When something gets into my head, that’s pretty much it! I never stop!
On my birthday, I wanted to go on a dog sledding tour. And, at the end of March, the closest place where I could have done that crazy thing was, in my opinion, Greenland!
I went to a wonderful place – Ilulissat. I’ll tell you about it, soon. But first, let’s get the “action”, as that is why we came – the dog sledding!
It is my birthday and I leave bumptiously the hotel to go to the Tourist Office in the village. Nobody really care it is my birthday J, but I still walk like a birthday girl on the empty streets. I enjoy the landscape and I try to imagine what it is like to wake every single day with such a view from your windows.
I took with me the backpack full of things: warm mittens, a pair of gloves, two types of caps, sweets, water, the DSLR camera, the gopro and the gopro head holder, two mobile phones fully charged, some sunglasses and some snow glasses too, the wallet with all my cards and money – I wonder why, as we are going through snow… – and lots of other things. Out of precaution.
When I get to the Center, I discover I am not the only one who chose the dog sledding tour. It is a tour of roughly two hours, on a simple route, with a few mild bumps. However, there are more complicated tours, that take a few days, towards the northern part of Greenland. Right, maybe another time. Let’s start with easy things…
I am given to a guy, I am told he will be the one leading my sleigh today, so I follow him in the snow. He speaks very little English, so our dialogue is short and dull.
On my way to the sleigh, I see some dogs sitting around here and there. I am told that they are the dogs who have a day off today. So they lay about in the friendly sun – after all it is my birthday – as friendly as it may be at the minus 15 degrees C.
When we get to the leaving point, the “leader” introduces me to our dogs today, who are already tied to the sleigh.
Then, he tells me the instructions: how to sit, what cord to hold and especially how NOT to interact with the dogs. They are not your everyday backyard dogs to be pat, they are dogs that have a certain discipline and cannot be bothered…
The man takes my backpack and he ties it to the sleigh. That’s it for me!
…he barely puts my backpack on the sleigh when the dogs, as if on command, start running. I can hardly hold on to that sleigh for two seconds… You cannot fight it. They pull up… and there they go! With my backpack and everything in it… With my papers and my money! My Gooood!
A girl from the Tourist Office runs towards the sleigh, as does the master of those dogs, but nobody succeeds in catching them. Man, they have such a speed… In a few seconds they have already disappeared from my sight.
I am dumbfounded. What can I say… The few people around look really helpless. Ok, forget about the tour, what am I to do with no cards and no money?!?
While roughly calculating in my head the number of vessels I will have to wash in Greenland (like fishing boats, not dishes), I see my man coming back with the sleigh and everything. Yuhuuu! I have no idea where and how he caught the dogs, because we cannot communicate… Later, I found out that I was not the first in this kind of a situation. The dogs sometimes run away with the sleigh and all. And sometimes they don’t come back! They run to the mountains, somewhere quite far. Then they either come when they are hungry, or they eat their cords and then they go towards the fishermen, drawn by the smell of fish. Many disappear into the waters…
I recover my backpack, I sit on the sleigh, I take photos of the other people who leave before me and I realize today is about luxury… It is my birthday after all. I am alone on the sleigh. Just me and the driver, or whatever they call him. I have all the space in the world to use my arsenal of cameras…
The way is beautiful, not very bumpy, but every now and then there are some that remind me I have a rump. J
The weather is wonderful! I am fascinated by the synchronizing of the dogs which I understand is not at all a will of chance.
There are no more than 14-16 dogs that pull the sleigh. The speed is some 45 km/h, not more. The dogs are tied to the sleigh when they are only a few months old, but after a serious training (we had with us a 4 months old dog running free close to the pack – he was in training. But we also had another 4 months old dog pulling the sleigh).
There is a group leader, there are some experienced dogs who apparently teach the others what pulling the sleigh is about.
And when the dogs are 9-10 years old, they retire. That means that the master takes them off the sleigh and… shoots them.
After a while, the sleighs stop. This is the first stop for the dogs. It is compulsory. They are given water and a snack, we are served a hot tea. A dog urinates on his master’s sleigh, and the master scolds him. The tourists are amused.
I read before the tour that you are not allowed to touch the dogs that pull the sleigh. There are only a few dogs that you can pat, and the owner will tell you which they are. That is why I was very reserved in touching them, especially as I was told from the beginning not to touch them. But I saw that all the dogs from a neighboring sleigh were very loving and came towards us to pat them. And you were allowed to do so. And then the maximum “loving and patting” moment followed. J
Do you know something? These dogs do not have a house, a shed or anything. They sleep outside in the snow, no matter what the weather is like. They are not kept together so that they don’t fight. They are tied at a short distance one from the other.
Using the photo opportunity of the stop, I ask someone to take a picture of myself. I am like a bear, but I had to have something to show… Although I came prepared with special clothes for the dog sledding, I preferred to rent from the people here something very cool: a seal leather coat. It is mega-cool! You fell no cold in it. I have already taken off some of the sweaters I had on.
They had trousers too, but they told me I was all right as I was, as under my red ski trousers I have two special leggings. I am layer upon layer of leggings hihi.
Yet, I could not resist the temptation and I rented some boots. They are huge, but great for this kind of weather. I put them on and it was like putting a thermo-isolation for the house…
But leave me… The owner of a sleigh is far cooler! He has it all, what can I say? This trousers are from polar bear fur. Ain’t it cool?
I don’t know if he fought the bear, but I know that there are very few polar bears here. You can only rarely see them. Most of them are on the East Coast of Greenland. Here we can see polar rabbits, polar foxes and a bit further, reindeers and muskox (I have no idea what that is, but I ate it). A polar bear appeard once every ten years. And nobody is allowed to shoot the bears. First they go scare him off. Then, if he comes too close to the community, they kill it… The meat is given to an old people’s home and to kindergartens.
Each stop has its victims. The dogs sometimes fight and the fights can get ugly. I see an attack of some dogs over another one and only the shouts and the whip of the master manage to stop them.
The master rubs the ear of the injured dog with some snow and… that is it. Let’s go!
Here, for these people who are far from the unleashed world, the thing with the dogs is not just something for the tourists, it is a way of life, a choice, a lot of times out of need… The dogs are not pets, they are work “vehicles”. People use them for hunting and fishing.
During summer, when they do not pull any sleighs, the dogs have some sort of a vacation. They lounge about.
I lounged on that sleigh for two hours. I even sunbathed. When you go on this tour, they tell you to take a sun protection cream with you. Well, I do have one! Only in the hotel room…
Never mind! It is my birthday and I can bathe in the Greenland’s sun. It is a birthday that started so cool, last night, with a trip to see the spectacular phenomenon the northern lights.