Greenlandic R&B Artist Shares His Five Favorite Things

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When I visited Greenland two years ago, I had to drive a snowmobile for four hours from the town where I landed, Kangerlussuaq, to the small town of Sissimiut, my destination. Yup. It’s the standard mode of transportation in this frosty country. I also went dog sledding, skiing, and hunting for icebergs. (What else to do?) The highlight of my trip was when my snowmobile broke down on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere. I removed my helmet and absorbed the scenery, nothing but the magic white surrounding me. There was the sound of absolutely no sound, what locals call “roaring silence,” a thrilling emptiness that I imagine exists only in outer space and in Greenland. People do in fact live here. About 50,000, to be exact, including Juno, a native, emerging R&B/pop artist who lives in the capital city, Nuuk, and who just released an album. He’s easy on the eyes and knows Greenland better than I do. Here are Juno’s five musts if you ever make it out to the biggest island in the world.

Heli-skiing is off the chain The first thing I would do is go on a heli-skiing trip with Greenland Extreme. They have trips to different parts of Greenland, where you can experience heli-skiing or other adventure activities. Of course that’s extra money from your budget, but if it’s something you can afford I would definitely recommend doing it – it will be one of the most beautiful experiences you’ll ever have.    Admire the fjords in Ilulissat Another thing everyone should do when in Greenland is visit Ilulissat, “The iceberg town,” and have a tour around the area around the town. You should go there to experience the culture and see the amazing icebergs that surround the fjord in Ilulissat.   Experience whales migrating In Nuuk, you can partake in some whale-watching if you’re there at the right time of year. The best time to go is in the summer and into fall, from May to November. Whale watching is to me just so magical. We often see and hear them in the summer evenings when everything is quiet. Living right by the water, it’s so lovely to suddenly hear a whale swim by, blowing out air through its blow holes. I remember always running down close to the water and watching them swim closely by in the bay. When I was working on my demo for the album, it was inspiring to see them, and I would always feel full of stuff to write about after having that type of encounter. It makes you feel close to life.   Dog sledding is a staple An experience you also won’t want to miss out on is dog sledding from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq in the winter. Dogsleds are very common as a means of transportation. They are very unique to the Inuit lifestyle and definitely something you would always remember trying. Plus, it makes a great story for you to tell your friends, kids, and maybe future grandchildren. Also, when you’re in Kangerlussuaq, you can take a short trip to the inland ice – which is something you will want to do before global warming gets rid of all the ice!   Bathe in hot springs You can also go to Qaqortoq in the summer for a one day trip by boat to Uunartoq, near Nanortalik, to have a very exclusive experience. Here, you can go to hot springs and relax in the water while watching icebergs float by in the background! There are no tourists, maybe a local family in the area, tops, but it’s very relaxing and isn’t filled with tourists like many of the hot springs in Iceland. You just have to find a local in Qaqortoq who can take you by boat to the springs and back again when you’ve decided it’s time to get back to civilization.  

The Consequences of Global Warming on Greenland

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The unpopular, often overlooked silver lining to Al Gore’s Greenland-starring movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is that the people who live there are now beginning to enjoy their moment in the sun. The rapid thaw brought on by global warming means the country with the world’s lowest population density—0.067 people per square mile, as of 2009, as opposed to, say, Monaco’s 43,830.568—now has unbridled opportunities for agriculture, commercial fishing, mining, and oil exploration. The Arctic meltdown has opened up islanders’ access to oil, gas, and mineral resources that could give Greenland the power required to secure its financial and political independence from Denmark, under whose rule they’ve been since 1721. In a recent U.S. Geological Survey, it was suggested that Greenland’s coastal waters could hold anywhere from 16 to 47 billion barrels of oil, which could mean a staggering leap in income for its people.

While the BP clean-up continues in the Gulf of Mexico, another British company, Cairn Energy, has just begun a controversial oil exploration a few hundred miles to the north of Nuuk, the country’s capital. Targeting potential oil-fields roughly 125 miles offshore in the Davis Strait, known locally as “Iceberg Alley,” Cairn Energy has begun drilling the first wells in a new frontier operation. The Greenlandic government has no objections to Cairn’s actions (which include the deployment of a fleet of “ice-management” ships equipped to physically tow icebergs on a collision course with a rig site), despite both the U.S. and Canada halting new Arctic drilling following the BP disaster. While the so-called days of “easy oil” are long gone, Greenland’s apparent readiness to grant exploration permits is a godsend to the petrochemical industry.

Ella Grodem, who works for Tourism Greenland, says, “Whenever I come home to Nuuk the speed of change here amazes me.”

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“Do they serve seal here in a club sandwich?” I ask Grodem, half-joking, while seated in Manhattan, the only nightclub in the area. (A quick word here about alcoholism in Greenland: 24-hour sunlight occurs in this area from mid-May until mid-July, and, when paired with a largely transient workforce of foreigners, has created some scary stories about boozy excess and the spread of disease—HIV infection rates abound and are pretty much brushed under the carpet.)

This line of conversation continues as we board our helicopter—there are no trains and only one main road in Nuuk, where most of the countries 2,600 cars are driven—to Quqortoq for a chat with the Mayor Simon Simonsen, whose mind is on Leeds United FC. “I have a dream,” he says, but it has nothing to do with industry or expansion. “One day, I’ll be coaching Greenland in the FIFA World Cup. But for that to happen we have to grow grass on this rather barren dusty pitch you see in front of me.”

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The Arctic frontier is changing faster than anywhere else on Earth, and for Greenland it’s been spectacular but also fraught with teething problems—literally, as the reality of patchy transportation results in few patients scheduling regular dental check-ups.

Since June 2009, when Greenland assumed responsibility for self-government of judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources from Denmark, Greenlanders were for the first time recognized as a separate people under international law (although Denmark still maintains control of foreign affairs and defense matters). Denmark upholds its annual grant of 3.2 billion Danish krone, but as Greenland begins to collect revenues from its natural resources, the grant will gradually be reduced, marking a significant step toward complete independence from Danish rule. Greenlandic has also became the only official language of Greenland, replacing Danish, which was explained to me by a real-life witch, who later that night served restaurant patrons whale meat and homemade beer.

“I heard you asked for a club sandwich the other day,” she says, laughing, before passing over a plate of meat and a giant carving knife. She leans in and whispers, “Never cross a viking with a knife in their hand.”

Photography by Andy Threlfall