The Not-that-far

Before traveling, when I was looking for abandoned places to visit in Greenland, there was one name that often jumped out at me: Nordafar. It's an abandoned fish factory and an adjoining little village 2 to 4 hours (depending how fast you're going) south of Nuuk. It used to belong to the Faroese, or so I've understood, and the fish-and-prawn business there used to be quite successful at some point, until it dwindled out in the 1990s (as so many things did) and now all that is left is the urban explorer's wet dream: a remote island full of old, dilapidated houses.

The island is pretty far, no commercial tours go there and since charter boats are ridiculously expensive, it felt far-fetched that I'd ever get to visit the place, but finally I scored a chance when my local friend found friends who could take us there with their boat. This is pretty much how it goes in Nuuk: you just have to know somebody and then they'll know somebody else and in the end you know everybody (to the point that if I now see a news broadcast from Nuuk I will most likely know the people and the places at least vaguely). 

So on my last day we jumped on a tiny boat and off we went. I had understood that the boat was going to have an inside cabin but it actually only had a tiny crawlspace that was, well, not hot but slightly less windy. The day was warm and sunny and beautiful in that sun-dying-out kind of way you get in late autumn but sitting in a really fast boat, out in the arctic, it's really fucking cold, let me tell you. I had three long sweaters under my coat, four pairs of pants - I kid you not - and two hats and I was still freaking cold. There were moments in that boat that I thought I would just freeze to death. Mind you, I'm not saying it wasn't worth it because it was. But it was also really cold.

Anyway, after a few hours of boating, we got to the island and it was gorgeous. Once you get out of the open sea and into the fjords, the water becomes still and in the slanted sun it becomes this glowing, glittering, softly moving mass that doesn't even feel like liquid anymore. It almost seems like some type of velvet or silk. It's serene, soft and so quiet. I can't describe the silence. It was a little bit ruined by a Faroese group of tourists who had happened to decide to visit that place just at that time, most of them were teenagers and maybe not that interested in revisiting their parents' or grandparents' old workplace, so they were just making a lot of noise. But it was still wonderful.

The island has big factory spaces, all rusted and decaying, walls crumbling to dust, ceilings caved in, what have you. There's a crazy big hall full of salt. Just salt, pushed against the wall in big mountains that look like snow turned to stone. There are a few public buildings; one had a stage and two had broken down pianos that made really otherworldly sounds.

It was a dream come true. When at the island, away from the coldest winds, it was actually incredibly warm and lovely.

We explored, had lunch and just hung around the island. I still can't begin to explain why these places appeal to me so much, but aside the beauty of nature and the visual fascination I have with abandoned places, I just love the feeling of really being outside of what we perceive as "normal" society. I feel so much more at home in places like this. I feel like I'm seeing the human condition from the outside, you know? It's an illusion, obviously, but it feels, for a moment, like I could step outside the universe and not be so much affected by everything that touches me everyday. It feels liberating.

And then we also took some silly photos in a bath tub just because you have to.

After we'd explored the island, we went back to the boat and took a little turn around the fjord. There's a small port for Polar Oil, I'm not completely sure what they do in there other than have big containers of oil, I guess? For passing boats etc. We went to have a quick stop in a warm toilet. There are some people living there and it almost seems like an interesting job. I think I'd go mad in the end - and the smell of oil isn't that attractive to me - but it still fascinates me so much. Maybe during the summer. Maybe not when it's dark 22 hours a day and all you ever see is snow. During the nicer months, even in Finland, I tend to forget the kinda weather we get here up north for those four or five months during winter.

It was staggering to see old boats and even big trawlers stranded at the back of a fjord, sitting there like they would have been left there by some ancient, epic pirate fights and I was a visitor from a post-apocalyptic dystopia and I get carried away! But they were cool. We then visited another island that had been abandoned a while back but that also had sort of "guest houses" for hunters who are passing by and need a place to stay.

At this point the sun had already began to set in earnest and this island was a whole lot quieter without the extra noise made by Faroese teenagers. So it was a lot creepier. All through the day my travelling companions had been making qivittoq jokes (and jokes about if "I was already finished", because I am, as you know, Finnish. The Greenlanders love their dad jokes as much as the Finns do) but in this island, it all started to sort of get to me. You know those moments when you think you're not really afraid of anything but then you're in a creepy, empty, dark house and your friend says she's creeped out by something and you're like totally fine but then she says she's going out and then suddenly you also you gotta get out really fast because there's no way you're staying in there alone and if she feels creeped out by something, what if there's really something there and the whole thing is actually just the beginning of the horror movie and you're the girl who dies first? So that ended up with me also trying to climb out the window really fast with my huge camera bag and falling down on my ass. But I was fine.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the boat and sail back to Nuuk. I was hunched in the crawlspace for most of the ride, trying to stay warm. I must have fallen asleep at some point, when we got back to Nuuk it was already dark and there was time still to see a few northern lights. I was so worn out, but in the best possible way. Exploring Nordafar was really one of the coolest days I've ever had in my urban exploring career and just generally, coolest days I've had ever, period. Highlight of my two Greenland trips. I'll never forget this day, I hope. And also hope I'll get to visit these islands again some time. It would be fun to spend a few days there exploring more but maybe in the summer. When it's not that dark. And maybe not completely alone and also maybe borrow a big dog from somebody for comfort.


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