Saturday 30 June 2012

It's Wasn't The Euro Cup But...

Photo © Mark McDermott
Our journey in Greenland is coming full circle. This morning we crossed the Arctic Circle once again as we made our way south to Itilleq. In fact the Arctic Circle lies just a couple of hundred meters south of this beautiful village.

We weren’t due to arrive in Itilleq until 13:00 which left the morning open for lectures, briefings and bridge tours. The Captain donated 1.50 hours of his precious time to the bridge tours. He explained with great patience much of the equipment on the bridge and how it functions. We gained new insight as to what the job of the navigators might entail.

Photo © Mark McDermott
Once again we had the good fortune of blue skies and very little wind. If you opted to skip the lectures, the open decks were a great place for a morning stroll, or to just sit and relax with a beverage of your choice and watch the icebergs as we cruised on by.

The first Polar Cirkel boats began ferrying everyone ashore shortly after 13:00. In Itilleq we had the opportunity to join people in their homes for coffee and cakes. It was a very nice experience to meet Greenlanders and to get a better idea of what life in Greenland might be like. Certainly they are a very hospitable people.

Photo © Mark McDermott
Everyone had nearly two hours to go exploring before the weekly soccer match between Team Fram and Team Itilleq started. It was a really fun and spirited game although a bit confusing to watch and probably equally confusing to play. It was almost impossible to tell who was on which team. The Fram side was a little bit undermanned in the beginning so Greenlanders played for both sides. If you received the ball and someone tackled you then obviously they were on the other side.

Photo © Mark McDermott
Still, it was an entertaining game. There were enough goals for both sides to keep the spectators cheering. There was even live music on the sidelines as someone had brought a keyboard and a guitar which contributed mightily to the festive atmosphere.

In the end Fram won the match with a score of 6 to 5. It is quite rare that we win in Itilleq. If I were a betting man, next week I would bet on Itilleq !

At 16:45 the last Polar Cirkel boat left shore and at 17:00 we heaved anchor and headed south towards Kangerslussuaq where our journey began.

Photo © Mark McDermott

At 17:30 there was a charity auction in the Observation Lounge. Up for auction were a master chart of the voyage, a water colour painting by the ship’s photographer and the ship’s flag which had been signed by all of the officers and the Expedition Team. We were able to raise 2575€ for the children of Greenland. A great big thank you to all of the people that bid for these charity items and especially thank you to the winning bidders!

Fly, Hike & Ride

How long can 26 nautical miles be..? Answer: A whole long night. The vast ice field around the port entrance of Ilulissat forces us to slow down to under three knots, some people swim faster than that. But there's no choice, except turn around and skip this important stop. This is not something our Captain Hårvik would do, let alone Expedition Leader Karin who spent the whole night on the bridge watching for icebergs.
But as everyone else wakes up in the morning, we are already at anchor in front of Ilulissat, the "Paris of the Arctic". Well, couldn't find the Moulin Rouge, but it is true that a lot of the cultural and social life of Greenland takes place here. And of course it is the hub for Greenlandic tourism of all sorts.
We are profiting from this by going either on one of the hikes leading down to the incredible Sermermiut Fjord, taking a boat ride to the mouth of the world's most productive glacier, or - and this is a killer thing to do- enjoying the bird's eyes view from the helicopter. The weather is not only playing game, it is pampering us with clear blue skies and temperatures you would expect in the Baleares.

Whatever activity we decide on, it is dominated by one thing, and one thing alone - ice. The size of the icebergs in Sermermiut is mind-boggling, gargantuan white cathedrals of the most impossible shapes are towering all around us, being reflected beautifully in the clear, dark water. Although the actual glacier is about 60 km away, its emissaries tell the tale of the power of frost. And who would think how abundant life can be here in this cold world? Plankton, shrimp, fish, all kinds of birds, and - if you are really, really lucky - whales is what you see.
Some of us are lucky indeed, having a big humpback whale right next to the fjord boat. What a day to remember! Already entertained by nature, all sit down with a big smile in the observation lounge later in the evening, when the famous MV FRAM crew show is presented, with the backdrop of thousands of icebergs and a gentle midnight sun. Life can be good, right?

Friday 29 June 2012

A Dream Vacation

Photo © Andrew Wenzel
All through the bright night Fram carefully wove her way through the ice. It was impossible to maintain full speed as icebergs were everywhere. Slow and steady wins the race. Due to the heavy ice conditions we arrived at Quillisat, an abandoned coal mining village, about 40 minutes later than originally planned.
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
At 9:40 we landed on a cobble stone and sand beach. Wild flowers were in abundance once again. In the sandy beach environment Sea Sandwort and Oysterplant were most notable.
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
As we walked up a gentle slope into the village a light drizzle began to fall. It served to magnify the melancholy feeling of the ghost town. Many of the buildings are in fairly good repair. It was occupied from 1924 until 1972. Local people still stay in the village from time to time, utilizing it as a summer get-away.

Photo © Andrew Wenzel

Snow Buntings, Lapland Buntings and Wheatears flitted about. The Wheatear chicks have already fledged. The adults birds got quite agitated if we approached their chicks too closely (by accident of course!)

It was very different from all of the other landings we have made so far. It was fun to wander around and peer inside the old abandoned buildings.

In the afternoon we planned on making a landing near the glacier Eqip Sermia which meant that our departure from Quillisat had to be on time. At 11:45 the last Polar Cirkel boat left shore. Shortly after we were on our way once again plying our way carefully through the ice.

Photo © Andrew Wenzel
By about 16:00 it became apparent that we would not be able to reach Eqip Sermia. The ice was just too thick. The Captain and Expedition Leader announced an alternative plan. We would turn a negative into a positive. We would take advantage of the now clear blue skies, brilliant sunshine and all of the glorious ice surrounding us. We would go cruising in the ice in the Polar Cirkel boats!

Soon all five boats were skipping across glass like seas towards thousands of icebergs. We had a full forty minutes to go exploring. Each iceberg was a unique sculpture. We stopped to photograph and to “o-o-o” and “a-a-ah” at iceberg after iceberg. We even had really great views of a Humpback Whale that was meandering about in the ice. Several people commented, “That was fantastic! I am so glad we switched to plan B. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Thank you!” “You’re welcome! We loved it too!”

Photo © Mark McDermott
To make a fantastic day even better the hotel staff arranged a BBQ on deck seven. Imagine us dining in the warm sunshine on deck 7 with a 360˚ view of icebergs. This is the stuff of which dream vacations are made.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Desert and Ice

The Greenlandic language may sound complicated, but actually it is very straightforward: Uummannaq means “Mountain in the form of a heart”, and so ANY mountain that remotely resembles that shape has the same name.
The town proper is like taken from a impressionistic painter’s palette, the colorful houses nestled into the foothills of the impressive mountain like little joyful dots. And the ice! It is simply everywhere, towering high, creating a frozen labyrinth through which FRAM cautiously finds her way. The size of these white and blue cathedral matches our ship easily, and this is only what we can see, the bulk of the berg being hidden in the water. We bring the boats out and are ready for the shuttle service ashore to do one ore more of the many things you can do here:

Be it an original Greenlandic lunch at the Uummannaq hotel, where they serve among others whale and musk ox, or the talk with a Greenlandic hunter who is only too willing to share his trade secrets, probably knowing that none of us will ever be able to do it anyway… A very special trip is the trip to the Red Desert, a unique place that sticks out from the rest of the surrounding landscape like … A half-hour boat ride brings us there, zig-zagging through the most amazing array of icebergs. On arrival, the colors are so striking that it is hard to believe they are natural. Hopping off the boat straight onto the rocks, then having an hour’s walk in this unreal landscape, product of an unusual event in Earth’s past. Sitting on a rock afterwards, having lunch with a view toward the inland ice, thousands of icebergs dancing slowly in the water underneath - well, this is certainly a significant moment… In the afternoon it is “all aboard” again, for the day is far from being over. A mere 30 miles separate us from our evening destination, Ukkussissat. This is a tiny village out of Uummannaq, and our northernmost point.
And it is difficult to reach, as it turns out: A dense ice field wants to be crossed, nearly a gapless belt of frozen hills, it looks highly unlikely that we make it. But our Captain Arild Hårvik proves himself as intrepid as experienced, and with a sure hand he navigates us through this white mess.
Definitely he’s the man of the hour. Only one hour delayed we can dispatch the boats to Ukkussissat, and the first thing we do is pick up a good percentage of the village’s population in order to bring them aboard. They show us their dances, they sing for us and they bring their traditional clothes, made of seal, reindeer and polar bear - beautiful! Then it is our turn to visit.

Boat by boat everybody goes ashore to wander around in the most authentic Greenlandic place possible. This is no tourist place, this is how people live in real life, in a place that couldn’t be more different from what we know. Our welcome here is owed to the fact that FRAM has maintained warm relations to the people here over many years, so it is a visit among friends. Late, very late, we come back on board and weigh the anchor for another adventure in the ice.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

We Don’t Rest On Our Laurels

Long Hike to Lyngmarksglacier.
Photo © Steffen Biersack
 Today was a day of product development for the ship and especially for the Expedition Team. We launched a fantastic new hike to the Lyngmarksglacier. We tested the waters around Qeqertarsuaq for possible future kayaking tours and explored the idea of whale watching excursions utilizing the Polar Cirkle boats in Disko Bay. By all reports the hike to Lyngmarksglacier was a great success with the participants getting the opportunity to walk on the glacier.
Long Hike to Lyngmarksglacier.
Photo © Steffen Biersack

Long Hike to Lyngmarksglacier.
Photo © Steffen Biersack

Our two test pilot kayakers came back smiling from ear to ear. And why not? The conditions were ideal. The sea was like glass and there were icebergs everywhere.

The team on the pioneering whale watching expedition found Humpback Whales within fifteen minutes. The indications are that the whale watching will only get better once the Capelin come in to spawn which is usually early to mid-July.

More adventure and new opportunities. While our voyages in Greenland are already very successful, they are only going to get better. So stand by everyone! 
In addition to the long hike to Lyngmarksglacier we offered a very scenic walk to the Valley of the Winds. This is a walk that just about everyone can do. No big inclines or declines and really impressive scenery the entire route. It is peak wildflower season. There is an astonishing variety of flowers to be admired and photographed on the way to the waterfall. Lots of people could be seen bent over examining these colourful Arctic jewels.
At 15:30 everyone was back on board the ship. We heaved anchor and turned our bows towards Uummannaq.

Just east of Qeqertarsuaq we encountered two Humpback Whales and a solitary Fin Whale. The Captain deviated from our course to intercept the whales. We stopped where we could all get a good look at these leviathans of the deep.
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
We filled the late afternoon with lectures on photography, ice, the Inuit and "hazards when travelling in the Arctic".

At 18:15 we were joined by King Neptune on the bow. For some reason Neptune was a little gnarly today and insisted we all pay a price for crossing the Arctic Circle. The fee? Ice cold water poured down your neck! B-r-r-r-r!

In the evening we were entertained by the Officers and Expedition Team who staged a fashion show in the Observation Lounge.


Tuesday 26 June 2012

The Place by the foxholes

The morning starts with a question mark: Will the weather be good or shall we have our first landing in grey, rainy conditions - here, out at sea you have no clue, since the higher moisture very often creates fogs that dance elegantly over the calm seas. But as soon as we enter the busy port of Sisimiut the skies turn blue and the colorful houses of this 5200-soul place shine brightly in the sunlight.
A gentle and fresh breeze has a very appreciated side effect - the mosquitoes stay away, which could otherwise be a great nuisance.
Especially if it comes to activities out in nature, and this is what Sisimiut is all about. And in our effort to offer something to everybody our range of activity is wide: The multi-faceted history of the place can be seen best on the historic hike to Tele Island, which takes you from modern life with shrimp factories back through colonial times with beautiful buildings next to the harbor to remains of the whaling period that started as early as in the 1500s, down to ruins of ancient settlers who have been here a couple of thousand years ago.
The more recent events in Greenlandic history are unraveled on the boat trip to Assaqutaq, a picturesque abandoned island near Sisimiut, where a 20 minute ride in a speedboat takes you. Ones the centre of the local fishing industry the place was literally closed down by the Danish government who wanted to bring education and health care to the country and found the people simply too much scattered over the place.
So many villages were abandoned against the will of their inhabitants, because that meant giving up a lot of the old traditions and ways of living. Today, however, the place is used as a summer camp for children, who learn how to fish (inclusive how to gut them), and how to hunt for seal at an age where we usually start to fold our first paper plane… The boldest among us set out in the morning for an extra-tough hike up to Palaassip Qaqqa, the “Priest Mountain”, which is towering over Sisimiut bay.
Only with good binoculars the brave hikers can be spotted in the steep mountain walls. But almost all make it today, and they are rewarded by a splendid view in crystal-clear afternoon light. So everybody is REALLY happy on return, and there is even the time to do a little shopping; the Greenlandic souvenirs are mostly beautifully carved out of bone. As a bonus, two star kayakers from the town come alongside with their needle thin boats, and demonstrate all a true Greenlander can do with this incredibly small vessel, breathtaking rolls and stunts, in ice-cold water. Many, many cheers from a large audience! Into the pastel colors of the polar night we sail, knowing it will not get fully dark. So no stargazing, but veery romantic atmosphere instead.

Monday 25 June 2012

21˚ C... Can This Be Greenland?

Photo © Mark McDermott
The Greenlandic Icecap glinted and sparkled in the sun as we descended towards the runway in Kangerslussuaq. It was an exciting entrance and an inspiring introduction to the beginning of our holiday in the Arctic. When we stepped out of our Coca-Cola-red charter jet onto the tarmac we were surprised by how warm it was. 21˚C. Not nearly as frigid as we had imagined it would be. After all this was the Arctic. This didn't fit with our expectations! Greenland: home to Polar Bears and Muskox and rugged Greenlandic people. Land of the midnight sun and eternal winter nights. We had just flown over a portion of the 2nd largest ice sheet in the world. But the warm air and clear blue skies seemed more in line with a tropical destination. But really, who’s complaining?

Photo © Mark McDermott
Inside the small terminal we were greeted by the Expedition Team from the Fram who escorted us to three waiting motor coaches. En route to the ship we learned that Kangerslussuaq is the warmest place in all of Greenland with the best weather. There aren’t any palm trees to match the tropical temperatures we experienced in Kangerslusuuaq but one thing it does have in common with the tropics is mosquitoes. Many people believe there are more mosquitoes in the tropics than anywhere else, but, nope. Not so. There are far more mosquitoes in the Arctic. While they hummed a strident tune about our heads they weren’t much more than a mild annoyance.

Photo © Mark McDermott
After a short 15 minute ride in a stiflingly warm motor coach we arrived at the pier. We were issued life jackets and shown how to put them on. One would think a compulsory piece of equipment like a life jacket would be easy to put on, right? Think again. Sure it only has two straps but it felt like we wrestling with an octopus. Once we had bested the life jackets we hopped into the small Polar Cirkle boats and enjoyed a short but brisk ride to the ship.

One of the nice things about taking a chartered jet is that we didn’t have to collect our luggage at the airport. Our bags were taken directly to the ship and then delivered to our cabins. Nice.
On the ship we were issued our ship’s I.D. cards and then escorted to our cabins.
Photo © Mark McDermott
At 18:00 we had a compulsory safety drill where we all gathered at our muster stations on deck 5. The whole process of the drill was quite interesting. It was evident that the crew was a well polished team.
Right after the drill we heaved anchor and began our cruise down Kangerslussuaq Fjord. It is the longest fjord in all of Greenland.
At 21:00 we met in the Observation Lounge for the Captain’s Welcome. the Captain gave a short but heart felt welcome speach and then introduced key personnel of the ship. The Expedition Leader then introduced the members of her team.
Now we are at about the mid-point of the 172km long fjord. It is a beautiful summer evening. The rocky walls of the fjord rise steeply from the sea on both sides of the ship.
It is now 22:23. The sky is bright. It stay that way all night long.
Tonight we will cross the Arctic Circle.  Sisimiut awaits.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Aka - Our Greenlandic trainee!

Our last landing has been in Itilleq. The sun was shining out of a clear blue sky again. Fram visits Itilleq since 2007 and the program in this little village became over the years a nice routine for the inhabitants and for our guests. In Itilleq our passengers have the possibility to visit the Greenlanders for a “Kaffeemik”. Later on we have always the very well known soccer game between Itilleq and FRAM. That has been a real nice adventure at the end of our trip along the west coast of Greenland.

Today we want to give our trainee Aka the possibility to write about her life aboard FRAM! Read, what she is thinking and feeling during her work with us. And Aka – thank you to be with us. You are wonderful and a big help!

Working aboard Fram: Exploring, learning, meeting other people and having fun!

Trainee onboard Fram!!!

I am Aka Simonsen from Qaqortoq, Greenland, a trainee onboard MV FRAM!!

I couldn´t believe my luck being offered to be a trainee ONBOARD MV FRAM!

But some dreams come true! Believing it or not, 4. June 2012, exited I went onboard. Checked in, got my own room!

Had a guided tour on the ship and was introduced to the staff onboard and received a uniform.

Working, Exploring, Learning and having fun, are the key words of being trainee onboard. Excites me a lot! You get to meet nice people with different nationalities, having fun. You get to learn some words like: Salamat = Thank you in Filipino. And the food! You get to eat very nice looking and very very delicious food: And I have to use the fitness center much more! You are able to swim in the sea with floating suits. Meeting HRH King Neptun and get to know in how cold water he lives in... You get to explore Greenland! Even me as a Greenlander, I hadn´t seen Greenland that far north before, beautiful exiting much different from south Greenland, where I come from.

Like now writing while I can just look out the window and admire the seals, whales and other animals enjoying the nature with me!

Being Greenlander and being a trainee onboard a cruise ship as MV Fram, I found out that having the uniform on when we are visiting settlements and towns, when people realizes I am a Greenlander, they admire me and they are proud of me, and glad because they know I will be able to say the right things about Greenland to the tourists. And that it is possible for Greenlanders to work in Hurtigruten!

So being trainee here onboard Fram = Exploring, learning, meeting other people and having fun!

Friday 22 June 2012

Be open for plan B!

The captain tried it again and he did his best and our lovely ship MV FRAM too. But again - we could not reach Ilulissat as there has been such a dense belt of icebergs in front of the harbor. During the whole night we sailed through the ice. It was so amazing to see how maneuverable our ship is. This tour will be really unforgettable.

Our plan B was Qasigiannguit in the southern Disko Bay. Even we have been a little bit disappointed that we could not reach Ilulissat the day with our plan B was wonderful.

Our expedition leader organized together with her assistant a nice program. Those who wanted to stretch their legs went on a fine hike through the flowering tundra. Those who have been more interested in the history went on a city hike with the expedition team. The highlight of this tour has been the astonishing museum. In different houses you could learn so much about the way of life of the Inuit cultures. In the evening we met in the church of Qasigiannguit for an incredible nice concert given by the choir of the town.  

During the night we had to say “good bye” to the ice. Most of the guests enjoyed the very well known Fram Crew Show. In the light of the midnight sun we sailed southward to our last destination – Itilleq.