Halibut, whale and ice

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Ice cap covers 80% of Greenland

The idea of visiting islands of North Atlantic came to the Other Me when we were stuck in traffic lights some time last January. I got excited immediately. What better place to escape the scorching hot Cypriot Summer then the biggest island in the world, 80% of which is covered by ice!

So I did what I do best and organized a trip to retrace Vikings’ westerly steps in reverse, that is starting our travel from their westernmost place of settlement in Greenland (ok, for this true history buffs here, we will conveniently disregard their voyages to North America for our sake of our story line here).

With a rather tiny population of 56,000, Greenland is an autonomous country within Kingdom of Denmark, with a home-rule. Straddling the Arctic region and the Northern Atlantic Ocean, Greenland has been inhabited on an off in the last 4,500 years by various Arctic peoples, who arrived from territories known today as Canada, with Erik the Red and Norsemen arriving in the 10th century and finally Inuit peoples settled there in 13th century. Interesting fact about Greenland is that there are over 20,000 of dogs used in the tourist industry, and hunting in the winter. These temperamental and powerful animals are a husky-type of breed, genetically closer to a wolf than dogs.

The island is truly captivating. Forget about the icecap and Inuit peoples for a minute, and imagine a place with sun shining 24hours 3 months a year and in contrast total darkness for 2 months a year. Unfortunate killer of any adventure on the island is a cloud of mosquitos in the summer, from which there is no escaping, as they will find you just about everywhere.

We spent several days in Ilulissat, discovering the area of Disco Bay, and the icefjords. During sailing between icebergs, we had a pleasure of meeting a humpback whale in all its glory. What an amazing creature this is!

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Unexpected show in Disco Bay

There are usually 15 species of whales visiting waters of Greenland every year, however there are three kinds of them normally spotted in the summer, namely the humpback whale, minke whale and fin whale. The humpback whale weights up to 30 tonnes and a fully grown adult is up to 18meters long. They can be quite acrobats too.

Unfortunately these mammals are also a delicacy on local tables. In this day and age it is forbidden to kill whales in Greenland, however 1 or 2 are killed a year to supply meat and skin to local people. The meat and fat from the whale is used in full, not wasting any part of the animal. I cannot tell you how it tastes like, because I refused to try.

So we focused on the fresh fish caught and directly sold by the local fishermen. Instead of dinning in restaurants, we cooked in our small kitchenette in the hotel. As the sun does not set during the summer, the fishermen work almost 24/7, and hungry travellers can go directly to the small harbour to buy a range of fresh catch. The catch is dominated by halibut, cod, chars, and salmons (a side note, there is not just one type of salmon that we know from frozen sections in European shops). Shrimps are everywhere, but not easy to buy in the stores, as 90% of the catch is exported. Unless, of course, you ask the “shrimpers” in the harbour nicely for few kilos, as we fatefully did so, ending up quite overwhelmed by 7 kilos of shrimps, free of charge.

Halibut
Local fisherman cleaning our dinner, halibut

Local fish market was a little building with few fisherman sitting outside. That day’s catch was proudly stretched in white boxes, all whispering “me”, “me”. Halibut had always been one of my favourites, hence my choice was very easy. The fish was cleaned and prepared on the spot. For mere 3 euros per kilo we had two big filets ready to be cooked.

But of course, Greenland is just a place to have good fish, but also place with never-ending sights of icefjords and icebergs. They are seen from every corner, inviting by their various colour, sizes and shapes.

Icebergs originate from icefjords, breaking away in a loud process. Thousands of years old ice breaks with a noise similar to a thunder, announcing to the surrounding area that a new iceberg is born. Then they begin their travel to the south, at times to be spotted as far as in South America. Some of the icebergs are so small that are hardly visible to the onlookers, while some are enormous. Hiding up to 60-70% of the mass under water, they can be as big as hightowers above the water. 143

Ice as such is not white. The stream of sunlight going through the ice can create beautiful shades of blue, turquoise and green. Colours not usually seen on the streets of Europe during winter.

After week and a half, I left the island with a certain nostalgic feeling. The trip had certainly far exceeded my expectations. It offered not only good food and scenes of nearly untouched nature, but the insights into a local life, an exotic mixture of local history and Danish influence. The people were honest in their nature. However at closer look they were almost naïve in some ways, not curious about the possibilities that the world can offer.

Interestingly enough, this island is a paradise for hikers, but take my advice and put a thick layer of ointment against mosquitos.

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