Thursday, 16 July 2009

Day 7/Day 8 Ilulissat - Greenland

Day 7. Back in Ilulissat, I take a taxi downtown to the office of Konrad who has been helping with arrangements for this trip. We are going to the harbour to meet Johannes the fisherman. This is a gear change, I am moving from the predictable tourist trail of the previous few days where the majority of guides at Camp Eqi are Danish students on their summer break to a thoroughly Greenlandic experience.

We board Johannes’ small fishing boat, it holds just 4 people, we are 3 plus my equipment and off we go, at speed. I hang on tightly, the microphone trapped between my legs. The water feels very close and even more worryingly so do the icebergs. I ask Konrad if this is safe, he assures me Johannes like most in Ilulissat has been sailing boats here since he was a child. Johannes is a very warm man He speaks a small amount of English and looks older than his 46 years, as Konrad points out he lives a hard life, but he seems happy in his work.

We eventually stop, I am so relieved, I gradually get more accustomed to being on a small vessel in a big sea and maybe even start enjoying the experience a little. Johannes prepares to haul in the fish. This is line fishing – he has already been to this spot at 5.30 this morning to put down the line, and there are 500 hooks on it, so winding it back in will take some time. Johnannes whoops with joy as the first halibut flaps into the tray he has arranged on the deck. The fish flaps, gasps and expires as another fish is piled on top. Konrad meanwhile asks me questions; do I eat sausage and beans for breakfast? Do I have a car? What brand etc. After awhile he moves to the back of the boat dons the plastic overalls and proceeds to help Johannes – it appears everyone is a fisherman here. Konrad proceeds to clean the fish which consists of slitting their necks and throwing their innards overboard to the joy of the expectant gulls. There is a lot of blood. There has already been some discussion of eating raw fish so I’m not surprised when once the cleaning is finished Konrad starts preparing a halibut for us to eat raw! He hands me a slice, I eat it. Johannes hands me some water to wash it down with, this is no ordinary water this is melted from icebergs – it’s potentially millions of years old – I guess it’s pure.

Johannes takes us to a spot a little closer to the harbour so I can interview him, Greenlandic is a percussive, airy language, I enjoy the sound of it. Konrad translates. Afterwards we sail to the harbour, on dry land my legs feel wobbly, I’m not feeling my best, it’s been a heady cocktail of fear, motion sickness, raw fish and blood. But there’s no time to waste, once the fish have been taken to the factory, Johannes is off to feed his dogs, we follow him up in a taxi. In the winter many people including both Johannes and Konrad drive dog sledges. There are about 4500 people in Ilulissat and about 3000 dogs, most are kept in designated areas on the outside of town, this is where we meet Johannes. As we approach the dogs howl, the noise is terrific and menacing –these are Greenlandic working dogs, not pets. They are descendant of wolves, kept on chains and not to be approached. This area is also shrouded with mosquitoes and I have been bitten from head to foot since I’ve been here. I interview Johannes some more and then head back to the hotel. I am very tired and intend to sleep for along time. However the midnight sun has other ideas!

Day 8. I meet Konrad at the office and we set off on a hike to Sermermuit, we are going iceberg hunting so I can record some more melting sounds. What starts off as a gentle stroll turns into a major hike as our search takes us further into mountainous areas. There are very few icebergs stranded here and they’re the ones to record apparently. I interview Konrad during breaks between walking and record a large lump of ice hissing and sizzling on the edge of the water. At this point we spot a minke whale, but it flips its tail up and disappears before I have time to record it or take a photo. It would have been good to record a whale using the hydraphone whilst I’m here but is dangerous to get too close to the edge in case an iceberg becomes unstable and rolls over creating a huge wave. The icebergs are huge here – much bigger than in camp eqi, these are from the Jacobshaven gletcher.

After several hours of strenuous hiking, recording and iceberg chasing we return to the town. Konrad seems to know everyone, so there are many pauses for chats in Greenlandic and Danish. We pass by the drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre and the prison, it’s an open prison with a very good view out to sea.

We head back to the office and arrange for me to speak to someone from the choir tomorrow, they will also be rehearsing in the evening so I’m hoping to go along to that too. As I’m about to leave Konrad’s partner and 14 month daughter arrive, she is obviously a much cherished child and is yet another example that dispels the idea I’ve read in guide books that children are neglected in Greenland – from what I’ve seen there is a strong sense of community, with children at the heart. However, when I return back to the hotel and chat to the waiter he talks to be about the suicide problem here mainly amongst young men. So I guess, it’s not all a bed of roses.