Arctic Trip Journal
Ann Conway, IAS Board Member
Heart of the Arctic Trip
DAY 1 - Ottawa to Kangerlussuaq
It was the old story of hurry up and wait. We had to get up before the sun to have our bags picked up then wait around for the bus to take the people to the airport for the charter flight, which was delayed. We finally got under way and had a smooth flight with a touch down to refuel. While stopped for gas our two enter- tainers treated us to a preview of the music we would hear during the next ten days.
We set down in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and immediately hopped on a bus to the “marina” to pick up the ship. There was a cargo vessel unloading by barge one container at a time and the tide was low so that the ship was standing off and we were transported by zodiac to the ship. This is also how our luggage and food supplies found their way to the ship also.
Once aboard and cabins were assigned we wondered about to get the feel of the ship and location of important things like the dinning room and bar. It had been a long day and everyone was glad to turn in, but no sooner had we started getting ready for bed when the overhead speakers alerted us to a welcoming display of the Northern Lights. They lasted a long time and this tired soul could not resist staying up and watching them in all of their changing glory.
Day 2 - Sisimiut
We woke up to the “good morning, good morning, good morning” that was to be our alarm clock for the rest of the trip and found that we were approaching Sisimuit, Greenland, our first off the ship stop. When we arrived we were treated to rocky shoreline and very colorful buildings adorning the rocks. It was a dry landing. We deposited our life jackets at the landing site and started to climb the hill to get into town passing the harbor, warehouses and fishing gear to get there.
There was a lot to see and not enough time to take it all in and each had to make a choice. Some went for a hike, others wondered through town, some stayed in the harbor area and visited a craft workshop where there were carvers working in antler, ivory and baleen. There was also a kayak demonstration in the harbor area that attracted a lot of the ship’s guests.
The afternoon was busy with lectures on polar bears and safety issues, lifeboat drills, eating and a recap of the day.
DAY 3 - Ilulissat
The day started out after breakfast with views of a couple of humpback whales whose visit was so brief that only those on deck when they were first sighted got to see them.
We were also in waters dotted heavily with large pieces of ice. Depending on size, they are either considered full blown icebergs or just “growlers”. Zodiacs were deployed and off we went to move among them. One small piece was blood stained. A hunter had probably taken a seal. The icebergs came from one of the fastest moving glaciers at the top of the fjord. This glacier may very well have been the source of the berg that sank the Titanic.
There was a river of ice flowing at great speed, which was dangerous to the zodiacs as it could close up our exit route at any time. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. While out among the bits and growlers we picked up some clear, very old ice to use in our evening drinks. Just think --- ten thousand year old ice in 12-year old scotch! Where else but above the Arctic Circle.
Strangely enough we later had fresh seal to offer the Inuit that were on board. We could take a taste if we wanted. It was raw, sweet and tender. The blubber was a bit chewy but it has more vitamin C than an orange. We also saw local fishermen using a jig line to bring in a nice catch of halibut.
We returned to the ship, warmed up, had something to eat and were entertained by MaryAnn and Daniel. Following the warm up, we then went ashore to visit the town of Ilulissat. Some hiked out on the tundra and visited remains of Inuit houses that were five to six centuries old. We also got a different view of the Ice Fjord. This location has been declared a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO. Others explored the town and visited Susan’s shop. Back aboard ship, we were entertained by Bob McGhee to a satire on places that live in the imagination. This was followed by an Inuit welcoming ceremony by Aaju, Jolly, Kananginak, and John Huston. Included in the ceremony were songs and lighting of the kudlik.
Day 4 – Cape Dyer
We crossed the Davis Straight during the night and woke to 360 degrees of horizon. We were well on our way to Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. We had lectures by Angus Hamilton on his early work of mapping the Arctic with Canada’s Geodetic Survey. This was followed by a discussion on the Inuit justice system, which was interrupted by sighting of Minke whales and the horizon now edged with Baffin Island. The panel presented an overview of the two cultures’ (Canadian and Inuit) approach to justice and to this listener they were diametrically opposite.
In the afternoon we were off to Cape Dyer and an announcement regarding a pod of Orca whales off of the bow. The room quickly emptied as we ran for jackets and cameras. We were treated to at least 30 minutes of their company. There were about seven or eight members to the pod –a huge male, a younger male, several females and calves of various sizes.
After this treat we went back to the lounge to finish the concert and hear David Reid’s discussion on life in Pond Inlet, his home. This was followed by a presentation from Terry Tarnow about weaving and its presence in Pangnirtung. After this John Huston discussed and showed the film “Stories in Stone” which is biographical and focuses on his mother.
DAY 5 - Pangnirtung
We arrived and dropped anchor well off the shore as it was low tide. It was a wet landing and we were all glad for our Wellies. The hike into town was up hill and the scenery included a small boy throwing stones into the tidal pool. Some things, like small boys, stones and water, transcend cultural differences.
In town there was the co-operative that supported the weaving, carving, and printing of the village. There was also the knitting guild that made the renowned Pang hats. With a large number of passengers in the building, shopping was almost an Olympic event. There were several artists present in the print area. There was a hike led by photographer Dennis Minty out on the tundra, which was dressed up in all of its autumn finery including the presence of blue and crow berries. The cultural center also treated us to tea and freshly baked bannock. Met three young girls and their mothers on the road as I was returning to the zodiac pick-up point. I gave them hats and they agreed to have their picture taken.
Upon our return to the ship we had tea and listened to Susan Evans of the World Wildlife Fund discuss their work in the Arctic region. After dinner we had the usual recap of the day followed by Gerald McMaster of the Art Gallery of Ontario who discussed a new gallery where Inuit, First Peoples and Western art share space.
DAY 6 – Monumental Island
Woke up to a balmy 38 degrees F. and an announcement that we were behind schedule due to winds and tidal currants. Our morning then went to Plan B. We were treated to a lecture on polar bears, their behavior, preservation and how climate change is affecting them by Kananginak and David Reid. This was followed by a satirical lecture by Bob McGhee who linked sixteenth century Frobisher ventures to this specific area and ancient mysteries. It was a wonderful tongue-in-cheek use of 30 minutes. We were close to Monumental Island, so the zodiacs were deployed and off we went to see if we could sight walrus, which frequent this island. We saw some wonderful rock formations, sunny skies and a surprising appearance of polar bears looking for lunch (probably why there weren’t seal or walrus about).
The afternoon was filled by a language lesson in Inuktituk by John Houston and Aaju. This was followed by Carol Heppenstall lecture on 50 years of print making in Cape Dorset. It added to our anticipation of visiting this community. Seas got bumpy around dinnertime and there were a lot of empty seats. Those of us not affected by the motion had a grand sing along led by MaryAnn and Daniel.
DAY 7 – Kimmirut
Woke up to light fog as we were still traveling along the south coast of Baffin Island. After breakfast there was a lecture by Gerald McMaster on native peoples which extended beyond just the Inuit. We entered the Kimmirut Fjord, which was long and narrow with a burst of sunshine at the end. Once anchored, we disembarked by zodiac to a wet landing. We were greeted by townsfolk who wanted to guide us around the village. I had forgotten my money so made a return trip to retrieve it and traveled back with the hockey equipment that was going to be gifted to the community. I was assigned a guide and off we went.
First to the Northern Store at my request and then we toured the village. Made a stop at the school where there was a gathering. They demonstrated “Northern Games” all of which have to do with hunting or survival in the Arctic. They did the high kick, seal/knuckle walk, and arm-carry. This was followed by throat singing and drum dancing.
The hockey gear was presented and pictures taken, then the music broke out and there was dancing and visiting among passengers and villagers. After this celebration we went outside to a tent-like structure where some of the village women were cleaning a sealskin and frying up some bannock. Samples were quickly eaten up. Outside the tent was a fresh killed seal. A master hunter had brought it in for demonstration of how they skin and distribute meat. He made quick work of releasing the skin from the carcass. You could tell he had done this many times.
Samples of meat, heart, and liver were offered and accepted by many of visitors. On returning to the ship we had some of the villagers as guests. Tea was served and music played as folks sang and visited. Later in the afternoon as we were on our way, John Houston talked about the Inuit concepts of space and time. They are more practical in naming a place as it needs to have something to do with hunting or safety. An example might be “Many Bear Place”. This is in contrast to how the white man (or European) would name it, which would most likely be after a benefactor or person. An example might be “Prince Leopold Island”. It was an interesting insight into both communities.
Dinner was the usual tasty selections and was followed by the day’s update. There was a scotch label-writing contest to which both crew and passengers could contribute. The evening was capped of with a movie by John Houston that focused on his father.
DAY 8 – Cape Dorset (Kinngait)
In the morning we were still moving west toward Cape Dorset under cloudy skies. The time was passed by listening to a panel discussion and a question and answer period about the formation of Nunavut and in what direction it might evolve. The strongest point made was that it was created without confrontation or violence, but through communication and consensus. (Sounds like the rest of the world needs to learn from the Inuit.) Susan Evans talked about climate change. This was followed by Dennis Minty, the ship’s photographer, giving us hints on composition and content for our picture taking.
After lunch we anchored at Cape Dorset and disembarked via zodiac. We were greeted by guides, so we would not get lost in this large village of 1600. We walked thru the streets and up to overlooks. We went to the co-op art studio and to the community center. At the community center the ship’s galley crew had set up a barbecue of fish and hot dogs, a rare treat for the kids in Cape Dorset.
Inside there was music, throat singing by two young girls and by two well established elders who had been singing together for many years. We were honored with Kenojuak’s presence at our party. There was the presentation of hockey gear along with cake for the 50th anniversary of print making by the co-op.
It was early evening when we made our way back to the beach to return to the ship. The bay coast line in the deep twilight with lights on in the homes certainly showed us where Kananginak got his inspiration for his recent print.
DAY 9 – Kangiqsujuaq
The morning found us at sea heading for Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik on the northern shore of Quebec. Time was filled with a talk on Inuit history by Bob McGhee and a bazaar of artwork, movies, clothing and craft goods. This was followed by a very passionate talk on Inuit sealing, the anti-sealing movement and its economic impact on the Inuit world. After lunch we were able to go ashore. We walked about and ended up in the community center where we were entertained by throat singers, speeches and an interview with an elder. There were local treats and tea. One of the treats was a mixture of berries, fish eggs and oil (seal?). It was served cold and was reminiscent of blueberry ice cream. It was very good. I went back for seconds only to find it all gone!!!
After all this, the afternoon was topped off with an indoor soccer match between the ship and the locals. The locals won on a penalty point. According to the ship’s historian, it was the best the ship (crew and passengers) have ever done. After a bumpy ride back to the ship and a good hot meal, those still awake were treated to the Houston movie, “The Diet of Souls”.
DAY 10 –Akpatok Island
When we woke up we found out that tides and currents were playing havoc with the schedule again. So the afternoon panel discussion was moved to the morning. It was interrupted by the announcement that bears were on the beach at Akpatok. So off we went to grab jackets, boots, and cameras. The line-up for the zodiac was long. The zodiacs paralleled the shoreline and followed the bears. The beach had sea on one side and 100-meter high cliffs on the other with only a few places to get to the interior of the island. A mother and yearling cub quickly found an escape route from prying, excited eyes.
We Watched the remainder of the bears for a bit then went up the coast to admire waterfalls that were more like snowfalls as the mist quickly transformed to snow or ice. We did get out on one stretch of beach well away from the bears to stretch our legs and look for fossils as this was a limestone rock formation.
After a bumpy and wet ride back to the ship, we had the long awaited Arctic dip. Several jumped into the water from the bridge deck (five levels off of the water). Those of us that were not quite so crazy went in off the loading platform. Either way it was cold. The warm towels and shot of vodka helped to warm us back up. Both Janet and I were among those who took the plunge.
The evening was the Captain’s farewell dinner and lecture on what to do when in the morning for our final departure from the ship.
DAY 11 – Kuujjuaq
The last day and we were greeted by the sight of trees for the first time since we left Ottawa. We had a long, bumpy, wet ride into shore. The wind and tidal current made the anchorage distant from the harbor and the zodiacs had to battle the wind and out-going tide to get us and our gear to shore. It was an Arctic finish to the trip.
Our plane awaited to transport us back to our reality. But one is left asking oneself, “What is the true reality?”. I have a feeling more than one of us will be back to this beautiful reality north of the Arctic Circle.
Join Mailing List
Learnings from the Top of the Worlds
October 24-28, 2012
» Learn More
Modern Inuit Carvings
Through early fall 2012
» Learn More