Greenland – the Arctic’s Promised Land
For thousands of years Greenland has attracted nomad settlers with its numerous fertile fjords and the abundance of seafood. Most of these nomads came over the arctic ice shield from Alaska and settled on the west coast of the world’s biggest island. The first western immigrants came in 982 with the outcast Eric the Red and his people from Iceland. He and his descendants created an independent Viking community that lasted until 1450. The disappearing of Greenland’s Vikings still is a mystery to historians. Nothing but silent remnants from a forgotten time are left, for us to visit and to contemplate on the power of nature over man.
Nature seems to be untamed in Greenland. Anything man can achieve is easily taken away by the frost, storms and melting water. Greenland’s beauty is overwhelming, remote and relentlessly demanding respect from those who dare to challenge it. The Inuit learned to benefit from the harsh wilderness and survive, by humbly becoming part of it. Walking in their footsteps and following their experience is the safest way to discover a new world.
Whale and seal meat had been the gold of the 17th and 18th centuries, when Scandinavian hunters entered the country and started trade with the native Inuit. It still is a source of income for many Greenlanders who live in colourful villages along the endless coastline, using dog sleds, kayaks and traditional hunting weapons in order to provide basic foods.
Tradition Meets the Present
Greenland’s southern coast benefits from a mild climate and thus provided man with berries, herbs and enough food for sheep that have been bred since the beginning of the 20th century. Due to the aromatic tundra grass their meat needs no additional spicing.
Everything in this country seems to be pure and spicy. Even the bustling capital Nuuk presents itself as ‘spicy’ modern town with any comfort of a city and a well-developed tourism that is spread all over the country. Only 57.000 people are living on the huge island with its endless coastline, connecting tradition with modernity. Art, music and fashion play an important role now and Greenland has found its own unique style.
Further in the west and east and up to the north vegetation slowly decreases, which forces those who live there into a nomadic lifestyle, hunting reindeer, musk oxen and polar bears, threatened by an immense cold in the winter and by Greenland’s glacial ice shield, that measures up to 3600 meters on its highest peaks. Arctic storms make it quite an uncomfortable place, and due to the hidden crevasses resulting from glacial melting also a fairly dangerous one.
The Summer Country
But Flora has established herself – more than 4000 different plants, flowers and herbs can be found on both coasts and the numerous islands. During the summer almost any soil-covered spot sports a multitude of flowers. It seems like there is a two-months festival of nature, which celebrates the short arctic summer, when temperatures indeed can reach up to 20°C in June and July. Despite the ever-changing weather the dry arctic air gives a clear view. Even far away mountain ridges seem nearer than they actually are and the complete silence gives a feeling of reverence.
Admiring the colourful southerly coast from the seaside, with the green meadows, protected by huge grey mountains, while a deep blue arctic sea is softly rocking impressive icebergs through the fjords, it is easy to understand why Eric the Red had been so fascinated by this “green land”.
There is hardly more magic to be found than bathing in the hot spring of Uunartoq and watching icebergs passing by. Greenland’s hot springs can reach up to 60°C and the icebergs can be seen everywhere. However, no place is as suitable to experience the dramatic sight of the inland ice as Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland. Being Greenland’s international airport, the town is also called ‘gateway to Greenland.’ From there you easily get on the ice of the Russel glacier by foot, dog sledge or helicopter or loose yourself in the picturesque fjords of Kong Frederiks Land on a kayak trip. The weather being extremely calm and clear in Kangerlussuaq, it is an ideal winter destination – nowhere in the world are your chances of spotting northern lights as high as in this town with 300 cloudless nights per year!
The Gate Into Wilderness
For those who seek adventure and solitude, the gate into wilderness is situated on the east side. East Greenland had been separated by ice from the rest of the world until last century and has thus developed its own culture, language and oral tradition and people there are still deeply connected to nature.
Take a break from civilization in Ittoqqortoormiit, and discover the borders of the world’s biggest national park with its rich animal life and Inuit remnants, some of which date back a thousand years. The national park is reserved for rangers and scientists, but its outskirts are open to cruise ships and smaller tours. Visiting this very last outpost of man is truly humbling and acts as a reminder to act carefully with our planet’s northernmost treasure.