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Indepedent Travel

Day Trips to Greenland

Take a Boat to One of the Earth’s Most Isolated Places

Flying low over a sea that looks to be more ice than water, the turbo-prop plane suddenly veers upwards between mountains that seem so close I could reach out and touch them. There is too much mist for it to land safely, but I am too enthralled by all I’m seeing, and too excited by what lies ahead, to be nervous. We’re going to the island village of Kulusuk off the east coast of Greenland, one of the most isolated places on earth.

For hundreds of years, Kulusuk’s only inhabitants were indigenous Inuit hunters. Visitors were rare. Because of sea ice, Greenland’s east coast is inaccessible for eight months of the year. But it is now possible to visit Kulusuk for what must be one of the most exhilarating day trips ever devised. Together with the 30 other passengers who are taking Air Iceland’s day tour from Reykjavik, I emerge onto a soggy gravel runway. It’s midsummer in Greenland and raining heavily.

“Maybe by the afternoon the rain will stop,” says our Icelandic guide.” Maybe (immaqa) is a very important word in this part of the world. “You never know if you’ll be able to do what you’ve planned because of the changing weather.”

He leads us from the airport building along a gravel track towards the settlement of Kulusuk, a collection of small, brightly-colored buildings clinging to a craggy outcrop with icebergs clustering in the foreground. Although hunting and fishing remain the settlement’s most important economic pursuits, selling traditional crafts to visitors has also become a significant source of income. The east Greenlanders use materials such as sealskin, caribou antler, and walrus ivory and are especially famous for their intricate carvings.

Having admired the beadwork and carvings on display at the Kulusuk Trading Post, we are taken to Kulusuk’s church, built in the 1920s with the assistance of the crew from a shipwreck, to listen to an informative lecture about contemporary life in the village.

Afterward, several giggling children accompany us from the church to the adjacent community hall, to watch a traditional drum dance. An elderly Inuit in sealskin pants and fur boots beats a drum made from wood and the stomach of a polar bear and opens with a dance that tells the story of a duel to the death between hunters.

Then we scramble down a slippery pile of rocks and cautiously clamber into a tiny motor boat. Our destination is the Apusiajik glacier about an hour from Kulusuk—a sheer wall of ice between majestic mountains. We don’t linger long because a large cluster of bergs has started to close in and block our route back to the landing stage. Our Inuit boatman tries four different routes, but the ice seems impenetrable. One of the women passengers starts to cry.

Thirty minutes, three more attempts, and lots more iceberg-bashing later, we’re still no closer to land. Just as the woman’s whimpers turn into a full-blown wail, a larger, more powerful boat appears. All we have to do is tuck in behind it and follow its passage through the broken-up ice to the landing stage.

Less than half an hour later, I’m on the plane. The take-off is smooth and I settle back in my seat to reflect on the beauty and drama of my unforgettable day in Greenland.

For More Info

Kulusuk can be reached by a 2-hour flight from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. The Air Iceland day tour usually leaves at 10 a.m. and returns by 8:30 p.m. Reservations for the tour can be made by emailing res@airiceland.is. Consult the Air Iceland website, www.airiceland.is, for details on when the tour runs.

For general information about Kulusuk, visit www.greenland.com. This website offers information about dogsledding and trekking in the Kulusuk area and also rents equipment such as tents and kayaks to visitors.

Arctic Wonderland Tours, www.arcticwonder.com, offers various tours, such as helicopter sightseeing, mountain driving, and a super-jeep snow tour, as well as links to other Greenland-related sites.

Kulusuk offers several accommodations options, including the Hotel Kulusuk, www.arcticwonder.com//Hotelkus.html, situated close to the airport. For the budget traveler, the friendly Kulusuk Youth Hostel with the address located on the following accommdations page, www.greenland.com/content/english/business_and_investment/travel_trade/addresses/accomodation, rents out houses in the village to groups and individuals.

Contact: Kulusuk Youth Hostel, 3915  Kulusuk, Greenland; Phone.:  299  98 68 88; Email: kulusuk@greennet.gl.