Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Qaanaaq , northwest of Greenland, and the airbase named 'Thule'

This is almost a mythical place - for its location, for its history, for its remoteness.

Knud Rasmussen, the danish polar explorer and anthropologist, called Thule a little hut he built in an inuit hamlet by Mount Dundas, northweast Greenland, in 1910; it was the victorian era of great northern adventure, and the name ocurred to him naturally. He and Peter Freuchen founded here the first fur trading post in Greenland, which became a legendary base for his arctic expeditions.

The inuit settlement's name was Avannaa ; in 1953, its whole population was forced to move farther north, during the height of the Cold War, to give room for an American military Air Base that was also named ... Thule.

And so Qaanaaq was founded, in 1953, 130 Km to the north of Thule, as Greenland's most northern town and one of the northernmost towns in the world.

Population : ~ 650
Location: 77°28′N, 69°13′W

Qaanaaq represents one of the last frontiers: life there is hard, due to isolation, extreme cold, few resources and lack of commodities.

Most of the housing is the greenlandic model sent in timber kits from Denmark and painted in several strong colours.

Qaanaaq can be reached only by helicopter from Thule Air Base in about 45 minutes.

Qaanaaq airport is rather busy, as it is serves the northenmost comunity of Greenland, a large region around the town - the province of Avanersuaq

The temperature low is in February ( -29°C average, lowest -58°C) and the high is in June (+7ºC, highest 20º) . Temperature often falls to – 30 º.

The sea in front of the city is usually frozen most of the year, and opens only for some days in August, under 24 h summer daylight - intensive fishing is then the main business in town.

The inuit population never got used to relocation, and complaints of worse conditions (colder climate, fewer hunting…) then before, in Avannaa.

Drying fish stand

Qaanaaq's people are mainly fishers / hunters. They hunt by boat during the short summer period and by dogsled in the winter, mainly seals, narwhals and fish (halibut).

The hunter controls his harpoon.

In no other place in the arctic is it possible to find “Kayak men” hunting seal, whale and walrus with hand-thrown harpoons from an original Eskimo kayak.

Children learn the traditional inuit arts as part of their school curriculum.

Seal skin boots
Seal hunting is the most important source of income for a large part of the population.

The Pilersuisoq general store, the only place where to buy the goods of civilization.

The Qaanaaq Hotel

Qaanaaq is slowly becoming a modern community with hotel, shops and a post office, good schools, a gym and health center. Even a museum:

The Museum

Knud Ramussen´s original hut was moved to Qaanaaq, where it now serves as a museum.

Even before you enter the white house, you get a sense of Knud Rasmussen's historical presence.

He was born in Ilulissat, some thousand kilometers to the south, in an inuit environment, and was to become studious and friend of the Eskimo people. He learned their language and their arctic skills - dog-sledging in particular. Later he would also be the first to cross the Northwest Passage on dog-sledge, in a famous expedition when he reached Nome, the town in Alaska.

The house, dating from 1910, was the focal point in the trading post that Knud Rasmussen founded together with Peter Freuchen at the foot of the Dundas mountain 100 km south of Qaanaaq. It served as home base for a series of seven expeditios - the Thule Expeditions - between 1912 and 1933.

One of the pieces displayed is this meteorite, which is almost completely metallic (about 97% metal) and was for a long time the only source of metal for the Inuit.

Thule Meteor - a 48 kg meteorite found in 1955 in a nunatak east of Thule.


Thule Airport, an U.S. air base.

Wostenholme fjord was the site of the original inuit Avannaa settlement, at the foot of Mount Dundas. Three large glaciers flow into the fjord.

The flat top Mount Dundas and the airbase; three glaciers can be seen in the distance.

This is a large facility - the Base is equipped with 2 runways (3 km long) , 7 avenues, 19 streets, a 376 m. radio tower, telecommunications center, power plants, hospital, tennis courts, swimming pools, laundries, cinemas…

A city´s facilities for some 8000 US army personnel 

A memorial to Knud Rasmussen marks the place where he founded his 'Thule' trading station.

Today, the old part of the trade post, near Mount Dundas, is again accessible.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Arctic poems by Nancy Campbell
- The ONCA Gallery, Brighton -

I was recently in Brighton visiting the ONCA Gallery, where I was happy to find works by Nancy Campbell, who has been writing and posting about the far North for some time.

The ONCA Gallery, at St George's Place. The exhibition currently displayed is called Making Tracks.

I came only for Nancy's works; there were only two, but I was quite happy already for this chance:

The Night Hunter, a 'book' that unfolds in several panels, to be read suspended from above.

More about the book here.

The Suitcase Library

Little poems are written in a green leaf rolled into a jar: irresistible !

Nancy Campbell's poem inside one of them 

"Obituary", on a green rolled 'papyrus'.
What a privilege, in my hand

Visit Nancy's blog

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The '200 000' post :

Vík Í Mýrdal, south Iceland -
maybe 'twas there Pytheas lowered sails

Suppose that Iceland is the island Pytheas the greek sailor landed on and called Thule. Then suppose it was inhabited by happy and healthy people. At least it was extensively forested. In the late 12th century it was described as "forested from mountain to sea shore".

Where would he have harbored ? Probably, he reached the island from the south, and the most southern area of Iceland is around the village of Vík (Vík Í Mýrdal). How does it look like there ? Take a look.

Skógafoss waterfall

Vík in a sunny spring day

The hamlet, at the mouth of 'Vík' brook, near the black volcanic seashore.

Vík Í Mýrdal, in pristine icelandic landscape

Coordinates: 63°25′N 19°00′W

Population  ~ 300

The village of Vík (or Vík í Mýrdal ) is the southernmost village in Iceland, located on the main ring road around the island.

Despite its small size, it is the largest settlement for some 70 km around and an important staging post, thus indicated on road signs from a long distance away.

Some wooden houses in the town center - these even managed to grow small trees.

Deforestation in Iceland during the Little Ice Age and overgrazing by sheep caused a loss of topsoil due to erosion. A reforestation plan is now in course.

Halldór's café - in the year 1895, a merchant moved to Vik by ship ! Freshly baked bread, and permanent art exhibitions.

The village аnd the surrounding countryside аre іn constant danger оf a large flood resulting frоm а potential eruption of the dormant sub-glacial volcano Katla.

Katla is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes, and has on average erupted twice a century. The eruption would melt the glacier and cause a massive water torrent. The town's church, located high on a hill, is believed to be the only building that would survive such a flood .

Thus, the people of Vík practice periodic drills and are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.

The uphill Vík Church, like a sentinel over the large bay.

The sea around Vík is most of the time wild and stormy, waves cаn be big:

There is no land mass nearby to ease the Atlantic Ocean currents that hit the coast in full strength.

Offshore lie basalt stacks remnants of a once more extensive cliffline  now battered by the sea.

Dyrhólaey (Door Island) is Iceland's most southerly tip.

This unique rock arch is a 120m high promontory, a small peninsula, formerly known as Cape Portland by English seamen.

Many puffins nest on the cliff faces of Dyrhólaey.

The distinctive profile of this volcanic seashore, with sharp basalt cliffs and stacks and a wide panorama, makes it the most spectacular beach in Iceland, and in recent years touristic demand is increasing, though its stretch of black basalt sand is also one of the wettest places in Iceland.

Skógafoss, the most frequented attraction in Vík.

 Hotel Lundi

Centrally located in Vík

Icelandic appetizer at Lundi:


Well, this post is mere fiction. Pytheas could not mean Iceland when he wrote 'Thule' - because there was not even any agriculture there by the time he sailed to the unknown North. No honey, no nuts, no bread. Sorry. But Vík is a fabulous place anyhow, right ?

I've reached the 200000 visitors just minutes ago !! I'm soooo Happy !