Monday, November 21, 2011

the coolest place on Earth

Finally, the arrival of the long awaited blog post on my arctic adventures in Greenland!

We stayed for five days  in a lovely little town called Kangerlussuaq, where the main airport in Greenland is located.  Anyone living in the town was either working at the airport or for the tourist organization World of Greenland: Arctic Circle. We had the most wonderful tour guides who also served as our drivers for the duration of our stay.

frozen hair
Let me say this: I knew it was going to be cold, but there was nothing that could have prepared me for my first step off the airplane into the freezing weather of Greenland. Every bit of moisture exhaled immediately froze to my eyelashes, hair, and scarf, giving me the appearance of an ice princess.

On our first day in the Arctic Circle, we had a chance to get out and explore the area surrounding our hostel, which was called Old Camp. I attempted to climb part way up a mountain, but it started to become too steep to climb with the gear I had on, so I turned around and made my descent.

Then we headed to the local (and only) grocery store to check out the frozen food section, which offered some interesting things.  For sale was narwhal, seal fat, whale, muskoxen, and so much more. We also got a chance to see the husky dogs used for dog-sledding. Unfortunately we were not able to experience dog-sledding for ourselves because the water was not yet completely frozen over. But we still got to see the puppies and play with them for a while.

three adorable husky puppies

Soon it was time for our first dinner at the one and only restaurant in the town, Roklubben.  If you can guess from the name, the building used to be used as a rowing club for families visiting Kangerlussuaq. Our first meal was called reindeer pot, which was kind of like a meat stew with reindeer (aka caribou), mushrooms, tomatoes, and red wine sauce. It was surprisingly delicious!

A perfect first day in Greenland was complete when we came home from dinner to a gorgeous showing of the Northern Lights, in a shade of green. It was spectacular and I am very grateful that I got to experience the show in the Arctic Circle, where the colors are the best.

gorgeous display of Northern Lights
photo credit: Henning Thing

Our second day in Kangerlussuaq started bright and early with a muskoxen safari! While we didn't see any oxen, we saw several caribou (from afar) and one close to the road. Eventually we did see two oxen very far off on the mountain side. Even viewing them through a telescope, they still just looked like rocks (with legs) in the landscape.

sporting my seal mittens

radar at Kellyville
After the safari, we headed to Kellyville, a US National Science Foundation funded research site dealing with upper atmospheric physics and chemistry. The research station has a huge radar that tracks the movements of particles in the atmosphere and measures their density, as well as other relevant things. The woman in charge told us that they have a summer school session every other year there at the station. I would LOVE to be able to go back and spend a summer in Kangerlussuaq researching the aurora borealis.

Dinner was once again at Roklubben, and was fried halibut. Now I am not usually a big fan of fish, but the halibut we ate did not even taste like fish! It was a miracle and I really enjoyed the meal.

The third day of our trip was the most eventful by far. We took an all-day excursion to the Greenland Ice Sheet! The ride to the middle of the ice sheet was very bumpy, but we eventually made it there. Once on the ice sheet, we had a chance to play in the snow and take in the amazing, snowy landscape.

scenic part of the ice sheet

After lunch on the bus, we split up into two smaller, more rugged vehicles to drive to the edge of the ice sheet to see the frozen river and watch the moon rise. While waiting for the moon to rise, it turns out that the vehicle I was riding in decided to break down. Of course, neither our van nor the other had jumper cables to get the car started again. So we had to wait for another vehicle to meet us from the nearest town, about an hours drive away. But we enjoyed ourselves by sliding around on the snow.

enjoying the view (photo credit: Henning Thing)

waiting for the moon
photo credit: Henning Thing

traditional buffet
We also had a great treat at dinner that night: a traditional Greenlandic buffet, which included samples of the following local foods: whale (skin, raw, and cooked meat), shrimp, prawns, caribou, salmon, halibut, trout, and so much more that I can't even remember! I tried a little of everything and have to say that I was not fond of the whale, in any form!

On our second to last day, we ventured out on a fossil and rock hunt. Except it was more of a rock hunt because it had snowed the previous night, so fossils would have been very difficult to uncover. The place where we hunted our rocks was a raised sea bed, beautifully sculpted by 8,000 years of wind erosion and weathering. I grabbed a few rocks for my personal collection as well as for my geology teacher at school.

Then we headed back into town to visit the local history museum. We were able to answer many of the questions on our KAT (Kangerlussuaq Awareness Test) there, as well as learn about the town's history (Kangerlussuaq used to be an old U.S. military base). We also had the opportunity to go into the home of a local Greenlandic family for "kaffemik." Kaffemik is a hybrid Danish-Greenlandic word, which literally means "with coffee," and is used for social gatherings and special occasions, like a child's first day of school.

Molly and I with our friend
Our final dinner was chopped muskoxen patties wrapped in bacon. I am already missing the local cuisine! We even had an extra special surprise that night: Greenlandic coffee! It is very similar to Irish coffee, which a few ingredients changed. Greenlandic coffee is comprised of the following: coffee, whiskey (represents the strong male figure), Kahlua (represents the woman figure), and whipped creme (represents the snow). The final element is a type of orange flavored liquor that is set on fire and poured over the creme (representing the northern lights). I was more impressed by the presentation of the drink than the drink itself!

Greenlandic coffee presentation
chilling with the polar bear

The next morning we were all very sad to be leaving our home for the past week. Greenland is a beautiful country that I have fallen in love with. I would give anything to return someday, hopefully in the near future to do some research. If you ever get the chance to go there, do not hesitate to take it and run. Their slogan is true, Greenland really is the coolest place on Earth!


  1. So jealous you got to go to Greenland! Everything looks spectacular there, and I never would've guessed that Greenland would be a place you'd get the chance to visit! :)

  2. I know! It is crazy, and pretty much why I chose to study in Denmark. :)