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.