Snowmobiling, Skiing, Stargazing & Sleeping Sami Style!

It is the 3rd of January.  Our next destination was Kiruna Station, four hours on a train where you’re mostly looking out into a darkened sky, occasionally lit up at a lonely snow swept station where people would get on or off.  We arrived about 9am, the sun not risen, and made a call to our next tour guide to say we’d arrived (as they were picking us up).  We had wanted to book an overnight tour, and Taube Activity won our vote, with the plentiful amount of activities listed on their website that we could try  to our heart’s content!  Ride on a snowmobile, cross a river by boat or ice skates, depending on whether it was frozen over or not, ice fishing, cross country skiing, and sleep in a sami hut or self-made igloo!  They were very reasonably priced, with all meals included and student discounts, and we’re glad we went with them because we had a ball!

The tours are run by a father-son-and-daughter team, who take it in turns to run the tours and we were lucky enough to meet all three of these lovely Swedes 🙂 Henrik picked us up at the station and drove us to  the meeting point, where we would lock up all our suitcases and gather bigger boots and extra snow pants and jackets and gloves.  We didn’t take the extra jackets, but after the reindeer sledding in Rovaniemi, Mum and I took an extra pair of snow pants and ended up wearing two, which kept us extra cosy.  This was where Henrik left us, as from here on out the cars couldn’t travel and we were trekking it on the snowmobiles for the rest of the way.

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We were a smallish group, Johan, Mum and I, and a total of 7 others, along with our next guide, Henrik’s son, Ivan.  We took three snowmobiles 10km down to the Torne River, which is the same river that runs through Haparanda.  You need a license to drive a snowmobile though, and as Johan and I are without, and Mum was too worried about driving it, we sat on a sled at the back of one.  It was also the first time we’d really made use of our GoPro and got some great footage.

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We spent about half hour on the snowmobile, and the novelty soon wore off a bit with freezing fingers and toes, again.  They’re fine when you’re moving around all day and walking, but as soon as you sit down and stop moving, they become numb with cold and you’re forever rubbing them and tapping them trying to get them warmed up again.  It was probably about -20 or -25 degrees on these two days, so we were starting to feel the cold even more!

The white landscape was as beautiful and astonishing as ever, and we were soon at the river, taking even more photographs and trying to jog on the spot to get warmed up again.  It was still early in the season and so the river was unfrozen and we got to row across in a raft boat which was slightly unnerving, all 11 of us needing to scramble into it with our backpacks and bags of groceries while one person held the rope, but no one went overboard, the boat didn’t sink and we all survived. 😛

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After rowing across, it is a short walk up a hill to the camp, and we were all eager to get inside and warm again!  It was here we met the final member of the group, Ivan’s sister, Märta, who was to stay with us for the rest of our camping adventure.  We sat and talked around the main cabin, getting to know one another and where we were from, as Märta and Ivan began making us lunch, and we (that is to say, everyone but me) warmed up with tea and coffee.  Oh, and PEPPARKAKOR! (That’s gingerbread, for all your English-speaking folk).

Lunch would be a while, so we were told to go out and enjoy ourselves while there was still daylight.  The sun doesn’t really rise at this time of year, it just seems to be a melt from sunrise to sunset, although on this day it was overcast and grey, so not much of either to be seen I’m afraid!  They have a trail marked out through the forest and we all hiked for what seemed forever through trees and knee-deep snow, quite forgetting about the cold – like I said, when you’re on the move, you don’t feel it.  And it was glorious!  The crunch of snow beneath your boots and the soft mounds you can just fall in if you trail off the path.

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It was like being pure kids again – even Mum, who enjoyed making snowfalls in the air, as the snow was too soft to make snowballs – which isn’t to say she didn’t try doing that, either, and taught two asian girls how to make snow angels, as they’d never heard of them before.  Once you get out of the forest, you come back down to the river at a different spot, and the slipperiness of the downhill slope meant turning a snowy downhill path into a snowy slide, which admittedly felt much safer and more fun!

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We returned to the cabins for a traditional moose soup.  A bit cautious about trying moose, the same way I was for reindeer later on our journey, simply for the fact I didn’t want to eat such an iconic Swedish animal, but it tasted quite alright.  And we had my favourite round bread, too (I’m obsessed with that stuff!).  We sat around talking with Märta and the others again.  Johan played a bit of guitar, and Märta told us tales of hunting and running the cabin with her family.  The cabins don’t have electricity, and are heated by firewood, and one chilly -40 degree day she awoke to find her sheets wet and frozen to the wall of the cabin!

So if we didn’t want that happening to us, it was probably about time we began to chop firewood to heat our own cabins for the night, the sauna, and the grill for dinner!  Märta was there to teach us, not to do the work for us, we were all to there to experience that way of living ourselves, and the group was great at chipping in and helping one another out – collecting wood from the woodpile, sawing it down into smaller pieces, with a two-person saw, and then swinging at it hard with an axe to get it just the right size!  During this time it started snowing heavily, and really, it was the first proper snowfall we’d had, and distracted us a little from the work at hand!

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The camp also had no running water (so going to the toilet was a true camping experience!), so to heat the sauna and provide drinking water, we had to trek down to the river as a group carrying empty water buckets and bottles to fill up at the river.  Mum was the one to volunteer to kneel down and fill the buckets from the ice-cold water, everyone else helped fill the buckets with funnels and carry them all back to the cabins.

For dinner, we got to grill sausages on the open fire again, which we ate with mashed potato and baked beans, and we discovered roasted lök, or onion, which are sort of like crunchy flakes,  that you can have with anything really – potato, meat, burgers, etc. – we later bought a few packets home to Australia with us.  It was very warm and pleasant by the fire.

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After warming our huts (we stayed in a traditional Sami hut) it was pretty much Northern Light hunting for the rest of the night – ducking inside and out, trying to spot a glimpse of colour amongst the black sky.  If anything, it was nice to just stargaze.  Then someone would say they spotted a grey cloud moving and we’d take a photo, and it would be green.  THESE PHOTOS LIE.  It was not green.  It was pitch black, with maybe a wispy grey cloud in front.

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But it was nice all the same!  This went on for sometime, until grey clouds increased and photos became slightly brighter, and the photographers in the group began screaming “they’re coming!” and would consequently run down to the river for a better look.

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AGAIN, THIS PHOTO IS A LIE.  Pretend it’s greyscale, and that’s what we saw.  They were very weak auroras, which, I can’t lie, was a little disappointing, but you can never plan the weather – or the aurora borealis activity, as the case may be.  For the guy in our group that wanted our northern lights photos – here they are!  And we’re sorry we never got the chance to take down your email 😦

Cold, tired and disappointed, half of us (Mum and I included) trekked off to the warmth of cabins and sleeping bags, the other half (including Johan) to the saunas.  Having not quite enjoyed the sauna the first time, I decided to sit it out and let the boys have their fun as Johan was getting along quite well with the other guys.

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Waking up inside a sleeping bag in a toasty-warm traditional log hut was almost as exciting as waking up inside an igloo.  Breakfast consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches and tea and coffee in our huts, and the sky was just starting to brighten at 10am.  The group had voted on cross-country skiing (that is, skiing on the flat) this morning, so off went the boots and on went ski shoes, which was probably one of our few complaints as it was very hard to find large sizes for everyone, and then we had some difficulty trying to fit them properly to the skis.  Some had to take the snow-shoes instead.  But we got there in the end.

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Johan and I fiddling with the GoPro took up the rear of the group, and I really struggled to get the hang of it skiing properly, but in the end it was Johan that fell over on camera, not me!  I had also began tucking my hair inside my jacket, which I forgot to on this morning and by the end I looked like Queen Elsa with it all frozen white (not to mention the furs of our beanies and Johan’s mustache).
Pic 17We began at sunrise, and when we turned around half hour later, the sky was still stuck in sunrise-mode, and we had this view the whole way back.
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We had a little time left over after this to do what we wanted so Johan and I grabbed plastic-seat-slidey-things to slide down a hill on, but as they were small and you had to hold your feet up to slide, it didn’t quite work limb-wise.  We instead returned to the river where others were having a go at ice-fishing.  But they warned us to be careful, that the ice was thin, and they couldn’t have too many people standing on it!

Ice-fishing may have been successful if we had spent longer doing it, but it was basically a quick trial.  We did get to drill a hole into the ice, but that was about it before we  had to set off on our way back, as they also had the next day’s group arriving.  It was a truly beautiful place and experience and we’d love to do it all again if given the opportunity.  The guides were fantastic.Pic 19The mist rising up from the river from the evaporating water.

It was all a bit of a rush going back, but soon we were climbing back in the raft and hopping back on the snowmobiles.  This time, renewed with confidence, Mum did have a go at driving the snowmobile, and she drove just fine!  The sunset at 1.30pm followed us all the way back along our once again, freezing journey, but oh how beautiful it was. ❤
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Tack Taube Activity!

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