Climbing aboard the "Marie"

Climbing aboard the "Marie"

The Arctic Umiaq Line (AUL) is Greenland’s only long-distance passenger ferry, so I was expecting something a bit bigger––leaving the harbor of the capital city, mind––than the Marie Martek. Alas, the Marie was what I got––smaller than a fishing boat, with seating for twelve, though the only other passenger between Nuuk and Maniitsoq was a homesick pre-teen with a tub of Haribo. The captain was gruff and heavyset, and seemed not to want the first mate to ever take the wheel. When he had to use the head, he would jog to the back and the controls would be unmanned for as long as he was gone. The first mate was scruffy and spindly, and smelled of wet cigars. He moved from the Faroe Islands to Sisimiut 35 years ago, and when I mentioned that his country was beautiful, he raised an eyebrow in surprise. “There are no trees,” he pointed out.

Fishing village between Nuuk and Maniitsoq

Fishing village between Nuuk and Maniitsoq

The ride really was gorgeous, though––miles and miles of snow-smothered mountains as we maneuvered through the maze of fjords. We stopped along the way at remote fishing villages, sometimes to pick up a passenger, sometimes to drop off a bag of mail. They were like something out of time––dirt paths winding between boxy, brightly painted homes, men sharing coffee on the decks of rusting fishing boats with harpoon guns mounted to the prow, markets selling frozen musk ox, digestive crackers, and long-range hunting rifles. At one of the villages, I climbed the rocks in back of town to get a view of the harbor and ate lunch while watching whales blow jets of water toward the distant horizon.

The Maniitsoq cemetery

The Maniitsoq cemetery

It took a full day to get to Maniitsoq, and by the time I arrived most everything was closed. A patch of grass between the sweet little town library and the rows of white crosses comprising the cemetery seemed the best place to pitch a tent. Very early the next morning I awoke to a whistling, chattering procession of voices: fishermen, or perhaps ghosts from the Maniitsoq cemetery? I never found out, but the timing was fortuitous because the sweet Marie was pulling out early for Sisimiut.


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