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.

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