Looking for Rudolph the red nosed reindeer in Tromsø

Reindeer sledding and Sami experience

If you are looking for reindeer, forgot about Rudolph and go on a reindeer sledding tour with the Sami people.
They are known for looking after the reindeer , feeding them, raising them and protecting them in the wintertime from predators. So from the far North they bring them together around the Tromso area in the Arctic reindeer camp. It’s a huge piece of land with enough space to herd the reindeer.
Visiting the Sami people and their reindeers was an awesome experience. Usually reindeer are very shy and they would run away if you would spot them in the wild, but at the Arctic reindeer camp it’s possible to get close to them and feed them.
I took a bucket with some reindeer food already in it and made some noise by shaking my bucket and the first reindeer where approaching towards me.
When you feed the reindeer hold the bucket with your arm stretched and don’t lean too much over with your head down, or you could get a reindeer horn in your face.

After feeding the reindeer, I walked around taking some pictures, watching the animals react to all the people visiting them, until it was time for me to go on the sled and let a reindeer pull forward on the ice. Ice sledding on a frozen lake with a reindeer leading the way, how more awesome can it get !

The tour that I booked said it was only 10 minutes, but in reality it was double that time and worth the extra money. It’s also possible to book the same tour with just feeding the reindeer, but I wanted to go on the ice with the sled and happy I did.

There was also food included on this tour, ironically, it was reindeer stew, reindeer meat with potatoes and carrots in a delicious sauce. I got two portions and it really fills up your stomach very well.
After I finished my meal I got together with all the other visitors and the Sami people in a big tent. In the center a big fire was made to bring warmth and light into the place.
Then we listened to the stories the Sami women had to tell.
It was about their traditions, experience of herding the reindeer for centuries, about the different clothes they wear, the songs they sing and also learning us more about the reindeer.
Definitely recommend this tour if you want to get up close with the reindeer of the Arctic.


Chasing the northern lights in Tromsø

The same day I did the dog sledding activity, I was up for some more Arctic fun. One of the things that is as popular as dog sledding is chasing the northern lights. You have to be lucky to see them, the sky needs to be clear, which  means no clouds and also there should be no night pollution. That’s why you need to get out of the city of Tromsø cause there is too many lights at night in the city.

I booked this tour with pukka travels and the meeting point was at the new terminal building by the harbour on the 2nd floor. Where I got a little briefing about the polar lights aka northern lights aka aurora borealis. So many names for the same natural phenomenon.
The guide and driver were talking to us what the chances are of seeing them and they told us that they had good hopes as the skies looked clear, which is one of the important key things to succeed in finding the polar light activity in the sky.

Best I could do with my cellphone, little blurry

polar lights with cellphone

Pictures taking by our guide, this is how it should look

Here I am with the Northern lights 🙂

The northern lights are a natural phenomenon found in the northern and southern hemisphere of the Pole circle.  It starts on the surface of the sun when solar activity gasses are being ejected into the atmosphere and when it collides with the invisible magnetic field of our earth.

You see a bright shine in the dark sky and on camera that looks green when taking a picture, however you need to do some camera adjustments. Not all camera’s are good for that, but when you book a tour the agency takes the pictures for you as they have the right equipment with them. You also need a stable tripod, cause when the camera just slightly moves while taking a picture, the green shine on the picture won’t be coming out so nicely, it will be blurry and will have more the look of a painting rather than a picture.
My guide and driver they also knew some tricks that you can do with a torch while taking the picture of the northern lights, it takes 10 second to process and in the meantime, you have to stand still while the other person can make drawings with the torch around you to create a special effect. The guys were from Poland, but they knew what they were doing and made a drawing of a crown (looks more like the M logo of Macdonald’s) and something that looks like Love PL (love Poland). Makes sense to me cause I have Polish roots. See pictures below.

The drive into open nature away from the city lights is very exciting too, cause everybody is curious if we will be lucky or not to see something.
The guide and driver they got out of the car a few times, to check the sky and if it was not good enough, we just continued further north.
Suddenly we stopped somewhere down the road and got very excited because we were lucky tonight to see them, the movement and dancing of the northern lights was amazing to see , the different curves and forms, makes every picture you take of it look different. We also saw some pink, purple colors mixing up with the green and some shooting stars. Can’t remember anymore when I saw shooting stars, must be from my trip to Namibia in Africa in the Namid desert where I was staring at a sky full of stars. Now and then a shooting star was passing by if I’m correct. The northern lights, however were my first time experiencing it and I consider myself lucky because some people travel to the north just to see this phenomenon, but don’t get to see it because the weather conditions are not optimal.

around the campfire

We celebrated it with hot tea, hot reindeer stew and some marshmallows around a campfire dug in the snow. We arrived in Tromsø again around 1 am in the early night. I went back to my hostel and since it was a Friday to Saterday night a lot was going on in Tromsø, people were going out, music was playing outside the bars and clubs and suddenly Tromsø was less quiet. My hostel was a bit outside of the center on a quiet street so I was ready for a good sleep and quiet night, to dream about the polar light that I just saw that night.

group photo

Face to face with Hyena’s in Harar – My story

Harar in the east of Ethiopia is the place to go if you want to get yourself surrounded by hyena’s, staring at you like a potential meal. However as unbelievable as it may sound, the hyena’s here are friendly with the people living here.
It’s the only place in Ethiopia where these wild animals got used to people.
Hyena’s are being fed with scraps of meat by the locals  in the evening and this became a habit and a tradition since feeding them would prevent them from attacking the livestock or children. This tradition exists for some decades now.

However these are still wild animals so you have to be careful at all times and never completely trust them like you would trust your own pet at home.
The Hyena man who feeds the hyena’s and calls them out whistling while waving a piece of meat in the air that they can smell from far, got bitten a few years ago and the man died in the hospital of the wounds in his face.
There have not been any incidents anymore since then and it’s still unclear why the Hyena’s suddenly bit the man who had fed them for years.
I came so far to the middle of nowhere, not to back down from it, I was ready to face them and to reset my mind to zero.
I wanted to feed the Hyena’s in the Harar, that was one of the things I really wanted to experience on my trip in Ethiopia. I like wild animals and if I can do a unique animal encounter somewhere in the world, I’m definitely excited to experience it.

The Harar City Gate

The day I went to the Harar to meet the Hyena’s

There is no airport in Harar, the nearest airport is about 1 hour drive (traffic permitting)  in the city of Dire Dawa which has connections to Djibouti and Addis Ababa.
I arrived in the late afternoon in Dire Dawa from a flight out of Lalibela to Addis Ababa where I had to change planes. My driver picked me up and because of heavy traffic and mountainous roads with alot of turns and twists the drive to Harar took longer than the 1 hour that I expected it to be. Almost 2 hours it took to arrive in Harar, it was already getting dark, so before going to the hotel and unload my stuff, I directly got to the spot where the Hyena’s are being fed by the Hyena man on the outskirts of the city, by the old city walls near the graveyard.

meeting the hyena’s in the Harar

mouth to mouth

mouth to mouth part 2

in front of my face

in front of my face part 2

powerful bite inch from my nose, damn those teeth look sharp

looks like the hyena is biting in my hand, cause you can’t see the stick very well that I’m holding with the goat meat on

The guy throwing scraps at the Hyena’s sits on a little piece of wood from a chopped off tree with a bucket in front of him filled with all scraps of meat from a goat or sheep.
The Hyena’s smell the blood from the flesh and get easy triggered by it.
I sat next to the guy and he gave me a stick with a scrap of meat on it that I had to put in my mouth and the Hyena would snap it off from the stick and that’s when I got face to face with the Hyena, animal with what is said to have one of the most powerful bite force in their jaws, more than tigers and lions, which is crazy when you think about it.
Next challenge was to have the Hyena biting at a piece of meat dangling an inch from my face, it was crazy and I pulled my face back a little cause it was a bit to close and had my phone in my right hand to film a video of it and the result you can see on my youtube channel :

The Hyenas are distracted by the scraps of meat we gave them, so they are not really interested in attacking or biting you. Strange thing is I wasn’t nervous at all, it just looked to me like some dogs getting their meal, it didn’t really hit me that these were hyena’s and that wild animals always could become unpredictable. It was a great experience after all and I would do it again, special thanks to the hyena’s of the Harar.

What else is there in Harar ?

I visited several places in Harar with a local guide and it’s the best to do, for safety reasons and because a local can tell other people to back off and give you some peace if somebody would start to get a little too pushy asking for things.
My guide took pictures of me at the most important places and also took the pictures  the evening before, with the hyena’s.

The narrow cobbled stone streets between the colorful old city walls is like a labyrinth walking through and has some great spots for picture opportunities.

I visited some important houses like the King Selassie house with museum and the Arthur Rimbaud house who was a French poet and lived here for several years.
The ceiling and walls in the house are painted with images that represents something out of Arthur Rimbaud’s life and on the top floor there are some colorful glasswindows, it’s a building that stands out compared to the others in the old town. Last house that I visited was a typical Ethiopian style house, the Rowda guest house with all kinds of decorations on the walls. It’s more typical in Harar to hang things like potts and plates up on the wall.

colorful houses

local lady in front of her house

King Selassie house

Entrance to Arthur Rimbaud’s house

in front of Arthur Rimbaud’s house

Me at the top floor of Arthur Rimbaud’s house with the colorod glasswindows

colored glass windows

Rowda guest house with potts and plates decorating the walls

After Mecca , Jerusalem and Medina, the city of Harar is considered by Ethiopians as Islam’s fourth holiest city. The city is predominantly Muslim compared to other places in Ethiopia which are more Christian, but in Harar there is diversity of religion, in the city centre there is an orthodox church and next to the Juma mosque there is a Catholic church of Saint Mary.

Juma Mosque

Orthodox church

Inside the Catholic Church of Saint Mary

My guide also showed me the street markets, the spice market and vegetable market at the Showa gate. After that we got to the old city’s meat market square where he got some camel meat from the butcher and threw it in the air for the eagles to scoop it in the air, really impressing how fast these birds are. They sit on the rooftops waiting to snatch the meat, video here below :

old city’s meat market

The Showa gate

vegetable market

vegetable and fruit market

spice market

posing in front of an old peugeot, looks like one of these old timers that they have in Havana Cuba

tuk tuks in Harar are also an option to get yourself around