Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 11 - the turning point

After my failed attempt at getting into town the day before I finally got it right this time.  Paddling in to Ukkusissat was a pleasure.  Beautiful blue skies, snow-capped mountains and the promise of junk-food!  One has to get one's priorities straight and clearly, I hadn't.

In town

The shop

I had been to Ukkusissat before, arriving by 4x4 having driven across the sea ice.  This was a different approach and a very different time of year.  I was stunned by the beauty of the place which I had failed to appreciate during my visit in the winter a few years previous.  Ukkusissat is a pearl to be discovered in the Uummannaq fjord system.  It is little surprise that it is a frequent destination for cruise ships.  I wondered if I would be received as a tourist or as something in between.

I didn't have long to find out as I met a previous student, Karl-Ole, in the shop.  Juggling my two hot-dogs we chatted about the past in Uummannaq and what he was doing.  Karl-Ole accompanied me throughout much of the time I was in Ukkusissat but left me alone to make my phone calls to Lars and Jane.  It was decision time.

I called Barbara in Nugatsiaq first to let her know I had changed my plans and would not be paddling on to the most northerly settlement.  I also told her she could eat my food and other goodies that I had sent on earlier by boat.  I was later to change my mind about this.

Lars and Jane understood my decision and we agreed that I would keep them informed of my progress, backtracking through the fjords to Uummannaq.  It would be five settlements not seven after all.  I had been wrestling with this decision for many days and was feeling pretty good that I had finalised my plans.  The sudden arrival of Tukummeq in the shop lifted my spirits even further.  One of my star pupils of the last two years, Tukummeq has a huge and promising future ahead of her.  (Watch this space, you might be reading one of her books one day!)

Karl-Ole was a practised guide having worked with tourists many times and we spent a bit more time wandering around the settlement.  He invited me to a kaffemik in celebration of his brother's confirmation.  I had the offer of staying over but, as I had realised earlier, I was beginning to get used to my own company and I felt the need to get back to camp.  Here is where the goals began to blur in my expedition plans.  I was using a lot of energy on the change of physical goals, whereas the social goals had suddenly been met and yet I wasn't ready to make the most of them.  It would be later in Niaqornat that I would begin to experience this element of my journey.

I thanked Karl-Ole as best I could and made moves to get out of "town" and back to camp.  Walking back to the boat I came across some beautiful dogs with incredible masks.  Of course, I spent some time photographing them before struggling into my dry-suit again.  While getting ready to leave a fisherman sailed over to within a few metres or so.  I honestly though he was going to land so I asked if I should move my boat?  He didn't say a word, just ate and stared.  Having played tourist for several hours in town I figured it as okay to be on the receiving end of his curiosity.  After five minutes or so he threw some rubbish over the side and sailed back to town.

Ukkusissat was far from a let down, but my expectations were so focused upon physical goals that I was losing sight of the human element.  I think I assumed too much.  I think I felt that I should be able to blend in more than the tourists and when that didn't happen I was disappointed, and yet when it did, I failed to appreciate it.  Strange but true.

Paddling back to camp was uneventful.  I was lost in my thoughts of the coming days and what I had to do to make the rest of the expedition "work".  I made my decision based upon my safety issues and the safety net I had put in place.  I had been brooding over the problem for the past few days - actually since the satellite phone died and the dry-suit ripped back in the desert - but the fog outside of Ukkusissat had helped put everything into perspective.  It was time to move on, in body and mind.

As I landed back at camp I was treated to the arrival of René and Lars (another Lars).  They too had had to change plans for their summer adventures due to fog and injury.  It was reassuring to talk to others about the importance of prioritising safety.  I was also heartened by the fact that even their group, with the benefit of support from local hunters, was just as disappointed in not achieving their goals as I was.  (Incidentally, in the rush to move my kayak to accommodate their three speedboats, I nailed my leg on a rock.  The cut is still healing some months later.  Big rock!)

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