Greenland should be every intrepid traveller’s dreamland. This rugged island of ice and rocks has almost no boundaries to the true adventurer. Located between the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Greenland was ceded from Norway to Denmark in 1814 and is currently an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.
While it is the world’s biggest island, over three-quarters of its surface is covered by the only contemporary ice sheet outside of Antarctica. It has a coastline (39,330 km / 24,440 mi) about the same length as the Earth’s circumference at the equator. The highest point is at 3,859 m (12,660 ft) while the majority of the island is under 1,500 m (5,000 ft) elevation. Although much of Greenland is covered by a massive ice sheet, most of the extreme northern part is not covered by any ice as the air is too dry to produce any significant snow falls. Some scientists believe that if Greenland’s ice sheet was to melt away completely, the world’s sea level would rise by more than 7 m (23 ft) and what would remain of Greenland would be just a few thousand islands, and what would remain of some countries and many islands around the world would be, nothing!
With such a vast area and only about 56,400 inhabitants, it is also the world’s least densely populated country. The first inhabitants moved here from Canada about 4,500 years ago and later some Norsemen (Old Norse-speaking tribes) settled in the south during the 10th century while the Inuit peoples arrived in the 13th century. Today the vast majority of Greenland’s inhabitants are Greenlandic Inuit and European mixed, while about 10% are Europeans – mainly Danish.
The largest town, Nuuk on the southwest coast, only has about 16,500 residents while the second largest, Sisimiut to the north, has just about 6,000 residents. The top six most populated towns are all on the west coast. Head over to the east coast where the largest town, Tasiilaq, has about 2,000 residents. A 10-minute helicopter ride to the west is the small village of Kulusuk. In summer it is cheaper to take a boat, while in winter a dogsled ride to Tasiilaq is a great experience.
Welcome to Kulusuk. This lonely village on the southeast coast of Greenland had a population of about 350 in 1998 but only about 300 remained in 2013. The population has decreased by 23% relative to the 1990 levels, and by over 19% relative to the 2000 levels. Where have the people gone? The decline is due to emigration, as natural growth is positive. Winters are harsh, long and dark, with the levels ice and snow up to gigantic levels. The east coast is also significantly windier than the west coast, in particular the persistent northeasterly winds from the Greenland Sea.
Summers are short but can be very pleasant. Arrive here between late June and end of September and you will find warm sunny days with little wind. While most of Greenland is ice all year round, during the summers the peripheral area and islands are green, with floating icebergs visible in all directions. Facilities in the village are limited to a small school, clinic, post office and the popular Pilersuisoq shop, which is a chain of all-purpose general stores found in Greenland’s towns.
The church in the village was constructed in 1908, one year before the village was founded in 1909, by the crew of a Danish sailing vessel that ran aground here. The church was constructed from the timbers of the ship itself. A model of the ship is on display in the front left side of the church. In the village is a small shop that sells products by local craftsmen who use animal horns, bone and teeth to create intricate art pieces called Tupilaks. The items are of superior quality, well displayed, and expensive. Part of the shop building also houses the small local museum.
A local Inuit man often treats the few tourists outside the museum to his song and drum dance. While he speaks and sings no English, his favourite folk song is about the eagle and the bear. He also likes to engage his small audience in his dancing while beating his bearskin drum and wearing his bearskin boots. A couple of tourists arrive here daily from Reykjavik in Iceland on a scheduled Air Iceland turboprop plane. From Kulusuk it is possible to transfer to nearby Tasiilaq village by helicopter which is only about 10 minutes away. A small, but new, hotel halfway between the village and the airport provides superb services to weary travellers. The hotel is walking distance from both the airport and the village and is located close to the sea.
Around town are several husky dogs and even a domesticated wolf, all on leashes. These dogs are used for sledding, the main form of transportation during the snowy winter months. The local Inuit people speak Kalaallisut (West Greenlandic) which is closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada, such as Inuktitut. Kalaallisut has been the official language of the Greenlandic autonomous territory since June 2009 although other dialects are being spoken across Greenland such as East Greenlandic (Tunumiisut) and the Thule dialect Inuktun. Some people in Kulusuk speak a little English.
The main activity around Kulusuk is to explore the area on foot. Many floating icebergs create great photo opportunities. During autumn the hills are covered in northern black eriophorum), mushrooms, and lush green moss.
The village is pleasant, although the locals keep to themselves and don’t seem to be over excited to see a foreigner wandering around with a big camera. The Kulusuk cemetery just outside the village on the southern and northern slopes of a small hill is a collection of small white crosses. Most graves are entirely covered in very colourful artificial flower decorations. No names of the deceased appear on the crosses in honour of the Inuit tradition that the names are passed on to another at death and lives on to the next generation. These colourful graves against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains is quite a sight.
A few more photos of Greenland’s Kulusuk village: