Dogs and icebergs

Tags: Francesca Galeazzi

What a day! We sailed during the night to reach the island of Disko, where we arrived around 9am and stopped to visit the village of Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn in Danish). It is Sunday so all shops and activities are closed and there are only a few people around. The first visit is to the church were some of us stay for the 10am mass. Although we didn’t understand a word, being in this little warm timber church was somehow reassuring. There was a lot of singing during the mass, that made it quite enjoyable… and if I say so (one that never goes to the church) it means it was great!

Francesca on the shore in Godhavn
Francesca photographed on the shore in Godhavn.

The village is so picturesque… the small timber houses are painted in bright primary colours, forming rainbow-like streets and turning the otherwise grey and dull landscape into a bright lively and somehow amusing scene. The village in fact looks like a merge between Scandinavian and Caribbean architecture, what a combination! We would be told later in the day, by our Inuit guide Ludvik, that the traditional Greenlandic houses were turf huts; but when Greenland became part of Denmark, the population was pushed to change their homes into more modern Scandinavian-type timber houses, those that we have seen today. It always upsets me deeply to see how beautiful ancient cultures disappear under the pressure of becoming ‘modern’ and end up copying the western styles. This is not happening here in Greenland only, but it is systematically under way in most developing countries. It is simply tragic.

Francesca Galeazzi on the shore in Godhavn. Photo: Nathan Gallagher

Well, back to the village. There is something weird in the air, maybe to do with the lack of people in the streets. There are signs of a lively village, with kids toys and bicycles scattered around the houses, the washing drying on the lines, the fishermen’s boats waiting in the little harbour. But only a few people around. Even the museum is closed, so we venture down to the beach and discover hundreds of howling sledge dogs kept on a quite short chain in the surrounding fields. During the summer they are fed 2 to 3 times a week and simply wait for the winter to come, when they can finally take their owners across the uncontaminated ice shelf. But the long wait during the summer makes them weak and need a month at the beginning of the winter to build their muscles back on. Very sad. They howl no stop (I would do it too, if they fed me so seldom!), so the bravest of us, Ruth, goes into their territory to give a couple of them a cuddle and a stroke. I tried to go close to what seemed a lovely white dog… but he didn’t seem that impressed with my request of friendship, so I backed off. At the end of the day I didn’t have any food for the dog and he would have been rather disappointed!

Bench in Godhavn. Photo: Francesca Galeazzi

The beach is the most incredible thing I have ever seen: set against the dark volcanic sand, a remarkable group of icebergs is floating and breaking, at close distance from our cameras, emitting loud bangs and flipping over. Smaller pieces of icebergs that came off the bigger ones are stranded at the beach and melt slowly. The black beach is so punctured by white bits of ice and yellow algae, that it might be taken for a piece of abstract expressionism! Behind the beach, the colourful houses on the hill oversee the bay and form the perfect cornice for this incredible manifestation of nature. What a wonderful show!

Karen, our Inuit guide, tells us that until a few years ago the whole Disko Bay would freeze over in the winter and one could even drive a car across the ice, so thick it was. Now, if they are lucky, they get to see the Bay to freeze with a thin layer of ice. For a few winters in a row they didn’t get any ice at all on the Bay. What better demonstration can one have to conclude that climate change is happening?


  1. Lydia

    Posted Monday 29 Sep at 13:44 | Permalink

    more photos of the village please if you have them..

  2. Duncan

    Posted Tuesday 30 Sep at 13:17 | Permalink

    great to see the piccie of the bench and amazing shots of the icebergs… have posted a live feed of the gps data at so that you can see quickly the current location and download the hourly readings as a csv… or as a mobile website