Freezing rain on a dismal November morning. Ken takes to the streets on his teles. A rather anticlimactic video, but it allows you to admire our neighborhood.
This Sunday, Ken and I finally decided to hike to the top of Store Malene, the highest peak (760 m/2508 ft) easily accessible from town. Because there was a lot of snow this year, we were waiting for a good melt to set in before attempting the walk. I suppose we were also celebrating our new proximity to the trails outside town-- they're now only a 5 minute walk from our door. (This is even more exciting for the winter... we'll be in a ski-in ski-out condo!).
The hike was nice, and actually a bit more demanding than I expected, involving some hands-and-feet-required scrambling. We had a great 360 degree view at the top and saw tantalizing peaks in the distance that we hadn't previously known existed. Well worth the effort.
Hiking in the hills outside Islamabad last fall, in a highly inappropriate outfit.
We saw about ten other hikers in the three hours it took us to complete the trip. There were a few Danish transplant types-- young blondes wearing Mammut coats--but the rest of the hikers were Greenlandic.
My favorite was a duo of Greennlandic guys in running shoes and track pants. As they trotted up behind me, I stopped to catch my breath, clinging to a rock to stave off my vertigo, and turned to them to say, "Wow! You guys are fast!"--very much in the fashion of my mother. The elder of the pair looked at me and said, "YES! I HAVE ALREADY RUN UP THIS TRAIL 57 TIMES. IT'S GREAT!" I said, "Wow, that's specific. You're really a professional, huh?" (Insert smiley face in my intonation.) He replied, "YES! I AM!". Then he ran past Ken and said, "WELCOME TO GREENLAND!". When we got to the top, he and his companion (who I think was a protege of sorts) were engaging in what looked like little feats of strength, leaping in spasmodic bouts of energy from boulder to boulder. The whole thing was just laced with ENTHUSIASM.
It gave me a flashback to last fall when I was working in Islamabad. On the weekends, we would sometimes hike in the Margalla Hills outside of the city. On the first trip, we got a little lost, and suddenly, out of the bushes, appeared a middle aged man in a full polyester track suit straight from the 1970s. "Hello!" he said. We asked him for directions, and he pointed us to a fork in the trail that we should take. Then he took off running into the bushes in the opposite direction, straight up the hill. "Where are you going?" we asked. "TO THE FIRE TRAILS!" he said. (Fire trails are the corridors blazed into the hills to help stop wildfires by creating a vegetation gap-- they go straight up and down the mountains, no switchbacks.) Then he disappeared, but for the next 45 minutes of hiking, he kept popping in and checking on us as we trudged up the switchbacks, taking shortcuts via the fire trails, always shouting things like, "DO YOU LOVE IT? IT'S GREAT! YOU MUST TRY THE FIRE TRAILS NEXT! MUCH BETTER!" "OH HOHOHOHOHO! I LOVE IT!" so on and so forth. When he stopped to talk to us, he jumped up and down the whole time, panting, his polyester suit fully zipped despite the 90 degree F (32 degree C) heat. Again... such enthusiasm! Such dedication to physical fitness!
All this has gotten me thinking about "hiking" and what it means in different cultures. I think it's pretty well-defined in the west (Europe/North America). It's a granola-ish activity enjoyed by lots of people, especially those with money. Also, in the west I think it is most enjoyed by those who like being outside but aren't necessarily in great shape or have great physical fitness capabilities. (Those who have great abilities, I believe, get into true mountaineering/climbing/skiing (a category in which I do not include myself!)). On the flip side, in very poor developing countries, I think the concept of "hiking" comes across as pretty outlandish. When I worked in Guatemala as a trekking guide (the only clientele, of course, being Europeans and North Americans on holiday), this was painfully obvious. We'd be trudging up some village's main trail with our fancy backpacks only to be lapped a few times by an old man in flip flops carrying 30 kilos of wood with a head strap. Flexing his gigantic neck tendons, he would just look at us-- not with malice, but still with the obvious implication that we were idiots. Same story in Ethiopia, perhaps even moreso.
But then there are places in the middle-- unique places like Greenland, which is both developing and highly developed (and also has a long cultural connection to nature/subsistence hunting/wilderness/etc), and places like Pakistan, which is quite impoverished but has a wealthy elite and highly developed, modern areas. (I suppose Guatemala has its wealthy elite as well-- I just never got close to those circles.) In these places it seems that among locals, "hiking" is viewed as a means to an end--fitness--possibly with the side benefit of a good view and some fresh air along the way.
For those of us in the west who are trails enthusiasts, I think it's the opposite. When we get to the top, we don't leap around the summit continuing to bolster our fitness; we have a look, do some reflection, feel a little zen about ourselves and eat some chocolate, then begrudge the fact that now, we have to go back down.
Ramblings aside, here are some pictures of our new backyard!
Like good Americans, Ken and I will be moving from Nuuk's city center to the suburbs this weekend. That's right-- Nuuk has a suburb, about 5 km (3.1 mi) from the city center (a 10-15 minute bus ride). We're moving because the housing authorities told us to. The suburb, called Qinngorput (pronounced Kang-ore-poot, +/- some slurring and glottal stops), was developed over the last five years. I'll post more on it later, as it has some important socioeconomic implications for a couple different demographics in Nuuk. If you're curious, you can read more about it here for the time being.
I wanted to post pictures of where we've been living for the last five weeks-- the "pre-temporary" housing I explained in my first post. Commonly referred to as "the towers" around town, this is a beautiful building complex. I'm still not sure how we ended up in such a nice place, because from what I've gathered, it's a private-rental or ownership-only building, where Nuuk's elite live.
Sadly, our time here is coming to an end, and this weekend we'll discover what awaits us in Qinngorput. I'm up for anything except a place with mold, which, according to the Greenland Housing Authority's website, is a "self-inflicted" problem which is a tenant's responsibility to fix. (Their website says, and I quote, "You can get rid of the mold using detergents. Wash mold off with Rodalon or Chlorine in bathroom, window sills, and humid areas of the kitchen and scullery. It is not dangerous to wash mold off. It's something you can do yourself. Good hygiene breaks mold." I'm no mycologist, but this sounds a bit sketchy to me.
Cross your fingers for us!