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Paradise on Ice

A Visit to Greenland

Eric the Red told one of the biggest fibs in Viking history when he named Greenland: there’s little green and there’s little land—most of the country is hidden under a massive ice cap. But he was honest when he told his people back in Iceland that he had found a vast paradise teeming with wildlife. Greenland is still an undiscovered, stunning country that in many ways, is little changed from the day Eric the Red set foot there a millennium ago.

Despite my misgivings about the cold, I went to Greenland in the early spring when sunlight returns and the ice-covered ecosystem awakens from a long, dark winter—a time of clear blue skies and few tourists.

Just a short walk out of Kangerlussuaq, a former U.S. Air Force base that is Greenland’s airport and gateway, you are in the midst of reindeer, arctic birds, and muskox. The males of the herd engage in a kind of head-butting ritual that is executed very much like a western showdown. Toward the harbor, reindeer graze on what few edible shoots they can find on the snow-covered hillsides.

Thanks to the Americans, Kangerlussuaq has as many entertainment options as a theme park. A gym with a heated swimming pool, weight room, and sauna (free to visitors) was built so that U.S. soldiers could enjoy their rest and relaxation time. The two bars, four hotels, a bowling alley, movie theater, golf course, and conference center were also left by the Yankees.

Outside of town toward the bay a Danish travel agency runs a youth hotel called “Team Arctic Hostel,” the only low-budget option in town. The hostel offers reasonably priced group excursions.

You can also arrange short tours and multi-day trips at the airport through the state-run tourism agency, Kangerlussuaq Tours. Offerings include horseback trekking, ice-fishing on pack ice, and seal hunting by dog sled.

But it’s even more fun to explore the immense Greenland wilderness on your own. The ice cap that covers 85 percent of the island comprises 7 percent of the earth’s freshwater reserves. From the ice cap you have spectacular views of the rolling snow-covered hills and the steep-cut edges of the fjord. There’s almost no color to pepper a landscape that is completely pristine. This is the top of the world, and what a rush it is to be perched here--if only for a two-week vacation.

KOREY CAPOZZA is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. She is the contributing author to the Artic Encyclopedia.

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