Now that we are in Sapmi, the northernmost part of Northern Europe and the land of the Sami people, we have been actively looking for its semi-nomadic reindeer herders. We expected that the probability of two-wheeled nomads finding other moving people would be like two ships on the ocean colliding in the night and we are quickly proven right. In Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lappland, over a flat bread stuffed with smoked reindeer and lingonberry jam, we learn that all reindeers have gone away from this part of Sweden and are spending the summer in the highlands of Norway, close to where we just rode from!

La vieille gare de Kiruna où nous avons squatté une coupe de nuits...
Squatting for a couple nights at Kiruna old train station. Lapland.

In Svappavaara we are rescued from the rain by Roberto. Born in Chili, he came to Sweden 28 years ago and quickly moved North from Stockholm to become a plumber for the iron mining industry. He drives us around the local mine, down into the big pit and close to the equipment needed to make the pellets that are loaded onto the train to Narvik and sold to the world’s highest bidders. Roberto is Swedish now, he has a snowmobile, he ice-fishes, works out at the gym and takes his holidays in Spain or Greece, he even loses in Spanish in some instances but his driving and demeanor are still chileno and we spend a heart warming evening transported to South America on his jerky accent.

Pas superstitieux ces cyclistes au long cours! Intéressante lager houblonnée à air comprimé au bivouac de la rivière Torne, en route vers Jukkasjärvi. Lapland.
Not afraid of anything! Intriguing and tasty hoppy lager at Torne river campsite, en route towards Jukkasjärvi. Lapland.
Sommelier Pierre propose une importation d'Espagne au camp en bordure de la rivière Torne. Lapland.
Sommelier Pierre suggests an Italian import at Torne river campsite. Lapland.

The wind keeps blowing from the South and the mercury rises to above 30 degrees Celsius again. The combined heat, cheap Swedish dairy products and our improved appetites create the perfect storm and we get a 2-litre ice cream bucket for dessert after an already substantial lunch in Vittangi. It is pink, white and green, sweet, smooth and cold and fuels us to Övre Soppero.

The summer has been so hot that calves marking—the carving of the reindeer calves’ ears with a blade to identify them to their group or siida—is postponed til September around here. We meet a family of five, while swallowing black flies and mosquitoes, and the mother is proud to say her oldest boy—he can’t be more than 10 years old—already knows his family pattern and has a few marking seasons under his belt. But she confirms that all reindeers are far away, high up above heat and insects.

Compagnie sur la E45, à la sortie de Svappavaara. Lapland.
Some company on E45, out of Svappavaara. Lapland.
Traversée de la rivière Lainio, affluent de la Torne. Lapland.
Crossing Lainio river, one of the mighty Torne’s tributaries. Lapland.

En marge de la E45, corral à rennes dans pâturages d'hiver déserts. Lapland.
Just off E45, a winter pastures reindeer corral sits empty. Lapland.
Première incursion en Laponie finlandaise. Lapmi.
First incursion into Finland at Karesuando bridge. Lappi.

At Karesuando, we cross the bridge to Finland’s Lappi region. The area is low lying with pine and dwarfed birch forests, many lakes, few houses and a zillion black flies. In Enontekiö we stop at K Market and buy—in euros—delicious rye bread and cheap organic wine from tellers who smile warmly and look us in the eye: already looking forward to coming through Finland again on our way south from Nordkapp!

À l'approche d'Enontekiö, franchissons les limites d'une "siida". Lapmi.
Upon entering Enontekiö, crossing territorial limits of a “siida”. Lappi.

Soon after entering Norway’s Finnmark region the pine trees disappear. Birch trees are thin and stunted over juniper and berry shrubs. The wind is now coming from the North Pole and we are relieved to find refuge at the Arctic Motell/Kautokeino Camping. Our cabin has a fridge and a stove and we stop eating only to wash up and write. It is needed as we take stock of our bodies for the first time in two months: Janick’s ribs are showing and Pierre needs a belt to keep his pants up. An expiration date on a visitor permit and prohibitively expensive beer will do that to you!

The 100,000 Kautokeino reindeers are north on the coast—at least this time we are heading their way. This is a lot of animals and Henriette at the Arctic Motell says that people have enlarged their herds to earn more and that the government is asking them to reduce the number of reindeers to a sustainable amount. Many have already perished during harsh winters…

De bureau en bureau par un lundi à Kautokeino. Finnmark.
Riding from office to office on a beautiful Monday in Kautokeino. Finnmark.

Having selected a difficult theme for this trip we clue in and decide to get bold : we knock on NRK Sapmi radio studio’s door to see if they can help send our message out. Within an hour we are on air telling our story and inviting people to contact us if they want to share glimpses of their lifestyle. Our cute interviewer translates in Sami before asking if we belong to a nomadic group. « No no, we’re just strange » we answer. « And crazy » she adds.

At Café Riska we get a 25 NOK coffee to use the wi-fi. The menu announces a 45 NOK donut and we both wonder what a nine-dollar donut might tastes like. The owner talks of a time when the government asked all Sami family to burn their traditional goathi and build more Norwegian dwellings. She says they have since apologized and have been throwing some of that Norwegian oil money at the Samis. Reindeer husbandry is apparently highly subsidized and some fantastic buildings dot the village of 3,000 : the Sami College and archives, the Nordic Sami Institute and the Center for Indigenous People.

Escale dans les studios de NRK Sapmi. Finnmark.
Stopping over at Kautokeino NRK Sapmi radio studio. Finnmark.

In Maze, we dig up the organic wine we bought in Finland and pair it with some leftover smoked salmon to celebrate our 19th anniversary. As a gift we find a stretch of dirt road—28 kilometres exactly—and indulge our Michelins before their knobbs are polished slick. From Suoluvuobmi we climb up above the tree line and enter Big Sky Norway. The green tundra at Bæskades can be a summer herding spot but we see only one reindeer. We have seen only one reindeer at a time so far—usually a teenager with a missing antler—but we are dreaming of a thousand!

Pâturages d'hiver déserts en marge de la 93. Finnmark.
More deserted winter pastures off route 93. Finnmark.

Soon the high plateau breaks and we tumble down to the Alta River. Pine trees come back, then farms and tractors. By the time we roll into Alta on the fjord big white houses have trampolines in the backyard and Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway. The bike path is filled with people on roller skis, road bikes, taking a walk or running in neon-colored lycra. Children are buying 10-dollar snacks from petrol stations and all is well in coastal Norway.

At Boazo Sami Siida, Nils-Erik understands our quest but he is all done with marking his calves on nearby Seiland Island. He is dressed in traditionnal clothes for his evening shift at the museum/restaurant him and his family operate near the campgrounds in Övre Alta. On top of the colorful tunique he wears groovy brick-red reindeer leather pants. His blue eyes are kind and he is happy to inform us that from here to Nordkapp we’ll be in summer pasture and should have luck. Then he says : « I know a family who should mark its calves very soon » and he gives us a phone number. Now, let’s find a phone…

Les rennes et leurs éleveurs nous fixent rendez-vous plus au nord, en route vers Nordkapp... Finnmark
It all looks like reindeer and their Sami herders have set a rendez-vous somewhere on our way up to Nordkaap … Finnmark

At a continent's end... (Karasjok/Kárášjohka, Norway – KM 3,110)
The Lofotens and the road to Swedish Lapland! (Kiruna, Sweden - KM 1,990)

One Comment

  1. marianne johannessen

    Hei – so nice meeting you guys. Have just been loooking into your web side. Very impressiv!! Looking forward to be following you in the future. Have a nice tour – and may all the angels take care of you on journey. With love from Marianne and Kay:)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *