When we step off the Zodiac, it feels as though each of Nanortalik’s 1400 residents has come out to greet us. Children run and wave and flirt, giggling, tempting their new visitors to come and play. My roommates are swept away by two small boys to tour their school and play soccer. Young men nod at us. Older men and women smile openly and say, “Welcome to Greenland!” I am instantly in love with it all.
These are my first steps on Greenland. Eastern Greenland, unapproachable due to its thick pack ice that our captains were not able to forge, left us on National Geographic/Lindblad Expedition’s Explorer an extra day and I was sad to have missed my chance to see polar bears and the vast wildness of the eastern coast.
But any disappointment was washed away when we woke up, anchored in the Tasermiut Fjord, to lay eyes on magical Nanortalik–a burst of colorful buildings dwarfed by magnificent, Teton-esque mountains. “Bergy bits”–small icebergs–floated throughout the fjord, and my heart climbed up into my throat.
Now on shore, my new friend, Sue, and I walk through town, seeking out a path to those beckoning mountains. We pass fishing boats, red and yellow clapboard houses, and a church where a mother has left her baby in the carriage outside to bathe in some of the unseasonably warm air. We are torn–there is a museum, a choir singing in the church, and a folk dance taking place for us, the rare guests. But those mountains. Oh, those mountains. Their sharp curves lure and we are helpless in their presence.
We walk up past the school and through fields of cottongrass–tiny Arctic fluffs of flowers that feel unexpectedly firm to the touch. The village starts to slip behind us and we find, as we would come to discover at each stop in Greenland, there is always a trail out of town. We find ourselves passing between two slopes of granite, a trail well-worn. Our legs burn as we start the climb up, a welcome sensation after sailing for three straight days, and we pick up our pace, anxious to get further, faster. Sue stops to take pictures of the microscopic–small flowers, lichen, rocks, birds. She is engrossed in the beautiful small details. I, however, have brought nothing with me but my wide lens. I always have my eyes on the horizon and can’t tear myself away from the sky, the deep hues of green, and the sheer magnificence of a world that stretches in such unusual ways. I love the big of it all.
We hike through a pass and the world opens in front of us to the next fjord over. A laugh emits from deep inside because this is absurdly beautiful. Impossibly sharp ragged peaks pierce pieces of clouds. The settling mist blends into the fjord, spotted with spectacularly white icebergs, and I can’t tell where one horizon ends and where another begins.
A gregariously friendly Czech man appears out of nowhere, his breathing heavy from his climb. “I’ve come from the next town over,” he exclaims. “And what you see here is nothing to what lies ahead. Keep going–it only takes a few hours.” Sue and I look longingly down the trail and walk for a while more. We do not have a full day to hike to the next town, but we pretend, for just a few moments that we can go forever. “Let’s just see what’s around that corner…” becomes a common phrase and I begin to wonder what would happen if we just stayed out here. I fantasize about running to the next town. I wonder how I would get home.
Logic gets the best of us, and after a few miles, we force our legs to turn back. As we come back up through the pass, Nanortalik lays at our feet and I am stopped in wonder, the fjords and mountains pulling me in one direction, the town and people in another.
The air is crisp like a spring day as we make our way back through. We pass a cemetery, some children, and more friendly people. We make our way to the museum, hoping to squeeze a short visit in, only to arrive to it being closed. A gentle man with a wide smile approaches us and, in broken English, informs us that he is the museum caretaker and his name is Davey Christopherson. When he sees our disappointment that we have come outside of regular hours, he insists on taking us on our own personal tour. He is small–smaller than me–but teaches us how to say hello in Greenlandic (kutaa), how to say goodbye (Ajunnginniarna) and then, for no other
reason but frivolity and joy, how to say I love you (Asavakkit). He brings us into a low-ceilinged turf house and proudly has us run our hands along seal skin blankets.
He locks the door behind him and waves as we head back to the docks to meet up with the rest of the group, smiling and calling out goodbyes.
We walk in silence, enjoying the last embraces of icebergs that float next to hanging laundry, mountains that swallow you whole, and people who wear welcoming smiles on their faces. We have stepped onto Greenland for the first time, and are in love with it all.
And as we depart, I can’t help but blow a kiss and say, Ajunnginniarna, Greenland. Asavakkit, my dear.