Under the Northern Lights of Greenland

by Fiona Shang Customer story

Driving towards the port in Akureyri, I recognized Plancius from miles away. This was the ship that once took me to the end of the Earth, the ship that inspired me to give up everything back home and begin a new adventure. Now resting peacefully, she waited for her next expedition into the rough open sea. Seeing her again felt like meeting an old friend, bringing back the fascination, laughter, and epiphanies I had while sailing with her in Antarctica. Now that I was going to the northern end of the world, I couldn’t wait to be reunited. I hurried on board, eager for the adventure ahead.
Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Greenland

Highlights: Northern Lights

Reuniting with an OId Friend

Driving towards the port in Akureyri, I recognized Plancius from miles away. This was the ship that once took me to the end of the Earth, the ship that inspired me to give up everything back home and begin a new adventure. Now resting peacefully, she waited for her next expedition into the rough open sea. Seeing her again felt like meeting an old friend, bringing back the fascination, laughter, and epiphanies I had while sailing with her in Antarctica. Now that I was going to the northern end of the world, I couldn’t wait to be reunited. I hurried on board, eager for the adventure ahead.

From Iceland to Greenland

En route from Iceland to Greenland, we crossed the Denmark Strait. It was not as aggressive as the Drake Passage north of Antarctica, but the waves still attacked the ship. Meanwhile flocks of sea birds glided gracefully across the horizon. I stood on deck, watching the darkness swallow the last light of the sunset while a bright orange moon rose gradually behind me.

Enter the Northern Lights

Suddenly a touch of neon green light appeared in the sky, swaying and dancing. A dark purple aura enveloped it. The colors faded into one another, joined, stretched, shrank, undulated like silk in the wind. It was almost dull to remember what I had learned, that the auroras were simply collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun. I preferred the legend that they were spirits of unborn children playing in the heavens.

Walking the Greenland Wilderness

Each day we were able to make two landings, exploring the untouched wilderness of Greenland on foot. Unlike the magnificent white-blue binary world I had experienced on my Antarctica cruise, Greenland overflowed with colors. The melting ice on the coastal plains made way for a fertile landscape of lush meadows, flowers, and stocky plants. Red, orange, and violet wildflowers as well as lush green mosses were reflected in a tranquil lake under a crystal blue sky. Hiking the tundra was like walking on soft, cushy carpet. I treaded carefully, worried about leaving any damage on the delicate vegetation.

The Alert and Ancient Musk Oxen

As winter was coming, wildlife was not abundant. Even so, our search for musk oxen was an absolute treat. Following our expedition guide, Gerard, we spotted a herd far behind a hill. We tip-toed closer for a better look. Every time we made the slightest noise, the musk oxen stopped what they were doing and scanned the territory around them. Once hunted into extinction, these ancient creatures were saved by restoration actions, allowing us to continue admiring them.

Arctic Pleasures On Board and Off

Glaciers shedding off ice had filled the narrow fjords of Scoresby Sund, creating both an iceberg graveyard and one of nature’s finest art exhibitions. As our ship cruised towards Scoresby Sund, it was time for our imaginations to see things in the ice: medieval castles, abandoned shipwrecks, angry faces of samurai. Occasionally an iceberg would flip over or calve in pieces, triggering ripples across the calm water. Coming back from the Zodiac cruise, our hotel manager was waiting for us with whiskey chilled by ice taken from an iceberg. I’m not sure if it was a placebo effect, but the taste was amazing.

The Remains of Inuit Dwellings

How the Inuit managed to survive the winter was fascinating. We found the well-preserved remains of Inuit houses abandoned around 200 years ago. Back then, locals needed to crawl through an icy hall to enter their elevated living rooms. The living rooms were for work, and the bedrooms were one level higher to keep in the warm air. Standing by those tent rings of stone, I tried to imagine how a family of eight or ten could squeeze into such as tiny house, living out the brutal winter.

The Modern Equivalent of an Arctic Settlement

Greenland villages today are filled with colorfully painted Danish cottages. We visited Ittoqqortoormiit, a name I still can’t pronounce. Despite having only about 400 inhabitants, it is the area’s largest settlement. We visited the museum and church, learning about the first settlers and local lifestyle. But as pretty as the village was, there was a sense of melancholy in the air. Beer cans were scattered around the empty streets. Strong winds battered the lonely, locked doors.

Bidding Plancius a Second Goodbye

After a night of BBQ (and the polar plunge) back on board, it was time to say goodbye to Plancius for the second time. She had showed me a different perspective yet again, a world filled with possibilities. Once an ambitious over-achiever fighting for her next accomplishment, I was now an unemployed nomad burning every penny to explore the world. When would Plancius and I meet again? And where would my heart lead then?

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