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Published: August 19th 2012
North of the 69th parallel – Ice Camp Eqi & Ilulissat
We’ve experienced a mere glimpse of Iceland and yet Greenland beckons. Our research has indicated that while you can reach Greenland by boat or air, you must travel from Copenhagen or Reykjavik, and only on certain days. It’s not like folks wake up one morning and say, “ I think we should pop over to Greenland for the weekend. What do you think?” This is a land of only about 55,000 inhabitants and let’s face it, unless you like your holiday rather chilly you are left with a small window of time to visit this most unique spot. Subsequently, there are limited people heading to Greenland so flights are not available every day. We needed to interrupt our time in Iceland to catch a flight and explore the vast beautiful wilderness that is Greenland.
When we started planning this trip we were originally just going to Iceland. One day Dave suggested that since we are in the area we should go to Greenland. Something about “while we’re in the neighborhood.” Looking at an atlas it seemed reasonable. When researching the flight we found they
were quite expensive (simple economics really, the law of supply and demand). So the bottom line is, you really have to want to go to Greenland. The distance is much farther than it looks on the map, as is often the case with travel. Included is also a two-hour time change. You can get a bit of a discount if you buy a hotel airline package and throw in a boat ride or two.
Sitting on the runway in Reykjavik at the domestic airport (very small airfield) awaiting take off I can tell Dave has something on his mind. He looks at me and announces….. we are #1 for take off! Clearly this man has too many experiences on American tarmacs waiting for take off. The genius switch never turns off. Just shy of three hours later, we descended in our prop plane and landed in one of the more northerly airports in the western hemisphere……Ilulissat. The name proved to be hard to pronounce (go ahead, try to say it) and we discovered that the Danish have trouble as well with the Inuit names of places in Greenland. This country gained independence a couple of
Sunset at Eqi
view from our room
decades ago, but they are still tied to Denmark. A very friendly and generous young man named Martin who is a native Greenlander (more on him later) said that Greenland is to Denmark what Puerto Rico is to the United States. Great analogy for American travelers.
An hour and a half into our flight we see land— it is the east coast of Greenland. Chucks of ice floating free in the pristine sea below…...baby icebergs a plenty. Next we see miles of snow capped mountains and within a few minutes all we see is a layer of white. Looks similar to the flight into Antarctica for MJ.
Planning and anticipation are a large part of travel…....the wonder of it all! The thought of travel to new places is a wonderfully gripping feeling. MJ worked in Antarctica for five months in 1989-90 and she is wondering if Greenland will be reminiscent of that time and place. Details on Antarctica will be in a future blog. Ilulissat: (formerly Jakobshavn)
population 4,500 and 250 km (155 miles) above the Arctic Circle – home town of Artic Explorer Knud Rasmussen. The accompanying
ice fjord is UNESCO Heritage Site.
A smooth landing later and we are walking into the airport to claim our bags along with the two-dozen other people on the smallish prop plane. Clearing customs here is a matter of a somewhat official looking gent looking at a bag or two and waiving you through. We were last in line and he must have lost interest by that time as he merely nodded. Nothing to fill out, nothing to declare and no one was remotely interested in seeing our passports. Ah just like the good old days of travel!
The aging but trustworthy van takes us to the hotel. There is no expectation of fancy accommodations, but the Hotel Arctic (catchy name, no?) is a wonderful place with all the amenities afforded to its clientele. It rains all afternoon, so we have a beer and lounge in our room until dinner, which consisted of wonderful local cuisine, including smoked whale served on a rock (that’s right, a black igneous stone that most likely weighed three to four pounds). As we sat, we discussed how they wash the rock after the meal. What soap do you
Off season for this pup
use? Perhaps a steel brush? Is it dishwasher safe?
MJ has some issues about eating whale but it was brought to us as an extra part of a three course meal we ordered. It was not listed on the menu. She thought about sending it back but did not. She’ll deal with that guilt later if necessary. It was a microscopic piece, which really makes no difference but....
Although we arrived in the drizzle and fog…..it looked lovely and mysteriously. Our last two days in town were wonderfully sunny and produced amazing pollution-free sunsets. The temperatures have been between 45 to 65 degrees F.
…….although it felt much warmer.
Ilulissat is quaint and easy to walk around in. It is on the edge of one of the largest glaciers in Greenland. This is the place where a glacier recently broke off that was two times the size of Manhattan in New York City. Pretty impressive and then you’re told that one broke off a few years back that was four times the size of Manhattan. That is one big ice cube! There are multiple hikes to enjoy leading
from town and they all offer great viewing of the glacier. After our hike we opted to sit on the deck of the Artic Hotel and sip a beer but there are helicopter rides, whale watching tours and sunset boat rides among the glaciers. There are tourist dollars to be had here.
We were surprised by the number of taxicabs available for hire. But that is not the only mode of transport here. All throughout town you can view sled dogs chained up beside hotels and houses. These are not pets but working Huskies. They are used all winter to pull their dog sledges. We asked if any of the locals have dogs as pets and we were told no. Some locals have cats as pets. All throughout town during the day and occasionally at night you can hear the huskies howling. For whatever reason it was not annoying. Ice Camp Eqi: only 15 huts
We learn that the next morning, we need to be in the lobby at 6:40 to be transported to the docks to catch our boat for the next adventure, a visit to
a glacier! A little over five hours later, we are parked directly in front of a calving glacier and it was stunning. The captain killed the engines and we stood on the bow in amazement of the sounds and activity. The sound is similar to a thunderstorm. First you hear a sharp cracking sound and then there is this thunderous (hard to find another adjective here) crash as the glacial ice slides down into the water. We moved to another spot after a while and watched more calving. The two hours went by very quickly as we were engrossed by this spectacle. The glacial cliffs are towering and we are told that they are approximately 80 meters tall.
From this location we can see where our stop is for the night, the Ice Camp Eqi off in the distance. A short time later, we are climbing uphill at a 45-degree angle up to the dining cabin. We receive instructions about the place, learn some important rules and are assigned our “hut” for the night. They appear to be simple cabins, but we quickly learn this is not the case. Our abode for the night is one of
the “comfort” cabins of which there are only two. We open the door and are in a state of amazement, as the “hut” is incredibly luxurious and includes a bathroom with a shower along with musk ox blankets covering a very comfortable bed. Oh, and the view is absolutely unbelievable gorgeous. The entire front wall is windows and directly faces the glacier, which is roughly than two kilometers away although it appears much closer. The glacier calves constantly due to the bedrock upon which it sits. It’s the world’s largest glacial nature show and all you have to do is sit and stare at it. This proved quite easy to do. But our first order of business was to embark on a journey to see the glacier up close, and so off we went…
Now, we are not in very good shape, but egos notwithstanding, off we went on what proved to be a seven and a half kilometer trek. Doesn’t sound like much until you consider the terrain, which was rocky in some places, rather mushy moss in others, coupled with some small streams to ford and a rather steep ascent to the top to see
the glacier up close. And then there were the flies. These little buggers were rather small, but were incredibly numerous and had the unique ability to fly directly into your mouth, nose or ear with no difficulty whatsoever. And some could inflict a rather nasty little bite. Because of our not so great stamina, the others in our group pressed on to a higher vantage point, but we were satisfied at that point. By the time the hike was complete, some ibuprofen was in order. We were tired, but very happy.
We were greeted with a meal consisting of musk meat, reindeer, (sorry Chuck) cod and other tasty morsels by a rather accomplished chef who was tireless and seemed to always be working. After a warm shower, we slept the sleep of the exhausted but happy travelers, only to awaken during the night listening to the howling wind outside. The Danish word for this warm wind is ffhn. Most often you associate the sound of wind with cold in this environment, but in this case it is a warm wind from inland. The great benefit of this is that the flies are no longer among us…..this is
a good thing as the bites itch for several days. The great lens mishap:
Seems that gravity can be a cruel mistress at times. Our journey on the boat to Eqi was nearing the great glacier and it was time to go topside to the bow of the boat for a good look and some stunning photos. MJ was just about to open the hatch of the boat and decided to put up her hood to cover her head as it was chilly outside. The camera strap somehow decided to come over her head and the next thing you know the camera is on the deck and the lens is in critical condition. Ah, gravity….you serve many great purposes on this planet, but this is not one of them.
But someone was looking out for us. One of the guides mentioned a passenger on board who might have a look at the lens. He agreed that the lens was badly damaged as well. You could not take a picture using it. In a stroke of luck (this is almost too incredible to be true) he not only has the
Flowers of summer
A short summer but still beautiful
same camera as us, but he has extra lenses….know why? He was going from Ilusissat to Camp Eqi to take pictures for the company!! He cheerfully loans us a lens and we’re back in the game. Such luck!! We used his lens for the remainder of our time at Camp Eqi and captured some great photos in the process. Martin, wherever you are, we are deeply indebted to you! Many thanks for your generosity. We can only hope to return the favor someday. We also saw some of Martin’s work as an “amateur” photographer and are here to tell you he has great talent. Lessons learned
—trust the moment.
Our 5 hour trip to the Eqi glacier was shrouded in fog and shadows. They carefully steered our ship in and out of the floating icebergs. It was amazing and mysterious and yet we were a tad bit disappointed that it wasn’t sunny because we thought it would be magnificent. On our five-hour trip back to Ilulissat it was warm and sunny. We had to laugh because as it turned out we liked it better in the fog. In short, be happy with the trip no
matter the weather. Travel Tip # 64
Book a trip to Greenland.
Take the five-hour boat trip to Ice Camp Eqi
Ask for one of the comfort cabins. We stayed in #14.
Amazing……you can thank us after you go…. Please send us an email to let us know you enjoyed it.
When we booked this we were told it was rustic, we didn’t have a shower and the toilets were basic. We said ok and decided to rough it for one night. We ended up in the comfort hut and wish we had stayed at least two nights. The view is amazing. Some huts are rustic so please ask for a comfort hut. 5 star indeed!
Most Greenlandic towns have a Danish name and a Greenlandic name. When we travel around the world we like to attempt to learn a bit of the language. One would really need to study and practice. Plenty of consonants……
The word Inuit means people and the term Kalaallit refers to Greenlandic people. Give this a try—
Hello is Inuugujoq, jutaa/ Haluu
Cheers! Is Kasuuta
Where do you come from ? Suminngaaneerpit?
What is your job? Sulerisuuvit?
Home-brew immiaq this proved to be an important term for Dave to learn
(Hey—Johnny, if you are reading this we want you to start practicing as you are the master of all languages) Speaking of beer
—they have a brewery named Godthaab Bryghus in Nuuk, Greenland and it turns out it makes some fine beers. We sampled the Erik the Red, Classic and the Ferdinan…all quality beers.
Food offerings on the menus: plenty of fish (cod and halibut), reindeer and musk ox.
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