Greenland Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
November 23rd, 2008 – by: joeldeafnation
The sky had been overcast and the weather was drizzly, and David and I wondered aloud if our trip was still going to happen.
Through my binoculars, I saw three seals, and Niels immediately started towards them walking on the ice sheet gesturing for me to follow. I wondered whether the ice was safe, and judging by Niels’ confidence, the ice would probably hold a small house. David could not follow as closely because he had committed the Cardinal sin of seal hunting; he wore black. If he had ventured out by himself, he was liable to get himself shot! I followed Niels for at least an hour, and along the way he pointed out small holes in the ice that led to the water. The seals create these holes for them to come up for air! At one point, Niels told me to stay as he was going to seriously track some seals and needed to do it alone; he had special shoes that made no noise on the ice, and I was about as noisy as an airplane! The new hiking boots I bought for the trip was not suitable for the wet ice, I sheepishly found out, and I instead wore a pair of borrowed plastic boots that slapped the ice with every step. As Niels walked away from me, I looked down at my plastic boots and felt as if I were all alone in the world.
Nobody was within miles of me. What if something happened? Who would help me? I was standing by myself in the Arctic wild, in the middle of volatile icebergs and glaciers; what did I get myself into!? I started planning my escape rout in case the ice beneath me started to crack and split; what side of the ice should I jump onto? Should I run, or ride the floating ice? Before I went crazy, I saw Niels waving at me and I snapped out of my turmoil and started running toward him. What happened?
Niels spotted a group of three seals, but they quickly disappeared beneath the ice sheet. We must have walked about three miles and I completely lost the shore we came from. The enormous glacier that I had seen off in the distance was now looming closer. We came across another hunter and learned that he shot a seal but it slipped down through a hole leaving a trail of blood on the ice. Although the seal was still alive, the trail of blood it was giving off in the water would surely make it instant prey for predators. With no more luck, we hurriedly moved to another location.
We went on a crazy boat ride, going so fast that the boat was breaking through a thin ice sheet creating a path where there was none before. We went through what seemed like an iceberg maze before arriving at another massive ice sheet close to a massive glacier. Snow sat on the still water which reflected like a mirror. When we landed the boat on the ice sheet, Niels said he and Pele would track alone. We watched them for a half hour as he approached a single seal off in the distance. He quietly flanked the seal and came extremely close, setting up a perfect shot before the seal simply rolled into the hole. Damn, “it was a smart seal,” said Niels! He made his way back to us before passing over to the other side. All of a sudden, the seal came up just 20 yards away, and I jumped to react!
I reached for my gun, but I didn’t have one (thank god!)… I waved for Niels and told him to get the seal, but as fast as the seal came up, the seal disappeared beneath the ice again. Niels groaned and wished I had a gun so I could have shot the seal, but I don’t think I would have the stomach to do so! We drove to the other side of the ice sheet before David saw a seal about a mile away. Niels was thrilled because it was a perfect target with the seal laying out sunbathing on an ice sheet! It’s extremely difficult to hunt them on the open sea.
We watched as Niels repeated the process all over again, slowly making his way to the seal. We waited 20 minutes, which seemed like an eternity. Hunting definitely requires a lot of patience! Niels crawled on his belly and lined up the perfect shot… Boom! Immediately after the gun cracked, Niels got up and sprinted towards the seal. Pele quickly told us to come, startling David and I. It was a peaceful scene and we were confused why the race was on. Pele explained that the seal was crawling away after being shot, and it would be a waste of a shot if the seal got away. My jaw dropped as Niels flawlessly caught up to the seal, slit its throat, and tied it with fishing line. He started dragging it towards the boat and we hastily walked to meet him. Instead of greeting us, Niels pulled out his hunting knife and made a long slit along the seal’s belly, spilling out the seal’s guts. He flawlessly cleaned out the insides and separated the seal’s thick skin from slabs of meat, washing them on the icy water. David and I stood speechless as the entire surgical procedure took place in front of our eyes, over almost as quickly as we realized it began.
The waste of the seal was left on the ice where birds and other animals would eat it and we got on the boat and made our way back. It was an amazing experience, one based on survival and not sport or pleasure. On our way back, we stopped at an iceberg, where we climbed to the top for the amazing view I described earlier. The water I drank was ice cold and quenched my thirst, and I wished I had a spring as pure running through my back yard. I was sure the iceberg I was standing on would break away and melt in the open sea in the next few years. Torrid rushing rivers of bright blue water gushed through holes in the ice, sending the melting water into the sea below the icebergs. Global warming was surely devastating the area, and I wondered if the ice would ever be saved.
Our time was up, and we had to make our way back if we were going to be back before dark. We put on our gloves and another layer of jackets and braced for the wind from the speedboat. We went back through the iceberg maze and it really felt good when we arrived in the village, back into civilization! I was surprised I would consider such a small town so out in the middle of nowhere civilized, but it was cozy compared to the vast ice sheets we came from!
We entered our cottage which felt so amazingly warm, and realized that our skin had wind burns. Never mind that, it felt so good when we took a warm cat nap and joined the Niels family for a dinner of seal meat. It was a true Inuit meal and I was honored to be able to have the opportunity to try. No fruits or vegetables grew in the area, and the only thing they ate was marine meats! Seal meat tastes like seafood beef, if there is such a thing, but it was no comparison with Kobe beef! After dinner, we watched Niels mother clear fat from the seal’s skin with a special knife for Inuit women called an Inuit Ulu. The skin was amazingly tough and strong and it was a tough task to rip the fat off the skin! She was able to easily do so in just 10 minutes when it would have taken me hours. The skin was going to be sold in Upernavik in the next few days for approximately 300DKK, or $63USD.
We went back to our cottage where we worked on our video files and blogs, and tried to get some rest. We’re joining Niels again tomorrow for another long day preparing bait to fish for halibut! I’m not used to having five consecutive days of constant sunlight, and my body is starting to feel out of whack. But wow, what an experience!
More information is on http://www.deafnation.com
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