Iceland & Greenland 3/7/2020 - 3/21/2020
Sunday 3/15/2020 - Dogsledding from Tinit to Pitserpaajik PeninsulaWe woke up at around 7 a.m. Hildegard made a pot of coffee, and the blissful aroma wafted upstairs. We went downstairs and she graciously told us to help ourselves to a cup. It really hit the spot!
The guys arrived at around 8 o'clock with breakfast: smoked reindeer, cheese, reindeer sausage, and bread. We used the same ingredients to make sandwiches to take on the dogsled for lunch.
Our overall dogsled route was basically a diamond shape, undertaken in a clockwise direction. We started near the south of Ammassalik Island, in Tasiilaq. Then we went to Ice Camp, on the west coast of the island. After that, we headed to the northern coast of the island and crossed a fjord to get to Tinit on the mainland. Today we would backtrack over the fjord to the island, and then head southeast to Pitserpaajik Peninsula. Tomorow we would head southwest back to Tasiilaq.
Gideon still wasn't adapting well to the cold. Two more days of dogsledding, exposed for hours to the elements, did not sound appealing to him. So they decided to skip Pitserpaajik Peninsula and head back to Tasiilaq a day early. We were at the furthest point right now, so it would still be a long day for them today, but they would get a hot shower once they arrived in Tasiilaq, and they would have all day tomorrow to rest at the guest house. Mikael accompanied them, and we would meet up with them tomorrow afternoon.
We packed up our bags, put the sleeping mats back in place, and got suited up in our snow gear. When we exited the house, a local man and woman were waiting outside on the porch. They would be cleaning the house after we all departed.
We left at 9:45 to walk down to the dogs. We had our bearings now that we had made the walk last night. We walked past the elementary school and playground, and then down to the shore.
We asked Harald about the white male dog who has been such a hard worker and good listener, who often tried to pull the sled by himself when his colleagues are slacking off. He is 7 year old Agisdor, and he is the BEST BOY. We asked Harald if we could pet him, and Harald "introduced" us to him. Agisdor sniffed us and let us pet him. He was so cute and affectionate.
We heard a noise behind us. We hadn't noticed that our dogs were parked right outside Flavia's house! Everything looked so much different in the daylight! Flavia had opened her window and was waving to us and calling goodbye. We could see her husband (whom we hadn't met last night) through the other windows. We got big smiles on our faces (though obscured by balaclavas) as we thanked them one final time for their hospitality. We hope that we will meet again one day!
After two days on the dogsled, we were learning what works well. I sat further forward on the sled, to help with weight distribution. The back-up neoprene glove liners I had worn last night were too clunky and inhibited camera operation, so Craig let me use his extra 30-year-old blue knit glove liners which worked perfectly. Instead of keeping my Olympus Tough camera around my wrist, I attached it to a lanyard around my neck, which meant I no longer had to worry about it when holding onto the sled with my right hand.
We departed from Tinit at around 10:15 a.m. Our dogs were feeling frisky today, and as we got onto the sea ice, they lined up the sled so that we hit a pressure ridge and were launched into the air like we went up a ramp! What a wild ride! Apparently some of the other dog teams did this as well. A bunch of wise guys! (There are no shocks on dogsleds, by the way!)
But the dogs were really on point today. They pulled the sled consistently; I only had to get out of the sled once, as we were climbing a steep slope to get out of town (backtracking a bit over yesterday's route before turning eastward). Watching them in their element was quite interesting. Because they are all on separate leads, they tend to get tangled. Sometimes a rope will catch a dog's foot like a snare. Usually, they can get out of these tangles barely breaking their stride. Sometimes, however, their legs will get hogtied beneath them. This happened to Agisdor today. He fell over and we gasped, thinking that he would get hit by the sled. But he adeptly freed his legs just in time, and resumed his place with the rest of the team.
The fact that the dogs are separately tethered means that not everyone has to be exerting the same amount of energy at all times. Dogs can fall behind to answer the call of nature, and then catch up with the pack. If they are feeling tired, they can keep relative pace with the team but with a slack line. Agisdor likes to fall back to stick his snout into the snow, coming up with a mouthful of snow. There was one dog who seemed particularly aggressive toward another dog today, and Harald had to break up their fights a couple of times.
Today was overcast, but the arctic sun shone through the clouds. The scenery was so beautiful and utterly peaceful. We were in a pass surrounded by glaciers flowing down from the mountains. We descended from the mountains to a lake, and the sled sped across its flat snow-covered surface.
Dogsledding from Tinit to Pitserpaajik Peninsula
Around 4 hours after leaving Tinit, we arrived at a hunting lodge on the Pitserpaajik peninsula. The fact that there were literal metal cables securing the small wooden building to the earth belied the harsh weather this area must experience.
The area was beautiful, overlooking a frozen fjord with 360 degree mountain views. But we didn't spend too much time admiring the view; the weather was starting to turn cold and windy. We headed inside to the toasty warm cabin, where the heating stove was already blazing.
This was the tightest quarters of all of our accommodations on this trip. The octagonal building had a totally open floorplan. The front of the building contained a kitchenette area. In the center was a dining table with chairs, with benches along the wall. In the back were the bunks. This consisted of two plywood platforms, one above the other, each containing four mattresses side-by-side. We were the penultimate sled to arrive. Bill figured that Craig wouldn't be able to climb the ladder to the top bunk area, so he kindly reserved two lower bunks for us. We really appreciated his thoughtfulness.
There was a chemical toilet in an outbuilding next door. Another night of putting our boots on to go to the bathroom!
Craig sat on a bench and I sat on my bunk. A thermos of hot water was available, and we enjoyed hot chocolate, tea, and cookies and then ate the sandwiches we had packed this morning.
Tha last sled arrived, and with it the cover to the barrel on Harald's dogsled. He had lost it along the trail today, but luckily Mathias found it and brought it to the cabin. The guys got the generator going so we had lights. There were no power outlets for charging, so I used my power packs to recharge my phone.
Though the guys wouldn't be sleeping in this hut with us tonight, they didn't retire to their accommodation until after dinner. This meant that we had a good opportunity to chat and get to know them better. We learned that Egon and Daniel counsel at-risk youth. East Greenland has been isolated for so long that the advent of smartphones and social media has caused some culture shock problems. Suicide and alcoholism are serious issues in Greenland, as is the lack of jobs. Tourism is often seen as preferable to more exploitative industries (mining, etc.). But there are political and ideological divisions within the Inuit community. Greenlandic languages figure heavily in identity politics, and Inuit who don't speak their indigenous languages are viewed with suspicion. There are varying degrees of loyalty (or lack thereof) to Denmark.
One current issue dividing the community is the proposal to build a small airport in Tasiilaq. Currently, in order to get in and out of Tasiilaq by air, you need to take a helicopter to Kulusuk airport and connect to a plane there. This is quite cost-prohibitive for Greenlanders who wish to go anywhere, including domestic travel (there are no roads from East Greenland to other areas of Greenland including the capital Nuuk...you fly or take a boat).
Some residents of Tasiilaq want the new airport. It would bring jobs and tourists, and would allow residents to travel more affordably. Others want to keep things as they are, with the settlement of Kulusuk retaining the airport and jobs, and maintaining the need for helicopter transport to Tasiilaq.
This is always one of the most enlightening conversations to have while on a trip. You learn about the issues facing a community from the people involved. They describe how their lives are impacted, and you get to see things from their perspective. As Michael Palin wrote on his travel website: "Remember that the more we talk to each other – in every country - the safer the world will be."
For dinner, we had a delicious goulash served over mashed potatoes. It looked and tasted like beef. When the guys told us that it was actually minke whale, we initially didn't believe them. These are the guys that told us that the smoked reindeer was actually polar bear. But they were serious - this was a minke whale which had been caught by Mikael! Wow! We are humbled that they shared this with us. The goulash consisted of the whale meat, a brown gravy, carrots, mushrooms, onions, and locally sourced "blackberries" (black crowberries).
Mikael was in Tasiilaq after having brought Gideon and Anna there, so we couldn't thank him in person tonight. We made a mental note to do so when we would see him in Tasiilaq tomorrow.
After cleaning up from dinner, the guys said goodnight and left the cabin. There was nothing left to do except get ready for bed. One by one, we brushed our teeth, put on our boots, made a trip to the outhouse, and set up our sleeping bags. The place is so small that either everybody sleeps or nobody does. So once everyone had completed their routine, it was lights out. Four of us slept on the lower bunks, three on the upper bunks, and one on a bench. It was probably good that Gideon and Anna were in Tasiilaq tonight. Things were tight with eight of us, let alone ten. I looked at my watch and it was only 7:30 p.m.!
Craig and I spent the night waking each other up if either of us started to snore, so as not to disturb others in these close quarters. And we weren't the only ones!
Breakfast in Tinit: Mathias, Sivert, Harald, Craig, and Egon
Dogsledding from Tinit to Pitserpaajik Peninsula (Agisdor photobomb)
Dogsled selfie with Harald
Craig at the Pitserpaajik Peninsula cabin
Enjoying Mikael's minke whal goulash