Kalaallit Nunaat: Part Two

I just returned from my last travel break of the semester, so I figure it’s about time that I share the photos from the second half of my Greenland trip. Hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long!

On Wednesday, we spent the majority of the day on the Greenland ice sheet. If you think anything like I did before this trip, this probably conjures up images of vast expanses of flat, white land. I was expecting something like that, but what I experienced of the Greenland ice sheet was actually unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

When we stopped for lunch right before reaching the ice sheet, it was clear that we were in a different world.

When we stopped for lunch right before reaching the ice sheet, it was clear that we were in a different world.

The edge of the ice sheet looks like a wave breaking on the shore, frozen in time.

The edge of the ice sheet looks like a wave breaking on the shore, frozen in time.

And as it turns out, the ice sheet has waves just like the ocean during a storm.

And as it turns out, the ice sheet has waves just like the ocean during a storm.

Our professor talked to us about drilling ice cores, and we were given the task of collecting samples of ice. We had to do some work, right?

Our professor talked to us about drilling ice cores, and we were given the task of collecting samples of ice. We had to do some work, right?

Two of my group members, Audra and Eli, hard at work, recording the location of our samples.

Two of my group members, Audra and Eli, hard at work, recording the location of our samples.

And me, hardly working.

And me, hardly working.

We didn’t actually do much work on the ice sheet. Most of the three hours we had was spent playing. The ice sheet was, not surprisingly, incredibly slippery, making it a perfect place to practice our ice dancing skills, as well as our sliding-on-our-butt skills. Every time I managed to get to the top of an ice dune, I couldn’t resist the urge to turn the icy slope into a slide. Needless to say, the waterproof pants that I bought from the thrift store were a bit torn up by the end of the day. And now you know what happens when you let a bunch of college students loose on a big icy playground.

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After the ice sheet, our guide for the day, Adam, wanted to show us an ice cave at the edge of the sheet. So, we hiked down a mountain to an ice cave, which unfortunately had been blocked by a very large piece of ice since Adam had been there last. Still, we were able to climb inside to look at the smooth, polished inside of the cave and take some great photos.

Heading down the slope to get to the ice cave.

Heading down the slope to get to the ice cave.

This is the only picture that really captured the amazing color of the sky ( and it's also showing the giant chunk of ice blocking the entrance to the cave).

This is the only picture that really captured the amazing color of the sky ( and it’s also showing the giant chunk of ice blocking the entrance to the cave).

Close-up of the ice within the cave. It was incredibly smooth and completely black, except for the mesmerizing crystal patterns woven through it. My pictures can't really do it justice.

Close-up of the ice within the cave. It was incredibly smooth and completely black, except for the mesmerizing crystal patterns woven through it. My pictures can’t really do it justice.

Another interesting ice formation in a meltwater creek that flows within the cave.

Another interesting ice formation in a meltwater creek that flows within the cave.

After a very long day on the ice sheet, including about an hour and a half drive each way, we had dinner to look forward to: the Greenlandic buffet. This buffet offered shrimp, fish, muskox, reindeer, and even whale, all from Greenland and the surrounding waters. There were at least thirty dishes in the first course, followed by a second course of reindeer and muskox, followed by dessert and Greenlandic coffee. I’ve never been one to shy away from food; I tried just about everything I could fit on my plate.

The first table of the buffet...

The first table of the buffet…

And the second table. This was just the first course!

And the second table. This was just the first course!

My plate full of seafood, half of which I'm unable to identify.

My plate full of seafood, half of which I’m unable to identify. I would like to point out that the stuff covered in sauce on the bottom right of my plate was cooked whale; I also tried whale skin and raw whale meat.

This buffet was absolutely incredible; even the vegetarians in our group were willing to try some of the seafood. I’m not sure I would try whale meat ever again, but everything else was scrumptious and tasted so fresh! After dinner, Kim, the head chef/owner, made us Greenlandic coffee. This alcoholic beverage includes whiskey, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, and of course, a little bit of coffee. It definitely serves to shake the Arctic chill off!

Kim prepares our Greenlandic coffee; the final step is adding flaming Grand Marnier.

Kim prepares our Greenlandic coffee; the final step is adding flaming Grand Marnier.

The final result: a tasty drink that warms you right down to your bones!

The final result: a tasty drink that warms you right down to your bones!

Stuffed and buzzed from our Greenlandic buffet, we headed back to Old Camp, exhausted from a day full of new experiences.

On Thursday, our last day, we explored the town of Kangerlussuaq by visiting the school, the museum, and partaking in a kaffemik at Nini’s home. Our first stop was the school, which has about 80 students ranging from preschool to eighth grade. It was really interesting to see; the upper floor of the school was more of a social area than a classroom setting, complete with a music room that my professor decided to take advantage of. After the tour of the school, the older students were brought to an auditorium in the town meeting hall where my professor gave a presentation about the scientific significance of Greenland. It’s really important to my professors that the students understand why scientists from all over the world are flying to Greenland to spend months on the ice sheet that is only an hour away from Kangerlussuaq.

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After the school visit, we broke up into two groups for kaffemik and the Kangerlussuaq museum. My group went to kaffemik at Nini’s house first. A kaffemik is essentially a gathering in someone’s home where tea and coffee, as well as a ton of cakes, are offered to the guests. The key feature, however, is that guests take turns coming and going, because not everyone can fit in the house at once. They are held for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries; just about any event calls for a kaffemik! It was very cozy; Nini and her husband were very gracious hosts, and it was interesting to hear her husband’s perspective on tourism in Greenland and to learn more about everyday life in Kangerlussuaq. And on top of that, Nini made some amazing cakes; there were at least ten of them, and a polite guest must try at least a piece of every one. Afterwards, the other half of our group arrived, and we made our way to the Kangerlussuaq museum. There, we learned about the history of the town as an airforce base and eventually as a stopover for Scandinavian Airline flights from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. It was surprising to learn that SAS had a hub in Kangerlussuaq in the 1960s, particularly because today, it is nearly impossible to reach any part of Greenland from the U.S. without flying to Denmark or Iceland first. This realization made me incredibly sad, because I would love to return to Greenland someday.

On Friday morning, we had time to buy souvenirs before getting on our flight. The sunrise set a beautiful scene for our melancholy departure; I think every single one of us was sad to be leaving Greenland so soon. I have not been everywhere in the world; in fact, I have probably seen less than 5% of this planet, but I can say with near certainty that Greenland is one of the most magnificent places there is to see. Something about the seemingly barren landscape teeming with life inspires a sense of awe and wonder for the natural world that even I, the scientific spiritualist, have never felt before.

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Greenland brought joy to my heart and quiet to my soul; it was a feeling I will not soon forget.

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Kalaallit Nunaat: Part One

Last week, I had one of those life-changing experiences, the kind that you know you’ll tell your children and grandchildren about someday.  My wanderings took me to the edge of the map, all the way past the Arctic circle, to the breath-taking country of Greenland. The five day trip was integrated with my core course at DIS, so it was an all-expense paid trip to a place that very few people are able to visit. I was lucky enough to travel with all three of my professors, two of whom (Trevor and Sune) work together at the Center for Ice and Climate. The third, the great Henning Thing, began his career in the Arctic at age 20, and at 65, it seems that he hasn’t slowed down one bit, and is just as passionate about studying wildlife in the Arctic as he was when he began. Needless to say, Henning is really an incredible man, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend five days with him in a place that he clearly holds dear to his heart.

Our flight left Copenhagen at 9:00 on Monday morning, and we arrived in Greenland at 9:40…that same morning. It was the beginning of the first of a series of very long days. Our group was stuck in the middle rows of the massive AirGreenland airbus, and as we approached for landing, 20 American students crowded the aisles to get a view of the sunrise climbing over the snow dusted mountaintops. I stepped off the plane into below freezing temperatures, completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the stunning views; this was only at the airport.

We arrived at our lodging shortly after, called “Old Camp” because it is located in buildings that were once part of the US Air Force Base, which is the reason that Kangerlussuaq even exists.

The entire town of Kangerlussuaq.

Kangerlussuaq, seen from a hill on the edge of town.

The sun rising over Old Camp.

The sun rising over Old Camp.

Our first activity was visiting a “kennel” for sled dogs; kennel is probably not the right word, as it consisted of a collection of fenced in areas in the middle of a field. The teams are kept in areas together, but are kept on chains to prevent the alpha dogs from constantly brawling with the dogs lower down in the pecking order. Some of the dogs were free to roam for our visit, so we had the chance to play with them and show them some love.

After that, we took a bus and stopped on the side of the road to trek up a hill. Here, Henning talked to us about a rock that had been carved out by a meltwater river; it was particularly notable because raven poop that fell from the ridge provided nourishment for elegant sunburst lichen to thrive on the rockface. We also visited the recently built cemetery, which housed only one grave. As the sun sunk in the sky, it was an eerily beautiful sight.

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That night at dinner, we ate muskox meatballs wrapped in bacon. The next day, we went on a muskox safari! We were lucky enough to catch two muskox grazing very close to the road.

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Then, the bus took us up a mountain so we could talk more about how glaciers had shaped the landscape. We then hiked to a salt lake, where Henning told us about how muskox graze on the peat moss that grows there in the summer time because it prevents salt deficiency. To be honest, it was difficult to listen when we were surrounded by beautiful views!

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After that little excursion, we drove back to town to visit Nini, who operates a muskox quviut workshop. Nini buys muskox skins from hunters, shaves them and collects the incredibly soft wool, and cleans it before sending it to Denmark where it is spun into yarn. When the yarn returns, Nini and her business partner dye the yarns and knit them into beautiful scarves, gloves, hats, and anything else they can think of. They also make products from sealskin and jewelry from muskox horns.

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Last but not least, we visited Russell Glacier in the afternoon. We arrived after an hour long, semi-off-road bus ride just as the sun was starting to set. The sheer size of the glacier is enough to make your jaw drop, but combined with the golden light of dusk and the sparkling sapphire blue that seems to radiate from somewhere deep inside the ice, it was truly a sight to behold.

Russell Glacier, the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. (And yes, those tiny little dots are people!)

I think that’s enough beautiful mountains, snow and ice for one blog post. Stay tuned for the second half of my trip!

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