Guest house in Greenland could be most remote hotel on Earth
With no cars or mobile phone signal available, Eastern Greenland is about as far from civilization as gets.
The town of Ittoqqortoormiit , positioned on the edge of the frozen sea, is the only inhabited piece of land on this desolately beautiful coastline south of Greenland National Park.
At the center of this tiny village sits a bright orange guest house, which residents are hoping will spark a fragile travel industry in an isolated corner of the emptiest country on Earth.
Greenland’s population density is an unfathomable 0.0 people per-square-kilometer, and three-quarters of the 57,000 citizens live in Nuuk , the capital, which lies on the west coast.
As a result, there’s barely any human habitation for a 1,000-kilometer radius around Ittoqqortoormiit , which is filled with cheerfully painted houses.
That likely makes this well heated, wooden-floored guest house, with its well-stocked fridge and stack of nineties DVDs, the most remote hotel in the world, a crown it has plucked easily from other contenders in Australia, Chile and Mongolia.
The residents of Ittoqqortoormiit — all of whom are of Inuit descent — live lives that neatly fuse two eras.
They have electricity and central heating and Wi-Fi in the local recreation center, and order parcels from Amazon that arrive by charter plane once every two months from Iceland.
But they eat food they have hunted on the tundra or in the sea — whelk, reindeer and Arctic char — for dinner each night and dress in polar bear fur coats and seal skin gloves.
In their spare time, they go dog sledding along the snowy ravines and later feed their animals with seals harpooned from the icy rocks.
Their children are warned never to take their toboggans far from the main roads in case they come face to face with one of the polar bears that prowl the area.
They were self-sufficient for decades, making money from polar bear and whale hunting.
But UN quotas and fear of extinction have put an end to that, prompting them to open up their home to foreigners with a taste for adventure.
And adventurous it is.
Speeding back across the tundra in a snowstorm, I feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration — the kind that is always smudged with fear.
By 2 p.m., it’s a pitch black minus 25 Celsius (minus 13 F) outside.
Walking into the warm guest house for a cup of hot chocolate gives me the kind of rush I haven’t experienced since the music festivals of my early 20s .
Just a few hours earlier, the weak rays of sunshine that flickered over the edge of the horizon at noon had already retreated, turning the snowy ravine into something more menacing.
When you’re standing in an abandoned town on the fingertip of an Arctic fjord, the safety net of the modern world feels very far below you.
The only sign of life is a howling wind that sounds eerily like the wolves that I’m told sleep in packs nearby.
Big city life makes us crave the remote, but I felt a chill of fear.
The temperature was minus 20 Celsius, if the snowmobile stalled or the storm proved too difficult to navigate back to the guest house, how would we survive?
We had arrived under clear, freezing skies, but as we wandered through the desolate snowed in huts, the wind picked up and a storm rolled in, bringing fat flurries that made it impossible to see more than a meter in the distance.
My guide, Manu, had laughed off my anxiety, assuring me we would make it home.
On another morning we sledded for hours through the tundra — the blank silence of the Arctic broken by the pants and barks of the Greenlandic dogs that were pulling us, their narrow eyes, deep howls and thick fur all more wolf than dog.
After two hours of total emptiness, we stopped for tea and KitKats , so the dogs could rest.
While our local guides seemed unbothered by the late November weather, informing me that it never gets unmanageably cold until January.
My double gloved hands were too frozen to function, and unwrapping the chocolate bar took an effort that was beyond me.
Climate change effects
Once the sea is a blanket of ice, you can go fishing — cut a neat hole in the surface and wait for your dinner alongside the seals.
This is also the time when the polar bears emerge from Greenland National Park, the biggest reserve on Earth and a freezing wilderness that hits minus 60 Celsius in winter.
Although the effects of climate change are already making their mark. Polar bears traditionally steered clear of the town.
But as the ice they hunt on disappears, the animals are being forced to start scavenging.
This frightening phenomenon is happening across the Arctic — last month a video was released on Instagram of hundreds of polar bears invading a Russian village — raising the question of how long man and man-eating animals can live in such close quarters.
” When I was young, the sea froze over in September, ” says Mette Barselajsen , who manages the guest house. Now in her forties, she notes it only freezes two months later.
” Our relationship with polar bears has changed a lot. When I was a girl, you would trek out into the tundra to find them.
” Now, we carry guns with us throughout the winter, as they so often come into the town. It is particularly frightening for those of us with children — I am always worried. ”
I didn’t see a polar bear during my few days in Greenland, and nor did I see the region’s famous Northern Lights as it snowed every night I was there.
But while both would have been wonderful, missing out on them never felt like a huge loss, as the simple fact of waking up in this desolately beautiful all white world felt like enough.
It’s the light in particular that is so extraordinary. On clear days, the sun peeked over the horizon for the last time until February, and its weak rays cast a mauve-pink light over the mountains and sea.
On the helicopter ride home, I pressed my nose against the window to drink in the view of the pastel colored tundra that stretched out towards the North Pole without a single sign of human, animal or plant life.
All that nothingness was, without exaggeration, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
How to get there:
Fly to Akureyri , the whale-watching hub of Iceland, directly from certain European capitals, or via Reykjavik. Then fly from Akureyri to Constable Point in Greenland. The flight takes 90 minutes and is scheduled twice a week with Air Iceland. After that, it’s a 15-minute helicopter ride to Ittoqqortoormiit on a flight operated by Air Greenland.
Where to stay:
Rooms at Ittoqqortoormiit Guest House start from $90 a night. The accommodation is sparse but comfortable and very warm, and bathrooms are shared. There’s a communal sitting room, with a television and DVDs, and kitchen. While there are no restaurants in the town, but there is a well-stocked — if expensive — supermarket. Alternatively, guests can request more traditional meals (think whelk or Arctic char).
When to go:
This depends what you want to see. The sun never rises in December and January, which means the Northern Lights are at their best, but daytime views are obscured. Polar bears are easiest to spot in late winter, and snow doesn’t melt until the end of May, making spring — and its longer days — a particularly lovely time of year
Ittoqqortoormiit Guest House, B 230, 3980 Ittoqqortoormiit ; +299 99 10 18