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Published: August 14th 2012
Sunday started with a gentle trek outside of town to the old village of Semirmiut. There is nothing there now except for a couple of turf huts, which were typical Inuit accommodation prior to European settlement. But as you come over the crest there a icebergs as far as the eye can see. The cliff at the end of the walk was where older Inuit women would throw themselves to their death to reduce their drain on the village. Donna stayed away from the edge.
Back to the start of the hike (which was only 1.3km each way) was an old cemetery. Most of the graves were from the 1900’s; only a few from this century. Lots of little graves of day old children. Lots of faded plastic flowers.
Burial practices are a little unique in Greenland. It is impossible to dig a grave in winter as the ground is frozen. So guesstimates are made before winter as to how many graves will be needed and they are pre-dug. If they guess wrong, bodies are stored for months in a “mortuary chapel” which is a little building just off the church; they are buried when the ground has thawed
enough to allow a grave to be dug. Locals don’t like these chapels and consider that the area around them is haunted! Can’t imagine why.
After the walk we had lunch at Marmatut restaurant; sort of a nouveau Greenlandic cuisine. Entrée was a game terrine with pickled vegetables; main was a crispy halibut on a fricassee of shrimp and summer vegetables. They were truly delicious.
We took the opportunity to walk around town not realizing that it was Sunday and not a lot happens in Ilulissat on Sunday. The Pisiffiik supermarket was open; prices were reasonable for some stuff; other stuff was priced out of this world. One cucumber: 24kr ($6). Mince: 60kr ($10)/kg. Penfolds bin 128 red wine 180kr ($30). Narwhal 350kr ($58)/kg. There was a huge selection of local meats and fish in the freezer but all labeled in Kalaallisut (Greenlandic). It is not a European language and looks like a child has been bashing a keyboard.
The advertisement for a local glacier tour reads “Ilulissat avannaani illuaraqarfik annertusineqarpoq minguissusermik allaaveqarluni allaat perusuersartarfiit minguitsimik imaarneqartarput.” This is not a language that is picked up by ear.
85% of the population are Greenlanders and speak
Greenlandic. Most of them speak Danish as well. 15% are Danish and a very small few of them speak Greenlandic. Most education is in Danish purely because there are few Greenlandic-speaking teachers, but this may change with the recent autonomy/independence. The only things Greenlanders now have in common with Denmark is the queen. And kr4bilion of funding!
After lunch we were ferried north to Rodebay/Oqaatsut, which translates as red bay. So called because of the blood red water during whale hunt. This is a village of 40-odd people about 25km from ilulissat. Access is by boat in summer, or an 8-hour hike, or by dog sled in winter. If the bay freezes solid it is possible to drive here but that doesn’t occur often, as there hasn’t been a solid freeze for a few years.
We dined (halibut again) in a quirky restaurant called H8 (the letters on the roof of the hut used to identify the area to Americans during WWII). The halibut came in as we were waiting so it could not have been fresher. It was beautiful, but I don’t need to have halibut again for a few days.
After dinner we strolled around
the village – really just a collection of houses that were in the same area. No paths or roads; only some wooden stairs to get across rocky areas. We went up to the school/church. 3 students last year; this year 3 kids were starting in kinder which means the tomorrow (when school starts) will be a big day! We struck up a conversation with the school teacher’s wife – they lived next door to the school. She was a Dane who moved to the area 18 years ago. Their child, and the other kids from the school were raising funds for a trip to Spain so we bought a few post cards to help them out.
For her to go to Ilulissat in winter requires a 3 hour dog sled trip each way. No car, and boat only usable in summer. Remember that this is a Danish born person who has chosen to live here and has fallen in love with the place! Their ten dogs are chained up in the area behind their house. Over summer they are fed a small ration of fish “bits” daily. Once the snow comes their rations are increased with more protein to build them up over a few weeks to get them ready to run. Snow starts falling in September, and is gone by early June. Last year they had two months of -40 degrees celsius or colder. That is some winter.
We talked about food – she was baking some bread as they were providing breakfast for the whole town tomorrow to celebrate the start of the school year. They have access to a shop open 5 days a week for basics. Protein comes from fish bought from one of the local fisherman. Big celebrations would involve a seal, broiled in salted boiling water and is considered quite a treat. There are 30 million seals in Greenland and 200,000 are hunted each year. It’s not as if they can kill a pig or a fattened calf as there are none.
We have both been struck at how westerners have chosen to live here and adopt a relatively traditional lifestyle. They have electricity, heated homes, internet and mobile phones. But instead of cars they have a boat and a dog sled; instead of beef they have halibut, whale or seal. Instead of polartec fleece they have sealskin.
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