A journey to the top of the world


"Delayed" reads every line on the single TV screen suspended from the ceiling.


It's not our first delayed flight and it's unlikely to be our last so we're fairly familiar with killing time in terminal buildings. However, this time is different, there's no hallways to wander, no McDonalds to eat and no duty free shops to peruse. The small town of Ilulissat in northern Greenland may boast some of the world's most spectacular surroundings, but it certainly isn't renowned for its extensive airport facilities.


We take a seat on the hard plastic chairs at one of only four tables within the terminal and practise the combined art of clock watching and meteorology. Over the next three hours, we establish a) we're running out of time to make our tour and b) it's still foggy.


It seems like a lifetime, but in reality it's only a matter of hours until the whirring noise of propellers precede the bright red aircraft emblazoned with 'Air Greenland' taxiing towards the airport doors and we're soon in the air, heading south to Kangerlussuaq.


Upon arrival we make our way to the tour operator desk and are told "the bus will park outside". No sooner are we out of the building and a large white vehicle with square sealed windows pulls up. The driver jumps out of his cab and opens the back door, waving people aboard. Completely unphased by the fact the "bus" bears a startling resemblance to a prison van, tourists around us begin to climb up the steps. "Point 660 Tour?" I ask the driver, checking we're not being escorted to the local penitentiary, he nods and we climb on board before the large metal door is slammed shut and bolted from the outside.


Unexpectedly, the man in front suddenly smacks the wall and the lady opposite claps her hands together. A sharp pain in my arm signifies we're not alone on the bus as the entire Nordic population of mosquitoes seem to have come along for a free ride. Our fellow travellers have other ideas and before they have chance to eat us alive, most of the aggravators lay splattered over the bus walls.


As we depart Kangerlussuaq, the road soon turns to gravel and the loud speaker inside the bus crackles into life informing us, "this road was built and maintained by Volkswagen". The mental image of multi-lane autobahns, combined with German engineering and efficiency, settle my nerves about the impending 2-hour journey in the back of a prison van without seatbelts. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind as a loud bang and a jolt throw me out of my seat and a couple of inches into the air. The speaker system crackles into life again, "Volkswagen left in 2005, it is now unmaintained." I retrieve my water bottle, which has somehow made its way 4 seats in front, and reach for my travel sickness tablets.


Two hours and 25 miles of potholes later, the vehicle comes to a stop. With a loud clang, the back door is opened and we climb out into the bright sunlight and breath in some much needed fresh air. "When I blow my whistle you have five minutes, then I leave," the driver informs us whilst lighting his cigarette. He doesn't add the words "with or without you," but the implication is clear.


"How do we get on to it?" a fellow tourist asks, the driver points in the general direction of a grassy and muddy bank, before returning to his cab. Refusing to be beaten at the final hurdle, we clamber down the hill, mainly on our backsides, coming to rest on a sheet of solid ice. Within a few minutes of walking we've lost sight of our tour group and, with my stomach now back in its rightful position, I'm finally able to appreciate our surroundings.


The journey from hell has brought us not only to end of the road, but also to the top of the world. We savour the moment; breathing in the pure air, appreciating the sound of isolation and admiring the breathtaking view of the Greenland Ice Sheet, stretching hundreds of miles beyond the horizon.


Under the glare of the midnight sun, the ice glistens and the only sound, a gentle trickle of water, is evidence of 110,000 years of history slowly melting away beneath our feet and then a whistle blows.


That's when the realisation hits… there's only one way back.



K Giles

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