This excursion was carried out in co-operation with SaimaaHoliday Oravi in May 2017.
Would you like to see the cute Saimaa Ringed Seal in its habitat?
Easy Seal Paddling Holiday is all about spotting seals while paddling in the National Park, having lunch by the open fire in the wild and enjoying the fresh spring nature. After a day outdoors, it’s nice to return to Oravi village and enjoy a sauna by the Oravi canal.
This is how the description of Oravi Village’s Easy Seal Paddling Holiday goes. I was about to take the excursion I had been waiting for. Finally, after a long and cold spring, I would be able to start the kayaking season. Best of all, I would do it on Lake Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland and the home of the highly endangered Saimaa ringed seal.
I might have been waiting for the first kayaking trip of this summer for weeks or even months, but spotting Saimaa ringed seal is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life, ever since I spent my first summer holiday there at the age of 6.
Despite the annual childhood tradition, I never managed to get Saimaa ringed seal in my sight. Back then, the number of seals was even smaller than it is today. To cheer me up, my mum bought me a cuddly seal toy. His name was Tapsa Nieminen, and I carried him along everywhere I went.
Today, Tapsa is cuddled by my 3-year-old nephew, so he has brought joy to my family for nearly three decades.
Now, it was finally time to spot Tapsa in real life.
Summer opening in Savonlinna
My friend and fellow blogger Heidi from Maailman äärellä travel blog had invited me for a summer opening in her hometown, Savonlinna. Heidi had organised the Easy Seal Paddling Excursion with accommodation and sauna yoga in Oravi Village, just a half an hour drive from Savonlinna. During the excursion, we would be spotting the endangered seals as we were kayaking on Lake Saimaa.
Here in my hometown Rauma, I go kayaking on the sea as often as possible (read: too rarely), so kayaking on Lake Saimaa didn’t bring any scary elements in my trip. I couldn’t say the same about sauna yoga!
Even thought of untenable yoga positions in a hot sauna scared me stiff.
I mean stiffer than I already am — if it’s even possible.
Little did I know that the scariest moments would take place when kayaking on Lake Saimaa rather than trying out yoga on the benches of a hot sauna.
The idyllic canal village of Oravi
Oravi is a tiny little canal village by Lake Saimaa with only about a hundred year-round inhabitants. Oravi belongs to the city of Savonlinna, but thanks to its remote and peaceful location, it’s a perfect base for a nature-themed holiday. Located between two national parks, Linnansaari National Park and Kolovesi National Park, the holiday centre Oravi Village is the heart of the village of Oravi.
Thanks to its sheltered islands, Linnansaari National Park is an excellent area for spotting Saimaa ringed seals in springtime. That’s why we meant to head in the direction of the national park with our kayaks.
Usually, for Easy Seal Paddling Excursion, you will be provided with instructions and a map. Otherwise, you can go independently and at your pace. In our case, Misa, the Oravi Village entrepreneur and a guide with 20 years of experience, joined us on our kayaking excursion. Having an experienced guide with us would significantly grow our chances of spotting Saimaa ringed seals.
The kayaks and we were ready for taking off. Just out of a sudden, the air changed completely. It felt hot and oppressive. We noticed the threatening clouds above our heads. At the same moment, we heard a rumble of loud thunder.
Oh, okay. We can wait for a while here at the beach. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry.
A thrilling kayaking trip on a calm lake
The thunder seemed to draw away. It started circling the lake in the direction of Linnansaari National Park. The wind had picked up in the direction we were supposed to go, so we had no other option but to start paddling the opposite way. Doing so would seal our seal luck for the day, but at least we would be able to go kayaking on Lake Saimaa. That was something I had never done before.
After getting out of the canal to the open lake, we heard a deafening bang. The clouds had gathered above us, and the thunder came back stronger than before.
In a brief moment, we saw a flash of huge lightning right in front of our eyes. Thunder followed the lighting so loudly it made me feel like I was in the middle of a war zone. I felt my heart beating like crazy. Did I say kayaking on Lake Saimaa wouldn’t be scary? I was wrong on that one.
Sitting in a kayak in the middle of a lake isn’t necessarily the safest place to be in a thunderstorm.
Going ashore wasn’t an option for us at the moment. Every shore around us was full of tall trees, so we chose to paddle towards the bed of reeds we spotted near the coastline. So there we were, sitting in the pouring rain in the middle of the bulrush in the shallow water, staying still and holding fingers crossed for thunder to leave us alone.
Luckily we were still able to smile, even in the moments of terror.
After the loudest thumps had passed by, we started paddling faster than ever to reach a safe place in case of the thunderstorm decides to make one more comeback. Who would have guessed that the Easy Seal Paddling Excursion would turn into such an extreme adventure?
We paddlers survived the thunderstorm unscathed. I wish I could say the same about the Savonlinna Cathedral. The church tower got stroked by lightning during the summer’s first thunderstorm, and it burst into flames. Luckily the help arrived quickly, and the poor old church survived from further damage.
— Hälytys (@halytys) May 26, 2017
This Finnish news article includes a short video of the thunderstorm we experienced. Have a look at our lovely kayaking weather — how would you feel kayaking in such circumstances? Even after two weeks, my heart still starts beating like hell when I think about our exciting kayaking excursion on Lake Saimaa.
Escaping the thunderstorm
Soon we reached our destination, Misa’s cottage on a small island on the lake. A fireplace, a sausage and a steaming cup of tea have never tasted this lovely before. The clouds started drifting away painting the sky in deep shades of blue. It looked like it would be safe to return to our base camp.
The rain had stopped, and we only heard distant thumps. We kept all our senses sharp while we were paddling our way back to Oravi Village. Luckily the thunderstorm didn’t return.
While pulling the kayaks on the shore back at our destination, my legs felt like jelly, but otherwise, I felt like a real winner. We did it!
After the exciting adventure, sauna yoga didn’t feel too scary anymore. Exactly the opposite — I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end our kayaking excursion. Stretching in a 50-degree sauna and a swim in 10-degree water seemed like a child’s play.
Our day was crowned by a tasty dinner in the Oravi Village’s restaurant Ruukinranta together with the entrepreneur couple Misa and Jukka. Jukka joined us directly from his fishing trip, and he took us for a quick visit to the restaurant’s ‘fish factory’. When you see a fish still fidgeting just before your dinner, you know you’ll find only local and fresh food on your plate.
Even if we missed Saimaa ringed seals, I didn’t feel sorry at all. Today’s kayaking trip was full of excitement, and it’s something I can recall and joke about for years. Even the cross waves at the gate of the open sea haven’t made my heart jump like the thunderstorm on Lake Saimaa did. That’s truly something to remember.
And, I’m happy to tell you that I did manage to spot Saimaa ringed seals during my visit to Oravi Village. But that’s a whole another story…