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  • Ilulissat and Ilimanaq: The Unexpected Guests

    The Northwest Passage Day 15

    “Come, my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off,  and sitting well in order smite the surrounding furrows; for my purpose holds.” Tennyson

    The Greenland icecap meets the sea at the Ilulissat ice fjord via the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. It is one of the most active and fastest moving glaciers in the world. Today we were to take a tour of the ice and then disembard via Zodiac, in the town of Ilulissat (population 4,900 people and 6,000 sled dogs). (History buffs will recognize that Knud Rasmussen, a well-known polar explorer, hailed from this town.)

    During the night, ice moved in and blocked the town, making it impossible for our Zodiacs to get to it. In fact we couldn’t even see the town due to the foggy and rainy conditions, and the density of the ice. We weren’t deterred! We set out in the Zodiacs despite the weather and wended our way through the ice so that we could see the mouth of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. A couple of the Zodiacs had engine problems, so we lended assistance to get them started or towed. This is perhaps why the Zodiacs travel in pairs.  

    Jason, our expedition leader, scrambled for an alternate activity to the town visit. He found a much smaller town, populateion 150, just down the coast and gave them a call. “Do you mind if 164 of your best friends pop in for a visit?” That’s how it came to be that we visited Ilimanaq. The rumor was that the town wanted to increase tourism, although I’m not sure they had this many simultaneous visitors in mind.


    Jason invited the town to lunch on the ship. I don’t know how many took up the offer, because during the time they were to be on the boat, we were to be walking around town. Nothing was open except their small grocery. Or I should say there was nothing much to be open!  They must have pop-up shops at other times of the year.



    The allure of this town was the view from just outside its perimeter.  A short uphill hike brought us to a view of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, just the other side of the fjord from where we’d been in the morning.

    LIke most small arctic town, there were many canine residents. We were told not to approach the dogs, as they are all working dogs. Both in the high Canadian arctic and here in Greenland, dogs are not pets. They are referred to as “working dogs” who earn their keep by pulling sleds in the winter.