ABOARD SEA SPIRIT-Today we not only cross the Arctic Circle, we visit Sisimiut, Greenland’s second largest town – population of 5,600 – and the northernmost one not socked in by ice in the winter.
Bettina, the Greenland expert of the Expedition team, has prepared us well. We know not to build or alter cairns (rock piles) as they are signposts during high snow or to approach or pet Greenlandic dogs without their owner’s permission. These husky-like hounds known for their endurance are working dogs very close to feral and can be dangerous. This is a hunting culture so leave any PETA-like sentiments on the ship.
After lunch we donned Arctic gear and “boarded” zodiacs for the short motor into town.
On a gray overcast day, Sisimiut is a visual delight with bright colored houses scattered from harbor to hills beyond. Most are wooden and imported from Denmark; Greenland has no wood. Not much in the way of streets or grids either. Reaching a specific building can be a challenge.
Fortunately that isn’t a problem at the historical complex of old town, a museum, church and sod house, probably the oldest building in town. Most of us paused to snap pictures under the whale jaw at the entrance, but few gave the individual structures more than a cursory glance.
Not so my friend and I who found them fascinating, especially the bright blue Bethel Church, the oldest in Greenland , consecrated in1775. Inside it was a pristine white with a video display box on either side of the aisle. To the left, an Inuit shaman, to the right a protestant missionary (presumable Lutheran). Beneath each image a series of the same questions and buttons to push for each to answer. It is well worth your pushing, listening and, in the case of the missionary, laughing. It is truly a miracle that Christianity ever took hold here.
“Best time I ever had in church,” said a Danish photographer.
The Sisimiut Workshop of Arts was another worthwhile stop. Women’s handicrafts were primarily devoted to bead and needlework; the men’s on carving. After watching a craftsman paint the pads on the foot of a polar bear he had finished carving from reindeer horn, I couldn’t resist bringing home the necklace the bear hung from.
Once all were back aboard, a local Inuit put on a demonstration of the many ways to flip and right a kayak. As we watched from the deck, he rolled and righted over and over and over and over. The variations seemed endless and were based on where and how he held the paddle. We were cold in our jackets and shivered at the thought of how he must feel in those frigid waters. It was a remarkable display but by the time he finished it was too painful to enjoy.