Iceland & Greenland 3/7/2020 - 3/21/2020

Wednesday 3/18/2020 - Tasiilaq to Kulusuk to Reykjavik

There was a gorgeous sunrise over town this morning. After making sure that all of our bags were packed and ready to go, we headed over to breakfast for 7 a.m. We all ate early this morning before heading to the heliport. Breakfast consisted of coffee, yogurt, dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, bread, smoked reindeer meat, and oatmeal.

Line shuttled the group to the heliport in her truck. The earliest batch of folks were on a 9:30 helicopter. Ours wasn't until 10:40. Line shuttled people to the heliport in the truck. We went back to our room to grab our bags and coats. By the time we went back outside, Line had returned and was ready to take us to the heliport. As we were getting into the truck at 8:05, we saw another weather balloon launch from next door!

When we got to the heliport, we said our goodbyes and thank yous to Line. She had really pulled this trip off quite professionally, especially given the uncertainties surrounding travel during the unfolding COVID-19 situation. She took good care of us and did everything that she could to provide an unforgettable experience of a lifetime!

The heliport was even tinier than the small airports we had recently visited on our journey from Iceland to Greenland. There was one main room with a check-in counter at one end and a picture window at the other. We waited a while before checking in, giving preference to those on earlier flights.

There were 5 scheduled helicopter flights today. We were on the 4th one, and the 5th one was canceled. So, we were officially on the last helicopter out of Tasiilaq, to transfer to the last plane out of Kulusuk.

We checked in at the counter. They weighed our bags and checked them. We chatted with Sven and Ian. The few people at the airport kept appropriate distance from one another. Not that it would matter once we squeezed into a helicopter nine at a time.

Craig and I both noticed a local woman with a walking cane. Her cane featured a retractable spike for use in snow and ice! We had never seen something like that...crampons for your cane! If Craig had something like that, his cane would be imminently more usable in conditions like this. Plus it would make his cane much more badass! We made a mental note to research these when we get home. Of course, Craig felt he made the right decision leaving his cane in Reykjavik. We spent so much time on the dogsleds that it just would have gotten in the way.

The first helicopter departed, and with it, half of our group was gone. The helicopter returned, and the rest of the group left with it. We watched each departure and arrival through the window, as the rotors kicked up powdery snow. The helicopter would ascend into the blue sky and then disappear over the mountain ridge, to reappear 20-30 minutes later. The weather was beautiful and sunny...good for flying. Craig was determined to secure seats with a view, so that I could take photo and video footage of the amazing scenery.

With each successful landing and subsequent take-off, we kept our fingers crossed that there would be no unexpected circumstances which would delay us and cause us to miss the last flight to Reykjavik.

At around 10:40, our helicopter landed and we were allowed to board. Craig managed to score two side-facing window seats for us. We had a big window in front of us and it afforded amazing views. I got some really stunning video footage as we took off from Tasiilaq, crossed the mountain ridge, flew over the settlement of Kulusuk and the hotel, and landed at the Kulusuk Airport.

Helicopter flight from Tasiilaq to Kulusuk

We were so invogorated from the beautiful views, along with the adrenaline surge of having successfully completed leg one of our journey, that we hurried from the helicopter into the airport building. When we got inside, I realized that we had forgotten to fetch our backpacks, which had been stored in the tail luggage compartment. But we were much more comfortable with the airport process than we had been a week ago. I simply went out the front door back onto the tarmac, and intercepted the backpacks from the ground crew who had just taken them out of the compartment and were ready to deposit them into the cargo carts with the checked luggage.

I went back inside the airport, which was much less crowded than it had been last week. We now knew we would need to retrieve our checked bags from the luggage carts outside. Craig was waiting outside the back door for the luggage carts, but this time they parked them out front. I collected the bags and motioned for Craig to come inside. Our connecting flight was scheduled to take off at noon, so we had about an hour.

We checked in at the Icelandair Connect desk and re-checked our bags. We then went through security and into the international departure gate. At this point, our plane hadn't even arrived yet. There is a souvenir shop in the international lounge, and I browsed around a bit. They had really nice sealskins for sale, and I purchased a small one stretched within a wooden frame. We also purchased a Greenland fridge magnet.

We chatted with Sven and Ian. Looking out the window, we saw our Icelandair Connect flight land. The crew opened the door and one lone passenger disembarked. How surreal.

Our flight boarded at around 12:15. The small plane was full, with 35 passengers. The flight attendant sequestered herself from the passengers, only interacting with us when absolutely necessary during takeoff and landing. There was no drink service on the 1 hour 40 minute flight. This really was a strange new world.

The last flight out of Greenland, bound for Reykjavik

When we arrived at Reykjavik City Airport, we were funneled through the duty free shop. We don't normally buy duty free items, but we didn't know what the next couple of days would bring. We would probably be largely self-isolating in our hotel. So we decided to buy a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream to enjoy in our room.

We collected our luggage and said goodbye to the other members of our group as we each headed our separate ways, to try to salvage what we could from the remainder of our holidays and hopefully return home as scheduled. From what we had read online while in Greenland, restaurants and shops in Reykjavik were still open, but they were enforcing social distancing measures.(Whereas at home in Massachusetts, dining in at restaurants was no longer allowed.)

We were delighted to find that cabs were still operating as well. Our taxi driver was quite nice, and we chatted with him on the ride. He said that he found it surprising that in Iceland, the demographic group most worried about the virus appeared to be Millennials. We thanked him for still working amidst the pandemic, as we found ourselves wondering how we would get home from the airport once we arrived in Boston. It seemed like in the U.S., restrictions were growing day by day.

He dropped us at the Hotel Leifur Eiriksson. We immediately noticed the lack of people in the Hallgrimskirkja area. The usual throng of tourists were not out and about taking selfies in front of the church. Instead, we just saw the occasional local taking a dog for a walk.

We checked in to the hotel, which was much emptier than when we had left it a week ago. We retrieved our duffel bag and Craig's cane from the luggage room. This time we were in room 201. It was across the hall from our previous room, and thus didn't have a view of the church. However, it was a larger corner room with lots of light. It would be acomfortable place to spend the next two days before we head home. We had some room to spread out.

It was around 5:45 p.m., and we weren't sure what to do. We really wanted to self-quarantine, but of course we still needed to eat. We decided to check next door to see if Cafe Loki was open. It was very close by and had amazing food. It was indeed open, though the upstairs room where we had eaten last time was closed, and tables downstairs were further apart than they had been. Staff were wearing gloves, and were wiping down menus with disinfectant between uses. There was hand sanitizer readily available.

First we considered trying something new (maybe the lamb stew?) but we had enjoyed our last meal here so much that we were both craving it again. So once again, we both ordered the "Gratinated Plokkfiskur" (fish mashed with potato and cheese) served with steamed rye bread and salad. Craig had an Einstok toasted porter and I had a glass of red wine. The food was just as delicious and comforting as we remembered, and we enjoyed it very much.

We had not yet had the opportunity to have any skyr on this trip. Skyr is a versatile Icelandic dairy product which can be used as you would yogurt or cheese. We love it, so we splurged on dessert when we saw that they offered skyr cake with cream and rhubarb syrup. We shared a slice of this delicious dessert, which was similar to a cheesecake.

After a satisfying meal, we walked back to the hotel. We stopped at the (empty) bar to get some glasses with ice for our Bailey's. Craig also got a glass of Viking Bondi Session IPA to take back up to the room.

By 7:30 p.m., we were settled in our room, sipping our drinks and reminiscing about Greenland. I opened my e-mail to find a message from Icelandair saying that we had been upgraded for the trip home on Saturday. Not only were we thrilled with the upgrade; we were also thrilled because it meant that our originally scheduled flight seemed to be running as planned. We had toyed with the idea of trying to come home earlier from Iceland, but figured that it was best not to mess around with our existing reservation as long as the airline didn't tell us that it was canceled.

I spent the next 3+ hours crafting an extensive Facebook post about our Greenland adventure. Now that I had my laptop, I could finally download photos from my camera memory cards. This now meant that I had the ability to share photos and videos of dogsledding and northern lights that I hadn't been able to before.

The trip had been an adventure of a lifetime, and we highly recommend it, with a few caveats. You need to know what you are getting into. It is raw. Lots of time in the cold. Pit toilets in freezing temperatures. No showers for a week. Limited electricity. Limited privacy and cramped quarters with 8 other people. We were prepared for all this but it still was challenging at times. But we kept a good attitude and that is the most important thing.

But the benefits are priceless. We were able to learn about an ancient culture at its source, by getting to know a proud and generous people who may initially seem a bit shy but have a wonderful sense of humor and possess innate intelligence about their environment. We interacted with pure bred dogs uniquely adapted to the harsh meteorological conditions. We enjoyed beautiful landscapes and the aurora borealis. The cold dry climate seemed to really suit Craig. He felt really healthy and strong for the duration of the trip. We definitely would like to return to East Greenland some day. We really enjoyed visiting in winter, and we are told that summer is equally beautiful in different ways, with much more opportunity for boating, whale watching, etc., with comfortable average max temperatures reaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and a maximum of over 23 hours of daylight!

Craig wanted to stay awake in solidarity with me as I finished my exhaustive (and exhausting!) write-up. He knows from experience that if he goes to sleep, I am more likely to succumb to sleep myself. While he drank his beer, he tried turning on the TV to occupy himself so that he wouldn't distract me while I was writing. This was the first and only time that we had turned on a TV while in Iceland over the course of two trips.

There were two programs to choose from: one featured talking heads discussing COVID-19 in Icelandic, the other was Survivor in English. Craig settled in to watch the latter, thinking it was an old episode. Then we noticed the cast and realized that it was the current season. This was Wednesday night, and the newest episode was airing! We shut the TV off immediately to prevent getting spoiled. We missed last week's episode and it was halfway through this week's. We are so glad that we turned it off quickly; when we watched it after getting home, it was probably the most shocking episode in a long time.

After completing my Facebook post which included a detailed trip summary and 49 photos, I was exhausted. We finished our drinks and went to bed at around 11 p.m. It was the latest we had stayed up in quite a while!
Sunrise over Tasiilaq

Sunrise over Tasiilaq

Selfie with Line at the heliport

Selfie with Line at the heliport

Our helicopter landing in Tasiilaq

Our helicopter landing in Tasiilaq

Helicopter flight from Tasiilaq to Kulusuk

Helicopter flight from Tasiilaq to Kulusuk

Arrival in Kulusuk

Arrival in Kulusuk by helicopter

Boarding the plane back to Iceland

Boarding the plane back to Iceland

A nightcap at the Leifur Eiriksson Hotel

A nightcap at the Leifur Eiriksson Hotel

See all Greenland photos from March 18
See all Iceland photos from March 18

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