Date of Trip: September 2016
KULUSUK, GREENLAND from Reykjavik, Iceland Sept. 2016 by vagabondginger
I spent the summer of 2016 as an Independent Traveler in Europe and flew WOW Airlines from Boston thru Reykjavik and on to Paris to start my travels. Three months later I then flew from London Gatwick Airport back to Reykjavik to make my return flight to Boston.
I had spent a week in Reykjavik in December of 2015 when the winter weather was not very cooperative, so I decided to take another look at the city and hopefully this time see the Northern Lights.
I arrived Sept 1st and used Gray LInes to transfer from the Keflavik Airport to the Falkinn Guesthouse in the city where I had pre-booked one of the shared hostel rooms. The host, Aaron, was so welcoming and even lent me his winter jacket to use for my stay. That night at 10pm I joined a Gray LInes tour group to go out of the city to look for the Northern Lights. During our first stop, it was misting so there was no chance to see them. Then we headed to another location in the south where stars could be seen so we were able to see some very light swirling lights, not really green but very whitish. We didn’t get back to the city until about 3am. This is just the beginning of the Northern Lights “season” as they cannot be viewed at all in the summer months.
On Sept 3rd I flew from Reykjavik Airport to Kulusuk in East Greenland, a distance of 460 miles in just under 2 hours with a 2 hour earlier time difference. I booked thru Iceland Travel for the flight on Air Iceland and 2 nights at the Kulusuk Hotel. As the plane was landing I could see the beautiful turquoise blue color of the icebergs from above. The hotel manager, Jesper, picked me up at the airport but it actually would have been walkable to the hotel it was so close. This airport was built by the US military in 1958 and is the only connection with the outside world about 7 months a year.
Following lunch one of the staff named Haldora took me for a walk along the dirt road to the village of Kulusuk. The walk was about 2 miles round trip and it was very windy, so I was glad I had on the jacket Aaron had lent me. Haldora came from a village called Isortoq with a population of 70 that can only be reached by boat during the few ice-free months or by helicopter. This involves a connection going thru what she calls the “city” of Tasiilaq (population 2,000). The ice from late October to mid July makes East Greenland very isolated.
On our walk we pass the cemetery with mounded graves marked by white crosses with no names and plastic flowers. Next we pass a small lake which supplies the village drinking water. The houses do not have running water as the ground is so hard and rocky it would be too expensive to bury the pipes deep enough to prevent freezing. Blue sheds are water pumping stations and villagers go there to collect their water. There is also no proper sewage disposal so they have chemical or earth closets. The colorful red, yellow, green and blue houses are built on rocky outcrops above the harbor and are heated with oil that is stored in big tanks. Electricity cables are inside insulated pipes laying along the road. Living conditions are pretty extreme at the Arctic Circle. There is a nurses station but no doctors so for serious treatment it’s a helicopter ride just 10 minutes away to the hospital in the “city” of Tasiilaq. There is a small school for ages 6-16 after which children must go to Nuuk, the capital city of 17,000, to complete their education. There is also a grocery store and a post office, but both were closed. Some fresh produce is flown in, but there is a distinct lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. During the ice-free months, cargo ships deliver supplies. There was a small souvenir shop, which was also closed, where seal skin products and bone carvings are sold. We walked up the hill to the church which was built in 1922-3 by the crew of a Danish ship, which broke up here in the ice. They built the church out of the ship’s timber. Services are held on Sundays but there is no minister, just a deacon who is also the policeman. It’s also a meeting place for the local community. There are some beautiful stained glass windows that were donated by a German artist who visited here on a day trip in 1970. There are lots of huskies tied up around the houses and they are howling and yipping. They are working dogs to pull the sleds as snowmobiles would be expensive and too noisy and heavy for hunting seals on the ice. This area was discovered in 1884 by Danish Captain Gustav Holm. For the 460 Inuit people living there at that time, this was their first contact with the outside world, so the people went from the Stone Age to the 21st Century in a relatively short amount of time.
Today about 250 people live in the village of Kulusuk and not many have regular jobs. Most of them live from subsistence fishing and seal hunting.
Alcoholism is quite evident as we are walking around.
Back at the hotel I am surprised by the number of people staying there. The other guests seem to be part of tour groups and hiking clubs. There are 34 rooms, each having 2 single beds and private baths. There is a bar and a big dining room with windows looking out to the bay.
Manu is from Italy and she was there for the summer working the front desk, setting tables and tending the bar. Maki is from the Philippines and he too was working during the summer season cooking and serving the buffet style food.
There are a few more locals who do housekeeping and other cleanup. This hotel opened in 1999 and is very important for tourism in this area. Altho it seems to operate even into winter, I’m sure the number of guests falls with the snow.
My second day, I walked again to the village as I just wanted a look inside the store, but again it wasn’t open. The hotel had postcards and stamps and let me use a credit card whereas the store probably would have required me to have Danish krona for anything I would have bought there. The weather was quite nice as the wind had stopped. I also went for a hike after lunch just to get high enough to be able to again view the icebergs in the bay from above.
The groups had their boat excursions pre-booked so later that day Jesper was able to find a local man with his small boat to take me out across the fjord to the glacier and among the icebergs. Altho icebergs look so big floating in the water, 90% of their size is actually below the water so they are indeed massive. The glacier and icebergs are such a beautiful turquoise color making them even more “cool” to see. An hour and a half went by quickly and sitting in the small cabin of the boat, I was warm enough. Temperatures here range 30-50F highs and 10-30F lows.
The next day’s weather was sunny and quite balmy so I took a walk along the bay. After lunch Jesper made several trips with the van to get all of us and our bags from the hotel to the airport for the flight to Reykjavik.
As an Independent Traveler just being in this small, remote Greenlandic settlement was memorable, but having staff and other guests to chat with and a hotel bar certainly made the
2 nights here more enjoyable.