A Cruise to Greenland, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in Sepember 2004

Greenland is the largest island in the world.  Although it has an area of 2.2 million square km, only 410,000 square km is not ice-covered.  In fact, the Greenland ice sheet is the second largest in the world.  The average ice thickness is 1,500 meters, and the ice sheet constitutes  10% of the world's fresh water.  If Greenland's ice cap were to melt, sea level would rise by seven meters!

Greenland's first Stone Age inhabitants migrated from North America nearly 5,000 years ago.  The Thule, who were closely related to the Inuit, arrived later in about 900 A. D., and Inuit migration continued until the late nineteenth century.  Norse settlements were begun in 985 A. D. and lasted until the middle of the fifteenth century.  European whalers visited Greenland from the sixteenth century onward, and a Norwegian priest settled there in 1721.  Because the priest had received official Danish support for his expedition, his arrival ushered in a colonial era that lasted some two and a half centuries.  A 1953 constitution granted Greenland home rule under Danish sovereignty.  Essentially Greenland then became a province of Denmark. 

Approximately 56,000 people live in Greenland.  Of this total, some 49,000 were born there.  Over 75% of the population lives in towns, of which Nuuk on Greenland's west coast is the largest.  The central portion of western Greenland is the most densely populated.  There 60% of the people swell in the six largest towns.  The remainder live a rural existence in about 120 trading posts and sheep stations.

Sheep farming is practiced in the South.  Fishing, however, is the major industry; and the cold-water prawn is the most important fishing product.  Greenland halibut is also significant.  Prawns constitute 64% of Greenland's exports.  Halibut, crab and cod make up most of the remainder.

In August 2003 I sailed on Holland America Lines' MS Rotterdam from Rotterdam the New York City via Greenland.  The Rotterdam sailed through beautiful Prins Christian Sund (Prince Christian Sound) and then called at the town of Qaqortoq on Greenland's southwest coast.

In southern Greenland there is a network of channels and fjords stretching 450 km.  Prins Christian Sund, one of these channels, is navigable only from the middle of summer until late autumn.  This remote area offers spectacular scenery.  Glaciers, waterfalls, 1400-meter-high granite peaks and icebergs can all be seen.  Prins Christian Sund is 58 km long and only 480 meters wide at its narrowest point.  By comparison, the length of the Rotterdam is 237 meters.

Qaqortog, the largest town is southern Greenland with a population of 3,600, is situated in the area where Norsemen settled in the tenth century.  Is is unclear why Norse settlement in Greenland failed by the fifteenth century.  However, Norse ruins can still be seen today 15 km from town.  Qaqortoq was founded in 1775 by a Norwegian trader.  The town was originally named Junianehab after Danish Queen Juliana Marie.  Julianehab became the largest trading post in southern Greenland, and it maintains that distinction today.  The oldest standing house was built in 1797.

As is the case with all towns in Greenland, Qaqortoq has no road connections with any other city. Instead, the inhabitants of Qaqortoq use ferries and helicopters for public transportation.  Because the harbor in Qaqortoq is small, the Rotterdam sat at anchor and passengers were taken ashore by the ship's tenders.

Qaqortoq is an academic center, with both a vocational school and a commercial college which, interestingly, offers a course in tourism.  In addition, a nearby agricultural research station trains sheep farmers and operates an experimental farm.

It was interesting to walk in the center of Qaqortoq where several wooden and stone houses date back to the nineteenth century.  A decade ago 18 Scandinavian sculptors created works of art on solid rock faces and on boulders lying around town.  Today 24 sculptures exist.  Too, Qaqortoq boasts Greenland's only fountain.  Built in 1928, this sits in a town square.  Finally, there is a small museum.  

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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