We visit a small village in Greenland named Qaqortoq…hard to pronounce but easy to appreciate

September 22, 2011

QAQORTOQ, Greenland – Today we visited a small village on the southwestern coast of Greenland. It is pronounced something like “KAK-or-TOCK.” Founded in 1775, this town has a population of just 3,230 — just a few more than the number of passengers sailing on the Emerald Princess (2,985). It is located at a latitude of 60°.

The colorful village of Qaqortoq

This is our first visit to Greenland. It is included on a few arctic and transatlantic itineraries, but is still one of the lesser-known cruising areas in the world. Most of the year the country’s small ports are blocked by sea ice and icebergs. Actually, September is the best month to visit as there is the least ice. That said, we did see a number of icebergs both sailing in and out and the ship does have an “ice captain” from Denmark aboard to help advise the captain in navigating these waters.

Because the harbor is so small, the ship had to anchor out and we traveled in and out with tenders. This transfer went very smoothly as we were in port from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and it only took about two hours to see the town, unless you were hiking around its outskirts.

The old church by the stream
The tourist center is right at the dock and it has the town’s only souvenir store. As you might expect, it was mobbed by those on the ship and no doubt had a day of record sales. Outside, Inuit craftsman sold their goods in small booths.

The town is very colorful. It sits in a “bowl” around the harbor and the sides of the hills are covered with multi-colored wood buildings. The three key buildings are easy to spot…the old church is red, the new church is white and the hotel is blue. While walking through town, you will encounter several groceries, a bank, a post office, a bar and a café but not many shops. Because just about everything is imported, prices are extremely high here. (In the grocery, Chet priced a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch at 350 kroner, or $70.)

A local choir sings in the new church

Other points of interest include the fishing wharf where fresh and dried fish and seal meat is sold. On the other side of the harbor is the sealing factory, where seal is processed. I am told there is a store there but we did not visit that…most seal products cannot be brought into the U.S. There are also a number of stone sculptures and etchings in the area, which were done by Nordic artists in 1993-94.

Because of the size of the port, the ship did not offer any excursions. Everyone was on their own to explore the small town. There are about 5-6 taxis in town and one couple I know paid 300 kroner for a half hour tour for four ($60). Yes, there are vehicles despite the fact that there are no roads in or out of Qaqortoq. All travel to other towns is accomplished by air or boat.

Fishing and sealing are the main occupations of most towns in Greenland. However, Qaqortoq is known for being the administrative center for Southwest Greenland and the educational center which serves the entire region. It consists of a pre-school, and eight-year basic school, and a two-year secondary school. Those who pass exams can go to the three-year advanced secondary school. Those who want to attend university need to go to Nuuk, the capital of the country with is further north on the western coast.

Greenland is the largest island in the world that is not a continent. Almost 85 percent of Greenland is permanently covered by ice and all towns are on the periphery. There are very few towns on the eastern coast because of severe ice conditions. Most of the rugged coastlines are etched with glacial fjords and towering cliffs.

The population of the entire country is about 57,000. Over the many years (it was first sighted by Vikings in 900 AD) the native Inuit culture has been influenced by the Scandinavians. Today Greenland is a parliamentary democracy within the constitutional monarchy of Denmark and its currency is the Danish kroner. Although Greenlanders handle their own affairs (except for defense and foreign policy), their lives are heavily subsidized by Denmark – medicine, education, etc.

We were blessed with great weather today…clear, sunny, blue skies. Temps in the low ‘40s. Oh yes, there are also many whales in this area (mostly minke and humpback) and we did see some blowing occasionally. What fun!

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