Everyone seems to be familiar with the concept of Greenland being ironically named. That whole “Greenland is ice while Iceland is green” thing and all…and it is very true, and yet Greenland is so much more than just a lot of ice.
A few years ago, I took an extended adventure in the North Atlantic that included a few days in this mysterious, beautiful, and desolate land.
I used to live in Alaska, so I think I partly went into this trip expecting there to be similarities between my beloved northern-most state and its eastern cousin…and there were a few:
- They’re both lands shaped by ice and time.
- They’re both stunning in their beauty (although their beauty is very different).
- The natives herald from some of the same tribes.
- They both sport bird-sized mosquitoes.
But that’s about where the similarities end.
Here are three of the main ways in which Greenland proceeded to surprised me – and acquired a permanent place in my heart.
Hiking (if you can call it that) in such a place must be done cautiously. There are no trails, no paths, no safety nets. It’s a land that demands respect, and walking around on its varied landscapes whether sand, ice, or razor-sharp rock, requires great care. On one particular occasion where I was out on my own, I nearly slipped off a cliff and didn’t come home to write this. Like I said – respect and care…but with great risk comes great reward and this hiking experience trumped every other hike I’ve ever done – including the Inca Trail in some ways.
As harsh, inhospitable, and unforgiving as the land itself was, it was also always stunning in its presentation. Beaches littered with icebergs. Granite peaks carved by rivers of ice. Giant boulders stacked with reckless abandon by glaciers in their retreat. The utter stillness and quiet broken only by the thunder of calving ice – often heard, but rarely seen… Truly a land of extremes in just about every way.
I mentioned that Greenland and Alaska are both home to MOUSs (Mosquitoes of Unusual Size) but I have never in my life experienced them in such a plague-like way. Even in Alaska where mosquitoes thrive in the summer, they were NEVER like this. Never did I find a head-net to be a requirement – and I mean REQUIREMENT – while on land. Sit still for more than a few seconds without one and you would find yourself covered with these winged, biting, beasts. Bug repellent cream, spray, and insect-resistant clothing did seemingly nothing to deter them (at times I thought it merely taunted them into trying harder). And they would get everywhere – your ears, eyes, nose, mouth…EVERYWHERE. Yeah, I inhaled more of them than I care to admit.
On the topic of mosquitoes, I’ve also learned a lot about how to battle them effectively in subsequent trips to places like Africa where mosquito bites can actually land you with disease instead of just being an itchy nuisance, so I’m actually curious to return to Greenland and see if I can’t beat them at their own game. Challenge accepted!
Overall, on my first trip to Greenland, I learned a lot – about the land, about the people, and about what to do (or not to do) in the future. It was a little…um…shall we say…rough, but like all challenges, it was also awesome, invaluable, and will only serve to make my next trip even better!
Greenland’s beauty and other-worldliness make it so unique and unforgettable that, even as I was on the flight back to Reykjavik, I knew Greenland wasn’t finished with me. Next time I’m thinking there will even more involved than just a kayak and tent, but there will most definitely be a next time.