Last week I made my local bank employee’s day. When I told him where I wanted to send my money, a huge grin flashed across his face and with unexpected enthusiasm he said, “Let’s do this!” Then we dived into the intricacies of an international bank transfer in the post-9/11 world.
Little beknownst to me, I was really going to need his help, as the US government worries about all money transfers potentially funding terrorists or con artists, even if the money is going to sparsely populated Greenland. The next 24 hours were interesting, to say the least.
Greenland is mostly a cash economy. This is an island of just over 50,000 people, clinging to the fringes of a rocky coast within the nutcracker jaws of sea and ice. The huge ice cap, infamous for its current star role in the drama of global warming, covers 80% of the island and is so dense, it is actually pushing the land beneath down to a lower sea level.
Greenlanders are a hardy bunch – a mix of Inuit hunters and fishers and descendants of the Danish colonists from the 18th century. The capital city, Nuuk, is the size of a town in other places, and houses roughly a fourth of the entire Greenlandic population. To move about their country, Greenlanders rely on boats, small planes, helicopters and dogsleds in the winter; roads are nonexistent between towns and sheep farms. This is a harsh, dramatic geography.
So it’s no surprise that very few ATMs inhabit the island and most commerce is conducted in cold, hard Danish krone. However, that simple fact complicates travel for the curious outsider used to the ease of swiping a credit card or writing a check and posting it by mail. I could have relied on an American-based travel agency to arrange my travels in Greenland and paid a hefty premium in plastic, but I wanted to be sure to support the local Greenland economy while making my trip affordable. So after some research and the recommendation of both Lonely Planet and the Greenland Tourism & Business Council, I settled on the expertise of a local travel operator in South Greenland called Blue Ice Explorer.
The trade-off for affordability, supporting the local economy, and having my travels tailored to my interests (a hiking tour including home stays in villages and on sheep farms) meant I would have to shed my reliance on plastic. So into the breach of international bank transfers I dove.
My bank rose to the occasion – after several phone calls, paperwork, emails to Blue Ice to confirm an actual street address (PO Boxes are red flags to the government), and playing with the fax machine, I received the call – my money was safely in the hands of Greenland. For a hefty $40 transfer fee, but no matter. I could not contain my excitement. Greenland is real; it’s happening. And in a few short months I will step off the tiny prop plane onto a dusty runway and meet Greenland and her people face-to-face.