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Tasiilaq, Greenland

Written on: Friday April 10th, 2009

A journal entry from: Greenland and Iceland

This blog entry is really late. But never fear. I've remembered most things I think.

I met Ivan on the plane on the 26th of March and we flew to Heathrow, had a really LONG stopover, and then caught a plane to Reykjavik in Iceland. We arrived that night at 2am (omg) and checked into the hostel in the city. The hostel was very nice (impressive). We had booked two beds in a six-bed room so there were four (i think) other people already in there. It was a bit awkward climbing on top of some stranger while he was sleeping, but that is another story. It was a great sleep regardless. And I was satisfied. Neither of us got stabbed through our mattresses either.

In the morning, we took a taxi to the local airport. (There are two airports that service Reykjavik - the international one called Keflavik which is 45 mins away, and the domestic terminal which is located right in the city. The domestic one has flights to Greenland). We flew to our transfer stop called Kulusuk, Greenland (a town) via a place called Constable Point. Except that Constable Point is way further north than Kulusuk and I still don't understand why they would fly to there first. Oh well. But Constable Point is above the arctic circle (71 degrees latitude) and Kulusuk is not, so hurrah.

From Kulusuk, we took a 10 minute ($300) helicopter ride to our new home, a town with a population of about 2000, called Tasiilaq. And I'm impressed. Google maps actually recognizes this place. Tasiilaq is on the east coast of Greenland in an area called Ammassalik. The names Tasiilaq and Ammassalik are used interchangably, and this can get incredibly confusing when booking flights. We chose Tasiilaq  because the tourist office there offered lessons in obtaining a "dog sledding license". But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

On the day we arrived in Tasiilaq (Saturday the 28th of March), a guy named Mikkel (who we would get to know really well from then on) picked us up at the helicopter pad and drove us for about 1 minute to our apartment that we were renting for the week. The apartment (photos to come) was one big room with two twin beds, a kitchen (which is necessary and I will tell you why later), and a bathroom. It was really nice. That evening we just explored the town and saw the Northern Lights at night. Neat, huh. We also saw a dog and ran away from it because we thought it was going to attack us. The next day (Sunday), we went to the church service to people watch, and walked around the town in the afternoon. It was pretty dead.. Nothing is open on Sundays. We had planned on going out for dinner that night but the two hotel restaurants in the town (both of them require reservations), were not serving on Sunday. I can't remember what we had for dinner that night but I think it was plain pasta and bread. Atkins wouldn't approve.

The next couple days were dedicated to learning about the Greenlandic dogs, and the sleds, and how to harness and talk to the dogs. There were 9 dogs total; the most memorable ones were poomba and timone (black dogs with a lot of energy), skumse (the oldest dog. he owned the other dogs), and boomle (this dog was quite fat and always fell down backwards when you would try to put on his harness). The first day, we learned how to use the whip (no, you don't whip the dogs. You just whip the area near the dogs to show them which way you want them to go if your voice commands don't work). On our last day of training, Ivan and I had our own sleds (I had 4 dogs, and Ivan had 5). On the way back, our dogs got way over excited about the prospect of eating and decided to race eachother. Our sleds were right close together so there was not a lot of room. My dogs decided to go over a really large piece of ice, which of course overturned my sled and I ended up on the ground with a large bruise. Stupid dogs. We both still got our licences and are now "qualified" mushers.

The next day, we went out with the same 9 dogs on one sled with Mikkel, and another sled with 10 dogs and a guide named Julius. I was with the Mikkel sled on day one, and Ivan was on the Julius sled and then we switched on the way back. The glaciers and scenery were incredible. At some points, we had to push the sled up the hills because it was so steep. But it sure made for a fun ride down. We stayed overnight next to an ice cave. The thing I remember most about that overnight camping was trying to pee in the snow with all the dogs watching. Very nerve-racking. Also, if you attempt to sleep on the snow, I suggest you get a good sleeping pad. That was possibly the most uncomfortable night of my life.

Apart from the dogs, we met a lot of neat people, mostly Danes though. I think someone said that the town has about 10% Danish people. They work in the hotels (two hotels) and the museum and one owns a little candy shop called "Rainbow" , but in Greenlandic. The locals have problems with drinking which is quite obvious if you go to the town bar. Also, if you go to the bar, make sure you take a gas mask with you. And we heard that there are domestic violence problems, but those aren't as apparent. I went to the disco (which is attached to the bar) on the last night (Ivan decided to forego it). It was a great time! Mostly a younger crowd that could polka dance their socks off. Also, at these bars, it is generally the women that approach men, making people-watching an activity that might lure in tourists. Nevermind the dogs or the northern lights.

On April 4th, a Saturday, we flew over to Reykjavik, Iceland.