Hanupekka the Reindeer Herder

Our Nordic experience began with reindeers on the first day. And we got to learn to ride snowmobiles or ski-doos! Looking like the michelin man, we all gathered on a frozen lake just next to the hotel. Here, we were introduced to Markkus, our guide for the day, and also to our ride for the day, the skidoo. We were then shown the basic controls, how to start, stop and steer. Then we dutifully did figure of eights under the watchful eye of Markkus until he was satisfied that we weren’t going to main ourselves or each other.


All in all, this took less than thirty minutes and then we were off! Now driving on a flat frozen lake is a lot different than when you are going through mounds of snow. After a while we got adept it and really enjoyed riding it. But with Markkus riding in front of us, he made sure we could never go too fast and before we knew it, we had arrived at our first meeting point where Hanupekka was waiting.


Hanupekka is a reindeer herder. He is of the Inari Sami people who own herds of reindeer in Lapland. We meet him at one of the herding points which looks just like cattle pens. Here we learned about reindeer herding. And that how, some times over the course of the year, reindeer (who are migratory and roam freely) are herded into these holding pens. Then all the owners of the area do a count of their herds. To identify which reindeer belongs to which family, each reindeer have unique markings on their ears. At this time also, reindeers are bought and sold. Then at the end, the entire heard is released back into the wild again.

Out of curiosity, I asked Hannupekka the size of his herd. He politely declined and educated me by saying that itโ€™s like asking someone how much money he has in his bank account. I immediately realised how true this is but I did find out that a small deer can cost anywhere between 300-500 euros and a female, as high as 700 euros. So, a sizeable herd would be significant. Interestingly, we saw deer salami at Helsinki airport going for 150 euros/kg. (still cheaper than bear meat which costs twice that)


Hanupekka then entertained us with his lassoing techniques and of course, we all had a hand in doing the same. (some a lot worse than others, ahem). After that it was onto our skidoos again as we went for a slightly longer drive this time. All the while getting more confident on this machine which appears to be the ONLY way to travel around here!

We then stopped by Hannupekka’s home (Sami people are mostly no longer nomadic) to see a few of the tame reindeer he had. These guys are just so cute! And then it was off for a lunch break. Nellim is only 7-8 kms away from the Russian border so it was no surprise that our seemingly short skidoo ride had taken us close to it!

finnish reindeer
Hanupekka with his reindeer herd

feeding reindeer

We weren’t actually allowed to cross the border as there were plenty of signs prohibiting it. The Russians are apparently very sensitive about anyone crossing their border without a permit. But I fail to see how they could possibly patrol this. Markkus assured us though that they do and we do not want to find out.

stop sign

russian border

He then told us about the tripoint rock set right at the border where Norway, Finland and Russia meet. As the tale goes, a German couple who were cross country skiing, skied around this rock for fun. And they were found out (who knows how) and fined for entering Russia without a permit!!



finland lunch
Markkus keeping us warm and making some lunch

Our last stop of the day was on another froze lake where we were introduced to ice fishing! Or as our son pointed out “tourist fishing” because it was really just for the tourists! Using a hand held ice auger, we all drilled holes into the ice. This took a bit of work but Markkus says that this means that the ice is thick enough for us to stand on. (Uhh . . thanks Markkus). Once your little hole is done, we then got the tiniest little fishing rods I have ever seen in my life. There were nothing like the ones you are used to.

ice fishing
Showing us how to start a hole for ice fishing.

ice fishing 2

It didn’t take us long to realise that you can’t really use your standard fishing rod for ice fishing. Firstly, you really don’t need to cast the line. We were standing directly over the hole. Secondly, you are usually in a makeshift tent sitting on a tiny chair on the ice. So once again, a two metre rod just isn’t going to fit into the tent.

So, we all had a go but as you would have guessed, what are the chances of catching anything when you only spend fifteen minutes waiting . . . .

Meanwhile, Hannupekka had gone off to check on his long lines of nets that he had set up earlier in the day. These nets weren’t very wide but they were about ten metres long. They were set up under the ice with markers showing where the ends were. After some initial digging through the ice, he slowly pulled along a clothes line rig, dragging the net up along with it. I wasn’t expecting much so it was a surprise to find three good sized white fish caught on the netting!! Hanupekkas dinner for that night

At the end of that day, the tally was Hanupekka = 6 white fish (he reeled in another 3 more on another line) whilst the rest of the world = 0

(photo of the tripoint rock courtesy of http://geosite.jankrogh.com)

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