Kalluk led the way to the community centre, where he picked up a microphone and served as master of ceremonies for a display of Inuit sports and cultural activities. Adventure Canada responded by inviting a dozen locals back to the ship, Kalluk among them, and a few of us toured them around.
After crossing the Davis Strait to Greenland in calm seas, a rare stroke of luck, we went cruising among the icebergs off the coast of that island, which is four times the size of France. Many of those bergs loomed over us like preposterous apartment blocks. Gliding into Ilullisat, home to 4,000 people and 6,000 sled dogs, we admired the colourfully painted houses scattered over the treeless hills and felt we could have been approaching a Newfoundland outpost.
Once ashore, more than half of us hiked several kilometres to the cliffs at the far end of town, where we stood looking out over an astonishing vista of icebergs spawned by the Greenland Ice Cap. We were gazing at the Jakobshavn Isbrae, a river of ice that flows slowly down the fjord. In the decade beginning in 1992, according to scientists, and again as a result of global warming, this river more than doubled in speed, from about 5.5 kilometres a year to 12.5. During that same period, the calving front of the glacier, where icebergs break off, retreated many kilometres upriver. Back in town, we had just enough time to visit the house in which anthropologist and explorer Knud Rasmussen (1879-1929) was born and raised. It is now a museum celebrating both him and local culture.
After regaining the ship, and with the air temperature standing at 5 C and the water three degrees lower, passengers were invited to take a dip. Fifteen people, including two over the age of 70, plunged off the ship's loading dock. Afterward, during lunch, the loudest hurrahs went to Doug Wishart, a Toronto firefighter who trotted down the gangway, stepped onto the tiny metal platform and turned around to face the ship. Wishart then performed an elegant back flip into those freezing cold waters and surfaced wearing a look that encapsulated the experience of the entire voyage - an expression combining shock, wonder and exhilaration.
Toronto author Ken McGoogan, who won the 2006 Pierre Berton Award for History, is writing Race to the Open Polar Sea and Conquest of the Northwest Passage.
Pack your bags
Space is limited, so the earlier you book, the better. High Arctic cruises run in August and September.
Adventure Canada 1-800-363-7566; . Mississauga-based company offers a changing slate of Arctic expeditions.
Cruise North Expeditions
1-866-263-3220; . Toronto-based company offers High Arctic and Baffin adventures.
The Great Canadian Adventure Company 1-888-285-1676; . Edmonton-based company will begin offering Northwest Passage cruises in 2008.
Flying into or out of the Arctic is fraught with uncertainty. Our own departure from Greenland was delayed by three hours. Best strategy: Expect problems and rejoice when they don't arise.
Inuit carvings are available at virtually every stop on Baffin Island. One passenger bought a narwhal tusk.