The snow is falling in heavy flakes and the cloud cover blocks the light of the moon and stars. We’re at Risvika on Kvaloya (Whale Island) at a rural farm where the Sami people live and herd reindeer. As our eyes adjust to the total darkness, suddenly outlines of reindeer appear. The ringing of the bells around each reindeer’s neck is the only sound in the otherwise silent night. Olah, a Sami dressed completely in reindeer furs, points to a sleigh and we climb in on top of reindeer skins; another reindeer is only inches from me.
Gently our reindeer begins to pull the sleigh and we’re transported back in time to when the Sami people used reindeer to travel between Lapland (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). We spot the silhouettes of other reindeer digging in the snow for lichen as our sleigh moves through the snowy night.
The reindeer here are all wild and roam freely, but they are all owned by the Sami people. Certain reindeer that the Sami select and train to pull their sleighs are tagged with GPS so that they can easily be located. During the Arctic winter months, it can be quite hard for the reindeer to find food beneath the snow; the reindeer will stay nearby knowing they will be fed.
After our sleigh ride, we warm up around the fire in the lavvu. This is a traditional Sami “house” shaped like a tee-pee. The top is open to let out the smoke from the fire and the walls are made from reindeer hyde. There are wooden stumps covered with reindeer fur to sit on and we are served Bidos (reindeer stew) as Olah tells us about the Sami culture.
Reindeer are essential to the Sami way of life. No other animal can provide transport, food, clothing and warmth. Even the antlers, which fall off the reindeer each year, are used to make tools and jewelry.
The Sami are a fascinating people and if you have the opportunity to meet a Sami, they will be more than happy to tell you about their culture. There is just one rule. Never ask a Sami how many reindeer he or she owns; the number of reindeer owned is indicative of wealth.
After dinner, we were free to explore the farm a bit. It is on the coast, so there is a coral beach to wander down to. Unfortunately, the sky was completely clouded over otherwise Risvika would be a perfect location to watch the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky!
Despite the cloudy conditions, reindeer sledding was a magical experience we won’t soon forget!
Tromsø Friluftsenter, January 1 – March 31, 1390 NOK per person
About The Author
Jennifer Dombrowski is a training specialist and social media strategist in the field of higher education. Based in Italy with her husband, Tim, they have a passion for travel and love discovering the world. Follow her on twitter @jdomb or on Facebook.