“Are you going up north with us?” Esther – in charge of the ferry’s cafeteria – checked with passengers after lunch. Our ferry, the Sarfaq Ittuk, was about to arrive in Greenland’s capital Nuuk. “Sadly no”, I said. After a 31-hour journey that began on a misty early morning in the harbor of Qaqortoq, we disembarked in Nuuk.
I loved our time on the ferry, watching the coastline unfold in all its stark emptiness. The teenager compared the scenery to hiking in the Alps above the tree line, only “the tree line is at sea level.” Occasionally, we’d spot a whale in the sea, a hawk overhead, or reindeer trudging uphill on land. And always would there be an iceberg or two floating nearby.
The Arctic Umiaq line ferries between Qaqortoq in South Greenland and Ilulissat in the Arctic Circle. On our passage there would be three ports-of-call between Qaqortoq in the South and Nuuk — itself midway north to Ilulissat. The ferry’s onboard guide came around to see if anyone wanted to learn more. “Are you tourists?” he asked politely, even though that was pretty obvious: wrapped in layers of outdoor garments, from fleece beanies and thermal jackets to hiking boots, we stood out next to local kids in t-shirts and sandals licking ice cream. OK, so most locals wore layered warmies too. I’m just still stunned at seeing those kids seemingly fine with the cold.
In Arsuk – a tiny town and first stop after leaving Qaqortoq – the ferry lowered one of the shore vessels. Piling in all Arsuk-bound passengers, we watched the tiny yellow vessel bob across the bay to shore. On the quay further down some young kids were showing off their maneuvering skills around the makeshift bike and skate parkour: a nose-dive away from the dock’s edge and the cold sea water below.
Paamiut, a town of over 1500 inhabitants, would be worth a stroll, the ferry guide had said. We would have about 30 minutes to see the old town, even though the church (over a 100-years-old) and museum would be closed by the time we’d be there.
The ferry docked in Paamiut close to midnight, and, wiped out after a day of sunshine and sea air, I was snug in my upper bunk bed by the time the ferry lowered the gangway. Missed it completely. I vaguely recall the ship’s PA system announcing arrival in Paamiut and I probably peeked out the cabin window. But the low steady drone of the ship’s engines soothed me back to sleep before I thought to get up, get dressed and get on shore.
At 5am the PA system announced it was an hour to Qeqertarsuatsiaat, the third and final stop before Nuuk. I rolled out of bed, dressed warm and was up on deck to watch the approach to this colorful village perched on an island in the Labrador Sea. We’d have 15 minutes to go onshore and see the village. A family of seven (five daughters ranged baby to teenager) disembarked here. They were often up on deck, too, and their kids were among those seemingly not bothered by the cold. I waved farewell, and winked at the baby girl with the infectious smile for the last time.
Qeqertarsuatsiaat is a fishing and hunting village of about 200 people. On our 6am speed walk around the village, I spotted fishnets hanging untangled, antlers bleaching on a work bench, animal furs draped over racks to dry. Next time the ferry docked would be our destination: Nuuk.
One of the lasting images of the ferry passage is of a solitary iceberg floating right into the rays of the sun setting on the Labrador Sea. The sky was partly cloudy and dispersed the light. The sensation of cold air chipping at my cheeks and the exchange of smiles between a local lady and myself as witnesses of this beautiful sunset made this one of those “I took a picture with my mind” moments.
Homepage of Greenland’s Arctic Umiaq Line here. We booked a cabin with double bunkbeds, private toilet and shower. Meals on board are cafetaria style (food is fresh and tasty). There’s a panorama lounge, home cinema, and foldout lounge chairs on the upper deck to make for a very comfortable passage.