Nuuk, February 2018

After my extended stay in Amsterdam, I flew into Iceland for a day before heading out again into even lesser known territory: Greenland. I do not know of many people who have been to Greenland, and I wanted to be one of the few who had. Going in February was a bit of a risk because flights to Nuuk from Reykjavik and back were only scheduled twice a week and I did not want to get stuck in Greenland due to a snowstorm. But, I wanted to see Greenland at its most extreme, and that would mean going in winter. The other draw, of course, was acquiring a Greenland tattoo, and luckily for me, Nuuk had the only professional tattoo shop in the whole country. I contacted the shop well before I booked my trip, to make sure that they would be open and have a working artist on the days I was planning to visit. They confirmed that they likely would, because the artist was going to be flying in sometime in January. That sounded a little risky, but the whole trip sounded like a risk, and it was one I was willing to take. The roundtrip flight to Nuuk cost about $900, but again, to see Greenland, it all seemed worth it.

The flight to Nuuk was a little scary. It was on a small propeller plane and the trip was about three and a half hours. When we were about to land in Nuuk, it seemed like we were stalled in the air and waiting for something. The plane was not moving as far as I could tell. But after fifteen minutes, I could see that we were moving again and we finally landed safely. My hotel was supposed to send a car for me, but there was nobody waiting for me at the small airport. I called the hotel and they apologetically sent me a taxi, which came really quickly. My hotel was a bit outside of the small downtown area, but it was near the water, which was lovely. My room was tiny and had no private bathroom, and I was surprised to discover there were no bars in the place as it was a missionary style, nonprofit hotel, with a strict no alcohol rule. Its purpose was to provide affordable rooms for young Danes that might want to visit their constituent country of Greenland. That night I was happy to stay in and sleep off the stress of the past couple of days.

The next morning I got ready for my trek into town and my tattoo appointment. As it was quite cold, I layered up various thermal undergarments and sweaters and wool socks knitted for me by my mom. I had a Canada Goose coat, thankfully, that was intended for this climate, and all cozy and packed in, I walked the mile into the main strip. They had just had a fierce snowstorm so the snow was piled high around the streets and buildings. The houses and many of the buildings were covered in colorful wood, but were simply designed. I definitely felt like I was in another world. The snow covered the sidewalks, but the streets were well paved and fairly wide and there were other people walking as well, so I did not feel odd doing so. The cars and trucks drove very fast, however, which was surprising given the cold and slippery conditions.

I first went to the post office to one of the three ATMs in town to grab some cash for the tattoo. I had some time before the shop opened and I had been on the hunt for some seal mittens so I went into a shop with Inuit art and clothing. I found mittens I liked and happily bought them, knowing my hands would never be cold again. I visited the grocery store, which was full of Danish products, which was no surprise, but what was surprising was their advertising flowers and gifts for Valentine’s Day. I then went over to CB Tattoo for my appointment and met the receptionist, who had been communicating with me with many a smiley face over Facebook messenger. He was young and Danish and very enthusiastic. He talked about the clubbing scene in Nuuk, where apparently many a young Dane go. I asked about regular bars and he told me of a couple, including some that were more frequented by Greenlanders, but he did not venture into those as they did not always take kindly to Danes. The artist, Jones, was also Danish, and more into health and fitness than the clubs, although he used to own one. He had only been in town for a couple of weeks and would be staying for a month or so until he returned back to his shop in Copenhagen.

I told Jones my idea for the Greenland tattoo, which was a polar bear, Greenland’s national animal. I thought that if I could not find an artist in Greenland, I would be able to hand-poke a little polar bear face onto myself, but luckily I found someone to do the entire body. Because I was going to get the rest of my buttocks filled in with northern lights in Iceland, I wanted the polar bear to be just at the bottom of my butt cheek so that he would look like he was standing with the northern lights above his head. I was wanting the head to get tucked into a perfect little spot, to fill in as much of the free space as possible. Jones drew up the bear while I waited and then we placed it and off he went. We had a really nice conversation about tattooing and traveling and I received some pointers on how to deal with bad or weird clients by listening to some of Jones’s experiences.

After the tattoo, the guys recommended I have lunch across the street at a Thai food place, but it was closed, so I went over to the main hotel in town, Hotel Hans Egede, and found a nearly empty restaurant with some Greenlandic food. I tried whale skin, muskox, and seal that day, and no longer felt bad about buying the seal gloves. I also discovered that they like dousing their fish in thousand island dressing, which was a little strange to me and not very appetizing. Because the next day I would be going snowshoeing and it was supposed to be -7°F, I was concerned I did not have proper attire and so I went shopping in their many outdoor sports shops. I found some snow-pants on sale and bought them, even though they were purple. Everything was quite pricey in Greenland and I was happy to pay half price for something I needed, even if it was not in a color I wanted. I went back to my hotel to change for the evening, and then ventured back over to the bar at the main hotel, which was recommended to me by the tattoo shop receptionist. It was a piano lounge on the top floor. The piano man came over and chatted with me. It turned out he was from Georgia and in Nuuk working on his PhD. He was studying the effects of technology on the people in Nuuk, specifically the Inuit population. I had a couple of beers in a rather empty bar, listened to the piano man play some songs about Chicago, and then went back to my hotel before they locked the doors on me.

The next day I walked over to Tupilak Travel to get suited up for my snowshoe hike up a mountain. It was extremely cold, so I wore extra layers and found that I was really hot and sweaty walking over to the travel shop. The guide, who was from Barcelona, saw what I had on and suggested I take a couple layers off, which I gladly did. He then fitted me with a balaclava, facemask, gloves, goggles, and ski boots, as well as snowshoes. He was worried about the cold and took a lot of care to make sure I did not have any exposed skin. We drove up to the ski slopes because they were not open yet and in that temperature, it was the fastest way up the mountain. When we put all of the gear on before venturing up, I found it to be extremely uncomfortable. I could not breathe with the mask and was fogging up my goggles in a panic so much so that I could not see. I took the goggles off, but the guide was nervous about me getting frostbite and said that we would not be able to continue unless I wore them. So I suffered through because I was determined to make it all the way up the mountain.

As for the snowshoes, they were difficult to walk in at first, but I got the hang of it, and the ski poles helped keep my balance, although I did accidentally cross my feet over at one point, got stuck, and fell over. I followed closely behind the guide, who did not want to stop too often because of the temperature. He was impressed by my fitness level at being able to keep up, although I faltered near the top and lagged behind a little. I was panting heavily, and with the face mask covering my nose and mouth, it was difficult to breathe. But, I made it, and I was quite proud of myself for doing so. We had a rest at the top and took photos and had some hot chocolate. The way down was much easier and faster and the guide was surprised I had never gone skiing before. I was clearly not afraid of heights or speed, but really I just wanted to get off the mountain and be free of my coverings. On the way back to the travel shop, my guide offered to take me out again the next day on a different route, and I agreed, still high from my triumph on the mountain.

I did a little more shopping for Inuit art after my hike and found some earrings carved from narwhal tusk. It excited me to own a piece of the unicorns of the ocean. The woman at the shop would not sell them to me, however, because it was illegal to import narwhal ivory into the United States. I did not think anyone would know whether the earrings were made from shell or bone or antler or ivory, but I sadly left them behind. I went back to Hotel Hans Egede for another quiet lunch in an empty restaurant. This time I opted for steak tartare with horseradish and egg, which was actually cooked, and very satisfying. My waiter that day was quite attractive, and he did not have anyone else to attend to, so we chatted quite a bit about Nuuk and traveling and tattoos, among other things. He was Danish and training to be a police officer in Nuuk, which seemed like one of the safer places to be a cop. He told me that there was actually quite a bit of violence in Nuuk and sexual abuse of young girls, which was really sad to hear about such a beautiful place. But it being isolated and with not much to do, boredom breeds violence. I had also learned that there is a huge alcoholism problem in Nuuk and they stop selling liquor in shops after 2 p.m.

I left the restaurant, without having a chance to say goodbye to the waiter, or even learn his name, but he had disappeared on me and with my beer glass emptied and my bill signed, I left. I did see him as the elevator doors were closing and I considered going back up, but felt silly, and went back to my hotel. I changed and relaxed a bit before I was to go on a boat tour of the northern lights that night. It had been a clear day, so there was a good chance of seeing them, but the travel agency called me to tell me the tour was canceled because it became too cloudy. I was disappointed, but slightly excited to go out that night and maybe run into the waiter again, so I left my hotel to go back to town. As I walked out, I looked up and saw a faint glimpse of a green stripe in the sky. It was my first sighting ever in my life of the northern lights. At that moment, my phone rang again and the boat tour was back on. So I put on some warmer clothes and made my way to the dock.

The boat was really small and there were only five of us on it. When it entered the dark waters, we were surrounded by broken ice. The water was really choppy as we traveled around the fjords looking for the lights, and at one point, I was scared we were going to tip over into the icy water. I was told, however, that the water steams because it is actually warmer than the air and fisherman sometimes dip their bare hands into the water to warm them up. So maybe it would not have been that bad of a dip considering how cold we were on the boat. We made a couple of stops to take photos, but the lights were so dim that they did not show up. I did see a green glow and I now know they truly do exist, but I did not see the light show that I was expecting. Hopefully I would have a chance to see them when I was back in Iceland. When the boat returned to shore, I went back to my hotel and to my bed. I was cold from the boat ride and starting to feel like I was coming down with something.

The next morning, I was indeed sick. I woke up congested and with a cough. Thinking back to how I could not breathe the day before on the snowshoe hike and how miserable I was on it, I decided to cancel my arrangement with the guide and not go on the second hike. Instead, I walked around the lovely village of Nuuk, which I had not yet had a chance to see. I walked amongst the colorful houses of the Danish settlers and along the shore and enjoyed the crisp, fresh air. There were also ravens everywhere. I visited the mall in Nuuk, which was two stories and had about a dozen stores. I found another shop selling Inuit-made items and bought some Greenlandic wool for my mom. I found another pair of narwhal earrings and bought them without any word of caution from the seller. Unfortunately, my illegal activities were not meant to be, as I failed to pack them into my suitcase before I left and probably threw them away with the bag.

I went back to the main hotel for lunch again, but did not see the waiter from the day before. I had a lunch of fish, which was again doused in thousand island. I did not feel all that well afterwards, but it was my last day in Nuuk and I wanted to make the most of it. I went to Daddy’s, a bar recommended by all the Danes, and met yet another attractive Dane who was bartending. This trip was really making me want to go to Denmark. I sat there for a while and had a few beers before returning to my hotel and grabbing a taxi to the airport. After sitting at the airport for an hour, I was told that the flight had been canceled, and that they did not know when we would be leaving Nuuk. This was exactly what I had been afraid of when booking my trip. I had to cancel my day tour in Iceland the next day and had no chance of rescheduling it. Fortunately, the airline was putting us up for the night, and at Hotel Hans Egede, which was nice. Unfortunately, the fish from that afternoon did not settle well, and as soon as I got to my room, I became violently ill and could not move from my bed. It was a very upsetting evening as I felt I had missed out on so much.

The next day I was able to fly out, and left Nuuk behind. I really enjoyed my brief time there. I met a number of interesting people and had some really nice conversations. People were really friendly and willing to share their stories, as well as listen to mine. After all, not many people venture to Greenland in the middle of February just for a visit. Thinking back on my favorite encounters, I contacted the hotel and asked them to put me in touch with the waiter I met and we are now Facebook friends. When we venture out into this great big world, it becomes just a little bit smaller thanks to all the people we meet. As for my Greenland tattoo, I think it is a sweet memento of the trip. It looks like a polar bear in the snow, as it is lightly rendered. The head resembles a weasel more than a polar bear, I think, but I can have that reworked if it really bothers me. Otherwise, with the northern lights that I acquired later, it makes for a nice Arctic piece on my butt.

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