Aquingwak was born and raised in Thule, a thriving settlement of Inuits until 1953. When the United States came to build a remote army base on Greenland’s shores, they choose Thule as the most strategic position. Instead of building elsewhere, they preceded to relocate the population of Thule dwellers in order to construct the base. Thule became Qaanaaq, sixty miles north, and the northern most municipality on the planet continued on. Aquingwak remembers pieces of the great move from his fading childhood memories. Read more
It is true that if an Inuit hunter were to see two polar bears, instead of hunting just one which could be shared among a small community, most hunters will shoot them both. Because of the strict quotas in place that limit the number of animals to be hunted each year, sharing the kill with between different families has become a way of the past. Now, everything is purchased with money, even between close friends. There is an immense pressure to make the income required to buy the necessary imported food, and as the cost of living in Greenland is extraordinarily high, most feel as if there is no other choice. They must hunt more than was needed in the past, enough to sell the skins, meat and ivory for how else could they meet the demands of their modern lifestyles? And I know what you may be thinking, but there is no returning from this dependency on the contemporary way of life. The past is lost in translation as there is no written history, the current reality is tangled between excessive hunting versus the necessity to support a family in the twenty-first century and as a result, the future of Greenland is changed permanently. Read more
An elderly man sits atop his front porch watching the world pass by. Upon approaching him, he tells us he has Parkinson’s as he looks down at his shaking hand. His English ends at that and he nods silently when we request his attention for a picture. Read more
When ‘golden hour’ lasts 5 hours and stretches from 10pm to 4am, your world slips into another reality that becomes clearly distinguishable from the one you used to know. Jeans, kale and chai tea seem like an idea I once thought I couldn’t live without, now I reflect upon a vastly different reality with a similar sense of dependency. When you step outside to greet a purple sky dancing upon a stretch of icebergs among the frozen sea ice with snow covered mountains perceivable in the distant horizon, you understand why people need this place. Despite Qaanaaq being the northern most inhabited place on the planet and more remote than most places, there is a peace throughout the land. Rather it is a magic that gently creeps inside when you’re busy trudging through the snow, a beauty unsurpassed that words fall short when attempting to capture something so indefinable. Although the terrain lends itself to beautiful panoramic images, it doesn’t come without a level of harshness.
10:40 pm early April and the sun sits well above the horizon. Teasing its inhabitants on land with the thought of night fall, midnight sun is now upon northern Greenland. No matter how many times I glance at the clock, the minutes tick steady on as sunshine continues to pour through the glass windows. Qaanaaq, also known as Thule, is a small town of 600 inhabitants at the top of the world. In Latin, Thule means ‘last place’. The Inuit prefer a more descriptive meaning, noting Thule as the ‘northern most inhabited place in the world’. Qaanaaq now holds that title. It is said that Thule has had many different destinations throughout history. The Inuit migrated to Greenland from 2500 BC to 1000 AD, and as settlements moved further north, Thule continued to follow the northern most established town. Where it currently resides is a place of beauty that consumes and silences those who take their first steps here and those who take their last. The sea is frozen a meter thick and ice sheets stretch far beyond the eyes perception. Rising up everywhere across the vast desert of frozen sea are icebergs glistening blue in the beating midnight sun. During the winter, the community gets water by slicing off pieces of nearby icebergs and melting the ice into drinking water. Realizing that the water in my glass is pure glacier ice water taken from the iceberg 15 kilometers away brings a smile that fills my whole body. In the summer, once the icebergs have moved out into the greater ocean or slowly melted away, the Inuit gather water from a running stream that flows from the glacier head. Read more
When we sat at the airport in Reykjavik one week ago, I browsed through a nearby magazine about Greenland. One featured title caught my eye, ‘Greenland is place that was made so it could be photographed’. Although confident that there is more to mothers nature divine purpose, it becomes increasingly easy to agree with this bold yet undeniable statement. We weren’t properly dressed for an extended icy evening hike, but when the clouds parted during an afternoon stroll, we headed towards the small harbor outside of town to capture the sun kissed horizon. The light descends slowly this time of year, and it draws out that delicious moment when your eyes couldn’t possibly believe another hour of sunset glow. When it lingers, Justin can be found racing up a nearby mountain top or climbing downward to meet the waters edge to catch the perfect angle. Floating in my own reality, I hike, write, take photos and quietly watch the sea ice drift by. Read more
Christina Biilmann is a mother, granddaughter, Greenlandic chef, maid, front desk receptionist and now, our friend. Beyond her external classifications, she is a women of compassion and conviction with a kindness that’s settled deep within her chocolate eyes. We met Christina upon the first day of arrival to Ilulissat where she works at World of Greenland, an adventure tour company. Frequenting the shop with questions and requests for more maps, we quickly became friends. When she invited us to a ‘coffee-meet’, a traditional Greenlandic event in which family and friends come by for coffee, cakes and authentic Greenlandic food, we were honored to take part in her celebration. It was her Grandfathers 76th birthday party, and we soon found ourselves welcomed into a beautiful home along the outskirts of town with a spanning view of the valley and lively city below. Simmering on the stove were three pots of stew, two types of whale soup and one pot of reindeer soup. Read more
It seems that everything will start again anew. After many days of perpetual dismal darkness, a slice of sky emerged just long enough to paint the ice a turquoise shade of perfection. In most other terrains, rushing out to catch the evening light would be a simple routine. When it takes forethought to dress, space to put on pac boots half the size of your legs and dexterity to zip up the Canada Goose expedition weight jacket with two pairs of liner gloves on, you swiftly learn the necessity of equanimity. The days have been filled with stunning beauty and two independent journeys towards acclimatizing to this world apart. The petite room in which we call home has two bunk beds, a small table and a narrow standing closet. The square window sits above a Danish oil heater mounted to the wall, and despite our gear stacked and strategically placed, we inevitably dance around one another to arrange for the day ahead. The communal kitchen serves as a refuge from the cold and an alternative to dining out. The markets have little fresh produce, notably cabbage, onions, and apples, but they do service an ever hungry hiker with cereal, cheese and dehydrated tomato soup.
There is a calmness and silence that drifts through the air in Greenland. It is a current of irresistible energy that draws you closer to the heart of nature. If you still your mind, you can hear the ice break apart and shift with the current of the North Atlantic Ocean. When walking out to the edge, your legs disappear into the snow up to your knee caps as you sludge through a layer of snow, a layer of ice frozen atop another layer of snow. The ice tricks you, what appears to be frozen solid is merely a thin layer masking the ocean just below. Its volatile nature humbles even the bravest of travelers.
It is said that Greenland means ‘the land of man’. To the Greenlandic natives, it is home, where the dark days and sunlit nights demand the human spirit to endure at all costs. As foreigners, it is the land of ice, where the snow never melts and icebergs float at the top of the world. No matter who you are, Greenland is an island of unparalleled beauty, where nature and humans have made peace in the harshest of places. Read more