In researching our trip to Iceland, I found that a day trip to Greenland would be possible. Greenland? Who goes to Greenland? I immediately became captivated with the idea that we HAD to go. Convincing Laura was another story.
We had long discussions for months about whether we would take the quick trip from Iceland to Greenland. Once before, I wanted to do a day trip to somewhere crazy (from Spain to Gibraltar). At the time, I was accused of just wanting to collect a passport stamp. And it went much that way this time. I’ll admit, that was part of it. But how often do you have the opportunity for visiting Greenland? We don’t have a lot of vacation time, and tacking the quick trip on to our time in Iceland just made sense (to me, anyway).
Before we left on the trip, the cover of National Geographic was about Greenland being Ground Zero for global warming. I wanted to see it for myself. Laura finally gave in.
We opted for a day trip offered by Air Iceland. Yes, it is quite expensive – at about $525 per person, this would be an investment. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find detailed specifics about the Air Iceland package. So, with a leap of faith, we booked the trip. [Note: Hearty travelers can overnight in Kulusuk at either of the hotel or hostel in town. Check current prices on accommodations in Greenland here.]
We got up early and headed to the tiny Reykjavik city airport for the flight. The flight from Reykjavik to the hamlet of Kulusuk, Greenland took a little under two hours. Once in Greenland, we crossed through security and found the guide, a gent from Iceland who had lived in Greenland for some time. He originally came to Greenland as a sociologist to study the indigenous population and ended up seeing a money-making opportunity and stayed.
In Kulusuk, we walked from the airport down into the town, stopping at the cemetery ridge for a view of town. At about this time, the midges found us. These crazy little bugs are attracted to CO2 and fly into your mouth and up your nose. They made us miserable, but there was nothing we could do to keep them away. I wished we had had netting to get the bugs out of our faces.
Kulusuk is a small village where all of the little buildings clinging to the rocks are painted in picturesque reds and greens and blues. It was very charming…from afar.
The locals in Eastern Greenland have progressed rapidly. In just over 150 years, they have moved from tribal hunter/gathering in seal skins to driving ATVs and wearing North Face. But, like most native peoples, they have over 80% unemployment and an extremely high level of alcoholism. When we were in Kulusuk on a Saturday, the few locals with a job had been paid the day before and the entire town was drunk – including some boys as young as about 10 or 12. Our guide explained that this was pretty typical right after pay day. It was quite sad.
Our first stop was the town’s all-purpose store. It carries everything from groceries to clothes to guns and ammunition. An unusual mish-mash of merchandise, but it gave us a glimpse into the sparse lifestyle of the people and was a strong reminder of how remote Kulusuk is.
There is one gift shop in town, which our guide opened up for us. The store sells exactly the same merchandise as the Kulusuk Gifts store in Reykjavik – t-shirts and expensive bone carvings. He then took us over to the brightly-colored church for a brief 10-15 minute history lesson on Greenland.
We then went into a woman’s house for a drum ceremony demonstration – it could have been really good, however, without providing any cultural context, it was just kind of weird. And somehow Laura got roped into participating.
Actually, that really sums up our trip. Our guide studied the local people in Greenland for his degree and could have provided a really rich cultural discussion and been really informative. Instead, he seemed to be more focused on wanting to open the gift shop and sell things.
The most rewarding part of visiting Greenland was boarding the boats from the town of Kulusuk and taking them out into the bay and past some MASSIVE icebergs. That was very cool!
Yes, we got our passport stamp. Yes, we went to Greenland. And who goes to Greenland? It’s one of those places in the world that is very far off the beaten track and I’m glad we took this opportunity to go. But for cost of about $525 per person, we expected more. It was not the educational and enriching experience that we were hoping for, but I’m glad we did it.
We flew back to Reykjavik for dinner. We had selected Argentine, one of the most popular restaurants in all of Iceland and one of the better steakhouses we’ve ever been to. The restaurant is relatively dark and has a lightly smokey smell from the indoor pit – the ambiance is perfect for a high quality steakhouse. Clearly we hadn’t eaten enough, so on the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at the most popular restaurant in Iceland (really) – Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog stand. I had “one with” (meaning one with everything). It was excellent! And I can see now why Icelanders love their hotdogs.
Tomorrow is a day exploring Reykjavik.
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