Porotila Reindeer Farm

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December 13th 2013
Published: December 14th 2013
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This morning I ached allover from yesterday's dogsledding!! My upper body hurt from my driving efforts and what didn't hurt from that was bruised from bouncing around in the sled as a passenger! A reindeer skin may be warm and waterproof, but it doesn't provide very much cushioning between your butt and the sled. Dogsledding is certainly not for anyone who is not prepared to come away from the experience with some aches and pains and a few bruises! Not to worry, there are no broken bones and the rest will fade in a day or two ... and I still think it was one of the most fun things I have ever tried.

This morning Toni drove us to the Porotila Reindeer Farm which is only about five minutes along the road from the hotel. There we met Sámi reindeer herder, Petri Mattus. Petri fitted us all with helmets and then loaded us into a six person sled behind his snowmobile. I was slightly disappointed because I thought that the reindeer sleigh ride was going to be a sleigh pulled by reindeer - you know like Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen ... and maybe even a Rudolph!? The sled behind the snowmobile did not quite fit my rather idealistic notion of sleigh-bells jingling as we skimmed over the snow tucked into a sleigh behind a team of reindeer. Oh dear, maybe I have developed a slightly over-romanticised notion of December in the snow from listening to too many Christmas Carols??!

Well, we may not have been pulled by reindeer, but we were sitting on reindeer skins and we certainly skimmed smoothly along behind the snowmobile over the snow and into the forest where we found some of Petri's herd of reindeer. Petri had some hay out in a clearing so quite a few of his herd were feeding from that. When Petri lifted the hatch on his snowmobile to bring out a bag of reindeer pellets they all came running. The reindeer don't get the pellets all of the time, only in the winter and, I suspect, mainly when there are tourists with Petri.

I was surprised at how fine the pellets were for the reindeer to be picking up from the snow, but they wiffled them up very enthusiastically. They eat more like sheep than cows so use their lips more than their tongues to graze. Their natural food during the winter is lichen. They dig into the snow and nibble lichen off the trunks of birch trees. The reindeer that are managed by a reindeer herder have their natural diet supplemented with some hay and when the winter is very harsh, reindeer pellets so that they maintain their condition to produce healthy calves in the spring and, because they are livestock, plenty of meat.

Just when we thought we had finished the reindeer herder experience, Petri started unloading wood and bags and things out of the sled to show us how he makes a fire when he is out herding in the forest. He took out his knife and whittled a few strips into a couple of pieces of birch. He stacked several pieces of birch onto the snow and then pulled his matches out of a zip-lock bag stored in a pocket of his Gore-Tex onesie. He put the match to the shaved birch which lit straight away and before long we had a cracking fire.

For his next trick, Petri started whipping the reindeer skins off the seats of the sled and then slid the top section of seats off the lower part of the sled. He re-laid the skins and, voilà, we had comfortable bench seating in the middle of the forest!! With the fire crackling away Petri found a sturdy branch lying around (or one he prepared earlier?) and drove it into the snow with its tip strategically over the fire. He tipped water (from home for the tourists, but he uses water that he finds in the forest or snow) into a kettle and suspended it over the fire. When the kettle boiled he tipped in the coffee grounds and then left it to steep for a while before pouring cups of coffee and offering the milk and sugar around. And then he produced the cinnamon scrolls, yum.

While all of this was going on Petri told us about his life as a reindeer herder; everything from tending his stock over the winter, separating the does in the springtime so that they can calve in a corral nearer to his home, earmarking the new calves before they are returned to the forest with their dams to selecting the animals that will be slaughtered for their meat. He told us that the single most revolutionary thing that has occurred for reindeer herders is the introduction of the snowmobile. Tending his herd by snowmobile means that he can reach most of his herd and return home in a day. Before snowmobiles, herders would spend days away from home camping in the forest.

Although Petri was wearing a Gore-Tex onesie, his feet were clad in traditional reindeer-skin shoes. Matt asked if his reindeer shoes are better than anything that is made today with high-tech materials. Petri said that his reindeer shoes are much better than anything else he can buy. I asked if he still stuffs the shoes with the traditional shoe hay (I leant about that at the Sámi museum). He said that he doesn't use hay, but he didn't know the English word to describe what he now wears inside his shoes. Petri was also wearing a hat supplied by nature rather than anything more high-tech. Sealskin this time though. He said that you can buy yourself a sealskin hat from the supermarket in Inari and said it is much better than what we were wearing - pointing at Bernie's rather daggy beanie

With our campfire dying down and snow starting to fall lightly around us, the sled was reassembled and we returned to Petri's home. He was very hospitable letting us see the magnificent stone fireplace in his kitchen/dining/living room and use his toilet. The windows in the home are triple-glazed and it is actually heated with hot water pipes under the floor. The fireplace is more for show than to actually heat the house. While we waited for Toni to return in the Transit van, Petri gave us a quick lesson in lassoing. None of us managed to lasso the stationary reindeer antler that was our target. Surprisingly, my throw was the straightest, but I was little bit short of the target. Petri then asked for a volunteer to run across the driveway. Sophia provided Petri with a moving target that he lassoed with ease. Another skill where starting at a young age and years of practice makes perfect.

Beef and cabbage soup for lunch followed by pancakes with cloudberry velvet. The cloudberry velvet was much better with the pancakes than on its own. There were no activities this afternoon so it provided us with a good opportunity to rest our aching bodies and catch up on the blog.

After whitefish for dinner (a welcome change from reindeer!) and berry crumble we had to gear up again for another snowshoeing expedition through the forest. I was putting my onesie on and had a wardrobe malfunction - the zipper broke and I couldn't do myself up at the front. Maybe I have been eating too many desserts?! I went in search of Toni to swap my onesie. I couldn't find Toni, but one of the other guides exchanged my suit for me. I think she might have got me the next size up because it was much easier to get into being a bit longer in the leg - and from the crutch to the shoulder!! I felt much less claustrophobic in this suit.

Although it is harder slogging along the paths in snowshoes it does keep the blood pumping which keeps you much warmer than riding on a snowmobile. We completed a circuit through the forest where Toni pointed out lots of snow grouse tracks and related stories about hibernating bears and how hunters used to track them to their dens before bear hunting was outlawed. When we emerged from the forest we were on the lake almost in front of the hotel. We set up our tripods and cameras and tried to photograph shooting stars. Although there were lots of falling stars to be seen in such a clear sky, none of us managed to have our cameras pointing in the right direction at the right moment.

With no auroral activity we all decided to go back into the hotel for a cup of tea. We zipped our onesies down to the waist and clomped around in our boots. None of us wanted to get completely undressed only to have to put all the layers back on when we returned to the lake to try for another glimpse of the elusive aurora.

Nicely warmed up we put an extra layer of clothing on and headed back out. Pretty crazy at minus 14 degrees don't you think?! We went back out just after 11.00pm and saw a few more shooting stars and heard the booms of ice cracking echoing around the bowl that the lake sits in. With no traffic noise or other urban sounds to interfere, the sounds that nature makes here are really intense. Unfortunately no auroral activity tonight, even though we stayed out on the lake until nearly 12.30am. With six of us out there chatting the time passed surprisingly quickly. With no camera to set up, Sophia very industriously started constructing a small igloo to keep warm. If you keep moving you don't cool down so much. With no more auroral photos taken we headed for bed.

11,312 steps / 7.70 km


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