Finally, we touched down in Siorapaluk, a small settlement with a sandy beach. Siorapaluk is one of the most remote places in Greenland and, at the same time, the world’s northernmost inhabited settlement.
As we approached the beach, I noticed dozens of subtly colored houses scattered throughout Siorapaluk. “Am I really standing at the tip of the Greenlandic map right now?” It was difficult to pinpoint my exact location, so I decided to consult a map. As soon as I stepped out of the helicopter, I opened Google Maps to see where I was. The blinking blue dot confirmed that I had indeed reached Siorapaluk. Finally, a sense of relief washed over me. I had no idea what to expect during my stay in Siorapaluk, but I was filled with anticipation for the unique place I was standing in.
Siorapaluk in summer. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
Eventually, this trip brought me three unexpected encounters. First, I stumbled upon a Korean book. Secondly, I finally met a Japanese person I had longed to meet. And lastly, to my surprise, I encountered a boy from a different time.
I was en route to Qaanaaq with a Korean TV documentary team. Our destination was Siorapaluk, where we planned to film Kiviaq, a traditional North Greenlandic delicacy often regarded as one of the smelliest or most bizarre foods in the world.
Typically, to reach Siorapaluk, one transfers through Ilulissat, Upernavik, and Qaanaaq. However, this time we arrived in Qaanaaq earlier than scheduled due to unfavorable weather conditions in Upernavik. Consequently, we bypassed Upernavik and flew directly from Ilulissat to Qaanaaq. This unexpected change forced me to cancel our accommodations in Upernavik. Surprisingly, this turn of events brought us time and cost savings. How fortunate!
Qaanaaq Airport. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
When I first visited Qaanaaq, I never imagined I would return like this. Yet, after two years, I found myself back in Qaanaaq, evoking a strange sense of familiarity. Upon entering Qaanaaq airport, a voice called out my name—it was Davi! That little boy had already grown taller than me. Well, it’s a secret that I’m not particularly tall, but still.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without Hans from Hotel Qaanaaq (Currently closed down). Two years ago, he provided me with invaluable information about Qaanaaq. When I asked him if he needed anything from Nuuk, he immediately mentioned a specific type of cheese. He must have missed it dearly, considering the last supply ship to Qaanaaq arrived 10 months ago. Anticipating his presence at the airport, I packed that pungent cheese securely in the outer pocket of my backpack. As soon as I spotted him, I handed it over. When he reached for his wallet, I grasped his hands and said, “Ajunngilaq.” In this context, it means “it’s okay, you don’t need to do that” in Greenlandic. Seeing familiar faces at the airport made me feel as if I had returned to my old home. I felt incredibly fortunate to have familiar acquaintances at the top of the world! I booked the same accommodation where I stayed before, and the house owner eagerly awaited my arrival, along with the Korean TV documentary crew.
Colourful houses in Qaanaaq from the hill behind the town. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
This time, Qaanaaq was merely a stopover. We were scheduled to fly to Siorapaluk in two days, but unfortunately, the helicopter flights were canceled due to bad weather. The following day brought the same disappointing news. However, on Sunday, a glimmer of hope emerged. Despite locals mentioning that there would be no flights on Sundays, I decided to verify by calling the Qaanaaq airport. To my surprise, the airport staff confirmed that we could indeed fly. My team and I hastily packed our belongings and made our way to the airport.
Peaceful Siorapaluk in sunny afternoon in summertime. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
Excitement filled the air as we boarded the flight. In just 20 minutes, we safely touched down in Siorapaluk. Siorapaluk was the primary reason why the Korean documentary team had traveled all the way from Korea. I eagerly hoped that everything would proceed smoothly according to our plans from this point forward.
As soon as we disembarked from the helicopter, an ATV with a small wagon pulled up alongside. A heliport staff member unloaded the luggage from the helicopter and replaced it with new luggage. The staff said that he could deliver all passengers’ luggage to their respective homes. What an unexpected act of kindness!
Several locals were present at the heliport, so I approached them to inquire about the location of Qitdlaq’s place. Unfortunately, Qitdlaq, the person who had arranged our accommodation, was not in Siorapaluk at that moment. Everyone simply pointed vaguely in the direction of the beach. However, a gentleman approached me and asked if I was Insuk. It was Maassannguaq, who had provided me with all the information about Siorapaluk and would also assist us with content creation there. He graciously offered to guide us to Qitdlaq’s place.
Red, yellow, and green houses in Siorapaluk under the blue sky. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
The studio house we rented appeared cozy, but there was one unexpected aspect. Despite having a sink in the kitchen, there was no water pipe installed, meaning there was no shower available. Oops. Fortunately, there was a designated area outside the house where we could fetch water using a plastic basket. As for the toilet, I was already familiar with its functioning from my time in Qaanaaq, so it wasn’t a major issue. We had already adapted to this arrangement during our stay in Qaanaaq for a few days. For those curious about the toilet, it resembles a regular sitting-down toilet, but inside, there is a large plastic bag.
As I began to explore the small house, adorned with various decorations, I found myself standing in front of a bookshelf next to the bed. Suddenly, a Korean book caught my attention. What? A Korean book in Siorapaluk? How? I thought I had read every book about Greenland published in Korea, but apparently, I was mistaken. The book’s title was “북극선 이후 (Over the Arctic Circle),” written by a Korean poet named Moon Young-hoon. It turned out that he had traveled to Siorapaluk between 2007-2008, and the book was published in 2009. Unable to resist, I picked up the book and started reading.
Over the Arctic Circle, Korean book. Photo by Kim Insuk
Playground in Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk
It was fascinating to learn that the author had stayed in the same house during his time in Siorapaluk. I imagined that he had sent this book as a gift to Qitdlaq. Interestingly, I had never met Qitdlaq in person; our interactions were limited to phone conversations. In my mind, he almost seemed like a fictional character. Within the book, Qitdlaq mentioned his plans to visit New York with his wife after winning a trip there. Surprisingly, there were photos of him and his wife taken in Times Square, New York. It felt as if I were transported into the middle of a novel, experiencing a form of time travel.
During my twenties, when I traveled extensively, I made it a habit to read novels set in the destinations I visited. However, finding such books about Greenland had proven challenging, as there weren’t many based on this region. Yet, at that very moment, I found myself immersed in one. I even took a photo of a playground, which was mentioned in the book as well.
From time to time, I found myself reading that Korean book while in Siorapaluk. Within its pages, the author recounted an episode about a kaffemik he had been invited to attend. It was a baptism kaffemik, and the baby being baptized was named Kanzi. Suddenly, I recalled Maassannguaq’s son, whom I had seen at the heliport. Yes, it was him! His name was Kanzi, and he mentioned that he was 13 years old. It felt as though I had stepped into Siorapaluk with a time machine. I made a mental note to share this fascinating connection with Kanzi if I saw him the following day.
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Second unexpected encounter:
Ice chunk on sand beach in Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
The following day brought calm winds and a clear blue sky. I decided to take a stroll along the sandy beach of Siorapaluk. As I wandered along the shore, my eyes caught sight of a cemetery with white crosses perched on a nearby hill. Intrigued, I made my way up the hill to explore the cemetery and enjoy the panoramic view it offered. As anticipated, the view from that vantage point was truly breathtaking, allowing me to gaze out over the ice fjord. Suddenly, I heard voices, unmistakably Japanese. It was evident that there were multiple Japanese individuals present. Unable to resist my curiosity, I instinctively gravitated toward the source of the voices.
I approached two Japanese men and greeted them with a cheerful “Konnichiwa!” One of them immediately recognized me. “Ah, Kim-san!”
In Siorapaluk, there was someone I had been eager to meet—a Japanese man who had settled here in the 1970s. His name is Ikuo Oshima, also known as the Japanese Inuk (“Inuk” is the singular form of “Inuit,”). He is a hunter who has fully embraced the Inuit way of life. I had known about him since my time studying in Japan in 2008. He gained fame for learning how to control a dogsled alongside Naomi Uemura, the first person to reach the North Pole solo. When I started researching Siorapaluk, I reached out to Ikuo Oshima as the first point of contact. Furthermore, he introduced me to his son, Maassannguaq Oshima, for our documentary project. Initially, Ikuo Oshima had mentioned that he was too old to assist with the documentary work, so we collaborated with Maassannguaq Oshima instead.
Drying meat in Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
Ikuo Oshima was in the process of cutting a bearded seal that he had caught earlier in the morning. During our conversation, I discovered that the other Japanese man was a researcher from the University of Calgary studying Greenland. “Wait, I know you,” I exclaimed, as I pieced together fragments of memories in my mind. I asked him if he was the person I had in mind, and he was genuinely surprised. Back when I was a student, I had read his academic papers.
Greenland may be the world’s largest island, but it is also a small community. However, within a span of 24 hours, I experienced an incredible series of coincidences. In Siorapaluk, I found a Korean book in the house where I was staying, and I actually met individuals from that very book. Additionally, I unexpectedly encountered people whom I had never imagined meeting in person, all the way at the top of Greenland. It felt truly magical. As I made my way back to the accommodation from Ikuo Oshima’s house, the sky above appeared mysteriously captivating.
Hunting little auks for Kiviaq
A young boy ready to hunt little auks on the beach of Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
The next day, we finally set out on a hunting expedition for little auks with Maassannguaq and Kanzi. This was the primary reason for our visit to Siorapaluk, and it was the main focus of the Korean TV documentary crew and myself. Accompanied by a program producer, two camera directors, and myself as the fixer, we had come to Siorapaluk to capture the process of making Kiviaq. Making Kiviaq is a simple task, but it requires patience to truly appreciate it. It is not an everyday dish but a festive delicacy, typically shared during weddings, baptisms, and other special celebratory occasions.
There was a little auk colony located a 30-minute boat ride away from Siorapaluk. As we approached the area, we could hear the distinct sounds of the little auks. I couldn’t fathom how many of them there were. Some were gracefully flying around, while others perched on the rocky hill.
Little auks’ colony near Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
Both Maassannguaq and Kanzi carried large nets to catch the little auks. It was an incredible sight to behold—the very scene I had witnessed on television during my youth was unfolding right in front of me. In those days, it was Ikuo Oshima who caught the birds on TV. And now, I found myself alongside his son and grandson. It was a truly remarkable and sentimental experience.
A hunter trying to catch a little auk with a net on a stone hill near Siorapaluk. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
To make Kiviaq, various ingredients are required, including little auks, a seal skin, seal blubber, and a thick thread. The number of little auks used depends on the size of the seal skin. On this occasion, Maassannguaq filled the seal skin bag with approximately 250-300 little auks. Maassannguaq caught around 200 of them, while Kanzi caught 100. The first step involved preparing an empty seal skin by removing the head, tail, legs, and all the internal organs. This transformed the seal skin into a bag-like structure. After returning to Siorapaluk from the hunt, the little auks were spread out on the floor to cool down. It took around 6 hours for them to cool down completely before they were placed inside the sealskin bag.
To remove any air from the bag, Maassannguaq stepped on it and pressed out the air, ensuring it was tightly packed. Additional little auks were inserted through the holes where the seal’s legs used to be. The holes were then meticulously sewn up, and seal blubber was applied around them to deter flies from laying eggs. Once this process was complete, the bag became heavy enough to be carried by two adults. The bag filled with little auks was buried under stones and left to ferment for a minimum of 3-6 months. During this time, the fermentation process slowly takes place within the seal skin. When the Kiviaq is ready to be consumed, the little auks are removed from the seal skin, their skin is peeled off, and the meat becomes edible.
Interestingly, Maassannguaq himself does not eat Kiviaq, but he proudly claims to make the best Kiviaq in Greenland, loved by many.
The documentary titled “Beauty of Fermentation” was released and received the Platinum Remi award at the 54th Worldfest Houston International Film Festival.
Taste of Kiviaq
Unfortunately, we couldn’t taste Kiviaq in Siorapaluk but had the opportunity to try it in Nuuk. A good friend of mine in Nuuk had some Kiviaq, so I was able to have a taste. Due to its strong smell, my friend and her mother prepared a small feast on the balcony. My initial impression of Kiviaq? Personally, its texture was akin to eating raw liver. Describing the taste is a bit challenging, but for me, it also resembled the flavor of raw liver. To remove the smell of Kiviaq from our hands, my friend and her family used vinegar, and some people occasionally use toothpaste.
Qaanaaq from the sea. Photo by Kim Insuk – Visit Greenland
Finally, it was time to return to Qaanaaq. We were supposed to take a helicopter from Qaanaaq to Siorapaluk, but when I contacted the Qaanaaq airport, they informed me that there would be no helicopter to Siorapaluk that day. Our mission in Siorapaluk was complete, and after not having taken a shower for five days, we were eager to get back. Fortunately, we managed to find someone who could take us back to Qaanaaq by boat. In just 1.5 hours, we safely arrived back in Qaanaaq, and in comparison to Siorapaluk, Qaanaaq felt like a big town. Furthermore, there was an air of joy in Qaanaaq as the first supply ship of the year had arrived, filling the grocery shop with new and fresh supplies. It almost felt like Christmas.
Article by Kim Insuk
Kim Insuk is the Digital Content Manager at Visit Greenland and a former film fixer. Originally from Korea, she has been living in Greenland since 2015. Falling in love with the country during her first visit in 2010, she is passionate about writing and playing the piano. In 2019, she published her first book, “I Live in Greenland,” in Korean.
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