While my other blogs on Greenland have focused on the breathtaking landscape and changing climate of the country, I want to dedicate the final installment of the trilogy to the incredible people I met. People who live in Greenland are pioneers in every sense of the term – whether they’re Inuit people whose existence in Greenland spans back millennia or foreign nationals who have recently found work in the country, it takes a certain level of adaptability, patience, and determination to brave through the physical isolation and Arctic climate. What’s more, people know the value of personal connections because they need to work together to survive the harsh conditions, and Greenlandic hospitality is out of this world. Sadly, I know that I may never again cross paths with many of the people I interacted with, but I have learned that much of travel is about appreciating the lasting impact strangers can leave on your life.
Though he already got a few mentions in my previous blog, our tour guide Adam deserves more attention. As it turns out, he is one of the most recognizable faces in the entire Greenland tourist industry – he told us about how he took the Dutch crown prince on tour, received a letter from the Dalai Lama, and is Facebook friends with Barack Obama! His popularity is for good reason – as a native Greenlander and resident of Kangerlussuaq for 30 years, he knew more about the settlement and local geography than anyone else. During our hike to Russell Glacier, he even took us to his “secret spot” where you could see the intricate patterns of air and ice within the glacier while standing on a frozen lake!
On our last day in town, Adam invited our entire class for kaffillerneq, a Greenlandic tradition where people open their entire house to visitors and treat them to coffee and pastries. Alongside Adam, we were greeted by his wife, daughter, granddaughter, adopted son, and family friend. As I mentioned before, Greenlanders know the value of relationships, and their families are tight-knit. While we were taken aback by the kindness, Adam was equally happy that we were exposing his young children and grandchildren to the English language and the world beyond their tiny settlement. While drinking coffee, I had the unique opportunity to try my hand at the qilaat, a Greenlandic frame drum traditionally used for rituals.
Our trip to Greenland was during the off-season for travel (0oF isn’t ideal weather for a family vacation), so our class often found ourselves being the only visitors wherever we went. As cool as this was, on our second-last day, we finally met a non-DIS tourist at the hotel – Jessie Evans. She introduced herself as a freelance photographer based out of Melbourne, Australia, and originally from Southern California. As it turned out, our class was full of photography nerds, and they immediately started geeking out about camera brands, aperture, lighting, and much more. As someone who has never operated anything beyond a phone camera, I couldn’t follow the conversation for the life of me!
Jessie mentioned that it was actually her 6th trip to Greenland and that she had just returned from Uummannaq, a town sitting on the flanks of a steep 4000-foot-tall mountain. Most interestingly, we found out that she began her association with Greenland by simply cold-calling the official Greenlandic tourism agency as a 25-year-old photographer based on the opposite end of the world. Apparently, they first thought it was a prank call and hung up, but she persisted and eventually got the chance to spend a month doing photography in Greenland on a fully-funded trip. I took this as a lesson that if you set your mind on doing something, there are ways to make it happen.
The final few people I need to mention all work at the Rowing Club Restaurant, the place where we had all our dinners. The restaurant’s name is no accident – the building was actually once a rowing club (remember how everything is reused) but was later abandoned because the lake it sits next to is now the source of the town’s water supply. Because we came back 4 nights in a row and the restaurant is on minimal staffing for the winter, we got to know everyone working there quite well. Our waiters were a Norwegian boy and a Finnish girl similar in age to us who were both on a gap year and sought adventure in Greenland. Since the restaurant wasn’t too busy, we chatted about everything from the US midterm elections to my reasons for being vegan while they brought out the food. On the last day, we each got to order a drink on DIS, and our waiters recommended the “Greenlandic coffee.” The final step in making this drink involved lighting rum on fire and pouring it in to represent the northern lights – it was quite the show! Our waiters patiently repeated the exercise for all 15 of us who ordered the drinks even with our constant “oohs” and “aahs” – it was apparently the most drinks they ever made at once!
During a ride back to the hotel from the restaurant, one of the chefs hitched a ride with us back into town. He sat next to me, and we immediately started talking. As it turns out, we were on the same flight from Copenhagen, and we talked about our crazy experience making an emergency landing in Iceland (story for another time). He then told me about how he ended up in Greenland – after graduating from culinary school in Roskilde (a suburb of Copenhagen), the best job offer he received was from the very restaurant we were at. While he initially only intended to work there for 6 months, he ended up liking the town and restaurant so much that he stayed on for 2 years, eventually rising to the position of head chef. Although he had since moved on to other ventures, he decided to come back for a few weeks when his buddies back at the restaurant told him that they were short of a chef. He also told me about “Northern Lights,” the only bar in town, and I ended up visiting it with some classmates on our last night.
Of course, there are many more people I could mention in this blog, from the professional movers I hitched a ride with to the Danish miners who challenged me to a game of pool. Still, I hope this blog gives you an insight into how varied, friendly, and adventurous people who live in Greenland are. During our trip, I felt a level of safety and security I never had before, for it truly felt like everyone had each other’s back.