Sunday, March 7, 2010



Up we are going! Further and further North…defying the gravity. Planes, trains, automobiles, more planes, that each time are getting just smaller and smaller... New York City – Moscow – Copenhagen – Kangerlussuaq – and finally Qaarsut with its 899m gravel runway. Qaarsut is our last stop before the Great Island of Uummannaq which according our multi-page tickets is our ultimate destination! But we already know that from now on Uummannaq will be our life-time journey, not a destination. 

Many people kept asking me in the last days: “How long is the way to Uummannaq?”Apparently, there is an easy answer to this question. Uummannaq lies six time zones behind Moscow, four time zones behind Copenhagen and Paris and two time zones ahead of New York and Washington DC. But this easy and straightforward answer, as pretty much everything is Greenland, may be confusing. Because it does not tell you that to get to Ummannaq from New York you first have to travel all the way to Europe and from there slowly make your way back to the North-West of Greenland which is a much slower way than the overnight trip across the Atlantic to the East. 

So, how long is the way to Uummannaq? You can say: it is 18 or more hours of flight from New York depending on your itinerary. Or you can say: it is only a 10 minute helicopter ride away from Qaarsut. But this also may be confusing. There are not too many buildings in Qaarsut but among them there is an mysterious structure named “Shelter for stranded passengers”. For how long can you be stranded in Qaarsut? Imaqa agaqu! 

Immaqa agaqu means “maybe tomorrow” in Greenlandic. And tomorrow people may say the same words again: Immaqa agaqu! And there is nothing wrong about it. Life is based here around the weather and other cycles of natural kingdom. Sometimes you have to wait a day, sometimes a week. You can’t really do too much about it. There is not sense to get mad, there is no reason to get upset. Besides, nothing will change if you do something a little bit slower, or faster. Things just have to be done, and they are always done, sooner or later.

So, how long? How far? How soon? These questions are irrelevant in Greenland. It is also very difficult to judge distances here because we are above tree line. There are no landmarks, there are no road signs, and very often there are no even footprints on the snow that give you the sense of a distance. Everything looks exactly the same, exactly like every other piece of ice for miles around. There's really no “there” here. 

And since there are no roads between cities and villages in Greenland, you always depend beyond the weather on the stranger. The stranger can give you a lift on boat or on a dog-sled. The stranger can make your life perfect or miserable. In the harsh environment of the Arctic you always depend on the stranger as much as the stranger can be dependant on you.

The best years of my life I spent in the Arctic travelling from village to village, from place to place relying on my Arctic hosts who always met me, a stranger, with open doors, arms and open hearts. I might have been lucky, but I never really was stranded in a bad way. My travel could go just a little bit slower, but by no means it was a tragedy. Things were always done in the end. So, if this night a friend calls me from New York and asks me again: “How long is the way to Uummannaq”, I will answer:” It is as long as the way from one heart to another.”

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