There are more reindeers in Lapland than people. Reason enough to get to know them better while staying in Rovaniemi. At his reindeer farm Tatuka Palvelut, T:mi shows us the original Sámi tradition to get around by jumping on a sleigh.
There are almost 200,000 reindeers in the forests of Lapland and even though they move around freely, ever single animal does have an owner. Sámi people of Finland, an indigenous Finno-Ugric people populating around the arctic circle, are known for their reindeer husbandry. For many generations they have worked and lived with reindeers and so they know everything about them. T:ami and his family are experts in reindeer husbandry and tell us a lot about their animals.
First: Try to be a reindeer herder
Before the lazy part of our tour starts, we act like reindeer herders and harness our reindeer to prepare it for the forest ride. It actually is quite easy, however, beware of the reindeer’s antlers! Male reindeers lose them just after mating season. The thin fur comes off and drops of blood sprinkle down their faces. At that point of time, every touch of the antlers hurts them. Be careful not to touch them, as they immediately move around at a very fast pace and they can hurt you unintentionally. But no worries, as soon as they lose their antlers, they are growing back.
As soon as the harness is placed safely on the reindeer, you need to connect your sleigh to your animal guide. That is really easy 🙂
Second: Make yourself comfy in the sleigh (and take as many blankets as you can get)
A couple of sleighs are linked together and a herder or guide is walking alongside the sleighs throughout the entire sleigh ride, so you can imagine that they are not running at a very fast pace during those tours. This gives you the possibility to lay back and relax under reindeer fur and blankets, which makes it quite cosy despite the low temperatures. The landscape around us is just amazing! A wonderful white path through the forest, far away from civilisation and no sound escapes the forest, except for the movements of the reindeers. Run, run Rudolph!
Third: Find a place close to the fire
While the reindeers enjoy a little break and eat the snack they get from their passengers, we approach an open fire with little wooden benches around it. We eagerly sit down as close as possible to warm up our half-frozen feet. It is better to take the shoes off to heat up your toes again, as the shoes you get for the tour are very thick. I take off my shoes and stretch my feet to find the warmth of the fire.
T:mi and his father distribute Finnish sausages and wooden sticks. We spit the sausages with the sticks and hold them near the fire (not into the fire, as your sausages will turn black soon), at the same time, we are listening to the stories of the Sámi and how the reindeers live. Warm tea, hot chocolate and coffee in Sámi hand-crafted cups keep us warm besides the fire. After having finished our sausages, we get a wooden plate with pancakes and home made blueberry jam fried over the open fire. Can we have one more? «Yes, of course,» T:mi smiles and generously gives us more of the rich pancakes.
Fourth: Keep yourself warm
Just when my toes seem to have warmed up, we pack up and have to leave. But the next challenge is to get into the cold shoes again. When touching my soles, I find that they are burning hot and I am quite surprised that I cannot really feel the heat through three layers of socks. Inside the shoes again, it seems to become colder with every step. I enter the sleigh and cover myself with the fur and a blanket. During the ride back, the sky slowly darkens. Dusk. At about 2pm in the afternoon.
Fifth: You’ve officially been pimped!
At the end of our tour, T:mi happily hands me a little carton card, which I first consider to be a business card. No – it’s my personal «Reindeer Driving Licence». Wow! «Am I a herder now?», I ask him and smile. He smiles back, shakes his head and says: «Not quite, but it’s the first step to get to know the reindeers.»
Our reindeer is not called Rudolph, and it doesn’t have a red nose. But it’s a beautiful animal, and you can see the semi-domesticated reindeers quite easily when travelling through Lapland. Thanks to their special anatomy, they are perfectly prepared for cold weather, as their noses warm the air before actually breathing it in, their fur keeps the air outside and their hooves tighten during winter time, which is especially useful on slippery ground.
When you are in Rovaniemi or near the city, make sure to make a reindeer sleigh ride. This tour does not make your blood rush or the adrenaline pump through your body, but it gives you a beautiful insight into Lappish culture and how reindeers live. And you get a driving license 🙂