Reindeers are without a doubt one of the most beloved animals, being Santa Claus helpers in delivering the so much awaited gifts every single Christmas. They are not mythological creatures but real majestic animals that can still be found today in the Arctic countries such as Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Alaska and Greenland.
The land of fairytales
Visiting Norway, I didn’t miss the chance to spend a day surrounded by Reindeers and listen to their story told by a member of Sami’s tribe, nordic indigenous population that are the modern protectors of ancient beliefs and culture. Winter is the opportune moment for the reindeers encounter as during this time the herd is coming back to their owners after a summer spent freely on the woods. The reindeers are intelligent and independent however winters can be harsh on them, being unable to dig the frozen grounds for grass which most of the time result in starvation and even death. UCHH!
My tour started with high hopes as the weather forecast has predicted snow for the day ahead, and what could be more dreamlike and surreal than driving your reindeers pulled sledge surrounded by fluffy snowflakes? Well, it shouldn’t come to a surprise that all my plans seemed to be ruined this trip and after a cloudy night that limited my chances of seeing the Northern lights and a day wasted on an ocean covered by dense fog trying to spot whales, the weather decided to play its last card and throw some rain on Earth.
The tour operators continued to apologize for this inconvenience, however they did their best to make up for the windy, rainy day by refilling our hot chocolate mugs and exchanging the dry clothing covering the sledge. While some of us were introduced to a huge herd of reindeers and we got the chance to feed them with unlimited pallets, the others were waiting two by two to board the sledges and start their short journey around the camp. The entire adventure lasted around 10 minutes and unlike Santa’s reindeers, the real ones are quite slow.
Reindeers and their Sami protectors
After everyone got to have their reindeers experience, we were invited to gather by a fire inside a Levuu (Sami tent) where a beautiful girl, wearing traditional clothes from her region explained us with passion and love the art of reindeers herding, being herself the proud owner of few hundreds of them. Anna (the shortcut for her Sami complicated name) received her first reindeer when she was just a newly born and since that day she continued growing her herd, dedicating her life to those animals and preserving ancient beliefs and way of living.
That’s how we found out that all the reindeers are changing their antlers every single year. While the females are keeping their beautiful crown during the winter in order to protect their pregnancies, at this time of the year the males are losing theirs special accessory displaying a more “cowy” look.
Wrapping up the day with reindeers stew
Anna invited us to warm up with a reindeer stew and even though most of the people would find this end of the visit a bit morbid, I decided to give it a try and satisfy my already famous culinary curiosity when it comes to “weird” dishes.
The reindeer meat is considered to be healthier even than the salmon, however I wasn’t impressed with its taste and I had to put my plate aside after few spoons. A sacrilege, Samis would say, since no part of Reindeers body should remain unconsumed including the internal organs and even the blood which is used to bake a traditional dessert. The fur of the sacrificed reindeer would be used for clothing, shoes and other useful items, fully honoring the life of the so much loved animal.
The modern Sami population doesn’t live in Levuu tents any longer nor wear traditional clothes unless the event requires it, however they still live in close connection with the nature, trying to protect their herds and their land from modern interference. As Anna was sharing with us with a sense of sadness and regret, the reindeers playground will soon be replaced with fields covered by windmills as Sami population are currently being “compensated” to give up on a land which legally never belonged to them. A battle almost lost, a culture almost wiped.
Yoik singing by the fire
Anna wrapped up her story telling with a yoik, traditional form of song meant to evoke a person without using any lyrics but a tone of voice more rapid or slow depending on the character described. Anna decided to yoik about a friend since yoiking about herself would have been considered showing off in her culture and would be totally inappropriate.
The total cost of the tour was 155$ and it lasted for 4hrs. Even though it wasn’t cheap (like everything else in Norway), I believe the money were well invested in developing my knowledge about the world’s civilizations and culture. Highly recommended!
You have the option of choosing a morning or an afternoon tour with the chance of seeing the Northern lights if the sky is clear.