Last month I went to a place I have always wanted to go, Greenland. Since a child Greenland has always held a fascination for me as one of this world’s last great wildernesses. Most importantly the people and the wildlife that exist in a landscape unchained and unfettered by modern development and its unchecked ability to ‘civilise’ and destroy the natural world.
In 2013 my friend Roan was leading an expedition across the Greenland ice cap when he and his team were caught in an arctic storm known as a Piteraq. With conditions deteriorating rapidly the team put up their tent and attempted to weather it out. Unfortunately, this was not to be; high winds breached the tent and the vast amount of snow attempted to bury Roan and his two friends under a blanket of snow. With the wind strong enough to push shipping container into the sea on the coast, 2800 m higher and on a huge flat plateau the three endured truly nightmarish conditions. Tragically the end result was that tragically one of them, Phil, gave his life protecting the other two for which he received the Queen’s Commendation For Bravery in the 2017 Honours List, citation here. Roan and Andy barely survived themselves due to hypothermia.
When Roan mentioned to me he wanted to go back and that he would love for me to bring my camera I jumped at the opportunity. From London to Reykjavik, Reykjavik to Kulusuk, Kulusuk to Tasiilaq; after over a year of planning we were there. Landing into Tasiilaq was like landing into a place that time has forgotten. Discarded rubbish of ages claws its way up out of the snow on every corner while a vast rubbish dump and scrap yard show testament to the fact that while goods come in they seldom go out. This is a place reliant on import to survive. The Inuit way of life, their subsistence relationship with the natural land and seas around them is hugely under threat from European legislation and well-meaning but culturally destructive conservation groups. For thousands of years they hunted, sledded, fished; but this way of life is changing, evolving, eroding, being ‘modernised’. Skidoos replace dog teams. Supermarkets replace traditional huntsmen. They are a society losing its path and its way of life. Instead alcohol rears its ugly head and alcoholism can be found on most street corners regardless of time of day. Amongst all this, however, there is the natural spirit and temperament of the Inuit. Those individuals I met were welcoming, warm and incredibly kind spirited. Many knew that Roan was in town and made it their business to speak to him and welcome him back.