Early morning on the Sea Explorer dawned calm and hazy, the low sun sparkling off the sea in a golden haze. In the distance, mountains lined the horizon, growing slowly larger as we made our way towards shore. Coffee in hand, I joined a group of passengers on the deck, watching seabirds and waiting with anticipation as the colorful houses of Sisimiut grew nearer. Good morning, Greenland.
It was to be a day of local experiences, with walking tours led by local guides who lived in Sisimiut year-round. As we disembarked, a small fishing boat pulled up behind the ship. A beaming fisherman, loading boxes of fish onto the deck, held up the largest, most beautiful spotted wolffish I had ever seen, its leopard-print skin noticeable amongst the bright redfish loaded onto the dock. Later, we were going to have a feast.
We set off into town with Sanne, a Danish woman who had lived in Sisimiut for years, and her 11-year-old son Magnus, both of whom illuminated the landscape with knowledge, stories, and anecdotes. Under their guidance, the town came alive as we trekked through its warm, sunny streets. Wildflowers bloomed along the road; our guides told us about the meanings of the colors used to paint the houses, the local culture and way of life.
“You should REALLY think about living here in Sisimiut, at least for one year,” Magnus exclaimed energetically. “The winter is the best part. It’s too hot right now, there’s not as much to do.” On a sunny summer morning, it was difficult to envision everything blanketed in snow in the darkness of winter, but our guides assured us that the ice and snow open the landscape to easy travel by snowmobile, skiing and snowboarding.
Wandering through the town, the howls and yips of dogs filled the air as we crossed into a wide mountain valley extending into the wilderness beyond. There, beautiful Greenlandic dogs stood tied to the rocky hillside amongst colorful dog houses and sleds. Affectionate puppies frolicked curiously at our feet, to the delight of the group. It was explained to us that these animals are strictly working dogs, and after the age of five months must be treated as such, and kept tied to a designated area. Here, on the outskirts of town, they too stood awaiting the winter in which they thrive.
Hungry after hours of walking, it was time for a taste of traditional Greenlandic cuisine before boarding the ship once again. Dried cod, herring and minke whale, mattak (raw whale skin) and muskox soup were on the menu, and I was beyond excited to taste them all, especially the mattak. While the chewiness took some patience, the flavor was surprisingly awesome, in my opinion – and eaten raw, quite high in vitamin A! For those less convinced, the muskox soup tasted just like beef stew. Everyone had their favorites, but I was particularly taken with the dried minke whale, which I found pleasantly reminiscent of beef jerky.
It was, simply put, an extraordinarily immersive day in Greenland, and we returned to the ship with all senses newly stimulated by our experiences. As we sailed north that evening towards Ilulissat and the Ilulissat Icefjord, I reflected on how surreal it was that we had left Copenhagen only the morning before. It was as if we had entered another world – an amazingly warm and sunny glimpse into Greenland’s arctic summers.