Greenland Part II, Disco Bay
“WOOOOAH, I hope you got that!!”, bursts out of me as a huge iceberg calves off the Eqi Glacier right in front of our boat. After a short flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat, Tim and I made it to the Disco Bay, witnessing the ice masses up close after our warm up hike to the Russell’s Glacier. We will soon be facing two isolated weeks of hiking on the 165km Arctic Circle Trail and am now enjoying some days in the north, packed with more hikes to keep us in shape, lot’s of ice and a cute baby sled dog.
Paying only 1156 DKK (or 129€) can be considered cheap for Greenlandic standards and just the views out of my window within the little propeller machine are already worth the money. I am looking down on huge icebergs, drifting down the fjord into the open sea after calving off Greenland’s immense inland ice, covering 80% of the complete country. Tim sits a few rows behind me and seems to be happy to give his feet and bag a break from our last three days of hiking. Luckily, my new backpack proofs to be very comfortable after the first real test with more than 30kg and my old hiking boots do not require any more wearing in.
I take a big breath of the amazing crystal clear fresh air as I leave the machine and we do not waste a lot of time getting into town. There is no public transport, but since it is just about 3km away, Tim and I decide to walk down and see if someone can give us a lift. Just five minutes pass and we hop on a pick up truck, admiring the landscape around us while the cold air hits our faces. Just a few centimeters are making sure that the cold air is the only thing that hits me, as a huge truck passes us on the narrow road, barely missing my backpack as I am sitting on the edge of the trunk area! So far, so good.. 🙂
We arrive in town and grab some food in a cafe. The people here are very nice and the food is even more expensive than in Kangerlussuaq. I order a sandwich for 106 DKK (or 14€), hoping for a decent sized portion but am then disappointed by the actual size – not much bigger than a 1€ Cheese burger from McDonalds!! Tim’s Musk Ox Burger seems to be a much better investment… We meet a German speaking Chinese woman in the cafe and have a quick chat with her, she just arrived here as well and might cross our path again at some point.
The local tourist information provides us with a map and three different hikes along the UNESCO World Heriate site here. We also book two tours: A midnight cruise through the icebergs tonight for 600 DKK (or 80€) and a longer tour to the big glacier called Eqi in the north, setting us back a solid 1875 DKK (or 251€) for just one day. It is still the middle of the day and we have plenty of time until our mid night tour starts, so we start exploring the town and the surrounding hills, offering a great view of the houses and the close by icebergs floating around in the ocean. This view is really incredible and breath taking, I have never seen anything similar in my life before!
Tim turns out to be quiet the athlete as well, doing some one handed handstands in front of the amazing scenery. I am good just doing a silly Bear Grllys impression by accident. We wander around the hills and make it to the helipad and graveyard in the middle of the area. From here, it is not far to the other side where we should be able to see much bigger icebergs as they are coming straight from the inland ice, drifting along the fjord. Spotting some potential great areas to set up our tents, we eventually find THE spot! Far enough from the blue 6.9km hiking path and high enough to not get hit by any potential tsunami waves, which can be caused any time if a huge iceberg collapses into the water.
Walking back to town, I can’t wait to return here and set up the tent! The boat trip is still a few hours ahead and we grab a beer in one of the few local bars. Locals are sitting in the corner and one of the guys brings another six bottles for the three people, joining about 30 empty bottles on the table. Greenlandics are known to have a problem with alcohol and this scene clearly demonstrates it. We just get a different beer each to have a taste and also to save money since one beer costs 50 DKK (or 7€) for a small 0,33l bottle.
It is 10pm now and the boat tour is finally starting. As you already know, the sun is not setting during this time of the year but the colours still change a little bit and that is exactly what the boat tour offers. We drift through smaller icebergs as we leave the harbour and eventually find ourselves next to pretty big ones as well. One of them looks like a little castle and we actually could see that one from the hill earlier today. The sun hides behind a thin layer of clouds but is still strong enough to provide us with some nice lighting for pictures. Our captain explains a few things about the different sort of ice you can encounter here, some of which you can use for coke, and some for whisky. Pretty interesting but in the end I am more focused on the actual icebergs themselves. We return to the harbor around half past midnight and the temperature dropped to 1°C – still much warmer than you would think!
Just two hours later, Tim and I found our spot again after getting our backpacks and hiking to the other side of the hill again. There are actually a lot of great spots for camping here but the one we picked earlier still seems to be the best. We hop from one mossy spot to the other to find the least wet one and eventually start setting up the tents at 2:30am. About every ten minutes or so, we can hear a loud sound of breaking ice but have troubles actually spotting anything. It requires some patience and close attention for about thirty minutes to actually see icebergs calving off bigger icebergs, but unfortunately, we are not able to capture any of the action on video though.
Tim retires to his tent but I just can’t get enough of this! I scramble down to the very bottom of the hill first, sitting right next to the water and taking some cool pictures from our tents above. The colors slowly change to a warmer orange as the sun seems to be rising again, giving me enough of a reason to climb to the top of the 2nd highest hill in order to actually see the sun. I make it to the top at 3:30am and am rewarded with a great sunrise above the village in the distance. Tim is still awake when I return around 4am and we eventually call it a day… and what a day it was!
The sound of a boat wakes me up in the next morning. I check the phone and it is actually 1pm – time to wake up! The boat floating around the icebergs in front of us seems to be the same that we used the night before. Probably the captain will know who he is looking at as we were talking about our plans to camp somewhere in that area. Obviously, I have to take some pictures of the tents while the sun is out now before packing them up again. It looks even more impressive now than it did last night when the light was a bit dull. We quickly join up with the red route towards the town again and find ourselves out of water. Luckily, the fresh snow here is so clear and tasty that it is actually a joy to grab some to eat while we are moving forward and squeeze the rest into the empty bottle to get some drinking water about half an hour later. The sun is very strong now and it is very warm, making the hike very enjoyable!
An hour later, we cross the graveyard again and soon after enter the outskirts of Iulissat. All of those are basically filled up with dog sled areas and you can hear them barking from far away. Now the people here have no use for them due to a lack of snow, so all they can do is feed them. Just before we got back in town, a tiny baby dog sled crosses our path and really seems to like our hiking boots, constantly trying to bite them 🙂 Since we have no rabi shots, we decide to not touch him if possible but still hang around for a while since he was just so adorable. Tonight we will not camp and stay in a hostel instead for 250 DKK (or 33€). The hot shower was certainly a good reason, we have to use those as long as we can before hitting the Arctic Circle Trail in a few days!
My alarm goes off early this morning, around 6AM, making sure we will be ready for our big trip to the Eqi glacier starting at 7am. The tour is pretty expensive for just a day trip including lunch, but getting so close to the inland ice and hopefully witnessing some bigger icebergs crushing off is a good selling point. The sea around us on the slightly bigger boat is very calm and relaxing, offering some great views from the nearby hills and their mirror image in the water. We pass an area that is known to have a lot of humpback whales, but as usual with possible nature encounters like this, you have to have some luck and it does not seem to be on our side this time. We pass a few remote indigions villages with just a handful of people living there before I can finally spot the first signs of Eqi in the far distance. As we approach Eqi, the ice around our ship becomes thicker and thicker and it is pretty cool to see it bouncing off the boat. We reach the glacier around 45 minutes later and come to a stop for lunch.
Having lunch in Greenland obviously includes fish. A lot of fish. In this case, the lunch actually includes just a piece of bread apart from four types of fish. Growing up, I developed some sort of antipathy against fish because I had to throw up from a bad one. Nowadays I try to eat (fresh) fish as often as I can. Making no expection this time, I bravely try each of the fish and am pleasently suprised – it actually tastes very good! We are also offered the third layer of a whale’s skin and even though I liked the fish before, I can not really get used to the taste of the dry whale skin. But everyone else seems to have the same opinion on that… Back on deck, we have about 30 minutes left to stare at Eqi, patiently waiting for some icebergs to calf off. Everyone gets really excited whenever some small piece breaks off and even though we don’t see a major iceberg calving, we do have multiple small to mid sized pieces crushing down, which already provide a great expierence on it’s own. Just when we started to head back, I burst out “WOOOOAH, I hope you got that!!”, as a huge iceberg calves off the Glacier right in front of our boat. Perfect ending for our tour!
We have a lot of minced beef left over from yesterday’s bolognese since the smallest portion we could get was 2kg 🙂 We used the rest to make some burgers in combination with onions and cheese and actually manage to eat all of them but one, pretty good and relatively cheap dinner right there! We pack our stuff and get on finding a place to camp this night. Getting close to our previous spot, we decide to continue hiking along the blue route towards the inland ice. The terrain does not really change, still offering a lot of moss and small bushes next to tiny lakes and sourrounded by a lot of round and flat rocks. The hike is really nice again as the sun provides some nice Greenlandic sunset colours and it takes us about two hours to find a good spot to set up the tents. We are now closer to the inland ice and have a lot of new icebergs in front of us. The expierence this night is similar to our first night, having icebergs crushing down every 10-20 minutes. This time however, I decide to get some more sleep without exploring the area again until deep in the night 🙂
The next morning awaits us with a lot of sunshine, again! We trace our steps back to reach the official blue route and are now hiking towards the qaurry. Some people in town told us that there is a lot of snow and they got totally wet. Soon after we find out what they meant, especially since we are carrying our big backpacks as well, making us sink in to the knee deep snow after every third step. After climbing up the quarry, we can already see the city back in the distance and all that separates us from it is a very steep gorge between two hills. I constantly sink in or slide down the snow, using my hands to stabilize myself. Eventually I make it down though and can spot a last blue marker close to the city. Following it, I find myself in the middle of a dog sled area. Having a second, much closer, look on the blue marker, I realize that it was actually just a blue barrel and the path is nowhere near! Since we are very close to town already, I decide to make my way through the sled dogs, keeping just enough distance so they can’t reach me. Climbing a few walls, I finally make it to the main street, hop into a supermarket to buy water and wait for Tim to catch up…
My shoes are completely soaked from all the snow and so are Tim’s, making us stop at the hostel again to use their heaters and also squeezing in another shower. We want to ask if that is okay for a little bit of money, but since absolutely no one is around and the doors are unlocked, we decide to just do it and see if somebody comes up later. After an hour, our shoes are not dry yet but we have to start walking down to the harbor to catch our ship towards Sisimuit. Walking down in flip flops, I nearly slip on the gravel road leading down and am somehow getting to the harbor from the wrong side. Tim should already be there since he left a bit earlier and I make my way through the back of the harbor, eventually reaching the boat just in time.
Our chinese friend is there as well and we have some more time to get to know each other now. It is already 10pm and the colors outside are just amazing! We cross several huge icebergs, but instead of white and blue, the colors from the setting sun turns them orange! I am checking out the bridge, which has some kind of open door policy and everyone can come and say hi. The captain tells me a bit about the ship and the area and I get very excited when he tells me that some whales are swimming along side the boat! I cross the bridge to get to the other side and can actually spot the tails of two humpback whales! I am happy to finally see them now, even though they are not really jumping out of the water as seen on some pictures, probably they are also a bit tired now as it is quiet late 🙂
Just one hour remains until I turn 30 and we start to drink the rum that I brought from the duty free. The three of us have a great time getting tipsy and go outside to celebrate my birthday on deck. I might not have a great party now and lot’s of people around me, but I am sure I will never forget this birthday, being on a ship surounded by orange icebergs! We head back inside and finish the rum, joined by an elderly lady from Greenland. Sitting next to me, I have a good view on her and can safely say that she lost all of her teeth. She also seems to be at least tipsy and has a strong urge to communicate with us in Greenlandic. Tim is doing his best to have some sort of a conversation, using our Arctic Circle Guide book. A local group of young Greenlanders start giggling behind us and apparently, the old lady was asking Tim what his name was, while he first always answered with “Yes” and then with “No”. Well, Greenlandic is really not the easiest language to pick up I have to say and it was certainly fun to have the lady around, at least until the point where she actually got a bit too close to me and I had to pull the bathroom escape 🙂
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