Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 18 - sailing in the light of Sermitsiaq. Part II

I had seen a lot of Capelin during the previous weeks on the water and it was interesting to see them drying in Niaqornat. Quite often I came across a small island where Capelin were laid out to dry in the sun. You can only do that when there are no dogs around to eat them though!

The sledges were not needed much this winter as the sea ice never really came. I left my own sledge behind in Uummannaq as it could not come with us to Qaanaaq. There is something special about sledges waiting patiently for the ice to come each year, and something even more special in hearing the creak of the runners across the ice. These sledges were quite still despite the wind blowing through the netting.

I did not need to sleep on the school house floor as I pitched my tent on the black sands of Niaqornat's beaches instead. I did meet a colleague of mine in the settlement and enjoyed catching up on Nuka's news from the summer.

Hanging on this rack you can see Lumpsucker, the lighter fish drying on the left and what I think is shark meat drying on the right. The dried lumpsucker is pretty damn good ... tastes like chicken!

I didn't take many photos of people during the expedition as I really didn't want to intrude on people's lives. These two kids were some of the few exceptions. It was the mohawk that got me!

On the other hand, I took loads of photos of dogs and these two pups play-fighting caught my attention.

I didn't see any other kayaks on the water but my own. I think there were others around but no Greenlandic kayakers that I was aware of. Having now moved to Qaanaaq I can see how much the use of kayaks has become limited to recreation and competition in the Uummannaq area. It has been ten years or so for some hunters since they last caught a narwhal from a kayak in Uummannaq. In Qaanaaq, however, kayaks are lashed to boats and ready to be used whenever whales are sighted. They have to hunt from kayaks up here and it makes for a totally different role that the kayak plays in the more traditional hunting communities.

Musk oxen are pretty eh? And this one was pretty dead too!

Having parked the kayak I then moved all my gear over to one of the more amazing campsites I found during the expedition. Climbing up a thin, slippery, wooden staircase I walked up and over a little knoll before finding a black beach, all for myself.

As the rain continued and the wind blasted the waves and bergs into the shore I set up the tent and set about finding some ice for my coffee, food and water supply.

The waves had washed many bergy bits up onto the sand and it was a simple matter of collecting them to thaw out later.

Wet as it was I couldn't resist wandering up and down the beach, exploring. It was an overcast day and yet full of exciting sights and revelations, not least the area I was sleeping in. For once my tent was clean and I crawled in to sleep ... for quite some time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 18 - sailing in the light of Sermitsiaq. Part I

From my diary:

I just realised, had I gone ahead with my original plan I would have met this weather in Illorsuit. I would have been severly screwed and stranded as no jolle (dinghy) would risk running me over to Niaqornat in this. I would also have been very committed to the crossing when the weather calmed down. Not good. Funny how fate/decisions/uncommon good luck play a role, for the good this time, in our lives. Thank god I made the decisions regarding the sat phone!

These thoughts were lazily drifting through my mind as we ploughed through, up and over the waves in the hotel boat sailing to Niaqornat. Arne had arranged for me to sail with the TeleGreenland charter and my boat and gear was stowed amongst their drills, rigging equipment and assorted strong-boxes. We sat inside and chatted while I wondered if I was indeed going to throw up any time soon. It was a little rough out.

Arriving in Niaqornat a few hours later, I couldn't have planned a better introduction. It wasn't all that normal for the TeleGreenland guys to unload a kayak so we started to draw a little attention. As the boat sailed away we started to haul gear around. As the helicopter had been cancelled due to the winds it seemed likely that all the gear, including new receiving dishes for the mast, would have to be man-hauled up the mountainside. I volunteered to help, it was the least I could do.

My first impressions of Niaqornat were thus obscured a little as I got involved with moving stuff. I was aware though that several fisherman were curious about my boat and they chatted around it before several of them agreed to help move stuff up the mountain. They were paid to do so.

On the way up to the mast one must first pass through the settlement cemetary. Although I can't imgaine how tough it would be to carry one's loved-one in a coffin up the side of a mountain, nor can I imagine a more beautiful resting place; close to nature and with a good view of whales, icebergs, and activity on the water and ice.

The mast was a little further up the hill. On reaching it I was given a wonderful bird's-eye-view of the settlement and could really begin to appreciate how different it was to any of the other settlements in Uummannaq. Click on the picture below to get a bigger image of Niaqornat!

The water on both sides of the settlement has previously caused problems with flooding, but it makes very interesting geography!

While the TeleGreenland crew worked on the mast I gave my thanks and left them to it. They were more than a bit concerned that I was going to paddle back through the weather and wanted me to consider coming back on the boat with them. I assured them i would give it some thought. Back in Niaqornat I chatted with three of the local fishermen. In my pidgin Greenlandic, amid a lot of smiles, we talked about the weather and my journey. They made it clear that it would not be smart to paddle and I wholeheartedly agreed. They suggested I could get a more recent weather update from the Post Office.

Here my Greenlandic was put to the test, or rather, my Greenlandic was interpreted, correctly, with a heavy dose of common sense thrown in. I introduced myself to the lady behind the counter and asked for a weather report. Instead of this, after a good deal of conversation that I didn't follow, I realised she was organising for me to sleep on the school house floor. Clearly, nobody thought I was going anywhere this day! The nice thing was that she was so very accommodating and had anticipated my needs.

At that moment a European woman entered the Post Office and we got talking. I just thought she must be a teacher but it turned out that she and her colleague were artists in residence spending a few months in Niaqornat. I was quickly invited in for coffee and made to feel very welcome. I was wondering over my very positive reception in Niaqornat and realised, on seeing the laptop in their house, that the Sermitsiaq article had been seen by more than a few people and I was "known" to be paddling in the area. Sabine and Malene were working with the medium of film and natural resources and it was very cosy to be drinking coffee out of the wind and rain surrounded by interesting art projects made of bones, seaweed, skulls and stones. It was also from the kitchen table in their house that I saw my first and only glimpse of a pod of whales swimming past the settlement. Malene's work can be seen here.

After a few hours of chatting I decided I had to make some decisions. With the offer of yet another floor to sleep on I returned to the weather to explore a bit more with my camera. I was bumping into kids I knew and hunters I had seen several times in Uummannaq. One guy was keen for me to move my kayak. He explained that the dogs would be able to get at it as long as it was on the ground, so he helped me heave it up onto the plastic fishing bins full of nets and gear. I was really pleased at the amount I was communicating and I began to feel very much at ease in Niaqornat, that and an overwhelming sense of the expedition finally coming to life and achieving the goals I had hoped for. Here I was, conversing purely in Greenlandic, being understood and, more to the point, being helped by the locals.

As I wandered about the settlement I found the usual hunting and fishing paraphernalia and yet I looked at the sledges and nets, outboards and buoys with fresh eyes. The down-time in Uummannaq had done me good and the lift up to Niaqornat had lifted the weight of "timing" from my mind. I could afford to spend a few days in the settlement, giving the weather time to blow itself out.

Like all the other settlements there are plenty of Greenlandic dogs dotted about the place. One unfortunate puppy had been enjoying a carton of tomato juice stolen from the dump. He had his head so far into it that he could not pull it off. Muffled cries of distress could be heard as he bumped into oil drums and stuff in his desperation. I took hold of the carton and pulled it off his head, not realising just how tight it was his whole body lifted a foot off the ground before he promptly returned to earth, free of his ketchupy burden.

Still chuckling I spent the next few hours sitting on the beach cracking open stones in my search for fossils.

Yeah, life was good.