Sunday, 18 September 2016

Further north there's nothing else

If anyone had the vain hope of finding this blog full of tropical paradise islands, let me say, I'm sorry, you won't find many beaches with coconut palms (never say never). I do not want to cheat you; at Grise Fjord it cools down a little bit, especially at night.

In 1953, the Canadian government carried out a plan to populate the Canadian Arctic in an attempt  to prevent the threat posed by the Soviet claims at the Arctic. So they decided to establish several villages and "friendly invited" (maybe "clearly forced" would be more accurate) tens of Inuits to settle in the far north. Two towns were created: Resolute on Cornwallis Island, and Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island.

Further north, there is nothing else. Well, yes, there is a weather station called Eureka and even further north you can find CFS Alert (Canadian Forces Station Alert) a Canadian military base that deserves a post by itself.
So, we are just 1500km from the North Pole. The name of Grise Fjord (Fjord pigs) was given by Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup who said that walrus scream,very abundant in the area, resembled that of pigs. Inuit name for Grise Fiord is Aujuittuq and is written (in Inuit): ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ. 

The few families that the Canadian government fooled 50 years ago to come live in this place, found on arrival that promised houses were not even built. In addition, the compromise of returning home after one year was fake; the presence of inhabitants at Grise Fjord was becoming more and more important than ever (or at least, this is what was believed at the offices in Ottawa), so Canadian Government decided that the settlement should become permanent. Luckily the new settlers of Ellesmere Island (an island nearly as large as Britain having the people of Grise Fjord as the only inhabitants) were able to learn the habits of migratory whales. The hunting of whales ended up becoming his salvation preventing them to die of starvation.

40 years later, in 1993, a parliamentary commission concluded that the so-called High Arctic Relocation was actually a forced displacement of Canadians; the government formally apologized and compensated those first families and their descendants with 10 million Canadian dollars.

Currently, Grise Fjord is home to about 130 people. A few years ago, the population reached almost 200 inhabitants, but the isolation and lack of opportunities has made the village population drop considerably. But this trend is beginning to change: the eco-tourism industry has come to Grise Fjord, and with it, employment opportunities for Grise Fjord youth.

Curiously, apart from having the record as the most northerly town throughout America, Grise Fjord also holds another record: the town has the less crime ratio throughout Canada. Considering that Canada is itself a fairly safe country, we could argue Grise Fjord is one of the safest destinations in the world!

This destination is easily accessible even if it takes some time: First you need to fly to Iqaluit (via Montreal). From Europe, and considering the transfer at Montreal, assume just 30 hours. Iqaluit Airport is the largest in Nunavut, the Canadian region where Grise Fjord is. And this is the main airport from where Air Nunavut flights take off. The plane will arrive at Resolute Bay after 5 hours of flight over the Canadian tundra and, if you are lucky, you will be able to link directly (even if you should spend a night in Resolute Bay, it's worth!) with next flight. Kenn Borek Air plane will take , in just 1:30 hours at the small airport of Grise Fjord.

What are 40 hours of flights and airports if the goal is to reach this paradise of ice and tundra! Oh! Yes! Those who suffer from fear of fying, I recommend you to take a Diazepam (or failing that, four whiskeys on its own) before leaving Iqaluit. Both the flight to Resolute Bay as the one to Grise Fjord are flown mostly with twin-engine cargo planes so it moves a lot!. Oh, and the approach to the small dirt road from Grise Fjord is, according to experts, one of the most complex in North America. In this video you can see what it means landing at Grise Fjord during autumn (and there is sunlight!). If someone is able to distinguish the runway 10 seconds before the plane touches the ground, you win the prize!


Once in Grise Fjord, you'll find a hotel, a shop where, apart from all the essentials to survive the Arctic, you can buy Inuit handicrafts, and a medical center. If you prefer to go directly to the adventure, you can stay in a camp organized here either to see fauna (whales, narwhals, seals and walruses and polar bears) as going hunting.

If you are traveling in the summer, keep calm: during many hours of the day (May to early August lasts 24 hours) you can reach 5ºC (41ºF) positive! If you decide to travel there in winter (no sunlight from November to February) please wear at least a cardigan, because temperatures reach often -50ºC (-60ºF)!

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