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M e n u e
Greenland: Kayaking in west Greenland
  I keep riding past bizarre-looking icebergs, which are in a constant state of change. Their old water lines are clearly visible.

Up among the steep, black rocks, a little freshwater-pool has been heated up by the sun. I gladly use it for my bath as an alternative to the North Atlantic's six degrees Celsius. I take a 6-hour hike and when I return to my camp, I realize that my presence has been noticed. Word of my arrival the day before must have spread like wildfire among the locals, for when I get back numerous members of the Nematocera tribe are waiting by my tent. Sadly, these rather small inhabitants of the region have never heard of hospitality, and I am set upon by swarms of these blood-thirsty pests. To get away from the gnats at least for a short while, I get into the boat again to test how easy it is to roll the boat. After a few attempts, I am happy. I take a quick turn in the drift ice and return to the camp.

Qeqertaq - From there, I'm heading west. In Arsivik, I come across the remains of an old settlement. An old graveyard with wooden crosses points to this region having been used in the not too distant past. Because there's hardly any soil on this island, the graves have been covered with stones of all shapes and sizes. Some distance away, I even discover an older grave with human bones. Here, large stones have been used to create a sort of  barrow, with a small burial chamber inside.

Huge icebergs, up to 30 meters high and 100 meters long, glide down the fjord without a sound. I feel very small in my little kayak, and I try not to get too close to the breakoff edges.

A few days later, I cross the Torssukatak Fjord, at the bottom of which there is a very active glacial offshoot. Here, gigantic icebergs more than 100 meters long slowly drift west. That day, an icy wind blows across the ice sheet and I keep sheltering behind these giants. I am glad that I have my paddle-mitts with me. For although it often gets as hot as 30 degrees Celsius on the rocks when it's calm, and the only thing that's stopping you from sunbathing are the gnats, this wind quickly reminds you that you are in the Arctic. The next day, I reach the settlement of Qeqertaq, which is situated at the southern tip of the island that bears the same name. The whole bay is filled with drift ice, and there is a steady traffic of local fishermen, who make their way through the ice in their little motorboats. I, myself, land about one kilometer north of the settlement because I don't want to get bothered by stray sled dogs at night. After I have pitched my tent, I go into the village, whose colourful wooden houses are built in the Danish style, like the houses of all the towns here. I don't mind that the small supermarket that services the 100 souls who live here, is closed, as I still have plenty of supplies, and I'm planning to head for the larger village of Saqqaq in a few days. The inhabitants are very shy and hardly anyone speaks English. Finally, I manage to ask my way to the launderette, which has a telephone, and I can make a phone call to reassure Silver. Since very few tourists come to this area, the inhabitants mainly earn a living by fishing and hunting for seals. You can find a >Royal Greenland A/S< building in the port of every town here, and this place is no exception. This company is Greenland's biggest fishing concern by far, and it buys up a large part of the catch for the international market. Furthermore, there are wooden racks all over the village that are used for drying fish in the sun, although these fish are mostly fed to the sled dogs.

  This small community keeps large stores of fuel, since it is very difficult to get fuel or other goods to this remote region during the long winters.

When, a few days later, I reach the community of Saqqaq, the most western point of my journey, I'm almost out of fuel. Because I've grown tired of spending half an hour every day on collecting branches for my cooking fires among the sparse vegetation, I'm wondering how I can increase my fuel supplies for the remainder of my trip. Unfortunately, I have left my second fuel bottle behind at the starting point. Neither do I possess any suitable empty gas bottles. So when I return from my first visit to the village still racking my brain, it seems like divine intervention when I find a 1.5 litre Sigg-bottle only 30 meters from my tent. Its smell tells me that it has been used to transport petrol before. As there's no other rubbish in this bay, and I hadn't noticed the red bottle lying on the open ground before, I get the feeling that some mysterious higher power is watching over me. This coincidence is just too incredible.

I replenish my supplies for the final ten days at the local supermarket. My Autan insect repellent is slowly running out and I try a product that works on the basis of essential oils. The first experiments illustrate the Greenlanders' attachment to nature. For when you apply this neutral product, the natural balance remains undisturbed, as far as the insects are concerned. They aren't bothered by this preparation, nor does it stop them from biting. On the other hand, I notice that my body seems to have gotten more used to the pests during the last two weeks. The swellings are much smaller now and often disappear after just a few hours.

Storm at the southern tip - My route takes me back east in glorious sunshine, past Qeqertaq, and from there I travel south along the coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland. The steep rock faces in the Smallesund are covered in mussels at low tide, and I use this opportunity to jazz up my menu. At the entrance to the Langebugt, I go on a half-day excursion up the 367 meter high Arna. From this hill, which is endowed with twin peaks of similar altitudes, I savour the view across the islands near Ritenbek in the south. This former whale-hunting station was abandoned in 1960. Plenty of buildings are still standing and, together with the large cauldrons that were used to boil whale blubber to extract its oil, they are a window on the past. Today, one of the buildings is used by tourists, who go on fishing- and whale-watching tours from here. For the next few days, I keep scanning the water surface in vain for gushers and mists from the blowholes of these giants. On this island's west coast, I only come across the occasional iceberg. But in the west, they drift along the coast of Disko Island with the north wind. An unusual spectacle can be observed over the next few days. Due to the moist wind, fog forms around the ice masses and never rises above the icebergs. It's a white, flat band that stretches along the coast of Disko Island.

Because the wind direction is favourable, the ice, and hence the fog, stay at the opposite shore for a number of days.

Several days later, I arrive at the southern tip of the island. The north wind is still blowing, and east of the island I am hit by a strong headwind. I try to stay in the shelter of the rocks, but the gusts are coming straight down the sloping cliffs. Waves up to my chest keep swamping the boat. It's great fun at first, but it soon gets tiring. After a while, I realize that a wave has swept my waterproof camera off the deck. I turn back, and a few minutes later I see it bobbing up and down on the waves in its red case. I struggle on, all the way to the last bay. After that, the coast turns into steep cliffs, and there won't be any suitable landing conditions for the final 30 kilometers. I don't fancy having to tackle 30 kilometers in one go in this weather, nor do I want to cross the 8-kilometer wide Atasund. Since I'm all right for time, I decide to wait. I pitch my tent in a little hollow and am glad that I have enough anchor cable with me. The tent flaps noisily all night in the strong wind. When I get up the next morning, I discover that two of the ropes have come loose. My first suspicion, that the pegs have gone A.W.O.L. in the wind, proves false. The ropes have been bitten through in several places. I must have put my tent in the path of a fox. Luckily, the fox didn't see through the physics of wind. He only chewed through ropes on the lee side, and so I was spared a collapsing tent in the middle of the night.

After two days, the wind lets up and I am able to cover the final kilometers in calm, sunny weather. In the iddle of the Atasund, I come upon Silver, who is on his way to Eqip Sermia with some tourists, and we arrange to meet in Ata the following evening. I arrive in Ata around noon the next day, after 23 days in the kayak, and I unload the boat, wash a few things in the nearby stream and slowly start to pack without anyone noticing.

  Sun and water have eaten a big cave into the iceberg. I avoid riding through the tunnel, however, because if the ice were to turn or break off, the consequences would be fatal.

Silver finally arrives around 22.00 p.m. that night. Jens takes me to his boat in a dinghy and we start out for Ilulissat at once. The wind had already shifted south at midday. At the southern tip of the island, we meet with dense fog. Since this is a clear indication of ice in the area, we slow down. After a few meters, we come across the first floes. Due to the fog, this night is uncommonly dark and we feel our way through the floes at walking speed. 15 minutes later, Silver gives the signal to retreat. At such low visibility, it would take us forever and we would constantly risk damaging the boat. We return to Ata.

The next morning, we set off early at 6 a.m. in gorgeous sunshine. The fog has already gone by the time we reach the ice. Even now, we only make slow progress. Again and again, Silver parts the floes with the boat's bow to clear the way. It seems to be quite rare for the wind to drive the ice north from the Isfjord. Silver says he hasn't seen this much ice in the region for 13 years.

I spend the following day going for long walks in the surroundings of Ilulissat and then, with a heavy heart after my 4 weeks here, I get on my return flight to Germany.

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Last update: 03/14/09
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