Disko Island, Greenland
Only 900 people live on Disko Island, and 850 of them live in the town of Qeqertarsuaq. There are no airports on the island, the fastest way to get to the isolated town of Qeqertarsuaq is to take a 3-4 hour boat trip from Ilulissat.
Getting to Disko Island proved to be a challenge, and we experienced firsthand Greenland's predictably unpredictable weather. My travel companion Pat and I had reserved three nights at a house in Qeqertarsuaq, and our ferry trip to and from the island. On the morning of our trip, we got word that the boat was cancelled due to rough seas. We were told to check back later in the day to see if the weather eased up. That afternoon the rep at the Disko Line office told us that the boat was a go, and we were relieved that we wouldn’t have to make an expensive same-day hotel booking to stay in Ilulissat.
The 16-passenger boat was mostly empty seats as we pulled out of the harbor and into the less protected waters of Disko Bay, when the icy swells began to pick up. The sky was a gloomy gray, and I tried to calm my unease about being in rough water surrounded by icebergs (it doesn’t help to know that Disko bay is believed to be the source of the berg that collided with the Titanic). The boat rolled and swayed with increasing intensity, and I looked to our two boat operators’ expressions for reassurance. Their faces were expressionless, the co-captain staring intently out the front window, scanning for icebergs while tightly clutching his armrest. When we narrowly missed an iceberg, he jumped up and took over the wheel. After an anxiety filled hour like this, the man behind the wheel turned to us, defeated and said; “we will return to Ilulissat”. We had to book another night in Ilulissat after all ($$$), but the next day the weather was calm and we made the crossing to Disko Island, this time without anxiety and near collisions with icebergs.
For being an isolated island off of an already isolated country, I was surprised by how developed the town of Qeqertarsuaq is. I probably imagined the inhabitants of rural Greenland to live in basic dwellings, off the land and without electricity like their Innuit descendants once did. Qeqertarsuaq has a large grocery store (with some fresh veggies!), museum, restaurant, and a few cafes… you just have to know where to look for them since all of the buildings look like houses and have little or no signage.
We had no choice but to disconnect from the outside world while on Disko Island, there was no wifi at the house, or any of the businesses, and turning on my T-mobile roaming data was more expensive in Greenland than in any other country I have ever traveled to ($15/MB). Not a problem though, we were in one of the most picturesque towns I have ever visited, with 20+ hours of daylight a day to spend outside photographing the colorful town, and its ever-changing backdrop of passing icebergs.
The sound of loud cheers and fireworks woke us from a lazy afternoon nap, and we went for a walk to see where the commotion was coming from. We followed the sounds to a black sand beach and soccer field where a kids' soccer match was taking place, with possibly every one of the town's residents watching. We bought hot dogs and hot tea from a concession stand and watched this surreal setting of astroturf, black sand and ice. The air was cold, and it started to rain. This was as warm as it gets on Disko Island; 40 something degrees... the time of year when Greenlanders might have the opportunity to peel off their Arcteryx and Canada Goose down jackets and don only a tshirt for a few hours of the day.
DISKO ISLAND SUNSETS...
Since it was summer above the Arctic Circle, we had the luxury of almost full days of daylight. Not until 11pm would the sun become low in the sky, and by midnight we could witness the most gorgeous sunsets that would last for hours before the sun would rise again at 3 or 4am. We took advantage of the long days, sleeping in every morning with the full afternoon and night to explore.
About a 5 mile hike out of town is Kuannit, an area of volcanic basalt rock formations. Kuannit gets its name from the plants that grow near the streams, an edible plant known better as angelica. Disko Island is a geologically volcanic area with thousands of active underground hot springs. The reason that this island was inhabited was because of these year round sources of unfrozen water, now if only they would figure out how to collect the hot spring water into pools for soaking...
We didn't start the hike to Kuannit until around 7pm. The weather had become quite sunny and we were hoping to make it there closer to sunset so that we could get better light for droning and taking photos. After a few hours of trekking through the soggy summer thaw, fighting off swarms of mosquitos, Kuannit was quite a sight to behold. It felt like we were in The Land Before Time, some sort of prehistoric scene where dinosaurs would be living.