July 2007 saw us in West Greenland on a trip which we thoroughly
enjoyed. While there conversations with guides got us thinking
about the east coast of the country which is much wilder and
even more sparsely settled than the west. Intrigued by what we
had already seen we resolved to go to East Greenland as soon
Access to the east coast is best achieved from Iceland via Air
Iceland's daily flights between Reykjavík and Kulusuk.
The most convenient airport for us to fly to Iceland is Manchester
which Icelandair serve several times a week. An outline was devised
which involved flying to Keflavík, spending a day in Reykjavík
before flying on to Greenland for seven nights then having a
day and a half in Reykjavík on the way back. To achieve
this we used the services of Scantours UK, a company we cannot
recommend and which we will never use again. They made serious
mistakes (some of them repeatedly) which we fortunately noticed.
On a positive note Arctic Adventure, the Danish incoming agent
in Greenland, had brilliant local staff.
The east coast is barren, cold
and virtually devoid of settlement. The main settlement of Ammassalik
where we went has a population of under 4,000. Of these about
1,800 are in the main village of Tasiilaq and the remainder in
a few scattered villages of about 200 people such as that at
Kulusuk. Kulusuk has an airport with services to Iceland and
elsewhere in Greenland and there is a helicopter link to Tasiilaq.
Apart from that movement around the area is by sea. The other
east coast settlement, Scoresby Sound, is further north and quite
a challenging destination by the sound of it.
Kulusuk is small and has one (very nice)
hotel about midway between the airport and the village. Village
services comprise the store and the post office. There are no
paved roads on the island. In terms of tourist activity (and
excluding hairy pursuits such as kayaking) there is a boat trip
to a nearby glacier, a road trip to the site of the old radar
station on a splendid headland and the usual 'city tour'. If
you have plenty of money and little concern for the environment
you can arrange a helicopter trip to one of the inland glaciers.
If you want to be spoon-fed activities then Kulusuk is not for
you. We were enchanted by the place and loved its barren emptiness
and the peace and quiet.
Tasiilaq, after Kulusuk, felt big with
its tarmac roads, school, hospital, two supermarkets, museum,
book shop and tourist information centre! It might have been
better to go there before Kulusuk but flight schedules (no Sunday
helicopters) did not allow us to do that and have the number
of nights we wanted in each place. There are excursions available
in the shape of guided walks into Flower Valley and up a local
mountain as well as a boat trip round the headland to an abandoned
settlement. There are two hotels in Tasiilaq, we stopped in Hotel
Ammassalik which is owned by the same company as the hotel at
Kulusuk and is very comfortable if a little busy.
Weather and other things
The first Greenlandic word you learn in the west is 'immaqa'
(maybe), a concept resulting from the unpredictability of the
weather and other things. Centuries of separate development has
meant that the language in the east is very different and there
they say 'upa', which means the same but has a lesser degree
of certainty. We had generally dry weather although there was
some drizzle in Tasiilaq. Weather conditions can change in a
few minutes and in short distances, especially when there is
mist about. We found that we could be freezing in mist with a
strong wind and then a few minutes later basking in warm sunshine.
In early July there was virtually 24 hours daylight.
It is also perhaps worth mentioning that
this is a potentially very hostile environment. The hills offer
reasonable walking but they are extremely lonely and a sprained
ankle may mean that the first being to find you will be one of
the polar bears that turn up in the area from time to time rather
than another walker.
Place names and spelling
Local place names can be confusing as there are Danish names
(now less used) and Greenlandic names. These can refer to geographical
features as well as settlemeents. Thus Kukusuk - island and village
- is also known as Kap Dan - headland, island and village. Spelling
can also vary, for example Ammassalik is often seen as Angmagssalik.
Hopefully Greenlanders will forgive any major errors in use of
their language in this site.
As we were flying to Greenland from Reykjavík we took
the opportunity to spend some time exploring the city and surrounding
area. Going out we had a morning in the capital and then spent
the afternoon at the Arbær Folk Museum and Botanic Gardens.
On our return the weather forecast was good so we hired a taxi
for the day to do the sights of the Golden Circle which were
impressive - especially the geyser at Strokkur - but on the whole
not as mindlowing as the places we had seen on our earlier trip
to the east of Iceland. As we had an afternoon flight home we
had another opportunity to wander in the city before leaving.