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1 September 2011

The Weekly Whirlybird

Greenland is the only country in the world not connected within by roads or railways. To travel from one settlement to another has to involve helicopters, aeroplanes, boats, snowmobiles or dog teams.

Supply ships bringing goods from the outside world must have ice breaking capabilities. On the east coast (where Ittoqqortoormiit lies snug on the rocks) reaching us by boat is only possible in summer, a couple of weeks either side of August. But regardless of the month, trouble-free passage is never assured.

To reach Greenland by air is a two-pronged affair: all international flights arrive via Iceland or Copenhagen (Denmark) and to reach your final destination within Greenland will likely involve a short helicopter flight. The helicopter is also the only means of sending and bringing in mail to Ittoqqortoormiit.

From March until November Ittoqqortoormiit has two flights per week. In the winter months this goes down to one flight per week when the possibility of delays are fifty-fifty because of Greenland's infamous weather. Flight delays are intrinsic to living in the north. We hunker down and wait patiently.

The longest I’ve known Ittoqqortoormiit to be without flights due to bad weather was five weeks. That was either side of Christmas 2007, and has gone down as the worst Ittoqqortoormiit winter in living memory, when over 70 storm days dumped four metres of snow. Jingle bells were silenced. We were totally cut off. No mail. Nobody in. Nobody out. No medical evacuations were possible.

You may ask: with all these logistical hassles, why bother?  Greenland is indescribably beautiful, the people are kind and we are home to about the longest dog sledding season in the world.  It's worth it.

The helicopter landing site in Ittoqqortoormiit has seen much joy and sadness. The helicopter brings in loved ones for reunions and for funerals. It takes out families going away on holiday and residents requiring advanced medical care. Since expectant mothers must leave Ittoqqortoormiit to give birth, new arrivals are a wonderful occasion with entire extended families waving small Greenlandic flags to greet the incoming helicopter. Beyond the age of 15, Ittoqqortoormiit children who choose further education fly out to either west Greenland or Denmark. Some go further afield. Saying goodbye is hard.

The staff at the small airport and helicopter pilots that service Ittoqqortoormiit work hard under challenging conditions. And we rely on them.

For more information about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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