Trravel Etc: In Search Of. Lunch with the Inuit ; the Time to Visit Greenland Is during the Brief Blaze of Arctic Summer. Mark Stratton Flew in before the Pack-Ice Froze

Article excerpt

To the Ammassalik region's scattered Inuit settlers, Tasiilaq is the big smoke. A smidgen below the Arctic Circle, on Greenland's eastern coast known locally as Tunu ("the back country"), Tasiilaq is a thriving town bursting with frontier spirit. Locked in by pack- ice for eight months of the year, it is inhabited by 1,700 hardy souls, howling huskies, and a wild boar. It is blessed with primeval beauty and summers awash with 24 hours of insomnia-inducing daylight. If you crave remoteness, this is the real thing. It's so isolated, Tasiilaq was only discovered a century ago by European explorers. Now it is being rediscovered as a short-stay addition for travellers holidaying in Iceland.

Sounds like you need an icebreaker to get there

It's actually only five hours' flying from the UK. But what a journey. You fly first to Reykjavik, then it's a short hop to Kulusuk. Check out the bearskin wall-hangings and sealskin-lined seats in the terminal before leaving by helicopter in a flurry of blown snow. The 10-minute flight to Tasiilaq is dramatic - you see sky-scraper icebergs lodged within the splintering ice floe before you reach the haven of King Oscar's Sound. There perches Tasiilaq in magnificent isolation.

Check in at the nearest igloo?

Hardly. The comfortable Hotel Ammassalik is set above a hillside of ochre, mustard-yellow, and green wooden houses. Book a room overlooking the fjord - the view is superb. In the middle of the night - or was it day? - a supernatural calm settles over the water, which reflects the angular mountains with glassy precision. The hotel is the hub of everything - all meals and excursions. I had arrived as the huskies were being put out to pasture, the winter's dog-sledding expeditions coming to an end. By early June, with warm blue skies and heady spring temperatures reaching 16C, the hotel was offering cruises to icebergs and glaciers, whale-watching, hikes and boat trips to solitary Inuit villages.

And meet the consul ...

The hotel's owner, Captain Kelly Nicolaisen, will take you out on his cherry-red fishing-boat, the Timmiki, if you are staying at the hotel. He was typical of Tasiilaq's resourceful Inuit and Danish community; he had more irons in the fire than Del-boy Trotter. The previous day, I'd met him hauling the Icelandic flag above the hotel in his role as honorary consul for Iceland. "Not a tough job," he told me. "We just get the occasional drunken Icelandic fisherman."

How far he can take you is weather-dependent, and the situation changes rapidly. We chugged across the sound through bobbing chunks of ice shaped like toadstools and anvils. Although melting, the fjord's turquoise-tinged floe was thick enough to prevent us from exploring several titanic icebergs lodged tantalisingly ahead of us. We made do with a stroll across a raft of ice the size of a football pitch. The captain explained that is was from the North Pole.

Sounds fun, but who'd want to live there?

Take a stroll down to Tasiilaq's thought-provoking museum for an insight into the harshness of life once endured here. by the Inuits around Ammassalik. …