Matt was back this morning with plenty of stories from his trip to Greenland for Ends of the Earth. After the show today, we sat down to talk about his favorite and least-favorite memories, his new friend Peter and, yes, the rugged look.
Here's our conversation:
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
Matt Lauer: I think by far, taking a helicopter -- and it was one of these big, 20-passenger, Sikorsky monstrous helicopters -- and flying from Ilulissat Airport up to the glacier. And actually flying and landing on a cliff overlooking what they call the calving area of the glacier. So you're looking at where the icebergs actually break off, fall into the fjord and then head down to the sea.
So from that calving area, as far as the eye can see, is the actual glacier. It covers 80 percent of the country of Greenland, which is the largest island in the world. So you can get a sense of how big this is, and all it is is this kind of rippling off-white ice. It's just awe-inspiring. I've never in my life seen anything like it that close. It's something I'll never forget.
Q: Is there anything that you've seen that compares?
ML: Looking up at Mt. Everest is close. But I never got on to Mt. Everest. I was never at 20,000 feet, looking down at my surroundings at Mt. Everest. I was looking from the ground-up, at a distance. Here, I was looking down -- I was 500 feet above it, on a cliff, at the place where it starts. So, no, I can't think of anything that I've ever seen that made me feel that small. You feel minute when you're sitting next to this thing.
We went to another spot on the glacier and landed on another cliff in this helicopter. We were looking down at what they thought was a dead glacier and has now come to life and is calving icebergs as well. That was incredible.
And if there's a secondary great moment, it was being in that boat -- before it got rough -- and actually pulling up to an iceberg. These are small by comparison, from what can break off from this thing, and they were enormous. The locals say these are ice cubes these days, not icebergs anymore, since they used to be so much bigger, well it was pretty damn big to me.
Q: I think I know the answer to this, but I'll ask it anyway -- what was your least favorite part of the trip?
ML: The weird thing about this boat...it's an old, old fishing boat, maybe 70 feet, 80 feet. The deck of it is covered in snow and ice. It had snowed overnight, and it's not like they had a plow for the boat or a shovel. So you're standing on packed snow and ice.
The first 15-20 minutes we were out there were magical. It was calm, we were floating in between these icebergs. We'd bump into them every now and then, the boat would break through these sheets of ice on the water.
All of a sudden, the wind came up, and it came up like that. And the waves kicked up. The next 20 minutes on that boat were not fun at all. And not just for me. Everyone on that boat thought we were either going to capsize or everybody was going to get sick. It got really nasty, really fast.
Q: Did anyone get sick?
ML: A couple of people were nauseous throughout the day. They got off the boat and still felt sick at six o'clock at night. That's what it can do to you.
Q: Aside from the size of the icebergs, what surprised you about being there?
ML: There's a juxtaposition there. You've got this incredible natural beauty, almost primitive natural beauty, with the glacier and the icebergs. Then in this little settlement, where you really don't expect to find much, this little town of Ilulissat of 5,000 people -- here, perched on the side of a cliff, is this really nice hotel. This Hotel Arctic. It's a Danish-type hotel with a great restaurant, great wine list, so it's kind of like civilization and Mother Nature colliding.
The other thing that surprised me was the idea that global climate change is a two-sided coin for the people of Greenland. On the one hand, they rely on their environment. They're at the mercy of this glacier since they're at the foot of it. So they don't want the environment to disintegrate, because it clearly takes away their way of life.
But on the other hand, global climate change and warming means that the conditions in the winter aren't as severe, more tourists are attracted to the area, more tourism means more money, they're looking at a longer growing season, they might be able to grow some things there that they haven't been able to grow in the past, and resources-wise, oil and minerals that are locked away under ice, they're envisioning a day when they can actually get access to those resources. And that will help them secure their independence. So they look at it very much as a double-edged sword.
Q: So did you get the sense from them that tourism is a good thing and encouraging people to visit is a good thing? Because there were some people who said that you shouldn't be going to these places -- that you're harming the environment by going there.
ML: We talked to them about that. They want tourism, but they want it on their own terms. They want to be able to have the kind and amount of tourism that they can control. They don't want to get into a situation that in some cases we've gotten into with our national parks, where we love them to death. They want to keep a lid on it, come up with a number -- a finite number -- for tourists, eco-tourists, they can have every year.
They don't want to see tourism lead to a McDonald's on the corner of their streets. They don't want t-shirt shops everywhere. They don't want it to become an eco-Disney World. But they do want people to come see first hand what's happening and see global climate change in action.
Q: Was it difficult to get around?
ML: You drive around in four-wheel drive vehicles. It snows every couple hours, so the streets are icy and you have to be careful. We had a fender-bender while we were there (I wasn't in the car).
In that part of the country, there are only roads within the tiny town. There is no road that connects that town with, for example, Kangerlussuaq, where I flew in. You just can't get there. They use planes like cars. Planes and little helicopters. Once you get to Ilulissat, there is no road that leads out of Ilulissat. There is no road to the glacier. There is no road to the next town. You either go by dogsled or by helicopter. So it's bizarre. It's like no country I've ever been to.
Q: Aside from the images and learning about these places that you, Al and Ann went to, one of the takeaway moments from this series occurred when this guy, Peter, came up to and started talking. WATCH VIDEO
You obviously didn't see him coming, since he came up from behind you, but when he was standing there and started talking to you, what were you thinking?
ML: I had so much on my mind. I was in the midst of giving a tour of Ilulissat, and I was trying to communicate to the viewers what they do and don't have in this town. Do they have a bank? ATMs? Restaurants? Courthouses? I was going through my whole spiel, and all of a sudden, I just hear this guy start to talk.
We've had that happen. You do enough live broadcasts on location and that's going to happen. But usually, they say something and keep going. It only took me five seconds to realize this guy wasn't going anywhere, that he was enjoying his moment in the sun. And clearly, he spoke no English. Zero. As most people there don't speak any English.
And then I realized that he was a little bit of a character anyway, so at that point, you can't keep going with your spiel. You can't ignore him, so it's just a matter embracing him and gracefully getting to a commercial.
Q: Did you have any interaction with him--
ML: I put my arm around him, we all shook his hand. He smiled -- he laughed at everything. No matter what we said, he laughed. And then he went on about his way. But we didn't communicate very well.
Q: Had anything like that ever happened to you in a live shot?
ML: Yeah, I've had people walk up and put their arm around me and stop and talk to me--
Q: But in another language?
ML: I don't know that it's ever happened in a foreign country. Usually it happens on a college campus or something.
Q: Right, because it's a little different when someone recognizes you. This guy didn't know who you were--
ML: No idea who I was, who we were. He just saw a camera and decided he was going to make his stand. It was funny.
Q: The other thing people were talking about was your lack of shaving. The beard. People were excited about the beard.
ML: There's no premeditation to it. When I go to places that are kind of rustic -- if I go on my own, on vacation, whatever (and by the way, people should also know that on weekends, I don't shave -- shaving's not one of my favorite things), so when I go to a place like this, it never occurred to me. I didn't even bring a razor. I figure, I'm in Greenland -- what do I have to worry about?
If I'm in Paris or London on location, I shave. But when I go to places like that, it's never on my radar. So I'm almost surprised when someone says to me, after they see me on the air, "You didn't shave." Well, no, of course I don't shave in those places. And it was five days. I hadn't shaved since Friday, so by the time Tuesday came around, it was some good growth, so I guess it surprised some people.
Q: So there's no chance of you going with that look here in Studio 1A?
ML: No. I've done it before, you know, I've grown it on vacation for 10 days or so, and I quickly looked like I should be robbing a convenience store. It's not a good look.
Q: Would you go back to Greenland?
ML: In a heartbeat. I'd love to wait a few years, take my kids in summer and go to the glacier. In summer there, it's 60, 70 degrees. You can wear shorts and hike to those areas, but the glacier is intact. I'd love for them to see it. I think it's important. If there's any message from this week of programming, it's get out and see some things that we're placing in jeopardy first hand, because it changes your whole perspective.