Greenland and Iceland should have their names reversed. Thanks to the Humboldt Current, Iceland’s climate is quite mild for its latitude and the parts that are not covered with recent lava fields and glaciers are green and fertile. The Vikings that first came to Greenland named it so in an effort to attract their countrymen to come live there. Madison Avenue had nothing on these guys! To be fair there is considerable evidence that the climate in Greenland was much warmer 1,000 years ago. Corn used to be grown here then, but now 78% of the island is covered with an ice cap, two miles thick in places. However, the satellite photos that monitor global warming reveal that the permanent cap has shrunk considerably in the last ten years. No surprise there.
Greenland is about the same size as Alaska and is mostly peopled by the Inuit, the same folks that were the original Alaskans. Probably they wandered over from Alaska; when the Inuit get together today, these far flung folks can still understand each other. With 57,000 residents it is the least densely populated country in the world and no one lives in the interior. Over the years it has been administered by the Norwegians and the Danes, but the US tried to buy it during the Cold War, since it held such an important strategic position as part of the DEW (Defensive Early Warning) line. Perhaps the Danes wish that they had sold it, because today they provide 60% of its annual income, about $13,000 per person. Recently Greenland has become more independent politically and left the European Economic Community because it did not want to conform to its rules regarding the hunting of seals and fishing regulations. Although the Danes have brought many modern conveniences to the place, Greenlanders are trying hard to hand on to their old way of life, where fishing and hunting provided for nearly all their needs.
This could change. The island is rich in minerals - gold, platinum, aluminum, uranium, etc. - and recently huge oil deposits have been discovered. Despite their good intentions, it is hard to believe that they will be able to resist the lucrative offers companies interested in breaking through the ice to the riches below will make.
The southern part of Greenland is laced with fjords and the captain chose the scenic route through them on a beautiful blue sky day - beautiful for November since the temperatures did not get out of the 40’s. The rocky hillsides grew into hills as we sailed along and there was absolutely nothing growing anywhere. When we would pass a glacier, the water below it would be full of bobbing ice chunks that had broken off. Finally we saw sort of a house and binoculars revealed three people and a dog. What were they doing all alone out there? Turns out they weren’t all that alone. Around the next corner we came to a picturesque town of 1,5000. A few came out in power boats to admire us while we admired them.
But our final destination was Qaqortoq ((turn the q’s into k’s and sound it out.) We anchored in the bay outside this big city of 3,200. Ironically, that’s about the same number of people that are on our ship. We got an early start and hit the sole souvenir shop. We’ve been at sea five days and people are ready to buy something - anything - and the atmosphere in the shop was a lot like the Saturday before Christmas. Amazingly about 25 cruise ships stop here annually, although we are by far the biggest and the store personnel quickly converted the Danish kroner prices into Euros and dollars and finished the deal. Getting back out the door was like swimming upstream, but after that we were free to wander this picturesque place and it felt like we had it pretty much to ourselves. Not too many of our fellow passengers hiked to the top of the hillside for a panoramic view of the bay with the ship and the colorful houses hugging the hillside. The buildings are painted in bright colors in the Norwegian style. Today there was hardly a cloud in the sky, but on dreary winter days these colors must add a note of cheer. Behind the town a fresh water lake full of glacier melt, provides fresh water and good fishing, but catching fish in the sea is the single most lucrative activity here.
In the town the locals had organized cultural experiences for us on a drop in basis. They are an interesting blend of native and European faces. One boy had a very Eskimo face topped with bright red hair. The choir sang in the church and a local naturalist gave a lecture in the town hall about the his country. An old Inuit man performed a drum routine with a drum unlike any we have seen before. In the fish market area we saw a few, but the biggest display was a bloody heap of seal chunks for sale. We were told that seal fat is especially healthy. We’ll have to take their word for it. We saw two grocery stores, a post office, a pub, hotel, an old age home, two churches, one gas station and a few combo stores that would sell things like eye glasses and jewelry. There were an amazing number of cars considering that they is nowhere to drive. A large red container ship came in and left while we were here, supplying the locals with almost everything they need since there is so little they can produce on their own. It was a great place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to miss the ship’s departure time here.