Reindeer sledding

After the late night, there was another relatively early morning, another relatively difficult journey down to the harbour and another drive out to Whale Island. It earned its name – in daylight, we could see whales! They make a big dark circular patch, whale spots, and then suddenly a bit of whale lurches out of the water. The tails are easiest to identify. There are a lot of orcas about but these were humpbacks and we didn’t even have to go on a whale-watching trip to see them.

We went back out to the lavvu basecamp to put on warmer layers and then back five minutes up the road to the reindeer farm, inhabited by three Sami, Ula, Nils and Inga. The Sami are the native inhabitants of Lapland (which stretches across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). There are now seventy thousand of them, of which thirty thousand are in Norway. Some of them are/were fishing people, some hunters and the rest reindeer farmers. These days only 2,500 still farm reindeer and none of them live in the lavvus anymore. This is the twenty-first century and even the Sami live in houses and drive 4x4s and snowmobiles and they’re not nomadic anymore because they’re not dependent on the grazing land because you can just buy reindeer food just like you can buy food for other farm animals.

We were introduced to our reindeer (I need to email Trine and ask her for all their names because it’s impossible to remember and most of them had Sami names. I can remember Guttorm, the lead one, but not the others) and then we got into the sledges and off we went. It’s definitely much more sedate than dogsledding. The reindeer walked along with Nils leading Guttorm and they don’t follow each other in a line. Each reindeer walks beside the sledge in front of it so we had a one-antlered young reindeer walking beside us, pulling faces. Occasionally they’d scamper or startle but mostly it was just a walk around a nice flat circuit. I suppose this is just the way the Sami used to travel. It was a walk, not a race.

When we got back, we took photos with the reindeer, we were allowed to touch them (you have to hold their rope nice and tight so they can’t pull away from you) and they’re really soft and their noses woffle when they eat, it’s really cute. Then we went into the lavvu, which was a proper tent (although one covered in labels that suggested it definitely wasn’t homemade) and there were reindeer skins to sit on and a nice fire in the middle and Inga, in her Sami finery and non-traditional glasses, sang us a joik.

We went back outside to try lassoing a silent reindeer – a pair of antlers mounted on a tree stump. I can coil the lasso pretty well but I’d have lost all my reindeer. I tried again and again but I didn’t manage to catch so much as one tiny prong. The ropes, by the way, again, non-traditional. They’re made of rubber which doesn’t freeze, which is handy.

When we’d all been to visit the reindeer while they had their lunch, it was time for us to get back in the minibus and go for our own lunch, back to the basecamp wooden lavvu. There was hot chocolate as well as the tea and coffee and then there was bidos, vegetable soup with reindeer meat and then marshmallows again. I hadn’t realised how easy it is for people to set fire to marshmallows, I’ve had enough practice to not do it (and also it doesn’t taste nice, Rangers, what is wrong with you?)

I had another go at sledging on the hill, took photos of the place in daylight and then we went back. It was early afternoon but it was cold and wet and windy and cloudy in Tromsø, it was Sunday so everything – but everything – was closed and there was no point in doing anything except going back to bed.

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