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Trekking Iceland – Hornbjarg – Hornstrandir

21 June. The longest day of the year. I was almost on the Arctic Circle, and I never saw the Sun 🙁  In true Icelandic fashion we went from perfectly clear skies yesterday to completely overcast today – this being the view after I’d packed up camp and set off towards Hornbjarg along the beach. 

Beach at Hornvík on a very overcast day - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Weather doesn’t look great!

Given it was low tide, I was able to cross the river where it entered the sea rather than hiking up the valley to wade through at its shallowest point.  My first river crossing in Iceland!  And let me tell you – it is no better than a Greenlandic river crossing as far as temperature and pain goes!

Tidal river crossing at Hornvík and my poor suffering from the cold feet - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back at the tidal river that needed to be crossed (top) and my poor cold feet (bottom)

After booting up again on the other side, I stopped to explore a beautiful waterfall

Waterfall with driftwood logs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Iceland is the land of waterfalls

and started to pick my way through the rocks as the trail stopped and started along the Eastern edge of Hornvík.

Beach with large rocks - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland

Once past the farmhouse where day-trippers arrive, the trail became more obvious and eventually started climbing up to the ridge.

Trail from the ocean to the ridge is just visible - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
You can just see the trail curving up to the ridge. If you look closely, you can also see 2 hikers at the top of the trail

Exploring Hornbjarg

It was steep and tough going carrying a full backpack. But one foot after the next I eventually reached the top, and still ahead of the day-tripping group that started just after me.  Competitive?  Who me?!

Views of the trail and the ocean as I hike the ridge to Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Views from the trail as I climb to the ridge

The trail stopped very, very suddenly at a sheer, several-hundred-metre drop straight into the ocean.  It was a good thing I was paying attention!

Looking straight down at the ocean from the Hornbjarg Cliffs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
It drops straight down!

I had reached the famous bird cliffs of the Hornbjarg.

Here, thousands of Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots nest in the sheer rocky cliff walls – their eggs an important source of food for the people who lived in Hornstrandir over 70 years ago (there have been no permanent residents since the 1950s).  During these times, men and boys would abseil down the cliffs to collect one egg from each nest, leaving the others to hatch in order to maintain the population.

Looking along the Hornbjarg cliffs at the birds nesting there - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Birds nesting in the Hornbjarg cliffs

I spent about 20 minutes lying on my stomach in the wet grass holding tightly to my camera and peering over the edge to watch the birds circle and sit.  Unfortunately, 20 minutes was all I could bear before the cold drizzle that had started about 1/2 way up the ridge forced me to start moving again.  

I let the day-trippers go ahead of me as I constantly wiped water droplets from the front of my camera lens (not always successfully), trying to capture the majesty of this incredible place!

Group of hikers making their way towards the higher portion of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Next section of the trail

The views of the cliffs became more and more spectacular as I traversed a relatively flat section of the trail

Looking back down on the flat section of trail - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back down on the flat section

before facing the second steep uphill of the day.

The higher cliffs of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
I love this view!

The muddy trail eventually guided me to a narrow spit of a ridge with panoramic views back down over Hornvík.

Panorama over Hornvik - Hornstrandir-Iceland

move cursor over image to see full panorama

If only it hadn’t been windy and raining (quite a strong wind had also picked up by this stage), this would have been an incredible spot to hang out for quite a while enjoying the view!

A promonotory with views back towards Hornvik - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazing view from here!

Looking the other direction was just as dramatic,

Trail on Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Really, incredible views no matter which direction you look

and the view to the next stage of the trail was again – in a word – incredible.  There really aren’t enough superlatives in the English language!

Hornbjarg view including lake - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, those are rain spots on the lens

From there, the trail itself dropped very steeply off the ridge and ran along the edge of the cliff with more great views of the birds (this is not a good hike if heights are a concern), before curving inward and around a small lake. 

Views of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The trail closely follows the cliff edge (top-left), me taking a break in the rain watching the birds (top-right), the day-trippers near a small lake around which the trail skirts (bottom)

I watched as the day-tripping group headed back down to the farmhouse and their waiting boat, while I headed up another incredibly steep hill in my quest to camp at the lighthouse at Hornbjargsviti. That sharp peak at around the 11km mark in the altitude profile below is not a mistake!

The way to Hornbjargsviti

According to my map (which I was growing to trust less and less), there should have been a high trail off to my left once I reached the top.  I could see a trail going that way, ending in a vertical rock wall about 50m distant.  And while I may have investigated it a little closer had I only had a daypack, there was no way I was going to risk it carrying an 18kg backpack!

So I bush bashed straight down the other side in the hope that I would connect with the lower trail marked on my map. In doing so, I startled one of Hornstrandir’s many Arctic Foxes (they are protected in this area) making him very concerned indeed.  This one started walking straight towards me with intent while making hissing and whooping noises.  Meanwhile, I was wondering whether they carried the rabies virus and what would happen if it bit me!  Yes, I’ve had the full course of rabies shots, but still…  In the end, he approached to about 20 metres and then circled around behind me from that distance. I continued my wet descent through calf-deep vegetation. 

Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a sprinting Arctic Fox (bottom) - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a very unhappy (and very blurry) Arctic Fox (bottom)

Eventually I spied what I thought looked suspiciously like a trail heading off in the direction of Hornbjargsviti.  Yes! I had finally found the lower trail.

Glimpse of the lower trail to Hornbjargsviti - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Can you see it?

Which of course meant that I had one more interminable climb before reaching my destination for the night.  I have to admit, I was tired and more than a little over (fed up with) the constant drizzle and stiff wind by this point.  But I’d seen pictures of the lighthouse and I really, really, really wanted to camp there… 

So big girl pants on – off I set.

The lower trail to Hornbjargviti - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, it was the trail I was looking for. I would have preferred the high trail, but no matter. The blurry parts of the images are where I simply can’t keep up with getting rain off my lens anymore

Arctic Fox Research

About 3/4 of the way to the next pass, I came across a bloke sitting on a rock.  Mike ran an ecological charity in the UK and was here volunteering with an Icelandic Institute that monitors the behaviour of Arctic Foxes each Summer.  In particular, they look for changes in behaviour that may have been brought about by contact with humans.  He couldn’t have found a better spot from which to observe, as it was the only place I’d come across in the past several hours that was not subject to the strong, biting wind, and it happened to be located right above a snow drift with a den of foxes in it!  He was telling me that the day before was wonderful as all the cubs were out in the sunshine playing for hours.

Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den of foxes - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den

I ended up chatting with him for about 20 minutes, and then finally made it over the last pass of the day.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to spy the lighthouse, even though it was still quite far away!

View of Hornbjargsviti and its lighthouse from top of the pass from Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Finally! Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse and my campsite for the night.

Hornbjargsviti

The last few kms were spent watching the lighthouse get closer and closer with each step and, despite being incredibly tired and cursing the wind and the rain, taking more photos.  I know, I know.  I kept telling myself I was an idiot as well.  But it was impossible to predict what the weather would do tomorrow, and it was just so beautiful.

Views around the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking one way, and then the other, as I near the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

By the time I’d reached the lighthouse, the winds were up around the 70km/hr mark.  The lighthouse was not open yet for the Summer and I was the only one around, so I dumped my pack and scouted for the best place to pitch my tent out of the wind.  This turned out to be right in front of the door to the toilet – so that’s where I camped 🙂  It was also quite convenient for going to the loo, getting water out of the tap, storing my pack out of the rain, and drying my rain gear as well!

My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse. The wind was howling a gale!

I made myself dinner, heated up my Coke-hot-water-bottle, and settled in listening to the wind howl outside and the wind gauge spin manically on the top of the lighthouse.  No, it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep!

The Hornbjarg as a Day Trip

If you are not keen on hiking alone, or don’t have as much time as I did, Westtours offers a day trip to explore hornbjarg.  This is what the group I saw were doing.  It costs 43,900ISK (USD$416, AUD$564) per person (minimum age = 12).

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.3km

Time taken = 9 hours and 53 minutes.  Several short breaks taken.

Map

Basic map of the route I took to explore The Horn in Hornstrandir from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route I took to explore the Horn in Hornstrandir from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Trekking Iceland – Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík – Hornstrandir

When you are a little nervous about something, it always makes you feel better when the sun is shining 🙂   

boats in Ísafjörður harbour
Glorious morning!

I arrived early at the Borea Adventures dock to catch my boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður and was beginning to think I may have been the only passenger.  However, with 5 minutes to go, 2 guys from the US (Sean and Daniel) and a group of about 15 people on a day tour showed up and we set out on the ~1 hour journey to Hornstrandir.

Views from the Borea Adventures boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Great journey, but unfortunately no whales

Boat transfer to Veiðileysufjörður

It was a very calm crossing in glorious weather, so I sat on the back deck enjoying the views and chatting with some of the other passengers.  We dropped the group of day-hikers off as we entered the Veiðileysufjörður inlet, and then continued on to a triangular structure (which turned out to be a pit toilet) that identifies the locations of campgrounds in Hornstrandir.

The crew launched the small zodiac off the back of the boat to deposit myself, Sean and Daniel on dry land, and then headed back to Ísafjörður.  There was no turning back now and I had 8 days to get to my pickup point in Hesteyri.

Images of the zodiac transfer to Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Lowering the zodiac (top-left), en route to Veiðileysufjörður campsite (top-right), and there is no turning back now! (bottom)

It turns out Sean is an award-winning professional wildlife photographer (a give-away being the enormous lens that was permanently attached to his camera) who had come to Hornstrandir to photograph a personal project on Arctic Foxes.  He and Daniel (also an amazing wildlife photographer) had met the year before in Alaska and were spending the next 5 days in the Hornvík area (my destination for the day) to capture the images.  Given we were heading the same direction and had similar interests we decided to hike together. 

Although there was a sign pointing in the direction of Hornvík, there was no obvious trail to follow.  So we simply set out across country in the general direction of the waterfall that we could see at the end of the inlet – the direction we should head according to the map. 

Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Veiðileysufjörður campsite. The pyramid-shaped building is the dry toilet

From Veiðileysufjörður to Hafnarskard Pass

After wading through knee-high shrubbery for much of it (very reminiscent of several of the hikes I did in South Greenland last year), we arrived at the waterfall, and found our first marker and the trail.

Views heading from Veiðileysufjörður campsite to the waterfall - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing towards the waterfall from Veiðileysufjörður campsite

From there, the route to the Hafnarskard Pass was obvious and marked by large stone cairns stretching off into the distance.  It was also clear to us looking ahead that there was going to be snow in our very near future!

Large stone cairn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nice and obvious cairn, finally

As we climbed higher, the views behind us down to the inlet became more and more spectacular

Cairn and view back down to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland

and indeed, we started to hit patches of snow that we had to cross.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected given how early it was in the season (the boats had only start running a couple of weeks earlier at the beginning of June), and this was one of the things I’d read about online that was adding to my concerns about hiking alone.  However, we weren’t the first people to pass this way and there were boot prints that seemed to be a few days old marking the trail across each of the snowy patches.

Following other people's bootprints in snow drifts - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel leading the way through the snow, following in the boot prints of others

The fun really started towards the top of the pass, where we could see we would have to conquer a very steep snow slope to gain our destination.  

View of bootprints in the snow we would have to conquer leading up to Hafnarskard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
A trail of boot prints leads to Hafnarskard Pass – it was going to be quite a climb

It was every bit as steep as it looked and, given I was in the lead, I ended up having to kick snow-stairs into the slope with my boots in order to make progress.  Good thing that I’d seen Maxime do this last year in East Greenland!  It seemed that trekkers coming from the other direction had had much more fun – bum-sliding down the slope rather than hiking it!

bum trail and bootprints in the snow leading to the pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Boot prints and what I took to be the imprint of a bum-slide on the climb to the pass

But I made it eventually

Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður

and watched as the others struggled their way up.  I had no idea how Sean was going to manage carrying that enormous lens of his, but he eventually joined us and explained that he basically used it as a trekking pole all the way up!

Trekking companions making their way up to Hafnarskard pass through the snow - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel (top) and Sean (bottom) struggling up the snow towards Hafnarskard pass

The view back to Veiðileysufjörður was amazing of course

View of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass - Hornstrandir-Iceland
Final view of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass

but it was also very exciting to see what lay ahead of us.  No surprises – it was another beautiful vista!

Me looking towards Hornvik from Hafnarsgard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking towards Hornvík, our destination, from Hafnasgard Pass

Hafnarskard Pass to Hornvík

We tucked ourselves behind a rocky ridge out of the wind to eat lunch, relax, soak up the sunshine (after all, it’s not often you get weather like this in Iceland!) and admire the views.  Then it was time to continue on to Hornvík through the snow that lay on the northern side of the pass.

Trekking companions heading across the snow in the direction of Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel and Sean leading the way to Hornvík through the snow

My guess is that we were walking in snow for about 1/4 of the hike from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík.  It wasn’t terribly deep for the most part but it was a little slushy, and again I’m very happy with my Lowa boots that kept my feet blissfully dry and warm 🙂

slushy snow and great hiking boots
So happy with my waterproof boots!

We stopped for another rest much further down the slope, though really it was just an excuse to get the packs off and lie in the sun for a while.

Taking a break on the way to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Taking a break on the way to Hornvík

Not too long after, we reached a steep drop-off that revealed the river valley leading down to Hornvík.

Amazing view of the bright green  river delta at Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazingly green!

Wow!  We were not expecting such a verdantly green reveal, made even more so by the bright sunshine and blue skies!  Being photographers, we had a great time here playing with the composition of the river and small lakes as they punctuated this vibrancy.  

Water patterns in the green of the Hornvík river delta - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nature is an artist

We could also see our home for the night – the Hornvík campsite – which was located just past the yellow house on the edge of the inlet.

View of Hornvík campsite and the Horn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The campsite is located just past the yellow house

The path became a little boggy as we descended into the valley, but we finally arrived.

Path and signs on the final stretch to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The final stretch…

Hornvík Campsite

Given that Hornvík is the most popular destination in Hornstrandir, the campground is large and really well set up.  There is a bright orange emergency shelter (you don’t want to have to go hunting for it in an emergency), a sink, flush toilets, and a permanent Ranger station. When the Icelandic flag is flying, the Ranger is in 🙂  

Images of infrastructure at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The rangers station with flush toilets (top), fresh water (bottom-left) and the emergency shelter (bottom-right) at Hornvík campsite

It was here that I met the extremely helpful and lovely Vésteinn Már Rúnarsson and talked him through my hiking plan for the next week.  He gave me updates on the status of the trails (especially pertaining to bogginess) and made several suggestions given I was wearing hiking boots and not gumboots 😀   He also had the latest best guess as to what the weather would do tomorrow…

Ranger at the rangers station at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The ranger is in!

Armed with this information, I found a place to pitch my tent with an awesome view (it wasn’t difficult as there were only 7 people camping here this night), and went for a walk along the beach admiring “The Horn” where I would be heading tomorrow on my hike.

view of the horn from my tent - Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My view 🙂

Million thanks to Sean and Daniel for hiking with me today!  Loved hanging out with you guys and I hope you have a ton of luck with your Arctic Fox photography!

My trekking companions for the day
Sean (left), Daniel (centre) and myself at Hornvík campsite

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.9km

Time taken = 7 hours and 20 minutes.  But probably 2 hours of that was spent chilling in the sunshine and taking photos 🙂

Map

Basic map of the route from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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My first solo multi-day trek – Hornstrandir in Iceland

Although I have now done several long-distance treks

all of them have been guided. 

Trekking group descending towards Karale Fjord with Knud Rasmussen Glacier and mountains in the background
Views over the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in East Greenland as the group descends to the Karale Fjord

My first solo trek

I had never really considered doing a solo, unguided multi-day trek, and 8 months ago when I decided I wanted to hike the Arctic Circle Trail in West Greenland, I was desperate to find trekking companions (turns out Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forums are pretty good for that 🙂 )

However, I’ve discovered that a lot can change over the course of half a year, which is how I now find myself about to embark on an 8-day solo hike in the most remote part of Iceland – the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords region.

Map of Iceland showing Hornstrandir location, and map of Hornstrandir
Top: Map of Iceland with Hornstrandir highlighted. Bottom: Map of Hornstrandir with main hiking trails indicated

Could I have chosen an easier place to start?  Most definitely!  But I do tend to dive into these things head first…

Why I’m nervous about Hornstrandir

I had two main concerns going in:

  1. The weather.  Iceland is notorious for its changeable weather (even in Summer) and several of the accounts I’d read online about hiking in Hornstrandir talked of the cold (a constant fear of mine, despite spending most of my time in cold places), rain and fog.  
  2. Whether the trails are well marked.  There is conflicting information online that mentions everything from an obvious track, through to stone cairns (which can often be obscured by fog) through to nothing at all.  What would I find?

In order to address the first concern (of the cold and rain at least), while home in Australia I spent a small fortune upgrading all my camping gear except for my tent.  Given how much camping I’m doing between now and the end of the year (and probably into the future), it was a strategic investment and I now have an Enlightened Equipment -18 degree down sleeping quilt, mittens, hood and booties, the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm sleeping mat, 260gsm thermals, Smartwool socks, plus all the gear I talk about in my summary for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

Almost all the gear I took on my hike in Hornstrandir, Iceland
Almost all the gear that had to fit into my 65L backpack for my 8 day hike in Hornstrandir. Love how small all my down gear from Enlightened Equipment packs (white compression dry-bag) and how small my sleeping mat is (green dry-bag). But even with that, the tent (brown bag) had to be strapped to the outside. I also had a separate chest bag for my camera, with the second lens and other accessories stored in the main pack.

To mitigate the second concern (and for their own sanity as well), my mum and dad bought me the Garmin InReach SE+ personal emergency beacon which, in addition to calling the emergency services if you really get into trouble, allows you to program GPS waypoints, track your route, and send and receive messages (I could check in each day saying I was OK).  I also had my flash new Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch (yes, I have all the gadgets!) which again allows you to set GPS waypoints and track your route, as well as an old fashioned Suunto global compass and map.

Navigation aids - Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass
Navigation aids – Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass

But it wasn’t just mum and dad that were concerned about safety. 

You need to book boat transfers to and from Hornstrandir in advance.  In order to do so, you must provide your planned itinerary so that if you are not at your scheduled pickup, emergency services can be alerted and they have some idea of where to start searching for you. You are also strongly encouraged to register your hiking itinerary with Safetravel.is. Iceland really tries to take care of its visitors!

So, with both watch and personal emergency beacon programmed, I am as prepared as I can be!  Let’s see what the reality is like…

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

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Flying into Ísafjörður – an amazing approach

Reykjavik domestic airport borders the southern edge of the city’s downtown area.  It is literally a 2km walk to the terminal from City Hall.

Map showing Reykjavik domestic airport compared with downtown
It is an easy walk to the domestic airport from downtown Reykjavik

As you might imagine, only small propeller planes take off from here (the rest depart from Keflavik International Airport, 45km away) and the terminal itself is very small.

Being the eternal early-bird, I arrived for my Air Iceland Connect flight to Ísafjörður about 1.5 hours ahead of time, only to find that I couldn’t get rid of my checked luggage until about ½ hour before the flight. They check each flight in in turn, you can’t jump the queue!

Check-in Notification at Reykjavik domestic airport.
They only check in one flight at a time. You have to wait until yours is displayed here

But eventually it all happened and I was winging my way to Ísafjörður in Iceland’s Westfjords region.

Air Iceland Connect plane to Isafjordur
Small planes for domestic flights within Iceland

The approach to Ísafjörður 

To be honest, there was not much to look at out the window of the Air Iceland Connect Bombardier Q200 propeller plane (clouds!) until we were on our final approach to the airport.  And then I kinda wished I couldn’t see anything! 

At least one aviation website considers Ísafjörður to be one of the most scenic and challenging approaches in the world, and I have to say “I concur!”

Flying up a valley with the right wingtip almost touching the mountain just outside my window, we pulled a hard 180 degree turn within the valley itself before landing on the tarmac runway.  Here is what it looks like from the cockpit of a plane (not my flight) – though I’m not convinced it gives you a good feel for exactly how close you get to that mountain!

Skip the first minute and play at 2x if you are in a hurry 🙂

All I will say is thank goodness we had a calm day!  I would hate to be doing that in rough weather!  

We touched down without incident (thank goodness!), and I spent the rest of the day wandering around town, and sorting final logistics for my week long solo-hike in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.  I really hope the weather remains like this!

move mouse over image to see full panorama

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Felt making workshop – Bishkek

One of the things I love to do while travelling is trying my hand at any local handcraft I come across. I still wear the silver ring I made in Nicaragua, travel with the scarf I made for myself in El Salvador, and will forever be in awe of the women who make the beautiful and intricate textiles in Guatemala – just to highlight a few. I was therefore very excited to join Bishkek Walks on another of their amazing experiences – this one to make my own felt product.

Felt making was one of the most important traditional skills in Kyrgyzstan. In particular, the technique of Ала кийиз (Ala-kiyiz) – literally “Multi-coloured felt” – was used to create clothing, as well as carpets and other everyday items for the yurts of the nomadic Kyrgyz. This is the technique we would be learning.

Our small group met at one of the many amazing coffee shops in central Bishkek, and Gulmira, a felt artist and our teacher, began by showing us some of the different products she’d made recently.

Gulmira displaying her artistic felts as an introduction to the workshop
Gulmira displaying her artistic felts as an introduction to the workshop. Rahat is translating for us though Gulmira did speak some English

Gulmira actually has a degree in fine arts and, although the use of coloured thread and embroidery in felt work was traditionally used by the nomads, she takes it to another level for modern tastes.

Selection of Gulmira's artistic felts
Selection of Gulmira’s artistic felts

I particularly loved this one where she had incorporated the use of material as well for a very 3-dimensional artwork.

Black and white artistic felt by Gulmira
This is a beautiful piece of art

While she showed us the different pieces, Gulmira also talked about the history of carpets and felting in Kyrgyzstan. It is a big job (as we would soon discover), and she painted a lively picture of how the nomadic people would congregate and work together to assist with the preparation of felts (and other items), given the amount of work involved.

Soon enough, it was time for us to try our hand at making our own piece of felt artwork.

Step 1: Felt making workshop

Choose your base colour. Gulmira had bought a large shopping bag full of wool that had been dyed different colours. I decided to go with a maroon base and blue highlights – two of my favourite colours.

Selecting wool for our felts - Felt workshop - Bishkek
Selecting wool for our felts (top) and the colours I chose to work with (bottom)

Don’t worry – I’ll explain later. I, too, was intrigued as to the purpose of the washing up sponge and the soap!

Step 2: Felt making workshop

Lay a thick base for the felt by pulling the wool apart and layering the stretched fibres over the top of each other.

images of laying the base of the felt mat - Felt workshop - Bishkek
Gulmira showing me how it’s done (left) and me trying to replicate (right)

I think a video will work better to explain this step.

Step 3: Felt making workshop

Once you have a full, fluffy base-layer down, turn by 90 degrees and add another layer over the top. This could be another block colour, or you could choose to start bringing other colours in.

Step 4: Felt making workshop

Add a final layer where you finish off the design with more intricate patterns if you wish. I decided not to get too fancy for my first attempt

My final wool mat, ready for felting - Felt Workshop - Bishkek
My final wool mat, ready for felting

but Gulmira’s effort was very impressive! The orange-looking things are actually pomegranates – she has a whole collection of artworks based around these fruits. As you can see, the resulting mat of wool can be several centimeters thick!

Gulmira's final wool mat ready for felting - felt workshop - Bishkek
Gulmira’s final wool mat is a little more intricate than mine

Step 5: Felt making workshop

Lay fine gauze over the wool mat and wet thoroughly with hot water. The idea is to saturate the wool and compress it into a thin layer while retaining the design.

So this is what the washing up sponge was for…

Step 6: Felt making workshop

Now the soap came into play. To help speed up the process of matting, we took the soap and rubbed it vigorously into the mat through the gauze. Again this helped compress the wool fibres and aid in their transformation into a self-supporting felt.

Soaping and compressing the wool mat to make felt - felt workshop - Bishkek
… and this was the reason for the soap

I have to admit, I couldn’t seem to make mine mat together very well and Gulmira was brilliant at helping me finally get it to work. I suspect my layering of the fibres was not as good as it should have been (I didn’t have enough fibres laid), but we got there in the end.

Step 7: Felt making workshop

The next step was to take the saturated felt, roll it up tightly, and squeeze out much of the excess water.

Rolling is a crucial part of felt making

It was then time to roll it from every side to make it start to shrink. After going one round with the gauze still intact, we removed this layer and went again. After another round of rolling from all sides, we then carefully peeled the felt off the backing material and kept rolling – including diagonally now.

rolling the felt to make it shrink - felt workshop - Bishkek
Roll, roll, roll, roll. From every side, from every corner, until it is the size you want it to be and it is properly matted

We were being quite delicate and precious with our felt when we started this step, but eventually Gulmira stepped in and showed us how vigorous and rough we could get with the material. Traditionally, the felt product would be rolled with hands and trodden on for several hours in order to mat the fibres together. We were being far too gentle it seems!

In the end, my geometric design turned out a bit wonky – but that is the nature of Ala-kiyiz.

my finished felt - felt workshop - Bishkek
It’s a little wonky… perhaps I shouldn’t have gone with straight lines on my first try?

I was very impressed by the designs the others had created (most of which turned out less wonky than mine) and Gulmira’s pomegranates looked amazing!

finished felts of all participants - felt workshop - Bishkek
Final felts from Dina, Rahat, Gulmira and Sjannie (clockwise from top left)

She was actually going to take it home and work on it a lot more – rolling it until it had shrunk down to about 1/4 size so she could make earrings out of it!

detail of Gulmira's pomegranate felt - felt workshop - Bishkek
Now I understand the structure! The pomegranates are mirrored so they can be folded over and gathered together into a dual-sided earring! Clever!

Recommendation

In my opinion, the best souvenirs are either the ones you purchase directly from an artisan, or ones that you make yourself under the instruction of an artisan. The Felt Workshop hosted by Bishkek Walks is a wonderful opportunity to create your own felt product using a traditional Kyrgyz technique, and is a wonderful way to experience first hand the challenges involved in creating these impressive everyday items. I can’t imagine making a whole carpet like this!

Felt workshop group with our finished felts - Bishkek
Our finished felts

Time: ~3hrs or a bit longer, depending on the group.

Cost: About USD$10 – $22 depending on number of people.

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Mosaic walking tour – Bishkek

Having explored an obscure but interesting part of the history of Kyrgyzstan’s capital on the Interhelpo: The making of industrial Bishkek walking tour with Bishkek Walks, I immediately signed up for Rahat’s Mosaics of Bishkek: Soviet Street Art exploration. I have a particular fascination for street art wherever I go so was very keen to see what Bishkek had to offer.

Detail of one of the mosaics on the Bishkek mosaic walking tour

An added interest for this particular tour was that all of these artworks were created between the 1960s and 1980s to highlight the positive elements of the Soviet system and “inspire citizens with beautiful everyday surroundings”. I was curious to see what this looked like.

Sunny Fish Fountain

We met less than 100m from where I’m staying in central Bishkek (literally around the nearest corner) at a large fountain that I must have walked past at least 10 times but never noticed! 😳

Rahat talking about the Sunny Fish Fountain
How did I manage to miss this?

The Sunny Fish Fountain was built in 1982 by Russian designer Vladimir Krugman as Soviet limitations on artistic freedom were relaxing. It is pretty easy to see how it got its name 🙂

Sun and fish of the Sunny Fish Fountain - Bishkek
Fish and sun anyone?

The tiles are made from melted glass stained with different compounds, some of which had to be transported all the way from Belarus. The artists involved in the project had to travel, create each tile, transport it back to Bishkek and erect the statue themselves – quite an undertaking for a fountain as large as this!

The whole and details of the Sunny Fish Fountain - Bishkek
Sunny Fish Fountain seen in its entirety and in detail

Ala-Too Movie Theatre

Our next stop was a few blocks away at the avant-garde Ala-Too movie theatre. This is the oldest cinema in Bishkek and is recognised as a cultural monument of the Kyrgyz people. Rahat explained a little about the history of social change in Kyrgyzstan during the life of the theatre, before focusing in on the artwork that decorates the upper part of the building.

Walking tour group in front of Ala-Too movie theatre - Bishkek

It turns out, this is not the original decoration! In 1963, to mark the 100th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan joining Russia, the original horses were replaced by panels showing the achievements of the Soviet Union, including a man with a dove to symbolise peace, a cosmonaut to represent scientific achievements, and people reading books to symbolise education.

Artwork panels on Ala-Too movie theatre - Bishkek
A cosmonaut, the Soviet star, education alongside agriculture, the hammer and sickle, and a symbol of peace now adorn the Ala-Too movie theatre

Labor mosaic

After a stop at the Monument of Friendship (another creation to mark 100 years of Kyrgyzstan joining Russia) and a discussion of the Women mosaic and others that visitors are now not able to see because they are located in a privately owned buildings, we walked about 1km west to find our next artwork.

The Labor mosaic by Mihail Bochkarev and Altymysh Usubaliev was created in 1964 and was one of the first mosaics in Krygyzstan. The panel depicts some of the working class of the Soviet Union (farmers and factory workers) and also some of the more intellectual achievements (scientists sending rockets to outer space).

Walking tour group in front of the Labor mosiac - Bishkek
Note how the mural is located on the side of a pretty standard Soviet building

They used river pebbles as a cheap and convenient material to create the artwork, and it is an example of how artists attempted to beautify empty space on the walls of otherwise boring Soviet buildings.

An unusual thing about this mosaic is that it includes a panel with the names of the artists. Since artwork was supposed to be created for the enjoyment of all people, the artists themselves were generally not deemed important and very few include this acknowledgement.

The Path to Enlightenment mosaic

Another kilometre further west (yes, there is a fair bit of walking in this tour), we arrived at one of the campuses of the Kyrgyz National University whose back entrance sports an amazing mosaic called The Path to Enlightenment.

Walking tour group in front of the Path to Enlightenment mosaic - Bishkek
The front entrance is not nearly as beautiful

Created in 1974 by Satar Aitiev, it remains a mystery how this particular mosaic was even allowed! During this period, the Kyrgyz Union of Artists dictated that all artwork had to be accessible and easily understandable to the common person without explanation or interpretation. They had a lot of control over what an artist could create and would intervene in the design of artworks if they did not adhere to their guidelines

The Path of Enlightenment mosaic in Bishkek

Its modernist, painting-like feel was completely at odds with anything that had ever been done in before Kyrgyzstan and definitely requires some interpretation! The passive figures are in stark contrast to the strong and active figures typical of Soviet style art, and although religion was not part of the Soviet era in Kyrgyzstan, the central figure is almost spiritual in nature.

Radio and Nowadays mosaic

Our next stop was Bishkek’s telecommunications office and its very relevant mural of a giant sending out radio waves. Science was a favourite topic for artists during the Soviet time (we’ve already seen scientists depicted in the murals above), and this science-related mosaic was again made from cheap, local pebbles.

Radio and Nowadays mosaic - Bishkek
Note the use of pebbles to make up the mosaic

The Lenin is with us mosaic

The final artwork we visited on the tour, Lenin is with us, turned out to be another vast mural canvas. Created in 1978 by Lidia Ilyina (a rare female artist), it depicts the whole of Soviet society, including soldiers of the Red Army, female and male working class citizens, students, pioneers and, of course, Lenin.

Walking group in front of part of the Lenin is with us mosaic - Bishkek

Interestingly, all of the men are depicted with some kind of profession while the women play a support role. As a female artist, whether this was her artistic impression of the realities of society at the time and she wanted to send a message within the constraints of the Artist’s Union guidelines, or whether it was simply an order from the state – nobody knows.

Lenin is with us mosaic - Bishkek

We also don’t know whether the fact that Lenin (depicted in his classic posture showing the way to communism) occupies a significant portion of the mural perhaps indicates the artist felt that Lenin was being forgotten. Unfortunately, records were not kept about any of the artworks created at the time and so many remain open to historical interpretation.

Lenin figure in the Lenin is with us mosaic - Bishkek

Recommendation

If you are interested in the history of a location told through artwork, the Bishkek Mosaics Walking Tour is fantastic.

Rahat had a lot of information about each of the mosaics and wove them together with the story of the Kyrgyzstan’s Soviet era history in a really amazing tour. She covered a lot more than what I’ve summarised above so definitely do the tour to learn more!

Time: 2hrs. Note: it is about 4km of walking and you end in a different place from where you start. Rahat can offer advice on how to get back to where you need to go.

Cost: About USD$10 – $22 depending on number of people.

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Interhelpo and the making of industrial Bishkek – walking tour

When I was in Kyrgyzstan 2 years ago, I really wanted to participate in the walking tours offered by Bishkek Walks. Dennis from Walking Almaty (the Green Bazaar and Golden Quarter tours are two of the best walking tours I’ve ever done) recommended them to me, but unfortunately I did not have enough time, given our small delay in mud of the Tamgaly Petroglyphs in Kazakhstan.

I was therefore very excited to see that the day after I arrived for my second trip to Bishkek, the Interhelpo and the making of industrial Bishkek walking tour was scheduled. Yes – it is a bit of a random theme for a walking tour. But this is what I love about about tours offered by Bishkek Walks and Walking Almaty! They go beyond the standard history spiel and tour of obvious buildings to showcase something different and unusual about these cities.

Selfies of me, Rahat and David
David (right) joined myself and Rahat (centre; the guide) on the Interhelpo walking tour. Thanks for the photo Rahat!

The story of Interhelpo

Rahat began by explaining the origin of Interhelpo – a cooperative of industrial workers and farmers who came to Bishkek in the 1920s from Žilina, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). Their goal: to build a socialist economy within Soviet Kyrgyzstan and introduce modern industrial and agricultural practices to the country. As Rahat explains in her blurb about the tour:

More than one thousand workers including their family members arrived in Kyrgyzstan – a pure land that was free from capitalism, and where they could build a new, equal socialist society.

As we walked down a seemingly non-descript street lined by the houses built by Interhelpo members, Rahat painted a detailed picture of the hardships and challenges faced by these intrepid souls when they first arrived in Bishkek.

Scenes from the street with Rahat showing us before photos of the area and the way people lived
Rahat had many historical photos to illustrate her descriptions of Interhelpo and how the people lived
Photos of the exteriors of different houses built by Interhelpo - Bishkek
Some of the different houses built by Interhelpo. The man in the main panel invited us into his home. Here he is explaining that the original Czech exterior is the green layer and the grey “shell” decoration was added as a “beautification” in the 1970s. You can also see some whales/dolphins (bottom-left) and a rocket (bottom-centre) that were also added as part of this beautification process.

Even now, families living in the apartments that were built during that time do not have a lot of luxuries. We were lucky enough to meet a man who invited us into his small and crowded home for a short visit. There was very limited light and the walls were so thick (at least 30cm!) the lady of the house complained that there was no way you could make modifications even if you wanted to.

I guess buildings were constructed in this “brute force” manner as the Interhelpo cooperative did not include any architects or engineers in their midst!

Scenes from inside one of the Interhelpo apartment buildings - Bishkek
Inside the dark hallways of one of the Interhelpo apartment buildings

The achievements of Interhelpo

Despite this difficult start, the members of Interhelpo went on to achieve a great deal in a very short time through sheer determination and hard work.

At the centre of their endeavours were the all-important factories they originally envisaged. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter (it is now a modern industrial complex) but you can clearly see it is the same gate in the image below.

Modern day and historic images of the gate to the factories of Interhelpo
Modern day (top) and historic (bottom) photo of the main gate to the factories. You can see it is the same gate if you look for the 3 doors that are now hidden behind the blue gate

They also built a vibrant community that operated under Socialist ideals. This included a Community House – complete with theatre and meeting rooms.

The theatre inside the Interhelpo community centre - Bishkek
The theatre inside the old Interhelpo Community Centre. Note the old-fashioned chairs.

An impressive stadium that you are still able to rent out for 900 Kyrgyzstani Som (about USD$13) per hour. I love the old board showing matches between the different factories (vertical) for the different sporting events (horizontal).

Images from outside and inside the stadium built by Interhelpo - Bishkek
Outside and inside the stadium built by Interhelpo. Bottom-left is the old match fixtures board.

A swimming complex. I’m not sure I would want to swim there myself, but the kids were having fun and I thought the diving platforms (now into an empty diving pool) were awesome.

Images of the swimming complex built by Interhelpo - Bishkek
The main pool (top) was filled with water but I wouldn’t want to jump off the impressive diving platforms (bottom) at the minute!

And amazingly large parks that have been revived in recent years by the descendants of Interhelpo members and funding from the Czech government.

Rahat and David walking in one of the parks built by Interhelpo
Part of the large park established by Interhelpo and recently revived.

Interhelpo also built many more buildings and a lot of the basic infrastructure of Bishkek before dissolving in 1943 and having its assets transferred into the hands of the State. An ironic end to this interesting experiment in socialism.

Recommendation

If you are interested in history and want to learn about a different aspect of the development of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan, the Interhelpo and the making of industrial Bishkek walking tour is a great option.

It was a fascinating 2hr stroll through an area of Bishkek that tourists don’t generally visit, learning about a history that few people are even aware of. Rahat has loads of stories and details that I haven’t gone into here – you actually have to do the tour to learn more 😉

Time: 2hrs

Cost: About USD$10 – $22 depending on number of people.

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Nuuk Multi Kulti Festival 2019

Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, has many festivals that are spaced throughout the year. One of the key events during Winter is Nuuk Multi Kulti – a 4 day celebration of cultural diversity in this small and remote city.

During my 2 months in Nuuk, I’d met people from Greenland and Denmark (OK, no surprises there), Mexico, Spain, Argentina (yes, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to practice my Spanish), Lithuania, Japan, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Philippines, Canada, USA, Scotland, Australia … and that’s just off the top of my head. There is a huge diversity of nationalities who have made Nuuk their home, at least for a few years.

The aim of Nuuk Multi Kulti is to celebrate this diversity and showcase both Greenlandic and other cultures. I was keen to head out and attend as much of it as possible – especially with the promise of food at many events 😀

Representing multiculturalism through an artist-designed flag

It kicked off with an event by the Nuuk Art Museum – the raising of a flag at the flagpole outside Holms Hus near the centre of Nuuk.  Artist Gudrun Hasle had invited other artists from different countries to design a flag to represent the idea of Nuuk Multi Kulti, and the first to be hoisted was that of Greenlandic artist: Miki Jacobsen.

When I arrived, there was a small cluster of people at the end a narrow path that had been shoveled through the 1-metre deep snow to the flagpole. Miki (yes, the artist himself) was putting the finishing touches on it, carving a wider circle to accommodate more people.

Miki shoveling snow around the flagpole - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Miki shoveling snow

As with all events in Nuuk, tea, coffee and cake was in plentiful supply

Coffee and Cake at Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
A staple at any event in Greenland

before Miki unfurled his flag and raised it high over the snowy landscape.

Montage of the hoisting of Miki's flag - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Hoisting the flag

It was a mixture of the Greenlandic and Canadian flags, with a ½-red, ½-write maple leaf replacing the equivalent circle in the Greenlandic Flag.  He explained that the flag represented the fact that he was born in and currently lives in Greenland, but was educated as an artist in Canada. He also has a son who lives in Canada, and to whom the flag was dedicated. The design was to symbolize this mix between the two cultures.

Artist flag flying high  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland

Cultural Showcase

The next event I made it to was held the following afternoon at the public library in downtown Nuuk. Weeks in advance, a call was put out (I saw it through the Internationals in Nuuk Facebook Group) looking for people from other parts of the world to showcase their country of origin in whatever way they deemed appropriate.

On the day, there were several “booths” set up amidst the books on the second floor of the library. Norway, Finland, Spain, Hungary, France, Philippines, Russia, Dominican Republic, USA, amongst many others were represented,

Silvia from Canary Islands at  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Silvia from the Canary Islands also talking about Spain

and most chose to focus on the food of their country – an easy sell to be sure!

Finnish food  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Finnish food!

Some went even further and dressed up in national costume, this lady from Russia even had other outfits from her homeland that you could try on!

Russian stall  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Russian booth

A special mention to my friends Fruzsina and Miki who put together a quiz about their homeland of Hungary. I daren’t post my results here …  clearly I need to visit and learn about the country from a local!

Where do we come from?

The next day I headed to Illorput – a local Community Centre that was hosting several different events. An ongoing activity there throughout the whole of Nuuk Multi Kulti involved a map of the world made from sealskin. The idea was to draw a connection with a piece of string from your place of origin to Nuuk.

Map of where we come from  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Map of where we come from. This was very early on in the festival – there were many more pins by the end

I was attending the first event they were hosting so it was early days, and you can probably pick the string that I placed 😊

Greenlandic Food Tasting

The main reason I was at Illorput, however, was to experience the Greenlandic Food Tasting. I ran into a friend and his daughter the instant I walked in the door, and the three of us loaded up on local cuisine and sat down to chat.

The spread was amazing! And all of it really delicious.

Table full of Greenlandic tasters  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Greenlandic tasters

I took one of the biodegradable bamboo boats of halibut and smoked salmon with pesto (actually, I might have gone back for a second); one of the boats of dried cod, dried capelin, and salted whale blubber; and a boat that contained a halibut “meatball” with remoulade. But there were also boats containing Greenlandic Prawns and mayonnaise, and a large pot of Greenlandic lamb soup.

Greenlandic food tasters  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Greenlandic food tasters – yum!

Oh, how I love Greenlandic food!

Parallels between Greenlandic and Icelandic visual art

Once I’d finished my lunch, I walked the rest of the way into town to the Nuuk Art Museum. One of my friends, Lorenzo, was studying in Iceland but doing an internship in Nuuk for several months. He was giving a tour talking about the similarities and differences in Greenlandic and Icelandic visual art from the late 1800s through to more modern times.

We started in the Emmanuel A. Pederson (1894 – 1948) room where Lorenzo explained a little about how this famous Danish artist depicted a romanticized Greenland in his paintings.

Lorenzo talking about Emmanuel Pederson at Nuuk Art Museum as part of  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Lorenzo talking about Emmanuel Pederson at Nuuk Art Museum

Blue skies or dramatically colourful sunsets (there is obviously no bad weather in Greenland), kayaks, sled dogs, and generic figures who are more avatars within the image rather than individual people, characterize his paintings. As does the feeling of distance from the scene. Of looking in from the outside. Something that perhaps reflects his own feelings of coming from outside (Denmark) to observe Greenland.

Surprisingly, this view of their own country, though far from reality, was adopted by Greenlanders – perhaps due to the emergence of nationalist feelings around this time and the desire to develop their own national identity.

Emmanuel Pederson room at Nuuk Art Museum

This painting style was compared and contrasted with that of the Icelandic artist, Þórarinn Þorláksson (1867 – 1924), who also painted in the romantic style. Those of you who have visited Iceland know how unpredictable its weather is, but Þórarinn mostly painted good weather in his artworks, which are more representations of Icelandic landscapes than actual depictions. Also similar to Pederson, there is a feeling of distance from nature when viewing the work. That you are outside looking in. But in this case, there are no people depicted at all, not even avatars.

Later in the tour, Lorenzo contrasted the more contemporary art of Frederik Kristensen, otherwise known as Kunngi (1952 – present), to that of Icelandic Finnur Jónsson (1892 – 1993). 

Lorenzo talking about Greenlandic and Icelandic art parallels  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland

Kunngi was the first Greenlandic artist to create non-figurative images. The absence of typical Greenlandic iconography caused some to question whether his works could really be called “Greenlandic”, despite the fact that was born, lives, and creates his art in Greenland.

Kuungi art work- Nuuk Art Museum
Kuungi artwork

A few decades earlier over in Iceland, Finnur was having his own issues in having his expressionist/cubist artworks accepted. While these art styles were well established in mainland Europe, and particularly in Germany where he studied for a while, they were new to Iceland. In contrast to Kunngi, the criticism was not directed at the “Icelandicness” or otherwise of the pieces, but stemmed more from general theories of art in Iceland and what the definition of good Icelandic art should be. There was also a concern that the works would have a negative influence of Icelandic culture as they thought that such artistic expressions were manifestations of a sick and unbalanced mind, isolated from reality and nature.  Not surprisingly, these were not characteristics they wanted to promote.

Lorenzo also examined two other sets of artists in this short tour of the similarities and differences in the development of Greenlandic and Icelandic art, and I was so glad this talk was in English 😀 It was fascinating!

Cultural Masks

After Lorenzo had finished his talk, I raced from the Nuuk Art Museum down to the Katuaq Cultural Centre, where they had already starting packing up the exhibition of cultural masks made by school children aged 12-14 years.

Cultural masks as part of  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Masks inspired by different world cultures

The idea was for them to create their own mask using inspiration from Sri Lanka, Alaska and Nigeria/Congo.  I was a little surprised that Greenlandic masks were not part of this activity (at least the people packing up the exhibition didn’t think so), but none-the-less there were some very impressive efforts! I loved this one in particular whose caption reads “This mask is for those who are feeling under pressure”.

Under pressure mask  - Nuuk Multi Kulti - West Greenland
Under pressure

I ran out of time at Nuuk Multi Kulti!

Unfortunately, that’s where my experiences of Nuuk Multi Kulti 2019 finished. There were many more activities on the schedule that I didn’t manage to make it to – some simply because of timing, some because they were only held in Greenlandic or Danish (I’m learning, but very slowly).

It was an awesome festival though and I had great fun exploring the events I did attend. I’m looking forward to next year’s event already!

Discover more about Greenland

If you are planning a trip to Nuuk and are interested in catching one of the Festivals that happen throughout the year, check out the Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk which provides a complete list. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what are the things to do once you arrive.

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog or on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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Nuuk Snow Festival – 2019

After an 11 year hiatus, the Nuuk Snow Festival was back in 2019. I was lucky enough to be in town to enjoy this snow sculpting showcase by both local and international teams.

It was -25 degrees Celsius with the wind chill. Perfect conditions for polar bears and to prevent snow from melting, but positively painful for a human venturing out into it. You have to be quite hardy (and slightly insane) if you are going to participate in a snow festival!

Sign for a competitor at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Signs announcing the sponsors, the team and what they would be making at the Nuuk Snow Festival

Day 1 – the sculpting begins

On the Thursday morning, several 3m x 3m x 3m blocks of hard packed snow stood at the ready at Sikuki – Nuuk Harbour to be sculpted into … well, we had to wait and see. Several teams got underway immediately, making sure to use as much of their 3-day sculpting window as possible. Armed with ladders, ice saws, shovels, picks and an arsenal of other tools, they had made various levels of progress by the end of day 1.

Montage of people working on their sculptures at the end of day 1 of the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Progress at the end of Day 1

Other blocks had yet to be touched (their teams delayed in Copenhagen due to bad weather), and there were even a few spares available for late registrations.

Lasse and I visited after work to see the progress and ran into Lasse’s friend David there. On the spur of the moment, the two of them decided to enter the festival. Team “Arctic Penguin” chose their block and brainstormed what they would sculpt as they dropped me home. Although they invited me to be part of it, I wasn’t sure my Australian fingers and toes would survive the bitterly cold temperatures, and decided to leave the Greenlanders to it.

Sign for Arctic Penguin's sculpture - Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Arctic Penguin’s sculpture sign. After throwing around a few different ideas, they decided on a “drop”

Day 2 – Silent Disco and Light Show

Saturday evening it was time to head back in and check on progress. The bonus was a “light show and silent disco” at the sculpture site and slightly less frigid temperatures!

It was amazing to see how much progress had been made and most of the sculptures were heading rapidly towards their final touches! Some teams were even working through it!

Artists working during the night on their sculptures at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
There were still some keen ones!

The “disco” was more like “relaxation music” (at least while I was there, apparently it picked up a bit later), so I decided to just wander through and admire the sculptures without accompaniment.

Montage of the different sculptures lit up at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland

It was a pretty good turnout with people coming and going throughout the evening.

The "igloo" where you picked up your headphones for the silent disco at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
This “igloo” was where you picked up your headphones for the silent disco

Day 3 – Before and after at the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival

It was tools down at 11am the next morning, so I did one last visit around midday to see the final products. They had each started out as a solid 3m x 3m x 3m cube of snow

Untouched block of compacted snow - the starting point for all artists at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Untouched block of compacted snow – the starting point for all artists

But what they had been transformed into was incredible!

Montage of finished sculptures at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Some of the final sculptures from the festival

There was one interactive sculpture that the kids were having a ball playing on

Kids playing on an interactive sculpture at the Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
This was fun – but I watched several kids get clobbered by others coming down the slide 🙂

and I thought team “Arctic Penguin” did an amazing job on the perfect symmetry of their “Drop”.

The finished "drop" by Arctic Penguin at the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
A perfect drop! Well done guys!

Winners of the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival

In the end, Team Qinngorput won the non-figurative category with their Northern Lights sculpture “Light in Depth”

Winner of figurative category of the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland

and Team Sisamaqqat the figurative category with “Transformation” (the walrus, seal, bear intermixed figures). This is perhaps not surprising when you look at the day-to-day carving work by one of the team members Kim Kleist-Eriksen.

Winner of the non-figurative category of the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Just wow!

But all of the sculptures were incredible, including the one done by the volunteers for the festival (which included several of my friends) – even though they somehow managed to leave Canada off their world map…

Embrace the world sculpture at the 2019 Nuuk Snow Festival - West Greenland
Embrace the world!

Recommendation

The Nuuk Snow Festival is a very cool idea (literally and figuratively) and I really hope they run it again next year. If they do (and if I’m in town), I may even brave the cold (Lasse assures me that it is actually quite hot work carving the snow) and enter next time! Better start thinking about what I might be able to carve!

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk provides a complete list of festivals that take place throughout the year in Greenland’s capital. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do once you arrive.

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog or on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
Sunset-Sermitsiaq-from-Lille-Malene-lasse-walking-1024x683.jpg

Sermitsiaq from half-way up Lille Malene

“I think I’ll hike up Lille Malene to catch the sunset. Want to join?”

How could I say “no” to that invite from my friend Lasse. It had been a glorious day, and even though I was still very much in the grip of a mystery illness I’d bought with me from Australia, off I went.

Given we were a little late in setting out, we took the most direct route up the mountain. Straight up Nuuk’s ski piste.

Looking down the main run of Nuuk's downhill skiing centre with a view over the city and the fjord - Nuuk - West Greenland
Looking down the main run of Nuuk’s ski centre

There is a reason they have ski lifts up these things!

I was quickly gasping for breath and my eyes were streaming with tears from the cold air as I tried desperately to keep up with my long-legged friend. Being a Greenlander, he was much more accustomed to the cold and walking in snow than this Australian body! Plus, he is half my age and in full health… what was I thinking?!

A little over half-way up the mountain, Lasse stopped at the first clear viewpoint of the iconic Sermitsiaq mountain. I love this mountain so much!

Hiker at a viewpoint of Sermitsiaq mountain which is glowing in the late afternoon sun - Nuuk - West Greenland
Lasse heading towards an incredible view of Sermitsiaq, which is glowing in the late afternoon sun

We spent several minutes there watching the last of the Sun’s rays illuminate the top of the mountain, before Lasse asked if I wanted to keep going to the top. I suggested that he should go on without me and I’d wait for him to come back.

Me taking photographs of a glowing Sermitsiaq mountain from the viewpoint half way up Lille Malene - Nuuk - West Greenland
Taking a breather! Thanks for the image Lasse 🙂

As he headed off, I perched myself on one of the rocks to watch the light changing on the scene before me. Sunsets in Greenland are some of the most beautiful in the world – a kaleidoscope of pastel colours that fade to darkness rapidly during the Winter months, and not at all during Summer.

Move your mouse over the image to see the full panorama

When it became too cold to sit still, I made my way over to a tall cairn I could see a few hundred metres away.  By the time I had reached it – the blue hour had already begun. So short are the twilights in Nuuk in early February.

Blue hour on Sermitsiaq with pink sunset - Nuuk - West Greenland
Pastel sunsets during blue hour

Lasse reappeared to collect me, and back down the ski slope we plunged – much faster and easier than going up!

And although this little excursion had me hacking my lungs up for the next couple of weeks – I thank Lasse for the invite and will never forget the beauty of that sunset on Sermitsiaq.

Discover more about Greenland

If you enjoy the outdoors and are thinking about visiting Greenland’s capital, check out the Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk, which contains practical information for planning your stay, and the Nature Lovers’ Guide to Nuuk, which focuses on outdoor adventures.

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog.

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!