The Greenland Call: One Couple’s Journey to Kayak the West Coast of Greenland

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Pho­tog­ra­phy by Alain & Nathalie Antognel­li // Sto­ry by Col­in Houghton

Between 2009 and 2014, Alain and Nathalie Antognel­li kayaked 5500 kilo­me­tres (3,417 miles) along the entire west coast of Green­land. The expe­di­tion was an ardu­ous under­tak­ing to get to the heart of what it tru­ly means to expe­ri­ence free­dom in the out­doors.  While the trip was both men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly stren­u­ous, the cou­ple was able to expe­ri­ence this remote island nation like few–if any–have before. We sat down with them to talk about their voy­age and how it changed their out­look on the world. 

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What about Green­land drew you in?
In 2009, we’d been trav­el­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, hang glid­ing and paraglid­ing, and what we real­ly liked was big wide-open space. Then a friend told us about Green­land and how amaz­ing it was. When we got there in May 2009, we were astound­ed how big it was. On the plane in we looked down over the island and saw that much of the sea ice had yet to melt [mean­ing they couldn’t kayak] and we just thought, ‘what had we got­ten our­selves into.’

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What did you learn kayak­ing Green­land that you may not have learned had you explored the coun­try in a more leisure­ly fash­ion?
Doing this kind of trip in a dif­fer­ent coun­try would have been very dif­fer­ent. In Green­land, you are reward­ed with mas­sive amounts of space. You are almost always in the mid­dle of nowhere and you can stop almost any­where. You can’t dri­ve many places in Green­land, so kayak­ing was a way to be inde­pen­dent, an easy way to move from one place to anoth­er. Almost like using kayaks the way you use bicy­cles.

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How does the Green­landic way of life dif­fer from life in your busy, dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed home of Mona­co?
To real­ly expe­ri­ence how dif­fer­ent Green­land is you need to immerse your­self in the cul­ture. Green­land is a whole dif­fer­ent world, just imag­ine a world with­out cars–it’s total­ly dif­fer­ent. Green­land is also the least dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed coun­try in the world, so for us com­ing from Mona­co, it is the com­plete oppo­site expe­ri­ence.

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You vis­it­ed Green­land sev­er­al times over many years. What are the ben­e­fits that each sea­son offers?
Green­lan­ders have an expres­sion, ‘June is spring, July is sum­mer, August is Autumn, and the rest of the months are win­ter’, and this holds pret­ty true. I liked the win­ter because we were able to live the life of the peo­ple. Of course, sum­mer is also nice, few­er peo­ple in the vil­lages and the pad­dling is much eas­i­er, as there is less ice and it’s eas­i­er mov­ing from one point to the oth­er. Win­ter is a time to stay in one set­tle­ment, to get to know the local peo­ple there more inti­mate­ly, which is what we did. In the past we’d stay prob­a­bly only a week in each set­tle­ment, but in the win­ter you’re forced to stay longer, which is how we real­ly got to know the peo­ple.

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You guys wrote a book about your trip, what com­pelled you to share your sto­ry this way?
The book explains our adven­ture in Green­land from the begin­ning to the end. We did the movie first, and the sto­ry was so big that it was hard to tell it all, and the book allowed us to express what we’d been through in a dif­fer­ent way. It was also a way to share our sto­ry with any­one, from our friends in Green­land, to our friends back home. A book is such a tan­gi­ble object you can give to any­one.

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Green­land is on the precipice of cli­mate and cul­tur­al change. Why do you think it’s impor­tant to vis­it soon?
Yes, things are chang­ing, we are talk­ing a lot about this in Europe. Green­lan­ders have a dif­fer­ent point of view. The facts are that the thick­ness of the ice flow 20 years ago was almost always 2 meters (around 6 feet), now it’s bare­ly 0.3 meters or 0.4 meters (less than a foot), it’s a sig­nif­i­cant decrease. Peo­ple who want to see ice flow of this mag­ni­tude prob­a­bly need to go soon, obvi­ous­ly it’s not all going to be gone, but it will most cer­tain­ly be dif­fer­ent. 

What advice do you have for some­one plan­ning a trip to Green­land?
Just go and do it. It’s an easy coun­try and very acces­si­ble, plus the Green­landic peo­ple are very accept­ing. They will wel­come you open­ly. If you do, you need to go vis­it the set­tle­ments and see how the Green­landic peo­ple live. It’s the only way to tru­ly expe­ri­ence the coun­try.

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You encoun­tered many forms of wildlife dur­ing your Green­land ven­tures. Which ani­mals were most spec­tac­u­lar to see in per­son?
The Polar Bear. In the far north, we were so close to a polar bear, just 3 feet away. It was the great­est expe­ri­ence we’ve ever had with wildlife.

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Your kayak trips were self-sus­tained. What food did you pack, and did you sup­ple­ment it with local food or fish­ing?
Both of them, we had a pletho­ra of dry food, but when we got to a vil­lage we always ate local­ly. We would also buy stuff in the set­tle­ment to take back out on the kayaks, we car­ried rice, and sup­plies to last a long time just in case we were to get stuck.

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Any unfor­get­table moments from your trip?
Of course many, one that sticks out is pad­dling with the whales. Get­ting very close to them was phe­nom­e­nal, some­thing that we did many times in the sum­mer. Also, to be out on the ice with the Green­landic peo­ple, liv­ing their life was tru­ly unfor­get­table. You’re able to get so friend­ly with the peo­ple. You’re no longer a kayak­er or a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, you’re just a part of their cul­ture.

If you had to sum­ma­rize what you learned about your­self and the world while trav­el­ing Green­land, how would you describe it?
I think we learned so much, stay­ing such a long time in the wild changed us. In the begin­ning we had music, and the things of our cul­ture. But after a while we learned to be alone with our­selves, just the sound of the waves and the ice.


To book your own trip to Green­land, check out The Clymb Adven­tures page. 

To learn more about Alain and Nathalie Antognel­li’s sto­ry, check out their page.