Visiting the Reindeer Herders of Siberia

It was a year ago in March 2020 that I was on a plane back to the USA, returning from the Siberian Arctic. Having been away from home for weeks, I was looking forward to getting back into my normal routine. Little did I know that the world was anything but ‘normal’ and had entered the COVID-19 pandemic. My first hint was the Aeroflot flight from Moscow to JFK was nearly empty. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing. On this one-year anniversary, I organized my images from the last part of my trip in Northern Siberia with the Nenets reindeer herders.

The Nenets reindeer herders migrate north from the Russia mainland to the Yamal Peninsula

This series is from the remote Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic region of Siberia, visiting a family of indigenous Nenets at their winter camp. The Nenets are nomads and follow the migrating path of their reindeer herd. As the weather improves, they follow the reindeer from the Russian mainland north to the Yamal Peninsula.

Nenets family with reindeer – Yamal, Northern Siberia
Brother, sisters and the family dog

The children were playful. super-cute and even patient to do a brief posing session in the tundra!

That fish was solid as a rock and ice cold!
Sledding back at the central village
Dancing in the winter landscape
Peeking out of the chum

The Nenets camp is basically a group of tents, called chums. There is no running water and the food is centered around venison, fish and taiga berries. During the day, the temperature would get above zero, even into the teens (Fahrenheit), warm enough to play a traditional game of throwing sticks.

Nenets stick throwing game
Game playing at the Siberian camp
Stick throwing game in the Siberian tundra

At night, the tent was cozy warm with its wood stove and sleeping bags covered with reindeer furs. Despite the cold outside, the sky was the ‘star’ attraction. We were fortunate to have clear skies and a spectacular show of the Northern Lights. When the Aurora Borealis came alive, it (almost) felt warmer than the -15 degrees (F).

Oven flares from tent as Aurora glows on horizon
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over Siberia camp

And, of course, there were the reindeer. We did some sleigh rides around the landscape. Let’s just say, there are no shock absorbers on those sleds.

Charging Reindeer
Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Despite the rustic conditions, the Nenets of the North were terrific hosts with an endearing spirit. As with many indigenous groups, their nomadic way of life is under continuous threat. It was exciting to experience a bit of their migration journey and learn about their local culture.

Siberia, and the country of Russia, is a huge place and difficult to categorize. This was a completely different experience than Lake Baikal in the East, also part of Siberia.

Check out my Instagram highlights for raw video of the trip, including the 11-hour trek on monster trucks from Salekhard to the Yamal camp, traversing the snow and tundra.

Thank you for reading my blog! More photos at this gallery on MattConti.com.

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