Final days in Greenland. Whiskey in the hot spring.

We sat out the storm in the ghost village and launched again after a hearty breakfast. The finish line of the trip was merely 7 kilometers away.

Uuanortoq is the perfect place to finish any kayak expedition. The island is known  for its thermal hot springs and natural pools.  They are ideal for getting clean after a solid week of sweating in a plastic suit.

The thermal water just sucked us in. Our options were limited: getting out of the water in the freezing wind or enjoying the soft bubbles and womb like warm water.  After spending a shamefully long time submerged we decided it was time to man up, endure the windchill and kayak north to the area’s most prominent Viking ruins.

Heading north towards the Viking ruins.

The problem with most Viking ruins in Greenland is that you can’t really see them. Apart from a few heavily promoted sights most Viking ruins have not been excavated and are overgrown by grass and moss.

Can you spot the Viking ruin?

We set up camp in an abandoned sheep farm next to the alleged Viking ruins. The afternoon was full of excitement and activity. After guessing the layout of the Viking village, we stumbled upon an Inuit burial site complete with human bones. Later we talked Beni out of setting the abandoned barn on fire, played Greenland’s favorite game show: “Snowmobile Or Jetski.” and read every mid-80s Danish gossip magazine we could find in the farm house.  Did you know Benny Hill’s real name was Alfred?

Looks like the movie set from a Siberian airline disaster movie. “Group of survivors found new life on the frozen tundra.”

The next day we kayaked back to Uunaortoq. Beni chipped off a piece of an iceberg and took it back to the hot spring. We spent the better half of the day drinking whiskey on the rocks and lounging in the 40 degree puddle.

It’s hard to imagine a happier ending to an epic kayak trip in Greenland.

Victory shot in Uuanortoq.

That one will be perfect for the whiskey.

A mellow afternoon of boozing and soaking in Uuanortoq.

Uuanortoq July 16, 2017

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We could have watched porn, but we set the phonebook on fire instead

Kayaking from Sydprøven across the fjord seemed like a great idea until it didn’t. Half an hour into our day the winds gathered force. The waves were pounding our yaks from every direction. We were going north, but with every paddle stroke, we were getting farther away from our comfort zone and closer to WTF.

On the other side of the fjord we all agreed that usually disaster movies start this way and we’d better take a break from the elements. Our disaster movie script quickly turned horror as we found a ghost village complete with three and half abandoned buildings and a church.

Here are 5 sentences I never thought I’d hear on a kayak trip, but that day I did:

  • Look, here is a Danish TV guide from 1983.
  • Does anyone know how to use a Singer sewing machine?
  • Guys, let’s break into the church.
  • Do you think an acoustic guitar burns well in the fire?
  • I thought Betamax didn’t allow porn movies.

To escape the wind and rain we moved into one of the abandoned houses. Although the paint was chipping off the ceiling, dark green moss was growing on the carpet and the stove was not connected to the chimney, we were ready to give the house a solid 10 on Tripadvisor. We hung our wet clothes, made coffee, drank whiskey and spent the better half of the afternoon inspecting the archeological treasures in the one room shack.

What started out as a rough morning on the seas turned into a cozy afternoon in arctic luxury.

Peter has an incredible super power. He can fall asleep anywhere. Can you find him in the picture? (Clue:Lime green jacket and blue sleeping bag.)

Dear Mathaeus Efraimsen. Thanks for letting us stay at your pad.

 

This vintage marine radio was just one of the treasures we’ve found.

Clearly not all beach front property holds is value.

The last sign of life was from 1998 in the form of a diploma and a piece of old official mail. Beni quickly observed that the place must have belonged to a priest or a minister. “Look at all these Jesus paintings, and this porn video,” said Beni. His comments got slightly weirder when he examined the video’s back cover and said with an absolutely serious demeanor, “I thought anal sex was invented after the 1990s”.

The last supper with Perverse Sex Games. Both with the original cast.

The last moments of the 1994 Greenland phone book.

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading old picture books in Danish and Inuit, napping, smoking, drinking coffee and cooking dinner.

After failing to mend his cheap Decathlon gloves with the sewing machine, Beni explained why books are better than e-readers. “You know, in case of an emergency you could never start a fire with a Kindle,” said the Swiss German engineer.

“Hey Andrew, why don’t we burn some of these books and make a big fire,” asked Beni.
“Beni, the last time your people started burning books it didn’t end so well for my people,” I replied.
“What about a 1994 Greenland phone book. Is that considered a book?”

After a half an hour of moral back and forth, the ghost town elders agreed that it was ethically acceptable to burn a 30 year old phone book. Drying our shoes and socks by the camp fire that night, I realized that sometimes you just need an abandoned beach house, a 1994 phone book and a box of matches to feel one with the universe.

What’s the difference between an acoustic and electric guitar? The acoustic burns better.

VCR manual, 1980s. Quality Street butter cookies, 1990s. Singer sewing machine 1860s. Beni, who knows, probably a time traveler.

Day 4 : Sydprøven and the mystery of the vanishing fish

After two days of intense kayaking among the fjords, we reached the town of Alluitsup Paa (Danish: Sydprøven). AP is the kind of place that politicians refer to as having negative population growth, while everyone else just calls the phenomena, “sh*t, the village is dying”.

The first thing you notice as you sail into Alluitsup Paa is the cellphone tower and the government monopoly supermarket, Pilersuisoq.

Ten years ago 360 people lived here. Today less than 75 souls make up this tiny seaside hamlet. After cod “mysteriously disappeared”, people lost their livelihoods, the school closed and many moved to other parts of the country. This sad story is echoed in coastal communities around the world from Greenland to Belize and Ghana. One doesn’t need to be a climate scientists to know that rising ocean temperatures, climate change related new wind and precipitation models combined with industrial overfishing are the culprits behind the mystery.

Colorful houses dot the harbor in Sydproven.

Amid the decay, Sydproven still has a hotel. The proprietress of the Seaside Whale Hotel looked absolutely terrified when Beni and I showed up. We couldn’t decide what caused the mortified look on her face. Was it that our dry suits and mosquito masks made us look like space aliens or the fact that she hasn’t seen paying guests in years?

Out of mercy, we decided that terrorizing her by being there was not a good idea. We pitched our tents on a rock by the harbor, right behind the town’s supermarket.

The best view in town. Camping on a rock.

Peter and Andras found a quiet nook next to the marine gas station complete with picnic tables.

Later that evening we ventured back to the hotel since it was only place in town to get a drink. We freaked her out again, but this time she has grown somewhat accustomed to our presence. The fear and terror have subsided in here eyes. She told us about all the neighboring villages that have been abandoned years ago, the whales that are expected to return in August and went on to sell us 4 beers for a tiny fortune.

After a cold and windy night, we woke to the smell of freshly baked croissants and danishes permeating from the little store’s bakery. It seemed like a fantastic day to kayak.

World War II US military pilots had trouble identifying Greenlandic towns with their long names full of p’s and q’s. So every settlement got a letter and a number. Alluitsupp Paa became A23. Signs on rooftops are still clearly visible from the sky.

The view at 11PM from my tent.

Day Three – And then there were four

Qaqortoq (population: 3,200) is South Greenland’s largest city. It’s the place if you absolutely need to visit Greenland’s one and only outdoor fountain, must deliver a baby or want to experience a seal skin tannery where dead seals go in and hideous purple and yellow seal skin vests come out. Qaqortoq is also a convenient place to say goodbye.

On the third morning we bid farewell to Bal and Emily who really just jetted to Greenland for two days. We also left 7 others in our group who decided to return to base camp in Narsaq by boat. At this point their kayak vacation from hell turned into a week of leisurely strolls, pub crawls, crepe making parties and taking copious amounts of kayaking pictures from shore and posting them on Facebook.

It was a foggy and wet morning.

At one point we had to take all kayaks out of the water and slide them over a hill to the other side of the fjord. This old viking routine saved us two days of kayaking and gave us two days’ worth of shoulder pain.

Beni, Andras, Peter and I sailed out of Qaqortoq harbor on the morning of July 12th in pouring rain, fog and some sleet. Andras is a 48 year old IT entrepreneur and programmer. Peter is an avid mountain climber and geography teacher. Beni is the guy with the pink bathing suit and the travel spice rack.

There was a definitive shift in group dynamics from that morning on. Everyone was ready on time. There was no complaining, just working together as a team, but at the same time enjoying our own pace, tranquility and Zen.

By late afternoon the sleet and fog have vanished and we sailed south by the feet of sparkling icebergs under a golden arctic sun.

The fog has disappeared by late afternoon and conditions were  perfect.

A young humpback whale outside of our camp.

Camping some 25 kilometers south of Qaqortoq.

Day One & Two – The man in pink with the rack

Ocean kayaking is a unique extreme sport that comes with extreme serenity. In the remote fjords and iceberg bays of Greenland that experience comes with additional tranquility. For me day one and two were everything, but tranquil.

There were meetings, meetings about having meetings, discussions, votes, conflicts, pretty much everything short of a whiteboard and donuts. Should we go left or should we go straight? Should we kayak in windy conditions or should we turn back? Are we there yet? Can we take a break? It sounded more like a road trip with the kids, which no mid-life person wants under any condition.

The arrival of Bal, Emily and Beni was a breath of fresh air at our first camp some 25km from the start. The last time I saw Beni was 3 years ago in the African bush wearing a pink polo shirt and holding a undoubtedly dead goat in his hands. He was about to cook.

Beni on the 2015 Budapest-Bamako Rally carrying a freshly slaughtered animal for a goat cabbage stew.

This time Beni was holding a nearly dead cod. “Can someone please kill this fish? I’m a pacifist, I can’t do it”, proclaimed the Swiss engineer. Beni, who did his Swiss Army service by rebuilding a church in Cuba as a conscientious objector doesn’t kill goats or fish, but is well versed in the art of outdoor cooking. In fact Beni doesn’t go camping without fresh ingredients or his travel spice rack. He’s the guy to call if you ever run out of cinnamon on the frozen tundra or need a pinch of fenugreek on the savannah.

I hope I’m not late for the wind and wave meeting

I didn’t know how well I’d get along with him since we never traveled together. But by building a campfire together, we soon discovered our shared passion for pyromania, which kindled a newfound bromance atop the permafrost.

“I brought a bar of chocolate for everyone. In Switzerland chocolate is considered food.”

Emily and Bal fresh from a spa treatment at the Ritz Carton in Moscow looking adorably Greenland compliant in their matching mosquito hats and couture dry suits.

It takes a tough man to wear a pink bathing suit.

Midnight rainbow over the first camp site.

Sunset at 1:30AM

Day One- I was ready for everything, but not for this.

Long distance kayak trips start with eating well and strenuous mental preparations. Half of the team was mentally unprepared while the other half was on a strict alcohol, sugar and tobacco diet.

Hungarians never cease to amaze me with their nutritional habits. Instead of a protein and vitamin rich regimen here is what was used as body fuel on this Hun majority kayak expedition:

  • Adrienne announced that she eats only chocolate for breakfast.
  • Janos arrived in Greenland with a case of Tuborg and swore that he’s not going to paddle without a few shots of Palinka (brandy) in the morning.
  • Others stuck to a strict chocolate cream cookie, Coca-Cola, Marlboro and paprika sausage regime.
  • Gabor simply never ate breakfast because his priorities lied in oversleeping and meticulously rearranging his gear.

The chain smoking, cookie eating, brandy drinking set was almost ready to sail until two people decided that kayaking on open waters might be too dangerous. I was prepared for everything, but not for the comically painful fjordside drama unfolding in front of my eyes at T minus 8 hours.

Adrienne and Norbi gaining valuable insight into sea kayaking before settling for a tandem kayak.

The village of Narsaq and its stunning bay.

Couldn’t fall asleep in the setting sun at 11:30PM. Narsaq base camp.

I was ready for almost anything.

 

 

 

Home made iceberg fridge with cream cheese, kefir and a mild overdose of smoked herring.

On the morning of July 10th after another shot of palinka and bar of chocolate all 10 of us sailed from the iceberg strewn bay of Narsaq into the unknown.

With global warming came swarms of irritating arctic mosquitos and flies. Certain parts of South Greenland are intolerable without mosquito face masks.

Day Zero – It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Coming in from the fjord to Narsarsuaq International Airport

Our flight from Copenhagen landed in Narsarsuaq (population158). It’s the world’s smallest town served by an international airport (UAK). The town has a friendly grocery store, an almost friendly hostel, a café and even a museum. The museum hosts artifacts from Narsarsuaq’s World War II era US army base and a fascinating Viking exhibit almost entirely downloaded and printed from the internet.

After a day of hiking, acclimating, learning how not to swallow oversized arctic mosquitos and finding out that people in Greenland are actually pretty friendly underneath their icy shells, we headed for a test run. Four of us tried to find out what it’s like to kayak in icy conditions. Here’s what we learned:

  • You need a waterproof dry suit to kayak in icy waters.
  • Unlike in a wet suit, you should never pee in a dry suit.
  • Never fix a rental kayak while on the water.
  • The water is f*ing cold.
  • Wearing a fleece sweater on a warm day under the plastic dry suit is like two rats trying to make a baby rat in a Ziplock bag at twelve noon. (If you don’t know what that’s like, take my words, hot and sweaty)

But the most important lesson of the day was this:

Whoever coined the expression, “it’s only the tip of the iceberg” was a very serious science person. An iceberg’s density is 920kg/m3, sea water’s density is 1025kh/m3. That roughly 10% difference is exactly the tip of the iceberg, which never stays under water. In other words 90% of each iceberg is under water.

Kayaking in the Qooroq ice fjord outside of Narsarsuaq

If you love distilled water, icebergs can make a delicious snack.

Things will get wet even if you don’t pee your pants.

You can camp outside the airport.

Also, some icebergs can really sound like French fries in oil. It’s called the “Bergie Seltzer”. It happens when ice around the compressed air bubbles melts and the bubbles pop.

Icebergs also crack, break, tip over and move around. So if you kayak close to an iceberg, you might not even notice that a 15 ton ice cube just fell on your head and pushed you against 90% of the iceberg.  According to seasoned kayakers these incidents can generally ruin even the best kayak trips.

Kayaking close to an iceberg is not a very smart idea. Don’t try this at home.

Peope Vs Arctic Oil Drilling – Sign the petition

As we leave on a 10 day kayak expedition to Greenland to raise awareness about the plight of the arctic, Greenpeace goes to fight arctic oil drillers.

In the age of accelerating global climate change, when we most need to keep new fossil fuels in the ground, the Norwegian government has opened up a brand new area of the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle, for oil drilling.  The Barents Sea is experiencing the lowest sea ice it has ever seen. It is utterly irresponsible to go out looking for more oil on a planet that is being steadily overheated by the oil we have already dug up and burned.

So with the backing of a wide coalition, Greenpeace and Nature & Youth have filed a historic lawsuit against the Norwegian government.

Please sign this petition. Help Greenpeace beat arctic oil and help Save The Arctic. #savethearctic

 

Kayak Expedition To Greenland To #SaveTheArctic

After my euphoric solo voyage from La To Tijuana, I set my sights on another cause and another destination that’s been close to my heart: The Great North.

What started out as another “one man and his kayak insanity” to Greenland, has now turned into an Arctic summer camp for mid-lifers. Thanks to social media, 12 friends and friends of friends decided to join me on a week long paddle among the fjords of South Greenland. What was once akin to “Into The Wild” has now evolved into “The Bad News Bears Of Greenland” or “City Slickers Of The Ice”.

The team has three doctors, several engineers, two software developers, a woman who doesn’t know how to swim, a guy who’s only seen kayaks on TV before and another who’s generally afraid of water.

The decay of the Arctic, the disappearing ice sheets, the dying polar bear populations and increased human activity have all triggered my desire to kayak in this part of the world. This is the frontline of global climate change and the message needs to be louder and clearer than ever: Save The Arctic.

2500x1250_narsaq_2---kopi

Kayaking among icebergs in Greenland

Starting point: Narsaq July 10th
Finish point: Uunartoq Hot Springs July 16th

 

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My “home made” map of the itinerary. Notice how many of the places we’ll be visiting don’t even have official names.