Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cruising icy Greenland

Those of us familiar with big U.S. cruise ships think of nightclubs, endless shopping, non-stop action. Norwegian Coastal Voyage's Greenland Expedition is something altogether different: A journey to the world's largest noncontinental island where nature is the attraction.

No dressy clothes required here. What you need instead is a fleece, hiking boots and waterproof gloves.

Our trip begins today, in the Greenland town of Kangerlussaug -- perhaps better known as Sondre Stromford, home to a U.S. air base from World War II through the 1980s. At 66 degrees 57 minutes north, we're just above the Arctic Circle.

It's warmer than we expect: Close to 55 degrees, and downright toasty in the sun. And that's something of a problem. As you know from National Geographic and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, the miles-thick ice cap is melting. When it melts enough, some U.S. coastal cities may flood.

We chat about this in the airport restaurant with a local man who asks where we're from. "Please give a message to your president,'' he says when he learns we're Americans. "The ice is melting. It's accelerating every day.''

The man, a traditional healer, has a camp on the ice cap just above the town here and has lived in Greenland all his 60 years. He's a native person known as Your Uncle on the Hill, involved with organizing a meeting on global climate awareness among native peoples from across the Americas next summer.

He sits with his cousin. "When we were born, the ice cap was 5 kilometers deep,'' says Angaangag Lyberth, "Uncle's'' name. "Now it's only 3 kilometers deep.''

More immediately, it's a problem for some of our fellow travelers. One of the touring options for today is a Musk Ox safari. But because of the hot season, the oxen have moved far from town, up near the ice cap. The safari today spots only a single ox.

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