Reindeer Races

The post you’ve all been waiting for! Considering that I missed seeing any polar bears on Svalbard I’m pretty sure that I can already call the reindeer races the highlight of my Norwegian animal experience.

Now the website for Sami Week is pretty atrocious, but after much button clicking we eventually found the schedule for the reindeer races. Considering the website only has something like five tabs, it’s almost impressive how much effort it took to find the schedule. I’m convinced the webmaster is secretly an evil mastermind since it took us a good 30 minutes to find the schedule hidden away on an obscure section of the Norwegian version of the site. BUT we finally realized that the races weren’t starting until about 1 pm on Sunday. That meant that we were able to introduce the very American concept of Sunday brunch to a few of the local international students. One student, Caspar, graciously agreed to host brunch and let a few people cook in his house. After some deliberation, Kari and I decided to arrive a bit on the late side of things. Our strategic planning meant that we avoiding cooking but arrived just in time for eating. It was perfect.

After we gorged ourselves on pancakes, bacon, scones, and sausages we all bundled up and headed into the center of town. All of the Fulbrighters were quite happy to pay to enter the reindeer races, but some of the international students decided to set up shop at the local Burger King and view the races for free on the second story. Although there were some venues around the racecourse that would provide you with a view, many people were quite content to pay and stand along the course. In my eyes, the most impressive spectator was a guy in a reindeer onesie. How could you tell it was a reindeer and not a moose? Why, the red Rudolf nose on the costume. Sidenote: out of the five Fulbrighters who went to Sami Week only one of them had yet to see a reindeer. The fact that the rest of us were incredulous about this just goes to show how in touch with nature you are in Norway.

IMG_9016  IMG_9014  IMG_9055The main street in Tromsø, Storgata, was blocked off for the race and announcers even translated some of their commentary into English. From what I could gather, there were two different kinds of races. The first race involved one person and their reindeer and was timed. The second race was what we would think of as a more traditional race since it took place between two people. They had junior races for some of the younger racers and I suppose what you would call professional races for the adults. There were even people from Russia who had come to compete.

IMG_9037  IMG_9040  IMG_9081You can sort of see how the race actually worked from the pictures, but it mostly involved a skier being dragged along by a reindeer. Apparently different kinds of skis are chosen depending on what the skier is trying to do. Slalom skis allow for easier control, while cross country skis are better for speed.

IMG_9024  IMG_9046  IMG_9047IMG_9051  IMG_9060  IMG_9061IMG_9070  IMG_9127  IMG_9145IMG_9111  IMG_9116  IMG_9141Once the races were finished, Kari and I bunkered down at one of the local coffee shops. Kari was lost in a book she was reading for graduate school interviews, while I was lost in The Amber Spyglass (the snowstorm didn’t stop me from racing through the sequels to The Golden Compass).

We eventually made it back to our original brunch location and settled in for a pizza party and the first Harry Potter movie. After that, we went back to Kari’s place and called it a night.

Trip to Tromsø

For those of you who are wondering, the ø in Tromsø means that it’s pronounced more like Tromsa than Tromso. While Tromsø is not as far North as Svalbard, Tromsø is Norway’s northernmost town and boasts a population of roughly 70,000. It’s the biggest town in Northern Norway (and I believe the only place in Northern Norway that can technically claim the title of town) and, to my surprise, is pretty much shut off from the rest of Norway. The train system in Norway doesn’t go much further than Bodø, where Alix and I went for part of our trip to the Lofoten Islands. As far as I can tell, the only really ways in which Northern Norway is connected to the rest of the country is by car, boat, specifically the Hurtigruten ferry, and by plane.

I’ve been interested in visiting Tromsø for a while but I decided to plan my trip in early February so that I would be able to attend Tromsø’s Sami Week. The Sami are the indigenous people in Northern Scandinavia, specifically Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula (part of Russia). To make matters more complicated, there are different kinds of Sami, and they have different rights and living situations depending on where they live. In Norway, the Sami are well known as reindeer herders and to this day reindeer are an essential part of their culture. Sami have a much stronger presence in Northern Norway than they do in Southern Norway and they even have their own capital, Karasjok, and parliament in Northern Norway. That is not to say that everything is rainbows and butterflies. The Sami have historically experienced a good amount of discrimination in Norway, and this discrimination continues to the present day. According to recent a survey, the Sami experience ten times more discrimination than ethnic Norwegians (United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe). Other obstacles the Sami face include the loss of their native languages and issues surrounding land rights.

Tromsø’s Sami Week coincides with Sami People’s Day, or the Sami national day, on February 6th. This date marks the meeting of the first Sami Congress in 1917 in Trondheim. Why Sami Week is not so well celebrated in Trondheim or even in Trondheim remains a mystery to me. Anyways, Sami People’s Day has grown into a week long celebration in Tromsø and consists of things such as a lasso throwing competition, winter market, cultural events, and reindeer races. Yes, reindeer races are a real thing. In fact, the races were the main reason I was in Tromsø.

Lucky for me, flights from Trondheim to Tromsø are pretty short and easy to catch. My hope was that I’d be able to see the northern lights in my time above the clouds, but unfortunately the sun was up for the duration of my flight. Once we descended however it was a completely different story. I was greeted with snow.

Thankfully the Fulbrighter that I was staying with, Kari, gave me very detailed instructions on how to get to her place, and it didn’t take me too long to find the correct bus into Tromsø. Once I arrived, I was pretty happy to settle in for the night and to curl up with my chosen post-Svalbard reading: The Golden Compass. I’m proud to say that I got unreasonably excited over the Svalbard sections of the book and of  my ability to identify terms such as sysselmann, or governor.