Icons from the Ice Age
On the frozen trail with the Sami and their reindeer
Snow-covered reindeer, with antlers, in foreground, with trees beyond
Reindeer are symbolic of the harshness of life in the Arctic, but they also provide the Sami people with their livelihood. We encounter these fascinating, adaptable animals again and again on the Porsche Travel Experience Arctic
A symbol of the Arctic winterFur like a thicket, resistant to -50 degrees Celsius. Eye colour that adapts to the light. And ‘super’ noses that warm up outdoor air by more than 80 degrees in a matter of seconds. Over many thousands of years, the reindeer has developed strategies for survival in some of the coldest places on Earth. These incredible animals are masters of adaptability in the most extreme of situations.
Sami herdsman on snowmobile at dusk, looking back at camera
The snowmobile has simplified the work of Finland’s Arctic reindeer herders
When combined with the sub-zero temperatures, the wind has a particularly brutal power up here, deep within the Finnish Arctic Circle. Chunky boots, gloves and thick woolly hats are essential. We climb onto our sled. Nowadays, reindeer herders use snowmobiles to allow them to reach their animals and back home again in as quick a time as possible. In the past, the Sami spent winters in the forests alongside the reindeer. Our lungs feel like they are on fire as another blast of icy wind hits us. Up in the frozen north, in this wintry realm, you have a heightened awareness of your primal needs for survival.
Reindeer are not pets. They always live outside, where they belong
Petri Mattus | Reinder herder
Evolutionary geniusReindeer come from the Ice Age – they are used to surviving in temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius. Evolution has made sure that they pass the test when it comes to survival. Their fur is dense, and each individual hair is so robust that the animal is optimally insulated in these cold and icy conditions. Their keen sense of the dangers of ice underfoot prevents them from breaking through it as they make their way across Finland’s many frozen lakes. They instinctively find their way safely across the treacherous surfaces.Reindeer herder, Petri Mattus, explains why the reindeer’s noses may even glow red: “They have a turbo heater in their nose that heats up countless blood veins. This happens in a fraction of a second." With each inhalation, the outside temperature of -50 degrees is warmed up to the reindeer’s own body temperature. The air they breathe out also cools down so quickly that they release as little body heat as is absolutely necessary.
A herd of reindeer in a clearing
Reindeer are marvels of energy efficiency and defy the adverse Finnish winter
Floating in a fairytale worldAs we dismount from our sled, the first reindeer are already approaching us. They are shy and quiet. The only noise you hear from them is a dull clicking sound. “Those are probably their tendons,” says Petri. “They’re another relic from the Ice Age. They enable them to be heard more clearly amid the flurries of snow.” The animals move closer, as though floating on cotton wool. There is something mesmerisingly peaceful about their elegant appearance in this white, fairytale world.The reindeer’s eyes are also a sign of their perfect adaptability to the conditions of nature. Their colour changes depending on the light intensity. In winter, when the sun barely rises for months, they are a deep blue. In summer, when the sun is always in the sky, they shimmer a greenish yellow. They have an almost mystical quality, like creatures from an ancient fable.
Single, young reindeer in snowy foreground with herd behind
Reindeer skins are an ancient natural resource and important source of income for herders
Survival in one of Europe’s last wildernessesReindeer live in semi-domesticated herds in the middle of the forest here in the land of the Sami. More than any other animal, they are equipped for huge exertion in this biting, withering cold. For centuries, the Sami people of northern Europe have lived from reindeer husbandry. Some breeders, such as Petri, are preserving the tradition to this day. They manage to maintain their natural way of life in harmony with the animals. “Without reindeer, we cannot survive. We use everything from the reindeer,” Petri tells us – including a tasty soup from their blood, he adds. The Sami still keep about 200,000 animals in Sweden, Norway and Finland. However, asking about the size of a herd is taboo. This is an unwritten law among the Sami.
Herdsman in snowy firepit showing off reindeer hide boots
The reindeer herders also owe their warm hide shoes to the reindeer
Despite using modern technology such as snowmobiles, smartphones, GPS trackers and helicopters to round up the herd, the traditions of the Sami are still very much alive. The markings in the reindeer’s ears are still made according to an ancient ritual. Cooking and food preparation are also simple, in line with the constraints of life in such a remote place. It’s a matter of looking for wood, digging a hole in the snow, making a fire and cooking reindeer meat with butter and salt. Here, in one of Europe’s last true wildernesses, it must feel incredibly freeing.
Herdsman in snowsuit, warm fur hat and boots with reindeer behind him
Petri Mattus finds the elemental nature of this life of seclusion enthralling
Moved by this unique natural spectacle, we get back on the snowmobile to head back, our noses just as red as that of our adaptable hooved friends. At this time of year, daylight is at a premium in the Arctic Circle. We pass never-ending expanses of pine on our journey homeward, having left the herd behind to see out winter amid these lonely, beautiful forests.This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.
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