Greenland stirs up images of colorful houses at the foot of beautiful mountains. Despite the overcast skies, the colorful houses glowed as we anchored off the village of Tasiilaq (pronounced Ta-sea-lack). Icebergs floated by in the bay.
Despite the light rain and clouds, the view from our ship was amazing, affirming our preconceptions.
Tasiilaq at a population of 2000, is the largest village on the eastern seaboard of Greenland. Greenland has just 36,000 residents for a land mass about a 1/3 the size of the US.
It is remote. There are no roads into town. Most arrivals are by boat in the summer, and by dog sled in the winter. There is also a heliport for some travelers and emergencies.
Prior to our arrival, we had a mandatory AECO (Artic Expedition Cruise Operators) briefing on our visit Greenland. We were reminded that not only is Tasiilaq a remote location that needs to be preserved, but also how to respect the locals and the local culture. The theme was not to leave a trace of our presence.
Expecting a pristine, less developed village with a strong sense of ethnic culture, I had a rude awakening upon arriving onshore.
For a town of 2000 people we saw more car traffic here that in the last three stops in Iceland put together. Where they were going, I am not sure, but they were all in a hurry to get there. There were no traffic signs or speed limits and certainly no pedestrian crossings. The locals sped around as if they were on a race track.
Garbage was piled high at the local dump, cascading down the hillside as it flowed into the sea. The trash was not limited to the local dump. It was hard to appreciate the colorful houses when there was so much litter and junk lying everywhere in between. Our instructions to “not leave a trace”, were well intentioned, but seemingly pointless. We visited a local art carving shop, where locals were carving images into reindeer antlers.
When we walked back by just a bit later, the very same crafters were out back smoking as if the pretense of the tourist moment was done.
We learned that most of the locals depend on government subsidies versus the fishing trade of their roots. Alcoholism is common, especially among the women.
Tasiilaq, a beautiful village from afar.
Remember, it’s all about the light.