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Greenland

Triumph

After four previous attempts Julia and I finally made landfall on the frozen shores of Greenland. Below is the story of our journey to this distant and remote wonderland.

Oakland, California

We begin

Airport, oh airport you’re so filled with people

Wait! there’s a pizza, a pretzel, a bun, oh fun

When did we get here, no when will we leave?

Airport, oh airport hurry up and wait

Put down that pretzel and head to the gate!

Gatwick, England

Sleepless night

Crammed in

So tight

The flight it went all day

All night

Crammed in

So tight

We shared the same all day

All night

And so, we spent our sleepless night

Gatwick

Bags are ripped

Bags are torn

Air Norwegian cares no more

We must go forward

We can’t retreat

Even though Julia is so sweet

This message is approved by Julia Buss

To rest

At Sofitel we took a spell

We ate and drank and slept so well

The sheets were clean in our lovely bed

Not a vibrating chair so far over head

We’re rested now and ready to go

Much further north to the land of snow

Riverside Garden Park

Aircraft smoke and buses too

Will not restrict the blackberry stew

Nettles and oaks

Ducks and moats

Is what we found where whence we walked

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavik

Reykjavik, oh Reykjavik

How far away you make of it

Your skies of rain

Your summers of pain

Instead of going we still remain

Reykjavik, oh Reykjavik

I didn’t think I’d see you again

And yet we are here

And you remain

Late at night

The sky is light

Late at night

And gray and rainy too

The people come from far away

All manner of humans too

They move about

All dripping wet

As summer fills this northern world

But the sky is light

Late at night

No matter what we do

Runner

She’s running here

She’s running there

In Reykjavik she’s running everywhere

She doesn’t care

Nor does she despair

As long as she can breathe the air

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon we’ll be there soon

Your waters warm and volcanic yet

We did get wet and salty too

But Blue Lagoon we’ll be back soon

Greenland

Constable Point

Is where our boat

Awaits us afloat

It’s to be our home

Protecting us from the foam

So that we might roam

The home of the Polar Bear

Where very white hares

And musk oxen too

Roam the snow and ice

Far from view

Constable Point

Tourism is starting in Eastern Greenland. It hardly seems like a possible future. It is incongruous to think of hordes of tourists, gift shops and cruise ships in such a remote place. It could happen. It happened in other places. Take Iceland for example. Once hardly anyone went there for a vacation. Now it’s definitely on the destination map. I wonder will Greenland end up on the destination map too? Is that what will happen here? I guess it is already happening in a small way – we are here, and we are tourists.

The airplane that brought us landed at an unpaved airstrip created in the 1980s to allow for oil exploration. There were about 20 tourists and 5000 mosquitoes waiting for our arrival. We were swapping places with these tourists. They were heading back to modern life, we were heading away. Into the wilderness. Icebergs, a 100-year-old wooden ship and the wild.

We walked out to the ship following a man with a gun to protect us from animal attack. We were warned that polar bears don’t kill their victims before eating them. The place was void, grey, remote and quiet.

Ittoqqortoormiit

We stopped at the only village, the next town is 800km away. The place was like a ghost town, there were a few children, some barking dogs, and a couple of men drove by on four-wheel dirt bikes. Nothing to see, nothing. On the ship that was to be our home for 8 days we climbed into our bunks to sleep while the crew sailed us into the Scoresby Sound.

Scoresby Sound

The Arctic Scoresby Sound

We made our way around

Basaltic pillars and sandstone too

Icebergs, some white

And some very, very blue

Not one but two polar bears we saw

One swimming and one on top of an iceberg tall

We couldn’t believe how beautiful this place could be

But the mosquitos made us scratch and itch and flee

Hekla Havn

A voice was calling urgently: “Polar bear, polar bear, quick come and see.” We were roused from our sleep to see the wonderful sight of a bear swimming next to a glacier. Apparently, these marine mammals frequently hunt near glaciers. This bear’s head was held up out of the water as he circled around. He seemed concerned that we were there. Our diesel engine and our ship seemed so big and noisy in that silent wilderness. We sailed away and left the bear to hunt.

We passed bergs and ice lumps, some crackled like popping plastic wrap as we passed by them. Then we heard another person shout “polar bear”. This time a large bear was pacing on an iceberg next to the ship. He was awakened from sleep by the appearance of our ship. He looked at us and yawned. He paced his berg and seemed interested in us as we were in him. White seabirds circled overhead around the ice-castle turrets like guards for the polar bear king.

Icebergs, icebergs all about

Icebergs, icebergs there is no doubt

When it comes to splendor

Beyond our dreams

There is no other

That lifts our hearts

Icebergs, icebergs white and blue

Icebergs, icebergs we feel renewed

Our minds are lost within your hues

Icebergs, icebergs we belong to you

Føhnfjord

We sailed on and later in the day went on land. Always with our guide with her rifle to protect us. On land the rocks contain garnets and flashy pyrite. On the beach were quartz chunks as big as bricks scattered among the pebbles. There was a hunting hut and humans had left behind broken glass and other trash. It was a strange place with a modern stove, a dining room, beds and bottles of booze on the shelves. But nobody there and no lock on the door. The place felt desolate and it was quiet there. I saw 2 bird feathers on the rocky ground. Perhaps birds had nested there and already left for warmer parts of the planet. There were alpine flowers, tiny pink and white flowers. White animal bones were scattered about, and we saw the scat from an artic fox. And then the mosquitoes, black and hungry, on land and on the ship anchored nearby. No escape from the biters.

Covered with jewels

Sailing fiords, from east to west

Snowcapped mountains, they are the best

Granite Islands, all covered with jewels

Abandoned buildings of people long left

These are things, of much renown

These are things of the Scoresby Sound

Gåseland mountains

Sounds of the Donna Wood

Rumbling engine, and creaking wood

These are the sounds of the Donna Wood

Until its hull, meets the ice

Then crashing and banging it’s not so nice

Scraping and scratching

And thumping too

Swaying and wobbling

With much ado

Until the ice

We’ve broke through

These are the sounds of the Donna Wood too

Milne Land

Breaking ice

Breaking ice, breaking ice

Pushing through glacial and sea ice too

Cracking and crunching

Scratching and scraping

Bumping and knocking

All morning long

Blues and whites

So very bright

We’re a wooden boat

And very small

The burgs are vast and very tall

Breaking ice, breaking ice

How could this have been so very nice

Red Island

Thankfully, we sailed away from the hungry mosquitoes and further into the sound. We floated along, our lives supported by the vessel, Donna Wood, and her crew. We are far away from human civilization. We saw one or two seabirds and no other life besides ourselves all day. The waterway narrowed, and we sailed on calm clear waters, the cliffs reflected perfectly like mountainous inkblots. We were mesmerized by the beauty. Ahead of us lay a place called iceberg city, a place where bergs get caught in shallow water. We headed towards Red Island on zodiacs, making our way through a maze of giant bergs. We heard booms as pieces of ice cracked and fell from towering cliffs of swirling white and blue ice. Each piece was fashioned by water and wind into unique shapes. We spotted familiar objects in their shapes floating like a frozen Thanksgiving Day parade. Suddenly, one of the giants started to roll as its top half became heavier. In seconds it spun over. The thing was the size of a bus.

We landed and climbed up Red Island which is a northern counterpart to Uluru in Australia. We looked down at the bay of ghostly, jewel-like bergs. Before our eyes, a berg cracked then crumbled into pieces as it exploded, sending waves to jostle the giants all around. On the spongy land we found the shells of goose eggs and a few feathers. All the birds were gone. Our ship lay in the mill pond of the sound below us. Tomorrow we aim to keep going through the ice, although there may be too much broken ice to continue and we may have to turn back.

Rødefjord

Isolation

Isolation from sounds and strife

Isolation from normal life

No cars, no noise

There’s not a sound

No smoke no haze

We’re in a maze

Of fiords and life, of fiords and ice

Isolation we’re at worlds end

Isolation, we’re not alone

Our ship, our mates

Our crew are here

They keep us sane

They keep us safe

Isolation it’s truly good

It makes yourself

More understood

Harefjord

Early in the morning the crew decided to go ahead and find a way through the ice field ahead. It seemed an impossible endeavor to us land-lubbers. But our captain had a lifetime’s experience and our Icelandic first mate climbed up to the crow’s nest to guide us on. We made our way very slowly through the ice as it scraped down the sides of our wooden ship and popped and crackled around us. Donna Wood has a layer of copper on her hull – mainly to stop barnacles growing on her – not to protect against sea ice and bergs. Bergs rolled suddenly deciding to flip over. We watched from the deck as we zigzagged our way to the other side of iceberg city. Once again, after hours of inching forward, clear water lay ahead.

Øfjord

We needed water on board, so the crew breached the Donna Wood onto a stony beach to pump spring water. We spotted musk ox. We continued on to the edge of a large glacier and saw more ox at the glacier’s edge. The glacier creaked and groaned. A berg the size of a house churned and spun over. The frozen flow ground forward and seabirds flew along the white cliffs. The magnificent power of the place is indescribable; it is mesmerizing and immense. I felt calm, yet strangely lonely and disconnected. We floated before the glacier like a matchbox filled with a crew of tiny ants. Hypnotized by the place, we watched defiantly at the frozen grandeur and indifference.

Fresh water

Water surrounds us

It’s everywhere

An yet we have so little to spare

The kind we need contains no salt

And soon we run out of it on our boat

So, we stop by a river that flows to the sea

And we fill our tanks

We’re happy you see

To have fresh water to help us survive

To wash us

To bathe us

To keep us alive

Jyttes Havn

Later we sailed away to a small bay where we landed and walked about with our guide and her rifle. We saw skulls and bleached bones. We saw a freshly gnawed bone and we thought about wolves. Later, the ship’s cook, Andy, made us a BBQ on the beach where the rocks sparkled in the evening sun and the cold waves lapped lifeless rock pools.

The cold

The cold is not fast

It’s very, very slow

It’s in the air that flows over the snow

It’s in the air that flows over the water

It enters your feet your hands your toes

It starts slowly at first

Then creeps and grows

Until finally everything’s frozen

The whole day passed as we sailed down an enormous glacial valley with peaks and sheer cliffs towering on either side of us. Our only company on the water were enormous bergs. Glaciers entered the water, cracking and sparkling, popping and growling. Next to a vast glacier a small family of eider ducks swam by, so tiny the mother seemed to know exactly where she was taking her chicks in this wild place.

On land again and plagued again by starving mosquitoes we scrambled and walked on rocks and alpine vegetation covering Bear Island. Rocks and boulders glinted with quartz. A loon called out and an iceberg collapsed in on itself sending shards, lumps and waves into the water. Mountain peaks like turrets and fairy tale castles surrounded us. Bergs like imaginings from the mind of Salvador Dali floated in the inky ocean.

Bear Islands

We ate an early breakfast on board and headed off for another part of Bear Island where we walked across rocks and scrub. In our group we are contained. We must stay by our leader with her gun and stay in sight of each other. There is no path in this wild place and we must scramble and stagger over low brush and rocks. We feel guilty damaging the low, slow growing arctic plants as we walk brutishly with our big hiking boots. Again, we find bones. We learn that the Arctic is polluted with persistent organic compounds that accumulate in animal fat, disrupt hormones, and cause health problems for animals including humans. The Innuit are told to eat less of their traditional diet to reduce exposure. But what is their alternative diet? Likely it is processed sugary foods.

Loons on Bear Island

Loons on Bear Island they make quite the din

It’s not really singing it’s more like a ring

They skirt the blue waters with their ring a ding, ding

Loons on Bear Island they don’t really sing

Back on the ship we sail past giant bergs like medieval towers in the blue. We see the snow-covered mainland and our faces burn in the sun. We head for home.

Ittoqqortoormiit

David had been woken in the night to see the green flashes of Northern Lights. I slept oblivious to the marvel. We stop at an abandoned village where bears may be seen. We don’t see any. We waited for them with our engine rumbling.

Northern lights

About the sky on Arctic nights

Sometimes you’ll see

The Northern lights

Their green and eerie shimmering glow

Will dance and prance

About the sky

Until they vanish from whence they glow

For a second time we wander the desolate streets of Ittoqqortoormiit (pronounced “eat a quart o’ meat”). There is litter, a drunk man, broken glass. I feel sad. I look forward to cities and Mediterranean sun. The ship re-fuels. The staff prepare for the next round of tourists. Our journey is almost over.

That night, our last night we play games, drink vodka, laugh. I see the green curtains of light in the dark sky. Gentle swaths of glowing color softly crossing the blackness. It means everything and nothing, wonder and charged particles, a magnetic Earth and her light show shared with new friends.

Constable Point

Goodbye to the remote Artic where people live in immense isolation from global politics and celebrity gossip. Yet there the oceans are polluted by distant economies, industries, and consumers. Goodbye to Ittoqqortoormiit with her scant beauty, scattered with beer cans, broken glass, plastic and bones. Dogs howl and we travel towards our future with the same nature we have had for centuries. Messy and chaotic, violent and sometimes sweet.

These northern skies

I’m afraid it’s goodbye to these northern skies

These bright granite peaks

So far, so wide

These glacial rivers from hill to sea

These gargantuan icebergs from water to ice

These mountain horns Carved from rock by ice

To all these things we say adieu

I’m afraid it’s goodbye to all these guys too

Our shipmates

Our crew

All now our friends

May we all return home

Safe and sound

And remember our time in the Scoresby Sound

Reykjavík, Iceland

At the airport we hugged goodbye to our shipmates and wish them well.


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