Love in a cold climate

A rugged-up Louise Southerden meets a flirtatious local on a kayaking trip.

Feeling like a special forces unit splitting off from the main battalion of 84 passengers aboard the Russian icebreaker Akademik Ioffe, eight kayakers struggle into drysuits, zip each other up and layer for the cold. Then, grabbing paddles from the deck, we clamber down the gangplank to a Zodiac, lower ourselves into sea kayaks and set off to explore the coastline around Sisimiut, a small town about halfway down the rugged west coast of Greenland.

At first, it is all silence and the sound of dipping paddles. Then we pass a few rocky islands inhabited by hundreds of howling, barking sled dogs straining against chains that bind them to their weather-beaten kennels. After that, we seem a bit short of direction. Of course we aren't strictly lost: we are hugging Sisimiut's rocky coastline, within sight of its colourful Monopoly houses. It's just that we aren't quite sure how to find the Qayaq (Greenlandic for "kayak") Club, where our guide Zak has arranged to demonstrate an Eskimo roll in a traditional canvas kayak, in front of a waiting crowd of locals. We know it is at the end of one of the inlets that riddle the coastline. But which one?

Half an hour of aimless, but enjoyable, paddling later, Zak flags down a passing fishing boat. While he paddles over to ask the two men on board for directions, the rest of us take a break and look on.

After a few minutes, the gestures by the two non-English-speaking Greenlandic fishermen and our non-Greenlandic-speaking Kiwi guide abruptly stop and one of the fishermen points at me. Am I about to become currency, bartered in exchange for a map? Or is he trying to tell me something? Perhaps I am sinking or about to be swallowed by a walrus? (The latter scenario is more likely, given that our kayaks are new and walrus regularly sun themselves on nearby rocks; we'd even been hoping to see one.)

Things became clearer when the fisherman shouts across the glassy water, "Hello, missus!" How he can tell I am female, I will never know. I am a good 20 metres from his boat, sitting in a kayak with only my top half visible, and clothed in a shapeless ensemble of drysuit, life jacket, pogies (wetsuit mittens), beanie, cap and sunglasses. In fact the only things not covered up against the sun and the cold are my cracked lips and my cheeks, now blushing crimson from the attention. I wave hello, not wanting to seem rude.

Then, a surprise development: "I love you! Come here!" He holds up an apple to entice me. I wonder if this ploy has worked with Sisimiut's womenfolk. Perhaps there was a Greenlandic version of the Garden of Eden, where Adam tempted Eve with an apple, and a sealskin for good measure. It is all in good fun, though. Maybe Zak informs my suitor (after extracting the directions to our destination) that I am spoken for, because the man puts the apple down. Then both men wave goodbye to us all and motor away, laughing.

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