We stand there awestruck by the billowing ballet of the goddesses. Like galactic emissaries to the darkness and piercing cold, the Aurora Borealis illumines the arctic night. But we are snug in our warm clothing and are about to sleep on reindeer skins at the Ice Hotel. Tomorrow we will take a dogsled to a Sami village.
We are in Jukkasjärvi on the outskirts of Kiruna, the biggest city in Lapland. The famous hotel will be only one of our many unforgettable experiences.
The last holdout of European wilderness.
The Sami are the people of the sun and wind, nomads who arrived as the inland glaciers melted. They have lived in Lapland – as well as the surrounding areas of Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula – for thousands of years. An estimated 40,000 Sami now reside in Lapland, still earning much of their living from traditional reindeer breeding.
Sweden has approximately 260,000 reindeer. Each year, almost 60,000 are slaughtered and approximately 70,000 fall prey to predators. They wander in huge herds among the bare mountains in the summer and migrate long distances to the eastern woods in the winter. They are constantly beset by predators, particularly when their calves are born in May. Lynx alone are responsible for around 23,000 deaths per year.
Parliament of their own
The Sami have always had to fight for their survival, culture, language and way of life. In recent years, they have won the status of a minority and indigenous people. But their battle for stricter regulation of the predator population and greater compensation for the loss of reindeer never ends.Their most powerful advocate is the Sámediggi, a parliament of 31 elected representatives that doubles as an agency of the Swedish government.
These days the Sami earn their daily bread from much more than reindeer breeding – fishing, hunting, woodcutting, mining and the burgeoning tourism industry. Their spellbinding landscape is an increasingly popular destination.
When the temperature drops to 40 degrees below and the snow is deeper than the height of a person, ski trips, snowmobile rides, dog and reindeer sled excursions, and hunting and fishing events are all the rage. Ski slopes dot the mountain ranges.
Near the northern border, the sunlight vanishes for all intents and purposes during much of the year – only a hint of dawn at midday that quickly turns to dusk.
The bright arctic sky with its stars and Northern Lights more than make up for the dark days. Not to mention the snow that glistens in the blinding moonlight.
Read more about Lapland in your personal copy of the magazine or on issuu.com