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?