Sunday, February 14, 2010

And then there was reindeer racing

Last weekend J and I had a day out in the city at the reindeer races!
Despite what you might think, this is not an everyday occurance in Tromsø. Last week was Sami week (a week celebrating the indigenous folk of Scandinavia) and so a range of different Sami activities and hand-made products were on offer in the city. One of these was reindeer racing. It involved a senior and a junior competition where two racers on skis are towed behind reindeer running at about 60km/hour. It took place in the main street of the city and it was awesome!
It began with the different reindeer owners greeting each other in the marshalling yard.
Then each of the competing animals was paraded up the racing runway, with a guy on a loudspeaker enthusiastically declaring the name of the owner and the beast, where they were from, past wins and previous times etc. Many of the reindeer were incredibly flighty being paraded along the runway, with quite a bit of bucking and kicking going on.
Before the race, the reindeers are placed in their starting boxes, which often took some time given the aforementioned flightiness.
Then they are released and charge up the track going as fast as they can, towing their racers behind them and kicking up a flurry of snow in their wake.

After a range of heats and finals, the winners are declared and awarded their trophies. Both the racer and the reindeer owner get a trophy and a cheque for a wad of cash.
While the reindeers don't appear to get any reward, I certainly hope that they are given some special treat for their performance from their owner when they get home. Although I must say, I do fear for the losers, given that in the laavo beside the track you could buy a kind of hot reindeer bone broth to help warm your frozen body...
I could not bring myself to try this after seeing the beautiful beasts running their little hearts out, but at the urging of some of the locals, J happily gave it a go. He said it tasted like reindeers smell and I am not sure he would buy it again. Perhaps it is a vegemite thing, you have to grow up with it to appreciate it. After it was all said and done though, J and I decided that we really enjoyed reindeer racing and perhaps we might make the trip out to the frozen inland area of norther Norway in easter where a large international competition is held every year. In fact, J enjoyed it so much he decided he might actually have to learn how to ski so that he might be able to try his hand at this sport and perhaps even compete in next year's competition. I think his form looks good. Heia J, Heia J!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Let it blow

It is now mid January in the arctic and I am yet to go skiing or snowboarding here at all this winter!

It is incredible to me that I can be living so far north, have arrived at the point of mid winter, and yet have still not seen the conditions right for snow fun activities. Around Christmas was perhaps the best so far, and J managed to get in one good snowboarding session on the backyard mountains, but unfortunately the closest I have come has been walking and slipping around on the mountains with the dogs (none of whom really wanted to have their photo taken with me) :)
Fortunately they were happy to have their picture taken on their own and J was happy to tolerate my need to capture our arctic Christmas eve on the mountain top.
As you can see from the pics, there has been snow, but it has just not really been enough to cover the rocks and bushes that we need for good snowboarding. There has also been rain and this rain has currently turned the snow to ice, and this is the real problem! Today was a very slippery walk with the dogs along the coastline and to make matter worse, we now have a severe hurricane like storm raging all around us and threatening to sweep us right into the fjord!

This week has been blessed with some joy though, because on the 21st we offically welcomed the sun back above the horizon.
Well, apparently. On the actual day, the whole of Tromsø was covered in a very unusual fog and so the sun, and everything else beyond 5m in front of you, was effectively invisible. Fortunately we still got to celebrate in the traditional way of the north, by eating jam doughnuts (sun balls apparently) and drinking hot chocolate. Since the official sun day, I have unfortunately always found myself in the shadow of some mountain or another in those precious few moments when the delicate sliver of the sun peeks her head up over our horizon, which means I am still yet to see that magical orange orb. Strangely though, the long dark arctic winter has not bothered me nearly as much as I thought it would. There have been some problems encouraging the body to sleep and wake at the right times, but apart from that, it has actually been rather lovely. There is someting quite charming about the lights twinkling in the dark and walking under a full moon in the blue light of midday.
Of course I still look forward to seeing the sun again, I just hope that she brings light and not heat for a little while though - I still hold out my hopes for some snow! Given the feeling of this intense oncoming storm we have today though, it may just be that I live to regret this wish. xxx

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Big in Japan

Recently, J and I took a 10 day holiday in Japan. Ever since I studied japanese in high school it has been a dream of mine to visit that pearl of the east. I do, however, have a slight tendency to descend into panic attacks in large city crowds so was always rather nervous about the prospect of tackling Tokyo on my own. This year, a good friend happened to be living and working in Tokyo so I figured this was the perfect excuse to make the trip happen. This was helped by the fact that earlier this year I won $10,000 as part of a prize for excellence in research. For those of you who don't already know, Japan is famous for being extraordinarily expensive to visit so the injection of unexpected cash really helped me realise the dream. Part of my dream was also to try and experience an older more traditional side of Japan, the rural Japan you read about in stories rather than just the uber modern Japan you see on TV. Also, ever since I began snowboarding, the lure of lush Japanese powder has also become part of the appeal. Luckily for me, the 10 days we spent managed to contain a little of everything I wanted and was therefore absolutely perfect. What a fascinating, gorgeous, intriguing, beautiful, friendly, wonderful country! If you have ever thought you might like to visit Japan, my only advice would be do it, do it now, but start saving yesterday!

Our trip began by spending a quick night in Tokyo with our mate and then together all flying out at 5am the next morning to the north island of Hokkaido for 4 days of snowboarding adventures. While it was too early in the season for the conditions to be perfect and all the lifts open. There was snow, there were open runs and we therefore managed to have a tonne load of fun :)
While we were there, our mate invited another Aussie friend of his to join us for the weekend and luckily for us, he spoke fluent Japanese. This became super important when we entered a tiny local drinking hole and were confronted with a pack of rowdy drunken locals! J was great with them as usual, communicating in some way or another and impressing them with his tattoos, but having someone with us who could speak the language helped us be quickly embraced as friends rather than ignored as undesired foreigners.
After our fun in snow, we returned to Tokyo for another quick night before taking the bullet train out to Nagano, from where we took another small train out into the countryside. Here we stayed in a traditional ryokan hotel in a tiny hot spring village. Wow, what an experience! Great hot spring spas all through the hotel and the streets that we could soak in at will. We loved that we were expected to wear our cotton kimonos at all times and were given toe separated socks and wooden thongs if we wanted to walk outside on the local streets.
And the food! OMG! While the food all throughout Japan was generally amazing, the meals we were served as part of our stay in the ryokan were simply unbelievable. A 14 course dinner and an 11 course breakfast were standard, and we never got exactly the same dish twice in all 3 days of our stay. Truly amazing! Even though we could not identify half of what we were served, the flavours were absolutely incredible. Believe me when I say that you have not had japanese food until you have been to Japan, not a stick of sushi in sight! I miss japanese food already actually...
While staying in the village, one day we walked up into the mountains to see the snow monkeys that survive the freezing winters by hanging out in the hot springs there. That was an amazing experience - both walking up through the forests and past steaming holes in the ground and being surrounded by monkeys who couldn't care less that you were there invading their home.
We also had a great time walking around the mountains at the back of the village and discovering all the old abandoned temples and buddhist statues scattered amongst the rambling bamboo.
We absolutely cacked ourselves though when we found a 'tobacco diety' where we were instructed to leave a burning cigarette as an offering to help ensure our good health. Of course both of us could not pass up that opportunity!
After our great stay out in the countryside we headed back to Tokyo to spend our last night in the big city. We met some friends and squashed ourselves into the busiest metro line in Tokyo, got bustled across the totally crazy 3 way pedestrian crossing at shibuya, ate in a funky underground restaurant and ended the night drinking in an absolutely tiny (max capacity 10 people), ruby red, elaborately decorated, super chic bar where the beer was served in goblets.
All in all it was a fabulous trip that was worth every penny because the memories we created will without a doubt last as long as my lifetime :) xxx

Sunday, October 18, 2009

blog off

I know i have been the world's worst blogger of late...there are many reasons for this.

1. I have been swirling around in a whirlwind of work/travel entanglement. It has been exciting & exhausting, fun & furious, frivillous & deeply philosophical. I have been through seattle, vancouver, klemtu, the great bear rainforest, amsterdam, paris and home again. I have hung out with grizzly bears, run 2 international workshops on 'imag(in)ing the nanoscale', and added some touches to J's tattoo with my own hand. In short, i have felt like I have had little time/energy to blog.
2. Facebook. I have shared news and photos (with captions) of most these adventures using this alternative online medium. Somehow I found time/energy for that! I deem this to be because of its more interactive and networked nature. I started blogging to share photos and stories of my travels with friends back home, and I have to say that facebook is allowing me to do that more easily of late.

I have actually been asked to review a few academic articles about facebook lately, and the more I learn, the more I am (quite frightened, but mostly) amazed at the dynamic of how society adapts to and is altered by new technologies. It is truly fascinating. Think of life without the internet now. Life without the mobile phone. Without the home computer. Without the TV. Without the refrigerator.

What is life as we know it? Things will always be different tomorrow.

The constant change of not just society but nature in general has been stunningly brought home to me lately living here in Tromso. The leaves were bright orange when I returned from Vancouver. When I returned from Paris the mountains were covered in snow.
Light is visibly fading by the day. I get up at the same time and take the same bus to work in the morning but the colour in the sky and the reflections in the fjord differ everyday.
It is a truly beautifully magical place to stay.
I guess the joy of the blog is that you can ramble a bit more! In fact, you can actually write, i.e. you can explore ways of expressing yourself that do not have to be short and punchy and end with a :) or a :D or a :( or a :/ or a :*

But then this creativity in the use of written language is also fascinating...

blog. don't blog. just don't let it become institutionalised.

Institutionalisation inhibits adaption to the inevitable change of life on earth?
thought for today... xxx

the other side of a whirlwind of work/travel entanglement

Saturday, August 22, 2009

butterblock mountain

Last weekend J and I went off for another little hike in our local area. We didn't leave home until 4pm but with the light still lasting well into the night up here in the arctic, we figured we would be alright. We headed out towards our local surf beach and stopped at a lake along the way. From there we began to climb and climb and climb. This is a shot from about half way up the mountain, looking back down towards the road, the lake where we started and our home fjord in the background.
From here you could see what looked like the remains of an old glacier high up in the surrounding mountains.
While we had a map and thought the path seemed obvious (see dirt track in first pic), once we approached the top, paths went off in multiple directions. After a while we realised that they were all probably just little paths carved upon the mountain by multiple little sheep feet. We eventually found the lake on top of the mountain that the map told us we were aiming for, but we did not appear to have come by the traditional route of course. This didn't really matter as the end point was the same. From the top of this butter block mountain, we could look out to where our fjord, Kaldfjord, meets a neighbouring fjord, Vengsøyfjord, and both flow out to the sea. On this day the meeting was blessed by a rainbow.
On the way back down we tried to follow the map indicated path and passed above our local surf beach. Once again, no surf to be seen.
We did see a little family of quail like birds though and that was really nice. Mina, who likes to think of herself as a great bird hunter was perhaps the most excited, although luckily for the birds she was on a lead at that stage so all potential for feathered heartattacks was fortunately avoided. It was a lovely little walk, even if J and I were both feeling rather drained on the haul up! I hope we can do it again before we are snowed out by the winter, but this weekend I am heading back to the walk from the last post to see if I can't find some patches of ripe and ready to pick blueberries :) xxx

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Stroll

J and I had a rather hungover headachy thirsty lay on the couch watch movies and eat junk food kind of day yesterday. We spent friday night across the fjord with our new buddies, grilling and singing and dancing and seeing the moon for the first time in months (winter must be on its way!). This left us feeling a bit flat on Saturday. Thank goodness it was raining so feelings of guilt about doing almost nothing except consuming fat, sugar and hollywood movies were kept to a minimum. Today, however, we felt the need to do the Norwegian sunday stroll thing so we headed off into the drizzle to climb the mountain we see outside our kitchen window. It was a bit of a dodgy day but we didn't let that get to us and I loved that we got to walk up through a little forest full of bright orange mushrooms and masses of blueberries. I did not get any pics on the way up as it was too wet but when we stopped at the lower peak to the right of our kitchen view, I got a couple of snaps in before being rained out.

This one is looking back down Kaldfjord and out towards the sea. Our house is nestled down there somewhere on the left hand side :) This second one is looking out along the road towards Sommerøy. There is a great little white sand beach down there about 20kms. J and I took the motorbike down for an afternoon with friends not so long ago, but today that was not such an appealing option for what to do with the day.
Down from this peak was a lovely little mountain lake. There was evidence of prior fires and I could totally understand why. On a nice day it would be a lovely place to stop and swim and spend some time. The Norwegians love an outdoor grill. They get a little wood fire going, roast a sausage on a stick and put it in some flat tortilla like bread. Luckily I have found one place in town that sells soy sausages and am now stocked up for such occasions. However, I still have not found a shop that sells tofu, how weird is that? Not a single one. Feel like I might be living in the middle ages...not helped when at the party the other night everyone was eating dried fish as their snack with beer. Strangely enough, I actually didn't mind it...
J and I had hoped to be able to then go on and ascend the higher peak that we see out our window to the left. When we got there though, we could not see any path traversing the gulch between the two peaks. After quite some debate, we decided to try and bush bash our way up. Here we are pausing in an amazing patch of blueberries about two thirds of the way up.
Mina learnt to pick blueberries while we were here. I gave her three little ones and within no time at all she had worked out that she didn't need me and was off stripping the bushes all on her own (see video on facebook). After this stop, things became quite a bit more hectic though. The ground was very uneven and you could not see the gaps between the rocks because it was all covered in bluberry bushes and ferns. It was very steep and very slippery in the wet and we were clinging to spindly trees to keep us from toppling backwards down the mountain. Mina decided she did not want to go any further so J went on a bit for a look and unfortunately, we decided we had to head for home. We will try the ascent from another direction another weekend though and I will post some more pics then :) xxx

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life - Wild

I have moved to a spectacularly beautiful landscape.

Rugged snow capped mountains shining in the midnight sun. Mountains drenched in flowers, berries and a multitude of feeding bugs. Sun reflected sparkling along the fjord. Fjord filled with fish jumping in the early evening. Fish that I can catch for dinner right from my front lawn. A seaweed covered shoreline covered in hidden mussels, crabs, sea urchins and coastal snails, all sought by fast flitting minks. Skies painted in squarking seagulls, sea eagles, ravens and ternes, crested by the occasional slow moving heron. They tell me otters reside on the other side of the fjord, and while I have not met them yet, I have watched porpoises slide on by between us. At least three kinds of jellyfish have also been seen blobbing along the water's edge. Reindeer wander the roads and stop traffic as they graze on people's lawns and pick through their gardens. They will be gone in the winter though when their Sami owners come to collect them and herd them inland. For now they are left to tend their short horned calves alone. Of course there are also people, good hearted, generous, simple-life loving people. How blessed I feel, by all of it.

I am currently reading 'The Road' and am even more grateful than ever for this abundant speldour of biodiversity with which i share my backyard.