What a Trip: In Greenland, experiencing icebergs, dancers and a lack of trees


Audrey Neff, left, and her mother, Laurie Glassman, had their picture taken with a resident of Ilulissat, Greenland, wearing native dress. (Photo from Laurie Glassman )
January 2

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Laurie Glassman (the author) of Chevy Chase, Md., and Audrey Neff of Brooklyn

Where, when, why: Greenland, July 2013. We were “in the neighborhood,” touring in Iceland, and thought that it would be interesting to see a completely different culture.

Highlights and high points: With mammoth icebergs — some more than 100 feet high — looming out of the mirror-surface water at midnight, the ice fiord at Ilulissat (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) made us gasp. Ilulissat is about 175 miles above the Arctic Circle, so it’s the land of the Midnight Sun in July. The light was perfect for three solid hours, as our little red fishing boat chugged at a glacial (pardon the pun) pace through the absolutely calm water, past jaw-dropping bergs of every shape and size. The purest blues and most serene whites were on display, the colors intensified by the low-hanging sun.

How our pilot managed to skirt thousands of icebergs, large and small, during the voyage was remarkable. We held our breath as many bergs floated past within inches of our little craft. At one point, the pilot cut the engine, enabling our guide to fish out a sizable chunk of ice with a net attached to a long pole. First he held up the chunk, which seemed to glow in his hand as the sun behind him shone through it. Then he cut it up into small chips, which he put into cups, and filled each cup with gin for the 10 of us on board. We could hear the ice chips hiss as the tiny bubbles of air that had been trapped inside them for literally thousands of years finally escaped. We raised our glasses for a “midnight martini” toast to this unique place.

Cultural connection or disconnect: It turned out that Greenland was having a Nordic dance festival during our stay. Dance troupes from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland — all in native garb — were performing in Ilulissat in the evenings. We saw many of these dancers walking around town in their finery during the day and were delighted to be able to speak with them about their performances. In addition, we encountered a young Greenlandic woman wearing national dress. She was kind enough to speak with us about her fabulous attire and to pose for photos with us.

Biggest laugh or cry: There are no roads connecting the towns and villages in Greenland. To get anywhere requires a boat or a plane. So when we landed in Narsarsuaq, the only way to reach our hotel in Qaqortoq was by boat. Our captain asked us whether we wanted to see a glacier “around the corner,” and we immediately said yes. We motored about 40 minutes to the glacier, which is in a beautiful fiord studded with small icebergs. The captain then asked whether we wanted to stand on an iceberg. We were hesitant at first (it sounded a bit dangerous) but finally agreed. He hunted around for a small, flat, solid-looking berg and then threw out the anchor. We gingerly got out of the boat and found ourselves standing all alone, with nary another boat in sight, in the middle of a pristine fiord with a vast glacier as our backdrop. I snapped a photo of Audrey jumping in the air for joy.

How unexpected: Having come from Iceland, we were very surprised at the ethnic and racial diversity of Greenland. The majority of Greenlanders trace their ancestry to the people who migrated from Asia to the Pacific Northwest over the land bridge that existed eons ago. In fact, the closest language to Greenlandic is Tlingit, spoken by indigenous people in Alaska.

We were also struck by the lack of trees. There are virtually no trees in Greenland.

Fondest memento or memory: Greenland, with its snowy peaks, glittering fiords, bright-hued settlements and friendly people, is a unique treasure. But its environment is fragile and now under threat, not only from climate change but from economic pressure: The Greenland government is currently negotiating with China to give the latter the right to extract Greenland’s natural resources. In the capital, Nuuk, I purchased a classic little Tupilak charm carved out of bone and worn as a necklace to guard against evil spirits. But I know that this charm will be no match for the forces that may irrevocably alter this pristine wilderness.

To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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