We went to Greenland to see the northern lights â and to find out why Trump wanted to buy it
Just two of the many beautiful icebergs (above and below). Reminded me of Superman’s home, from the archives of my childhood memories.
We went to Greenland to see the northern lights — and to find out why Trump wanted to buy it
Lucy Torres-Gomez (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  Even in the spaces between a thousand daydreams, I never imagined I would find myself in Greenland one day. And yet there we were, Richard and I, in our happy group of eight — Ben, Miguel, Tito Ver, Tita Ne, Bryan and Kai. Later on we would find out that aside from the staff and crew of about 42, we were the only Filipinos on the ship. (Passengers totaled almost 120, plus staff and crew, and the 13-man expedition team. And as ship cruises go, this was a fairly small size.)

It has been said that the insatiable itch to travel is especially true for those with a mole somewhere on their feet. Ben has always been an adventurer, and as usual, that wanderlust of his that has led us to many places through the years and brought us to Greenland in September. Thank you, Ben, for what turned out to be an epic experience. It may never have been top of mind for any one of us but it certainly will go into that file in my memory of memories that’s labeled “FAVORITES.”

The Greenland in my mind was one of those places the likeness of which I would only find in the storybooks of my childhood, an image on a postcard sent from the edge of the world, scenes from a documentary on National Geographic. A place lonely, cold, and oh-so-far away. “Why there?” “What will you do in Greenland?” “After seeing all the icebergs, won’t you get bored?” “10 days at sea?!” “Won’t it be too cold?!” “Are you sure to even see the Northern Lights?” “Greenland, the one that Trump wished to buy?”

But after having been there for a stretch of 10 days or so, with days that were the same but different, Greenland being very much a destination, it is first and foremost a journey. I will remember it as a whole experience, that string of days that always started off-ship with boat rides and treks that brought us to windows of views so beautiful it took our breath away — the sum of all that alongside the emotions it stirred in both the burdened and unburdened spaces within — that is the Greenland you take home with you.

Many times, we would have a magnificent view before us and we would all fall silent, just taking it all in. We would start off in the morning, a bunch of eight to 10 strangers seated in a zodiac, this rubber boat that would take us the short distance from where the ship was anchored to the landing. There we would be pretty much free to choose which group to go with — the beach strollers, those who opted for medium walks, or the adventurous ones who preferred the long and more challenging climb up and down more steep pathways. There were many such gateways, one just as magical as the next. Scoresby Sund, for one, is a large fjord system that showed off a wonderland of colossal icebergs and vast open landscapes.

We also wandered around Ittoqqortoormiit, the only settlement in the area, inhabited by about 450 Inuits who still hunt to this day (not surprising considering the abundance of fish and animals in the area). I will remember that place for the colorful wooden houses (such a charming sight to behold!) and the ruddy-faced, happy and playful children running around. Greenland National Park has fascinating flora and fauna and we were told that it being a remote area without any resident human population it is best to travel in groups and always through tour operators. Which leads me to what felt like such a gift the whole time — the presence of a very able, very efficient 13-man expedition team led by Anja, who has a gift for telling stories (and sounds like she is still telling a story even if she is actually giving us instructions on safety and procedure and schedules for the day.) Through all treks in all landings members of the expedition team would scout the area in advance for the presence of potentially harmful animals like polar bears, and would always strategically position themselves back and front of the group, with rifles just for safety. You feel safe knowing they are there with you.

Sometimes it could feel like a day for Fraulein Maria, and you would want to break out in song atop the hill, arms wide open, singing “the hills are alive.” Then it can also look like a scene out of Game of Thrones or Braveheart, and you half-expect to see a ship with Vikings coming to conquer the shores. It is majestic, the views, and that is an understatement. The cruise on board the zodiac around and in between icebergs was perhaps my favorite. There we were, all uniformly bundled in red parkas and rubber boots, warm even in the coldest cold because we all came prepared with layers of thermal and waterproof clothing, being given the chance to view icebergs too magnificent for words, each just as beautiful as the next. Other than the click of the camera and the sound of the motor boat whirring we could be cruising for 45 minutes to an hour and just be silent, in awe of that kind of unparalleled beauty and raw power that only nature can possess.

Many times in those grand but quiet moments you go inside yourself, take stock of your life as you know it, and you get all these warm feelings of gratitude and love for the the people in your life. Also, suddenly and wonderfully you become very aware of how you are but a speck in the world, just a dot in the grander scheme of things, and that not everything is about you, how you feel, what you go through, what drives you. It puts so many things in perspective, and so many of the small stuff just falls away and being alive and present in the moment is gift enough.

That said, there is something about the unknown that can be liberating more than it can be scary. Because every day was like that — unknown, fresh, new, rife with possibility, an exploration that can be gentle or one that invites you to move past your comfort zone. It enriches you, in those spaces of your life that you know time will reveal when it has to. After every landing in the morning we would be welcomed back in the ship with soothing cups of honey lemon tea. And in the afternoon, it would be cups of delicious hot chocolate. The Sea Spirit, this gentle but beautiful ship, was our home for all of 10 days or so.

Being on a cruise in Greenland wasn’t about just the big things, the small ones were many kinds of wonderful, too. I remember rocks that looked liked unfaceted gemstones, random streams and beautiful glaciers, pretty little flowers that were tucked here and there, berries that were sweet and fresh, pink (yes, pink!) sand. They are like little treasures, the joy of which reminded me of the sea glass I used to collect when I was a little girl.

Then there would be those in-between moments spent mostly in the beautiful library which was perhaps my favorite spot in the ship. They would have three kinds of freshly baked cookies each day — cinnamon, chocolate chip, honey oat. I would enjoy those with almond milk, and Bryan, Ben, and Kai would come from their rooms with peanuts and chips and we would all be there in one area, just being together, enjoying the view of icebergs from wide, sunny windows.

A few times, Tito Ver would take to the piano and play gently, while we read books or worked on our computer and smartphones. Tita Ne would have the funniest of thoughts and recollections and Migs would be our very own Wikipedia. Mealtime was always warm and wonderful because we would all be together sharing thoughts, stories, making new memories. It was all so gentle and beautiful, that time spent together. Some nights we would be awakened in mid-sleep by Anna’s voice on the PA system, and we would run up to deck to catch the Northern Lights (she staged a show for all of three nights out of 10!), still in our pajamas, with just our parkas over it. She was elusive and shy, the Aurora Borealis, and gave us but a preview of how spectacular she can be if she wanted to.

There were days of lectures and nights of documentary-showing, a session of knot-making, a cheese and dessert buffet one night when they also played local folk music by an artist based in Greenland. All so simple and nice, the kind of memories you smile upon in your sunset years.

Oh, and there was the Polar Plunge, too, which 22 passengers readily committed to. In our group Richard was the only one who had the courage to try. He was the last to take the plunge, and he happily raised his arms to declare “Philippines!” before diving in. The woman beside me, a Filipina waitress who took wonderful care of us, promptly squealed before saying ‘Daya ni Sir, akala ko maghuhubad siya.’

Getting there was the only rough spot, when the ship was out in the open seas, and maybe also only because we were caught in the wicked whims of a low pressure area (we had sea sick pills and sliced green apples to tide us over). But even that factored in will never be enough to cast a shadow on the sunny joy the cruise was for us, as a whole and experientially.

One of our last nights happened to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival and since there were quite a number of Chinese nationals on board, they thoughtfully brought with them ingredients to make fresh mooncakes, which they baked in the kitchen and shared with everyone for dinner that night. It was a happy and beautiful evening, we were all high from days upon days of wonderful sights, there was singing and endless toasts of wine, everyone wishing each other well. The restaurant team adorned the dining room with Chinese lanterns and on the menu was delicious Chinese fare. All the meals were delicious and abundant, by the way, and it would always be a spread of many choices such that there would always be something for everyone, even and especially those with diet restrictions. Several times we were even served adobo and sinigang by the Filipino chefs on board. What a treat it was.

Greenland is one of those places too beautiful for just words, photos, a story; it is that corner on Planet Earth that draws you in, all of you, and is absolutely experiential and relative, such that my memories of it can be entirely different from that of other passengers on the very same cruise. You look at all that there is before you and there is nothing, but everything, and every moment is a beautiful reminder to breathe, and just be. Photos by Richard Gomez



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