Hit the Road: In Greenland, a color-filled conclusion to an Arctic tour

Hit the Road: In Greenland, a color-filled conclusion to an Arctic tour
A mother and daughter who live in Kangaamiut, Greenland (population 250), show visitors the dress of native Greenlanders. The costumes consist of lots of intricate bead work and lace. Photos by Jerry Ondash

The harmonies that emanate from the lavender church sanctuary in the tiny town of Kangaamiut are truly celestial. I wonder how, with only 250 residents, there are six people who can sing so beautifully together.

The choir actually is larger, but it’s summer and all but one of the male singers have gone fishing. The lone baritone, however, is holding up his end pretty well.

The lower portion of a long stairway challenges visitors to climb to the top of the hill for the spectacular view of Kangaamiut and the surrounding tundra and fjords.

Kangaamiut, on the west coast of Greenland, is the last village we’ll visit on a 13-day “Heart of the Arctic” tour with Adventure Canada. We’d arrived at the town’s small dock via Zodiac rafts, which were launched from the Ocean Endeavour, a 190-passenger converted Russian ferry. 

After the concert, we walk about town, visiting a tiny art museum with paintings and drawings that reflect Arctic life, watching mask dancers and marveling at the intricate native costumes modeled by a local mother and daughter.

We can’t resist climbing an amazingly constructed wooden stairway that is bolted into solid rock and seems to go on forever. We finally reach a point where we must depend on a shaky metal railing to go further up. Finally at the pinnacle, we see spread before us brightly colored homes clinging to the hillside and connected by a network of wooden stairs (no need here to go to the gym). Also in the panorama: the quiet harbor, the fingers of fjords reaching into the Atlantic Ocean, and in the distance, rugged, snow-covered peaks. 

Not long before we depart, I discover a nature-defying garden on the rocky slope next to the dock. Lupine, Arctic poppies and other brightly colored blossoms blanket the hill, and in this town above the tree line, it’s amazing to see a small leafy tree (or perhaps an oversized bush) sheltering a picnic table and pastel patio chairs.

While admiring this Arctic oddity, the gardener appears on his balcony, all smiles. With cheers and gestures, we convey that we love this hillside miracle.

A day earlier, we had embarked at Nuuk, Greenland’s capital and home to 17,000 of the country’s 58,000 residents. Our guide, Margaret, who speaks excellent English, tells us that Greenland is an “autonomous constituent country” in the Kingdom of Denmark. Translation: Greenland is independent in all things except foreign affairs, military and money, and a third of its budget comes from Denmark.

Most surprisingly, there is no private ownership of real estate. 

In Nuuk, most people live in apartments, and if you want to build, you must get permission. If you do, you’ll own your building but lease the land.

Public art is a common sight around Nuuk, Greenland, the northernmost capital in the world. Although the country is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, 90 percent of the 58,000 residents are Inuit.

Both City Hall and the federal government buildings are designed with mental and physical health in mind. The large windows, water features, abundant art and generous potted plants help ameliorate the effects of many months of darkness. The contemporary office furniture (think Ikea on steroids) is highly ergonomic. 

No doubt the largest tourist draw in Nuuk is the National Museum of Greenland, the resting place of the Qilakitsoq mummies. The six women, a 4-year-old boy and a 6-month-old determined to have Down’s syndrome were found in 1972 on the central west coast. The bodies were “freeze-dried” because their graves were protected from rain, and because of the cold, drying winds that blew through their two graves.

Archeologists say that the baby was buried alive, probably because there was no one to care for him.

The museum also holds plenty of exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of Greenland’s history, society, culture and arts.

For additional photos of Kangaamiut, Nuuk and the mummies, and to hear the Kangaamiut choir, visit www.facebook.com/elouiseondash.  For more information on Arctic expeditions, visit www.adventurecanada.com.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com

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