Greenland - An adventure in the far north

"We need to forget what we think we are so that we can become what we really are" - Paulo Coelho


In my early 40's, I ventured out into this world for the first time by myself. I had never taken a solo holiday until then and so when I signed up for two back to back photography workshops in Greenland and Iceland, I was definitely cracking the mould that had shaped me thus far!


As the flight approached the landing strip at Nuuk Airport in Greenland, I couldn't get over the feeling how surreal this was. This was realisation of a cherished childhood dream I never ever imagined would come true!

This photography expedition was timed for the shoulder season between autumn and winter and the temperatures varied between -17 and 1 degree Celsius and while I looked forward to wintery conditions, I wasn’t really prepared for any of the experiences this expedition was going to unfold! I had started training for this expedition seven months prior to ensure my fitness level would be on par with the others. I had never hiked a day in my life until then and training on treadmill didn’t come close to anything I was going to experience in Greenland. I came to the conclusion very quickly that I would have to be as nimble as a mountain goat to survive some of the paths were were treading on!


The little sail boat - our home for 14 days

I was joining some seasoned pros on a sailing expedition around South Greenland and well, it's safe to say I was not only the novice in the group, I was also the oldest!


Our sail boat was very pretty and really really small !! It looked overcrowded even before we got there and it had no shower facilities!! I promise you, I almost picked up my bag and turned around to head back to the airport which was literally 10 minutes away from the dock. But the next flight was a week away and so I weighed my options and stayed half-heartedly. The best half-hearted decision I've ever taken!


Sleeping quarters were yet another surprise. My room was just wide enough to stand in. I had to sit on the bed to close the door so changing and especially getting into multiple layers in that confined space was adding to my skill set...the upside was that my personal growth list was beginning to grow by the minute!


On the very first night there, I was woken up with unceremonious banging on the door followed by "Northern Lights". I cannot even express the urgency with which I put on my layers and grabbed my camera bag on the way out of the door. I do remember my eyes weren't yet fully open and my brain was struggling against waking up and I kept slipping on the ladder trying to get ashore to chase the beautiful aurora.



Icebergs and Northern Lights - what more could one ask for!

The Northern Lights on the very first night there in Greenland was a huge tick on the bucket list! I would have been happy to go home straight after that! Lady Aurora blessed us with her presence almost every night. Sometimes we were able to get ashore in time to photograph it and sometimes we watched from the deck. Seeing the night sky erupt with these celestial lights is truly a one of a kind of experience.


Apart from the Northern Lights, the biggest highlight of this trip was not being able to shower for 10 days - did I mention that our boat didn't have any shower facilities! Yes, this was the hardest hurdle of my entire life! Our crew had promised us that they would stop at little towns every second day to refuel, replenish groceries and of course ensured we had plenty of time for showers. They delivered on the first two - we never ran out of fuel or food but the showers didn't happen. Our timing was almost always wrong as we managed to arrive into towns where the common baths were locked due to some local holiday! The one and only time we were able to use a town's bathing facilities, the water was so cold, I almost wished we had gotten unlucky that day too!

A church we came across in one of the bigger towns in Greenland

I was truly blessed with some wonderful people on this expedition. Our crew and small team of photographers always kept an eye on me - there were many opportunities where I could have slid off the mountain side and disappear forever (oh well, not really, but it did feel like it most times!). I too was very kind to them in return - I provided them with a lot of entertainment constantly. For instance, there was that one time when I fell into a ditch and got stuck like an upturned turtle! Unfortunately for me, my group heard me fall and even before I could call for help, they were making their way to me with the video recording on! Well, there were roars of laughter all evening as that video become a source of entertainment.


The not so hot springs. Image Courtesy Will Betts

After many arduous days and especially not finding hot showers anywhere, we were so looking forward to sinking into these hot pools that were constantly being talked about. Imagining the steam rising from the pool and giddy with excitement, we tried to beat each other into the pool. What followed was a chorus of painful cries. The water was cold, so cold it hurt and yet just warm enough to prevent us stepping out in the -17 degrees Celsius. We sat huddled in the pool chin deep contemplating when and how to step out of the pool. It was in that sombre moment the Northern Lights appeared, faint at first and building up to an intensity where the entire sky above us was gloriously green. The little round blobs in the image above are our heads. Barbequed fish was served on a piece of floating wood with candles in the hope to keep it warm. Despite the chilly weather, this was by far the best experience of my entire life. With the aurora dancing endlessly over our heads, we were well and truly mesmerised and stayed submerged in that frigid hot pool for hours.


I have travelled a lot since this trip and I know nothing will come close to the experiences Greenland opened me to. I grew from these experiences. I understood the meaning of 'chasing light', experienced the joys of hiking and fell in love with the idea of arriving in strange countries and making lifelong friends! It would be safe to say that I, Farhat Memon, had stepped out of my shell and rediscovered the real me.