Southern Greenland in September

Air Iceland Connect has the occasional package deals to Greenland, which are significantly cheaper than just buying a return flight, even though it includes a hotel for 3 or 4 nights. Steve and I decided to go to Ilulissat in February for a joint birthday celebration, and paid for a 3 night package that turned into an 8 day, all inclusive trip, courtesy of Air Iceland, because flights for grounded for 5 days after our original departure day, due to bad weather. The bad weather wasn’t in Ilulissat, so we didn’t mind the extension, especially considering the price of things to travel to Greenland.

Hej Greenland!

We tried our luck with fate again, this time to Narsarsuaq, for another 3 night trip. We flew low over the glaciers, with spectacular views of the ice fjords. Since it was southern Greenland in September, there were less chances that weather might delay us, but we had fallen so completely head over heels with Greenland (and a couple of Greenlandic people) that it was always going to be worth going again.

the taxi boat

We flew into Narsarsuaq airport, and took a one hour boat taxi to Narsaq where we’d stay at the Narsaq Hotel, run by an Icelander and his Greenlandic wife. The sun was shining and the sea was dead calm, and we had returned to a completely different paradise. We even went seaswimming, enjoying the icecold sea just fine knowing the sun would warm us dry.

Steve seaswimming, not so far from a skinned seal carcass we noticed later on the beach

The boat captain dodged small ice bergs as we watched the farms roll by, many only reachable by boat or horse, and noticed some familiar looking sheep and freshly rolled hay bales. This area of Greenland is the only place where Icelandic sheep and horses are kept, and we had planned on riding and spending as much time as possible on the water or hiking near it. The only problem was that roundup time had also begun here, and the few horses normally rented to tourists to ride were now being used by farmers and their friends to bring the sheep home.

newly cut hay fields and the colourful homes of Narsaq

Instead, we checked into our hotel where the view from our window looked straight down at the slaughter house. We fell asleep after a long night of barhopping, which involved moving between the towns only two bars a couple of times to catch a glimpse of the changing crowds and live music, and most of our drinking comrades were actually Icelanders who had come in on the same flight. The DJ adapted accordingly, playing a spotify playlist of top 50 Icelandic songs, and it was hard to remember where we really were. We woke up to sounds of belting sheep, and really thought we had come back home, when we looked out and saw an entire herd of sheep herded into the field adjacent to the slaughter house. Their numbers slowly dwindled over the next few days, so we tried some local lamb and felt good for contributing to the local economy, but slightly guilty for their murders.

the quant little harbour of Qaqortoq

We took a boat trip to Qaqortoq, the biggest town in Southern Greenland, and felt as though we had arrived in a metropolitan city. The town was cutely nestled in the slopes of hills and valleys, all meeting in a charming harbor, much more densely inhabited than anywhere I had imagined in Greenland. We visited the Viking ruins at Hvalsey, where the remains of a stone church still stand, but the last farm in the valley had been deserted a few years earlier.

Hvalsey church ruins

We learned a lot about the differences of West and South Greenland, and have east Greenland on our horizon soon, depending on Air Iceland’s next offer. The night before our flight back, rumours about strong winds started circulating among the hotel guests and a panic arose that the flight might actually be cancelled. The others, including the hotel owner himself, left that night on the latest boat back to Narsarsuaq to increase their chances of making the flight, but we grinned at the chance to be stuck again, staying put until the morning. We woke up to an empty field of sheep, and a perfectly calm morning, so grudgingly packed our bags and walked down to the harbour for our ferry to the airport. The boat temporarily broke down, and we thought we had cheated fate again, as half the boat moved over to a smaller one and left us at the docks. Only fifteen minutes later, the boat started, and we were off too, and made it to the airport where the plane would arrive on time. We chatted with Fridrik the owner, and Im pretty sure we were both offered a job at his hotel or soon-to-be brewery, so we may be back sooner than we know.

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A very extended weekend vacation in Ilulissat

My GBF Steve has a birthday in February, like me, and we agreed to buy each other vacations to Greenland as birthday gifts. Air Iceland was beginning winter-season flights to Ilulissat for the first time this February, so a package deal had never been cheaper, or a better idea.

Steve and I landed in Ilulissat. Little did we know we wouldn’t see that plane again for 8 days…

We flew three hours across three time zones and landed on the West Coast of Greenland. At 69°N, we were well into the arctic, the northern most limits of human inhabitation, and -25°C with a little added wind chill brought temperatures down to the limits of my bodily functions. No matter how well we dressed, we would still shiver and cramp up, making peeing a more often necessity. The moisture in our nostrils would freeze within seconds of being outside, but breathing through your mouth just created a lot of frozen steam around your face. My scarf crisped up around my chin, and Steve had a frozen beard and moustache.

Ilulissat harbour

We were staying three nights in a self-catering apartment, which was basically just a basic hotel room with a sink, fridge, stove top, and some strange half-microwave-half-oven that we managed to bake biscuits in. Ilulissat had more grocery stores per capita than I´ve ever seen, with extended opening hours, even on Sundays when the entire village seemed to be sleeping. There was, sadly, a shortage of tomatoes, and fresh products like butter and milk were rare finds. Oddly enough, so was fish, even though we were in an active halibut fishing port, since I guess most of it is processed for export.

dogsledding with Greenlandic huskies

We accomplished all of our big tourist to do´s in the first three days. We visited the town, browsed some of the gift shops and sampled the night life (Steve, slightly more successfully than I). We spent a whole day dogsledding along the ice fjord, where an injured dog got to hitch a ride on the sled with us and Steve held him as tight as he could; more so for the warmth of cuddling than the musher´s request to not let him get away. They smelled like fishy poop, which would get splattered under our sled as they ran, and I was so fascinated by their ability to poo while running full speed that I always watched and cringed at the nauseating smell.

these look out points kept getting better and better

What was meant to be our last day in Greenland was spent hiking to some look out points over the UNESCO heritage site, the mouth of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier that´s been designated a protected area for outstanding beauty. The ice-fjord, filled with sea ice, snow, ice bergs and birds was incredibly beautiful, breathtaking not only because of the ice-cold wind blowing off the fjord. We realized the next morning, on a shorter hike for one last look before our 12 noon departure, that our flight had been cancelled, and spent the day exploring further up the fjord.

Icebergs from the Kangia, the Ilulissat icefjord

I often made the joke that no-one gets stuck in Greenland for only one day, but at least three, and Steve and I were thrilled for the first couple of days of repeated cancellations. We had been moved into a four-star hotel, with three and a half meals per day plus drinks on Air Iceland´s tab. We made friends with the other stranded travelers, and the ones with bigger wallets took a sight-seeing helicopter flight to the mouth of the icefjord.

going out on the sea, which we barely saw under the seaice

On the third day, when I really thought we would leave, Air Iceland didn´t even schedule a flight, but rebooked us on the fourth day. We were still grinning, now with two full days of adventures to be had in Arctic paradise. There was a yoga class at our hotel, and some of the passengers organised an art exhibition to hear local artists speak about their work and sell some drawings. We tried to get on a sailing boat but the harbour kept freezing over and trips were getting cancelled and backlogged, so we organized with our Greenlandic fisherman captain to go out on his trawler for a little ice breaking. By the fifth day, we had already started making plans for snowmobiling, but there was finally a plane on its way to Ilulissat. Now the weather was good in Reykjavik, Ilulissat, and at the emergency landing airport in Nuuk, which had separately all been reasons for previous cancellations. We kept checking in for our flights, picking window seats to have the best views, but every confirmed flight would slip away around breakfast time and the hotel would extend our stay another night. Our theme song became a rendition of Eagle´s hotel California – “you can check out anytime you like, but you can’t ever leave.”

finally getting ready for take-off

Ironically enough, the weather in Keflavik was so stormy that big plane, long-haul flights got cancelled, even as we were landing in Reykjavik, so the flight I thought I was missing to Denver never even left. Now, I was stuck in Reykjavik, with a lot more stranded passengers than our group of twenty in Greenland that had eventually become like family, at home in our own hotel. I wasn´t sure how one could have so many flight cancellations in one week (it´s definitely my personal record), but I also wasn´t sure where I´d rather be stuck – at home or on the road?