When booking our travel to Finland, seeing the Aurora was priority #1. After that, we wanted to get a flavor of life in the arctic north - ice fishing, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, and to experience the culture of the Sami people who reside in this area. The Sami people depend largely on reindeer to survive - a family can sustain annually on only a few of these magnificent animals while profiting from selling the meat to other families.
We had a chance to meet Petri Mattus, a Sami reindeer herder who has lived inside the arctic circle for his entire life. Petri's family has been herding reindeer for generations, so this isn't just a side gig - you're born into this lifestyle! A few years ago, Petri realized he could make a little extra money by educating visitors in Lapland to reindeer farming.
I'll admit, before heading out to see the reindeer, I thought this trip would be a bit of a petting zoo. I expected we'd see a few reindeer and pet their noses before waving goodbye. I couldn't have been more wrong!
We started at Petri's house - he invited us inside to see how they live in temperatures that often reach -40 degrees celsius. Their house was very modern and cozy - if it wasn't for the snowmobiles, triple pane windows and reindeer in the back yard, you could have mistaken it for any metropolitan home.
Petri then took us out into his property - there are up to 5,500 reindeer in the area he works and he goes out every day to check the herds and ensure no predators are harming his livelihood. He also has several feeding stations that he sets up during the winter and moves around - these stations provide extra food during the harsh winter to make sure his reindeer stay nice and fat. Petri took us by snowmobile sled out to one of these feeding areas, which was about 7km from his home. Once there, he started to make some calls that attracted hundreds of reindeer to the feeding ground.
The reindeer were absolutely magnificent - I saw them as cute and cuddly animals, but Petri was always quick to remind us that these aren't pets - they are food. Petri also believes in shooting only those reindeer that he needs to eat and sell rather then sending them to the slaughter house. A reindeer in his herd could live for a few years in the wild and being shot in the wild - it's about as humane as you can farm!
Petri made us a fire and some fresh coffee while we relaxed on reindeer hides. It was completely surreal - I never thought I'd find myself sitting on a reindeer hide by the fire in the middle of nowhere Finland enjoying listening to a Sami farmer talk about herding reindeer!
Of course, the camera was busy during this trip - here's a few shots of the adventure.
PS - if a trip like this interests you, check out www.theaurorazone.com. They were top notch!