OK, so Greenland. I had no idea at all what to expect. Would you?
I was up early for breakfast and decided to walk 45 min to the airport and take advantage of being able to see a bit more of the city.
Flying out of Reyjkavik in daylight it was more apparent how stark some of the landscape is with the dark lava fields. Nearing Greenland we began to see small icebergs and huge ice fields (floes).
Is Greenland green? Not so much. It's craggy & desolate with snow-covered mountains & glaciers (which are melting). Where Iceland has very few trees which aren't suitable for building it also has loads of grassy green areas. Greenland's latitude is farther North than trees are able to grow. They refer to it as being "above the tree line", much as the term is used in the mountains above a certain altitude.
The landscape we saw on approach is simply rock. I looked expecting to see tarmack at some point, but all we saw was a dirt runway. Not a scrap of pavement. Better yet, the terminal was one of those domed metal buildings that looks like someone split a giant tube lengthwise and just sat half of it on the ground. Then we saw them unloading people's luggage. Instead of an airport tug pulling the baggage carts, it was a farm tractor. No kidding! Immigration & passport control? Not really.
OK, so stats from our guide. For all it's land mass, Greenland only has 60,000 people, 57,000 of whom are Inuit (Eskimo), the largest population of Inuits under a single flag. Inuits are a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture, so they hunt, fish etc and try to eke out a subsistence living, and are the only population which has evolved to survive above the tree line. As such, unemployment is 65%, and the Danish government supports them when ends don't meet (it has self-rule under protection of Denmark). The citizens actually have Danish passports, but those are marked as citizens of Greenland.
Much as is the case in the US, weather on the East Coast is much colder and more brutal than on the West Coast (think NYC & LA), so only 4,000 people live on the East Coast. The village we went to is, in summer an island, but when everything freezes in winter it becomes more a part of the mainland.
As we left the airport the guide said we'd be walking 1.3 miles over the mountain (I still swear it was further than that) to the village of Kulusuk, population 250. As we passed the hotel he informed us that the airport & hotel are the only places with flush toilets. (Um - yay??) As we came down the other side of the mountain, the guide pointed out a small patch of ice which used to be a glacier.
We had a little free time to nose around the local grocery store (very slim pickings), and the community arts & crafts shop. There were way more t-shirts on offer than actual crafts, but they did have a little cafe run by the guide's son which had coffee, tea and a few other things. Good thing I brought a protein bar just in case.
After our break we headed to the church to hear more about the culture, and there we used their "toilets". It turned out that what every other place had was an old oil drum that was cut off and had a toilet seat thrown on top. They were painted bright colors and the municipal services apparently empty them 3 times a week. I expected there to be a stench or something, but there wasn't at all. When the toilets are emptied, they just dump the waste at sea. When I asked if this wasn't a problem for the environment, they first said "it's only 250 people", then informed me that the fish love it. BLECH! It seems like even composting toilets would be better, but then what would they do with it? Even the little bit of grass & arctic cotton flower etc is only able to grow a few months a year, plus for all I know they composting probably doesn't work in that kind of cold.
We went to an older woman's house for her to show us the traditional costumes. What they wear for church was pretty incredible with loads of color & pattern, plus huge beaded pieces that fit around their neck and drape over their shoulders etc. Then she put on another special outfit that was made mostly of seal pelts, and looked more like the sort of thing you probably envision an eskimo to wear. Then she demonstrated the drum dance for us.
Did you know that Inuits invented the kayak and it's their word we all use. The town mayor performed the kayak demonstration for us and showed how they can launch hunting spears right from the kayak (a traditional hunting method).
I was shocked to see that there were 2 sailboats in the harbor (one from France & the other from Iceland), which apparently sail in with tourists during the summer, and drop the passengers while picking up a fresh batch and heading back out again. The ice fields have been so heavy this summer that they've had a rough go of it.
Since they do subsistence hunting and you can't exactly park a seal in the freezer, hunters keep them submerged in the cold waters of the harbor tied up to the pier to preserve them until they can be butchered.
We had an option to walk all the way back to the airport or take advantage of particularly good conditions and ride in boats through the harbor among the icebergs to get back to the airport, so of course most of us went with that option. I was obviously not thinking clearly when I hopped right in to the boat which had no windshield. I was cold already, but this was FREEZING once we got moving!! Still it was an incredible experience seeing all the ice up close again like in Antarctica, but with way more sunlight this time.
At the airport they handed out "Certificates of Achievement" to everyone for having some to Greenland. Someone kindly told us that we could ask at security to have our passports stamped if we wanted. I did, but foolishly didn't look at it until I was on the plane, only to find it was illegible. Bummer.