Reindeers and Huskies
The city is actually NOT on or above the arctic circle (6km to the north).
A small village for the longest time, tourism was what propelled this tiny city onto the map. An hour’s flight from Helsinki, the 800km skips over a vast expanse of snow for us. As we arrived at night, it was off to the hotel to check in and a warm and cozy sleep.
We started our adventures with a husky farm and reindeer sleigh ride. Before we could get out to the cold, we had to change into the clothing provided by the tour operator. Bear in mind that at this time of the year (November), the temperatures here had already dipped to -6°C. Our “winter” clothing brought from Singapore does not in any way protect us from this bitter cold. We were led to a room where we had to put the insulated suits over our own clothe and change into the snow boots provided.
Only then can we head out, each on our own reindeer sleigh. Actually for most of the ride, we could only see the white of the reindeer’s butt. Only when we stopped could we pose for better photos. As it was exceedingly cold (for our standard), the guides gave us reindeer pelts for extra protection from the freezing winds that also brought a lot of snow.
Reindeers are said to live between 15-20 years. They actually roam freely in the forests of northern Finland, also known as Lapland. But we were also told they are owned by the Lapp herdsmen, with each reindeer’s ear having a distinguishing mark.
It was a 2-hour ride, and along the paths Suan’s sleigh flipped. They said she was too light and the reindeer had pulled to fast. You’d be amazed at how fast they can literally run on the snow covered tracks! Fortunately, the guides did not just bring us about in the open. We stopped at a small wooden hut (more like a shed) where a fire was lit and had a cup of warm chocolate. The entire landscape is snow laden and deep. High boots and good waterproof clothing is a must!
The husky farm we came up to was really one. It was a holding area for the dogs in the winter, where they run rides such as what we are about to experience. In the summer, they work for the herdsmen gathering up the reindeers. Normally a team of 5-10 dogs will pull the sleigh.
They did not allow us to ride the sleigh for long. Just one circular route of approximate 5 minutes. Reason : the dogs will pick up speed rather fast, and normally the rider stands on the back of the sleigh to maneuver the dogs.
The sleigh usually contains pack materials such as tents, food and water etc. So, it was unusual for people to be sitting on the sleigh! And we’d be too light and it becomes dangerous to run longer distances. There were 200 dogs here with the youngest sleigh puller being just 1½ years old! Dogs start their training from birth and the lead dogs also chosen at that time. How? Only the Lapp people seems to know.
For all of this, it cost each of us 530 Finn marks back in 2001 with Erasetti.
Finally it’s time to pay homage to Santa and tell him we’ve been nice.
Santa village is a collection of elf buildings on the arctic circle. There is a post office here, and you can send a letter or postcard with Santa’s stamp. To get here, take the free shuttle bus that serves Rovaniemi at the top of every hour. We recalled it made a stop at specific hotels as well.
As with any village, the elves “make” and sell their wares in the form of souvenir shops. Actually it was kinda funny, because we bought babushka dolls here…buy hey, you only live once right? The shopping here is not exactly premium outlet but it will do. Actually we are glad there were indoor spaces to warm up before walking outside.
To get to Santa, there is obviously a queue. And it was a long queue, full of children and not a few adults – us among them. The 2m tall Santa came to Singapore before at Novena square’s opening ceremony in the year 2000. He told us he liked Singapore very much and would like to visit again. Doesn’t he do that when he delivers the presents? We think he missed the chicken rice here. Really, he told us.
You know, we are still living out the wish that we asked of him. Guess you know what we wished for then!
What else can you do here?
We made it a point to mention about Santa park, an amusement park more for children – is a disappointment for us. We hope it has changed. The only thing about it is the fact it is carved into rock, and it takes 10 minutes to walk down to the park itself.
Now the Arktikum museum is a good place to be introduced to polar geography and history (eh, really?). A glass domed building by the Kemijoki river. In the deep winter (probably around Jan/Feb), the river freezes over and you might be able to skate on it!
Unfortunately throughout our trip, it was snowing quite heavily. And when the snow did let up, it was cloudy. So no auroras for us. The day ends very quickly as it gets dark by 3pm. If you like the winter wonderland, Rovaniemi is indeed the place where you can enjoy the snow. Our hotel is by the river and we walked along the paths. We would have driven, but as inexperienced drivers in snow laden country we opted to take the public transport.
And take the public transport (from the central bus station) we did – all the way to Ranua zoo (wildlife park). An hour’s ride away, we were one of the few folks on the bus…wondered why. Located 78km to the southeast of Rovaniemi, we arrived at 10am, just as the park opened.
The park is large, so the creatures have sufficient space made to look like their natural environment. The polar bear had just been given breakfast – the carcass is scattered all around. Now, some may be thinking why doesn’t the bear hibernate. Polar bears don’t, only the brown and black bears do.
The foxes we saw have really thick fur, which is really useful at this time of the year. For us the only unnatural sight is that of the birds of prey caged. There was no aviary that we are accustomed to seeing in Singapore. The snowy owl is white at this time of the year (good camouflage) and matches itself quite well to the snow ground. The Lynx are busy patrolling their “territory” and we can only photograph them from afar. Groups of reindeer are feeding in the snow.
You know what, it’s really cold walking in the wildlife park. No wonder nobody came except us! It was a nice excursion, but we wanted to catch the next bus back to town, back the warmth and civilization.
There was not really much else to see here. Besides, the fingers were getting a little numb and the hot water in the flask had run out. As we left, we met just one family coming in. Good luck!
More on other parts of Finland we touched can be read here.