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Warning! This article contains pictures of reindeer butts and a blonde woman with an insanely big smile on her face.
I have been super passionate about reindeer for some time now. That’s not a secret. So when Bart-Jan and I decided to take a trip to Tromsø, I knew one thing for sure: I had to go on a sleigh ride with Santa’s helpers! I was super excited to go see the breathtaking Northern Lights, go whale watching in the fjords, but I had one main priority: to cuddle with REINDEER! Soon we discovered Lyngsfjord Adventure. An organization that’s specialized in dog sledding, reindeer sledding, snowmobile safari and sleeping under the Northern Lights. We eventually booked all four, but I will write seperate blogs about the other activities.
Where is it?
The organization Lyngsfjord Adventure can be found at Camp Tamok in Oteren. A cozy camp with the most heartwarming staff, wooden cabins, modern versions of the traditional lavvu’s, kennels filled with huskies and even a sauna! Oteren lies about 90 kilometers south-east of Tromsø in northern Norway. As soon as you’re booking the rendier sledding, you can choose the ‘transfer from Tromsø’ option. This option provides pick-up and drop-off in the harbor of Tromsø, at walking distance from most hotels. Perfect!
You can either choose to go on an afternoon or an evening tour of approximately 4,5 hours (7 hours including the journey from and back to Tromsø). The afternoon tour provides breathtaking views over frozen valleys and impressive mountaintops, ornated with icicles. When you choose the evening tour, you get a chance to see the Northern Lights! Because we were going to do the evening tour with the snow mobiles later that week, we chose to do the afternoon sledding.
The costs for the safari are 1595 NOK (about €170,-) per person. Including transfer from and to Tromsø, insulating bodysuit, mittens, headwear and a hot meal. I can really recommend it to wear thermic underwear and 100% woolen socks if you bring Camp Tamok a visit. Thank me later.
At nine o’clock in the morning, we were picked up from the harbor of Tromsø, near our hotel. In northern Norway it’s still pitch dark around that time, which was quite weird for us. After an hour and a half drive along fjords, lakes and moountains, we arrived at camp Tamok. A cheerfull young lady named Linda welcomed us to the camp and explained what the day was going to look like. We followed her to a cosy wooden cabin, where they handed us insulating bodysuits to keep us warm. You really want to wear those when you’re out in northern Norway in winter. We haven’t been cold for ONE second!
We were introduced to our reindeer shepherd and Sami-guide Roar. One of the first thing he said to us was “Katy Perry wrote a song about me once“, so it was pretty much love at first sight. Roar turned out to be a playful young man with an amazing sense of humor, years of experience in the Norwegian mountains and more than a handfull of reindeer. He wouldn’t tell us exactly how many reindeer he has. To Sami people it’s the same as asking how much money they have on their bank account. Roar knows exactly how much money is on his wife’s bank account, but he has no clue how many reindeer she has.
It turned out that we were the only ones for the reindeer sledding that day. A private tour, hurray! Roar took us 2 kilometers away from the camp in a little van. When we asked him why, he said that he keeps his reindeer away from the camp to prevent the huskies from scaring them all the time.
Once we arrived at his little camp, Roar invited us to his lavvu. The winter-proof version of the well known tipi with a little fireplace in the middle. You’d be surprised how big they are from the inside! We sat around the fire and enjoyed the Roar’s amazing stories. He told us about the Sami way of life, his family, his ancestors, his spiritual band with nature and ofcourse his reindeer.
Up to today the Sami live in Lapland (northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). Originally they are nomadic people, that mainly live from and with reindeer. They travel around to make sure their reindeer have enough to eat, except for in winter. Then they will stay at one place to keep warm and well fed. Present-day the Sami don’t travel around as they used to, but the reindeer remain to be a big part of their lives.
What Roar told us about the Sami was beautiful and painful at the same time. The culture and traditions of the Sami are beginning to die out, because young Sami move to the city and choose a modern lifestyle in society above the traditional Sami way of life. This causes a big gap between the older and younger generation which makes transfering of knowledge, customs and culture harder and harder. It is unknown how much Sami are still around, because a lot of Sami don’t want to be officially known as one. It takes too much effort to apply for the recognition and you only get it if one of your parents has it.
The knowledge of nature and survival techniques are slowly dying out. They have been carried forward from father to son/daughter like a real family tradition for centuries, but you really had to earn the techniques. You wouldn’t get them for free, you had to work for it. Just like the techniques of medicine, which explains why most medicine men are quite old.
Roar’s father doesn’t allow him to write down everything he knows. This has everything to do with honor, tradition and the conservative attitude of Roar. His father would rather see the knowledge go to waste, than for Roar to write it down. That would mean that everybody can just read it in a book and doesn’t have to earn the techniques anymore. To him it would be a big shame to Sami culture.
Roar grew up with the wisdom of his ancestors. “Norwegians live from nature, while Sami live with nature.”, he told us. “Norwegians are born in the hospital and most likely will die in the hospital, but Sami were born in the mountains and want to die in the mountains.” He explained to us how his father refuses to die in a hospital bed one day. If he ever gets really sick, weak or old, he wants his son to take him up to the mountains to breathe his last breath.
Although many Sami are Christian, Roar doesn’t really believe in one God. He believes in nature. Up in the mountains he can feel the presence of spirits of people whoe have died and he believes that these spirits keep the mountains safe and intact.
The craziest thing that Roar thought us was that it isn’t the wolves, lynx of bears that are the biggest threat to reindeer, it’s the eagles. They don’t only attack calves, with which they actually FLY AWAY, but they grab a reindeer in the spine with their big claws and keep on pinching until the spine breaks. That way they can start eating, since the reindeer won’t be able to walk anymore, while the reindeer is still alive. It made my stomach turn..
Because we couldn’t get enough of all the stories Roar told us, we ran an hour behind on schedule. We almost forgot we still had to go reindeer sledding! Almost.. We got to lure the Rudolph’s ourselves with their favorite snack: fresh, green, juicy moss. Roar chose two reindeer to go for a sleigh ride with us: one trainee and one stubborn reindeer with antlers that came all the way up to my nose! Those things are bigger than you think..
With one sleigh behind the other and the two reindeer we entered the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery we had seen until then. The frozen valleys of lake Tamok gleamed under the reindeer hoofs. We noticed that reindeer are real herd animals, because the other ones ran with us until we were out of sight. And do you have ANY idea how cute reindeer butts actually are?!
Roar steered his trainee-reindeer right across the frozen Lake Tamok. It is really indescribable how magical it is to ride a reindeer sleigh across a frozen valley, ornated with fresh show and the highest mountain tops filled with icicles. All we could hear was the reindeer hoofs clicking and the snow crackling under our sleigh. I was and still am lost for words, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
From up close it looks like the reindeer are massaging the snow with their hoofs. This is also what makes the clicking sound. By doing this, the reindeer can keep a grip in the frozen and slippery mountains in winter.
After the sleigh ride we brought Rudolph I and Rudolph II back to their families. It was time to eat!
Roar had two big bags filled with the green, juicy moss. Even though the reindeer absolutely LOVE this, they are more scared of humans to get too close. It was quite hard to make them eat out of our hands, but we managed! And it was one of the coolest things ever.
When I asked Roar why reindeer are so afraid of people, he said “Because we eat them.” I couldn’t argue with that, but I had to try real hard to get that image out of my head to prevent myself from crying.
The last part of the reindeer sledding experience was learning how to throw a lasso. Little Sami kids learn to work with rope and lassos from a very early age. It can literally safe lives if you know how to work one and also it’s one of the most important things if you want to catch something to eat (from reindeer to fish). Both Bart-Jan had I threw the lasso around the antlers in one try. Such talent!
After the amazing afternoon in the snow with Roar, we went back to camp Tamok to have a hot meal in the big lavvu. And what did they serve us? Reideer stew! I had to try really hard to not think about the cute reindeer butts while eating, because of what Roar told us earlier. But the reindeer meat was really, really tasty!
And herewith the amazing, magical afternoon filled with fairytale scenery, life lessons and a crash course Sami history, came to an end. Thank you SO, SO, SO much, Roar! You have been the best guide we could have EVER wished for and this day wouldn’t have been so special to us if it wasn’t for you. We really hope to go reindeer sledding with you again someday. It was a real pleasure to meet you! Oh and by the way; I will get my revenge for that snowball someday! Mark my words.
Do you want to experience a magical afternoon (or evening) in camp Tamok? Book your reindeer sledding tour at the website of Lynsfjord Adventure or right on the spot at the Visit Tromsø building in the harbor of Tromsø. You can go reindeer sledding from November until the eind of March.
P.S. Roar’s wife makes the most beautiful, handmade Luhkkas (woolen ponchos) in Sami colors. Ask her! They are super warm and I have been wearing mine all week! Make sure to bring cash if you’re interested.
The official Lyngsfjord Adventure reindeer sledding video