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With its blue glaciers and stark, snowy, landscapes that stretch beyond the horizon, Greenland one of the few places on earth where Instagram filters are utterly redundant.

Stunningly beautiful yet also one of the harshest climates imaginable, Greenlanders need to adapt to work and survive here. It’s both the world’s biggest island (excluding Australia) and the 12th biggest country. Yet the population of 56,000 is similar to a small city.

A growing number of visitors to Greenland are 'global warming tourists' (Credit: Getty Images)

 

Most of the country lies above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t rise in winter but shines all night and day in summer. Its closest neighbour is Canada but its economic and political links are with Denmark, a five hour flight away. Greenland is a unique place, full of paradoxes and idiosyncrasies — particularly true as its residents keep pace with climate, cultural and economic change.

Maik the ice cream entrepreneur

Greenland’s economy traditionally revolved around hunting and fishing and whilst this is still an integral part of life, entrepreneurial efforts are also flourishing.

Take Maik Carretero, for example. He lives in the capital Nuuk where he runs his ice-cream business Greenland Ice. In a country of paradoxes this might be the most incongruous. Selling ice-cream in one of the coldest places on earth sounds doomed to fail. But, the reality is quite the contrary.

I started out in 2008 small in a spare room but it grew pretty quickly and we moved last year - Maik Carretero

“Greenlanders love ice-cream. I mean really love it,” Carretero said. “When it’s cold outside and you eat something cold your body says ‘oooh that’s chilly, warm me up’.”

There may or may not be a sound scientific basis for Carretero‘s theory but it’s certainly working for him.

“I started out in 2008 small in a spare room but it grew pretty quickly and we moved last year,” he said.  From an industrial unit on the edge of town, Carretero and his team make and sell their products using local resources. “We use ice from inland ice caves and it has a very pure taste. Everyone can eat it because it doesn’t contain milk or cream.”

That idea came from a simple place: “I wanted my wife to enjoy it and she’s lactose intolerant.”

Carretero sells his products in 50 outlets across Greenland. He also has a growing export base in Denmark, with contracts to supply several big chains such as the upmarket department store group, Magasin du Nord.

“We’re aiming to expand into Iceland and then who knows?,” he said.

Sara the dog-sled driver

 

Up in Sisimiut, about 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the temperatures are noticeably colder down to 15 degrees Centigrade below freezing (5 degrees Fahrenheit) and the snow is deeper. In its snowiest month – March — the snow averages 70cm deep.

In the chill wind, part-time medical student, part-time dog sled driver, Sara Berthelsen battles to control a pack of 10 fully-grown huskies and 10 puppies. She’s standing by her long, wooden sled, preparing it for the ride ahead.

“It’s in my blood. My dad always had dogs and I’ve been working with them since I was eight,” Berthelsen explained. “I’d go on trips with him whenever I could.”

In some parts of Greenland, most notably the north, huskies and sleds are used for transport and hunting. But in Sisimiut it’s often more about the sheer thrill of sledding, for both locals and tourists. Working with the Hotel Sisimiut, Berthelsen takes paying tourists on the trip of a life time.

My biggest worry is becoming detached from the dogs and having to walk back alone - Sara Berthelsen

On the back of the sled, riding through the breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery, Berthelsen gets ready for a hill ominously named the ‘Back-breaker’. This isn’t the only fear however.

“My biggest worry is becoming detached from the dogs and having to walk back alone. It’s two or three hours back and it’s a long trek by yourself,” she said.

The other danger is the vast changes to the natural environment.

“I think dog sled driving is a dying art because of climate change. The conditions are changing,” she explained. “The ice is very unpredictable in the north especially, which makes it dangerous. It can suddenly crack and I’ve heard of huskies falling through the holes.”

Edvard the ice-boat captain

Another potentially hazardous job is sailing boats around the ice fjords of Ilulissat, 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Even in the depths of winter skipper Edvard Samuelsen negotiates his 36 foot, 18 ton craft, the Katak, round the terrifying icebergs, which can stretch 100 feet above the sea level.

“It’d always been my dream to sail. I went to nautical school as a 17-year-old and I’ve been working on boats ever since,” Samuelsen said.

He takes up to 12 people on his tours through some of the most breath-taking landscapes on the planet.

“The icebergs look big from here,” he said, sliding up alongside a monster, “But you can only see a fraction of them above water. They’re actually seven or eight times that size in reality.”

Thousands of years of history in a single glass - Edvard Samuelsen

In effect, they’re floating skyscrapers. Samuelsen climbs to the stern of the boat, hoists himself up and puts one leg on to the huge block of frozen water, chipping off a large chunk.

“I melt the ice and drink it at home. It’s the best water in the world,” he explained. “Thousands of years of history in a single glass.”

Sipping a cup of strong, dark, coffee, Samuelsen points to the icy ridges in the distance.

 

(Credit: Edvard Samuelsen)

 

“You can often see seals over there and occasionally a whale; sometimes when my passengers are snapping away with their cameras I think it’d be nice for them just to sit back and enjoy it,” he said.

Nivikka, headmistress at Greenland Maritime Centre

As a huge island, fish and seafood are one of Greenland’s most abundant natural resources. The fishing industry is vital to the national economy and it’s the country’s biggest employer, accounting for around one in ten jobs. Halibut, cod, shrimp and crab form the majority of the catch, but because the water’s getting warmer, mackerel and tuna are also fished off south Greenland; a change that is generally attributed to climate change.

Fishing isn’t just about reeling in a huge haul however. Nivikka Brandt, is headmistress of the Greenland Maritime Centre in Nuuk, which teaches pupils skills to work at sea. From stewards to officers and first mates, course lengths vary but it educates between 25 and 40 students each semester.

Students study everything from net making and navigation to dealing with stowaways and English language skills - Nivikka Brandt

Brandt says that as part of a global industry, qualifications are necessary if ambitious sea men and women want to progress.

“Students study everything from net making and navigation to dealing with stowaways and English language skills,” Brandt said.” We have a radio room which has a connection to ships out on the ocean and we also have a ship simulator.”

A captain herself before she decided to take a job on dry land, Brandt says it takes a certain type of person to make a successful officer or skipper.

“You’ve got to be reliable and calm in difficult situations. It also helps if you don’t get homesick as you’ll often be spending weeks away at sea,” she said. “The vast majority of students are Greenlanders and spending time at sea is just something that a lot of us do. They might not always like it, but it’s a necessary part of working in the industry.”

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