As some of you may have read in earlier posts on this website, thirteen months ago on a trip to Greenland I purchased a 65 inch model kayak replica entitled Qayag (which is the name of the traditional Inuit sealskin hunting boat). It had been created more than 50 years ago by an artist, Jesse Thorn, who is no longer alive.
(If you missed the first Parts of this saga, and you have time on your hands, see these two posts – A Qayaq (Kayak) Saga and Continuing the Saga of the Kayak – for the details of its disputed’ purchase: Ellen had told me, “Don’t. Even. Consider. It.” Then, it took almost seven months to get it home, unpacked, and into house.
Now, after another extended period, the Qayag has finally found its resting place.
As you will see in the picture below, it now ‘floats’ out from the wall of our living room (where we display some of the crafts gathered over the years from our many trips). It is on the wall, below one of our stained glass windows created by a friend 50 years ago.
We never thought it would take so long for the Qayag to settle on its final resting place. Actually, Ellen had warned me that we didn’t really have room for it, and it would overwhelm any place we tried to put it in our house. I had three possible places for it and several back up plans if those didn’t work.
None of my carefully considered placements made Ellen, the Qayaq, or me very happy.
So we called upon Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer who has had such a significant influence on many rooms in our house. He immediately saw where it wanted to go and over the next month or so figured out how to get it there.
It took another two months to get it there successfully. COVID-19 caused interruptions, including time for a metal worker to fashion an 11 by 17 inch platform on which it could rest, Petr to affix it to the wall, and Vincent to be satisfied with the exact placement. He had Petr reverse the platform and then reattach it to the wall.
But as the Little Prince has taught us, “It’s the time you spend for your ‘Qayaq’ that makes your Qayaq so important.”
And I’m happy to write that Ellen and I have survived this 13-month effort and to report that Ellen readily agreed to use her photographic skills so MillersTime readers can see how happy the Qayaq is in its new home. Indeed, Ellen not only approves of its placement, she readily says she likes it.
For me, I’m beyond thrilled as every time I pass anywhere near the living room, which is easily 20 times a day, I look at it and appreciate this truly wonderful treasure.
If you’re ever in DC, and if we are allowed to be together, you are invited to come visit the Qayag.
“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important…You’re responsible for your rose.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Part I. The Purchase (Sept. 7-8, 2019):
It all started on the first Saturday in September, 2019. Over seven months ago. We were concluding one of our more memorable trips, nine days in Greenland (Greenland: In Words & Photos), with its remote, wild, and awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights, and where its Inuit population was hurtling from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.
It was our final day and night there, and we were in the small town of Kulusuk (pop. 300), awaiting our flight back to Iceland and then back to DC. The foggy weather was threatening to strand us there, and it was likely our plane would not arrive, nor leave if it did arrive.
I walked by the very tiny souvenir shop in our modest hotel and saw a ‘model’ of an Inuit kayak. I was captivated. But the shop was closed, and when I pointed the kayak out to Ellen, she immediately said, “Don’t buy it. It’s too big, and we don’t have any place to put it.” Others in our group of 12 saw it too and remarked at how unusual it was. Several seemed to be quite interested in it also.
Most of the group went off to ‘explore’ Kulusuk, and I stayed behind trying to find someone to open the shop. I eventually found Jakob Ibsen, the gruff, no nonsense Danish (Norweigan ?) manager of the hotel who opened the shop and began to tell me about the Qayaq (the Inuit spelling for the word kayak, pronounced “kayak”). He told me it was a 50+ year old, hand-crafted, one of a kind, replica of an Inuit kayak with its ropes, harpoons, and various other adorning artifacts. He said the craftsman, Jess Thorin, had recently died, and somehow he, Jakob, had come into possession of it.
The price was more than I had ever paid for a ‘souvenir’ throughout all of our travels, including my prized Masai shield purchased in 1963 in Tanganyika. But I didn’t think the price of this hand-made artifact was exorbitant for what it was. Plus, when one is truly captivated (can one be ‘truly captivated’?), cost can more easily be justified. It was art, after all.
There were some hurdles, however. Ellen was quite clear that I was not to pursue it. When she left with our other travelers to explore Kulusuk, she gave me ‘that look’ that was quite clear: “Don’t. Even. Consider. It. ” Those of you who know her, understand she is not one to be easily disregarded. Those of you who know me, understand my quiet determination.
Then there was the size, approximately 65 inches in length, and Ellen had a point about where we could display it in our home, already ladened with crafts gathered (over the course of 50 years) from around the world.
And besides all that, how would we get this somewhat fragile piece of art out of Greenland and to the US? I certainly couldn’t take it with me.
All of these hurdles proved to have some validity. But when one is captivated…
When Ellen returned from her photo journey around the town, she took one look at me and said, “You bought it, didn’t you?” (Plus a few other choice, and now repressed, remarks.)
I told her Jakob had assured me he would send it to Washington (after he had one small part of the kayak repaired as he thought he knew an artist who could do the work). He promised to build a crate to house the kayak and keep it safe during transport.
Ellen remained skeptical, largely because she didn’t see a place for us to house this ‘treasure’ nor how it could possibly be sent. My view was that it would become obvious where we could display it once it was in the house. Somehow, it would ‘tell us’ where it belonged.
You can guess how well that went over with Ellen.
Part II. The Wait (Sept. 9, 2019 – Apr. 21, 2020):
Jakob had told me as soon as he had that one portion of the Qayaq repaired, it would be on its way to me, probably sometime in October, 2019.
I will spare the reader all the frustrating emails, phone calls, swearing, doubts, etc., but suffice it to say I never lost hope that it would arrive. Ellen, on the other hand, seemed quite satisfied with what became a seven and a half month saga, secretly, I think, hoping that it might never arrive.
Briefly, there seemed to be a ‘hold up’ every month. Once, it was finding the right artist to do the repair. Then it was getting the right materials to do the repair. Then it was building a box, crate actually, to house the kayak. then there was a long silence from Jakob, and he neither answered my emails nor could I reach him by phone. 2019 turned into 2020, and all I had was a picture of the empty crate.
Finally, in mid January (four months after the purchase), Jakob answered his phone and told me everything was ready, but there were no flights leaving Kulusuk because of the weather! I’m not sure what happened over the next month and a half, but it was not until Mar. 11 that he wrote to say, “The kayak left Kulusuk today on Air Iceland, slowed by Icelandic Customs and concern if anyone handling the kayak and crate had come in contact with COVID-19.”
Ah, my faith in Jakob was restored, but of course the wait for the arrival did not end there. Somehow, it was held up in Reykjavik before it finally arrived in the US, three weeks later on April 2nd.
Then the US Customs got involved. They needed proof of sale, a description of all the contents, including the materials used to build it, my social security number, and my mother’s maiden name. Following a week of document exchanges, it was held in Baltimore until the Fish & Wildlife people would release it. (This is not a joke. Perhaps that was because there were parts of the kayak made with reindeer antler?). Then it was the USDA folks who had to approve it, which they did after several exchanges between Chicago, Iceland, Greenland, Baltimore and Washington (Don’t ask.)
And what then? Just a small hurdle (a week) to get it trucked from BWI to DC and my house (32.8 miles). Something about commercial vs residential delivery. And behold, today, Tuesday, April 21st at 2:01 PM, the crate was delivered to our house and placed in the garage, exactly seven months and 14 days after its purchase.
Saint-Exupery and The Little Prince would be so proud of me.
Ellen and I have been fortunate to travel widely and see a world beyond where we live. Our recent trip to Greenland certainly ranks high on our list of favorites. It was remote. It was wild. It’s ancient culture is being challenged by modern society. It is quiet, and it is beautiful.
*Truly awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, and the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights.,
*The cultural issues, always of interest to us, were fascinating as the Inuit population moves from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.
*Each day our activities placed us in a world where we were constantly confronted with new sights and insights.
*Each day and many nights were a photographer’s paradise.
*Our two expedition leaders were superb, with their planning of activities, their knowledge of all aspects Greenland, their ability to inform, to teach, and to help us understand and capture what we were experiencing. Plus their photographic advice and assistance helped all of us, no matter what kind of camera or experience each of us had.
*The Nat/Hab Base Camp was located in an isolated area that gave us a sense of Greenland which we could never have experienced if we were on our own.
*Excellent weather. Cold but no rain until our final day.
Briefly, after spending four days in northeast Iceland among waterfalls and scenic vistas, we met our group of 10 other travelers (three couples, three single women, and one single man) and one of our guides in Reykjavik. We flew from Reykjavik to Kulusuk in southeastern Greenland and went by helicopter onto Tasiilaq, a town of 2,000 (the total population of Greenland is only 57,000, despite the huge size of the island).
There we spent two days, hiking, boating (our first views of Arctic icebergs and whales), and learning about Greenland (three times the size of Texas, 80% covered by ice and snow, and if you circumnavigated the entire island going in and out of the inlets, you’d cover about the same distance as if you went around the world, 25,000 miles). We learned about its people and about its history, and we met several unforgettable individuals (both in Tasiiliq and throughout our trip.) We also had one incredibly clear night in Tasiiliq of Northern Light activity (see Ellen’s photos below and in her slide show, links below).
A four-hour boat ride took us to the NatHab Base Camp, a truly isolated, wilderness setting on the edge of the Sermilik Fjord. Base Camp consisted of eight individual tented cabins (heated and lanterned and containing ‘dry’ toilets) plus a number of other tented spaces for meetings, showering, eating, and storing of equipment. We had electricity during the daylight hours in the common spaces. The meals were terrific, and the entire camp was surrounded with a ‘modest’ electrified fence as a precaution against polar bear encounters. There was no wi-fi or cell connectivity.
From here we kayaked among the icebergs, spent hours on rubber rafted Zodiac boats exploring the fjords, glaciers, icebergs and sea life, and hiking. Each day seemed to focus on two major activities. One morning, for example, we spent three hours in the tiny town of Tinit, population 82 where we began to get a sense of life today in Greenland versus that of just a few decades earlier when the Inuit population lived in small sod and stone structures and existed solely on their ability to hunt and fish. That afternoon we kayaked amongst the glaciers in one of the fjords.
Words fail to adequately describe what we saw and what we will long remember, but Ellen’s photos will give you some sense of what we experienced over these five days at the camp and over our full nine days in Greenland. Think of them as a collage, not representing every aspect of what saw and did. I think they give you an overall picture of the beauty of the wilderness and the remoteness of the country.
We ended our time in the Base Camp by helicoptering back to the airport island of Kulusuk, population about 300, where we had one last opportunity, as we waited for our flight back to Iceland, to learn about another small town and the role the US military played there.
Then it was back to Reykjavik for one day and night
(wonderful food) before flying the six hours back to DC.
As we often do, Ellen and I made a list of some of the best
parts of the trip and a few Do’s and Don’ts for those of you who might
consider such an adventure:
Words that Best Describe Greenland:
Ellen – Remote
Richard – Land in transition
Most Unforgettable Moment:
Ellen – Photographing the Northern Lights
Richard – First Zodiac trip in the Sermilik Fjord with its icebergs
Ellen – Day 5 – Zodiacing all day, Haan Glacier, Diamond Beach, whale watching, photographing, and iceberg gawking.
Richard – Also Day 5, followed closely by the afternoon kayaking. (“This is what I came for.”)
What Exceeded Expectations:
Ellen – Weather and capturing the Northern Lights
Richard – The total NatHab experience – guides, plans,
facilities, activities, and accessing people and places we never could have
done on our own.
What Would You Return for:
Ellen & Richard – To see what changes take place over
the next decade for the Inuits and the environment.
Do’s and Don’t’s:
Don’t put on your rain gear or “Mustang suit” with boots on.
And don’t put either of them on before visiting one of the ‘dry’ toilets. (Yes, you have to remove the gear to use ‘bush toilets,’ which are different than ‘dry toilets’.)
Don’t expect to have your passport stamped in Greenland
And don’t expect much internet connectivity.
Don’t try to bring back a Greenland sled dog puppy, no matter how
cute they seem.
Don’t fall out of a Zodiac or kayak under any circumstances.
Don’t worry about everyday standards of cleanliness. They don’t apply and no one cares how long its been since you’ve showered.
Do read about the early explorations of Greenland before you go, and then continue that reading while you’re there and perhaps after you return. (We can make specific suggestions.)
Do pay close attention to what NatHab suggests you pack.
Do take a camera, any kind, and keep it with you at all times.
Since you will likely get to Greenland via Iceland, Do eat at least one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever (Yes! I said, “hot dogs”) from that cart in Reykjavik. (You probably should order two, and don’t miss the crispy onions.)
And here are a dozen of Ellen’s favorite photos from Greenland. Do use a big screen to get a high resolution, especially for those of the Northern Lights. You wouldn’t want to miss the stars and constellations she also captured.
If you want more, see the link below to her slide show of 65 photos.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the linkto start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full pageThey are much sharper, and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.