ZEGRAHM NORTHERN LIGHTS - GREENLAND & LABRADOR
Another trip to the Arctic. This time it was on the Clipper Adventurer which was chartered by Zegrahm Expeditions. This is the perfect combination. Zegrahm runs outstanding expeditions and Clipper has an outstanding hotel operation. We flew to Ottawa and spent a couple of days, then flew to Søndre Strømfjord where we joined the ship. The trip continued down the coast of Greenland and then over to Labrador, finishing at Iqaluit on Baffin Island.
With some trepidation we went to LAX to board our UAL flight. United had just emerged from bankruptcy so we were concerned about their new operation. When Chris dropped us off we found a huge line backed up outside the terminal. Jodie asked one of the UAL people present if that was the line we should get in. She said Canada is an international flight and we should go to another door. We did and there was no line. A very helpful UAL employee assisted us on the self-check in terminal. She also told us that business travelers should go in through door E. We were also told that Canada isn't considered international travel so we couldn't use the lounge. The wait wasn't too long.
The service on the flight was ok and we did get a free meal as opposed to the passengers in steerage who had to buy their meal. We were on a 767 and had comfortable seats.
In spite of the promised thunderstorm induced delays at Chicago, we arrived on time. After an hour wait we boarded and were seated in one of the four first class seats in the Embraier jet. All we got out of first class was some wine.
We arrived on time and quickly passed through immigration. Eventually all of our luggage arrived and we found a cab. A half hour and 28 Canadian dollars later we were in our hotel room at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. The room was spacious and comfortable with a nice view of the war memorial and the busy city center.
After a cocktail in the room we wandered over to By Market, named after the city founder and location of many, many restaurants. We ate at the Empire Grill. The meal was good. Our waiter was also the sommelier so we had an enjoyable discussion of wines in general and Canadian wines in particular.
After a good night's sleep and a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to take a Greyline city tour. As we were walking up the street we heard a band and found the army in full formal uniform, including black bearskin hats, marching up the street to Parliament Hill. It was time for the changing of the guard so we followed along and watched the ceremony. It was quite elaborate with many unfathomable parts. For example, during most of the ceremony two people strolled back and forth across the field with a flag, seemingly oblivious to all the shouted commands, responses, and foot stamping. During all this, the band would suddenly play something then go quiet.
It was oppressively hot in Ottawa. Two band members passed out during the 45 minute ceremony. Police rushed out and carried them off with a stretcher.
After the army marched off to wherever they came from, we took the tour. Greyline offers a two-day, step-on, step-off tour which, for a bit extra, includes either a tour of the Ottawa River or the Rideau Canal. We got off at the air museum and spent a couple of hours there. The museum is devoted to Canadian aircraft and is quite good. It is the fourth best air museum I have visited.
We went back to By Market for dinner, this time at the Fish Market.
We caught the first SOSO bus and got off at Rideau Hall, the Governor General's home. The GG, a throw-back to the British colonial times, is appointed by the queen and acts as Canada's Head of State. The house is in a palatial 80 acre compound. It is nicely landscaped. We stood in a hot line to wait for the opening of the house for self-guided tours. We were led in through the basement, a very industrial-looking area with grey-painted cement block walls. Suddenly the atmosphere changed and we were in a rather elegant reception area. We ascended the stairway and were turned loose. The self-guided tour consisted of three rooms whose contents were pieces of art. Nothing else. When we tired of all this grandeur we were led back out.
A swift walk to the grounds entrance allowed us to catch the next bus which we rode back to town. We got off at the art museum/cathedral stop and viewed the cathedral interior. It was quite nice however our visit was cut short by noon mass.
There was a nearby sidewalk restaurant where we had lunch then strolled back to the hotel. At 2 pm we took the cruise on the Ottawa River. There was a bit of excitement before we left. The boat was moored at the foot of the Ottawa locks. A woman was taking a photo and backed off the edge of the locks and fell in. She didn't surface and several rescuers dove in, eventually pulling her out. She required CPR which restored her breathing before the paramedics eventually arrived. We read in the paper the following day that she was in critical condition.
The remainder of the tour group arrived during the day and we had the welcome cocktail and dinner that night.
Up at 3 am and on the bus by 4! This was a dreadful flying day but after a 5-hour flight we eventually arrived at Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord). A 1½ hour tour to look for muskox filled the time before we could board the Clipper Adventurer by zodiac. There were no obvious muskox although some brown specs visible with the aid of binoculars in the far, far distance were identified as muskox. The scenery and distant views of the Greenland Icecap were spectacular.
In spite of our sleep-deprived day yesterday, we were given the opportunity to arise at 6 to view Ikamuit Fjord. We ignored this however we were roused before 7 with the announcement that some humpback whales had been spotted. We didn't dress and rush out on deck however we did get dressed and went to the dining room for breakfast at 7.
The ship anchored at the mouth of the fjord and we went ashore. There was a short hike to a beautiful little lake which was drained by a violently rushing, tumbling cataract. The hike could be moderately extended to visit a small glacier, actually a snow patch. Unfortunately we were besieged by mosquitoes and flies even before we went ashore. Deet wasn't totally effective. The tundra, as usual, had its showy display of tiny, beautiful flowers and dwarf willows and birch trees, mere inches high. The plague of bugs drove us back to the ship.
As we sailed (motored) down the fjord we encountered a breaching humpback. We approached it very slowly and it cooperated by not leaving. Finally we were close enough to see its entire body under the water. It bid us farewell with a display of fluke and then we continued on down the fjord.
In the afternoon we visited Manitsoq, population 2,900, a the head of the fjord. Interestingly, the ship had to anchor a mile from the town since the water was too deep closer to the town to anchor. We went ashore and toured the town of many colorful buildings perched on the rocky cliffs comprising the fjord entrance. After the mandatary craft shopping we wandered around. We visited a grocery store and found, among other things, packed, frozen smoked seal and packaged cubes of glacier ice.
Tonight was the captains welcome.
7/17 Happy Birthday Beth
We came alongside at Nuuk, population 18,000 around 7 am. This is the capital of Greenland, population 57,000. I don't know how much home rule Greenland has since there seems to be heavy financial support from Denmark. 80% of the housing is subsidized. This is the largest city in Greenland and has the only university. It also has an extremely large hospital, perhaps the only one in Greenland.. During the tour, the driver pointed out one apartment complex that houses 1% of the population of Greenland.
There seems to be no level land here. Giant outcroppings of rock rise from the sea. Upon this upthrust rock the town has been built. Houses are perched on the top of giant formations. (The geologist on board says they are the second oldest rocks on the planet.)
We started our day with a long stroll to the museum. The scheduled buses didn't show up. There were four, 500 year old mummies there. There were three women and a baby, naturally freeze dried after a ceremonial burial. Four others are on display in Denmark.
After the buses showed up we had a town tour and then a bit of shopping. When we toured the large, modern grocery store we found fresh whale and seal on sale. We also found the first and only Greenland escalator in the grocery store. It was installed with great fanfare last year. They even had lessons on how to ride it. It is a conveyer belt rather than the usual moving stair. There are also 3 traffic-light controlled intersections in Nuuk.
In the afternoon we went to Qârusuk fjord where there are the ruins of three Tule people sod houses. These were occupied until the 1960s. The houses are excavated and then rock walls built up. They are roofed with whale bones, covered with skins and then sod. There were also some graves that predated the dwellings and some fox traps made of piled stones. There was also a magnificent selection of the beautiful, tiny flowers.
Today is the day we didn't visit Paamiut. During dinner last night the seas became quite rough, eventually spilling stuff off of some tables and serving trays. This rocking and rolling continued all night. When we woke, expedition leader Mike Messick announced that our landing at Paamiut was cancelled because the very strong south wind would prevent the ship's entry and docking. Besides, we were already somewhat behind schedule. We would just press on to Arsuk Fjord.
We entered the fjord around 3 and cruised to the glacier at the end. After getting very close to the face, we went bank down the fjord for 4 miles where we stopped. Some went for a long hike at Fox Bay; some went for a short walk; and some took a zodiac ride to a bird cliff. Since all this late messing around delayed dinner, there was High Tea at 4:30 consisting of little sandwiches and big hot dogs. Dinner was at 9 pm.
7/19 Narsarsuaq & Narsaq
Eric the Red is reputed to had lived at Narsarsuaq. All that is known is that there was a settlement there and one of the ruins was that of an important person, a chief. Currently there are around 60 people living there making a living raising sheep. We saw no sheep since they were all back in the hills.
We viewed the ruins plus a replica house and church. The house has a lovely wooden interior. The walls are made of sod; the roof is made of wooden beams covered by closely spaced branches, then covered with sod. Since there are no trees in Greenland all of the wood was imported.. There are sleeping platforms along the sides with a fire pit in the center under a chimney. The floors are of stone.
The tiny church, said to hold 20 (packed like sardines) is completely built of wood and is quite pretty.
Two women in period costume told us about each structure.
In the afternoon we visited Narsaq which is down the fjord from Narsarsuaq. This is a town of 1,700 and is typical of towns we have seen so far, colorful little cottages scattered seemingly at random over the rock hills. There are larger industrial buildings interspersed. We went ashore and walked to a Norse ruin covered with tall grass which made it very difficult to see. Everywhere throughout the town there were wild flowers. After the ruin we stopped by a hotel that was offering samples of typical Greenlandic food, whale (muktuk and impossible to chew), seal (heavily marinated and thinly sliced but ok), and muskox (pretty good).
Later we attended a delightful choir concert at the church. Five women and five men comprised the choir. They sang some traditional hymns and some music composed by a local, all in Danish and/or Inutuktuk. After traditional hymns, some of the passengers responded by singing the same hymn is English. The locals seemed surprised and delighted at this response.
As we approached the dock on our way back to the zodiacs we encountered a couple of men unloading a seal and a very large fish from their power boat
We were invited to dine with Mike Messick this evening.
We left Greenland and had a day at sea. Our time was occupied by eating and lectures, and the Zegrahm cocktail party. Fortunately the crossing was calm.
The morning was also spent at sea. We arrived at Hopedale, Labrador around noon. Hopedale will be the capital of native claims area Nunatsiavut when it is established. Canadian Immigration, surprisingly, cleared the ship rapidly without demanding a face appearance.
We went ashore around 2 and went to the Moravian church for the promised choir concert. There were three kids playing around the pulpit. Eventually an adult came in and later announced that most of the kids in the choir weren't available and then started the concert with the three kids and himself. Actually, it was rather charming, but discordant.
After the concert we split into two groups. Our group went to the community center where crafts were available and there was a demonstration of Inuit games. After this we went to the very small museum which has a nice collection of Inuit artifacts and things from the Monrovian missions dating back to the late 1700s. One interesting thing was a 300 page dictionary typed by one of the missionaries relating Inutuktuk words phonetically spelled to English definitions.
We went ashore by zodiac at 8 and then walked around town for an hour to kill time. Nain has a population of 1,100. At 9 we gathered at the church for the promised program. We waited and waited outside the church. The village elder had the key and didn't seem to be around. Eventually the local rep spoke from the porch and told us about the town, trying to speak over the noise from the fork lift at the nearby fish processing plant.
We then wandered off with a guide for a town tour which included a large stone sculpture of a polar bear and a caribou, both in process. During the description of the town from the church porch, the guide was asked what impact global warming had. Besides the obvious early thaw, he said that now they could have gardens. We visited a very large garden during the tour. The tour ended at the council building where we tasted local food. Again, the door was locked and the key wasn't available. Fortunately the key arrived and we went inside. We had fry bread, cloud berry jelly, and smoked char. We also had a confusing description of the new native claims territory government. Then we went to the shore where we were treated to a poor example of drum dancing. The craft display didn't materialize. It seemed that the residents were, for the most part, not aware that we were coming for a visit. Finally we were free to return to the ship.
But on the way to the landing we fell in with a group who were intending to visit the fish processing plant so we joined them. One of them had already talked to the management and seemed to have approval. Sure enough, ten of us were admitted and supplied with disposable hair nets and led into the plant. The employees were processing frozen Atlantic char and fresh scallops. The char had already been cleaned and frozen and was being packaged for shipment. The scallops were freshly dredged and were opened, the adductor muscle separated from the rest of the animal, and then cleaned and packaged. No photos were allowed for some unknown reason.
The afternoon was worse. We went to Ford Bay where three hikes were offered. There was a long, high speed hike which we skipped. We took what was advertised as a long hike with interpretation. It was just a very long hike where the leader and the sweep man both took off and ignored the rest of the group. The third hike was to be 100 yards along the beach but was apparently much better. Not a very satisfying day.
The settlement of Hebron lay in Hebron Fjord. The Monrovian Church was established there in 1830 and the residents were forcible moved to Nain in 1959 by the Canadian government. Tuberculous was the reason given for the move. All that remains are several collapsing wooden buildings. The largest, the church and a residence/storehouse, is being restored by Parks Canada. It was built on a piled stone foundation but much of the structure is rotten. There is a large pile of very large timbers that will be used to replace the building support structure. No one is currently working but a crew is due to arrive soon.
As the zodiacs headed to shore they encountered a minke whale feeding in the bay. Only 4 zodiacs were in the water and soon there was quite a back-up at the side gate as the 4 were clustered around the whale. Quickly more were put in the water leaving just a few people impatiently waiting. The whale put on quite a show, moving rapidly back and forth., frequently showing its back and fin.
Eventually we left the whale and went ashore. The building closest to shore is half collapsed however it contained a modern freezer. Apparently the workers bring a generator and frozen food. There was even a satellite dish on the side of one of the crew huts. We wandered around and looked at the ruins and at the usual array of showy tundra flowers and then went back to the ship.
Three caribou could be seen by those with binoculars, including a magnificent male displaying on a ridge.
In the late afternoon we traveled up Saglek Fjord which became more impressive as we reached its upper reaches. After exploring two divergent arms until they became too shallow we went back down the fjord. The usual BBQ dinner on deck was scheduled for this evening. As the time for dinner arrived the skies became more dark. The rain began about half way through dinner.
About our cabin, 224. It is very near the side gates and very near the engines. As a result it is rather noisy however fairly stable in rough seas. There are two single bunks separated by a very small night stand which has two almost useless drawers. There is ample room under the bunks for the luggage. The bathroom is small but adequate with a small shelf under the sink and two small shelves on the wall and a wall light. There is no shower rod however there is a clothes line across the shower. There are two closets, each with three drawers on one side and hanging space on the other. There is a shelf above. In addition, just inside the door there is a hanging rack and a shelf which is good for wet stuff. Each rectangular window has a shelf underneath with a wooden piece to keep stuff from sliding off. These are adequately sized to hold all camera gear, binoculars, and books. Lighting is inadequate, two lights above each bed, a weak light above the desk, and a light at the entry. The thermostat seems to have no affect on the room temperature which is a bit too cool at night and a bit too hot when the sun is shining on the ship. This wasn't the cabin we selected however we changed to it at the request of some passengers who were on for both voyages and didn't want to change cabins. Our inducement was that this cabin is larger.
We learned today that Capt. Peter Dieckmann was the navigation officer on the Hanseatic when we were aground in 1996. It was his first job and, fortunately he wasn't responsible for the grounding. He has risen to captain since then.
July 24 Button Island, Labrador & Lower Savage Island, Baffin
We lost two hours when we flew from Ottawa to Greenland. We gained one back last night. The program for the day listed nothing specific, just "Expedition Morning," and "Expedition Afternoon Cruising." In the middle we crossed the Hudson Strait.
During the morning we traveled through a rather narrow passage between islands. Along the way we spotted several polar bears, some at great distance. Eventually we found one swimming in a small bay. Mike quickly called for a zodiac scouting party, but the bear disappeared. Later a zodiac cruise was offered to a kittywake nesting site. We encountered the bear in the water during that cruise. The bear was still in the bay but climbed out as the zodiacs approached. The well-picked remains of a seal was on the shore and the bear returned to them for a snack. She seemed oblivious to the swarm of zodiacs and continued working on the carcass for about an hour. This made for quite a photographic opportunity.
There were also nice views of nesting kittiwakes
In late afternoon after an early dinner there was the opportunity for another zodiac cruise. This one through a passage too narrow for the ship. It was mostly cold and uneventful until a bearded seal was spotted on a tiny slab of ice near the end of the passage. The seal was spotted at almost the same time as the ship. Some cold passengers who were shouting with joy at the nearness of the ship were shushed out of fear of scaring the seal off of the ice. The seal didn't quite know what to make of us, but hung around until we left. When we returned to the ship we found grilled cheese sandwiches and hot soup waiting for us.
July 25. Lady Franklin Islands & Baffin Island
Lady Franklin wouldn't have been impressed with her islands. They are barren however we stopped by in the hope of seeing walrus. There were none. There were, however, several polar bears on the islands along with black guillemonts in great numbers on the ocean and flying around in great flocks. We spotted a female bear with a young cub on one island. She kept leading it back and forth across a ridge away from us. We eventually encountered the two in the water. She was obviously distressed so we left.
Tonight was the farewell dinner which was followed by Sergey Frolov's photo recap of the voyage.
July 26. Iqaluit
We stopped at Iqaluit to refuel the First Air 727 on our way to Greenland and returned there to debark. This is the capital of Nunavut and has a population of 6,000. It lies at the head of Frobisher Bay and was the end of our 2,212 nautical mile voyage. Debarking passengers and their luggage was complicated by the 37 foot tides in the long, narrow bay. These tides are second only to the Bay of Fundy. We left the ship at 8 am and boarded buses for a visit to a nature center. We wandered around but saw nothing much but more nice wild flowers and mosquitoes. Then we had a town tour followed by 45 minutes of shopping.
At 11:45 we drove to the airport and boarded the charter First Air 727 an hour later. Since there were only 60 of us there was plenty of room to spread out. A hot lunch and wine were served along the way. We arrived in Ottawa around 4:30. A Zegrahm-provided buffet dinner rounded out the evening. Our room at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier was much, much smaller than the one we had at the start of the trip.
A very early awaking so that we could get to the airport for our 8 am flight. We traveled to Toronto on a very uncomfortable Air Canada Airbus A320. Unfortunately we had a similar, uncomfortable 320 for the trip to LAX. However the food and service were much better on Air Canada than on United. In contrast to United, we were allowed to use the lounges at both the Ottawa and Toronto airports.
Passing through Toronto is an interesting experience. We had to change terminals. The access to the shuttle bus was very close to our arrival gate. The bus took a long, winding path to the departure terminal. After leaving the bus we followed signs indicating departures for the US down long corridors, around corners, finally reaching a baggage claim area. We claimed our luggage and then passed through US Immigration and Customs, still in Canada, then put our baggage on a conveyor belt. We had to pass through another security screening although we hadn't knowingly left the secure area. In stark contrast to all of our experiences with Canadian security on this trip, the personnel were friendly and we quickly passed through. The screeners at Iqaluit were especially obnoxious and nit-picking.
We emerged from this long process quite near the entrance to the Air Canada lounge where we spent several hours waiting until our departure time.
It was a very good trip overall. We saw far more polar bears than I expected, especially since we encountered no ice and just a few small ice bergs. All the bears were on ice-free islands. Sightings of other wildlife were somewhat limited, a couple of whales and a few birds. Zegrahm as usual provided an exciting trip which included many educational lectures. In spite of several ownership changes Clipper still provides a good hotel.