Greenland may be one of the most stunning places on Earth, but its beauty is far from ice-deep.
This year, photographer Jessie Brinkman Evans has practically lived at the airport. She’s traveled throughout Canada, California, Iceland, and Australia, to name just a few destinations. In April, this also involved her returning to Greenland, which is one of her favorite places. We caught up with her about her love for the country, the crucial role of sustainability there, and how you can #traveldeeper in this remote destination, too.
“I grew up in Malibu, California, when the town had a real sense of community. Everyone knew everyone, and we waved at each other wherever we went. That feeling has always really been important to me—and Greenland embodies it. Greenlandic people are extremely open; once you’ve been accepted into their community, you’re in, with this friendly vibe of, ‘there’s no escaping us now, you’re part of us.’ That’s something that, globally, I wish we were all a bit more attuned to. The Arctic is just spectacular. I ugly cried when I left the last time, so 10 months later, I was back.”
What’s Greenland like?
“First of all, it’s cold: minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit in April, to be exact. But there’s an unbelievable amount of beauty in this frozen environment. The overwhelming silence hits you immediately; you don’t realize how loud your home environment is in comparison until you get there. Everything sounds so amplified when I come back home to Melbourne after being in the Arctic—particularly people, since I can understand what they’re saying. Greenlandic people speak decent English, but they also speak Danish, and of course, Greenlandic. I use a lot of special mimics and body language to communicate there, which are more important than words half the time. One Greenlandic word that I did learn, and that is so unbelievably fitting for the country, is ‘immaqa.’ It just means ‘maybe.’ ‘Will this package that I’m sending to Australia make it there by July?’ ‘Immaqa.’ ‘Will my flight depart on time?’ ‘Immaqa.’ It’s the most cultural word that I could possibly think of for the place.”
Where should people explore in Greenland?
“I love northern Greenland in particular. Uummannaq is spectacular, and gives you the best of everything. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it just felt like home to me. You can only get there by helicopter, which really adds to this sense that you’re somewhere truly wild, and it’s extremely quiet. There’s only one place to stay, and no free Wi-Fi anywhere—you’ll have to buy a Greenlandic SIM card if you don’t want a digital detox. It’s easy to access other settlements from Uummannaq, such as Niaqornat. Only about 50 people live in this pearl-string of houses, and they’re all just super happy. Practically the entire town was waiting to say ‘hello’ when I got out of the helicopter there, and the scene was so beautiful that I just started crying. No one spoke English, but they gave me a rock to say, ‘Here’s something to remember us by.’ It was so touching.
Is there are more modern side to Greenland as well?
“Definitely. Ilulissat is a perfect place to explore this. It’s built near the mouth of Jakobshavn glacier—which sadly, is the fastest calving in world—and is a destination where I just have to take a deep breath because it’s so awe-inspiringly beautiful. It’s a good balance between the country’s natural beauty and modern Greenland: You still have Internet, the town is stunning, and the food is just amazing. The community there is really fantastic at pushing Greenlandic food, which might be a little overwhelming for some people, since there’s controversy in the fact that seal and whale are regular aspects of a Greenlandic diet. But it’s curated in a way that’s way more sustainable than food production is back home. I’m super picky about the meats and fish that I eat normally and am almost always a vegetarian when I go back to visit family in L.A. But Greenland is a place where sustainability really shines through in everything they do—particularly in their food sources and the way that they hunt. It’s pretty darn cool, to be honest.”
What is the story of sustainability in Greenland?
“Climate change has had a dramatic effect on Greenland in the last 10 to 15 years. The period of time between when the sea ice breaks up and then forms again is getting much longer, and that’s really scary. People’s ability to visit friends in neighboring settlements is growing extremely limited, as is their accessibility to fishing and hunting. Animals are much harder to catch, which is leading people to buy imported meat from Denmark, or simply rely on frozen pizza, canned foods, and lots of soda. The whole situation is really heartbreaking, and people are getting fed up. It’s the rest of the world’s mindless environmental activity that directly affects Greenlanders’ lives, yet they can’t do anything to stop it. It’s a hard thing to stomach. Greenlanders have their own waste management problems, which they’re working to combat through their own increased sustainability efforts, but the real change needs to come from big countries like ours.”
Can travel be sustainable?
“Extremely. I’m very passionate about the state of our planet and where we’re going with that, yet I travel for a living. I want to see as much of planet Earth as I can because I find it absolutely fascinating—and I believe that if other people did the same, they’d more inspired to protect it, too. Tourism can be amazing when people really delve into a culture and appreciate what makes it unique. Travel opens up the world, but also make it really small because it draws everyone closer together. It builds community and connection and makes you realize that we’re not that different from one another. The second I get to an airport and I have no idea what’s ahead of me, the thing that makes it all OK is that I know I’m going to meet new people and have interesting conversations with them, be it at an airport bar, or walking around a new destination. I know that I’ll have the human connection and won’t be alone for long.”