The intercom crackled into life – it was the captain of our Icelandair Fokker 50 on the approach to the tiny ice-strip at Kulusuk airport on the south east coast of Greenland. “I’m sorry, we can’t make it to Constable Pynt today. The weather is too bad so we’ll have to return to Reykjavik”.
And so started my Greenland adventure! He landed skilfully on the snowy strip and we disembarked for a short while before retracing our journey to Iceland. Almost the first thing I see at Kulusuk is the skin of a polar bear shot outside the terminal building in 1994 – a salient reminder that we are now in the land of the hunter and for many Greenlanders hunting is still a way of life. Twenty four hours later we were back on the plane and this time heading directly to Constable Pynt on Greenland’s east coast. You learn quickly to expect the unexpected in this extraordinary country – home to one of the largest icecaps in the world – a vast ice-covered wilderness where the weather always seems to have the upper hand. Under normal circumstances, the locals would continue the last 50km or so by helicopter – a short 15 minute flight into the landing pad at Ittoqqortoormiit, a small and extremely isolated community of around 400 houses perched on a bluff overlooking the frozen Greenland Sea. But, yet again, the weather had us by the throat, so we covered the distance by snow scooter – an unforgettable journey where we struggled with deep snow, and little visibility. We skirted the sea ice, passing through the tiny and now deserted village of Kap Hope, and arrived (somewhat frozen) in Ittoqqortoormiit two hours later.
The next morning dawn broke to clear skies – a perfect day for dog-sledging. Ice particles danced in the sunlight and blue skies stretched endlessly over the rooftops of the brightly coloured houses and across the sea-ice to far distant majestic icebergs and the barren snow-covered hills beyond.
The dogs leapt and barked, eager to be off, and we sat comfortably on the sledge, thick with polar bear and musk ox skins as the dogs laboured through the deep snow, past numerous seal fishing nets to Kap Tobin – a tiny collection of houses in a fantastic spot some 7km south of us. On several occasions rumours of polar bear ran through the village and, while we grabbed binoculars, the hunters grabbed their rifles. Sadly (at least for us) the bears proved elusive.
Leaving Greenland proved even harder than getting in! Bad weather delayed our return flight giving us ample time to absorb village life. Attending morning service in the tiny church, built nearly 100 years ago, we enjoyed hymns in Greenlandic and a surprise christening – the proud parents dressed traditionally in snow-white smocks, topped off with colourful beaded jewellery for the women. We visited the weather station to see the daily launch of the weather balloon, trekked up through the snow to visit the rows of white crosses in the cemetery high above the town, and mulled over pickled fish and musk ox in the local supermarket.
It was three days before we finally headed down the runway and up into the icy clouds above Greenland. This place is ‘other-worldly’ where life is as tough as it comes, truly the land of the husky, the ‘ice-bear’ and the big-hearted Greenland hunter. For this village at least, our presence is increasingly important to livelihoods which are fast disappearing, and I feel proud that Arcturus can play a part in helping to keep some of the old traditions going.