The “Lonely Planet Destination Guide” for Greenland begins with, “Greenland’s history reads something
like this: Nothing much happened. A couple of blokes arrived but left pretty much straight away. Several decades went past
and nothing much happened and then another bloke with red hair arrived and stayed a bit longer but then after that, for about
four centuries, things got really quiet and nothing much happened.”
And, at the risk of turning you away from the rest of this column, I have to say I agree with that writer. If you stick with me for the next few paragraphs, don’t expect shocking revelations or travel excitement. This one in no way rivals the heart-stopping excitement of our trip to Paraguay, which I wrote about in my last article.
Katrina and I flew from Copenhagen, Denmark, to the town of Kangerlussuaq, a remote commercial airport in the western part of Greenland, where the hotel was located in the terminal. In fact, I checked into the hotel before the bags were unloaded.
There are no roads in the country. To travel from one place to another, you must either fly or take a boat or ferry. The interior of the country is about 85 percent ice. The whole population lives on the west, east and south coasts. Life in Greenland is very different from any other place we have ever visited.
Kangerlussuaq is the third-largest city in Greenland, with a population of around 5,000 people. Plus 7,000 dogs. Greenland is about one-fourth the size of the United States but with a total population of only 60,000. The one supermarket in town has open hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and long lines to get in and to pay on the way out. We saw taxis everywhere in this small town but none would stop, even when it was raining (as it did frequently while we were there). When we inquired, we learned there is a tax advantage to registering your car as a taxi and displaying the appropriate signage—even if the driver doesn’t intend to pick up passengers.
Erik the Red, the legendary Viking, used Greenland as a home-away-from-home during his exile. It was Erik who called the country Greenland, but the naming proved to be more lyrical than factual; most of the time, Greenland is anything but. Though there are no trees or other greenery—except for a few wild flowers—the town is very scenic, with stunning vistas of icebergs and glaciers in the background and multicolored houses, which look like monopoly houses, all around the harbor.
Beauty, as we know, is in the eyes of the beholder. Greenland-born expeditionist, the legendary Knud Rasmussen, said, “Give me winter, give me dogs and you can have the rest.”
Though technically it was summer (which lasts about three weeks), it was very cold. There was light practically 24 hours a day, which is why they call it the land of the midnight sun. We missed the Northern Lights, though, since the best time to see them is in the winter. The downside: In the winter, you would see little else since it’s dark most of the time.
The tourist season, such as it is, lasts from mid-June to early September. Most of the people who service the tourists return home, principally Denmark, after the season. Only the die-hard locals remain. To do what, we wondered? Well, the captain of our boat said he paints the interiors of houses during the long, cold, dark winter.
One of our favorite spots was Disko Bay, set in a landscape of gigantic icebergs and sprawling mountains. We had hoped to see a humpback whale, but none appeared. The highlight of the trip was the inspiring ice fields of Ilulissat, where icebergs jostle for position at the mouth of the Ilulissat Is fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You would think television would be big there with the lack of outdoor activity during most of the year, but the TV in our hotel room could receive only three channels, two of which had the same programming.
The better views are outdoors. As we departed, we saw towering icebergs set in clear icy waters of majestic fjords. There is a natural raw beauty in the entire area and the bays and coasts abound with traditional fishing communities, marine life and soaring seabirds.
Excited yet? If, like us, you don’t require non-stop excitement as part of your travels, the best time to go is July and August. Not only is it the warmest, relatively speaking, but there are more scheduled flights and they are more dependable with fewer delays and cancellations. It’s not advisable to travel there during the Christmas holidays because the hotel and other services are generally shut down.
The “Lonely Planet” introduction to Greenland concluded with, “As an historical entity, Greenland lacks the Grand Narratives: It’s light when it comes to all-out bloody wars, pukka colonels with mutton-chop whiskers, tin-pot dictators, throne-wrestling and other Shakespearian dramas. This can be put down to two things: a minuscule population spread over a vast area, and the effort of surviving under hostile conditions that left precious little time for politicking.”
We found the country refreshing. While not at the top of anyone’s must-visit list, Greenland is as interesting and different as any destination we have visited and definitely worth a trip after you have seen the more frequently visited countries.•
Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. Basile can be reached at Frank_Basile@sbcglobal.net.