Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Northern Adventure, from Greenland to Labrador

Children of Kangamuit, Greenland. Photo by Claudette Kohut

Nature Canada member Claudette Kohut continues her northern adventure, traveling from Greenland to Labrador. She sends this report -- with pictures! 

Glaciers and musk oxen are not the only things that thrive in Greenland, there are people too. Hidden in tiny bays, separated by miles of wilderness one finds the communities of Greenland. And like the northern peoples of Canada, the northern peoples of Greenland are struggling to balance an ancient way of living with a very new one.

Greenland’s only international airport sits in the town of Kangerlussuaq, (pop. 500) which exists solely for this reason. It was chosen during WW II by the US military because it is one of the few places where there is a long, level piece of land. Customs consisted of a couple of officers who stamped our passports from behind a small wooden desk that had been placed at the foot of the stairway, which led from the plane.

The nearest community, Kangamuit (pop 380), is a day’s travel down the coast.

Kangamuit is typical of many small towns, and many northern towns in Canada. The population is dwindling as young people flee to larger cities or, in Greenland’s case, Denmark, for better employment and educational opportunities. We visited a seal sewing cooperative and heard a remarkable choir sing songs in Greenlandic. We watched kids do what kids do the world over, manage to find games and fun all by themselves with a few bikes to share and a bit of construction equipment to play around on. When we arrived there were shy “allo”s and when we left there were grandstand waves coming from the kids on shore.

Our next stop was Nuut (pop 16,000), Greenland’s capital city. Nuut has a public transit system, houses worth over a million dollars (according to our guide) and boats worth much more. It boasts a large hospital, with a “patient hotel” for people who come from afar and need to stay, but don’t need a hospital bed. It also has a brand new shopping centre, towering tenements and cross country ski club. It’s main employer, aside from the government, is the port, one of Greenland’s best.

We left Nuut in the late afternoon and saw land again two days later.

Sunrise over Davis Strait, photo by Claudette Kohut
Click to enlarge.
Sunset over Davis Strait, photo by Claudette Kohut
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My previous experience with large bodies of water has been driving along the Superior shore, or dipping a toe, and sometimes more, into an ocean and gazing across the water to where sea meets sky. This is my first adventure on a boat and my first opportunity to gaze out in all directions and see nothing but sea and sky. It has taken us two full days and nights of sailing to get from Nuut, Greenland to Kangiqsualujjuaq (aka George River), Labrador. Most of that, 44 hours, was spent crossing the Davis Strait, the body of water that separates the two.  It is an experience, which has given me an appreciation of the life that exists even here, in cold northern waters with no land in sight.

Photo by Claudette Kohut.
Click to enlarge.

We have seen whales and dolphins, puffins, fulmars and kittiwakes among others. And that was just the wildlife that we could see on top of the water, I can’t begin to imagine what lies beneath.  It is humbling  to understand that we are a part of this grand, complex immensity.