GETTING TO KNOW GREENLAND – PART 3: ILULISSAT, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

GETTING TO KNOW GREENLAND – PART 3: ILULISSAT, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

GETTING TO KNOW GREENLAND – PART 3: ILULISSAT, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton


Midnight
sunlight on icebergs, windows, and water

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton and
her husband Bill visited Greenland in July 2019. She took all but one of the
photos
in this post.

Three
whales as seen from the trail

While
staying in the town of Ilulissat, almost half-way up the west coast of
Greenland, we saw whales every single day: from the midnight-sun tour boat,
from the hiking trails along the shore, and even from our breakfast table
inside the hotel dining room. They were feeding, their backs and tails sporadically
breaking the surface of the icy water among the icebergs.
On
one hike, at one point a rocky hill blocked our view of the water, yet we heard
a whale blow, loud as a locomotive releasing steam. When the water came into
view, we discovered that the whale was some thousand yards (a kilometer) out in
the water. Perhaps the far wall of icebergs the size of continents reflected
the sound toward us.

Ilulissat
as seen from a tour boat. When Greenland was a Danish colony, buildings were
color-coded: hospitals were yellow, factories blue, radio communication sites green,
and churches and shops red. The colors applied to the workers’ homes. Newer
buildings can be any color.

It
was on our midnight-sun boat tour that I took my favorite photos, compared to
those I snapped while hiking, walking around town, visiting the museum, and
eating.

This
Zodiac got closer to these two humpback whales than our larger boat, but its
passengers don’t appear to have cameras.

A
dozen whales were at the rendezvous, the closest of all the whales we saw.

A
mountain-size iceberg as seen from a tour boat

Admiring
and photographing the mountain-size icebergs up close (but not too close, lest
they flip and wash us off the face of the earth), pastel blue and yellow and
peach in the soft golden light, made me feel like I had gone through a secret
passage into an enchanted art gallery.

Left
to right: Disko Island, Disko Bay, long white Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland Ice
Sheet. Courtesy of NASA.

The
town of Ilulissat is well inside Disko Bay, a bay so big you can see it on a
globe the size of a grapefruit. The icebergs in the bay come out of a nearby fjord
40 km (25 mi) long, the Ilulissat Icefjord (Ilulissat Kangerlua in Greenlandic).
They are calved by the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier (or Jakobshavn Glacier, its
Danish name, on some maps), on the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet from which it
flows.
As seen from a hiking trail: the icefjord, full
of ice, all the way to the other shore, almost 5 miles (8 km) away.
This
glacier is one of the most active in the world, fast-moving (40 m or over 130
ft/day) and producing the largest volume of icebergs outside of Antarctica. But
the biggest ones don’t float out to sea. Instead, they get stuck on the shallow
bottom at the mouth of the fjord, causing a giant pile-up and keeping the whole
fjord choked with ice. It’s a natural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
As seen from a hiking trail: apartment buildings
and sled dogs on long chains at the inland edge of Ilulissat. There are more
dogs than people and more mosquitoes than dogs.
Hiking
without a guide was easy because we had a trail map
provided by
our tour operator.

Can
you see the yellow trail marker?

The
map’s yellow, red, or blue trails were clearly marked with rocks or wooden
posts painted with the corresponding color.
For
dinner at the Arctic Hotel, lavish buffets offered Greenlandic specialties
, especially
seafood. The Inuit, especially in the far north, have long survived on marine
mammals because there was little else to eat. But of all the seafoods, I tried
only baked Arctic char, which looked and tasted delicious like a supersized
trout with pink or beige flesh, “depending on how much shrimp it ate,” said one
chef.

Whale
skin (and a mussel)

Like
elsewhere in Greenland, the menu didn’t specify which species of whale was
being served. Dark red whale meat was sliced paper-thin. Whale skin appeared by
itself or in a stew.
I
never saw seal meat. As for the whole silvery dried fish the size of my
smallest finger, I tried but failed to saw it in half with a knife. So I chewed
on its tail end a while without inflicting much damage to it. That’s why I
don’t count it as a seafood I tried. Gnawing at it would be a good way to pass
the time in winter, and not gain weight.
The
chef also served Greenlandic musk ox, lamb, and farmed reindeer roasts. And I thanked
him for the variety of vegetarian salads.
Breakfast,
like elsewhere in Greenland, was a buffet of fresh fruits, cereals and milk,
yogurts, cheeses, gorgeous yummy dark seeded breads, cold meats such as herbed ham,
salami, and liverwurst, eggs, bacon, sausages, different cold fishes such as
Greenlandic pickled halibut or smoked salmon, and more.  However, my breakfast favorite was… looking
for whales from my table.
For
lunch everywhere in Greenland, biting bug clouds chased me indoor where I
enjoyed cheese (Danish) and Wasa (Swedish) or Tuc (French) crackers (from the
local supermarket) in my hotel room, or freshly cooked, hot sandwiches at
family-owned cafés.
When
the time came to go home, we flew from Ilulissat to Reykjavik, Iceland, then to
California. Flying over the Greenland Ice Sheet allowed me to see pale
turquoise blue surface meltwater, as dashes on wrinkly ice like elephant skin,
and squiggles like attempts to draw a river, but mostly in scattered rings like
on a Nordic designer textile, each pattern another natural work of art but also
an ominous reminder of global warming.
FOR
MORE INFO
Read
about a new, current map of Greenland
and its back
side about “Understanding the Arctic.”

Read“Greenland’s Dog”,
another guest post by Caroline Hatton.

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