13th November 2021 was a lucky day for me. Not only because I was in Kalaallit Nunaat (also known as Greenland) for Greenland Science Week, but also because there I met Ari Laakso from the Arctic Centre whose Wonder Seekers crew was going for a boat tour with their soon-to-be collaborator, Arctic Boat Charter. Fortunately, they had an extra seat for me to join the tour.
The topic of my research is related to seal hunting, crafts and trade, so I was excited to get to see and sense the fjords of Nuuk from the water and possibly spot a few seals.
Although I was excited about the boat trip, I would not morally book a commercial boat tour myself: I don't enjoy tourist tours with a ready script. I prefer a genuine conversation with a local who has a personal connection to the place and can guide me to see the mountains, water and ice through their eyes.
Against all my prejudices, this tour turned out to offer all that and more.
The reason why the tour did not unfold as a tourist performance with Erik Palo Jacobsen. He is the owner of the boat and Arctic Boat Charter. He explained that his business priority is to keep the tours small enough that he can enjoy the work he does and have time to talk with guests.
He obviously loves his job and listening to him was enjoyable and inspiring. Surely it is good for all of us to take time to evaluate the money-happiness ratio in our lives.
As a local and Kalaallit, Erik was about to share his knowledge and memories of the surroundings as well as some thought-provoking details he had learned from the scientists who often hire him to access research sites.
During the tour, we experienced drifting blue icebergs, an abandoned village bathing in the sunset, and one of the earliest signs of life on Earth in the form of old sedimentary rock in the isle of Akilia. Each of these was explained to us. For me, being next to over three and a half billion years of old rock formations comprised of iced beings offered a surreal perspective on time and life.
After the tour, I had a much better understanding of the complexities of tourism in Greenland. As global interest in Greenland as a travel destination grows, the concerns over its impact on environment and people will increase.
Who will benefit from the increased tourism?
Our tour guide, Erik, hopes that Naalakkersuisut (the government of Greenland) will take a stronger position in guiding the direction of tourism. While acknowledging that cruise ship tourism might be here to stay, he believes that action could be taken to ensure that money bought into Greenland stays in Greenland.
I have visited many places on Earth but Greenland is definitely one of the most magical.
Sadly, I didn't see any seals on the trip but this trip completely reshaped my perception of commercial tours. As Erik explained, there are a diversity of tours with different priorities and I think I have now found the kind that matches my values and interests.
While the tourism industry can be connected to cultural appropriation, this tour illustrated tourism's capacity to cherish the Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices that are so strongly present in Greenland.
All photos © Heide Konttinen
Charter your own arctic boat
Arctic Boat Charter offers charter boat trips along Greenland’s coasts that are safe, comfortable and high quality. To find out about booking a charter for your trip to Greenland, please see their Wonder Seekers listing.