Riding with reindeer

Reindeer.
Reindeer.

We stayed up late last night in an effort to see the Aurora. A passing look at today’s pictures will confirm that we saw nothing.

The late night meant Declan woke up very grumpy and so he decided to stat at the hotel while the rest of us went for a cross-country ski. Snow had started falling again, but we must be becoming acclimatised because the minus 5 degree temperature didn’t seem very cold. Perhaps the more realistic reason is that we’re getting the hang of cross-country skiing and it’s excellent exercise once you get a rhythm going.

After lunch, with Declan’s spirits recovered, we headed out to a nearby Sami reindeer farm – to become acquainted with reindeer before they became an ingredient for one of our meals.

The Sami have been herding reindeer here forever. Now reindeer herding is highly regulated. Only traditional families can own reindeer and they have to stay here, they cannot own them from a distance. That means they still live a broadly traditional way of life. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have modern conveniences – they drive cars, use GPS trackers to follow their reindeer herds, and so on – but it does mean they follow the reindeer seasons and so on. The total number of reindeer is tightly regulated, so you can only increase the size of a herd through inheritance or marriage.

On the reindeer sleigh.
On the reindeer sleigh.

One of the fascinating facts about reindeer herding is that during the Summer months the reindeer just wander the forests at large. As the weather gets colder and the days get darker the reindeer come into the farms to get food and then the Sami sort the herds out, determining ownership through a complex code of ear-markings.

We went on a reindeer sleigh ride. In contrast to the dog-sled and snowmobile of the last few days, this is the way people have got about up here for generations. The sleigh ride was peaceful but we didn’t actually get to drive, so it was a passive experience. That in turn meant that I spent much of the time contemplating how much more clothing I should have put on before setting out.

That thinking stood us in good stead after dinner when we set out on a sleigh pulled by a snowmobile to hunt for the Aurora. We were perfectly warm, but let me just say that nothing would induce me to repeat the experience of being pulled along behind a snowmobile in a sled. It is incredibly bumpy and you’re breathing exhaust much of the time – I simply can’t see why anyone would think it a good idea.

We didn’t even see the Aurora. Although as a consolation prize, Danny, our lovely Russian guide and driver, taught the boys how to make fire in the snow in the middle of a darkened forest.

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