Mountains, amazing local food and a lambskin bed. A glamping trip in southern Greenland offered rough Arctic landscapes and wilderness-style gourmet experiences
Travel journal by Lise Kloch
A white streak of smoke seeps up from the top of the ‘lavvu’, a tipi-like tent with a high ceiling. The Vandeti River makes subtle splashes, and in the background is a mountain range towering. There is snow on the peaks, and more is on the way. Winter will soon arrive, and the burnt autumn colours of the landscape will be replaced by a white blanket of snow. Our host, 31-year-old Salik Frederiksen, calls us from inside the lavvuen. Food is ready.
My traveling companion and I are in the area of Qinngua Kangilleq, half an hour by speedboat from the small town of Narsarsuaq, which is the hub for air traffic in southern Greenland. We will spend the night in the wilderness as part of a 9-day round trip in South Greenland. Our home for the next day is a large modern lavvu with a wood-burning stove and lots of space.
Lunch was ready when we arrived at the camp. Large freshly caught prawns, fermented seal blubber, crispy blackberries, dried cod and whale charcuterie. A classic Greenlandic menu of the fancier kind. With this, a mayonnaise mixed with mountain sorrel and pines. Salik Frederiksen has been preparing the food. Together with his friend Freddy Christensen, he runs the small, local travel agency Tasermiut Camp, which arranged our overnight stay in the wilderness.
“I want to make food an experience in itself. You are surrounded by beautiful nature, so the food should be too. I want to show what Greenland can offer,’ says Salik Frederiksen. On their camp trips, they serve both traditional meals and modern dishes with Greenlandic ingredients added with a gourmet twist. And it’s not just about the good taste.
“Our traditional ingredients show who we are and how we have survived in Greenland over generations. We use the food that Greenlanders have used for many hundreds of years, and we go out into nature and pick herbs, berries and mushrooms, just as our grandmothers and their grandmothers did.’
Salik Frederiksen has a close collaboration with local fishermen, sheep farmers and hunters, who supply everything from reindeer and musk ox to king crab and wild birds for the camp’s chefs.
Mountain birch and wild celery
After lunch, Salik takes us exploring the area. We hike down through the valley along the river and turn east up to the forest on the valley side. Had we continued north, we would have reached the ice cap behind the mountains within a few hours. The walk from the camp area to the edge of the ice cap only gets longer each year, says Salik. Climate change has placed its clear mark here in Greenland, and last year the ice sheet shrank more than ever before.
The ‘forest’ consists of a low thicket of blue-grey willow and mountain birch, some of the few tree species that grow in Greenland. A short way up the valley side we find what we were looking for. Namely wild celery (or angelica as it is also called), the light green, celery-like stems that will be used for dinner. On the mountain above the forest, we can hear a sheep bleating. Here at the end of September, most of the sheep have already been returned home to the area’s sheep farms from the mountains and valleys where they grazed over the summer. But some have strayed far from the herd and must be brought back.
South Greenland is the only place in the country where there are sheep farms. The tradition of keeping sheep here goes back a long way – actually it goes back a 1000 years ago, when the Norsemen, led by Erik the Red, brought the sheep here.
We descend from the forest and into the valley. We stop where the river makes a small break. Salik lies down flat on his stomach and puts a hand under the brink. On the third attempt, he gets hold of a small, bouncing brown trout. Summer is high season for angling, but there are fish in the river all year round.
Low sun over the wilderness
We get back to camp just before darkness falls. The light from the setting sun colours the snow on the mountain tops orange and covers the magnificent landscapes in a warm light. On the evening’s menu there is local lamb with wild celery and locally grown potatoes. For starters, pickled salmon with Arctic thyme and a small white flower used for both tea and cooking. Here it is called “Greenlandic Mail”, and sometimes also known as Labrador Tea.
The temperature outside is near freezing, but we are warm. Our beds in the lavvu consist of sleeping bags and a lambskin mattress. The wood-burning stove crackles merrily, and a pile of firewood is ready, so we can put more wood on should the cold creep in during the night.
It does, the cold. I wake up with cold toes and an almost empty woodpile. I venture out of the lavvu. Out here in the wilderness, there is no artificial light to disturb neither the stars nor the Northern Lights that dances in the distant sky.
Farewell to the wilderness
The next day we say goodbye to the camp. Salik follows us down to the speedboat that will take us back to Narsarsuaq. The lichen on the mountains along the bank is fiery red in many places. There was frost last night, and the boat is crunching through the thin layer of ice on the surface of the water. The water is calm, and we pass small patches of icebergs on the sailing trip. The icebergs are getting smaller every year, the skipper says, just as the winter ice on the fjords is getting thinner.
Salik stays behind and packs down the lavvu. The season is over for this year. Soon the cold really sets in, and they need to prepare for seven cold and dark winter months, before the guests return to the camp in early spring.
See more about wildlife experience in south Greenland at Tasermiut Camp