Friday, September 19, 2014

Latitude: 70˚67′N       Longitude: 52˚12′W
Speed: 5.8 knots         Wind: 1.1 Knots
Temperature: 3.2˚C (37.7˚F)

We were woken up at 01:00 hrs. by a quiet announcement that northern lights were visible. Many folks ignored the announcement, but a few keeners, including myself, bundle up to investigate the aurora borealis from the decks. It is a much better showing than the first one. We are in a somewhat lower latitude now, perhaps that is why. I sat at the picnic table on the top deck beside John from San Diego. He also took Michelle’s photo classes, and obviously learned more than as he successfully gets some good pics of the lights.


I carefully set up my mini tripod, to capture the prime aurora activity. My aperture is open for 30 seconds for optimum exposure, but the tripod keeps slowly collapsing under the weight of my camera, so that all A.borealis photos were blurry. The northern lights were pale green to the naked eye, but Michelle, photographing about ten feet away, captured purples and reds on her camera. My photos are less than stellar, and so, dejected, I take myself back to bed for a couple more hours.


Wakeup call at 06:30. We are anchored off Uummannaq, and have two shore landings today. At 08:00, the first zodiacs land in a secluded cove with high red cliffs, overlooking Uummannaq Island and icebergs floating in the bay between. We have arrived at a place where there was once a settlement called Qilakitsoq.  The ground here is covered in spongy grass hummocks. It is so much warmer for plants to grow here than on Baffin.


We climb up a rocky slope to a shallow overhanging rock where eight mummies were discovered in 1972. Latonia explains that the six women and two children buried behind the rock were mummified or desiccated by the arctic wind that blew through their grave.

We are back onboard the ship for lunch and a zodiac brings some children and adults from the Uummannaq Children’s Home, or orphanage, to join us for lunch.  The teenaged children, accompanied by a guitar, sing Greenlandic songs for us. The Children’s home is quite renowned for its music. They children are taught the El Sistema music program, which originated in Venezuela to teach impoverished children music.

After lunch, we make a shore landing at the little fishing village on the island of Uummannaq.  Uummannaq, meaning heart, refers to the imposing mountain with totally vertical sides that rises out of the center of the island. It looks more like a top hat than a heart though. Uummannaq, the village, is a colourful collection of houses built at the rocky base of the mountain.


We pull up to a dock and everyone wanders around town, visiting a little stone church, sod houses, the museum, and the blubber house. I am assigned to count our visitors to the museum, so we can pay appropriately as there is no staff there and it has been opened specifically for us. I don’t visit the yellow stuccoed blubber house, but am told later that on the second floor a life-size bowhead whale was constructed out of wire and strung with little white lights, which illuminated its massive shape.


I stopped a fellow to ask where the museum was, but he had just moved from Copenhagen the day before. He is the new town engineer. His first order of business is to figure out what to do with the dump. There is no room on the island. Figuring out where to put our garbage seems to be an issue the world over.

There are lots of dogs in the town.
1-IMG_3156-001 They are all tied up outdoors. We hear them. A cacophony of howling and yips, accompany our climb up the hill through the roughly paved streets to the Children’s Home. This is a lovely large wooden blue wood-sided house. It has a distinctly Scandinavian design. Little homemade donuts (timbit-style) and coffee have been set out for us in the main kitchen. Upstairs is a studio and an orchestra of children perform a fabulous concert, playing violins, and other stringed and wind instruments. Their wonderful music and talent is taking these children around Europe performing.

We return to the ship late afternoon. The ship weighs anchor and sails down the Greenland coast.

In honour of passing Disko Island during the night, we all dress up to jive and do the bus stop for Disco in Disko night. 1-P1130075The fashions trotted out for the event, however, are nothing that would’ve been seen at Studio 54 at the height of disco. Green wigs, oversize sunglasses, boas, baubles, even a souwester and gum rubber boots, are spotted on the dance floor, but there is no shortage of spandex. It was a most classy way to cap the day.


Inuktitut word of the day: aqsarniit  = northern lights


About Season Osborne

I am a writer with a love of Arctic history. After finding a photo of Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who claimed the Arctic for Canada in 1909, I was inspired to write my master’s thesis on Bernier’s contribution to Arctic sovereignty. This ultimately led to extensive research into Canadian and ‘foreign’ expeditions to the North, which morphed into my recent book, In the Shadow of the Pole: An Early History of Arctic Expeditions, 1871-1912.
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