Sunday: A Big Glacier and a Tiny Village

We woke early for a zodiac cruise of a glacier.  We were out in the boats for about an hour, and got pretty close to the big glacier.  There had been a big calving earlier in the morning, but while we were out there there was only a little fall from each, but that was still pretty amazing.  It was so cool to be floating out there, almost total silence except for the creaking of the glacier.  We came back in and had breakfast then the other group when out.  For some extra excitement the videographer, Pavel, proposed to his girlfriend in the Zodiac they were in!

After the cruise there was the “Polar Dip” where people could jump into the icy water.  I mean ICY.  There were actual chunks of glacier in it.  I decided I just didn’t want to be that cold and watched instead.  It was fun to watch and the people who did it were given a patch.  That patch was tempting, but I decided to stick my hand in the water when we get above the arctic circle and call it a day.

Later there was a disembarkation information session, and afterwards lunch was served on the fantail of the ship.  We are all starting to realize the trip is almost over and are beginning our, goodbyes.  I’ve met some very nice and interesting people in addition to seeing amazing sites.

Our final stop for the day was Kangaamiut.  It is a tiny fishing village nestled in the rocks of Greenland.  The houses are brightly colored and when we came around the corner into the bay, it was like a sweet surprise.  We walked around the town, which was very hilly, since all of Greenland is pretty much mountains.  There was a seal skinning demonstration, which was surprisingly not gross, and I was able to taste seal liver, which has the texture of a scallop and tastes like, well, liver.  Kind of like beef liver, but more seafoody.

After that there was a concert at church from the local choir.  They sang four songs, two of which were written by the choirmaster.  It was absolutely amazing.  Beautiful tunes, sort of hymn like and classical, and the choir had wonderful four part harmonies.  The church was beautiful, with a window in the shape of a cross on the back wall and the colorful town could be seen through the window.  I was really emotional in that town.  Maybe it was the beauty, the simplicity of this colorful village on what seems like the edge of the world or maybe I’m just ready to go home but it was a very warm and gentle moment in that church listening to the beautiful choir.

Back on the ship there was a flurry of packing, and then the final recap where they Adventure Canada staff was recognized and talked about what they enjoyed about the trip.  Then at the Captain’s farewell reception the Captain brought out the sailors who have been helping us on and off the Zodiacs for the last two weeks.  It was nice to get to applaud them, and then at dinner Eckhart, who is the Hotel Manager, likewise had all the hotel staff, waiters, kitchen staff and stewards, come out for a round of applause.  Everyone has been so nice on this ship it was really great to get to be able to thank them.

Dinner was extra special also, because Ali and I had been invited to eat at the Captain’s table, but since the Captain was navigating the fjord, we got Eckhart instead.  I love Eckhart.  He has a cute German accent and he is fascinating with his stories of a life at sea.  It was great.

Tomorrow we leave the ship and go for a stroll on the Greenland icecap and then fly to Toronto.  As I write this it is 10:45, the sun is still shining and we are cruising through a beautiful fjord.  It’s a good life.

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Saturday: Nuuk, Greenland

Friday night I stayed up late to watch the sunset and there were lots of whale spouts in the distance.  Very cool.  Saturday we came into the harbor at Nuuk, Greenland mid morning.   It was a very clear day with calm seas.  We got off the ship and onto a city tour.  There are about 50,000 people total living in Greenland and about 17,500 in Nuuk, which is the capital.  There is a mix of Danish and Greenland Inuit cultures.  Greenland has self rule, but when it comes to foreign policy and the courts system, the Denmark has control.  Most people live in apartments and as you look at the shapes and spaces, the store IKEA makes a lot more sense.

Our guide showed us both the new and historical areas.  Then Ali and I walked around, going to the mall (The largest mall in Greenland! (about 20 stores) and had a snack and coffee drink in a cafe.  We saw the Prime Minister’s house, which is right there, with no discernible security.  Nuuk seems a pretty quiet place.  It was Saturday, and a lot of stores were closed, but I do feel confident that I will be one of the only people in Arlington, VA that owns a Greenland shaped cookie cutter.

Back on the ship we had a nice dinner, sitting with the ship musician, Blair, and an older gentleman named Wilfred who had an accent that I couldn’t quite place, but it transpired that he was from Switzerland.  Alison and Blair were talking about guitars, and I asked Wilfred if he played an instrument.  He said he decided to take up an instrument in his later years and decided he wanted to honor his Swiss heritage.  At this point I raised my hand and said “please say you play the Alp Horn,” and he said “I play…the Alp Horn.  Awesome!

In the evening they had a whiskey label writing contest.  You were supposed to choose a place and write a label that incorporated the characteristics of the land and people into the description on the label.  I wanted to do something from the trip, so I entered the following for a whiskey  I said I had discovered Chef brewing in the galley:  Adventura Whiskey.  All the bolded parts are elements of our trip.

“O Can you taste the adventure?  You’ll never be lost at sea with Adventura Whiskey.  This 12 year vintage is cured in discarded zodiac pontoons.  Grains of the Canada plains are toasted over Labrador mesquite and then mixed with glacial water filtered through chert and Moravian brick.  Don’t touch it!  Everything remains untouched by human hands until a millennium has passed! You’ll reminisce about a wet landing as you splash your way through our boot shaped bottle.  You will taste early notes of maple and bakeapple, a midcourse scent of smoked Arctic char and a finishing note of cookies.  Each sip will bring newfound respect for the warmth and friendliness of this drink and you will need a sailor’s grip on your glass as you endeavor to consume the polar bear amount of excitement that each bottle holds. Don’t be afraid to start your day early with Adventura: the kick will have you saying “Good Morning, good morning!” We suggest adding ice as this will prolong the enjoyment. Strangers become friends while drinking Adventura Whiskey.”

And I won the contest!!!

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Friday: At Sea, Crossing the Davis Strait

Friday was spent with on board presentations, an arctic animal dinner and dance, and general relaxing and enjoying the calm seas and nice weather.  I went to France and Maria reading excerpts from France’s book about the Inuit who were taken to Europe to be exhibited.  France read the letters from the Europeans and Maria read Abraham, the Inuit’s diary, and it was very interesting and touching.

Some notes on our on board routines: Our cabin is on level four, near the mud room, which is very convenient, as we are right by our cabin after we take off boots and coats after an outing.  Up on level six is the Polaris Restaurant, the Nautilus Lounge, which holds the whole group and where our daily briefings take place, and in between these two is the Compass Lounge, which is a narrow lounge that runs in between the previous two locations.  There are books and comfy chairs there, and big windows.  I like it as a sitting spot.  It is also the location of the coffee and tea and bottomless cookie platter.  (On the galley tour we met the guy who makes the cookies and he got a round of applause.)  Additionally, tea with sandwiches and sweets is served most afternoons.  Also midmorning they bring our some consumme, in case we are faint from hunger, or chilled from an early outing.  There is surely no shortage of food on the ship!

There are other lounges on levels 7 and 9.  One of the passengers is a painter and has set up a little studio in the upper lounge.  The staff is very accommodating of such things.  All the lounges also have bars and during events the hotel staff offers drinks, and sometimes, snacks.  It might have been 30 minutes since the last meal, so you can never be too careful.

I know I might be using the terms staff and crew rather randomly, so let me clarify.  There is the Adventure Canada staff, who are the expedition leaders, responsible for all the outings and the educational components of the trip.  There is the hotel staff, supervised by Eckhart, and that consists of the wait staff, room stewards, and cooking staff, and also I assume the people I can’t see who must be doing the laundry etc.  Finally, there is the ship’s crew: the Captain and all the sailors, and those maintaining the ship.

When it is time to go out in the zodiacs, we are called by our color groups.  Ali and I are in the green group.  When called you go to the mudroom, put on your boots if it is a wet landing and of course, your life jacket.  These are not the big orange life jackets we would use for an emergency, but are smaller, one time use vests.  If you hit the water with one on, they would automatically inflate.  When you are ready one of the staff checks you and then sends you to the Zodiacs.  Where they ship meets the waterline they lower small gangways and the Zodiacs pull up.  The driver and two crew members on the gangway help you get in.  The rides to shore take from 10 to 20 minutes, depending how close the ship has been able to get.  When you get to shore, wet or dry landing, there are staff (ship’s crew I think) there to help you get out of the zodiac.  Then depending how much walking there is going to be and on the terrain, you might change out of your boots into the shoes you bring with you in a backpack.  After all the passengers are back, the ship’s crew uses a crane to lift the Zodiacs out of the water to the top of the ship where they are stacked for travel.

Got to see the sunset, beautiful open calm sea all around.  Sunset was at 11:15!  Long days up here in the Arctic!  There will be over 20 hours of sun tomorrow.

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Thursday: Ramah Bay and Zodiac Cruise

Early wakeup, discussion of seeing bears with Evans the waiter.  Trip on shore to Rama, another old mission.  Waterfall, tent circles, sod houses, lots of small flat rocks. Consumme, conversation, more info about the Moravians.

After lunch: Wildlife sighting, Polar bear in the water, then one sleeping on the land.  Skill in spotting black rocks that look like bears now transitions to spotting white rocks that look like bears. In the afternoon there was a zodiac cruise.  We all went out together.  11 people to a Zodiac, all zodiacs out at once and we moved quietly and together through the beautiful scenery and then eased up on a mama polar bear and two cubs.  A fair distance away, but I was able to see them through binoculars.  Mama bear definitely noticed us, for sure smelled us and probably saw the odd shapes on the water.  She kept an eye on us, but wasn’t disturbed enough to move on.  It was such a neat experience to be out on the water, it was very quiet and the water is very blue and clean, and the air is so fresh.  Really amazing experience.

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Wednesday: Hebron and St. John’s Harbor

An early wake up and Zodiac ride to Hebron. Hebron was another Moravian mission and Inuit village.  It was forcibly resettled in 1959.  Even though the village was self-sustaining the provincial government decided that it wasn’t sustainable.  The people who lived there were moved elsewhere. Some families were split and they weren’t always given the homes and job that they were promised. Maria an Inuit who is on the voyage had a grandmother who lived there and she talked about how painful the end of the settlement was.  At Hebron there is an apology monument, with not only the letter of apology from the government, but also a response from the Inuit that simply ends “We forgive you.”

It really is impressive how the Inuit, through peaceful means have gotten lands back under their control.  Nunavut and the Nunatsiavut territory of Labrador are new places (formed in the last 20 years or so) within Canada that are under the control of the native people.

At Hebron they are restoring the old Mission building and the Hudson Bay Company buildings.  Some of the men who work on the buildings were riding there with us on the ship.  They opened up the building that they have made stable, the old mission house.  We were able to walk through it.  There were piles of decorative tile and iron stove parts.  They were part of a radiant heat stove and the tile, and the bricks that were scattered throughout the site would have been brought from Europe and when I wondered about the weight, I was told they were used as ballast on the ship.

When we disembark in this region, there are bear monitors in orange vests who create a perimeter.  This time the perimeter was pretty big, encompassing all of the site and up to the ridge surrounding.  I wandered to the cemetery, and then over to where there are small houses that the restoration workers live in during the repair season.  Like other areas we have visited it was very boggy and there was a path of thin wooden planks to walk on, but I had left my ship boots on, so I just bogged along when the wooden path seemed a little rickety.

We went back to the ship and had lunch as the ship moved to St. John’s harbor, which is the base camp for the Torngats National Park.  The Torngats were established in 2006 as a result of land claims agreement with the Inuit.  The oldest rocks there are 3.9 billion years old!

There were various activity options from the epic hike up the side of a mountain, to the beach combers.  Ali and I went for beach combers and enjoyed poking around, looking at the streams and rocks.  There were many rocks that had cracks in them all the way through and you could tell if you touched them they would fall to pieces.  It’s possible I poked one and did a 1000 years’ work in busting it apart.

Billy, the artist had brought fishing tackle and he was fishing at the shore line.  He caught quite a number of Arctic Char and later Maria cleaned them and they were turned over to the chef.  It’s possible they will appear for eating at some point.

In the evening the Captain guided the ship through some narrow fjords to give us a closer view of the area.  Several black bears were spotted.  Tiny black dots, distinguishable because they were moving.  I spotted several bears that turned out to be only black rocks.  I’m not a natural naturalist, perhaps.

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Tuesday Night – Ashore at Cutthroat Island

Evening update: We made up some time and were able to spend a few hours on shore at Cutthroat island.  It was very cold, but nice to put our feet on the ground.  If you want to know where we are on a map, look on the eastern coast of Labrador, towards the top and look for Hebron.  That is where we will be tomorrow.  I also went on a tour of the bridge, and it was interesting to meet the captain and see all the instruments.  I’ve also signed up for a tour of the galley and I can’t wait to get to the bottom of the low sugar dessert mystery.

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Monday and Tuesday: At Sea

Matthew James shows us the ice charts every day, and though the plan Monday was to get to Hebron by 2, we had to turn south to go out to sea and go around a large portion of ice, so Monday morning we had a 28 hour journey to get to where we were going.  It was also very foggy out Monday, so the ship had to go pretty slow.  Now it’s Tuesday morning and the fog has cleared a little, but will still have about 8-10 hours to go.  Once we get their we will have to pick up the pace of our activities, so there might be some very early outings and very late outings.  The sun rises at 4:45 and sets at 10-something, so at least that gives us some extra time.

In the meantime, there are lots of presentations.  I went to one yesterday about marine plastics (it’s a problem, there are five huge islands of plastic out at sea,) a presentation from the artist about his process, and a presentation on the former settlement of Hebron.  There was also independence day crafting (I made a flag, but my favorite was the Scottish woman who made a little Uncle Sam in a kilt and tam) and for tea time there was an America Flag cake and later the American contingent sang the national anthem.  The day ended with a trivia quiz sponsored by Canadian Geographic and the only reason I didn’t get everything wrong was because I was on a team with three Canadians.  Many people think I am going to bring the magic because I am a geography teacher, but I tell them the geography teacher doesn’t keep it all in the head, she is just the one who can look it up the fastest.

Now, Tuesday, I joined the stretching group in the morning, and now am half listening to the presentation of geographic technology (GPS, GIS, etc.) and I am mulling over the idea of a mid morning nap.  Really wish I had brought some knitting with me!

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