Published: August 28th 2007August 20th 2007
If you are thinking of traveling to southern Greenland, I suggest brushing up on your Spanish. Who knew that Greenland would be such a popular adventure destination for Spaniards? At almost every point on my Greenlandic journey, I ran into adventure tour groups from Spain. Perhaps drawn by the cooler summer climes of the far north?
But beyond the Spanish invasion, Greenland proved an almost indescribable adventure and a fitting conclusion to my Viking themed voyage. Of a historical bent, I was able to stand amidst the ruins of the first Greenlandic Norse farmstead, Brattahlid, founded by the intrepid Icelander Eirik the Red and his kin (also, thrilling, the home of Gudridur Thorbjarnarsdottir whose birthplace I had stumbled upon in Snaefellsnes in Iceland); I gazed at the remains of the cathedral and bishopric in Igaliku (Gardur of old). The names and places of the Vinland Sagas and of Jane Smiley’s wonderful novel, The Greenlanders, came to life, even if the ruins were rather indistinct. (To aid the imagination, reproductions of a Norse era long house and the first church in Greenland have been erected in Qassiarsuk, the village next to the Brattahlid ruins.)
The remainder of my two week
stint was devoted to absorbing the powerful natural surroundings of southern Greenland. This is the green part of Greenland. Grass and flower covered hills loom above iceberg littered fjords and cower in the shadow of massive glacial tongues snaking from the inland icecap. Dramatic mountains rise to improbably sharp peaks, which are usually shrouded in thick mist and fog. No part of Greenland that I visited better illustrated such beauty as the Tasermiut Fjord near Nanortalik in the very south. I traveled its forty miles with an Inuit fisherman named Peter - we saw not a single human soul or sign of human activity other than a lonely sheep farm near the fjord’s mouth. Only the soaring mountains and gleaming glaciers kept us company on the glassy still waters. I never wanted to leave.
Traveling in Greenland requires a great deal of patience. You learn not to take weather for granted there. One day may be sunny and clear, warm enough to hike in shorts and T-shirt. The next, a dense, cold fog rolls in; you are unable to see much beyond your own toes. Or more dramatically, a howling wind storm (called a fohn) immobilizes an entire region.
I was delayed in the town of Narsaq for an extra day because of such a fohn - for nearly thirty hours winds of up to 120 mph roared from the inland ice. You never can predict what Mother Nature will throw at you. (Though I think I was on the luckier side, overall - I was able to see and do almost everything I had hoped to accomplish in my two weeks.)
Now that I am back in the US, I have much to process about this once-in-a-lifetime journey I have just finished. It possessed a wonderful coherence, revealing both the interconnections that resulted from the Viking voyages across the North Atlantic and those that emerged under the more recent Danish colonial endeavors. Yet each locale had a distinctive culture and natural beauty. The trip was also filled with many firsts for me, particularly of the culinary persuasion (from dried whale and blubber to sheep’s head). I developed friendships that deepened my understanding of each territory, relationships I hope will last. I will always remember this adventure.
There are more photos below