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Insider Insights: Articles

Welcome to Greenland

By Mark Robinson
Thursday, December 5, 2013, 2:40 PM

I think I was getting more used to the near constant light. I didn’t wake up until Boris’s dulcet tones came wafting over the PA.

“Good morning Academic Ioffe,” Boris spoke, “Welcome to Greenland!” 

I sat bolt upright and flung open the curtains. I was sure that I was going to gaze upon a land of grey desolation, black rocks and blue ice. Towns would be tiny, barely clinging to life in a landscape of unending bleakness.

Around me the hills of Disko Island stretched into the misty skies. Green hues spread across the landscape, a beautiful mat of green against the darkness of the ground beneath.

Pink rocks were splashed about on the mountainsides and into the town that sat off to our right. At the base of the mountains an airport welcomed a two engine prop plane as it touched down on the dusty runway. The town of Qequtarssuaq didn’t so much cling to the rocks as spring fully grown and beautiful as a wildflower field. Even with a substantial distance between us I could see the bright colours of the homes and businesses of the town.

It was far from what I expected.

The ship moved slowly into the harbour as I got out of bed, cleaned up and grabbed some breakfast. The Zodiacs were in the water and ready to go as soon as the last coffee cups were emptied. I was going to be making my first landfall in Greenland in mere minutes. I’d waited a long time for this. 

The boats sliced through the water towards the docks as the wind began to whip up across the bay. The waves built up as we neared the docks and when we arrived the Zodiac was being bounced so hard that getting out was next to impossible. Despite that, George and I managed to crawl out and onto the dock.

At the far end was the soil of Greenland. I headed that way and George stopped me. We had to get a shot of me actually jumping off the dock onto solid ground. So, he ran ahead, set up and gestured for me to walk down the dock and jump onto the ground. Which I proceeded to do. Five times.

That’s the thing about TV:Once it’s all edited together, everything looks easy. Behind the scenes, doing two or more takes is pretty much normal. For me, it’s more like five takes, but that’s only because I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to reciting lines. Still, it did look good in the end.

The end of the dock (and entrance to Greenland) was framed by two bowhead whale ribs leaning against each other. Through the arch was a majestic…parking lot. Uh yeah. I was kinda hoping for something a little more, but it was still Greenland soil. With about 30 passengers all laughing and making fun of me for how many times George sent me back to redo the line and the step onto said Greenland soil.

From our parking lot base of operations we headed out into the town and the first thing we noticed was all the colours. Every building was painted brilliantly in reds, greens, blues, and yellows. The streets were paved and the cars that moved around us were new and in good shape. It was a stark contrast to the towns that we’d seen in Canada unfortunately. Where things seemed in poor repair and messy in Canada, Greenland was clean and tidy with modern looking buildings. It could have been a well to do town anywhere in Southern Ontario. Except for all the dogs. And the icebergs.

George and I hiked over to the beach on the opposite side of the town and stepped into a surrealist painting. The harbour was choked with the bizarre shapes of slowly melting icebergs. Jutting triangles, swooping curves, and gigantic blocks of geometric blue and white bobbed gently in the freezing water. Small chunk of ice rolled gently in the waves that lapped against the black sand beach. I got the good idea of grabbing a chunk of the ice to talk about how long the ice had been forming. Great idea in principle but I kinda forgot how many times I normally had to do a line to get it right. Eight takes (and one exasperated George later), my nearly numb hands managed to grab the ice properly and I delivered the lines perfectly! Well, kind of. Watch the show and tell me how I did.

We finished up with the beach and then walked up into the town. Everywhere we went, the views of the landscape around us were incredible. There was either the vast hills and cliffs across the inner harbour or the massive icebergs in the outer harbour. We stood up on one of the hills that the town sat on and watched as fishing boats made their way around the icy obstacles in the water and I couldn’t help feeling that this was just another day to the people on those boats. If I’d been out there, I think I would have been trying not to pee myself. Seriously, those icebergs looked awesome from far away but up close must have been, well, awesome in the sense of “being filled with awe and fear.”

We got our fill of awesome along with a few still shots of said awesome and then headed back towards the ship. The walk wasn’t that far, but after carrying cameras and assorted tripods, things get a bit exhausting. By the time we arrived back at the parking lot, my shoulder was killing me so I set everything down and flopped on the ground. It was about that time that Mathias and Carolyn (bear biologist and photographer respectively) walked up and we started chatting a bit. There was a grocery store close to the dock so I decided to leave my gear with some of the staff members who were hanging around and headed over.

I was curious as to what would be on the shelves in a Greenlandic grocery store even though all the labels would be in Dutch. We got some curious looks from the locals as we headed in, but all of them seemed friendly and inviting. When we got in, I noticed that the store was more like a mini-Walmart than anything else. At least half the store was hardware and consumer goods and the other half devoted to food. I made a run over to the meat section because I’d heard that you could get exotic things like muskox and whale. I wasn’t disappointed. All manner of fish, Arctic wildlife and yes, whale was on sale. Mathias was able to do a bit of translating and we figured that we were looking at seal, a couple of types of whale (not exactly sure which ones), muskox and reindeer (caribou). We refrained from taking pictures as we thought it would be a bit impolite to be firing off shots like drunken tourists. Yes, ok, we were tourists, but there was no drunken part. I seriously considered getting something, but I didn’t have any Dutch money and there was no way for me to store any meat onboard. I was in for a surprise a few weeks later when I found out that you actually could store meat and that led to an interesting encounter with a bit of narwhal.

We finished up with the town and headed back on the Zodiacs to get lunch. I’d seen so much food in the store that I was actually hungry for once. And that led to eating too much, but as always, the food was incredible and it wasn’t such a bad problem to have.

Boris did his usual speech after lunch and this time, he had a treat in store for us. The ship was going to sail into the iceberg field just south of Qequtarssuaq and we were going to be getting as close as we could to the massive ice chunks that we’d been seeing from the land.

This was going to be an interesting afternoon…

All images courtesy of Mark Robinson

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