Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Saturday July 20th, 2013 – Uummannaq, Greenland

I’m fairly certain that in one of my previous blogs from another expedition, I said something along the lines of “I’d cross off of my bucket list… if I even remotely thought of it to be ON my bucket list.”

Well, today was one of those days. But I digress…

The morning broke with our expedition leader Geoff Green announcing the sighting of whales near the ship’s path. OK, I've heard this one before… and it’s usually black dots on the horizon. But there was the ONE time that the whales actually came within a short distance… so I guess I’d better get up and go see.

Well, it was worth it. Many of them were indeed black dots on the horizon. But some did get close enough to see some details – dorsal fins and blow holes. Turns out, they were fin or finback whales – a rare sight for an SOI expedition. Our captain did a fantastic job of gently navigating around to give us our best views of these majestic creatures.

But then, we were back on course for Uummannaq. As I mentioned yesterday, this community on the west coast of Greenland is celebrating its 250th anniversary today, and in typical SOI karma, we would arrive in the midst of their celebrations.

So after breakfast, we hopped onto zodiacs and headed toward Uummannaq. The town is named for a heart-shaped mountain that towers over the community. The houses and buildings are all built along the lower cliffs of the mountain and tower over the coastline. It reminded me a little of some of the small towns in Greece I visited a few years back, where the houses spiraled endlessly up the slopes.

After stepping onto the dock, we were immediately greeted by numerous people welcoming us to the town and celebrations. After settling in for a lunch, we then set off to explore the surrounding community. First up were some kayak races. Uummannaq is actually on an island, so the goal was for the racers to circle the entire island. Kayaks have always interested me, but I've been afraid to try them due to my size and physical ability. Watching these kayakers deftly paddling along at breakneck speeds was a real treat to watch.

After the race ended, off we went for the official celebration. There was lots of speeches (in Greenlandic), singing (in Greenlandic) and awarding of medals (yes, in Greenlandic). Despite the language barrier, it was a nice ceremony and ended with all of us SOIers clamboring on stage and singing an original song written by our resident musician, Ian Tamblyn, and a few students.

After the main celebration, we divided ourselves in two. One group headed off for a “30-40 minute hike” to see the “official” home of Santa Claus, while the other group went to watch a movie filmed in Uummannaq. The latter was being shown in a transformed blubber hut, built around 1860. The movie (called “Inuk”) was a beautifully-done production, and the blubber hut/theatre was a unique experience. It was surprisingly cold in there, colder than even the Arctic air. Many students dressed in seal-skin outfits to keep warm.

By the time it was over, the hikers were back with tired legs and tales of a slightly under-whelming visit to “Santa’s home”. So I decided to not join the second group on their hike to the same spot. Good choice, wouldn't you agree?

Instead, I went and visited the local museum (containing images of the well-known Greenlandic mummies). Then I checked out a children’s concert at the elementary school. And finally, I ate some Greenlandic soft-serve ice cream. Dipped in cocoa powder.

So let’s check the ol’ bucket list. Watch movie in a 150 year-old blubber hut… check. Eat ice cream in Greenland… check. Ride a zodiac with a clown dressed in a cow suit and horn on her nose… check. I won’t even bother explaining that one… I’ll just leave it for you to imagine.

To wrap up, we've received an update to our itinerary. Resolute (our final destination) is completely socked in with ice. There is no imminent way to get in to that harbour, and even the Coast Guard won’t be able to save us.

So that leaves us with one option – the only other place in the Eastern Canadian Arctic that a 737 can land in – Iqaluit. And the only way to get to Iqaluit in time to meet our itinerary is to head south along the eastern edge of Baffin Island immediately. So that means our visit to Pond Inlet is out, along with Resolute – and no trip along the Northwest Passage.

And while the prospects for interesting things to see along the way are still great, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I don’t get to say that I traveled even a little bit of the Northwest Passage. But as the old SOI saying goes – flexibility is the key. And that leaves so many options open…

Tomorrow is a day at sea. Two things will probably come up – seasickness as we hit the open water, and a chance for me (and others) to do educational programs. Hopefully the ship won’t be all horizontal during those programs.

Myself included.

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