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cold comfort charm; Escape to Greenland for awesome icebergs, bizarre beasts, magnificent mountains and sassy sealife.

Byline: IAN MCGIBBON

An elderly pensioner wearing hot pants is dancing in front of me. Behind her, beyond the jetty of Tasiliaq harbour, an iceberg that appears to be sculpted to look like the spine of a stegosaurus with the head of Mikhail Gorbachev floats inch by inch across the navy blue waters.

Stamping her feet, clad in Avengers-style thigh-high boots (albeit made of seal skin), the woman (who I later find out is 87 and called Inaluk) begins to bang a drum and sing - a mournful wail - as a muffled sun shoots pale yellow rays out over the jagged mountain peaks in the far distance.

Tasiliaq is one of a tiny handful of villages scattered along the vast Eastern coast of Greenland - the length of Western Europe but with a population of barely 3,500. It's a place where the usual definitions of distance and space seem hopelessly inadequate. The vastness of this land, which covers four time zones, can barely be imagined by humans, none of whom have ever settled more than an hour's walk from the coastline.

I was expecting a bleakness to these settlements, but Tasiliaq is a charming jumble of brightly-coloured wooden houses, perched on top of bone-hard rock which trails down on a series of coiling roads to a tiny harbour leading out to the fjord.

For the 2,000 locals there's one tiny bar, selling Danish beer (Denmark still owns Greenland as an overseas territory), one shop where you'll find air rifles and frozen pizzas side by side and, in a grassy valley with a small stream running through it, dozens of husky dogs kept in wooden kennels. They're not just for tourists - huskies are vital for the locals' hunting trips which can last for days and are a vital source of food.

With a tundra climate, summers in Greenland are short but not nearly as cold as you might imagine. Checking into the Hotel Kulusuk I was amazed to find a bar and restaurant area bedecked with flagstoned floors, pine wood tables, sleek sofas and a general air of metropolitan Oslo or Stockholm. Rooms are more basic but still come with superlative views out over the mists as they sweep in and out of the fjord. I spent my days here mostly at sea with my guide and local resident Ortu. The waters on this coastline are a source of food for locals and a source of wonder for visitors like myself.

Sat in the back of our tiny motor boat, we spliced through aluminium-coloured waters spotting seals galore and darting around icebergs, some as small as bedside tables, others the size of two-storey homes. Humpback whales also drop by near Tasiliaq from time to time - but I was out of luck on my visit.

"This is our lifeblood", Ortu tells me as yet another vista of mountains capped with ice cream scoops of snow appears before us. "People are poor in Greenland but we don't need much to survive. Family is more important than nightclubs or fancy clothes."

fearsome monsters After riding a freezing spume back to the harbour and watching the Inuit musical performance by Inaluk, the sun began to sink behind the looming mountains. Making the vertiginous walk back up to the hotel, I passed by a wooden house that had become a bijou museum devoted to local customs and crafts. A kayak made of seal skin hangs from the ceiling and the owner was on hand to tell me about the tradition of the Tupilac - carvings made out of seal bone that take the form of fearsome monsters, which are plunged into the sea and given a named enemy to destroy.

"The ones we have are just imitations," he tells me, as the sun sets and I gaze with a shudder at the bizarre carvings of multi-headed ghouls, half-men half-fish beasts and gap-toothed bogeymen. "But people do still make them. The ancient and the modern are both fused together in Greenland - and the locals won't have it any other way."

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Charming... the brightly-coloured village of Tasiliaq
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:1GREE
Date:Feb 9, 2014
Words:680
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