Finding deer in the deer country

After reading that Lovozero is the deer country, the capital of Russian Lapland, and a place where the Saami live, after seeing hundreds of photos from local museums one may think that once you come to Lovozero you’ll find yourself surrounded by reindeer and tepees.

Contrary to naive tourists’ expectations there are no tepees nor reindeer-pulled sleighs in Lovozero. No deer at all!

Why? Because northern deer, even though tamed and domesticated, does not turn into a cow standing in a barn by home. Deer are herd nomadic animals. That’s what they remain no matter what effort one puts into domesticating them. Domestic deer differ from wild deer by the certain compromise the former have worked out with humans. They don’t fear us, take food off our hand, and even obey an occasional command. In return man uses them fully for skins, meat, horns, hooves, and pulling power. But man has to pay his side of the bargain. Specifically, we have to adjust ourselves to deer’s nomadic habits. So the deer that belong to the Lovozeero agricultural coop “Tundra” (that’s the name slapped in Lovozero onto anything worth mentioning) roam the tundra most of the time. Somewhere there, deep in the tundra, they have their support points like small dwellings or fenced-in areas but you can’t get there on your own. So three ways to meet deer remain:

go to Finland, where you’ll constantly run into them

– come to Lovozero to the North Celebration приехать в Ловозеро на North Celebration on the last Sunday of March to look at “official” deer

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– go to a tour comapny that organizes skidoo trips to far-away deer-breeding settlements (Kola Expeditions, LovozeroTour) but that adventure would take several days and a sizeable amount of money

– or to quick and easy drop by on the deer that are within easy automobile access from Lovozero!

What’s more, you have a good chance to find them without my boring advice because they did more than just taking care to make their own site, but have also installed a large visible sign by the road (thanks to which Pasha, who, at the time, knew nothing about Lovozero, was able to take his Italian clients there in August ’14).

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About 30-40km from Lovozero, can’t go past without noticing it as the sign is on the only road to Lovozero. The road right to the village is good, no need for 4×4, snowmobiles or other special equipment.

A practical warning..

All that you see on their site or in visitor feedback is available. However, if you wish to get these services you need to call ahead of time to make arrangements. There won’t be any fish soup or deer stew or tea from shaman herbs or any snack whatsoever unless you are expected. There is no stream of tourists to keep the kitchen under steam at all times. An elegantly decorated with bear skins (they say these bears came after the deer) eatery was shown to us lifeless, with regrets expressed that we haven’t given an advance notice of our coming.


See here for an idea of what clients who plan in advance get.

Accommodation – not yet available but being built. A house and a banya are promised by next summer. For the time being there is no place to stay. See Accommodation in Lovozero elsewhere on this site.

A house under construction with horse (deer) stand outside.

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Attractions like deer rides or a tepee session need to be arranged in advance too. Besides, they depend a lot on the season.

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Nevertheless, having dropped by uninvited, for 500 roubles each we got a fairly interesting tour around the Saami village, a tour full of exotic stories and with deer (at last!) at the end.

 

The tour starts with an alley of idols (“we Saami are idol warshipers”), each with its own specialization. You can talk to them with issues that bother you after offering them a coin that has to be of yellow metal. It matters not how much the coin is worth. The guide will provide you with detailed instructions to what idol to talk about which problem. He will also explain that these are not just carved logs but idols, jinxed by a Saami shaman (plus several stories about this woman shaman). How likely these stories are to be true I’ll leave up to you to judge. Of all I heared I liked most the story that idols cannot be cut from any old tree because trees are alive too. First the shaman select the right tree and does a ritual of putting the tree to death. After that you can cut the tree because it is no longer alive. Then, after the wood carver is done, the shaman brings the tree back to life. Now the idol is ready to make your wishes come true. Don’t know if this is true or not but I liked the story..

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Then come the animals. There is much more than just deer here. Hare and rabbits freely roam the territory (making the owner wonder if they will cross-breed).

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Several cages with arctic and ordinary foxes. Not easy to take photos through the grating.

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After viewing the animals (and listening for hunter/breeder stories) comes the time of the main attraction. We are standing in a totally empty and quiet place, and the owner shouts someplace far: “Boys, girls!”. Silence. Then follows a long monologue in Saami. Another minute of silence.. And here they come.

In total silence. No stamping hooves, no neighing, snorting, no feel that space is being filled up by a number of large animals. It feels like.. a river floating. As if a large warm river has flown here.

The owner gives me bread, I give the camera to Pasha and fall out of reality for the next 15 minutes.

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There is no sense of danger coming out of deer, the way it was with horses. Horses, even well familiar ones (I judge by Pasha’s horses) can bite, kick, step on you, or push. Perhaps they won’t but presence of their teeth and hooves and large body mass is being felt. Even a friendly push of a horse’s head is rather heavy. These deer are not small either, and have hooves too, and horns are sticking all over, and I’m seeing them for the first time in my life – and there is nothing but a feeling of calmness and softness in their company.

Female horse is called “mare”. Female deer is “she-deer”. The difference in how these words sound reflects the difference of feeling coming out of these animals.

Only now was I able to understand the story, told by a friend of mine in Kandalaksha, of how, at the age of one or two years, she walked out of the hut and was found asleep in snow by one of she-deers. They induce sleepiness it seems.

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Even the biggest and boldest bull (the white one on the left in the picture below), who was pushing others away from food, moved and touched me softly, as a pillow.

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Having eaten their treat the deer lose interest in me and flow back to the forest.

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Some linger behind to hear what the boss is talking about with visitors.

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Or perhaps expecting more food?

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Those that stayed behind prolonged my pleasure of looking at and contemplating them.

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While I was staring at the deer Pasha was discussing with the Saami man possible cooperation. By “cooperation” is meant his old idea fixe on taming the wild horses of Kuzomen.

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Lastly, we are offered to buy souvenirs – key chains from deer horn that have been jinxed by the shaman woman of course. One insteresting observation. When I went through them (out of politeness) one of the pendants felt distinctly warm. True, I swear! I am not inclined to fall for suggestions but there was warmth, which felt quite real at -20C. One of all these pendulums clearly warmed my fingers.

So I just had had to buy it.

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PS. Husky dogs. Not far at all from Lovozero, about 10km, there is a husky-park “Olenya Elan”. Their main specialization, as it follows from the name, is husky dogs and dog sledding. I think they also have deer but they are not the main thing. We haven’t visited them and thus can’t say more. Other than that to get there you need to turn off the Lovozero road. No identifying sign either. But they do have a site. There you will find info on finding them.

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