Monday, July 31, 2006

Ililussat, Greenland III

With my scuba gear in the boat, I’m seriously overloaded and make even slower progress than normal across the bay, plodding along at five or six knots. I scout for bergs close to shore, since diving out of the boat and not being able to get back in would be a very bad thing.

I pull onto shore, unload and start gearing up. Encased in my dry suit, insulation, thick neoprene, scuba weights and tank, I struggle to my feet and waddle into the shallows. No one’s in sight, and I try to tell myself that it will all be fine. What could possibly go wrong? I take what solace I can in the notion that no matter what bad thing happens, it won’t take more than three or four minutes to kill me.

Once the initial ice cream headache passes, it’s kind of cool to see what these things look like underwater. Under the vast river of ice flowing out from the glacier, there's also a huge flow of very cold fresh water, running in a strong current through and under the maze of bergs. As soon as I got in the water, it began sweeping me away. I had to kick hard or grab hold of the ice just to stay in place. Making progress against it was nearly impossible. Silt in the water left poor visibility. I dived down 15 meters to the bottom, threadbare kelp and a scoured ocean floor from the regular passage of bergs.

The only sign of life was a lone jellyfish, swept past me on the current. I could almost hear him thinking, what the hell was that?

Ililussat, Greenland II

Nervously motoring under the iceberg arch at sunset, I was torn between two alternate emotions. I sat utterly dazzled by the orange light reflecting off the ice surface a hundred feet over me. And the other part kept thinking, this is so incredibly stupid.

Shooting under the arch, another tour boat shows up, and I feel like I've been busted for being the complete, irresponsible idiot that I am. Scary stupid behavior. Sitting there under hundreds of thousands of tons of highly unstable ice.

The only thing I can think of to say to the tour boat is “Please don’t tell my mom...”

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ililussat, Greenland

I wake to the sound of coughing. Muffled as it is though the ferry's cabin walls, its the unmistakable sound of...consumption.

I peer out the window and the world has changed. The jagged old peaks wreathed in snow are gone, replaced by low, rolling crumbling hills. And the first small icebergs. Its another stellar morning, and by the time I wander up on deck the Danish tour group, elderly but still spry enough to pushy and kind of abrasive, have monopolized all the lounge chairs again, clustered in their smug little circle of cargo pants and orthopedic clogs.

It's dead calm and the morning sun feels positively sultry. Hard to imagine , but it's shirt sleeve weather at sea above the arctic circle. I try to gather up all the warmth I can and store it up for later, when conditions are less conducive.

We cruise past ever more spectacular bergs, great ice castles and cathedrals floating past in the summer sun. Passengers cram the rails, recording it all. I join the fray of course.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Itilleq, Greenland

I'm just across the mouth of Itilleq fjord when something catches my eye. A couple miles away, the afternoon sun catches the mist of a spouting whale. Sweet. I head over in the direction, and see two more in the distance. I try to follow the first humpback, but he's having none of it. I try for more than an hour to keep my distance, go slow, go fast, get ahead of him. Nothing works, and I finally leave him in peace.

I head south again, and quickly come across a cow and calf. They both had a distinctive hook-shaped dorsal fin, and for a while wasn't sure they were even humpbacks, until they finally sounded at least. They swam slowly and shallowly along the headlands, only doing two or three knots, and they seemed content to have my company. I stayed with them for about three hours all told, thoroughly wearing out my welcome. What I first took for excitement and feeding behavior I now think was irritation.

Sorry about that guys.

I left them and headed for shore, hoping to find some way to make use of the fabulous 10:30 pm light. Off in the distance, i could still hear them, now swimming calmly to the north, the sound of their blows just audible on the breeze.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sisimiut, Greenland II

I load all my gear into the Seamen's Hotel truck and get a reluctant lift from the sullen driver. I'm clearly a source of entertainment here as well, as a half dozen folks stop to stare at me wrestling my gear down to the dock, and then slowly inflating the boat. I make good time, at least until I have to walk back up to the hotel to grab the rest of my equipment.

The mist and rain return in earnest once I'm out on the water. There are dozens of boats out ahead of me, all of them hunting seal it seems. It sounds like a small battle all around me, as gunmen blast at anything remotely resembling a seal. It's a little scary, the loud rifle shots at close range. I keep hoping that no one mistakes me for something cute and furry. It feels like some backwoods part of Pennsylvania on the first day of deer season, and about as safe.

I'm not sure what drew me to the island, but it appeared out of the fog and I found a convenient rock pinnacle to tie off on. I hoped to salvage something from the day, and slowly walked around the island photographing the rocky coastline, the small patches of green tundra and heather growing in the cracks. The landscape here is far less lush than 450 miles further south, and the rocks are more rounded. The shoreline seems storm weary.

There is a small gravel beach near where I tied up, and I recognize stone patterns that were obviously manmade. One could have been a cache of some kind, stones in a rough circle, fallen in together. Near the beach stood the clear outline of a dugout house, likely similar to the one I saw earlier at the school. The roof has collapsed and there was barely any evidence of walls, just the clear excavation of a floor plan. Nearby another pile of stones bore all the markings of an Iniut grave site. Carefully stacked rocks forming a coffin shape, with long flat stones covering a moss filled hollow. When I looked closely though the loosely stacked rocks, I clearly made out a leg bone, and other smaller bones emerged from the moss.

I stare a long time, then and prod the stones a little, but can't bring myself to disturb the grave and the ancestor's rest. It seems a good spot to spend eternity.

I stop from time to time to listen for whales, but all I can hear is the whine of outboard motors and the strange, muffled whoomp of distant gunfire. I take a long circle back to town, grow wet and cold, and motor back into the harbor on fumes.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sisimiut, Greenland

There's something about Greenlandic towns that fills me with...dark thoughts shall we say.

After settling in to the Seamen's Rest hotel, no alcohol allowed upon pain of expulsion, that I suddenly feel the need for a stiff drink or four. I walk past the tourist site's of the 'old town,' past a series of familiar faces from the ferry, and into the altogether less decorous heart of the second largest town in Greenland. Knots of pedestrians pass the other way, groups of teen moms pushing strollers, boys wearing their gangster hoodies and low riders, lost-looking Danes. No one meets my eye or returns my gaze except the drunks, who want to hold my hand and talk urgently about...something. I make it as far as the grocery store, hoping to sneak a late night beer back into the hotel, but I'm told no dice. No beer sales at 8 pm.


Instead I make my way to the much anticipated Chinese restaurant in town. I am shown to a dirty table, left to admire the trail of congealed fat and msg for 15 minutes, told the english language menu cannot be found, offered a danish one which sadly offers no clues beyond the tiny pictures printed inside.

I stand in the rain outside and try the menu pasted on the wall there, and randomly select a seafood soup and arctic char in coconut milk that prove to be suboptimal choices. The soup is a mammoth bowl of thin broth with lots of small shrimp, black eyes peering back at me, half a crab with no possibility of extraction beyond shredding it and my fingers on the shell, two scallops and some tasty by dubious fish balls. The char comes half an hour later and can only be described as disappointing. In the extreme.

I spend fifty bucks and the best part of the meal is sampling the leftovers from the germans at the next table. they had a very large fish, nicely spiced and barely touched, and the waitresses insisted that I try it. So I did. i should have had the damn thing wrapped up and taken to go.

On the way back I stop at the small boat pier and watch two boys playing soccer on the dock. With a fish. Kicking it back and forth until lifeless.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Qaqortok, Greenland

I had big ambitions to race north past Narsaq to an old Inuit grave site that was reputed to be in such a state that skulls could be seen through the makeshift graves. What's not to love about that?

I packed everything up and raced north, passed Qaqortok without stopping and wove through a series of narrow passes between islands and raced for Narsaq. It was only after a couple hours that I started trying to figure out precisely where this site was. I'd managed to circle the wrong spot on the map, and was at least another hour out. A little mental math of the time and gas required led me to see the folly of my plans. There was simply no way to make it out, shoot some images, turn around to Narsaq for fuel and still make it back in time to catch the ferry.

It was as simple as that. I circled around in the middle of the bay and head back. I stopped briefly at a lovely arched iceberg that was nearly tourquoise in color. Just as I motored up beside, it dropped a small shelf of ice into the water barely ten feet away. it sent up a great splash that startled more than frightened me, though I did get a bit of water over the boat.

The berg began making a series of deep, pointed cracks. Short, sharp snapping sounds of something serious about to happen. You could almost feel the pressue inside the ice, torqued by wind and tide and immense pressures, it simlply gave way. The ached span collapsed with a roar, followed by the entire face, sending up a great wave of ice and sea water. I kept shooting, until the wave approached, then turned to the boat to face it.

And then it was gone, a receding wave, dissipating adrenaline, shattered shards of ice spreading out on the water.

I raced back to try to catch the ferry in Qaqortok, not at all certain if I even had enough gas to make it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hvalsey, Greenland

Sadness descends on me in the fading evening light.

An old church with stone walls three feet thick still stands, its windows and door open to the sea, the peat and timber roof long gone. The crumbling walls of the settlement's great hall are joined by other less defined piles of loose stone. The last words from the Norse settlements in Greenland came from here, marking a wedding in 1408, and a year earlier the news of burning at man at the stake for sorcery. I try to imagine this dying outpost in the new world, riven by disease and starvation and finally religious madness. What would it be to wait year after year, watching as first the cattle die off. Then the sheep. Waiting each summer for some sign of a ship from the outside world. But Europe had troubles of its own as plague and war swept the continent, and no one seemed to even remember the colony.

Maybe in the summer, at the end of a beautiful fjord with green grass and wildflowers in bloom, you'd think you could hold on. But as winter came and the snow and the dead piled up, how must it feel to lie shivering and starving, dying along beyond the edge of the known world.

Under leaden skies, I turn my back on the place, filled with dark thoughts, and head back to sea.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Unartoq Island, Greenland

By daylight, I follow the now obvious trail out to a small changing hut and a small circle of rocks marking the hot springs. Yellow wildflowers glow in the morning sun, and I strip off my layers and gingerly step into the pool. The temperature is somewhere in the mid 90's. Warm certainly, but about five degrees cooler than a good hot bath. I was left with a lingering feeling of disappointment, like I wanted to give the hot water one more little turn of the knob.

Still, I imagine the Vikings finding this place a thousand years ago, and falling to their knees to thank their pagan gods. Did they even bother to dig out a pool, or did they just luxuriate in the warm mud and shallow stream. After months at sea and the backbreaking work of carving farms and homes from this reluctant corner of the world, it must have been bliss.

It wasn't so bad for me, either. I washed off a day's worth of salt and grime from the boat, admired my teva-shod toes, and tried to keep my butt from touching the mud. Small waves of faintly sulpherous gas bubbles percolated up through the sandy bottom, tickling my legs on the way past. Well pruned, I emerge, towel off with a t-shirt and get dressed. There was another pool closer to the water's edge, and upon finding it i stripped off and tried it too. A little warmer anyway.

After another suitable soaking, I emerged and walked naked across the flowery tundra back to my t-shirt. It was as close to eden-like bliss as I'm likely to encounter in this place.

Nanortalik Island, Greenland

I could have just waited for the tide, but I seem to be the only man in Greenland in a hurry. So I unpacked the cases, the bags, the backpack, the gas can and the outboard. Dragged the boat across the seaweed covered rocks, then packed everything right back in.

And then I left.

And promptly got lost. Not lost precisely, just turned completely around, staring at the gps screen and it somehow not matching what i saw with my own two eyes. It said to go left. But there was an island in the way. So I drove in circles for a while. then eventually circumnavigated the island the entire wrong way, spending an hour and bouncing along a particularly exposed piece of Atlantic coastline, to reach a point roughly two nautical miles from my starting point.

I kept telling myself that I was just looking for a nice perspective to shoot the town from.

But I found flat water in the fjord west of Nanortalik Island, and chugged right along, admiring the windswept landscape, more rounded and worn than the serrated peaks further south. One bright patch of color in the endless coastline of dark green caught my eye, a small field inexplicably packed with yellow wildflowers. I took her to shore, hopped out and wandered around long enough to make some frames, then entertained myself shooting black and white of the eroded rocks along the shore. It got me thinking about what Ansel Adams would have done with this place. Something even bigger than his range of light, and far less familiar.

I moved north up the fjord, but grew bored and cramped sitting hunched in the back of the boat. So I stood and stretched, and then found a perfectly comfortable spot for myself sitting on top of the equipment cases. With just the right angle on the tiller, I could hold a straight line course for miles, sitting there taking in the scene, legs propped up on the sides, utterly unprotected should anything go wrong and I get tossed over.

But the view was certainly nice.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Aappilattoq, Greenland III

Sitting under another twilight sky, trying to warm my fingers and toes, after another long, chilling open boat ride. I eat another suspect meal of dehydrated something or other. I try to think of superlatives to describe the day.

Mostly though, I think I ate too much salami.

Thick morning fog saves me from getting up in time for the 4:00 a.m. daybreak. I roll out of my bag around eight, go through the morning rituals of coffee and oatmeal, then decide to go take some pictures of the village. It's only a short walk over the rounded granite headwall from my camp. Aagpilagtoq is only just coming to life. The only thing moving is an industrial front end loader,, slowing stopping in front of each house. I think it's garbage, but there's an unsettling liquid motion to it. Then I remember, no indoor plumbing.

The loader is already perilously overloaded when it passes me, and with each bump a poorly tied bag oozes a noxious brown fluid. I'm trying to photograph wildflowers and the mist clearing above surrounding towering peaks, but the smell is gagging. If ever I think my job sucks, I will always remember the man with the thick rubber gloves.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Aappilattoq, Greenland II

My first order of business was trying to find some gasoline. With less than three gallons left, I wasn't going far. I motored into town and down to the small boat harbor, which was jammed full of ice. Most of the village's boats were taking advantage of the good weather and were out hunting seals, but one late arrival was still trying to pole and shove a way through the bergs.

Someone on the dock waved me over, and I took a long loop in and up to the rocky landing. I carried my petrol can, which pretty much states my business in any language. But the word was pretty much the same. It's Sunday. No gas, I was just about ready to give up, but there was one more guy working on his nets, so I walked over, pulled out 150 kroner and we were in business. He was happy. I was happy, and as he siphoned the gas from his tank to mine, I guessed that quiet contemplation of nature was going to take a backseat to racing around in my dumbass little boat.

It was nearly 11 by the time I left town, and the sky was a flawless blue. Out of the wind, the sun felt amazing and warm and welcoming. I motored through the fjords under insanely steep geology.

Not for the first time, I found myself laughing at all this ridiculous beauty. I had stumbled upon Yosemite still under construction, a fantastic granite cliff thousands of feet high overlooking the glacial ice, surrounded by dozens of other unnamed, spectacular spires, and not a single park ranger or shuttle bus or comfort station to be seen. I walked up and over a series of terminal moraines, now covered in green grass, low heather and drawf willow. In small depressions, out of the direct wind, fireweed and other wildflowers flourished. I quickly discovered that out of the wind, others flourished as well. Whenever I stopped to photograph, or the wind dropped away, I was surrounded by thousands of small gnats and mosquitoes.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Aappilattoq, Greenland I

Without warning, a massive slab of old, rotten ice begins to silently roll. Couch-sized pieces break away, and the entire mass seems to groan as it gives way. From beneath the sea rose something altogether unexpected, a brilliant sapphire gem of the deepest, most amazing blue. It's as if someone took the sky and turned it a translucent jewel, floating in the sea.

I was traveling northeast from Aagpilagtoq, toward a small tidewater glacier marking the end of a maze of fjords, this one called Nup Kangerdlua. It was the end of a long day that started with me lazily sleeping in at chez tele-frederiksdal, admiring the morning fog through the window, curled up in my sleeping bag on a comfortable bed.

There's still a bit of fog covering the mountain peaks, and as it slowly clears I'm dumbstruck that they just keep going. Enormous mountains rising straight from the sea. Vertical crags and sloping buttresses and amazing geology running down both sides of the fhord.

It's four hours to Aagpilagtoq, and I stop and shoot from time to time. I'm passed by three speedboats along the way, but otherwise have the world to myself. It's sunny and with the wind at my back quite warm. I find a small iceberg graveyard in a protected cove where I stop to add gas. Lovely, surrealist shapes carved into the stranded bergs.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Frederiksdal, Greenland

The wind howled through the night, building to a tent snapping crescendo. I put on the earphones I normally use to block the outboard noise just to get some sleep. At some point the rain starts in, but I stay warm, mostly and dry, almost. I wake around six and peer out through the tent door into a wall of fog and blowing mist, and dig a little deeper into the sleeping bag. It's not until a lone drop of water falls from the tent roof and lands squarely in my eye that I truly awake.

It's still blowing, and a quick look around shows blowing walls of mist. What must have the Vikings thought when they washed up here? I cannot begin to imagine living in some poorly insulated stinking sod and stone hut on beyond the edge of the world. One night in a tent and I'm ready to chuck it in and find a hotel room.

Which is precisely what I do.

Frederiksdal is just across the fjord from Herjolfsnes, and I make as speedy a passage as I can, trying not to soak everything during a rushed packing job between downpours. The southernmost settlement in Greenland appears out of the mist, a few rows of colorful fishermen's cottages lined on a rocky bluff overlooking the harbour. There isn't a soul in sight, just a handful of dinghies tied up along the shore and the bleached and grimacing visage of a skinned harbor seal leering up from beneath the surface.

I tie the boat off on a metal spike hammered into the rock, and wander into town. The only guesthouse in town is owned by the Tele-Fredericksdal office, which tends to a radio relay station which handles all the transcontinental air traffic between Europe and the states. I can't find anyone except an old native woman pounding seat cushions with a tennis racquet. She speaks not a word of english, but points me up the hill. I can just catch the name of Jasper in there somewhere, and he answer the door just barely restraining an enormous, shaggy dog. Both Jasper and the dog turn out to be friendly, and I wind up the sole occupant of one of the apartment buildings run by the telecom business as a side venture.

I settle in, spread my gear out to dry and the rain soon abates. After a round of shopping at the small store (milk, gloves to replace my favorite pair lost and presumably blown away last night, one highly overripe banana far from home and a couple of beers), I set out down the fjord.

The fjord holds a string of impressive bergs, but I decide to head for the terminus, drawn by a massive waterfall pouring hundreds of meters off a sheer cliff at the fjord's head. Surrounded by thousand meter peaks and arched icebergs and clouds through gaps in the mountain walls, I burst into laughter at the idea that I have it all to myself. There's not another soul in this entire fjord. Which in a moment leaves me wistfully thinking that it wouldn't kill me to share sometimes.

I grab a couple camera bodies and decide to travel light, hiking quickly through the heather but trying not to overheat in all my layers. Wearing rubber boots is a trade-off. Great for fording rivers and stomping through wet tundra. Crap for climbing and scrambling on slippery rocks. I slip again and again, banging cameras and scaring myself with the image of me lying there with a broken leg, slowly freezing to death, utterly helpless and completely alone.

It feels good to get out of the boat and see some of the country, scramble up and over the hills and into the heart of this wild place. I hike in for a couple hours, shoot some pictures, get lost coming down (there are two valleys, and the first one leads to a nasty dead end of vertical walls and considerable swearing. Backtracking up and over, I find my way but only after a deep crossing with soaked feet. There's a sloppy tired walk out, scaring myself again with repeated slips and falls.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Herjolfsnses, Greenland

I sit huddled in the lee of my tent, on a windswept spit of land home to Viking merchants a thousand years ago. Instead of a hut of peat and stone, I've got a ten year old North Face tent, bright yellow and smelling of laundry soap. There's no mutton or arctic char on the menu tonight, just chipotle-flavored rice boiling away on the roaring camp stove. And there's a half million dollar condo that I may have purchased waiting for me back in Seattle too, as opposed to oaths of revenge and a price on my head back in the home country. Though come to think of it there are at least a couple folks back home who'd like to see my head on a pike.

The weather held through the day though, and the sun burned through the clouds from time to time. I made my way slowly east, past the mouth of Ketils Fjord and around another small bay filled with dozens of mammoth grounded icebergs, glistening in the afternoon sunlight, nearly glowing against the dark clouds still shrouding the surrounding mountains. A huge arched berg seemed too delicate to hold its own weight, and I refrained from the urge to motor underneath it.

Massive, astonishing vertical walls lined the fjord, rising thousands of feet into rounded summits, lost in passing banks of fog and cloud. Dwarf fireweed grew in protected hollows on the tundra, surrounded by fragile looking clumps of moss. Each closer look revealed another, smaller world of moss, lichens, tiny orange blazes of color on stems of yellow, intricate pattens of live and dead grasses.

I worked my way out of the fjord and toward Fredericksdal, passing out along the coastline exposed to the Atlantic. it seemed fairly, well, pacific, but on cue the wind picked up and stirred up an ugly chop. I still wandered a couple miles out to inspect another massive group of bergs, growing vertically out of the waves like destroyed castles (must use metaphors sparingly, if all I'm going to see if icebergs...).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nanortalik, Greenland II

Niels surveys the morning sunshine and announces I must have brought the weather with me, and the words are barely out of his mouth before clouds roll in and it starts to spit rain. Apparently I did, it just took a later flight.

I try to buy some last minute provisions in town, but that proves harder than I my have thought, I figured this to be a fishing town filled with boats, which it is to some extent, but the great minds have closed the hardware store. While you can find sport fishing gear of entirely random selection and dubious quality, you can't find rope. Or spark plugs. Or oil. You can find bicycle reflectors and spare brakes, but without paved road or bicycles, they seem an odd choice.

After my sorting and dragging and cursing and air pumping, the boat is ready and loaded and down on the shore. It starts up on the first pull and off I go. I plow slowly through the water. With its nose in the air and stern dragging a deep wallow through the ocean swell, I barely make five knots. I go back to shore and sort things around. No better. I pitch myself as far forward as possible, steering with my foot. Though impractical, it at least getting me up on step and moving.

At a small, sheltered beach I spot an old hunting cabin and go ashore, climbing up to the ridge to look down into Ketil Fjord. There's a large, tilting white cross up there, surrounded by low tundra and little puffs of cottony flowers. I walk back down, grab the camera and struggle back up, just in time for the rain to return in earnest. It's a lovely, lonely scene though. Icebergs and towering mountains fill the horizon.

Nanortalik, Greenland

My wake up call comes at 5:10, and I only barely fight the urge to roll over and ignore it. The sight of brilliant blue sky outside my window helps, and I quickly shower off two days of travel grime, grab coffee and start wrestling with my luggage some more. I am the sole passenger aboard a mammoth Vietnam War ear Sikorsky helicopters operated at no small expense by Greenland Air. There's even an inflight meal service, a single candy mint in a brown wrapper.

I wonder if the pilots feel badly about burning through Danish currency reserves at such a pace. We fly well above the surrounding mountains and bays filled with ice, into one small village where we land and keep the rotors turning while two more men scramble aboard, and then circle back to land at Nanortalik

Niels greets me, the retired schoolmaster standing very straight and purposeful. He's all business and energy, in some contrast to a ragged crowd of Greenlandic Natives, who gather in a rough circle before parting. A man gives a hard, not altogether welcome kiss to a struggling woman before walking away. As the helicopter lifts off, slowly backs up 100 feet and then banks off climbing, the passengers and send-off committee never stop waving.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Narsarsuaq, Greenland

The cold slap of rain slung in off the North Atlantic has awoken sort of morbid resignation. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I have no fucking idea what I'm getting myself into. Dragging 300 pounds of camping gear and a blow-up raft to some of the most remote and least forgiving places on earth; these are not the acts of a happy or well-balanced man.

The flight from Reykjavik's tiny domestic airport to Narsarsuaq is stuffed like a sausage filled wih cheerful Icelanders and Faroese pensioners on some kind of guided tour. They're tubby and loud and rather childlike, shepherded about by a den mother with hip glasses, white hair and an unfortunate leopard-skin clingy t-shirt. They all have name tags and travel in one vast chattering clot of fleece and stretch denim. I don't much worry that our paths will cross once we arrive.

After two hours of flight, there's a giddy buzz through the plane. Below us, the ice begins. Shattered remains of the winter's eye, breaking into jigsaw patterns only now in early July along the eastern coastline. The excitement proves contagious, and I'm peering out the window grinning too, caught in wonder at the rawness of the ragged mountains and glaciers spread out to the horizon.

We circle a greening valley, split by a solitary dirt road and set down on the old military airstrip at Narsarsuaq. Amid all the shoving and excitement, I'm one of the last ones off the plane, but there's no long queue for customs or passport security. I collect my luggage, follow the mob through a door past one seated, bored security type, and walk out into Greenland, Not even so much as a passport stamp for my troubles.

I stagger out into the evening sunshine, stop to watch a game of soccer played full throttle in spite of the steady wind and gravel playing field and the sight of icebergs filled the bay beyond. I follow the winding road from town, which comes to an abrupt end less than a mile later at the dock, with two Danish navy ships and a small boat harbor. There's still an adequate number of small icebergs floating around to give any boat owner anxious nights, wondering at the fate of an unwatched boat at anchor.