67°00′ N, 50°72′ W
08:00 hrs – Here we are, last morning of our Arctic Safari, anchored in Sondrestrom Fjord, 20 kms from Kangerlussuaq. Up on deck, the surrounding low mountains reach down to the water through mist. Small boats bob in the bay, and a larger cruise ship like ours is anchored here too.
Officials from the airport, customs officers, come on board to check passports and bags. Passengers on the first flight file down to the mudroom with their bags. Each passenger picks up their passport at the entrance, checks in with the airport official who tags their luggage. Then, as they pass through the other side of the mudroom, the crew takes their luggage to the gangway where it is put in a shipping container on a barge, transferred to a truck on shore, and taken to the airport. We won’t see our luggage again until we land in Toronto.
At 11:00, we staff head ashore. The passengers follow soon after. First, we are going on a tundra tour up the mountain on the other side of town. I’ve done this tour before. The buses are waiting at the wharf. This time there are tundra buggies with big wheels, not just greyhound-style buses.
I’m assigned to one of the tundra buggies. The passengers climb aboard through a door at the back. The driver tells me to sit in the front. I clamber up. There is a window behind my seat, between me and the passengers, so they can hear the driver’s commentary. Everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves. The buggy jolts off down the roughly paved road towards Kangerlussuaq.
The driver talks about the area as we bump along. The rocky hillsides we pass alongside are three billion years old. I can’t tell the difference between the old and younger rocks, but am amazed people can. The roadside is covered with low bushes and moss and grasses. The long fjord is beautiful, but the silt left by the receding glacier winds down the valley like a riverbed.
We drive through Kangerlussuaq, which was established as an American airbase in 1941, but sold to Greenland for $1 US in 1992. It now has a population of 1,000 during the summer and 700 in the winter. Surprisingly, the driver says it is ranked #2 in the world for having the most days of sun –300. Las Vegas is #1. However, today must be one of the 65 sunless days.
We cross over the rushing river on a wooden bridge that seems barely wide enough for two-way traffic. The buses stop and we all get out to peer over into the ravine at the silty gray water charging beneath us. There is no sidewalk or railing here. I find it a little nerve wracking– 200 people climb out of the buses and to look over the edge.
Then back in the buses to drive up the hillside. The roads are made of silt and there are no barriers along the edge. Just yellow oil barrels, joined by cable. The river valley drops off beside us. I’m not big on heights and this trip up the mountainside is always my least favourite part of the entire expedition.
The view at the top of the road is worth the trip up, though.
From here you can see the tops of the mountain peaks and off in the distance — the Greenland ice cap.
Johnny Issaluk got out of our tundra buggy with his drum and beat a haunting rhythm on the mountain top as the other buses arrived.
Everyone got out snapped photos for 20 minutes, and then back on the buses to head down to the airport. No muskox spotted, though our driver mentioned that the possibility of seeing them was high.
The buses dropped us off at the airport. And Jena and I go off to explore the little grocery store. Lots of jars with Danish labels.
Back in the airport, I buy two cups of tea and a danish for something like 450 kroners. I receive enough change from my $20 CAN to buy a bag of Haribo gummies for the plane.
At first it looks like I will land in Toronto in time to catch an 11:30 connection to Ottawa. But the planes coming from Canada with the Into the NWP folks are delayed.
I have a seat on the second plane with the rest of the staff, but because of a delay with the arrival of the first plane, our plane leaves first. But it takes off closer to 6:00 and so there is no longer a possibility of catching a connecting flight tonight.
Finally on board and airborne, flying westward to Terminal 3 at Toronto Pearson Airport. Amber is my seat mate.
We’ll overnight at a hotel near the airport. Tomorrow morning, Amber will catch a flight to Calgary and make her way home to Revelstoke. I’ll catch a plane home to Ottawa, in time to see my daughter’s soccer game.
As we fly over the ethereal clouds into the setting sun, I reflect on the last two weeks. We didn’t get to all the places we thought we would, but that’s Arctic travel. You go where the weather and ice dictates and enjoy the adventure. Without a doubt, this was an exceptional one. I highly recommend it.