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DAVID NOYES: The Lure of Greenland's Icy World

Fog rolled quickly up the fjord enveloping us in a colorless milieu with no visible boundary separating the perfectly still water from the cold wet air. Small surface ripples created by our zodiac boat were the only indication that we were, in fact, moving. Our driver carefully navigated around massive chunks of arctic ice that suddenly appeared and disappeared like an enchanted mirage on the grey, featureless horizon. The baritone growl of the motor echoed off the surrounding granite walls as horns and whistles announced from the distance that we were not alone.

For two days we had waited for the wind and rain to subside before traveling down Tunulliarfik Fjord to our remote tent camp at Qaleraliq Glacier. Our guide Pedro casually noted that the dense fog can last for several days in South Greenland, but it was the high winds that made travel through the fjords particularly dangerous. As our speed increased, eleven of us huddled together around the outside of the zodiac wrapped in thick parkas, peering out of small openings in our protective hoods to catch a fleeting glimpse of a passing iceberg.

After a 45-minute, adrenaline-fueled arctic boat ride, we pulled into the small harbor at Narsaq. Low-lying clouds shrouded the twin peaks that frame the third most populated town in South Greenland. The iconic, brightly painted cottages were quiet as a soft rain began to fall. Our stop was brief. We boarded a smaller boat with a mountain guide equipped with crampons, helmets, harnesses, and ice axes. Before settling into our camp, we would be trekking across one of the oldest and largest masses of ice on the planet.

Recently, this mass of ice has inspired a flood of climate scientists, researchers, and historians onto the ancient ice sheet to sample ice-cores and document the thickness and movement of dozens of individual glaciers. In their quest to understand the causes and effects of climatic fluctuations, many scientists believe that what happens in Greenland over the next couple of decades will answer important questions about the complex interactions between our atmosphere and the world’s great oceans.

These scientists and researchers are no longer alone in their exploration of one of the world’s most remote and visually stunning destinations. Adventure travelers and hearty tourists from around the globe have also been lured to this icy world by spectacular images of a truly wild place. I joined travelers from Germany, Spain, France, Australia, South Africa, Greece, Ireland, England, and the United States to experience a landscape that has become the focus of an often intense and politically charged global warming debate.

As the boat carrying our group motored along the glacier front towards our landing, the enormity of the massive ice wall left us speechless. We disembarked onto huge flat rocks and scrambled up giant boulders to the base of the glacier where we geared up for the trek. We followed our guide in single file passing holes, drains, caves, seracs, and crevasses until we reached a vertical wall of translucent ice already affixed with ropes to belay our climb to another, higher level of the glacier. The persistent overcast sky and low-lying clouds unfortunately prevented a view of the vast inland glacier, but our intimacy with the impressive ice formations hinted at the incredible scale of the ice sheet beyond.

After several days of overcast, when the skies finally cleared and the fog lifted, the unmatched beauty of the landscape was revealed. From a small bluff near camp we could see for the first time that the three visible glacier fronts were actually one massive flow of ice with three separate routes to the fjord. As the sun dipped towards the horizon, deep shadows and pockets of iridescent blue created a three-dimensional glacial panorama. Soon the magnificent colors of sunset reflected in the fjord as our camp drifted into a perpetual twilight. The silence of the arctic night was only interrupted by the eerie rumble of moving ice.

The next morning greeted us with a spectacular sunrise and brilliant blue skies. We walked along the sandy shore before boarding our zodiac for the ride back to our base at the fjordside village of Qassiarsuk. We were excited and renewed by the sunshine as we once again entered the harbor at Narsaq. This time the town was bustling with activity. Fishermen packed their boats as children walked like mini glacier trekkers in single file on their way to school. We had an hour to wander through town and photograph the colorful cottages against the backdrop of blue skies and glowing white towers of ice.

With a total population of only around 57,000 Greenland is the least densely populated country on earth. Most Greenlanders are decedents of Inuit and eighteenth century Danish colonists and live along the habitable fringe between the ice and the sea. Over one quarter of the country’s population lives in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. The rest live in a handful of small towns along the west coast, separated by a deeply indented coastline that makes road development between towns impossible.

There is very little remaining of the Viking presence on Greenland except for a few scattered ruins and the legends passed down in Norse sagas. By the year 874 CE colonists from Norway had settled permanently in Iceland bringing with them a dairy-based economy that they soon combined with seal hunting and fishing to earn a living in the new land. Warm summers allowed ample hay and barley harvests for winter food and fodder. They were successful and thrived at the edge of the arctic.

The Norse were essentially farmers and fishermen who did a bit of plundering and pillaging along the way. One of those tough seafaring farmers, the infamous Erik the Red, sailed west out of Iceland after being banished from the island for three years for of murder. He set off into unknown waters with a small group of men to explore reports of mysterious islands sighted by one of his relatives some half-century earlier. He landed on the rugged eastern shore of Greenland in 982 but soon sailed around the southern tip to a fjord near Qaqortog. He spent the next three years exploring the fjords of the south.

There is evidence that Erik the Red landed on Greenland during a period of exceptional warmth and stability known as the Medieval Warm Period. In the southwestern corner of the Island the Norse found green summer pastures that provided grazing land for sheep, abundant fish, and large numbers of sea mammals. Erik returned to Iceland with glowing reports about the fertile land he called Greenland, which he thought would be an attractive name to lure potential settlers.

A year later, Erik and 14 ships arrived on Greenland to establish settlements in the sheltered waters of the Southwest. Eventually 4,000 Norse settled the massive island raising sheep and cattle like they did back home. They built churches, homes, farms, and communities on relatively fertile ground compared to the thin volcanic soil and hardscrabble of Iceland. Erik himself settled in the heart of the richest farmland at a place that is now the village of Qassiarsuk.

We were greeted at Qassiarsuk by several staff of the Leif Erickson Hostel and by its Spanish owner, polar explorer Ramon Larramendi. Larramendi became a legend of sorts following his three-year arctic expedition from Greenland to Alaska by foot, kayak, and dog sled in the early 1990s. The Hostel has become his home in Greenland and a support enclave for kayak expeditions he leads throughout the country.

After Ramon welcomed us to the hostel, Pedro took us on a tour of the village and the ruins of Brattahild—the name of Erik the Red’s original farmstead. The modern village dates from a successful effort to reintroduce sheep breeding to the area in the 1920s and is home to about 60 year-round residents. The highlights of the tour were the picturesque recreation of what archaeologists believe was the first church built in the New World, and a turf-covered reconstruction of a Norse longhouse.

There are many theories about why the Norse mysteriously disappeared from Greenland after over four centuries of settlement. Maybe a massive epidemic swept the Island or a blight devastated their grazing land. But one contributing factor to the Norse exodus was most likely the onset of a 500-year period known as the Little Ice Age. By 1300, Greenland was already experiencing increasing cold and extreme, unpredictable shifts in weather. Glacial advances began in the early thirteenth century and increased ice pack while stormy seas in the northernmost Atlantic disrupted critical trading routes. What we do know is that the last known written record of the Norse on Greenland wasn’t about a war, plague, or famine. It was about a wedding in 1408.

By 1300, the Norse had also been sharing their remote island with Inuit, who arrived from northern Canada centuries earlier. While they brought with them dogsleds, kayaks, and other essential tools and skills that would help them survive the Little Ice Age, the Norse still relied on the same fishing and dairy economy introduced during the time of Erik the Red. Their existence depended on storing enough hay and fish to survive the long harsh winter. Even a small shift in the growing season would have caused livestock to die and put vulnerable settlers at risk.

Nobody knows if the current weather patterns will lead to another ice age or if we are heading into another prolonged warming period like the one that allowed the Norse to thrive, but the history of Greenland is a history of survival and adaptation in extreme arctic conditions. It is a harsh and unforgiving land of amazing beauty where life clings to the fertile fringes between the ice and the sea.



David’s most recent project is the 2013 launch of his nonprofit corporation Innocent Eyes Project, Inc. Innocent Eyes Project will support grassroots child education programs working in developing countries by raising and allocating funds for projects where small amounts of money can have the largest impact on underserved children and communities. Learn more about David’s project at:


JONNY GIBAUD: A Case for Adventure


The bracing water hits my face, flowing over my body as I dive out of the sun, and into the cool water. I exhale and let myself drift slowly downwards, to sit crossed legged on the bottom of the pool. I remain motionless, listening to the faint underwater hum of the filtering system, and watch the bubbles float slowly upwards, through dancing underwater sunbeams, to break gently in an array of reflected light at the surface.

It’s 2pm. Tuesday.

This time one month ago I’d be trapped mid-way through a three hour client meeting, negotiating unavoidable delays to a project already many months late. It’s the same conversation I’ve had every week, one to keep me in the office until gone eight thirty…again.

Shaking my head in remembrance of an old life, currently so distant, I let another bubble escape my lips and watch it float upwards towards freedom. As I look around my underwater paradise, and watch the light dancing off the pool walls, I feel just like the bubble. It breaks the surface, now forever free of the old confides that once trapped it.

I smile to myself. Yes, this is definitely different.

I’ve been living in different cities and countries around the world for over a half a decade now. From the crowded shoulder to shoulder bustling of the streets of Shanghai, China to the beautiful expanse of isolated beaches of Cebu in the Philippines. I’ve experienced life at 500 feet in five star hotels in the USA, to the sharing of a minuscule meal alongside orphans in the dirty and blackened slums of Chennai, India.

During my travels I learnt a few things about what it means to leave behind your home country and stride out into the wide open world, jacket gripped tightly around you; nervousness in your heart.

I write from an apartment in Stuttgart, Germany, a country only a few hundred miles from my own, the closest I have lived to home soil during my travels, and yet at the same time so very far away. I love it, still. Half a decade on.

It changes you, travelling. Changes the way you approach life, people and the art of abundant living. It changes how your brain is wired, and adjusts the lens through which you view the world, and the people in it. You are forced to question yourself, your beliefs and carve out a place for your soul.

In some extreme cases it can change the very fabric of what makes you, you. But this is rare. More normally, in my own travels and those I have observed in others, is that it opens up your world.

After you have free dived with a pod of whale sharks, fifteen meters long, or got lost in the legendary Tata tea fields of rolling green, it is hard to ever see the world the same way again.

You are permanently changed, right down to very strands of your DNA.

When you have held the hand of an orphaned child, as dirty as the surrounding street, but smiling stronger than the richest millionaire, you are forced to rethink everything you thought you knew about life, about success and about what it means to be truly alive and living. Sometimes you wish you could go back to being naive. Sometimes. But the wish soon dissipates as quickly as it formed.

Traveling doesn’t just give you experiences, it gives you life. Life you can’t find in the cubicles of investment banks the world over, no matter how successful you become. Trust me, I know. Travel gives you a sense of yourself and a sense of this incredible planet on which we live, a planet so rich with life and energy. You soon realise one can only merely glimpse it’s enormity.

There’s nothing wrong with the riches the modern world offers, from Mercedes to Macbook’s and Armani to Apps. But after a few months on the road you always wonder why they were such a big deal in the first place. I love my designer clothes, my Apple products and access to organic food from around the world...but do I love them as much as an authentic local recipe cooked on the beaches of Moal Boal over a beach fire after three hours of spear fishing, the smell of life and cooking food in the air, the deep aching in the muscles that comes after a good workout and the look in the eye of your companions that says yes, this might just be as close as we can get to truly feeling alive.

It’s not all clean sailing though...

I’ve almost lost a boat off the coast of the Island of Kos, been attacked by rabid dogs in India, been targeted by a shark in Mexico, narrowly avoided jail in Bangkok and was knocked out by a sucker punch in Cebu. I have the stories to tell and the scars to prove it. Do I regret it? Not for a moment.

Life away from home is scary, exhilarating, exciting, dangerous in places, unforgiving, eye opening, degrading, spectacular and like nothing you could ever imagine. No one persons story is ever the same, because no one persons journey is every the same.

Thats the beauty of travel. A cubicle might be the same as the one next to you and the one after that. Spreadsheets vary little and everyone has the same good and bad boss. But travel is truly unique. No elephant ride through the jungle will every be quite the same. No speaking engagement in a country not your own will every be quite so nerve racking. No food from foreign lands will ever taste quite as good as when you sampled them in that land, sitting on the very soil where the ingredients were grown. 

If there is one thing everyone should do if they ever have the chance, it is to travel.

To get out of the very small sphere we are all born into and go discover the world around you. Pictures in the National Geographic can only give you so much. An underwater cavern photo, no matter how well lit, is no match to strapping on a tank and delving into the depths yourself. As you fly through the tunnels in the sediment free clear water, the magazine picture becomes like being told to imagine a colour that doesn’t exist. However good your imagination, it will never get close to the real thing.

Life is short. That we know. But it also has all the hours we need, if we know what we want.

There are many things a person can do in life, and not all of them are right for everyone. Travel, however, may just be the one that bucks the trend; the universal experience that unites people and opens up their world. If you have travelled, you know what I say is true. If you have not yet set out on your own adventure, hat on head and boots tied. Perhaps now is the time. There will never be a better one.

Write your own story. 





Jonny is a British traveller and entrepreneur who loves life. He is a speaker and writer on creative thinking for success. Review his new book for free at


RENÉ QUIROZ: Chasing Stars, a Microadventure

On a saturday morning, my best friend Leo, my “compadre” Jaime, my “comadre” Carmen and their 3 kids: Jaimito, Julieta, Paquito and me, set off on a trip to my comadre's hometown, a big ranch outside a little town called San Francisco Ixtacamaxtitlán.

Here the sky is so clean and blue, that it promised us a dark sky full of stars to shoot, 3 hrs away from Puebla city we went, 7 people squeezed into my old and cool green cherokee.

On arrival to such a secluded place full of big trees and seriously huge nopales you can´t help feeling the freedom of it all and the excitement of the stories to come.

And while the little ones had been there a lot of times before, this time they shared with us the adventure mode, and while they explored upriver for the perfect place to sleep, they knew it was going to be different this time.

Here the land is covered with stories of the hands that made garlic, corn, or fresh eggs possible.

Stories of people living from and for the land and it`s hard not to feel humble as you see the extraordinary work performed by this family who had lived there forever and whose life has been measure by the seed, the rain and the crops year after year.

Learning how to distinguish a male garlic from a female one, meeting a hen who made a bucket her home, herding goats with a drone, all of this made for a whole afternoon of exchanges: of experience, knowledge and of different ways of seen the world, from the experienced eyes of a seasoned grandfather to the eyes of 5 year old Paquito who never minded the darkness and whenever he fell down, he would only say: -Hulk injured- and move on.

And with the night came dinner and came a coffee different from everything before, this coffee had the acidity of the chill clean air biting against our faces, the sweetness of the people that you care about, following you into your crazy stunts, the aroma of the trees above our heads and the body of our own first microadventure.

We got the unexpected visit of grandma Felix who shared her stories by the fire with the promise to stay -as long as her bones allowed her-, she said.

After looking for enough branches for the fire, we set up for what would be the kids first night with the sky as their roof…

The sunrise found us staring at the retreating mist, revealing the hills that had watched us sleep. And with morning came a walk surrounded by the first light, that makes everything look different. From this light I believe, we should charge our batteries as often as possible, is the light of possibilities, the light that promises you that the day will be as good as you'll let it be.

To walk in a different terrain, breathe a different air, lie beneath different shadows and find animals that you would never see in the city, from a truly awesome stick insect to a close encounter with a quite friendly frog.

Over the mountain we went and this was a quest, for we were sent there to see the complete Ixtacamaxtitlán valley, flying the drone allowing Mister Odilón to see his whole land in a single frame.

Seeing the landscape stretch beyond your sight, full of different shades of green, that’s when you know it. Making that photo is worth every step.

And don’t think that I forgot to mention, that night there were no stars above us…




Born in a small town that filled his veins with coffee and awesome stories, René is now a photography teacher that tastes, lives, and photographs his extraordinary surrealist México.



CLARA KERWIN: Video Volunteers Fundraiser

On June 18, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraising event for Video Volunteers in New York City, which had nearly 200 guests and raised $19,000.  The fundraiser included mingling time with some of New York's finest, delicious food and beverages, a killer view of NYC, and of course, a video presentation. By talking with such diverse and interesting affiliates, I was moved and inspired.  Their stories reminded me that passionate individuals do have the capacity to fuel life-altering improvements for entire communities.

In many underdeveloped regions of the world, there is a lack of information sharing.  This means that countless newsworthy stories are left untold and the serious problems in local communities become shrouded by national and international headlines.  Fortunately, modern technology has permitted individual actors to enter the realm of global media—all they need is the skills to get started.  Video Volunteers (VV) is working to solve this news deficiency by empowering local men and women in the poorest parts of the world to spread the word for themselves.

VV was founded in 2003 by Jessica Mayberry, who was inspired by her experiences teaching filmmaking to rural Indian women while working with the American India Foundation.  Her organization quickly took off and has grown to include hundreds of volunteers working around the world.  The core model consists of an international team of partners who go into underrepresented areas and teach video journalism skills to individuals who live there.  These men and women then have the capacity to report the untold stories around them, thereby taking it upon themselves to rectify the injustices around them. 

The success of VV’s efforts can be seen most clearly in India, where the organization’s first community news service, IndiaUnheard, took root.  The first step was to train a set of Community Producers—marginalized individuals who have the potential to make a difference through video journalism.  This group consists of a diverse assortment of Indian villagers including teachers, artists, diamond polishers, rickshaw drivers, and housewives.  Community Producers also represent many demographics including dalits, Muslims, tribal groups and Hindus.  Once trained, these Community Producers regularly produce footage and content that is aired on public media channels and online.

The work that VV supports in India has provided an authentic look into the real world of Indian society.  Issues discussed on IndiaUnheard videos include the caste system, education failures, gender inequalities, and identity conflicts.  Because lower classes in India have typically been excluded from the media’s focus and from national politics, VV has provided a crucial platform for the two-way conversation that needs to take place between India’s impoverished communities and its government.  Since its founding, IndiaUnheard has grown to include more than 200 Community Correspondents who live in 27 Indian states.

            Check out more of VV’s impressive statistics!  In the last year . . .

  • ·      More than 700 story ideas were pitched
  • ·      550 stories were produced (128 of which helped to solve the problem addressed)
  • ·      100 new Community Correspondents were trained, 67 of whom are women
  • ·      Some 50,000 people were directly impacted
  • ·      VV engaged with 125 different civil society groups

Follow Video Volunteers on Twitter at @videovolunteers.





Clara is a Politics major at Princeton University focusing on international relations and global health.  She is originally from Ashland, Oregon but loves traveling whenever she can.  Clara is currently the FIND YOUR MISSION intern for



ROXANNE KRYSTALLI: Complicated Attachments to Colombia

rainbow in the mist above the mountains near ChoachíIn a piece on Guernica titled “The Answer is Colombia,” Nina Martyris reflected on the re-imagined branding of Colombian tourism. In the past five years, the public relations machine of the country has sought to acknowledge the conflict-ridden past while also showcasing the promising present and future. “The answer is Colombia,” proclaimed one campaign. “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay,” argued another. “Colombia is passion,” said simply a third. Part of what makes these campaigns so successful is that they reflect the sentiments many of us have developed shortly after setting foot in the country. Simply put, the slogans speak to Colombia’s ability to inspire attachment, as well as create that sense of yearning after you leave.

Yet, much like all nostalgia, the slogan remembers half-truths. On the one hand, the Colombia of 2014 has taken successive steps away from the Colombia that would scare your parents if you mentioned you were heading there. In the minds of many, the image that sticks is the Colombia of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of drugs and bombs. And if one narrow association is not sufficient, then there is the Colombia of coffee and salsa—and much as the addition of these two Colombian excellencies yields magic, it feels unfair to reduce a country to the sum of a product and a dance.

The chontaduro, a sweet and salty fruit to sample in Cali, ColombiaAnyone I have met who loves Colombia—and, believe me, it is a growing, passionate crowd—feels compelled to become an ambassador for the country. We all feel an inarticulable calling to shout Colombia’s beauty from rooftops. We see arepas and limonadas de coco on the global food map, right next to obleas and ajiaco. We get nostalgic at the thought of vallenato music bellowing from a neighbor’s apartment or a taxi on a Sunday afternoon. We cherish the hugs that flow abundantly. When people ask me how Colombia has come to earn such a special place in my heart, I respond that it is an affectionate country, from its language to its people.

And yet … wanting to stay is not the only risk. As a researcher and humanitarian practitioner, much of my work focuses on violence and its many insidious typologies. Through this work, I have encountered individuals whose very life of human rights advocacy in Colombia is a risk. A recent headline proclaims that the “first half of 2013 was the worst period on Colombia’s record for human rights defenders.” The article then proceeds to list the threats, from murder to forced disappearance to kidnapping to property theft, that human rights defenders face. These threats are often in retribution for activism, messages of exemplification to other members of the community not to disrupt the power dynamic or expose the injustice of institutions, formal or informal. Contrary to what the tourism slogan would tell you, wanting to stay is not the risk—staying itself is, for some of Colombia’s own citizens.

Chasing birds in Bogotá’s Plaza BolivarMy Colombias unfold alongside each other, inspiring a dizzying disorientation: My Colombia of rolling hills and hugs and exuberant music and warm-tinted memories exists alongside the Colombia of threats against human rights defenders, fear of surveillance and intimidation, and frustratingly slow searches for justice. And those Colombias—my Colombias—‘suffer’ from yet another type of bias: that of the foreign eyes, the foreign eyes of an optimist.

There are limits to the experiences to which these eyes can bear witness, to the glass ceilings this optimist can feel in this context—just as there likely are layers of beauty here that also remain inaccessible to me, given the biases and identities I carry.

As a foreign researcher and humanitarian practitioner, the concepts of risk, protection, and vulnerability are fluid and ever-shifting, but they almost certainly have different implications for me than for the participants in my research or the affected populations humanitarian practitioners seek to serve. And each of these factors is underpinned by an oft-unacknowledged privilege: that of the return ticket. If the only risk were wanting to stay, I could choose to succumb to Colombia’s charms—or I could choose to leave, in ways that many of those whose lives are not captured by the tourism slogans cannot or would not.

I love Colombia. Like all loves, this one can almost not be helped: I cannot help but love Colombia. And like all loves, something in it dies when you add a qualifier to it. Every time I meet a Colombian abroad, I feel compelled to profess my love for his or her country. And then the next sentence out of my mouth almost always hastens to add a caveat to my love, a caveat that shows that I am not blind to the injustice.

Graffiti is everpresent in Colombia, often tinged with political commentary about capitalism, corruption, the armed conflict, or the drug warThis is a conflicted love: My work and research have shown me a Colombia often uncaptured—deliberately so—by the tourist campaigns, and being aware of its textures, I cannot love the romanticized idea of Colombia in the same way again. It feels irresponsible to. Is it ever appropriate to love a place for its affection and vivacity when you become keenly aware of the ways it also embodies the antithesis of these traits? In a way, aren’t “Colombia es pasión” or “Colombia es amor” single narratives too, like “Colombia = conflict and drugs,” except bathed in positivity instead of fear?

The affection I so strongly associate with Colombia emanates from its people. If my love for Colombia the place is conflicted, my love for Colombians is not. “Surely you can’t love all Colombians,” joked a colleague.

“What about the paramilitaries? The traffickers? The people who disappear other people? You can’t love them too.” He was right. But let me tell you about the Colombians I do love, in all the ways that are free of qualifiers.

In my memory, Cartagena is bathed in a warm yellow glowI admire the resilience and ceaseless commitment of the human rights defenders whose work I have been privileged to witness. As they constantly remind me, this is not a job—it is a life they have chosen, or—in their words—a life that chose them. A life they cannot help but live. I am humbled by the ability of the Colombians I have come to know to allow hope to defeat cynicism on some days, on the best of days.

When I try to reconcile the contradictions in my head, I watch them do it: I watch them dance and hug and lead affectionate lives. But most of all, I am humbled by the way they embrace the texture of their country, the ways in which beauty and injustice and hope and suffering can be layered on top of each other.

It would be convenient if our attachments were wholly benign, if we could find ourselves drawn to unimpeachable places. It would be further convenient if all our loves were fully explicable or consistent. What the Colombians in my life have taught me is to critique with an eye towards rebuilding, to be an uncynical activist. And, most of all, to love with nuance.





Roxanne is a researcher and practitioner at the intersection of gender & armed conflict and an atrocities scholar and is interested in trauma and memory. She is a believer in power of narratives, which she gave a TEDx Talk on, and is intrigued by questions of memory and forgetting, attachment and loss, home and away.