyone’s names down and find the time break that happens without transition about 20 minutes into the story disconcerting, but stay with the movie and everything will soon fit. The scene where the protagonist runs naked across the ice, his feet bleeding from its jagged edges as he tries to escape his brother’s murders who wish the same fate for him is a cinematic highpoint. It may sound funny, but you won’t laugh when you see it.

Kanuk’s technique had been criticized by some as crude. I found it very sophisticated and entirely apposite to its content. The movie has won many awards. Again some critics have blamed unharnessed political correctness. I found all the praise deserved. The 161 minutes went by without a bathroom break.

The next stop was the first of several in Labrador.

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.

To be continued

Part 1 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here