Pick Up A Backpack: A Trip To The Saami Village
When I told my friends that I will have a trip to Murmansk in January, most of them did think that I would go there just to “hunt” down the popular northern light. But my curious heart was already set for another place - the Saami village in the Kola Peninsula. If you are interested in ethnic groups and culture, you should never skip it. One of the best open-air museum that I have ever visited!
The Saami village, or Sam’ Syit, is a village where the indigenous inhabitants of Murmansk Oblast (also called the Saami) are living. The village opens daily, even on holidays, so whenever you go there on Christmas or on hot summer days, you can still have a chance to explore the wild and magnificent beauty of this place.
I arrived in the Saami village on a cold sunny day. Everything was covered with snow, just like a landscape painting. I was a bit tired when I got out of the car, but when I saw the very first residents of the village, it seemed that my tiredness was completely gone: the bunnies! They just came to where I was standing without fear, waiting to be fed or petted. They were not shy at all and I felt like I was welcome from the beginning of the trip. However, I did not play with the bunnies for too long. The village host first invited us to go to the Petroglyps national cafe, where he started to introduce us to the traditions of the local Saami. Then if tourists wanted to feed the rabbits, they could buy some carrot packs from the vending machine. We fed the bunnies very quickly before we started to reach the idol statues – the wooden tall pillars with different faces of humans. Each of the idols has its own purpose, you can easily find the meaning under the pillars: for examples ‘lyubov’ (love), ‘stractie’ (happiness), ‘udatra’ (luck), etc., The Saami worship these spirits, and they believe that if you throw some coins to the statues, put your bare hands on them and make a wish, your wish will come true. Does it sound interesting already?
We then continued our exploration by visiting the Husky Farm, where we could take photo session with those friendly and playful pows.
Don't be afraid, these dogs won't ever bite you! Don't be afraid, these dogs won't ever bite you!
Even though it was a Husky Farm but we could see other animals, like raccoons and foxes there. They were very beautiful but we could only see them through cages. Next movement, we went to visit the Reindeer Farm. I was very surprised by the fact that animals here were not afraid of people. In fact, they enjoyed being petted and play, especially with kids. And the reindeers were not an exception. They would like to rub their snouts and walk around you, and they would avoid their antlers from hurting you too.
The Saami locals did not only let you be friends with their animals but also provided some sporty games to play, namely ‘Pole War’ (a tug-of-war using a pole instead of a rope), or ‘Saami Football’ (where you use a leather cushion instead of a normal ball). We could also have a chance to ride a reindeer sleigh (one of my favorite parts) before we went back to the cafeteria to warm up ourselves and took some rest. Here we could also try on some colorful Saami traditional costumes and take pictures with the bear statue inside of the cafe. The local Saami were very hospitable that they wouldn't let their guests hungry: we were invited to taste ‘Lim’ (salmon soup) with ‘Lovozersky’ bread, and ‘Pakula’(a national herbal tea which can keep you warm and relax), while the host kept continuing to tell us about the history and facts of the village. At the end of the trip, we could choose something to buy in memories: magnetics, amulets, keychains, etc., All of them were hand-made from wood or antlers of male reindeers (which they discard after mating) and they bear different meanings just like the pillars.
Despite the very harsh weather, I have enjoyed the trip very much: it not only relieved my stress after an exam session, but also gave me a chance to be close to nature and people, as well as the history and cultures of this land.
Less but not least, how to get there
The temperature in winter here is at least -25C, so you should wear warm clothes as much as possible. Heat patches are also must-have things to bring along with you as they are warm, comfortable, and handy.
I truly advise you to go there with a guide, especially if your level of Russian is bad or you don’t know it at all. You can contact them via the host of the hotels/hostels that you will stay in Murmansk. If you still insist on not hiring a guide, you should hire a car driver who can drive you there and get you back to the city. I went there from the center of Murmansk by taxi but one-way only (it took me 2 hours only to reach the village), but I have regretted it immediately because I couldn’t find the way back from the Yandex Go App. Luckily the village host helped me to call one of his acquaintances so I still got home safe. Don't hesitat to ask anyone here because they are super friendly and helpful, even the tourists! If you want to search for further information, for example, ticket price and hours, you can find them all here: https://lovozero51.ru/