Saturday 31 July 2010

They Just Kept On Rolling

Our day in Sisimiut started out a little drab and a little wet. But a rainy day in Greenland wasn't enough to dampen our spirits.  You don't go on an adventure style vacation in Greenland and let a little rain hold you back.  Garbed in spiffy new blue jackets courtesy of Fram and other appropriate gear for inclement weather, we set off on an historical hike to Tele Island.  Tele Island is the site of the original occupation of Sismiut which was over 4000 years ago.  Since the time of the Saqaq culture there have been different waves of people occupying the Sisimiut area.
We hiked to the remains of buildings from the Thule culture. The buildings are covered completely overgrown now but it is easy to see the outlines of the walls. There are also a couple of old graves remaining from the Thule people one of which you can peer inside and see the remains of the 400 year old occupant.

The main industry in Sisimiut is fishing in fact the number one industry in Greenland is fishing - particularly the shrimp fishery.  The Sisimiut shrimp processing plant is the most modern shrimp processing plant in the world and the biggest producer of cold water shrimp in the world.  One of the fishing boats at the pier had large containers of fresh caught crab.

Later in the afternoon the rain let up and became quite pleasant to stroll around the town.

After everyone was on board we were treated to a fantastic kayaking demonstration by two of the local guys on their hand made kayaks.  Wow!  They sure have kayaking chops!  There are 36 different ways to roll a kayak and we saw many of them demonstrated.  With a paddle. Without  paddle.  Paddle in one hand. Paddle behind your back. With a half metre long paddle.  With no paddle and no hands. They just kept on rolling.

The thing is, in water this cold, you have to know how to roll your kayak.  If you come out,  you probably won't be able to get back in.

Friday 30 July 2010

Greenland Air

Our charter flight landed at the Kangerlussuaq airport at about 3pm.  Indeed, most international flights to Greenland utilize that airport. It is the gateway to Greenland.  The small town is very utilitarian looking. That's not surprising.  Originally it was a United States air base called Bluie West 8.  It was built in 1941 at a time when Denmark could no longer ensure Greenland's supply and security.   

Kangerlussuaq is situated at the head of a 160 km Fjord of the same name.  Kangerlussuaq means the long fjord.  Go figure.  

We were met at the airport by some of the Expedition Team from the MS Fram.  Before long we piled into a bus which took us to a small harbour in the middle of nowhere.  Really.  A quiet, lonely road wound through an austere, rocky landscape and then suddenly, the road ended and there was the fjord.

And there lay the ship.  Our new home away from home.  At dockside we were given a quick briefing by the Expedition Leader Anja Erdmann on Polar Cirkle Boat procedures and how to put on our life jackets. A brisk two minute boat ride brought us to the ship.  We were quickly checked in on deck three, issued I.D cards and room key cards and then escorted to our rooms.  

Soon it was time for dinner but where was the dining room?  There are always lots of people wandering around looking a little lost on the first couple of days.  But no worries.  There are always lots of crew around to point out the right direction.

At 8:30pm there was a mandatory safety drill which was immediately followed by the Captain's welcome speech.  We were introduced to the Officers and some of the key personnel on the ship including the Expedition Team.

Now it is 22:40 and Fram glides gracefully down the fjord.  It is overcast. The outside temperature is about 9 degrees celius.  There is a light breeze.  The sea is calm.    The fjord rises steeply on both sides of the ship. It is peaceful. 
The air is pure, fresh, clean.  Greenland air. 
There isn't cleaner air anywhere. Breath deep.
Relax.  Your Greenland adventure begins!

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Dog Equator

Sisimiut is the second largest city in Greenland and is just north of the Arctic Circle or the Dog Equator.  What is the Dog Equator?  By Greenlandic law, only Greenland dogs can be kept north of the Arctic Circle.  They are one of the oldest dog breeds in the world and are very pure.

It seems just about everyone in Sisimiut has a great view of the ocean as the town is built on a hill that slopes up from the harbour.  The town is bordered by barren mountains on the other three sides.  To have to go up to go down town (or would it be up town?) - there isn't any choice, you have to walk uphill.  But after an ice cream or a cool beverage on a warm Sisimiut summer day, it is a pleasant, easy walk back to the ship.

There were a couple of different hiking options again today.  A fairly tough hike up Priest Mountain that yielded a superb view of the city and the surrounding wilderness.

The other option was a guided hike to Tele Island.  This hike culminated at an important archeological site that showed people occupying this region in waves through several different time periods stemming back 4000 years.

There were also boat trips to the nearby ghost town of Assaquataq.  Ghost towns crawl with atmosphere.  Assaqutaq feels like the people just left only days ago.
Whatever people chose to do today in Sisimiut it was a perfect day weather wise.
With the exception of the photograph of the Greenland Dogs, the photos in this post are all from the hike up Priest Mountain.  In one of the images you can see the entire town of Sisimiut.  The last photo is of the group at the top of the mountain.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

World Class Hiking

When you think of world class hiking, what comes to mind?  New Zealand's Routeburn Track?  The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in Canada?  Mount Everest Base Camp trail?  Kalalau Trail in Hawaii?
There are other legendary hiking trails but I would suggest to you that Greenland offers some world class hiking.  Today we got a taste of hiking in Greenland.  The scenery is large in the Qeqertarsuaq area.  Great towering, stratified cliffs loom over the village.  Higher up, warm browns and reds dominate the rocky landscape.  At lower elevations lush greens provide a cool contrast to the warmer colours.

We had a choice of two different hikes.  The scenery is monumental in either hike.  The first option lead to a really nice waterfall.  The trail ambled along a small glacial melt-water river.  There is something about waterfalls that attracts people.  There can be a tiny trickle of water bouncing down a mountain side and invariably someone will say, "Oh look! A waterfall!"  This waterfall is much more than a tiny trickle.  It is a beautiful spot to sit and admire  the serene nature of Greenland.  The hustle and bustle of our lives at home is far     far   away.   Our other option was to hike along the coast.  Not precisely beside the ocean as the trail was very boggy lower down.  About 500 metres up from the shoreline the trail was well worn and relatively dry.

There are always lots of icebergs to see from this trail.  Today we had an unexpected treat.  Whales!  We spotted three Fin whales that were quite close to shore.  Humpbacks are seen regularly in this area but Fins are a much more rare visitor.  Fin whales are massive animals, second in size only to the Blue whale.  We paused to look at the Fins for a few minutes and then continued on down the trail to an impressive scenic lookout.

All too soon it was time to turn around and head back to town. All in all, the hike was three hours. It still left plenty of time to return to the ship and/or explore Qeqertarsuaq on our own.

Monday 26 July 2010

Eqip Sermia

It is 23:00 and the sun is slowly sinking behind a low mountain.  The sky is mostly cloudless.  There are icebergs scattered throughout the channel as we depart the glacier Eqip Sermia. Just moments ago I ran outside to photograph the last image in today's blog.  I would rather show you a photograph of our view than to struggle with inadequate words.

Our morning was filled with icebergs and generally fantastic scenery.  When we were tired of "oohing" and "aahing" over icebergs, there was a full agenda of lectures to attend.

We arrived at Eqip Sermia at 17:00.  We were truly in Greenlandic wilderness.  The only sounds to be heard were the loud regular rumblings of the glacier.  White thunder!  A few of our hardier souls braved the frigid Arctic waters and went for a plunge.  They now have well deserved bragging rights of having gone swimming above the Arctic Circle!  Twenty people hiked to a high vantage point for a splendid view of the glacier and Fram.  I suspect they were opting to burn a few extra calories in anticipation of the sumptuous barbeque we enjoyed on the stern deck of Fram.  What a life!

Our next destination is Qeqertassuaq where we will have to stock up on more sunscreen and possibly more insect repellant.

Sunday 25 July 2010

What's Drying On Your Porch?

We are back to fantastic weather again!  
Today was a full and rewarding day.  We visited two really special places, Uummannaq and Ukusissat.  
As any Greenlander can tell you, Uummannaq is where Santa Claus lives in the summer.  Santa's cabin just happens to be a perfect place from which to start a hike.  The hikers would go across country and meet up with the ship in Uummannaq, about an hour and a half from their starting point.  As you can see in the photographs the country is rugged and beautiful.

Next on our agenda is one of my favourite stops in all of Greenland, the small village of Ukusissat.  It is special for many reasons.  It is situated in an impossibly beautiful setting and it is the best place on our itinerary to get to know the local people.  
We always invite people from the village on board Fram where they entertain us with their choir, folk dancing and by modelling some of their native clothes.  Usually we expect twenty or so visitors.  This time over fifty people came to see us!  Everyone in Ukusissat was excited to see Fram as it was our first visit this year.    For those of us that work on Fram it is a chance to meet up with friends. We were excited too! For most of our passengers it was a first time visit to Greenland and a really great opportunity to talk and interact with local people,  so everyone was eager for this stop!

After the choir and folk dancing we hopped on the Polar Cirkle boats for a short ride to the village.  Here we were invited to the community house for coffee and cake.
By midnight we were all back on Fram.  Weary but happy!


Saturday 24 July 2010

When A Glacier Goes Mad

After Nuuk, we sped through the night to arrive in Ilulissat by 16:00.  Ilulissat is a Unesco World Heritage Site largely due to the insane volume of ice spewed out by the glacier Sermeq Kujalleq in to Kangia Fjord.  The glacier calves 46 cubic km of ice annually. The fjord is choked with ice.  The number of icebergs in the region is incredible.  It is a stunning site. It is what happens when a glacier goes mad.

A 45 minute hike through town and then across a very well constructed boardwalk brings you near the mouth of the fjord for a jaw-dropping view.

En route to the fjord, our hike lead us past a soccer match.  It seemed nearly everyone in Ilulissat was at the game.  It turned out that today was the final match for the national Championship of Greenland!  No wonder so many people were there!

Just outside of town we walked by what seemed like hundreds of Greenland dogs.  It was a veritable dog town.  All of the dogs, with the exception of puppies were chained.  Puppies are free to roam until they are six months old.    North of the Arctic Circle Greenland dogs are the only breed of dog you will find in Greenland.

If you come to Greenland you MUST come to Ilulissat and you have to see Kangia Fjord!!

Friday 23 July 2010

The Capital of Greenland

Today we visited Nuuk, the capital and the largest city of Greenland.  According to the government guide, Greenland In figures 2010, the population of Nuuk is 15,469 making it one of the smallest capital cities in the world.  The total population of Greenland is 56,452.
There is a vibrant air in Nuuk that is  different from other Greenlandic communities. Perhaps it is a "big city" hustle and bustle.  Not only is Nuuk a government town with the headquarters of all political parties located here but the university is here as well, as is the national museum, national radio and television stations and the Katuaq Culture Centre. It is a centre for Greenlandic art and culture and is the fastest growing city in Greenland. It has shown steady growth over the last two decades.
As one might expect wilderness is right on the doorstep of Nuuk. Fortunately and unfortunately I joined a fabulous hike in the wild terrain bordering the city.  That was fortunate.  Unfortunately I did not have time to explore the vibrant city.  The photos for today's blog are all from our hike.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Can Rugged Explorers Have Heated Tiles In The Bathroom?

You are probably bored with our incessant bragging about perfect weather.  Well.  We had clouds all day long today and a bit of rain.  Feel better?  But rugged explorers like us laugh in the face of clouds and a little water falling from the sky.  True to say that we are rugged explorers that have luxurious heated tiles in our bathrooms.

 The entrance to Paamiut is very beautiful.   Fram had to thread her way through a narrow passage, skirting several small islands.  The harbour itself is small but deep.  There seemed barely enough room to come about but Fram's powerful thrusters allowed her to turn on her own length and then slip into the key moving sideways.  Slick. If only my car had bow and stern thrusters!

At approximately 09:00 the gangway was lowered and dozens of rugged blue jacketed explorers eagerly set off to investigate the attractions of Paamiut.

At 11:00 we were treated to a special performance by the local choir in the small and very quaint church.  I think just about everyone attended as there wasn't an empty seat to be found.  The church itself was very pretty.  It was built in 1909 in a very distinctive Norwegian style.

The town is easy to explore.  There is a very good small museum.  A ten minute walk takes you to a scenic lookout from which you can see most of the town.

Like Qaqortoq, Paamiut is very green.  Several houses had attractive flower gardens.

Just a few minutes after exiting the harbour we encountered three humpback whales.  The navigation officers were able to position the ship close enough where we had excellent views of the whales and at the same time not interfere with what seemed to be foraging behaviour.

All in all, another really good day!

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Qaqortoq Is The Green In Greenland

Treading in the footsteps of Vikings argh!  The legendary viking chieftain, Eric the Red came to southern Greenland from Iceland around the year 982.  It is widely accepted that he named the region Greenland to encourage other settlers to follow him. This morning we landed at the last known area inhabited by Norse Vikings in Greenland.  Hvalsø.
The incredible stone structures of the church and meeting hall at Hvalsø date back to 1300.  The last official record in the community was of a wedding that took place in 1408.  The second last record was also about l'amour.  It was not a happy event.  A young man by the name of Kolgrim was convicted of sleeping with another man's wife.  The young lady's name was Steinum.  She was the daughter of the local lawman Ravn.  Kolgrim was accused and convicted of using sorcery to seduce Steinum.  He was subsequently burned at the stake.  Poor Steinum.  It wasn't long before she went mad.  She died soon after.


Fascinating story, but let's turn our thoughts to a happier time.  We had more perfect weather.  At the landing site everyone spread out over the Viking settlement.  Many sat in the sun and enjoyed the spectacular view of the fjord and the ruins.  Numerous sheep roamed the area.  Indeed there are over 20,000 sheep in Greenland.

I have to mention that in all of the  many years of experience of all of the expedition team members we have NEVER seen a group of passengers arrange their life jackets as neatly or as attractively as everyone did today.  The life jackets represent a new form of landscape art. Beautiful!

It is a short boat ride from Hvalsø to our next stop at the town of Qaqortoq, the fourth largest community in Greenland (population 3,306).
We had lots of time to explore the attractions of Qaqortoq.  Amongst other things, there is an excellent small museum, many beautiful scultures both free standing and carved into the bedrock and a superb tannery that specializes in making clothing and other items from seal skin.

Qaqortoq is a very lush, green town in the summer.  Qaqortoq is the green in Greenland

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Enter, The Twilight Zone

Our morning was spent in a fog.  No. Not the alcohol induced kind of fog.  It was a dense sea fog that often happens when cold water and air, meet warm air.  Hundreds of northern fulmars escorted the ship riding the brisk winds like a massive invisible roller coaster

Despite limited visibility we were still able to spot whales.  In fact there were numerous sightings throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.  While most of the whales were far off of our route, we were able to ascertain that at least some (if not all) were humpback whales.

And then as if by plan, at about 14:30 the fog parted, the sun burst forth and there lay Greenland!  It could not have been more dramatic. It was almost like the curtains opening at the start of a play.  Barren, rounded mountains loomed out of the ocean just a few miles ahead.

Our goal for the afternoon was to cruise through a very narrow, very beautiful passage in the southernmost part of Greenland called Prins Christian Sund (no, that's not a typo).   Prins Christian Sund stretches for 55 nautical miles. It would take us six hours to navigate.
Soon the outside decks were festooned with a couple of hundred camera slinging, blue-jacketed, happy, smiling people.  Dozens of waterfalls that were fed by glaciers high above us tumbled down the bare rock.  The narrowest part of the channel was a meer 350 metres across.

Strange. As we exited the channel we could see the fog bank lying in wait.  I half expected to hear Rod Serling's voice from The Twilight Zone on our public address system. Still, it added a weird sort of symmetry to wrap up our day.

Monday 19 July 2010

The Rewards of Relaxation

I love sea days, especially when travelling on Fram.  Especially on perfect days like today. The sun has been shining for most of the day.  The motion of the ship is gentle.  Extremely relaxing.
Fram is designed for comfort. She is perhaps a little wider than what you might expect for her overall length.  Because of the shorter, wider design a little speed is sacrificed but stability, by virtue of less rolling and therefore more comfort is gained. Her active stabilizers further reduce rolling.  
It is a very bright ship with extremely large picture windows in all public areas. The public areas are spacious and plentiful.  There is never a feeling of being crowded.  If quiet introspective moments are what you need or perhaps a place to sit quietly in the sun, Fram is the vessel for you.  It is easy to find solitude.  There are plenty of spots both inside and on deck, where you can have a quiet moment to watch the ocean roll by.

Sea days are both a time to catch up on your rest and a time to broaden your understanding of the regions we visit.  We have an Expedition Team that is dedicated to that end. I don't mean that they are dedicated to catching up on rest (although we try to do that too!) but is devoted to enhancing your experience on board by broadening your understanding of the history, politics, geology, geography and wildlife of the regions we visit.  Lectures were scheduled throughout the day on a broad spectrum of topics in French, English, German and Scandinavian, reflecting the needs of the international mix on board.  
It can also be a time to get to know your fellow passengers.  It would be unfortunate if you didn't. The Fram experience can be a cultural experience unto itself.  Where else will you find so many people from such disparate and interesting locales sharing a common interest?

Cetaceans were spotted severals times throughout the day;  humpbacks and unidentified species of dolphins.  Although the observations were often fleeting they were but one of the many rewards of relaxing by a window or out on deck.