Proper Loop Around Estonia
A Proper Loop Around Estonia
It has been rather static corona years and my hands are kind of itching for a proper motorbike journey. Well, this is a problem that only resonates among motorbike travellers. Other people might not understand the issue as such. Estonia has suffered under the corona era and had world record high figures in terms of infected people per 100,000 people - that was over 1500 in the winter - and because of it Estonians were properly locked down until May with some gradual opening and lifting of restrictions. Now life has turned to normal again and the notorious figure is currently under 20. I also have 2 shots in my shoulder. Should it protect me, well, that I don’t know and only time will tell that, but with these 2 shots I have some kind of permit to travel. And this is important. But our neighbours are still not that optimistic in Finland and to some degree also in Latvia. Finland still does not let regular tourists that are travelling by ferry to enter and Latvians have online registration called covidpass.lv
Actually, in the end of June we paid a visit to Latvia with my family and we filled the form and it was ok to cross the border to beautiful towns of Aluksne and Valmeria in Latvia. I had a plan to travel solo on motorbike to the far end of Norway and cover over 3000 kilometers, but due the contradictory information crossing Finnish border, I decided to skip the plan until it is very clearly understable that I’m not in the mercy of the border guards and can travel freely as I’m used to in the Schengen league.
So, eventually I thought perhaps I should do a proper loop in Estonia. I have not traveled on a motorbike around Estonia. Of course I have travelled to some point in Estonia and in Finland, but this is it, not further in Europe. I have travelled 5 times in India and 3 times in the Philippines and usually my means of transportation has been a motorbike. I have thought about what I want to see myself and what I would like to present to my readers. Well, there will hardly be any regular tourist attractions, that is a promise. If you want to see the beautiful Tallinn medieval city wall and adorable colorful houses inside of the wall - well, book a flight or get the Baltic sea cruise ship tour and enjoy!
I have a plan-like understanding of what I would like to visit and who I would like to visit. Also I’m planning to stay in the tent for a few nights and perhaps smuggle myself into my friends' homes. I really would like to avoid hotels. This will be my solo adventure although I have challenged some friends to join me in some sections. During this trip I will continue working, but in a summer-mode and in smaller chunks. The weather has been exceptional in Estonia in June and I hope 25-30’C warmth and sun continue, but the real motorbiker should not worry about weather and should prepare the suitable equipment instead.
I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and having meaningful conversations after many years of not seeing them. Some of them are real world travellers and just recently got stationary. And on the other hand I’m always open to new contacts and new people like in my multiple journeys in Asia and elsewhere. My motorbike is a heavy enduro Honda Varadero equipped with 3 paniers. I have asked my mate Marko to maintain it properly just before the trip. I’ve got a new chain, oils, filters and even new wheel bearings. It should run smoothly now. To be honest, very often in India I don’t wear proper gear, because it is just unthinkable to carry it all from Europe, and in the Philippines I wear flip-flops, but in Europe I will, because the speed is higher, very often twice higher, and I have it all available here.
My wife was not entirely happy that I would take this trip, but she is used to my journeys in Asia. It seems I need this kind of solo rides myself in order to be face-to-face with my own thoughts and feelings...all in the helmet. I suppose these trips are forming me to who I am or will be. My family will pay a visit in Haapsalu or in Pärnu and we will celebrate my birthday and perhaps we mix the Hiiufolk music festival to my journey as well, let’s see.
I will write diaries or journals each day using cell phone text editing, because in that way readers can get the most genuine picture of each day. Imagine if I wrote down the days’ action after the trip, some of it would be forgotten already or some emotions diluted or smoothen. Looking forward to this adventure.
My daughter Mirjam also decided to hit the road
Sunday, July 4
This is the morning of the start of another adventure, but this time in Estonia. I packed a mountain of stuff into my motorbike panniers. I have 3 panniers, a camera bag and a tank bag. The whole package looks promising, like a proper hiker. My daughter Mirjam also decided to hit the road for a day on her bicycle. She will cruise around Tallinn, not further. I did the last preparations, took photos in front of our home and the kisses.
I started my journey at 11AM. I filled the tank and the gasoline price is still rather high 1,4€ per litre. I rode to the city center and bought some craft beer bottles from Sip shop in Telliskivi as gifts and started my ride towards the edge of Tallinn. Telliskivi area is a unique community, start-up and art park and above all perhaps a place where one can feel good - eat good food and enjoy good drinks, responsibly of course. I have a desk in the co-working space there as well. But on Sunday morning it felt a bit lifeless, only a few tourists resisting the warmth and being exposed to sunshine. It is very hot and full gear is causing me miseries early on - I’m sweating like a pig. But I know this might be all worth it in case of a traffic accident. So, for protection reasons.
Tallinn old town is worth take a look, but not my journey
Once I started to drive over 70 km/h wind started to cool me and the breeze helped me to overcome the hotness. I drove through Keila town and made a stop in Rummu. This is a bizarre place. At the edge of a lime stone query, that is now a quite long lake, there is a regular prison with up to 80 inmates and right next to the walls and barbed wire is Rummu Adventure park. Just amazing that among semi-demolished old prison facility buildings there is now a diving center and a beach. In 1993 there was a proper prison riot and inmates demanded more human living conditions. Gradually this prison is no longer a hard discipline prison and inmates can go to work every day outside the walls and return back to prison for sleep. More like accommodation, hostel if you will.
Rummu Adventure park in the old prison area
The entrance fee to the park is 4€ for adults. I asked permission to drive all the way to the beach, because all my life is mounted on my bike and I don't want to take any chances. About 200 people were sun bathing and swimming. There is no sand, but the beach and the swimming area is covered with the limestone dust and tiny particles of limestone. Actually there is a huge mountain of the same stuff right next to the beach. People are climbing on the top of this mountain too. I climbed on top of this mountain with my daughter Mirjan last summer. I think we skipped the entry fee by climbing over the wall. Water was nice and chill, just perfect for cooling down.
Russian blogger Natatsha
I met one Russian blogger Natatsha who is visiting her parents in Estonia. She is a video blogger and she has some 30k followers. I walked to the terrace and ordered a coffee. I enjoyed the hot drink and wrote the first chapters of the diary. At 3PM I changed my outfit from swimming shorts into robocop style motorbike gear and rode through the medieval Padise village where there are the well preserved ruins of a monastery.
Poppies and peas
In the front of Nõva shop I ate icecream and asked the locals about a certain camping place in Nõva beach and they confirmed my suspicions that the point in question might be overcrowded. I asked for a location that has a rather empty beach and they guided me towards Keibu beach. I thanked the local businessman and just an active man in his community Aivar Oruste and Raivo for the hint. Aivar also told me that the lakes alongside the coastal area used to be part of the sea, but gradually the land has erected and sandy dunes have formed between the sea and the former gulfs. One such lake is called Lepaauk and it was used hundreds of years ago for keeping the wooden ships in this lake and out of the rough sea, like in the garage. The small creek was the gateway between the lake and the sea. Nowadays these lakes are the safe haven and rescue place for certain frogs (Natterjack toad or in Estonian Juttselg kärnkonn or Latin Epidalea calamita) that are distinct in numerous places, but here they have perfect living conditions and protection. I rode on small asphalt and gravel roads to the beach parking area and then further on a very narrow sandy road to the edge of the forest, right next to the beach. The beach was not entirely empty, a few people were walking by, but it was a perfect spot for tonight's accommodation.
I started to set up the tent on the sand and it was hopeless entreprise - pegs or piles did not attach to the soft sand and the wind was rather violent. I dragged the tent a bit further up to the reeds and more solid ground. I set up my camp on the beach and enjoyed a smoked Flatfist (or Platichthys or Lest in Estonian) that I bought from Nõva. Aivar recommended doing so, because this fish was well smoked and caught using nets sustainably. It tasted very good and against my expectations it was not a big hassle with the little bones. I swam a couple of times, but the water was cold. Something has happened and there is no warm water in the sea. I kept the bottle of beer in the sea-based cooler.
At 7PM my beach was finally empty. The sunshine still gave me substantial warmth and I layed on the sand. The unstoppable rhythm of wave after wave was rolling to the shore. The sand creates a squeaking sound when I walk on it barefoot. I do remember a similar sound in Liepaja beach in Latvia. Some say the beach sand is singing. I read the book "Cultural Dementia" until the very end. I haven't been able to lay on the beach for so long and just read a book.
It is still rather warm and the wind has calmed down. As my accommodation is on the beach I had the perfect location for the sunset. It has been calm and not demanding the first day. I have really enjoyed Estonian beach vacation at it's best - no beach bars, no noise and no people - just an endless rhythm of small Baltic waves rolling to the shore.
Monday, July 5
I woke up at 7AM and my tent was getting very hot inside. Luckily not a single angry ant or mosquito had found a way to my tent. I went straight to the shore and sat in the shallow water. It was still very cold, perhaps 8’C. After that I started to pack up my stuff and tent. There was not a single person walking by, the beach was all mine. The sun dried my body soon and I started to transport my gear back to my bike.
The vegetation that covers the sand dunes is so dry and easily flammable. When I stepped on a lichen there was a crisp crashing sound and the plant was not restoring its former shape and I was able to see my steps very clearly. Just a spark would light the whole nature in blaze. That’s why I parked my bike to the edge of the forest and didn’t try to go further and closer to the beach. Imagine - just a spark from the silencer would light the beautiful nature. I packed all my gear back to my bike and decided not to wear the motorbike pants and instead kept the shorts and sneakers, because it would be an even warmer day than yesterday. I drove on the narrow road back to the gravel road and I made a brief stop at the edge of a lake called Lepaaugu. There were many camper caravan tourists who had set up their colony around the lake and along the road. I rode to Nõva and parked my bike next to the Nõva shop.
Aivar Oruste is the provider of daily bread for many people in Nõva
I saw Aivar and asked whether it would be possible to get coffee or even an omelette although the restaurant would open at 10AM, but I arrived at 9PM. Of course it was doable. He was semi-busy and we talked until 11AM and drank 2 coffees and ate an omelette. When I was about to leave the waiter told me the meal was free of charge. Thanks, it was a nice surprise. Aivar has multiple businesses in Nõva or elsewhere in Estonia and he is in charge of 30 people. That is a massive figure in a small community like Nõva. He mentioned that some long term unemployed people do not understand the concept of working and they rather find a way not to work at all. Somebody else, whether the local municipal social worker and support money or family members, will carry them through and give the necessary means. Some employees have been in prison, but slowly found the ground and meaning. Respect.
Aivar seems to work on every possible field and it should be common in small places. He is also one of the first voluntary rescue team leaders and the trained person in Estonia in the 1990’s. And he is still partly helping the voluntary rescue team, because Estonia has become just too skinny in terms of the potential of keeping the regular firefighter and paramedics on payroll in every corner of the country. Voluntary teams need to take the duties over otherwise nobody would keep the community safe. Additionally Aivar is catching fish in the early mornings and providing the fish to the restaurant and to the catering that runs in Nõva too. Amazing how super busy this man is. But somehow we both found this 2 hours, because we had a fascinating chat.
Aivar has lived his whole life here and he remembers the Soviet era when it was not allowed, only with special written permission, to go to the beach and swim. It was all a border area and even for local people, who were living right next to the beach, it was forbidden to go swimming and have boat rides. All boats were registered and the KGB was worried that Soviet people might escape from the workers paradise. At 11AM I participated in one project meeting where I was more or less a listener. I worked until noon and then left some tip for the girl in the restaurant and hit the road.
It was more cloudy and it was very nice to drive. The road was twisty and zig-zagged through areas that used to have a minority of Swedish speaking population. After many centuries of Russian and later Soviet occupation this culture has partly faded out, only the Swedish village names are left. Similarly Finland still has Swedish speaking minority on the coastal areas in the West and Southside of Finland. I drove through Linnamäe where I would return to stay at Madis’ home later today, but for now I rode to Haapsalu.
Haapsalu is a famous summer destination and many people will visit the grand castle and its walls, beautiful restaurants and coffee shops and multiple beaches. Madis and Criss have invited me to play tennis in Haapsalu. I think we met on the tennis or table tennis court 6-7 years ago. Madis recommended to me the Erasmus program for India and he went to India just before me to the same university and met, now also my friend Danish. Both guys have founded a company that deals with solar energy and they manufacture solar energy in multiple location and with 30-40MW/hour* per month.
I stopped on the outskirts of the castle walls and rode to the front of a brand new tennis club house. Last time I played there the building did not exist so they have just recently opened it. Last building was burnt down and they waited a long time for the new club house. The club heritage goes all the way to 1930. A bit after 1PM Criss and Madis arrived, broad smiles on their faces, long time no see. We started tennis practise or played rotating all the time and played tiebreaks. It was very hot, although partly cloudy.
Madis, Criss and Criss' daughter Mari
After 1.5 hours of quiet intense tennis, we took a shower and walked to the Herman café. Madis and Criss have a challenge, like many people give other people some challenges, to visit all the cafés and restaurants in Haapsalu in 2021. I ordered fish and chips and Hapsal beer. Life is very good. Soon Criss’ daughter joined us and we ate together. At 4PM we walked back to the tennis club and departed in different directions. I worked a bit on the club house terrace.
I rode to the Coop grocery store and bought a watermelon for kids. Madis is living just outside of Linnamäe village in Uuekärbla, which used to be an old manor. Kids were running around the house and little ones were crawling on the terrace floor. Madis has two boys and twin daughters. Madis showed his property and some future projects too, like a pond and a sauna. But what he did have was an old cellar from the era of the manor, a few hundreds years old limestone structure where it was nice and cool. There were even some jars of home made of jam and juice there. But one thing that Madis was very proud of was the little solar panel installation in the edge of the grassland.
Madis Org in his element
Sinile and the kids harvested the strawberry field and got a box of delicious strawberries. Soon a neighbour and his son came by and boys ran to play around the yard. We set up the grill and prepared chicken and mushrooms. We ate all together on the terrace.
Madis and Sinile have also done amazing work to fully renovate the building that was built in the 1930's and was designed for a prayer house with high ceilings
The night was so warm that we stayed outside on the terrace until 10PM. Soon started the rally of getting the kids to the beds. Boys were resisting it because they noticed that the party might go on until midnight and why should they be absent. But still before 11PM the calmness arrived and we drank green tea that was bought from Myanmar Wa province. Madis stayed there for a year and travelled in the area where officially it is still a civil war and I quess holding a world record of the longest civil war in the history of mankind. Well, not a nice record to hold to be honest. But people there were nice and Madis had a good time there. I brought some craft beer and Latvia cider to the table. We chatted until 1AM and then I went upstairs to set up my bed and sleep like a baby after another eventful day.
Tuesday, July 6
I woke up at 8AM and witnessed again the hospitality of the Orgs family. My penthouse room was very empty, only a mattress on the floor and a few other furniture items, but the space was filled with the morning light from multiple windows. Nice. I already started to hear kids running and noise from the first floor. I went down the stairs and spot a new face, a nanny who is helping with the twin girls who are just one years old and try to explore the environment and touching everything along the way. Madis took the boys to the nearby kindergarten and after that we had a proper breakfast and coffee. Sinile prepared omelette and morning started just perfectly for me.
Madis and his family
At 9AM I hugged Madis and he drove on his electric Nissan Leaf to nearby Haapsalu to work alongside Criss. I stayed another 2 hours and Sinile talked about her work in Red Cross. She has been in several places where there is an actual war, frozen conflict or it’s about to get bloody. Basically these locations are rarely designed for tourists. She has been in Colombia, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Azerbaijan and East-Jerusalem. In some cases Madis has followed her and tried to find some work nearby, but usually it is very difficult to find something for his qualification and after boys were born Madis’ role was to be more at home and support that way. But after Cameroon, where both boys were picking up some French already, Sinile got pregnant, they decided to be more stationary in Estonia. Before my chat with her I had a rather blurry understanding of Sinile’s job in Red Cross, but her job is to keep the Red Cross missions safe by talking with local tribe leaders, warlords and government officials. It is just remarkable that this skinny lady is sitting face-to-face with warlords wearing multiple weapons and convincing them that she is neutral and her job is to keep camps and convoys safe. It was a privilege to finally chat with her and understand the magnitude of her work. I also noticed her passion for languages and history. She speaks French, Spanish, German and English. She is treating history similarly like me - as a well of knowledge in order to understand the current behaviours of today’s people.
For me it was the time to move on and I packed my stuff on the bike again. I thanked and drove to Haapsalu to the Mesimoka café to catch up with my work and write my diary. At 1PM I went to get a massage like I’m used to on my Asian motorbike tours. My masseuse was Merike who treated my ass in a way that I could ride another few hundred kilometres. She was very open and talkative. I thanked and paid 35€ for the service. I headed to the shore to the Wiigi café and worked another few hours. I noticed a few raindrops came down from heaven, but no proper rain as such.
I ordered coffee and enjoyed the nice view to the gulf called Little Viik. Seagulls screamed around a tiny island that was habited by the seagull colony. I have eaten in this café with my family many times before. I ordered Hapsal beer and ate creamy seafood soup that was very delicious. I had a longer talk with one of the Blendit employees, Eusebio, to figure out a solution for one project. At 5.30PM I paid my bill and rode to Samaaria rehabilitation centre and met Mihkel Nõlvak who is leading this facility. This centre usually has 15 men, but currently there are only 8 men who have serious issues with alcohol and Samaaria centre will give these men a sense of meaning and perhaps a new direction in life through physical work. One of the many outputs of this centre is to produce firewood and prepare the containers for sale. Mihkel needed to finish one public tender related report.
Mihkel is leading a rehabilitation centre Samaaria and trying to help people with serious issues with alcohol
We drove to Haapsalu centre and bought some goods for the evening. It was my turn to pay the bill. We drove further west to Krabi village on the sea shore. Mihkel has renovated multiple buildings and built some new buildings too. Mihkel’s wife Kristiin was super busy with completing the college final exams. Her current challenge is to finish the local traditional embroidery, but this itself has already caused a lot of stress. Perhaps we could talk with her later on or tomorrow.
We decided to drive to nearby Topu beach to swim. Water was nice and warm. On the way back we drove through the forest where we made a brief stop for eating strawberries. We drove a bit further and arrived back at Mihkel's home. Mihkel started to prepare the grill and I carried my gear into the old building that was super cozy inside. I stayed in a proper suite with multiple tiny rooms with retro style furniture from 1950 or older. We barbecued the chicken and ate indoors. This family will host a children’s camp in mid-July and they have built facilities for that. Kids will live in tents.
We prepared the food and I said grace and we ate and enjoyed the meal together. Kristiin was still wrestling with the embroidery, but I opened a bottle of Kombucha for her. Later we went with Kristiin to give food to the sheep and goats. Mihkel was trying to catch one animal to spray some healing medicine, but the sneaky and clever sheep recognized the trap and ran away each time. So, no luck tonight. Goats were bullies and blocked the passages for sheep and even knocked sheep. There seems to be a hierarchy in this little cattle. We went back indoors and I started to prepare myself for the night. I made my bed and did some writing. I had a shower and went to sleep at midnight.
Wednesday, July 7
I woke up very early at 5.30AM, made coffee and ate a salad and a sandwich. Today I’m going to witness fishing with nets. I rode through the forest and on a narrow track about 3km. On the way to Topu tiny harbour I saw fog rolling through the forest, a very mystical experience. Mihkel’s father Toomas was already waiting for me in the port and gave me rubber boots and rubber pants.
As the nets are close by in Topu gulf, Toomas decided to take the small boat instead of a bigger one and we started to move in very bizarre circumstances. There was no wind, no waves, a blanket of fog was covering the harbour area and only seagulls were screaming in expectation of getting some fish from us. Soon the fog disappeared and we started to drag the nets to the boat.
These nets are designed for catching sea-bass, but we also got tiny other fish that we released from the net and threw back to the sea. Toomas had 3 locations that were marked by flags. Ultimately we got about 15kg of sea-bass. We were followed by the escort of seagulls and they were looking for these fish that we released back to water, but all of the sudden they all flew away in disarray and rather in panic. What happened, who are they afraid of? Toomas already knew it had to be an eagle, an osprey (Pandion haliaetus in Latin) who has a nest on an nearby uninhabited island. I looked to the sky and noticed the majestic flight of that eagle. This bird was surfing on winds and hardly waved the wings and was not disturbed by a little tern who tried to attack him. Perhaps the eagle flew too closely to the colony of the terns. But soon seagulls were back and almost tried to get the fish from the net. Toomas has been a fisherman many decades and they have got reasonable funding from the government for the harbour facilities. They have built a multi-purpose fishers’ house which has an ice machine, a freezer and other vital stuff for doing their work.
Once we started to head back to the harbour we started to clear the nets and kept only sea-bass. It is rather difficult to get the fish out of the sticky net in order not to break the net or not hurting the fish too much. Because small flounders were still alive although they played dead, and swam to the bottom of the sea when I released them. But some of them were not that lucky and seagulls swallowed them immediately.
We docked at 10.30AM and cleaned the nets for another hour. Another work was to prepare the nets for the next catch. And I needed to liquidate the messiness and keep the net straight in order to have trouble free setting up the nets next time. This was a painstaking job and required perseverance to overcome mess with the net. Toomas gave me a bag of fresh fish with ice cubes. I thanked him for giving me this experience. He will introduce similar work to the summer camp kids tomorrow. I suppose the idea is to introduce where food originally comes from and perhaps some kids might get infected with the fishing hobby in the future.
About 15KG of Sea-bass
Haapsalu 4KM to the left and Haapsalu 6KM to rhe right
I rode to Haapsalu and into Wiigi café. I was bitterly disappointed that the chef didn’t want my fish for my next day’s birthday meal. They just have so many clients that they don’t have time for that and they even buy semi-prepared products from providers and not prepare fish themselves. He said in January we can do this, no worries. My plan backfired. I made a phone call to Margus Saar who is a musician and living in Haapsalu. I was planning to visit him in the evening.
Basically invited myself to Margus’ home. This kind of behaviour is despised by my wife, but with Margus it worked. He was kind of moved by that. I drove to their home in the outskirts of Haapsalu and handed over the fish to Margus’ wife Helen who was on the way to Tallinn and would come back later in the evening. She put the fish in the fridge. At 12.30PM I rode back to Krabi and Kristiin had just departed and driven to Haapsalu. I took a nap and at 3PM I made myself a coffee and started to work. At 6PM I rode to Margus’ place.
Musician Margus Saar
They have built a house right next to Mihkel’s father's house and they are relatives. Margus’ dog Santa ran to welcome me, my motorbike and my shoes were particularly interesting. Soon I needed to collect my flip-flops and sneakers and rescue them from this shoe-eating white happy monster. Margus showed his house and the studio where they record music that they compose with Helen. Helen has studied music and Margus has learned it along the way. Margus has played guitar in multiple bands, but in Dream Room and in Trepikoja band for sure. It is very possible that I will visit other Dream Room members too on my journey, that is Risto Tamm in Pärnu and Meelis Saar, Margus’ brother, in Kõrvemaa.
Margus is working in a local door and window factory. The factory is close by, only 5 minutes by bicycle. Sun was still shining brightly and we were looking for shade. We talked about multiple topics, but we certainly touched religion, vaccination and psychology matters. Whenever I meet Margus we attend to speak about certain topics that seem to be correlating in both lives at that moment. We prepared the fish by just cutting the head off and taking the guts out and adding just a bit of salt and pepper. We wrapped the fish into the foil and placed it on the grill. That was it, nothing special, but it tasted very good and I think by accident we got it all right. I’m not an expert at cooking fish and neither is Margus, so it was just a blind luck that we got juicy well cooked white fish.
At 10PM Helen arrived with kids. It seems that the older brother spent a week with grandparents in Viimsi, just outside of Tallinn. I thanked and rode to the gas station and was able to fill 17 litres to my tank. I’m still not sure about the size of the tank, perhaps it is 23 litres, but I was reaching 240KM with one tank and decided not to take any chances. The sky turned dark blue and violet and it started to rain, but nothing serious and I got back to Krabi without being too wet. Mihkel came by and we talked about the day. I went to sleep at 11.30PM.
Thursday, July 8
At 5.13AM I had an early wake up call from my mother. Well, today is my birthday and she has been penalising me with this kind of early calls for the last 30 years or so, because this was the exact time when I was born and kept her awake back in 1978. After this call I went back to bed and woke at 8AM. I took a shower and looked out of the window - today it is raining and it will be a cloudy day. Soon Mihkel came in and greeted me and invited me to join the breakfast in the main building. We ate fried eggs and drank coffee. Mihkel’s wife Kristiin is a kindergarten teacher and during her summer break she is committed to finishing her studies and mostly practical assignments in the handcraft field. There was also a playful red cat called Jasper who was eager to get multiple meals, but to his disappointment only a handful of dry-food was served. Kristiin talked about her work and challenging kids and how to deal with some crazy situations. Mihkel showed some neat videos of the baby lambs playing around the yard and jumping on Kristiin and also on mother sheep. I thanked and went to work for a couple of hours.
Birthday boy and my women in Wiigi café
At 2PM my wife Jaanika and daughter Mirjam arrived at the yard. Mihkel showed around a bit and continued cutting the grass. We decided to go swimming in near-by Topu harbour, because the cloudy and rainy weather had turned into lovely, shiny and warm weather. We drove through the narrow forest track to the harbour. There is no sandy beach and Mirjam decided not to walk on stones and didn’t swim at all. Well, I did, because it was a nice refreshment. Jaanika sun-bathed for 30 minutes. We drove to Haapsalu to Wiigi café where I had previously booked a table for us. We ordered delicious pastas and Jaanika had a poke bowl with tiger shrimps. Jaanika needed to send an important work related email while we waited for the main course so me and Mirjam decided to walk on the lovely promenade a bit and arrived back just on time when the meals were served to our table. Food was good and I paid around 26€.
Mirjam’s friend is at her grandma's place in Haapsalu, just a few streets away. Jaanika had already arranged a meeting of these two girls, but Nora was on the way back from grocery-shopping with her grandmother. We walked along the shore on another nice promenade to the playing ground where me and Jaanika sat in the café and Mirjam was swinging. After some 30 minutes we slowly walked to Nora’s place and met them in the yard. They had just arrived simultaneously with Nora’s parents from Tallinn. It turned out that Nora’s grandfather also had birthday today and we greeted each-other.
Mirjam's firend Nora with Nora's dragalong little brother
We stayed there and talked with Nora’s parents and grandparents for about another 30 minutes and then we left Mirjam there to play and drove to Krabi. I exchanged some laundry and gave back the dirty laundry. For motorbiking it is vital to save space all the time. We saw Kristiin and I introduced ladies to each-other. We noticed the red cat Jasper playing in the yard. This cat has a nice life here and a lot of space to run and climb and perhaps hunt. Soon Jaanika started to drive back to Haapsalu to pick up Mirjam and head back to Tallinn. Jaanika needs to complete some work stuff tonight and we decided not to rent a flat or book a hotel for tonight. Although we had this plan for a while.
I sat outside and worked and wrote in my diary until 9PM. I had a talk with Astrid and it seems that I need to change my initial plan and not continue my ride to Hiiumaa, because Astrid and Rainer will arrive to their Hiiumaa home only on Saturday and it will be hectic life before Hiiufolk for Astrid, perhaps not possible to talk at all. So, we decided to flip around the plan and I will spend a few days in Hiiumaa after Hiiufolk. So, I’m starting my journey towards Pärnu tomorrow instead.
At 9.30PM Mihkel and Kristiin asked me to help with the sheep and goats. These animals will get medicine to provide some aid against nasty mosquitoes and flies. It was somewhat wrestling with these animals. They are so soft and curious and neat. Eventually it was easier than I expected and almost every animal got their stuff, only one goat outsmarted Kristiin and escaped from the barn. I drank tea in front of the house and heard all sorts of bird sounds all around me and crickets. The weather forecast said it would rain tomorrow. Let's hope for a smooth ride despite this weather prediction. I went to sleep at 11PM.
Friday, July 09
I opened my eyes at 7AM and started to pack my stuff on the motorbike. It is all grey outside, no sunshine, but still not raining. I walked to the main building where Mihkel was already cooking porridge and helped myself with the coffee. Kristiin was still sleeping. The red cat Jasper showed up and demanded breakfast and got the desired food. We ate and talked until 8AM. We hugged and said goodbye. Mihkel went to Haapsalu to work in the Samaaria rehabilitation centre.
All of the sudden it started to rain quite heavily and therefore I didn’t have to hurry to start rolling so I decided to be ready when the window of opportunity arrives to get going without substantial rain. I worked until 9.30PM and hurried to my bike, because the rain stopped and even the sun started to shine. I packed my remaining stuff and said goodbye to Kristiin only, because Mihkel had left earlier. Thank you for this opportunity to stay here for 3 nights and be in your company.
The first leg of my journey
I started to ride south towards Pärnu, but I decided to do a little detour to Puise peninsula. I drove on gravel roads and very twisty asphalt roads, it was a lot of fun to drive on these roads. Puise is a small village on the north coast of Matsalu bay and this is the very point for ornithology and bird watching. Each spring and fall this bay transforms into a bird paradise when tens of thousands of birds are migrating over this area to the far north or back to the south. Imagine all this shallow bay being packed with birds. I have been here before with photographer Maldon Ots in April a couple years ago and we saw eagles, geese and other birds. Now it was rather calm, only Germans with caravans were here. I said Gutten Morgen and chit-chatted a bit with two people.
I walked to the very tip of the peninsula. I noticed a dark cloud drifting above me and it seemed that I would be wet sooner or later. Once I started to drive further I got first rain drops, but luckily nothing serious.
I rode basically around the entire gulf of Matsalu which is all natural conservation and stopped in Lihula. Lihula is a very nice and in a sense a typical small Estonian settlement. But also controversial. In the news you might find racial discrimination and hate of others stealing the headlines. Well, my kind of place to investigate a bit. I stopped in front of a café and ordered chicken fillet and coffee, which cost around 6€.
Ilona is in charge of the café in Lihula
I sat at a table where one man was finishing his meal and greeted him. He started to chat with me about excavations around Estonia and accidental archaeological finds along the way. It was a strange, but genuinely friendly talk. I also talked to the lady who was in charge of this café and who turned out to be Ilona. Her mother had arrived in Lihula and started to work as a chef there years ago and even throughout her mother's life the local community hadn’t accepted her and her daughter Ilona. They both said perhaps this bitterness and anger had something to do with the steam of swamps around Lihula. I asked her to imagine what if she would hire some Filipinas or black ladies, what would be the reaction of locals then. Ilona said that she would not want to even imagine how cruel and wicked the people would be. I hope she could make a difference in this community and Lihula becomes more loving and less hateful. I was able to do some work too. Again I met the business minded ladies who are carrying the life forward and providing the means to their families.
The far end of Kihnu and the lighthouse
At 1PM I continued my journey southwards. Soon I turned to the gravel road and drove through Tõstamaa and ended up in Munalaid’s port at 2PM. Ferry just arrived and cars started to depart. I knew that all tickets were sold out and therefore I asked the guy who handled the car loading to the ferry whether there was a chance that they might fit my tiny bike too or not really. I needed to wait and after 10 minutes this guy told me to ride to the very front of the queue. I need to consider myself lucky because people book these tickets half a year in advance and the tickets for weekends are sold out a long time ago. At 2.30PM the ferry left the port.
I met another biker, Heldur from Viljandi. He was very friendly and invited me to their camp later on. I changed my clothes and continued in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. I went up to the café and ordered beer and two croissants. I forgot to pay the ferry fee, perhaps I will pay this fee on the way back too. The route of the ferry was really strange. First the ferry toured around Manilaid island, which is located very close to the mainland, and then zig-zagged towards island of Kihnu. It turned out that this weekend Sea Days of Kihnu would take place and there was a festival in the harbour too. I noticed a famous Estonian singer Karl Madis and learned he would perform with his band Karavan tonight at this festival. Karavan has been on stages for 40 years or so and people still love it.
Straight road through the pine forest
I departed the ferry and drove through the pine forest to the centre of the island. Kihnu is a tiny island, just 14km2, officially only 700 habitants, although only ca 70 people live there around the year, and it didn’t take long when I arrived at the other end of the island. The island has most of the main roads paved, but smaller roads are still gravel roads, which is kind of fine, especially riding by enduro. But it used to be all gravel roads and only a few years ago they managed to have pavement. I arrived at the lighthouse and went swimming. The beach was rocky and the small gravel formed a sandlike very hot surface that was unbearable to walk barefoot on. I just went into the water and sat down in a deeper spot, because it was kind of hard to walk barefoot on these stones and my goal was just to cool myself down, nothing else.
There was a group of young local people who were drinking on the beach and I managed to pick up their topic where they wondered whether tourists would buy stones from Kihnu. One lad started to pick the stones. Funny. I walked back to my bike and drove all the way to the centre again.
I saw Liina on the old Soviet motorbike and her two daughters were sitting in the side carriage. This was exactly the photo shoot I came here for, but they told me that at 7.45PM a parade of the Kihnu motorbikes would take place. I will get my shot for sure. Kihnu ladies are wearing the traditional colourful skirts called kört and they are wearing it all the time or at least for tourists. I thanked her for the tip and drove back to the port area and found Heldur and company not far away from the port.
They had surrounded their camping area with red and white tape and the tents were beneath tall pine trees. Heldur welcomed me to his clan and I found a spot for my tent. I needed to clean the forest bed from pine cones. Imagine how these cones would poke me and give me uncomfort feeling while trying to sleep. I decided to set up only the inner tent and did not bother to set up the roof part, because I expected a rainless and very hot night.
There were 4-5 families with infants to teenagers. I drank multiple beers that night, I was not able to count them. I helped to set up the portable sauna that had even Ikea-like instructions with it on how to assemble the whole thing. Heldur made the wooden construction that needed to be covered with a green plastic sheet. There was a proper sauna heater which is heated with real wood and I needed to place the stones around the heater. I think the whole assembly took around an hour. We ate risotto that Heldur’s son prepared. We talked on several topics. I gave 20€ to Heldur’s wife who seemed to be in charge of the finances of the entire weekend.
At 7.30PM we rode to the centre, because all motorbikes from all ages would participate in the parade that would end up in the harbour in the very prominent spot in the front of the stage. The scenery was spectacular and it seemed the islanders really care about their motorbikes. Ladies wore the kört skirts and other traditional clothing. I was able to take a photo of Kihnu Virve who had a talk with Silvia who, in my knowledge, has moved to Kihnu from Canada. Kihnu Virve is such a legend that even the ferry is named after her. She is almost 100 years old, but still quite vivid. She started to sing the famous song Mere pidu (Sea's party in English) while she was sitting in the motorbike's side carriage and people around her immediately started to sing along. Quite amazing that she has written more than 200 songs and she will perform tonight too. I greeted her and wished her many years to come. The parade started with a loud noise and thick smoke caused by all bikes starting at once.
Kihnu Virve is such a legend that even the ferry is named after her
Karolina, Heldur's 20 years old daughter, was my passenger and we joined the very end of the moving snake of the motorbikes. The parade cruised around the island to the port and people were cheering all bikers along the road and in their yards. Sometimes we needed to stop and help to push some old Soviet bikes to start the engine. We ended the parade in the harbour in front of the stage. Again people are very proud of their bikes, especially of the M-s, the Urals and the Izh-s. The whole enterprise was a unique cultural event. After motorbikes found their way out and the smoke disappeared the festival started with multiple performers. I made my way back to the nearby campsite.
Kihnu Liina is taking care of Karuse shop and restaurant
The sauna was ready and around 60'C was the maximum the construction was able to keep within. But when we poured water on hot stones the hot steam provided a proper punch and we ran to the canal to cool down. The canal was deep enough to swim and was meant for smaller boats to dock. I donated 4 bottles of beer to the huge insulated box for all participants. I was not eager to see Karavan and instead I enjoyed the sauna. At one point I decided to swim all the way to the festival area and I was able to see the concert without paying. It was a cheeky move. Kihnu Virve was performing her famous songs. I swam back and felt quite exhausted, because these few hundred meter stretches notably underlined my poor swimming condition. We talked a bit more around the table and went to sleep at 2AM.
Saturday, July 10
I woke at 8AM and had no hurry whatsoever, no agenda and nothing particular in mind. A strange state of mind, isn’t it? We ate breakfast and slowly set moving at 11AM. Some people were partying and dancing until 5AM - they definitely must have some sleep deficit. Merle, Heldur's sister in law, jumped on my bike and we drove to the lighthouse at the other end of the island. Sun was burning quite violently, but she was not keen to go to swim in a beach where the whole surface was a mix of bigger and smaller stones, no sand as such. I think we were there for about an hour and drove to the culture house where Risto Tamm set up the Jenny Cruze antique boutique, which was mostly just second-hand clothes, furniture and other stuff. Risto’s wife Anna was selling stuff and son Saamuel was just playing a mobile game.
Well, Risto and his home will be my next stop in Pärnu. It seemed he had a proper interest and perhaps sales too. I introduced Merle to Risto too and we drove a bit further to the Karuse shop where most of our camp people had bought ice creams and were heading on rented bicycles to a smaller loop around Kihnu. I dropped Merle off at the campsite and returned to Karuse restaurant and looked for an empty table outside and in the shade, but it was so packed that I eventually sat indoors. I ordered onion and red beetroot soup that was quite spicy, but very delicious. I also ordered a beer. It seems that drinking and driving have different meanings on this island. I have heard some crazy stories about drunk youth ramming some pine trees on their Beamers and Audis. But this weekend I have noticed police car parking in the harbour and that itself is a preventative measure for inhabitants and visitors.
At one stage the manager lady showed up and sat at my table and we talked for about an hour. Liina is in charge of the restaurant, shop and merchandise shop in Karuse house, but also acting as a guide for groups and dealing with the accommodation at her fathers house and in the surrounding yard. Summer is an exhausting period when this community works their asses off in order to survive the long non-holiday season, which is basically everything else than June, July and August. In the off-season they live in Pärnu. Liina has 2 wonderful children that she is driving around in the side-carriage of the recently renovated very bling Soviet era M. Her husband Teet came by too and brought me another beer. Again there is a good example of hard-working young people who are the true patriots of their community and willing to invest their money, time and energy. I thanked and drove back to our campsite and soon walked to the harbour bazaar.
I bought earrings for my daughter and tableware made from juniper to Jaanika. There were no ATM-s on the island and I needed to be creative in order to solve the cashless situation. I asked one lady in the Info booth to give me 40€ in cash and I delivered the same amount of money to her bank account immediately using the LHV bank app, nice. Well, actually now I was able to pay for the merchandise, because most of the merchants didn’t have an option to pay using cards.
I bought home brewed beer
I bought home brewed beer that had 6-7% of alcohol inside, but I’m not not entirely sure. I walked back to the camp and went to the sauna. It was a nice laid back time. I decided to go to see Karl Erik Taukar concert. The fee was 25€, but multiple times the card machine lost the internet and therefore the ticket booth accepted my leftovers in cash, so my ticket was only 15€. I have seen this band several times because Mirjam likes this band and I have even stayed hours in the queue of getting the signatures from the artists and a picture with the artists for Mirjam. But this is what every father should do, isn’t it?
Getting ready for the concert
Karl Erik Taukar's show
Taukar is a very good artist and he is genuinely good communicator and honest with the crowd. A proper crowd pleaser for teenagers and for mid-age people too. After the show a dancing band came on stage and I went back to the camp and at 2PM went to sleep.
Sunday, July 11
I woke up at 8AM and noticed that some of the people had already packed their tents. I started to pack my stuff too. Liina prepared me coffee. At 9PM everything was packed to my bike. No losses this time I hope, at least I can't see my gear left behind. I brushed my teeth and did the last preparations. I said goodbye and thanked them for the hospitality and drove just around the corner to the harbour. But this time the guy with big walky-talky didn't give me much hope. He said he could accommodate my bike somewhere, but there can be only 200 passengers on the ferry, because they have only 200 life vests.
I made a picture of the island dog called Käpp (Paw in English). This dog is welcomed everywhere and very friendly and some say they might even know where this dog has its home, but yes, the whole island is home for this dog. I waited anxiously for 10 minutes and then the ferry's ramp was lifted and the ferry left the port. The next chance is at 1.30PM. The ticket booth was empty, because all tickets were sold out and I rode back to the camp. I helped to dismantle the sauna and carry the elements to the trailer.
At 11AM most stuff was packed and people walked to the port and I drove to the centre and revisited Kurase bar where I asked whether they could prepare me 3 egg omelette although it was not in the menu. Of course it is possible, because there was no madhouse like it was yesterday afternoon. I drank coffee and wrote my diary. I found a plug and started to charge my laptop, because it almost ran out of juice. At noon I rode back to the camp site and soon back to the pier. This time I had a passenger's ticket and by that I hope to increase my chance to get to the ferry. Heldur had a spare ticket with a twist. Some kids will be hiding in the van beneath some stuff. The sun was shining again very brightly, but generally it was a bit cooler due some breeze. The island dog was back and spent some time under my bench benefiting from the shade. Soon the ferry arrived and a few cars and a lot of foot and bicycle passengers stormed out like from the beach craft landing in a beach fight. I noticed the guy with a big walky-talky and informed that I now have a passenger's ticket and soon the same man waved as a sign to embark the ferry. And also the van drove onto the ferry and the illegal immigrants were not found. That was a huge relief.
Merle was happy to get the picture with Karl Erik Taukar and I talked a bit with keyboard player Tomi Rahula. Ferry started its twisted journey to the mainland at 1.15PM, so like 15 minutes sooner that the initial plan. I went upstairs to the restaurant, but I was not interested in anything they had to offer. I sat among our camp people and witnessed the weird route of the ferry, because of the shallow waters ferry needed to stay in the zig-zag path. Ok, some of the passengers were also very drunk and rather weird. It took an hour to cross the water and arrive at Munalaiu port. We said goodbye again and I started my trip to the south. Almost immediately I was slowed down by the road works, but some stretches were just loose crushed limestone and dusty. It was very challenging to drive on it even on my bike and I caused a proper traffic jam behind me. After 10 kilometers this torture was over and I rode through Audru to Valgeranna beach.
There is one stretch of beach that is very close to the road. That suited me perfectly, because I don't want to leave my gear too far from me. The beach was not too crowded. I swam a couple of times, but mostly just rested on the blanket. I made a phone call to my father in law and tried to understand why our Volvo decided not to start in Jõelähtme yesterday. Jaanika and Mirjam spent part of the day in Jaanika's parents place, where me and Jaanika lived before, and they had a plan to drive to a nearby concert venue, but Volvo did a trick and didn’t start the engine. Luckily we had more cars available in the yard. Later Volvo started without any problem, a weird situation. So we all had concerts last night. I stayed at the beach for around an hour and continued my way to the main summer resort Pärnu and more precisely at 4.30PM to a café called Supelsaksad.
I needed to wait for a table for an half hour, but this situation is very much a norm in Pärnu on weekends. Pärnu is mostly packed with tourists from Estonia and neighbouring countries like Finland and Latvia mostly. I ordered mozzarella salad and coffee. Again, delicious. I wrote my diary and published the previous day's events in my blog. Also I needed to edit the pictures. I met a couple of people walking by that I usually meet in Tallinn. The bill was 13€. At 6PM I rode to Papsaare which is just on the outskirts of Pärnu.
I needed to wait a bit and soon Risto arrived with his wife Anna and son Saamuel. I dragged my gear inside and we made plans for the night. First Anna and Risto prepared dinner. Saamuel ran outside to play with his friend. We ate salad, potatoes and baked chicken. Soon we went to a sauna that almost housed two tall guys like me and Risto. Later Saamuel joined too. We talked about different topics in random order. We touched topics like his studies in the university, teaching in school, relationships, religion and history. And also the purpose of Jenny Cruze. I think he phrased it rather nicely - a second hand shop is providing the means for keeping the two mast almost 80 years old wooden ship floating. And this ship will serve the Pärnu county community.
But recently a disaster struck and the usually very reliable Volvo engine has stopped working in a very oily and splashy fashion and needs full engine renovation. And most probably this ship will not cruise around Pärnu bay this summer. We drank beer and sat on the terrace. Risto was divorced and found Anna from Moscow. It seems Anna has found a way to Saamuel’s heart too. Anna is working in the Jenny Cruze second-hand store and can speak simple Estonian already. Risto was asked to start the store and he planned to stay only 2 weeks for doing that, but he has stayed for 7 years since that. Soon we started to watch European Championship finals in football. Italy won the trophy in the end on penalties, it was a tight game against England. Risto was very vocal and rather fanatic when the Italians came close to scoring. That was fun to watch too. Anna prepared a bed in Saamuel’s room and I slept like a baby.
Monday, July 12
I woke up at 8AM and Risto was already preparing breakfast. I made a a static picture of Risto and his family around an old round table, perhaps the table set the tone for the photo. I thanked Risto and Anna for the hospitality they provided.
Risto and Anna went ahead, Saamuel stayed home and I drove to Pärnu. I filled up my petrol tank and met a solo rider from Latvia on the way to Nordkapp. I drove to the yacht club and I easily found Jenny Cruze. Soon Risto arrived after he had dropped Anna off at the second-hand store. We climbed down to the deck of this 80 years old wooden ship.
Risto showed me around the ship and also the failed engine and the mess hall. The last room has a place where the whole crew eats together and sleeps in a capsule type of claustrophobic sleeping places that in Estonian is called koi. The engine needs to be lifted off the ship, that alone creates a lot of work, and that means Jenny Cruze will not sail this summer at all. Sad. Risto is in the middle of negotiations for the replacement ship for the second half of summer. So, there is some hope though. I thanked Risto for the brief tour and drove to the beach area and ended up in Lehe café.
A survived lifeboat from MS Estonia that sank 1994. There were 2 people on this lifeboat, one survived
This café is in rather sad condition or it has not been renovated since me and my wife first visited it 20 years ago, but it is located right next to the park that goes all the way to the resort beach. And perhaps it has some sentimental value as well to me. I arrived 15 minutes before the café crew opened the doors.
I sat down to the shade and did some work. Later I ordered an omelette and coffee and spent some time indoors to charge my laptop battery. I had a skype call with my client Anti who is currently cruising the RV or motorhome in Croatia. I’m currently looking for more talent for his agency.
At 2PM I left Pärnu and started to drive inland towards Soomaa. Soomaa is a unique natural reserve with many rivers and swamps, but mostly just low land and wet forest, and even more known because of the phenomenon called the 5th Season. In the spring multiple rivers that would normally stream towards Pärnu river, don’t accommodate the water coming from melting snow or swamps and the water level quickly grows over the river banks and floods the forests, fields and even partly the houses. I have seen pictures where people ride a canoe through the window to the living room. It would be quite an experience to do it myself. I made an ice cream stop in Tori and also bought some beer. The river of Pärnu, which is the longest river in Estonia, 144 KM long, is flowing through Tori town and I saw people swimming in the river which is still quite wide in this section.
Tori church and the bridge of river Pärnu
Veranika in the Tori Cider Farm
In Jõesuu I saw a sign for Tori Cider Farm and I turned onto small roads that eventually led me to a magnificent farm. There were multiple fields of apple and pear trees and in the middle of it there was a long barn type building that was converted into a restaurant and a manufacture. A lovely lady came to the door - Veranika is the co-owner of the farm. She poured me multiple small doses of different ciders to choose the one from. Eventually I bought one bottle for my wife too. I hope it will not burst out and flood my motorbike box. Veranika was born in Estonia, but her mother came from Belarus many decades before. It was very nice to talk with her. She even poured some cider directly from the shiny aluminium and in a way robust container where the magic actually happens. Soon she needed to run away and left me with a glass of cider and I found shade under a birch where I also dragged a table and a chair to.
I enjoyed my drink and worked a bit. At one point Karmo showed up as well and we talked about the possibility of creating jobs in the countryside. He is the husband of Veranika and in charge of many things, but also money and accounting. He mentioned that just a few days ago a group of Tax Department inspectors raided their place and were in a position of power and punishment. As I remember Aivar from Nõva said it takes 10 times more effort to get a million in the countryside than in a city. Karmo strongly agreed with that. He was born here and came back from Tallinn in 2014 with the vision and the vision has been materialised here.
At 4PM I got the comforting message from Aivar Ruukel that his place is only 6 minutes away from where I was, because so far I was relying on memory and approximate location of Saarisoo, but there were multiple Saarisoos around Soomaa. I drove to the bank of Navesti river and parked the bike in the yard of an old farm. It took me some effort to find Aivar in his vast territory that is his parents’ farm. He was building another boat that is in Estonian haabjas or ühepuulootsik or in English Dugout Canoe or in Creek Monoxylon. Basically you need a whole trunk of aspen or linden and you need to carve out the boat.
But hold on, this is just in theory, in the real world it requires a lot of muscle power, perseverance and ancestral knowledge. I also tried to use the special ax to curve the wood out of the trunk. It was rather physical labor, but the first hurdle to overcome were the mean horseflies.
Soon Aivar took me to the river of Navesti on one finished product. The boat was painted black by tar and was still a bit sticky, but some water found a way in, but not much and our boat was floating perfectly. The seats were twice lower than I’m used to in canoes and I needed to ass-balance my every move on the water. Soon I felt confident and was not afraid to roll over. We paddled upstream a bit and passed Aivar’s neighbour who is a boy-scout leader Asso Kommer, who has a rather controversial past in the 1990s. He was involved in a bizarre firearm conflict, where he was the head of the home made militia and defended a garrison against Estonian military. And he has been in prison and even escaped at least once from jail. He is living a rather quiet life now. The horseflies were really annoying, but generally I got the experience of riding a wooden canoe. I have a plastic canoe back in Jõelähtme.
This kind of wooden vessels are still in use on rivers in Maryland, Utmurtia and Komiland and similar rural areas deep in Russia. And it was very common here too, but this culture disappeared with people who started to preferred other means of transport. Aivar was lucky that he had older relatives that had the skills and tools of this craft to build such boats. So, due Aivar’s link to the previous generations, this skill and dugout canoe culture on these Soomaa rivers will continue. Another thing that was different from my plastic canoe was the weight. It took relatively a lot of effort to drag the wooden boat out of the water and to the shade of the tall birch on the bank of Navesti river. The weight comes from the wood itself and the fact the canoe is mostly 2CM thick. I thanked Aivar and rode on. He needs to visit Russian Embassy in Tallinn in order to apply for Russian visa. His wife Ljudmilla is from Udmurtia in Russian Federation and they plan to visit relatives there. They have lovely twin teenage daughters too. Aivar said he is living in Pärnu and goes to work in Soomaa as tour guide and promoter of Soomaa in general. He loves this type of life.
A lovely quiet spot at the Valgeranna beach in the sunset
I rode back to the sea side and found a spot at the Valgeranna beach to set up my camp. Only a few people with their dogs were swimming, but there was plenty of white sand for me on the beach. I ran straight to swim and laid on the sand for several hours. The sun was still heating although it was 8PM.
I set up my tent and saw that I had a family from Tallinn camping as neighbours. I witnessed a colorful sunset at 10.30PM. I decided not to use the additional roof and use only the inner tent that has a net as the roof to let light and air in. When I eventually closed myself into the tent I started to hear sounds all around me. I clearly heard swans right in front of my tent in the shallow water when they were searching for food. Also there was an audio backdrop of crickets, birds and frogs. At the distance towards Kihnu I saw violent lightning and even sometimes heard the roaring noise too. But I hope rain will not reach my shore. At midnight I went to sleep.
Tuesday, July 13
At some point during the night I started to feel rain coming through the net-type roof of the tent. Bloody hell, it was really raining, luckily the rain wasn’t really heavy and I had the outer tent right next to me and I just dragged it on top of my tent to secure the situation. At 9AM I started to slowly pack my stuff and at 10AM I participated in the Meet call and led the meeting. Eventually it turned very technical and I muted my microphone and I was able to pack all my stuff to my bike during this meeting. I said bye-bye to my neighbour's campers and hit the road to Audru, where I tried to find a place to eat breakfast, but without any luck. On the way to Virtsu I got shelter from the rain in a bus stop booth. I googled Lihula for a massage and found one. She had just had a laid-back day and I booked an appointment at noon. I drove to Lihula and got a 2 hours of massage by Merike. Life is good again. Cost was 40€. I had a plan to eat in the same café that I visited on the way south, but I noticed a dark blue or purple cloud over Lihula and decided to start driving immediately towards west where the sky was much lighter.
I was lucky to get on board without any waiting and the ferry departed at 2.40PM. Passenger’s and motorbike ticket was all together 6.4€. I went upstairs to the café and ate fish sandwich and seljanka soup. That was my first meal of the day and it was good. Ferry trip took only 30 minutes. I drove directly to Liiva, which is the certal settlement of Muhu island. Just before Liiva I passed a yellow VW beetle and I signalled the driver 3 times. The driver was Kai, but somehow she already noticed me in Virtsu when I onboarded to ferry and she was not surprised or shocked by my behaviour. I will visit Kai and Tõnis later on. First I needed to turn to the shop and I bought a watermelon and a few local Muhu beers. As I somehow managed to squeeze the bottles into my bags, the watermelon was just too big and I needed to drive with it between my legs like in India or elsewhere where they have developed certain skills. On the way out the Liiva Coop store I said hello to Estonia’s 3rd president and his wife. I think Arnold Rüütel must be 95 years old or around there. Lovely site. I think this kind of happening is unimaginable in bigger countries. But I suppose this is what I love about Estonia, regular people will see superstars and presidents in the grocery stores. I rode a bit slower than usual, because I had a watermelon between my legs and arrived at Tõnis’ place south from Liiva. Kai just arrived before me. Today is Itti’s 3rd birthday and the watermelon is for the kids. I made a motorbike trip to the same place 2 months ago too. Kids were swimming with their grandmother Taimi in the pool and the dog was very excited that there was a new person to play with.
We ate burgers and burritos that Tõnis’ mother Taimi and Kai went to buy from Liiva. I got a goat cheese burger and it tasted rather good and there was no need for regular beef. Taimi is also a Blendit accountant and finally I saw her in person, so far I haven’t met face to face. At 8PM younger children were forced to go to sleep, because they will have kindergartener tomorrow. Kõu is 7 and he is graduating from kindergarten this summer and going to school in the fall. Uku is a teenager and can stay up until late evening. I made friends with cool looking chickens and hand-fed them. The rooster was more alert and kept his distance from me. Perhaps he thought my intent was to take over his chicken?
We had a longer talk with Tõnis in the yard when the sun was not that hot. It turned out he and Kai divorced in the end of May. So, that was one topic and also we talked about Blendit stuff too.
At 10PM Tõnis gave a choice of different options for sleeping. And I picked an old barn with a stroke roof option in the forest. Again the noises were incredible around the building. I think I even heard horses running around my accommodation. I went to sleep at 11PM.
Wednesday, July 14
I opened my eyes at 8.30AM and packed my stuff onto the bike. I had a relatively ok night, but the airbed was missing some ribs and it was just a bit uncomfortable, but generally ok. We ate breakfast. Tõnis prepared a smoothie power shot from ginger, apple, banana and some secret ingredients and Taimi fried bacon and eggs. The eggs are coming from the chicken I fed yesterday. Tõnis needed to hurry to the dentist and we said goodbye. I talked a bit with Kai too and thanked her for the hospitality.
I rode all the way to Saaremaa’s capital Kuressaare and I stopped at the nice central area that is designed for pedestrians and cars need to reduce the speed down to 10 KM/H. Before entering the town I filled up the tank again and I managed to put 14 litres there. The café’s name is Pritsumaja and I sat there from 11.20AM until 3PM. It was a fruitful time working and keeping up with the journal. I asked for coffee although they said they will open at noon, later I ordered a seljanka soup and dark beer. At one point Illimar Tambek walked by and we talked about his current life and my trip. We founded a company, a SaaS called Sliptree.com for creating invoices, 10 years ago. Now Illimar is handling this himself and has moved to Kuressaare from Tallinn. Just amazing, 10 years ago we did a pitch on the stage of the startup weekend event Garage48. I was sitting at the edge of the café in order to be as close as possible to my bike, because I don’t want to unload much and later pack again. On many occasions I saw old cars cruising by, I think the same cars were doing the loops like in Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. But they definitely got my attention - just beautiful cars from the 40s and 50s and still running.
Salme viking ship sculpture
At 3.30PM I paid my bill and got back my laptop from the bar, where it was recharging, and started to ride west. On the way to Sõrve peninsula there was a 10 KM stretch of road works and the road was very dusty. In Salme I made a brief stop to sit on the viking ship sculpture. Actually Salme has one of the richest archeological finds from the 8th century https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salme_ships. These two ship burials were found in 2008. These 2 sites have been marked by a ship shape in actual size. The whole peninsula and especially Tehumardi village was a very heavy fighting place in 1944. Retreating German forces tried to evacuate Sõrve troops and other side of the straights Kura peninsula, that is in Latvia side, surrounded troops back to Germany. Both armies had Estonians forced to join their ranks, so on many occasions it was a brothers against brothers war. But the villages were bombed to rubble and the wasteland that was left behind was not possible to rebuild after the war, because Soviet border guard just blocked the area for the military only. I suppose there were only a few exceptions.
Latvia is somewhere there, actually I was able to see the peninsula of Kolka in the distance
I parked my bike right to the entrance and walked towards the Sõrve lighthouse. This place is called Sõrve Säär, very much unpronounceable for non Estonian speakers. Well, this place is a mass tourism place. I skipped the option to climb to the top of the lighthouse and I think I have witnessed the magnificent view from there a few years ago. Instead I walked to the very end of the peninsula and saw Latvia at the other side of the straight. I walked back to my bike and bought a beef burger for 6€. I was able to do some more work and continued my ride back. I made a swimming stop near the Mõntu port, where in a normal year it is possible to take a ferry to Ventspils, Latvia. But it was a brief stop. The beach was a stone beach, which means just the entire beach and sea floor was covered by smaller and bigger stones. I let the sun dry me and soon I continued my ride.
Again I needed to ride in the middle of the road construction, but in Salme I decided to choose another road, but soon I discovered it too was a dusty gravel road, but more exciting to explore inland roads for a change. Gravel road soon ended and the nice twisty asphalt road continued, but to my ego boost and cleverness, there were also road constructions and I even needed to stop for 10 minutes. I drove towards the north and passed Kaarma and Leisi villages. I reached the north coast of Saaremaa and found my way to RMK as the Forest Department forest hut. This hut is close to Triigi port, where I will take the ferry to Hiiumaa tomorrow. I needed to drive a very twisty asphalt road which turned to a smaller 2 track gravel road and in the end almost single track and bumpy road. The exposed roots, that criss-crossed the road, gave the ride an extra touch.
The hut was empty and not occupied, nice. I’m not able to book such huts around Estonia, there is a rule - first come, occupy first. And this Spartal hut is free of charge for all hikers. Soon I noticed a Voyager parked almost at the beach. This belongs to a fisherman that is dealing with the nets in the shallow bay. Well, this beach is unswimmable, because it is a very shallow stone beach, but also it stinks a bit of the Algae. I set myself to the hut. It is a very basic house, with a table, benches and stove. Also I noticed a spear salt and firewood, but not matches. I decided to check another side of this peninsula in order to find a sandy beach, but no luck. Same shallow stone beach all around. I wrote my diary as long as my laptop battery lasted.
Mirjam made a video call and she was exploring alone in Tallinn and more precisely the Wismar park. I showed her my place as well. Tomorrow we will meet. Again I saw a spectacular sunset and soon it was dark. It turned out the local fisherman was on the bay with his wife and son. They got 5KG of Sea-Bass. They gave me a lighter and I was able to light the fire. There is a special metal fireplace in the hut. I walked back to the shore and heard the noises. The soundscape contained swans flapping their wings against the surface of the water when they started to lift off. Also I heard geese and smaller birds, but at the other side of the bay I heard cuttle and ox making a roaring noise that echoed across the bay. Again it was a very calm night without any wind. At midnight I went to sleep.
Reaching 1000km in Hiiumaa
Thursday, July 15
I woke at 8AM and slowly started to pack my stuff onto the bike. It was a bit of a rough night, because I haven’t attained the skill of sleeping on my back. It would be very handy when sleeping on the stone floor in a Mosque or in some other temple. But I prefer to sleep on my side and therefore it was just painful and I needed to switch positions many times during the night.
This ferry will take me to Hiiumaa
I rode to the port and at 9AM I parked my bike to the very top of the queue and walked to the café to buy a coffee. The man with a walky-talky walked towards me and ordered me to onboard and I was the first passenger on the ferry. All the car tickets were sold out. I really enjoy this aspect of travelling on motorbike. I went upstairs to the café and purchased some pastries, water and tickets (6,4€). I was able to charge my laptop and catch up on my diary. Soela strait, that separates islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, is so shallow that the ferry needs to zig-zag in the deeper sea or perhaps even deepened sea. We docked at Sõru port at 10.30AM and I rode directly to Kassari. Hiiufolk’s main venue was in the building mode and there was nothing to see.
At one point horse back riders were walking by me at the beach
I rode a bit further to the Piibunina beach, where we used to go with my family while we were at Hiiufolk. The sandy beach is nice, but Algae was blooming and the water was covered with light green particles that one should not swallow. Despite that I swam there a couple times just to cool down my body. I started to read a new book - Mystics and Magic by Gunnar Aarma. The author was a great intellectual and with a very wide range of knowledge. I stayed on the beach and fried myself there until 1.30PM and even participated in a Meet call.
A small library inside the bus stop
All of the sudden I heard music in the bus stop. The Hungarian folk band called Pásztorhóra semi-performed there and later they came to Rannu Pub for lunch. This band will perform at the stages of Hiiufolk a couple of times.
To my surprise the nearby Coop shop is closed and has moved to a bigger intersection. It was very convenient to just walk a few steps into this shop. I unpacked my stuff to the 2nd floor room where we have been many times. I wrote and worked and just had a good leisure time. I felt hungry and went downstairs to Rannu Pub and ordered a goat cheese salad and beer. I sat on the terrace and soon noticed the Hungarians.
Rein Rannu poesing with the beloved bike
At one point I walked to the yard and recognized Rein Rannu, who used to host us in previous years. Rein showed his motorbike and told me that he and his wife Külvi had a plan to go for a longer trip and even bought a caravan for this purpose. But then all that needed to be cancelled because of his cancer diagnosis and he started to have multiple treatments this spring. We talked about men’s health, legacy, handing over wealth and knowledge and simple things in life. This is a journal format and I don't know how the story goes on and if I will see him next year. Rein started his journey as a poor kid and worked himself up despite Soviet regime. Once Estonia became independent he moved up the gears and started different businesses that were not allowed previously, in general making a privately owned business was not possible in Soviet time at all. They even had pigs and a potato field in this yard in the beginning of 1990s, but soon opened tyre repair shop, built a guesthouse and a tavern. Hard working couple enjoying retirement now, respect.
At 5.30PM Jaanika arrived at the front of the guesthouse. Mirjam was very eager to see the gift that I only briefly showed in a video call. She was very happy to get the earrings and these looked good on her. Jaanika didn't show her emotion, but I suppose she needs to open the cider to understand whether the gift is any good. We moved into our room. Soon Jaanika needed to update the makeup. Me and Mirjam went to the yard. We saw a tombstone of Ints and Mirjam made the calculation that this dog lived 8 years. She used to play with this dog in previous years. We also met Rein and had a little chat too.
Astrid Nõlvak, as the main organiser of Hiiufolk, has given us free access every year.
At 6.30PM we started to drive towards Sõru port, exactly where I entered Hiiumaa this morning. Hiiufolk’s first day venue is in the barn in the port. We needed to park our car along the way a bit further away, because there seemed to be a lot of cars and people in Sõru tonight. We walked to the venue, made a loop around the venue and finally got to the correct door and got our wristbands. Astrid Nõlvak, as the main organiser of Hiiufolk, has given us free access every year.
But first we decided to eat and walked to the tavern that is also a part of the barn. The choice was very limited, because they had run out everything, perhaps they didn't take account of the event at all. Anyhow we ordered smashed potatoes and french fries with sausages and we got a stone that had number 5 marked on it. It took eventually 30 minutes and some of the food was missing, I guess they ran out of that too.
First concert that I was interested in watching was Duo Ruut - two ladies performing using a kannel in Estonian, that is somesort of chordophone. Actually the instrument is between them and they look at each other and not towards the crowd. They use the chordophone in a way that normal players never do. They hit the strings and the box with the drum stick and often use a bow. Very interesting and mostly mid tempo melancholic music that has been inspired by Estonian traditional village songs.
Mirjam took my camera with a 70-200mm heavy lens and the rest of the night she took pictures of the artists and everybody and everything else that she considered interesting. I sent these pictures later that night to Hiiufolk and they posted these with the remark Photos by Mirjam Margaret Rannu (9 years old). She’s got a totally new perspective of the event itself and participating people and good compositions, good job! I’m very proud of her first publication. Second interesting gig was Puuluup. We have seen this duo before and they had 2 Hiiu chordophones and a looper. They sang rather funny songs and told funny stories on the stage. It was very hot within the barn and the smell of the sweat was in the air and I needed to catch some breath outside.
Mirjam's first published photos ever
Meanwhile, Mirjam had found new friends - two twin sisters, Laura and Lisete, and Maria. They ran around the port territory. I found a previous photo of Maria and Mirjam in Hiiufolk in 2018. Both of them were very surprised to see this photo, I guess none of them remembered that at all. Well, these girls teased and ran away from boys, swang and jumped into the beanbags. Perfect childhood.
There was a hilarious situation too in the small vessels harbour. I think one flip-flop was dropped into the harbour water and one lady took her shirt and shorts off and jumped after it into the water. I recognised her, Rutt Vardja, but couldn't remember the new family name after her marriage. I walked to the bridge and dragged this half naked lady out of the water. I believe she wasn’t be able to drag herself out of the water herself, the bridge was just too high for her to reach. Remarkable was that she said to her daughter, who presumably has lost the flip-flop, that this is how much she loves her daughter and is willing to do whatever it takes. Her husband wasn’t too far from the epicenter of the happening, but he didn’t seem to be worried at all and perhaps he sees his wife’s spontaneous and sometimes irrational actions all the time.
Just before midnight Puuluup finished the concert and with it the first festival day. I talked to the twin’s mother and she promised that these girls will appear in the Kassari venue as well in upcoming days. It was still amazingly warm, 21’C. We drove in the queue of cars to Käina, because people started to drive in the same direction at the same time. We washed our feet and went to bed. It was a long and emotional day. Sweet dreams.
Friday, July 16
I woke up a bit earlier than the others, because there was an annoying fly in the room and the fly kept on trying to just walk on me. I took my phone and went out to the balcony. The sun is already burning and it was nice to let it happen. At 8AM Mirjam and Jaanika woke up and we went to eat breakfast down stairs in the pub. We sat outdoors on the terrace. Mirjam ate porridge in 50:50 ratio with jam and I sang her a punk song: Porridge is not important, jam is the main thing. In the original it was written by Generator M and it was: Disko pole oluline, punk on põhiline - roughly into English - Disco is not important, punk is the main thing. After that she added some more jam on top of the porridge. I stayed on the terrace a bit longer and worked and wrote a diary. Mirjam went back to the room to watch cartoons and Jaanika did some work too, because she has the last day at work before she starts to enjoy vacation.
At 10AM I had a short Meet call with Jay in the Philippines. Mirjam came by and said hi to Jay and after the call we decided with Mirjam to ride around Käina on my bike. We didn’t wear helmets and we took smaller roads around our accommodation and ended up in the ruins of Käina church. The gates were open and we walked in. There was a lady called Virve who was sitting in the renovated part of the church and the chapel part has a roof. She started to talk about the fate of the church in 1941 when the retrieving Soviet troops, who were stationed in the tower of the church, opened fire on an anti-aircraft gun towards a passing German Stuka plane. The plane turned around and hit the bomb in the middle of the church. The church hasn’t been renovated since, only partly preserving some walls or covering by roof some parts of the church. Legend has it that the very pilot came later to the church and asked for forgiveness because he destroyed the beautiful building. Virve was talkative and revealed that she has 4 children and 18 grandchildren. Mirjam lit a candle and set it to the niche in the wall right next to the cross. What a lovely lady. We walked around a bit there, thanked her and cruised back to Rannu’s guesthouse.
Jaanika was ready and we started to drive to the north. We drove to the north shore of Hiiumaa and set up our camp at Tõrvanina beach. It was very hot again and the water was also rather warm, but still cool enough to cool us down. Waves were quite big and we had a lot of fun jumping and crashing into the waves. The Baltic sea waves usually don’t carry you and you just sink through the waves and there is no point in trying to do bodysurfing. Nonetheless it was a lot of fun and we were there for about 2 hours.
As we were relatively close to Hiiumaa's capital, we decided to drive to the town center and Mirjam ate ice cream. The town centre has been redesigned to be more leisure oriented and more for pedestrians compared to the previous years’ layout that was just a road and parking area. We drove back to Käina to get ready to continue to the festival's main venue in Kassari. Jaanika needed to do the makeup and the rest of us had spare time. Mirjam watched some cartoons and soon joined me in the pub and we ordered cheese balls. I managed to work a bit and write too. The drive from Käina to the venue in Kassari took only 10 minutes.
Eating ice cream in the new central placa in Kärdla
Mirjam's pictures again, talking with Veevos and also on the picture a fellow photographer Enn
We arrived at 6.30PM and our main interest today as far as the line-up was concerned, was a vocal sextet called Estonian Voices. This was the first time I saw them on stage and they were really good. It is just amazing how they fill the stage without any instruments besides their own voices. Kadri Voorand has a kind of magical or mythological power and her energy spreads to everybody watching their show. Mirjam found her friend Maria and they soon had their own business to do. This festival is very family friendly and I don’t need to worry about her safety for a second. She has been running around alone since she was 3 years old. One factor is for sure there are no drunk people that kids might be afraid of and somehow the venue itself is quite compact and once we established our base camp, meaning set up our chairs and blanket, she knows where to find us at any time. Festival’s organiser Astrid has strictly kept the festival alcohol free and I think it pays off in the long run as the society progresses in parallel. There are plenty of choices of fancy non-alcoholic drinks, including mojitos and other shakes.
We happened to talk with Enn and Anneli Veevo who are proper islanders. Many people have summer houses in Hiiumaa and they spend 2-3 months or less in Hiiumaa, but the rest of their life happens in Tallinn or elsewhere on the continent. But the Veevos actually live in Tubala, that is just outside of Kärdla, all the time and sometimes on the weekends go to the mainland and due to this fact alone they travel against the pattern of the tourists who are travelling in the opposite directions. Enn is dealing with electronics and Anneli is working in the Kärdla’s library. In the food court Jaanika bought a poke bowl and I went for a kebab roll and later we also bought smoked sea-bass. Later in the evening the main act was Svjata Vatra and they had brought along an Ukranian ladies choir called Zhurba in their traditional dresses. There is a significant Ukranian minority population in Estonia and these musicians are very much Estonians, but at the same time kind of ambassadors for the Ukrainian culture.
Ruslan Trochinsky and Svjata Vatra performing Ukrainian traditional music in perhaps in ska flavour
Reluctantly Mirjam agreed to discontinue her play with Maria for tonight at 11PM and we promised we would come to the venue sooner tomorrow. In our accommodation we washed our feet and went to sleep at midnight.
Saturday, July 17
We woke up at 8AM and went to eat breakfast. I asked for fried eggs and the chef kindly prepared me the eggs. We decided to go to the beach earlier, because the festival’s program starts earlier today. We took a diagonal gravel road through Hiiumaa to Luidja beach on the north coast. There was a significant wind, big waves and the shallow shore was covered with green marine vegetation. Actually it felt like walking through a soup of spinach when we went to swim, but luckily it was only the first 10 meters and the rest of the beach was a nice clean sandy beach. It was a lot of fun to float on the waves on a big rubber donut and time and time again to fall over. Mirjam enjoyed that a lot. In the beginning we were the only people at the beach, but during the day more people arrived. We were at the beach for almost 3 hours.
After leaving the beach we decided not to drive to the nearby lighthouses because we had been there before and started to drive toward Kärdla. In Reigi we thought that perhaps we should take a look at the miniature Eiffel tower that is made of timber and people can climb to the top of it. I remember 15 years ago I visited this site and the guy who constructed it was depressed, because the local government was forcing him to tear it down, because the construction didn’t have any permission and it was considered to be very dangerous to climb on. Of course I made a portrait of this guy and climbed to the very top of it. It seems they have overcome the issues and the site has become a mass tourist attraction. The narrow gravel road that led to the site had even traffic jams. We decided to just look at this work of art from the car window and not stop there at all. We stopped in Viigri café in Kärdla that is nothing special, but again has some sentimental value for us, because we have made stops here in recent years too. At 2PM we left Kärdla and drove down to Käina where we changed clothes and had an hour off for cartoons or something else. At 3.30PM we drove to Kassari where the sun was burning relentlessly and we looked for a shade, but it was kind of difficult to find a spot where you can see the stage and at the same time be in the shade.
We went to see Mari Kalkun and a bit later Curly Strings, who are both highly professional and entertaining in what they do. We have seen both artists’ shows before and Mirjam likes both too. Curly Strings’ one song particularly - Kaugel külas - was such a hit in Estonia that all little children knew these lyrics by heart. Mari Kalkun has toured in Japan and elsewhere and has become an ambassador of the South-Estonian subculture. We enjoyed both of them. Mirjam again was running around and playing with Maria. They asked for money to buy ice cream and it was our turn to treat Maria. At 7.30PM Mirjam said goodbye to Maria and we packed our stuff to our Volvo and drove to our accommodation. Jaanika and Mirjam then drove to Heltermaa port and back home to Tallinn. I took my motorbike that had been stationary mostly the last days and rode back to the festival.
Mirjam and Maria
I saw many familiar faces. Margo Kõlar, famous film music writer and musician and teacher, revealed a secret that during the covid lockdown he started to learn to play the bagpipes. He needed to practise it in the forest, because it creates such a noise indoors. He is going to play bagpipes tomorrow with Credo choir in Reigi church. I’ve been friends with his son Juko and therefore we have met numerous times before. He has also mastered my band’s Revolution J’s CD, but that was back in 2002 or 2003, many years ago. I promised him to visit one of his concerts tomorrow.
Also I saw many people from Credo choir. Me and Jaanika met the choir conductor Riina Tikenberg in the food court and had a chat a few hours earlier. Eenok, Andres, Rutt, Lisanna and other choir members are mostly from different churches in Tallinn and I used to hang out with them a lot. Eenok presented an idea to have a beach volleyball game tomorrow. I have played volleyball and even participated in tournaments with many of the choir members for many many years. Soon I walked back to the concert area.
Gina, Ida and Mari
Ida Elina from Finland was an interesting artist and she performed RnB and pop songs using chordophone and looper. The last performer was Justament who has been in Estonian music scene for god knows how many decades. But this was not my music and I suppose the purpose of their music is to let people dance in the front of the stage. That itself has some value. In the evening, right after the sun was not directly shining on me, it turned a bit chilly and I changed my shoes and put something warmer on top of my t-shirt. At 11PM I rode back to accommodation and it was rather cold, because I was still wearing shorts. I took a warm shower and made a phone call to Jaanika. They had just arrived and our cats were demanding food when they countered them on the door. I opened my last beer and enjoyed the evening. I went to bed at midnight.
Sunday, July 18
I woke up at 8AM alone in my room. Last night Mirjam and Jaanika arrived in Tallinn and I’m continuing my solo journey. I walked downstairs to eat breakfast and once again I was able to ask for fried eggs that were not in the buffet menu. I suppose the special treatment is because I’m also Rannu like the owners of the Rannu pub are. I ate and wrote in my diary until 10.30AM. I enjoyed the splendid summer morning and for my relief the sky is partly covered by clouds today. I drove to the nearby beach volleyball court to play with Krister, Rutt, Veljo, Marja, and Mari. Mari is working in the same office with me in Telliskivi in Tallinn. It was a lot of fun to play beach volleyball after 10 or more years. I saw Elari Lend jumping out of their mobile home in the same parking area right next to the courts. Elari is another guy who we have had more contact with in the 2000s with and it seems like everyone is coming together in Hiiumaa. We played until 1.30PM and Veljo was so nice to walk to the grocery store and buy several cold non-alcohol Kaineken beers. That was a nice and cold sip.
We went our separate ways, most of the players needed to prepare themselves for the Credo choir concert in Reigi church and Mari and Gina, Mari’s German friend, decided to go swimming in Orjaku harbour at the south tip of Kassari. I went back to my accommodation and straight to the shower, because the sweaty and sticky sand was just awful. I even decided not to wear a shirt nor helmet on the short drive to accommodation. I packed my stuff on my bike, checked out and said goodbye to the people in the bar. I rode to Orjaku harbour to meet Mari and Gina and basically soon started to ride to Kuriste Orthodox church where Heinavanker and the priest conducted a ceremony that was a traditional Orthodox service and prayers and Heinavanker sang.
Margo Kõlar, who I met yesterday, led the small choir. I took a few pictures of the service or concert. The church was packed with listeners. I saw Astrid too and learned that I needed to adjust my plans, because Astrid can’t accommodate me tonight. Most probably the last concert and hanging around will continue until very late at night and she will be dead tired after this. I've promised to myself to be flexible and this was the moment to be agile and swiftly make necessary changes. Gina and Mari said that they have booked a table in Ungru restaurant in Suuresadam at 3.30PM. So I was hungry and the company looked promising and they asked me to join them. It was only a 30 minutes drive from the concert venue to the restaurant. I ordered a pesto pasta, beer and later green pea halwa for dessert. It was all very delicious and the bill was 21€. I stayed in the restaurant a bit longer writing my diary and Mari dropped Gina to Heltermaa port. Gina will go back to Tallinn. Gina used to work with Mari in TransferWise and they have been friends for 6-7 years. I rode to Kärla and filled the tank with 15 litres of petrol. I’m not sure when I would run out of petrol, the worst would be discovering it in the middle of Hiiumaa where there are no gas stations. I continued my ride to Kärdla church.
There were already a lot of people waiting in the queue to purchase a ticket. I needed to buy an extra ticket for 5€ when I showed my festival wristband. Another queue was for entering the church and grabbing the seat, but luckily Mari was so quick that she drove to port and further to the church and was able to enter the church and put her stuff to the bench in order to occupy multiple seats before the masses arrived. At 6.45PM the last concert of this year’s Hiiufolk started and it was in memory of Jaak Johanson.
Jaak Johanson was a famous folk artist and every year performer at Hiiufolk, picture taken in Hiiufolk in 2019
Jaak Johanson was a famous folk artist and every year performer at Hiiufolk too and therefore it was appropriate to gather his friends, family and musicians and properly say goodbye to him because he passed away in February in the lockdown environment. There was a long lineup of artists that performed a few songs including his brothers and sister Johansons, Tõnis Mägi, Mari Kalkun, Ain Agan, Riho Sibul, Astrin Nõlvak and many others. Many of the people had tears in their eyes. I suppose that is very normal and part of the longer process of grief, where the intimate songs that have been written by Jaak brought out the memories and emotions. Another factor might be that due the lockdown in February, when Jaak passed away, it was not possible to gather and cry on each-other’s shoulders and now after 6 months it opened the wounds again. Nonetheless the speeches and music was very touching.The concert ended just before 10PM, but I’m pretty sure it continued in some other form in a nearby pub.
I decided to use the daylight and ride a bit further to the west to Tõrvanina beach. At 10.15PM my camp was all set and I sat on the blanket at the beach and wrote my diary. The colourful sunset and the rolling waves were my company until 11PM. I went to sleep knowing that this is my last night in Hiiumaa and in the westside of Estonia in general.
Monday, July 19
I woke up at 9AM and opened my tent door and saw a beautiful view of the beach. It was quite windy and the waves were much higher than yesterday night. I ran into the cold waves for refreshment and ran back to the tent and worked and wrote. The area in Tõrvanina is meant for camping and it was rather crowded. I think I saw a few caravans and about 20 tents beneath the pine trees. But still I had enough privacy and nobody stumbled into my tent either during the night.
I slowly packed my camp back to my bike and made a phone call to Jaanika. Mirjam will be with her grandmother today and they will visit a SPA or rather a water park with 3 other relatives. And she will stay with these boys at grandmother’s place till tomorrow. We made plans with Astrid that I will visit them this afternoon.
She was not able to send me the accurate point in Google Maps and I suppose I need to find the place somehow myself. At least I know the village name now. I rode to the west and accidentally saw an autolavka, that is a bus turned into a mobile shop. I got everything from this shop that goes from one bus stop to another in the countryside. I bought milk, eggs, bacon and half of a watermelon. A lady who was shopping at the same time was also happy to have just a half and not an entire watermelon. So the driver split the watermelon. I got every item that Astrid mentioned that I could buy, because in her fridge most of the stuff has expired due the fact she just had the hectic Hiiufolk week. This was the first time for me to purchase something from this kind of rolling shop.
I rode down towards Emmaste and at Nurste I started to find a way to the shore and into Kitsa village. Remarkably, I found the correct house on the first run at 1PM. Astrid and her daughter came to welcome me and were also surprised that I was able to find them in the middle of the forest without any guidance.
Astrid and Marie at the gates of their Hiiumaa home
We started to prepare breakfast together and even little Marie did her fair share of work. We ate on the terrace and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. The house has been built with extra care and meaning.
The mastermind behind this house building project is Rainer Nõlvak who founded one of the first internet and email services in Estonia in the 1990-s called Microlink Baltics and is mostly known as the initiator of Let’s Do It! World which is has grown out from Let’s Clean Up Estonia in 2008 to a global mass civil cleaning actions called The World Cleanup Day. I also remember he was driving a Porsche Cayenne while he was a green activist and he was joking about the fact too. He was also pushing himself to the limit in triathlon training and participating in Ironman competitions. Unfortunately, he was very busy with ongoing online meetings in another house nearby and we were not able to meet at all. OK, back to the house. Astrid’s husband Rainer was really obsessed that all the possible materials would come from Hiiumaa or from their own land. So, they dug a pond and used the clay for covering the walls. Reed is also cut from the shore nearby. The timber was also cut from the same forest, prepared in Viljandi and shipped back as building material to Hiiumaa. Some of the logs are over 100 years old and have been reused from an old barn that stood on this land. I think you got the philosophy already.
We talked on different topics and also highlighted some of the events of Hiiufolk. Also talked about grief and yesterday’s concert that was organised for Jaak Johanson’s memory. Marie asked where Mirjam was, she seemed to miss her. We need to set up a meeting in Tallinn for these girls. I gave a guesthouse key to Astrid that she will drop back to Käina, because she will go there anyway and I had to hurry somewhat in order to manage to board the ferry. The funny thing was that when I checked out on Sunday I said the key was hanging in the front of my room’s door, but actually it was with the substantial wooden pear-shape keychain in my pocket. We hugged and said goodbye.
I started my way to Heltermaa port and boarded easily and set sail at 4PM. I met a lonely rider Matis from Valmiera. He did a loop in Hiiumaa and he was on the way back to Latvia. I worked a bit while I was in the ship’s café. I was able to book a massage in Lihula. I met Mati Lohu in Virtsu who was visiting Kärdla and attending only Hiiufolk's Sunday concerts. I used to play tennis and hiked in Saaremaa with him. He is a fascinating and rather mysterious guy. He is a doctor in the field of radiology and he took a year off as a sabbath year and has done very simple jobs during this year. He will be working as a security guard in Viljandi Folk festival. I might go to Viljandi as well, but let's see how this will work out. I rode directly to Lihula and to the massage table and got proper treatment from Merike. She gave me 1.5 hours of wellness this time, which cost 35€.
At 8PM I realised that all the smaller grocery stores were closed and Margus urged me not to shop for anything. I drove through smaller settlements like Märjamaa and Rapla on the roads that I usually avoid. Margus lives just outside of Kohila and I arrived at his place at 9.15PM. My first expression was that the house and its habitants are from the famous Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking story. Margus came to welcome me and there were also 2 big dogs. One guy played electric guitar in the yard, one little boy was running around the yard that was not Margus' son, but his friend’s son instead and his friend had a Chinese girlfriend Poona, who was not the boy's mother. First it was a messy situation, but after Margus explained that his friends just live here because he has a big house and plenty of room. Margus showed his 1980-s Honda that had some sort of electrical sickness currently and therefore Margus does not have trust in this bike for going for longer rides.
Margus showed his 1980-s Honda
A hybrid of a Corgi and a Husky called Nööp (a Button)
The guy who practiced guitar in the front of the sauna was nice and started to heat the sauna and Margus took me to a nearby house. This house belongs to his wife’s family and they have built a restaurant Hütt in the backyard. The chef Martin and the rest of the crew welcomed us and we arrived right after one birthday ended and we had plenty of leftovers. This is a popular place and only opened in the summer and only for the booked groups. They explain it is like a lifestyle or hobby business. Martin made us 3 pizzas with the unique taste that I haven’t come across elsewhere. Perhaps one of the best pizzas ever, although I voluntarily don’t order pizza for myself, because I get some leftovers from my daughter every other meal outside home. There was a cool dog called Nööp. She was a hybrid of a Corgi and a Husky, a weird combination. This dog jumped into the air to catch flies and wasps. All of sudden the birthday girl was looking for her dog and it appeared Nööp had taken this dog for a proper loop around the forest and riverside. Eventually they found the dogs in a bush hiding place where Nööp had dragged tens of rats, birds and even chicken. Nööp got strong words from the restaurant people who are mostly relatives and live in the main house.
I also got a good IPA from Tanker tap. Also I got a Mari cake that Mari from Kohila made just before she gave birth the next day. It seems everything has a story behind. We enjoyed the warm night until 11PM and thanked the crew who were exhausted from the long working day. Perhaps we will do our - mine and Jaanika’s - combined birthday here this year. We drove perhaps 200 meters and went to the sauna. Margus lives in this house and his wife Liisi lives mostly in the other house where the restaurant is. Interesting arrangements to be honest, but it seems it works for them. Liisi’s daughter is 17-18 years old, works in this restaurant and kind of became a daughter to Margus too. Modern relationships.
Margus has only big thoughts, at least it seems he has
The sauna was very basic, but worked and had a kick inside. We have played badminton with Margus for years and now we had more time than usual to discuss different matters. Margus has been the local municipality leader and works in the field of law. He is also an entrepreneur and he has done investments into several areas. We also discussed relationships and how to manage complicated family affairs and also how to cope with the grief. We walked to the river Keila 3 times in the middle of darkness and I think the nude journey was 500 meters back and forth. The river was about 1.5 meters deep and was nice and cool. We ended our sauna session at 2.30AM and I was sleeping on the couch in the living room.
Tuesday, July 20
I woke up at 8AM when Poona was doing something in the kitchen. Margus was still sleeping and I started to pack my stuff into my bike. The dogs were up and running too and were very eager to play. I threw them a tennis ball or piece of wood. At one point the ball dropped out from its mouth and I started to grab the ball and threw it further, but one of the dogs made a move to stop me and bit my thigh. That was a proper bite and I saw at least two big holes in my jeans and blood was running. Bloody hell, I started to swear and yell because of the pain. That woke Margus up and he rushed to treat me in the kitchen. I sat on the sofa in the kitchen and while I was cleaning the wound, I started to see 3 parallel movies all blurred together. Margus was freaked out by my pass out and thought perhaps I had an attack of epilepsy. Soon I recovered and continued the treatment and I didn’t know how long I watched the blurry movie. It seems the pain switched off my mind for protecting me like modern electronics do in extreme conditions.
So, we were both in our underwear and still in a bit of a state of shock. Soon the dog came to the kitchen to settle the issue with sniffing and licking. I'm sure it was also amazed by what happened, because it was entirely a situation of play, perhaps it was used to play rough games with other dogs. We reconciled with each-other, nothing personal. Margus gave me some spear tape and bandages to treat the deep hole in my flesh. Eventually there was one serious hole and some minor scratches. I decided it was not worth it to see the doctor, because there was no need for stitches. We walked to the river and one dog ran alongside us and swam in the river Keila where we swam in pitch-balck darkness yesterday. We went back to the kitchen and ate sandwiches. Poona prepared coffee and later Margus made mate tea. He is slowly building this enormous house and bit-by-bit it turns more liveable. I have planned to visit Margus here and have these longer talks for some time already, but eventually it all worked out rather nicely.
Swimming spot in the river Keila
The sauna was very basic, but worked and had a kick inside
At 11AM we said our goodbyes and I started the ride south. Soon it started to rain and I tried to avoid the very dark purple clouds, but eventually it was only a few drops, nothing serious. I decided to take a bit longer route that would lead me through places that I usually do not visit. I rode through Rapla and made a coffee stop in Järvakandi, where Tõnis’ ex-wife Kai is living now. She was in Pärnu currently. I sat in the only café in Järvakandi and worked. Järvakandi is a very quiet settlement, absolutely still, nothing happens here. Perhaps a perfect place to raise kids.
An office break in Järvakandi
Beautiful country roads
Beautiful old of Viljandi
At noon I continued my journey towards Viljandi and drove through Vändra and Suure-Jaani. Usually I take bigger highways and not experience these twisty and lovely country roads. In Viljandi I took 17 litres of gasoline and ate fish soup in a restaurant called Tegelaste Tuba. At one point a gang of Hungarians marched in and I recognised the same band that performed in Hiiumaa. Also I had the second chance to get an autograph for Mirjam. Mirjam told me to get the autograph from the singer that looks like an Estonian singer Stig Rästa. It all went well, I got the autograph, kept the promise and they did remember me too. At 3PM I continued my ride and arrived at Tõrva at 4PM.
Jaan Tootsen and his father in law welcomed me at the gates of a house where Jaan and his family stay in the summertime. His family has driven somewhere else and he had the whole day for work. I dropped part of my gear to the house and Jaan jumped to the backseat of my bike. He went through an obvious self-transcendence, because he frantically held my shoulders and assisted not to drive faster than 30KM/H. He seems to have some childhood trauma caused by motorbikes. But he was brave, because we reached the ruins of Helme church, which is a 3KM journey.
Jaan Tootsen as an immortalator of interesting people
I know Jaan Tootsen from 1993 boy scout camp in Norway, where we were in the same tent and later we were in the same host family. A lot of good memories from this 2 week adventure in Norway. Jaan went to the university to study radio work and he wrote his thesis on the subject related mostly to an Estonian intellectual Uku Masing. Uku Masing was dead by then and he needed to dug the information about this rebel-minded, definitely anti-communist, philisopher, poet, theologian, historian and in a sense intellectual all-rounder like DaVinci. His friend was Evald Saag as a living source of knowledge about Uku Masing and he too turned out to be an extraordinary character and these audio recordings started a radio broadcast and podcast Ööülikool (Night University in English). Ööülikool just celebrated its 20th anniversary and 500 episodes of more than 300 Estonian prime thinkers. To preserve such a massive amount of thoughts is an achievement itself. Another dimension is that around 20 people have already passed away, but left an immortal imprint to the future knowledge seekers.
I told Jaan I had heard all the episodes, because I’m very much an audiophile. We also discussed the phenomenon of Evald Saag. He was an amazing story teller and his stories were amazing too. Sometimes this polyglot, theologian, historian and wise man told stories on the border of truth and fiction. And it turns out in some cases he was full of shit, he said he studied in Sorbonne university and what amazing people he met there. Some scholars are trying to find evidence for that with no results. Why on earth he made up some of the stories, what would be the purpose of that? Evald was a mysterious man. But mostly he spoke about true stuff with amazing and colourful details. Jaan is also a documentary film maker and I have seen most of them and found his angle of view quite telling. In order to do a proper documentary the film maker should cross the border of comfort and norm in order to bring out the essence of the person and the sub-culture in question.
Jaan has 3 major blocks nowadays - Ööülikool, documentary films and family. He is very happy to do meaningful and long lasting broadcasts and he finds it very demoralising to do news that expires on the same or next day. He admires people who are good at making the news, but he would not cope with the short-term-ness of it. He is interested in sensing people and how people feel the world around them. We rode back to Tõrva and thanked him for the 2 hours he found. There is always something to do, but I hope he had as much fun and thrill as I did. At 6PM I continued my ride to Valga.
I bought watermelon and sweets for the kids and red wine and special lemonade for adults. Kristi lives in the apartment building on the Estonian side of the split city. I knew Kristi when we were teenagers and she used to sing in our hip-hop band. She has lived here her whole life except the years when she lived in Tallinn and in Tartu and studied in the universities to become an elementary school teacher. Her husband Veiko is still working on the construction site near Tõrva and he is building a house for a client alone. Their kids are Ristten 4, Anette 10 and Lisette 16 years old. Kristi cooked dinner and we ate together. At 8PM Veiko arrived as well and we talked about their life in Valga and my journey. Kristi works in the school as a terapeut or some sort of a religious advisor for kids and serving partly in the hospital as religious advisor. They have a long term project to finish the house that is nearby, but still the interior works are ongoing and therefore it’s not possible to move in yet.
The small flat is vibrating because of the jumping and playing of kids. Veiko proposed to go to swim in the dam lake on Pedeli river. Kristi stayed home because she caught a cough from the car’s AC a few days ago when they crossed the whole of Estonia to get home again. We drove to the Latvian side and reached a very nice lake. Girls immediately ran to the shore and took the rope and catapulted themselves to the water and swam to the other side of the lake and back. I was amazed by their capability of swimming and thought I would not be able to swim across this lake, I would run out of energy due to my wasteful technique or lack of it and drown for sure.
We drove a bit further and walked to see Valka’s outdoor theatre venue. Estonian part of the town is called Valga and Latvian side Valka and the land mass was split quite evenly in 1920 by the watchful eyes of the British, but the population is spread unevenly 13,000 on Valga side and 5000 on Valka side. It turned out that both Kristi and Veiko, who have lived in Valga their entire life, have no Latvian friends. It seems the language barrier is just too great and it seems only Russian speakers from both sides of the town communicate with ease with each other. There are only 3 crossings for cars and multiple pedestrian crossings between the split city.
During the lockdown the twin-city had an exception that both citizens were allowed to cross the border without any restrictions, I suppose you needed to carry ID with you only for random check. We drove back to Kristi’s home. We opened the wine and we talked about several topics including history. Kristi watched TV and Lisette was eager to talk with me and Veiko. I asked what her major interests were and she replied astronomy, history and conspiracy theories. Other kids were playing PC games. We were upright until 1AM.
Wednesday, July 21
I woke up at 7AM because Veiko started to work on the computer and prepared his breakfast in the kitchen. And then he went to work. I also worked and then decided to go for a walk, because other members of the family were still sleeping. I walked to the Maxima store near the railway station and got from the parcel machine some clean clothes that Jaanika shipped from the other side of Estonia. It took only a day to reach me. This railway station has a rather embarrassing memory too. It was in the mid 90-s when I was a teenager and I was in Tartu railway station. I was on the way home to Tallinn and jumped into the train and enjoyed my ride without paying any attention to the terrain around me and the stations passing by. I think I was sitting in the restaurant train car. But when the loudspeaker announced that this was the end of my journey and welcome to Valga, I was in total shock. What, did I take the wrong train? Well, I spent a few hours in Valga and took another train to Tallinn. Still remember this episode of my life and still occasionally I pick some wrong flights.
I walked back to the apartment, it was still silent, they were still sleeping. I went downtown and found quite a nice old town area and beautiful old wooden architecture. I need to admit that many of these buildings are still waiting for money and renovation. Valga seems to have had better days 100 years ago and when people are getting richer they seem to pour part of the money to buildings. I have seen it elsewhere in the world too. For example in Sopot, Poland, we saw magnificent villas by the hundreds and that itself was a sign of past centuries of rich people who came to spend their holidays there from Warsaw, Gdansk and Köningsberg or from around a wider area.
Near Selver grocery store, which is basically the city centre, I crossed the border to the Latvian side. Recently they have built a rather nice installation and a swing that is swinging between two countries. Well, I also swang there and I was on the Estonian side and then again on the Latvian side. Some part of the city has been split by a narrow creek only and you can jump over it to the otherside. There are no bordergards in sight, perhaps they check only via cameras if at all. Both cities have developed their own city centres over the past 100 years.
I walked to Valka side and tried to find a café, but couldn't find any, perhaps it was just too early. I noticed on both sides that many people were talking in Russian language. That is a direct heritage of the Soviet Union policy to bring in not only Russians, but Ukrainians, Kasaks and workers from other nations to establish vast factories. The common language became Russian. The same pattern was used in East-Moldova and East-Ukraine to mention just a few. Anyhow, these people were left behind after the collapse of the regime and many of them struggled to integrate into Latvian and Estonian society. Younger people mostly had no problem picking up the languages and going to the Latvian or Estonian schools and becoming citizens. I noticed some parked cars with Estonian number plates on the Latvian side.
But in general it seems to be still very much a split city despite the openness and borderless environment. Finally I found a cafe on Valga's side and I sat in front of Carl's cafe and ordered an omelette and coffee. It was a good walk and I headed back to Kristi's home and proposed to her that I will cook an omelette for all. The circus was in full motion and kids were running from room to room. Soon Ristten settled down and started to play PC games. We ate breakfast, and in my case for the second time that morning. Anette and Ristten ate their own cuisines. At 12.30 we were in a hurry to race to the railway station. I managed to take a photo of them in front of their house and drove to the station. Lisette was on the way to meet her friends in Tartu.
We continued our drive to the Pentecostal church, where Kristi has put substantial amount of voluntary work in during the past 20-25 years. The building itself is huge. There is a second-hand shop and grocery store on the 1st floor and the main hall, band room, children and youth rooms on the 2nd floor. There are even rooms for accommodating youth camp and seminar participants. We drove further and parked her car and walked to the beach area alongside river Pedeli. Anette walked to meet her friends somewhere else and Ristten was playing on the playing ground.
The sun was burning and little dog Bella tried to find shade beneath the bench. Kristi seems to be happy in her setting. On the way back we drove by their unfinished house that was actually on the other side of Pedeli river and where we were on the playing ground. In a sense everything is close by in Valga, but people still prefer to drive and not walk instead.
Kristi and her kids
Nipernaadi is a carature from a book. Nipernaadi was also a traveller
The house is completed outside and looks very cosy and modern. Kristi is very eager to move in and she kind of sabotages her husband by not maintaining or repairing anything in the flat saying we will not do anything in the flat and soon we move to the house anyway. I took a shower and we ate something. Also I cleaned my wound and replaced the bandage.
At 4PM we said goodbyes andI hit the road. I decided not to take the obvious route to Võru that has a wide asphalt road going from the south side and mostly close to the Lativan border and not the upper option that goes through Antsla and instead the middle option through Karula natural reserve.
These roads were sublime and pleasurable for motorbikers, twisty and hilly roads. Some sections were gravel roads. It seems Estonia needs to keep some of the gravel roads, especially similar roads I took, because they need these roads for World Rally Championships that were held last weekend somewhere in South-Estonia.
These roads were sublime and pleasurable for motorbikers, twisty and hilly roads
I arrived at Sänna and I rode to the front of a wooden mansion. Currently it was quiet and not a single person was visible. I have met Henrik Noor here who is running several activities in the mansion and around the park with his wife. They have a tiny community school called ‘village school of inventors’, a library, a workshop of weird bicycles and the planet trail that is laid out in the park. Additionally they use perma angle for agriculture and for chicken farming. Very fascinating young people. I sat in the front of the main building and wrote. Soon I continued my ride to the Rõuge shop and bought beer, sausages and cheese. In the front of the shop I started to talk with a bicyclist Anastasia who is from Tallinn. We spoke in 3 languages, because her Estonian was as bad as my Russian language. And the third helping language was English. She was wondering about staying a night in Luhasoo nature park. I said I will also consider this option. I have visited the Luhamaa trails and the hut multiple times, but never stayed there the whole night.
Neighbours dog Max
I paid a visit to my neighbours. Ainar was outside. We planned to have a sauna next night. Ainar used to be a truck driver, mainly in the wood industry and a few years worked even in the Chezch Republic. Currently just hanging around and not doing anything particular. He is also dealing with fields of vegetables near his house. We have had saunas many times. I decided not to spend the night in my sauna and instead rode a bit further to the edge of Estonia and close to the border with Latvia.
I parked my bike and unpacked some of my stuff that I might need in the hut. But first it was wise to eat, less stuff to drag along too. I joined an Estonian couple who already had hot charcoal and I was able to just add sausages to the grill.
Anastasia arrived as well and she started to prepare with her proper hikers kit her own meals. There were many cars in the parking space and I hesitated whether to go or not, because I thought perhaps the hut was occupied by a bunch of drinking lads. But one-by-one people started to drive away and it seemed that most of the people went to swim or hike only. I decided to go and when the sun set, the path to the swamp actually started to look even better. A photographer with full gear walked towards me and said he got some nice footage of the lake and sunset. I walked past the lake and to the hut. There was nobody there. Also there was no wood for the fireplace, not a single stick and I assume it is purposeful, because it is very dry and forest can easily set to blaze. The wooden pathway is in very good condition and it protects the fragile nature and at the same time makes it accessible to walk without rubber boots on and around the swamps.
Lake Mustjärv in Luhasoo
I took some pictures of the lake Mustjärv in almost darkness. I walked back to the hut and went to sleep. I was worried about the wicked mosquitoes and horseflies, but as the door of the hut was kept closed the annoyance was outside and not indoors. There was no electricity, but there was a nice wide wooden platform where I set up my bed. There was even a pile of spear blankets. Nice and cozy hut.
Thursday, July 22
My alarm set off at 5AM and I jumped out of the sleeping bag. I walked to the bog lake of Mustjärv. The steam from the water surface raised towards the sky like the whole lake was a boiling pot. The rising sun added the mystical colours to the top of the pine trees and to the fog. The site was just so surreal. I went to swim in the lake and the white fog. Water was around 20-25’C and air temperature perhaps 15’C and that itself was the calaisator of this sorcery and all this fog. I swam a bit and climbed out and needed to hurry to put underwear on, because 2 ladies appeared all of a sudden from the fog. They were from a nearby town called Võru and have been visiting and swimming here for many years. I went back to sleep and woke up at 10AM and packed my stuff.
The rising sun added the mystical colours to the top of the pine trees and to the fog
I walked to the other end of the lake and noticed Anastasia. She decided to spend the night in the tent on top of the barn near the parking place. She offered me an apple. She was swimming just before I arrived. I also swam for the second time that morning and we spoke about the purposes of each-other's journeys. It seems her purpose is to find out what she would like to do and work with. Current education, making sweets and cakes or logistics, doesn’t seem to click anymore and she is eager to change the course and learn and work in an entirely different field.
At noon we went in different directions and walked back to my bike. I drove to my place and had a Meet meeting on a bridge and the noise of the waterfall of Pärlijõe was just beneath me. But soon I started to drive further and still continued my conference call, but I muted myself, because there was some technical discussion where I didn’t have many comments.
Cloudberry or murakas in Estonian
Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) or sinikas in Estonian
Very twisty roads near the Palojüri lake
I rode on gravel roads that were very twisty and went up and down, through Viitina, Ruusmäe to Misso. I went to Andri-Peedo goat farm’s restaurant. Nele, the restaurant waitress, and Anzelika, marketeer in the company, treated me very well with redroot goat cheese salad and goat milk creme brûlée. Also I ordered black coffee with goat milk and additionally I asked for a glass of goat milk. It was all good.
Nele and Anzelika in Andri-Peedo goat farm’s restaurant
Both ladies told amazing stories about how they had come back to Setomaa or are new settlers from Tallinn. Perhaps you need to work your shit off in Tallinn or in London before you are capable of enjoying life in Setomaa. The sun seems to be brighter always somewhere else, isn’t it. My bill was 14€. Anzelika gave me a nice hard goat cheese that I will bring home. It will survive my long journey. She has a small farm and accommodation nearby in Luhamaa. I walked to the farm and communicated with goats and baby goats. Baby goats are just so cute and they rush at me as the older goats hesitated before walking towards me to the fence. I started to ride at 4PM.
The ruins of Vastseliina fort
I saw many well maintained and beautiful houses, but also saw almost collapsed old, perhaps hundreds of years old buildings that had windows sealed and roofs collapsed. It seems this part of Estonia has just got rebooted and is on the way up to its former glory. I rode to the border of Koidula. I asked somebody in charge and Ly as the chief of the shift showed up and was very surprised by my request. As in many occasions I ask the impossible and am not ashamed about it. I ask Ly to escort me to the bridge to exchange spies. After some chat she said, well, the bridge in question is right there, but I cannot take any photos of it. Otherwise she might lose her job.
The exchange of spies on the bridge in Koidula. Photo by Kaitsepolitsei
She recommended not going through the bureaucracy of both country bordergards in order to get permission to get this picture. Instead she said that I will get an image from the news archive with ease and just walk to the bridge and describe it. Good advice. We walked to the bridge. Well, I must say, it was a disappointment, because I had in mind an old narrow stone bridge further away from the main Koidula border crossing. But the exchange happened in 2015, when Estonian officer Eston Kohver was swapped with Aleksei Dressen, at the very bridge in a classic spies exchange fashion meeting in the halfway of the bridge that crosses the border river Piusa. There is a famous spies exchange movie directed by Spielberg with main actor Tom Hanks and in this movie they also exchanged the spies on the bridge in Berlin. Both stories are very complex and the ultimate truth might never be revealed. Ly took my ID to register my entry to the neutral zone between Estonia and Russia. I thanked her for the hassle and drove mostly on gravel roads further alongside the border.
Nice views in Meremäe
I ended up in Saatse village and in Maagõkõnõ home restaurant that is run by Sirje. Sirje explained the name in Seto dialect Maagõkõnõ means in Estonian moonikene and in English a poppy. She said when she started this business there were many poppies in the yard, because they used to grow grain around the houses and poppies were popping out the ground because of it. She served me a pie, coffee and a dram of hansa. Hansa is a local extra strong home made vodka that is produced from rye. Additionally I bought a pear-cowberry wine that is produced in this farm. I hope my wife will like the wine.
Maagõkõnõ home restaurant that is run by Sirje
It was very quiet around us and there were no other customers in sight. One white stork (Ciconia ciconia) was walking around the house and it made a noise with the beak and kept a rather curious cat at bay. Sirje said that every autumn the stork family will do the farewell walk in her yard and then fly to the other side of the Meritannian sea for the winter and then come back to the same nesting place. I paid all together 15€. I thanked her and drove to the north.
There is a weird border in this part of Estonia. I rode on the road that crossed Russian Federation and in this few kilometres long stretch I was not allowed to stop, of course I stopped and put my foot down on Russian soil, well on asphalt. I remember we did a similar thing with my Australian friend and musician Simon Lewis and he was so excited to be in Russia. Similar border bizarre situations are not only in Estonia, I know one case in the Netherlands, where the circular part belongs to Belgium inside the Netherland’s territory and inside this enclave a few households belong to the Netherlands again. This donut shaped map is quite mind blowing, but in the Schengen League it doesn’t burden anyone.
An illigal step in the Russian Federation near Saatse
I drove through Värska, where the Seto museum is where we recorded with the same Australian musician and his fellow musician Jono Callow and Kuldatsäuk. Kuldatsäuk is a traditional Seto folk ladies choir and they wear the heavy traditional clothes and jewellery. Australian boys had all the drums and keyboards and didgeridoos lined up in the front of this museum. Listen to the track on Spotify.
In Värska and on Õrsava lake I did my first proper kiss when I was a teenager. I remember I took Eeva to the middle of the lake on a rowing boat and it was a night with moon light, very romantic atmosphere. She broke my heart of course, but nonetheless beautiful moments to remember. I rode to Võru to get a massage from Kristiina who drove from Põlva to give me a massage. It was good to get some treatment, because long stretches of motorbiking are damaging my ass and other muscles. The cost was 35€ for a bit more than an hour massage
Neighbour's dog called Maks
I thanked her and drove to the Maksimarket grocery store and bought different craft beers for the sauna. I had a tight race against the fuel tank. The light that indicates fuel level low started to shine just outside of Värska and I didn’t counter any gas stations along the way and I think I rode 25KM with the light until finally in Võru I was able to fill the tank. Now I know that the full capacity must be 20 litres, because that was the amount that went in. I suppose I drove to Võru on gasoline fuses.
I arrived at my neighbour’s yard at 9.15PM in Saarlasõ village and I saw the neighbour's wife and a dog called Maks, but Ainar went missing during the day and she couldn't reach him. She guessed that he had met some old friends and was having a good time and forgot to come home and prepare the sauna altogether. It could be that he will be away for many days now. Ok, a little change in my plans again. I said goodbye to her and drove to my sauna nearby. The grass was very tall and it took some effort to drive through the high grass. I set up my life in my sauna. I haven’t been here in 2021 and wasps have taken over the control. One ball-shaped wasp condominium was next to the door attached to the ceiling. They were very pissed off that I opened my door, but soon they calmed down. I bought this piece of land in 2006 and it contains 4 hectares of forest and a Pärlijõe river is crossing it. I worked and went to sleep at 11PM.
My sauna at Saarlasõ village
Friday, July 23
I woke up in my sauna at 8AM. It seems I need to do some serious cleaning here before I can have sauna. I decided to drive to Ööbikuoru villa to eat breakfast in Rõuge. I paid 7€ and enjoyed a ather rich breakfast buffet. I participated in a meeting and wrote my diary, edited photos and did some work. I stayed there until 12.30PM. I wrote to Lisanna and invited myself to visit them in Võru on the bank of the Kubija lake. I drove without a helmet a bit further to Rõuge grocery store and bought watermelon for kids again. Watermelon works most of the time. And in 15 minutes I was in the yard of their villa.
I visited them a couple of times 10 years ago. I handed over the watermelon and beers. Kids were playing somewhere in the house or at the neighbours place. Lisanna is working in a NGO that brands and organises Kupland network. Kupland’s ultimate goal is to bring digital nomads to South-Estonia and provide them a network of more that 20 co-working spaces around beautiful Võrumaa, Valgamaa and Põlvamaa. Maa is like a ‘shire’ added to Oxford or York to become Oxfordshire and Yorkshire in the UK.
Ingmar is working in MAD team development agency as an instructor and startup advisor. Ingmar and I tasted craft beers. Ingmar’s semi-heretic thoughts have isolated them from church related scene. Because Lisanna knows my liberal views in religions and society as such, she invited me I guess. I found the ideas that Ingmar shared quite interesting and in many ways challenging for most of the christians. I try to keep my view of the religion rather wide and not necessarily go to the collision course with other people. It seems they have seen narrow minded leaders in the christian community and lack of interest in discussing potential alternatives to certain issues with the controversial books like Bible and Quran. Eventually it is a question of belief vs intuition.
Ingmar and Lisanna
We also talked about pro level photography and the fact that Ingmar has invested a huge amount of money into studio equipment. To my shock there is something better than my full frame 35mm and he went to 42mm Fuji with expensive equipment and all the lenses. So, different levels are needed because of demanding work on shades and large scale work. We walked to the other side of the lake Kubija and enjoyed the sandy beach and kids were jumping from the tower. Water was nice and warm. After one hour we walked back and ate soup. They have 3 children - Elisebeth, Aaron and Samuel - all in the range of 8-11 years.
One topic came up when I asked where Lisanna's mother, who I have met in recent visits, was. It turned out she went missing last year and police are chasing her. I think my jaw was dropping down like in the cartoons. I remember she was rather artistic and it took some effort to understand her. It appears she has joined an Orthodox sect that was extra cautious about tracing and tracking and disappeared to a somewhat closed community or nunnery in Estonia or elsewhere, perhaps in the vastness of Russia. That was a proper grenade thrown towards me. I didn’t expect that to come. I wonder how it affects close relatives who are obviously worried. I thanked them and rode back to my rather modest sauna.
I started to clean the floors. I haven’t been here properly for more than 2 years and the last time I heated the sauna was in the summer of 2019. It was good to process the thoughts and ideas in the calmness of my remote forest retreat and in the process of preparing the sauna. I needed to bring water from river Pärlijõe and I needed to attach a rope to the handlebar of the bucket, because the water level was so low due the dry summer and perhaps because of the climate changes in general. The river comes from Latvian swamps and it could be that these swamps there are gradually drying out and not providing enough water for rivers. I wrote until the laptop battery was empty. I don't have electricity nor running water in my sauna. Sometimes it is good not to have these luxury services to be more humble when you have them and occasionally there might be interruption of the service.
The sauna was very hot and when I threw water onto the hot stones, the hot steam and heat tried to rip my ears off. I walked to the edge of the river and climbed down the ladder to investigate how low or deep the river was. It was maximum 1.5 metres compared to 3-4 metres deep in the fall and it would be reckless to jump in from my boat bridge. The water that flows from the swamp contains so many minerals that treated my body like body lotion, although as a hetero guy I don't know anything else than the bottles eticets I have seen my ladies use always after the shower in order to keep the skin soft. At midnight I opened the window near the sauna department in order to get the steam and warmth out and closed the door between the sleeping area and sauna area. I slept like a baby.
Saturday, July 24
I woke up at 8AM and enjoyed the soundscape around me, different birds and insects flying around. Luckily I have a net in front of the door to block these insects from entering my space. I decided to eat breakfast again in the same villa. It was only 3KM and 7€ worth of effort and I was starving too. After eating I was able to edit my photos and upload them to Dropbox. I have used nearly 30GB of internet in July, because I have been using only my own hotspot for work and for heavy photo and video files. Additionally I was able to recharge both the cellphone and the laptop.
Hinni canyon near Rõuge
At 11AM I drove about 5KM further to Hinni canyon. I parked my bike and walked through pine forest and down the stairs to a big ditch. Quick flowing stream of water, perhaps melting iceshield 10,000 years ago or so, carved a passage and made a 5-7M deep scar to the Devon age sandstone plato. I visited the same site 15 years ago and back then it was rather wild climbing over the stones and through the trees. Now there is a very nice wooden pathway to the end where the canyon has collapsed. Some desperate people have carved their names to the sand walls, perhaps because they are afraid not to be remembered. Just a thought. OK, I despise that practise, because why on earth people carve their names into the monument of the ancient times and ruin the surface of the sandstone walls.
I sat on the edge of the path and talked with Mirjam. She was with her friend and they came to our home to see kittens. Mirjam and Jaanika will go to Haapsalu to a birthday party and on the same evening drive to a different location to Paunküla for a kids sports camp. This is an overnight camp without parents and she is very excited and I think she will be there with her friend Meri. Mirjam also wondered who would be the firemen who would visit their camp and do the fire show. She thought maybe my friend Meelis would be the one and he also is a father of Mirjam's friends Mia and Anni. Let's see. She mentioned that she misses me a bit, a tiny bit. I asked Jaanika to search for accommodation on the shore of lake Peipus in order to spend a few days together before I’ll ride up to East-Estonia. Mirjam was happy to see me and showed the kittens to me via Facetime. I walked back to my bike and rode back to Rõuge.
I parked my bike and went to swim in Rõuge Suurjärv, which has a 38M deep point somewhere there. This lake holds the deepest lake record in Estonia. I stayed a bit longer and I was able to write my blog on the beach. Soon I walked across the street and ordered pelmeenid or raviolis and milkshake. It seems school kids have set up a bar for making money and it seems to be a part of a camp. All the kids were working in some roles to earn some money eventually. I walked back to my bike and saw 3 Hindus. Of course we started to talk and they heard about my trips in India. Two ladies are working in the labs in Tartu and Tallinn as scientists and the guy was a husband of one of the girls, but for unknown reason working in Stockholm. One of the girls was from Lucknow and the other one was also from somewhere in North India. I guided them to download my books about motorbiking in India for free. Soon they walked to the tower on the edge of the valley of Ööbiku.
Lovely Ele, also my neighbour in the village of Saarlasõ
I saw many moto hikers that did a brief stop, swam or ate, and continued their journey. I was lucky to have more time and not ride hundreds of kilometres in a day. I walked to Rõuge shop and bought beer, smoked cheese, walnuts and black bread. I drove to my other neighbour’s place. Mario welcomed me and he was the man I saw on Hiiumaa ferry. He told me about the serious situation of his father. Jüri as the father of Mario, has cancer and got recently diabetes too. He is on the verge of leaving this world and he was sleeping and Mario didn’t want to wake him up.
Mario also mentioned that the water level of the river is very low, actually lowest he could remember. He and his family live in Põlva and he is a truck driver, but during his vacation he can be here in his childhood home not only for a weekend, but longer. Ele, Jüri's wife and Mario's mother, jumped out the door and was on the way to somebody's birthday. I convinced her to stop and I took a portrait, because she was seriously preparing herself for the party and it would be a waste not to take a proper picture of her. I said goodbye and rode without a helmet a bit further to the front of my sauna.
It was no ordinary bread, it had seeds and stuff inside
I started to heat the sauna at 5.30PM and after one hour the sauna reached 80'C. I wrote and talked with Mirjam and Jaanika. Sauna was nice and hot. It seems my stove is a bit too big for such a small space, but it actually means that it would be faster to heat up the sauna even in winter time when due the cold outside it usually takes twice as much time. I sat at the terrace and ate black bread without anything and it was so good. It was no ordinary bread, it had seeds and stuff inside.
At 9PM I was relatively tired and soon went to bed. I haven't done much today, but maybe it is an accumulative fatigue that catches me up.
Sunday, July 25
I woke up at 7.30AM and brushed my teeth and packed my stuff. I rode to have breakfast in the Ööbikuoru villa in Rõuge. I spent a long time alone there and slowly enjoyed the omelette, coffee, croissants and fruits. Again I recharge my laptop and power bank. The sun was shining brightly, but it was still a bit chilly outside, let’s say too fresh air and I stayed indoors. Slowly it started to warm up and it was rather nice to sit outside.
This valley is called Ööbiku by the beautiful singing of nightingale, but the valley is also known by 7 lakes closely packed within the valley. At 10.30AM I drove uphill to the church overlooking the valley and sat on the bench that was in front of the closed doors.
Later I made a phone call to the priest Mait Mölder and it turned out the service was held in the cemetery and not in the church this Sunday. I have had fascinating talks with the priest more than 10 years ago. As I remember one topic was that Christianity and Animism, pre-Christian faiths, have been mixed together in this area over the centuries and mostly it is still visible in the burial ceremonies. Perhaps one day I can chat with him some more.
I drove to a tourist attraction. I climbed to the top of the tower that overlooks the valley. The tower is made of steel and has some wooden elements that resembled the nests. It should be like a tree with multiple nests on the branches. I noticed a massive camp of caravans right next to the tower. The caravan culture is not very popular in Estonia, but due to travel restrictions, Estonians rapidly become also caravan people. Later I got the knowledge that this was an annual gathering of caravan union and there were about 200 caravans and mobile homes.
I rode to the lake beach and stayed there for 6 hours. I walked to the shop and bought a salad, some snacks and beer. I read a book and just enjoyed my leisure time. I drove to my sauna and heated up the sauna with leftover wood I found around the sauna. I went to sauna at 7.30PM and enjoyed my very basic sauna. I sat on the floor of the terrace and read a book about Taoism and other Asian religions and traditions. The sauna was again good and I went to bed at 10PM.
People say this spring has healing properties
Monday, July 26
I opened my eyes at 8:30AM and slowly checked my messages and emails. I drove to a spring nearby and filled my bottle with fresh water. I drove to Viitina manor, which used to be an elementary school, but now serves a multipurpose goal and I think part of it is a kindergarten. There is a lake and swimming facilities right behind the manor. Very beautiful park and buildings.
The folk musician Mari Kalkun has invited me to talgud - that is a bit untranslatable, but it is like collective action in order to do a bunch of work with your relatives, friends and neighbours. It comes from the village culture where there is and was work that needs to be done quickly - for example collecting hay and storing it. That usually requires a lot of physical labor, but also requires rainless days. So, a more convenient way of doing this work was by having all the workforce available in the village and using it in every household until the work is done. This is of course not unique to Estonia, but I believe it is not that common in the English speaking world and of course to people that have been living in the cities for god knows how long.
Mari’s grandfather used to keep a shop and animals in this barn-house. He lived in one part of the building as well. In the Soviet time it was a garage and warehouse for the collective farm or kolhoos and most likely they ruined the beautiful arc-shape doors and replaced them with higher concrete pillars to accommodate the lorries. This would be a venue for a festival called Aigu Om and there is a lot to do.
Mari Kalkun in a very different outfit
We prepared the working area for the main job - repairing an old wall with lime-cement mixture. Mason Mihkel guided 7-8 people with the main principles of how to clean the joints and how to fill bigger holes. Mihkel brough the mixing machine and we started to work on the walls. Some of the volunteers were like in the workshop, because they have their own walls to treat in the same fashion. Some 4-5 children were playing around the house and one of them was Mari's daughter Linda who is 7 years old.
Mari’s mohter was born on the island of Kihnu and I remember when I was on the way to Kihnu, Mari was dressed up in the Kihnu traditional skirt called kört and I think she was there just a day before I arrived there. At one point I rode to Rõuge and ate soup. It is a lovely road between Viitina and Rõuge. Actually in a traditional talgud, the host family is providing lunch, home made beer and later sauna too. But it seems Mari was in the rush and stuff needed to be done.
Soon Mari served coffee and sandwiches. I was able to restore a few meters of wall. In a sense the work was terapeutic like working with clay. The whole point of gathering many people together is to get more work done rapidly. In parallel with masonry there was a mini excavator that dug out an old compound for farm animals, foundation and replaced it with sand. There will be a stage soon. The last work I did was to bring huge balls of hay from Mari's home yard and use them as seats for visitors. I ended my shift at 7PM.
Mari recommended a quiet lake a bit further away called Palojüri. That was a good hint, because there was not a single human around and I went to swim nude and I was able to wash my hair too. I can imagine that the dust and hay went everywhere and to my underwear too. I enjoyed the warm sun that started to dive into the forest and wrote my journal. At 8PM I drove to Rõuge shop for the last time on this trip and bought beer and other essentials like bread, cucumber, cheeses and ham. I rode back to my sauna and ate until sunset at the terrace. No sauna today. Soon I went to bed.
Bye-bye Pärlijõe, I hope to see you soon
Tuesday, July 27
I woke up at 8AM and started to pack my camp. It is a lovely morning again, although today it really promises to rain in the evening. I rode through the high hay and drove to the front of the neighbour’s house. Ainar and his wife came out because of the noise and we said goodbye. Ainar drank a tin of beer for healing the head - that is an expression when drinking was kind of heavy the night before and being sober caused headaches.
Pähni wooden echo pipes
I drove to Pähni and went to see the wooden pipes where you can feel echo inside. This is like an art installation in the forest. It was very calm and peaceful. I went into one of three pipes and tried to clap, but all of sudden a storm of wasps started to emerge from the cracks of the same pipe I was in. It seems I was the intruder and they started to attack me violently. Bloody hell, I ran like in the cartoons where the bees are chasing somebody. I ran back to my bike and drove away. It was a shame that I was not able to sit there and enjoy the sounds and echoes.
Some of the good gravel roads
Härma walls and river Piusa
I rode to Võru and added another 13 litres of petrol. I continued my journey to the river Piusa. This river is special in Estonia, because this over 100KM long river has the biggest drop in vertical meters in Estonia and in some sections it is a border river between Estonia and Russia. The same river flows beneath the spy bridge in Koidula too. But near Obinitsa Piusa river is flowing through a magnificent valley and I went to see the Härma walls. I rode to the forest on a proper sandy enduro road. I parked my bike and went to see the sandstone walls that are reaching 19M high and the total length of the wall is nearly 150M. Before this trip I was not aware of this wonder and to be honest the more known Taevaskoja sandstone walls overshadowed these ones. At 11AM I needed to attend the meeting and I hoped to find a café, but eventually I needed to sit in the Lindora bus stop and do the meeting from there. Actually Lindora is well known because of the Lindora fair that is taking place in the fall.
At noon I continued my ride and had lunch in Mooste manor. There is a café at the back end of the manor’s main building. I ordered coffee and soup. The bartender was watching the olympics in Tokyo quite closely and I couldn’t bother him too much and later it turned out Estonian team in ladies EP fencing won the gold medals.
I updated my blog and did some more work and ran out of internet again. I needed to purchase more internet and I hope now I will manage to use it till the end of the month. At 2PM I continued my journey on smaller roads and reached the bank of river Emajõgi.
There is a phenomena among all it’s high tech and startup culture - the very manual tiny metal raft that carries passengers and vehicles across the river. The fee for motorbike and foot passengers was 10€. The guy who rolls the wheel and operates this raft is Ergo. The raft can carry a few cars at a time and the weight limit is about 15 tons. There is a steel chain laying on the bottom of the river. The steel chain is rolling through the wheel and by that dragging the boat further. I tried to use my muscle power too and it wasn’t that hard. The current of the river is forcing the raft sideways and this force creates more work on docking. I thanked Ergo for this experience. He said he has transported over some tens of SUV-s and other tourists, but in regular time this raft is for school children and factory workers getting from one bank to another. The round trip would be 20KM. Maybe someday they’ll build a bridge here and then the need for such a raft will disappear along with the excitement of crossing the river.
Café Verner is just few hundred metres from Tartu University
I rode to Tartu and to café Verner. I asked for coffee. This café has its place in Estonian literature and perhaps even more in the interactions between writers and poets during the last 150 years. Tartu university is just around the corner and therefore it was a perfect place to meet and mingle.
I drove to the grocery store and bought a white wine and ice cream and rode to Kärkna area. At 5PM I arrived at Aire's place. We used to study nature together in Luua school more than ten years ago. She welcomed me by walking barefoot towards me.
2nd floor toilet was for very free minded people, just behind the bush and the umbrella
They have a family business of producing wooden hot tubs for Swiss market. The manufactory buildings are right next to their house. The grasslands around the house were occupied by sheep. She showed me around the factory and their house. Around 10 people work in the factory, but currently all have gone home already and the sawdust has settled by now.
The sheep herd is around 70 sheep. The house was built in the 1930’s by her grandfather in law. Back then this was like an award for the duties in the Independence war against Russian and German empires. Basically the former soldiers got land that was cut off from former big land owners’ properties and manors. Aire and her husband have been renovating this house and barn since 2001. They have 2 teenage sons, but one was somewhere else and the other one was kind of invisible.
Aire proposed to walk to river Emajõgi and we walked a few kilometre loop around her neighbourhood. We jumped into the river too although that was not planned and we didn’t have swimming wear, but there was nobody around and as Aire will turn 43 tomorrow, there was nothing shameful either to dip in nude. After the ageing process the body is what it is and I guess sooner or later one needs to make peace with the current condition of the body, it’s mentally healthier too - less pressure. The river had quite a strong current and the water was rather chilly and refreshing.
This 100KM river connects lake Võrtsjärve and lake Peipus, but has only 4 metres of vertical drop. That itself is a miracle how the water flows from one lake to another. We sat on the boat bridge and waved to the passing few vessels. It was a nice and free chat. We walked back and she started to cook spaghetti with blue cheese and tomato sauce.
Swimming in river Emajõgi
Additionally Kadri and her family joined dinner too
We opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the Olympic gold medals. Soon Kadri and her husband and their teenage daughter arrived. They were on the journey from Haanja, the south end of Estonia, to back home in Tallinn in the north. Kadri also studied with us in Luua. It was good to see course mates together after a long time. We talked about school and being in the nature and on other topics. We opened another bottle of wine and I think Kadri and her family departed at 11PM.
Aire seems to be happy in the current setup near Tartu. She is working at the Nature House in Tartu and is also a tour guide. But her passion is ornithology and finding rare species in the wild. Some of her students already ring birds in the wild and this itself is a motivation for her that some boys and girls eventually found their passion in nature.
She has also been active and one of the founders of NGO Lodjakoda that built lodi or wooden river boat Jõmmu in 2013. Lodi was used as a sails powered transport ship on lakes and rivers in the 14th century. At midnight I went to sleep on the sofa.
Wednesday, July 28
I woke up at 7AM, because the older son went to work and flies were too curious and annoying. At one point a man stood in the living room holding flowers. He was Aire’s father in law and as the doors are not locked or there are no locks on most of the doors, he just walked in. I explained that Aire was sleeping upstairs, but soon Aire came down to receive the flowers and he went to work at the nearby factory. Happy birthday Aire! I took a shower and we ate breakfast. We discussed several topics.
Aire had a coffee moment at her terrace
Cat's name is Tolm (Dust in English)
At 11.30AM we decided to drive to Varnja. We decided to drive by a robust Volvo and not by motorbike. This Volvo does not have a grill in front and mirrors have been taped to hold them in place. We made a little stop in a gas station and I bought a coffee. In Varnja we walked on the main road and I took a picture of an odd collection of dolls and toys. I can imagine this site in a horror movie and the murderer living in this house nearby. It's a bit creepy to be honest.
We drove a bit further and visited Voronja gallery. Well, that was odd in every way. The entrance fee was 2€. The gallery had a very hectic collection of different art from several artists.
On the walls of this tiny sauna walls there were presented macro shoots of rust crystals, plant seeds and other objects that are not visible by a naked eye. Some art forms were really random like expressionism should be in some cases. But in general it is an interesting spot to visit. If this gallery was situated in a bigger city, it would not have a similar impact on me.
We rode further to the next village on the shore of lake Peipus called Kasepää. This shore has been populated mostly in the end of the 17th century by the minority of Russian Orthodox settlers called vanausulised as old believers in English, who escaped from the church reforms in the main part of Russian empire. This community has kept their religion, culture and their home corner shrines despite all the efforts to wipe them out even by Soviet Union that was especially hostile towards religious people, because in their belief christianity was the opium of the fools. I like these villages because these wooden or brick houses are tightly packed, basically side-by-side, along the road - that is very much an opposite of a regular Estonian village where houses are scattered and there is more room between neighbours. During the centuries these people have been fishermen, small farmers and their most important products that they are famous for is onion and perhaps garlic too.
Lizaveta selling tomatoes and onions in Kasepää
We stopped in front of one house and Aire started to buy a garland of onions - that is a work of art and producing it takes some skill and effort, Aire has done that many years ago herself - but eventually bought a bag of onions instead. The garland price was 15€, but Aire went for the simple option of 5KG of onion in the plastic bag, which was also 15€. Additionally she bought a few kilograms of delicious tomatoes. Lisaveta was happy to do business with us. We spoke mainly in Russian, although she understood some simple sentences in Estonian too. She wore a headscarf, because traditionally in the Eastern church tradition ladies should cover their hair when they enter the church, but in this community it is very common that they cover their hair every day. In a sense in similar reasons like Muslims - to be humble and not to receive too much attention from strangers.
Usually these ladies are not allowed or don't want to take pictures for many obvious reasons. Currently there are just too many tourists and we too acted in the same fashion although I hope we were just a bit more respectful. But I guess there too might be a belief that each photo might take away a piece of one’s soul too. It was a pleasant meeting with such a lovely lady. There are tens of ladies and old men sitting in the front of the houses and selling something, mostly onions, garlic, jams, berries and other stuff that they harvest from their tiny lands.
In Kolkja village we thought we would eat lunch in a fish restaurant, but this restaurant only accepted cash and we were running out of it. We only had some coins left and bought from the other side of the road a smoked sea-bass. We drove to swim at the beach nearby. First we enjoyed the fish. Aire took her binoculars and we watched the birds in the shallow water. There were swans, ducks, seagulls and eagles. She knew all their species by heart. We swam a bit and soon started to drive back towards Tartu.
Aire and her work mate Maris
We made a stop at Maris’ place in Haava village. Maris is Aires’ coworker in Tartu Nature House. She moved here and started a monumental project to build up the farm. All these houses were wrecks and needed huge effort to be restored. A few years ago she decided to bring additional animals to the cats and dogs.
She has ducks, chicken, rabbits, sheep, goats, a cow and a pony. Sometimes they bring the children from the nature house to see and play with animals. She has two sons and the younger one who is 4 years old properly hugged a red cat and a tiny furry white rabbit and the cat didn’t slap him in the face with the paw. It seems the animals are used to children. Aire and Maris have also arranged concerts in Maris' fully renovated barn and one of the artists was Naised Köögis. Amazing what women are capable of in these villages, so much raw power and enthusiasm. We thanked and drove back to Aire’s home.
I packed my stuff onto my bike again. Aire started to prepare for the evening birthday party for relatives. I thanked her and set off. In Tabivere shop I bought beer and turned to smaller roads and ended up at the bank of river Keeva. I parked my bike and Raivo came to welcome me. Raivo and Signe Tafenau have been our family friends for more than 15 years. Raivo is a well known Estonian jazz musician, saxophone player, music producer and festival and concert manager. I guess I have not seen more positive people and warmth in my life. Raivo started to teach me in a gentle way the safety of motorbiking. When I started from Aire’s place I oiled the motorbike chain because I remember when I rode to Tafi’s place the first thing he mentioned was that my chain was shining and it needed oiling. But this time he was concerned about my reckless outfit. I wear shorts and t-shirt although I have full gear with me. I promised to repent and start using the full gear more often.
Signe and Raivo on the island that is surrounded by river Keeva
We walked to the back yard and to the island where river Keeva was surrounding us. Signe prepared eggplant with cheese and cucumber salad. All this stuff is fresh and they are very proud it doesn’t come from the Netherlands or Spain, but from their own yard. They preferred white wine, which I should remember next time. Signe is working in the school and hobby music group Musamari and currently enjoying summer vacation. Raivo shared the emotions and horror that struck all the artists in the sector of public performing during the lockdown months. Basically all their income was frozen and nobody knew for how long. It is quite unimaginable and usually musicians don’t have reserves as such.
Another deeper conversation was health. Both of them have gone through serious illnesses and situations where the doctors said it was time critical and crucial to do operations immediately a few years ago. Doctors urged them to live a rather calmer life after these operations, but they made a promise to each-other that they will live their lives in full flourish instead. They even bought a new Yamaha Tenere 1200cc bike and hit the road to the South-Poland mountains soon after.
Actually I know Raivo more because of motorbiking than because of jazz. Of course we have seen shows where he performed with Sergio Bastos, Laura or with some other artists or in different formats. We also ate ice cream with blackcurrant jam. I promised to visit them again with Jaanika and Mirjam, but for sure we need to sync it. Because currently they have a hectic life, more like an agony, to perform as much as possible, because covid might cause again no business in the fall and winter. And these few days they spend in the summer house they are working their asses off to just make it decent again, because nature wants to take over very quickly. Raivo said that cutting the grass is therapeutic for him and he could see clear results after work has been completed. At 8PM we hugged and said goodbyes. I wore the coretex pants and jacket as promised.
I rode to the outskirts of Jõgeva and to Kuremaa. On the way I saw beautiful landscapes of just harvested or ready for harvesting fields laying over the small hills. I rode to the beach bar that is on the beach of Kuremaa lake. I ordered beer and ships. I wrote my diary and worked a bit too. At sunset I set up my tent in the far corner of the beach. At 10.30PM my friend Andre walked by and we talked till midnight. He is living nearby in the flat and they have a stable with 8-9 horses in the middle of Kuremaa. He actually came from stable and fed horses. But he had a long working day in the steel factory and after that he worked in the wood mill as well. He is a hard working man. He is leaving the steel factory work in a few weeks and he is looking for new opportunities.
He and his wife Karmen have a 10 year commitment to the local municipality to take good care of the manor’s stable and they pay minimum rental for that. They need to figure out during this year whether they would like to continue the work with horses or not. But it seems both of them really enjoy horses and Karmen likes to train kids to ride. Most probably they will continue for another 10 years on this path.
We drank beer and it was really dark outside. Andre walked home and hoped that there would be less work the next day so that we could spend more time together. I rode on the edge of the sand to my tent and went to sleep. The music from the bar was still playing loud and the music style itself was far from my taste. During the night wind was picking up and the boats that were tied to the boat bridge were slamming into each other. I used my earplugs and enjoyed sleeping.
Thursday, July 29
I opened my eyes at 9AM and opened the tent door and looked at the beautiful lake view from my tent. I went to swim in the lake when there were no other swimmers, they will come later, perhaps in a few hours. I rode to the front of the beach bar and asked for fried eggs and coffee. I sat and wrote my diary and worked. I walked through the tenting area of JõgevaTreff. First bikers are arriving and setting up their camps. This is by far the biggest annual motor bikers’ festival in Estonia that has its’ 30 years anniversary.
The founder of this annual meeting Igor Ellison just passed away recently and his twin sons Heigo and Argo have taken over the organising of the event. Somehow I haven’t visited this event, perhaps because I have not joined any MC-s or I’m not a leather vest wearing type myself. But for this blog and book I felt it was worth it to peak in and observe the essence of this event. But first I walked to the stables right next to the manor’s park. The stable was empty, the horses were outside and there were only rather suspicious roosters and chicken in the stable. I walked to the training area and saw Karmen walking with a grey horse Royal towards me.
Karmen was not happy at all to see me and she was rather furious. It turned out my friend Andre was drunk and behaved like drunk people do yesterday when he came home. It turned out I had been a contributor to another episode of the ongoing drama series. I told her I was sorry and explained my good intentions. Slowly Karmen melted and I asked for coffee and we talked some more. The relationships are complicated and take actions and good will of both partners to get the wheel turning again. I think we spoke for 3 hours. How can I convince my friend to seek psychological help? It is a kind of taboo or sign of weakness for Estonian men. We will see later on and most likely talk some more.
Andre's wife Karmen in the yard of the stable
I walked to the front of the manor and tried to find the person who was responsible for media relations. She was not in the room and Heigo Ellison came to hear my story, but he was not keen to give the press pass and ask whether I want to support Jõgeva Treff instead. I decided not to act like a jerk and bought the day pass in order to see the community from inside the fence. I walked to Viljandi club Concord’s camp area. Some of the guys were familiar to me from Kihnu. They just gave the finishing touches to the portable sauna. I made a call to club leader Heldur earlier and he welcomed me to join their camp again and he was convinced that I would stay longer than just one night. He might be right again like he did in Kihnu where I also stayed for 2 nights. I walked to the beach and packed my stuff and drove to the camp and again set up my tent. Some club members will arrive tomorrow or later in the night. I went for a walk to see bikes and people.
As the organisers have their own kids, the gathering also becomes more family friendly. I saw many camps where there were small kids and later I even saw a kids’ tent. There are motorbiker’s clubs across Estonia, but also people from Finland, Latvia and France have come.
Two Estonians, Meelis and Väiko, demonstrated their beloved Izh’s that do not have number plates and rust is genuinely everywhere.
They called these bikes rats. They are living near Tampere, Finland. We spoke about the changes of the family structure of these split families where the father works abroad and family stays in Estonia.
Imagine what kind of an imprint that has for the young people, perhaps to a big junk of the generation's psyche. They were lovely big fellows. Perhaps I would never dare to approach them on the street, but here everybody is on the plain playfield - motorbikes.
I talked with some serious motorbike travellers who have multiple country stickers on their bike’s panniers. I walked to the local store and bought a few beers and snacks. I walked to the stables again, because Andre had arranged a barbecue. This time I bought for this occasion only non-alcoholic beers, I’m learning slowly.
These bikes are more stable for letting kids climb on them
Andre was preparing meat on the grill. Soon Karmen arrived with Natali and Nils. I was interested in their camps and other stuff during the summer. Natali was in the camp recently and on the bank of the same lake, but just somewhere further away.
We ate and enjoyed the nice summer night. We decided that I will take Natali and Nils to the festival area to see bikes. But first we walked to see the horses on the field. Kids were allowed to enter JõgevaTreff without the fee.
These Saaremaa lads must be the mascots of bikers in general, very sweet guys
We talked with Saaremaa bikers and kids tried to sit on their bikes that were like sofas. We bought ice cream and Nils got a dolphin image painted on his arm. Natali found a friend who is the main organiser’s daughter and they are going to the same school and riding horses in Karmen’s club. I guided the kids out and it seems they had a good time. It started to get dark. I went to the sauna and it was relatively hot. The only issue here is that there is no water to jump in after coming out of the sauna.
At one point I started to talk with Anna Marie. We talked on several topics for a long time. Her boyfriend was very drunk and she was bored. I came up with the idea to go swimming. I guess she had drunk just enough beer to immediately say yes. Actually the lake is only a few hundred meters from the camp. It was very dark and only the moon provided some light. We went in nude of course, because there was hardly anything visible and no people around us. Later we talked some more and somehow we talked until the sunrise at 5AM. Some people were very drunk. Some people were still sitting in front of their tents and talking. I went to sleep.
Friday, July 30
I woke up at 9AM. Some camps started to play loud music at 7AM and it was rather difficult to sleep. Also it seems it has rained a little. Some lads started to burn tyres and just made noise with their engines. I walked to the beach bar and again ordered fried eggs. Mirjam called and asked about my last day with Andre's children and talked about how she is playing outside with her friends in Tallinn. I walked to the festival's entry and got an understanding of the pricing. If I want to stay longer than one day, I will just continue and lose the 15€ deposit and the total fee becomes 35€. There was a very strong wind and it seems we will have a storm sooner or later. I had a meeting with Jay and edited my photos. I spent some time in my tent and had a nap. It was a slow morning and afternoon. I worked and wrote.
Right next to our camp there is a gipsy-like camp with 6-7 kids and a caravan and tents. I took pictures of these multiple families who are all relatives and living in Põltsamaa and in Kallaste. These families have started participating in Jõgeva Treff since 2004. Some ladies try to be overwhelmingly sexy and talkative and provocative. It is very hilarious, but I have seen similar party ladies in the smaller settlements in the same fashion.
And one road inside the camp has become like an avenue of showing off like an Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida. People just ride their bikes in a way other people go for a walk with dogs.
I noticed a beautiful blond lady on a red Izh with a side carriage and without thinking I asked her to pick me up and have a ride. My first intention was to jump into the side carriage, but it was tightly buckled and therefore I jumped behind her to the passenger seat. Of course she was rather surprised by my behaviour, but she did not shake me off and we rode a few hundred meters. Later it turned out Kristiina and her mates were from Võru, Rõuge and Krabi.
At 4.30PM it started to rain. After some time more bikers arrived from Viljandi and our camp area filled with tents and more nice bikes parked around the sauna. Heldur and Janne were very happy to see me again. They got heavy rain too, but they wore proper kit and it was just an unpleasant, but not a wet experience.
Sauna was ready. I asked people to join me in the sauna. It seems one guy called Mart has yet again tuned or done product development and released new features for sauna interior. Yesterday some sections of the green plastic melted and Mart covered the wide area around the heat pipe with aluminium paper. Much better result and as a result of the constant improvements the temperature of the sauna was able to reach 100’C.
I enjoyed the sauna with a pro level side carriage cross rider Rain Vaikmäe, Anna Marie, Heldur, Janne and other guys. It started to rain again, but this time it wasn’t annoying, but refreshing when we walked outside the sauna. In several cases we walked, towels around the hips (I got a pink towel with roses from my last visit with Jaanika in Hiiumaa) within the camps and to the front of the stage. One of the bands was a rock band called Must Hunt. Some people were dancing in the rain too. I think I didn’t have a clear overview of how many beers I drank, but I didn’t feel drunk, perhaps only a bit more talkative. The party went on and on, but I had a sleep deficit from last night and I decided to go to sleep at midnight.
And again some guys started to show off their bike capability of producing the roar of the beast. One story was that when one lad called Karu was waiting in the queue for a tattoo one lady was in the process of getting a tattoo on her breast. Some Finnish lads, also in the queue, were eager to see the tits, and offered 20€ each for the spectacle. Guess what, she collected the money and took off the shirt and eventually after paying the tattoo artist she was 40€ on plus side. Another happening was just right next to our camp where one bike with a side carriage turned upside down. Luckily no harm was done, only the headlamp of the bike was broken. I used my earplugs and slept like a baby.
Saturday, July 31
I got myself out of my tent at 9PM and walked to the beach cafe for the last time. I ate breakfast and worked and tried to wrap up July services, but most of the developers haven't updated their input. I wrote and updated the blog. I left my laptop to recharge and walked back to the camp. It was time to join the parade at noon, but most of the Concord MC lads were out of order and couldn't ride motorbikes, there was too much alcohol still in their blood. They actually checked it by an instrument that gave figures like 0.8 and 1.2, but Estonia has zero tolerance for alcohol and the figure should be zero. That is actually opposite to some other countries like the Meritaranian states, where the maximum limit is 0.5. Anyhow I didn't bother to measure myself and rapidly jumped into my riding kit.
Janne and Heldur
The gathering and the route was not certain and I first drove to Palamuse and then to Luua. The road to these settlements is just magnificent with all the small hills and lakes between. But somehow the parade has already passed these places and I was able to catch up with the parade just before Jõgeva town. People came to see the motorbikes and waved and we waved back. Some bikers roared their engines and honked to the viewers. On many occasions I reached my hand out and we gave high, in my case low fives and I even gave high fives to Andre's children who had come with Karmen to see the parade. The parade stopped in Jõgeva.
Estonian rock music classic Ultima Thule
All bikes were parked around and in the main square. People were very eager to see bikes and talk with the bike owners. I walked around and saw many nice bikes. There was even a free rock idol Ultima Thule’s concert to all bikers and to Jõgeva people. I listened to a few songs and started my journey back. I filled my petrol tank with 17 litres of gasoline. I rode back with the small loop through Laiuse village.
At the campsite lunch was ready and I ate potatoes, cabbage and sausages. I packed my tent and other stuff on my bike and walked to the beach bar to get back my laptop. I gave Janne 20€ as a donation for the club, because I ate their food and drank their beer and rum. I thanked Heldur, Janne, Anna Marie and other people for being welcoming. These people are very warm and passionate about motorbike travelling. I rode on tiny gravel roads to Jõhvi-Mustvee highway and continued on tarmac. Just outside of Mustvee I stopped at the cafe and bought coffee, because I felt really sleepy. My stop was about 30 minutes and I was able to update the blog.
I rode to Alajõe and crossed a small pedestrian bridge and avoided the detour that cars need to take. I arrived at Vasknarva at 7PM. I found a tiny trail that led to the beach just before Vasknarva village. I went over the sand tunes to investigate the beach first - there were only a few people walking on the beach. I started to offload my stuff and set up my camp and tent.
All of a sudden a girl ran towards me and asked in Russian the direction to the parking space. It turned out that about 13 years old Katarina had lost her parents. I asked her to hop on and we rode to the car parking. Her parents' car was there, but no parents were inside. Other people joined to help. She didn’t have Estonian roaming, because this Russian girl came from Finland. There was also a police van, but no officers inside. I thought perhaps the parents already asked the police to search for her. Soon the parents and police officers walked to the parking area from the beach. The girl was happy to reunite with her parents.
The policemen asked me to step a bit further away and explained that they weren't looking for the girl, but for me instead. It turned out that police came to chase the motorbiker who had intruded into the border area and to the Smolnitsa landscape reserve. I told my story and they let me go. I promised not to return on bike to the fragile protected sand dunes area and not to set fire. They said that there might be another team that drives me off perhaps in the middle of the night. I said I appreciated their concern, but I will take my chances for the greater outcome of the blog and book.
I rode to the harbour and also to the point where lake Peipus ends and river Narva starts. There is also Vasknarva nunnery that has been surrounded by high walls. It is like a castle and in some cases they acted for protecting nuns and surrounding villagers during invasions. I rode as far north as possible. In the end it was just grassland for cattle. It is not possible to drive north to city of Narva alongside the river, because there are obstacles like flooded grasslands and creeks and eventually vast mines that are surrounded by fences.
Russia in the backyard
I met one fisherman who is living in Jõhvi and having a cottage or dadzha in Russian right on the bank of the river. He was on the way to fish on his motorboat. He explained that he needed to keep at least 20 metres from the red buoys, because these buoys mark the border between Estonia and Russia. I was able to clearly see people on the other side, it was so close.
I arrived back at my tent at 8PM and completed the setup. I went to swim and just laid on the beach. I drank my last beer and enjoyed the sunset. The waves that rolled to the shore created a constant loud roar. At 10PM I went to sleep. During the night I heard heavy rain, but I had a tight and new tent and no rain and insects intruded.
Lake Peipus, very often I say mistakenly sea for that because it is just so vast
Sunday, August 01
At 7.30 I woke up and used the pause of the rain to pack my camp and started riding. I decided to check the village in Kuningaküla and drive alongside river Narva. Again the roads are ending in the forest or in grassland. There is no connection to Narva directly, these villages are basically like the very remote part of Estonia. People in these villages live their normal life and grow vegetables and go fishing on the river Narva.
Border river Narva in Kuningaküla
These nuns pile up the firewood into dome-shape piles
I rode to Kuremäe nunnery and since it was Sunday morning there were many people in and around the church. This nunnery belongs to Russian Orthodox church and was built in the 19th century. Also these people here are a self-sufficient community and grow partly their own food and they survived the Soviet Union regime too. I peeked in the church and sat on the bench between two nuns for a while.
Both nuns were constantly praying and one nun used the prayer beads for helping the praying and it seems each joint of the prayer beads was like a section of a prayer or part of the whole ceremony and she slowly slipped these prayer beads between her fingers. This of course is nothing unique. I have seen it in Catholic churches and something similar also in Buddhist temples.
I walked in the beautiful garden of flowers and noticed another exciting feature. These nuns pile up the firewood into dome-shape piles.
I walked back to my bike and continued my ride towards Narva. Just before Sillamäe I went to see the ghost town of Viivikonna. Actually it is not an entirely empty settlement, but most of the apartment buildings are abandoned. It is a creepy site - life has stopped and people have moved away. I guess the settlement was established for mine workers or for some new factory and after the sole provider of work is no longer operational, the whole community collapsed.
There were some bigger buildings that seemed to be occupied and in one garden people were working and we waved to each-other. But there are also private houses and this part of the town is very much alive.
Viivikonna's abondant school
I stopped in front of the school building that had sealed windows and doors and the vegetation is slowly taking over the surroundings. It was in a sense a ghost town, but not as extreme as the totally abandoned city of Pripyat near Chernobyl in Ukraine. Of course Pripyat was evacuated in a rush, but Viivikonna has been fading out for a longer period.
I rode to Sillamäe and visited the main attraction. Sillamäe, like perhaps Viivikonna and other satellite settlements around it, was built in the end of 1940s and 1950s and the purpose of the town was research and development centre for Soviet military and therefore it was a closed town, ordinary people were not allowed to enter this town. It has been speculated that the first Soviet atomic bomb material was excavated in Sillmäe. This alone gave resources and purpose for Sillamäe. I walked on the renovated alley between beautiful houses and checked the sea promenade that was recently opened. Only setback was that there were no cafés open.
Sillamäe beautiful promenade
Magnificent Kreenholm factory buildings in Narva
I decided to drive to Narva and stopped at Fama centre and ate fish soup and later pasta carbonara in restaurant Pärl. I have visited this restaurant many times because I used to work as a marketer for Astri Group that owns Fama mall among other malls in Estonia. I was able to recharge my stuff. The weather was kind of rainy and windy. The warm tropical summer seems to be gone and replaced with the typical Estonian summer. At 3PM I headed to the edge of the city to Narva Venice.
Kristina and Olesja
Genadi and his family in the front of their Narva's Venice
That is an interesting subculture that I haven’t seen elsewhere in Estonia. Tightly packed garages are lined up on both sides of canals. These garages are not for cars, but for boats. Again it started to rain and I asked a lady for permission to open the gate and get shelter from the rain. She kindly asked me to join their tiny living in one of those metal garage units. This unit was turned into a living space and sauna. I took bread that I bought from Võru with me and gave this as a gift. They served me coffee and cheese.
Five years ago Genady and Tatjana had bought some additional units for housing a sauna, a living space, a workshop and of course space for the boat. Of course it is all semi-illegal. This type of housing has not be allowed by the authorities. Genady showed me around. The workshop was tiny, but very well organised and it seemed that every tool had its own spot. Their daughter Kristina and granddaughter Olesja were also there. We spoke in Russian although my Russian is rather poor. They seem to know all the families in most of the units. The rain stopped and I was making my way out. Tatjana gave me their tomatoes that they grow on a tiny piece of land between the garages and the canal. Amazingly warm people and a very exciting community.
I rode to the river promenade. Some kids were swimming in the river and there is also a metal sauna on the bank of the river. I saw men coming out in swim wear and dipping themselves into the river. Again the river separates two communities and in this section of the border there are two castles facing each-other - Hermann castle on Narva’s side and Ивангородская крепость on the Ivangorod’s side.
Again the river separates two communities and in this section of the border there are two castles facing each-other
The history here is long and the interpretation of it is somewhat complicated. I suppose it is very hard to align the history entirely, because for Estonians Soviet Union was an occupant like Nazi Germany, but for most Russians in Narva Soviet Red Army was a liberator from Nazi Germany. Of course many of their grandfathers died or fought in this bloody war and this angle is very understandable too and I suppose it is a big junk of their identity. Estonians in general perhaps don’t want to agree on that, because Estonian republic was seized and the Soviets did great harm to people by killing civilians by the tens of thousands.
Anyhow it would be quite hard to make a TOP2 of both intruders - both were evil and their attentions equally cynical. Currently about 90% of the Narva’s population are Russian speakers that were imported from other corners of Soviet Union, but the local Estonian population were not allowed to return to their homes or the regime forced them to live somewhere else in Estonia or in a bad case scenario even in remote places in Siberia.
Again very complicated history, not easy to find the single truth. These castles are so close to each-other and you can clearly see the fishermen on the Russian side. I talked with Jaanika and Mirjam, they will go to Stockholm next evening for a day cruise. It started to rain quite heavily again and I rode towards the resort town of Narva Jõesuu.
I stopped by the German military cemetery and I was just stunned by how many crosses there were each with a fallen soldier's name. I drove a bit further and stopped at the Soviet Army’s monument that gets special treatment once a year on the 9th of May as the end of the IIWW in Europe. Once a year victorious. I rode directly to the end of Narva Jõesuu beach, which should be an official nudist beach. It was very hard to locate the right spot, but I got the understanding roughly. I parked my bike alongside the road and took my stuff and walked through the forest to the shore.
The beach was empty and I found a nice grassy spot for my camp. I set up my tent that has a perfect view of the waves crashing to the shore. The Narva Jõesuu beach starts from the tier right next to the Narva river and stretches 9-10KMs along the shore. I walked back to the road and rode to the shop and bought beer.
I decided to follow the recommendation of Martin Hanson who is a proper foody and a journalist specialised in food and drinks. But our main link is squash and there will not be a single training when we don’t speak about food or drinks. I parked my bike right next to Franzia Restaurant. I met the owner Indrek briefly too just a few hours earlier.
That place has a rather odd atmosphere to be honest. It is a strange mix of death metal music and design and art related to occultism. I ordered ribs and special brewed beer. Martin also recommended the ribs and I guess also the bull’s testicals. The beer bottle also had devils and other creatures on the tin design.
My waiter was Martin who is studying in the Naval Academy in Tallinn and lives nearby in Narva Jõesuu. The ribs were truly tasty. The beer contained all sorts of weird components that you don’t expect in a beer, like tomatoes. The whole experience was 20€. I thanked and rode back to my camp.
Occasionally it rained and my gear started to get very wet. I watched the beautiful sunset and walked along the beach in both directions for about 2KM. At one end I saw 3-4 horse riders having fun on the beach. At 11PM I went to sleep.
Nice view from my tent
Monday, August 02
I woke up at 8.30AM and I ran straight to the waves. I started to pack my camp on my bike again. In the forest I counted a squadron of mosquitoes and they were so eager to drink my blood. I started my journey to the west at 9.15AM and soon took a smaller road. The road used to be an old manor road, because the massive trees and the road in relatively bad condition between the trees was there, but there were no visual signs of the manor itself left. Actually it led to a hiking track that went down the cliff to the seashore, but it started to rain again and I decided to continue to Sillmäe.
I was able to fill 20 litres into my bike’s petrol tank, it was nearly empty. I rode to Toila beach. This area is very beautiful with the valley and parks on both sides of river Pühajõgi. The beach was relatively quiet and only a few people went to swim. I worked at the beach café terrace although the place itself was still closed.
At 11.45AM I drove a bit back uphill to Toila park and in particular to a café that I noticed yesterday when I was scrolling the places where I would like to eat breakfast. People were already preparing the terrace and nicely asked whether I would like to order something before they actually open at noon. I helped Signe Kiisk to get the tables and chairs from indoor to the terrace. I needed to recharge everything again, the laptop, cell phone and power bank. I ordered coffee and pancakes.
Signe and her husband moved from Tallinn to Toila 5 years ago and started to run the café. For them it is kind of a hobby and they do it only in the summer months. She is also training teams and leaders as the main income. It started to rain quite heavily and I moved my stuff indoors and we chatted on several topics. I asked about potential massage service in Toila and she made a phone call and I set a time for massage.
Signe runs a café in the Toila park
Ontika has a unique and rich flora
Yet again I see active people who have decided to leave their lives in Tallinn behind and move to a totally new place and by their activeness and positive mindset they make a difference there. Just before 4PM I thanked Signe for the hospitality, eventually I sat there almost 4 hours, and drove a bit further to Inga’s house where I got 1.5 hours of massage. I paid 30€ for the service and thanked her. It was raining outside and it was quite unpleasant to jump into my driving costume and walk into the rain.
I headed further west and I rode on the bank on Ontika, which is a limestone cliff, and on the narrow roads and I was able to see the sea below most of the time. I made a stop in the magnificent manor called Saka, but unfortunately the restaurant was closed. My initial plan was to go down the cliff and camp on the shore, but it was still raining. I needed to change my plans. I walked down the stairs through an unique ecosystem. The trees between the cliff and the beach are mostly big-leaf-trees and this is very unique in Estonia, because Estonian forest is dominated by pine trees. It was like a jungle or South-Indian Western Ghats where you can feel the moisture in the air and everything is so bright green.
The forest floor was covered by wood ferns and rotten wood and the wood laying on the floor of the forest was partly covered by moss . I started to imagine that some smaller Jurassic Park sauruses will appear at any moment. The beach was empty because of the wind and rain, but it was a nice and different beach. Walking back up took some effort.
I decided to drive somewhere to sleep indoors, because I felt that my motorbike gear would never dry if I stayed another night in the tent. I thought about my options and I started to drive towards Tudu.
Artificial ash mountains in Kohtla-Järve
The landscape in Püssi
I drove through Kiviõli and I made a shopping stop in the Coop grocery in Püssi. Many of the settlements around here are directly related to producing a proper CO2 footprint. There are huge mountains of ash that is a by-product of extracting shale oil and about 100 years in this region Estonia has got most of the electricity from burning this shale oil These mountains remain as a sign of guilt for doing harm to nature without thinking nor knowing much about the impact.
I suppose the most obvious and visible change of environment was the vastness of wasteland that was left behind after the excavations. Another impact that was noticed in the 1980s was that wells of the farmers around the quarries were left dry or being poisoned. I think the shift in the minds of regular people towards more greener solutions takes more time here. Slowly East-Estonian businesses go through the green revolution and diversity of more widespread industries.
A group of bicyclists started their journey in Tudu
I rode to Tudu and a bit further to the parking lot, where I walked on the wooden pathway about 1KM to the lake of Tudu. There is a RMK hut where I was with Mirjam and her friend and his father in April. This type of huts are for free and you can’t book them in advance. Who comes first, gets the place.
There were 5 bicyclists and they had started to prepare dinner on the table in front of the hut. I asked whether I would fit in the hut as well. They said that they decided to stay the night in the tents instead. I moved my stuff indoors and quickly lit the fire in the fireplace indoor and also outdoors.
It turned out that the bicyclists were around 60 years old and they were from different places around Estonia and they were in the same alpine club and used to go hiking in the mountains. I prepared my sausages on the fireplace grill and shared my food also with other hikers. They shared the dinner that they had prepared on the gas camping stove with me as well. We drank together different drinks including homemade wine. We spoke about travelling and I was fascinated to hear their stories in the mountains in the Swiss Alps, but also elsewhere in Russia, Kazakhstan and Myanmar.
We tried to compare the eagerness of going to the seaside and to the mountains. Perhaps there are two types of people who always prefer the mountains and who always prefer the sea. Some hikers even said an interesting thing that in the beginning of 1990s most Estonians were busy getting wealthy and working hard in the new regime, but they kept the same habit of hiking like lonely weirdos.
The sunset at the lake Tudu
Perhaps the most obvious difference was that they were able to start exploring the Alps, because so far they were not allowed to travel outside of the Soviet Union and therefore they travelled in the mountainous areas of the Soviet Union. And back then it was kind of an escape from the communism bullshit that was all over the place, but in the mountains it was pure nature and freedom I guess. It was a very interesting evening. I went to sleep in the warm hut at midnight.
Tuesday, August 03
I woke up at 7.30AM and went to swim in the lake. The water of the lake was much nicer than the windy and rather cold air outside. I washed my hair and brushed my teeth in the lake. Soon other hikers started to emerge from the tents and they prepared porridge and coffee. I thanked them for the company and walked to the parking space and rode about 4KM to a Tudu tavern called Jaama. I ordered coffee and some snacks. I worked for an hour there, because in the hut and in the swamp there was no internet, luckily the phone coverage was still there. I saw 4 guys walk in and immediately take the remote control of the TV and switch to the Olympics. I have forgotten again that currently we still have the Tokyo Olympics going on. I can imagine that in the regular time I would spend countless hours watching sports.
Drone photos by Gunnar Paama
At 11AM I went back to the hut. The hikers on bicycles were already gone. Some people were walking to the lake and mostly straight back. I lit the fire in the fireplace and kept the warmth in the hut the whole day. One couple from Tartu opened the hut’s door and joined my warm space. They offered me smoked fish from Mustvee. They went to swim and even wrestled with wind and tried to keep the drone airborne. He was able to get some nice pictures of the lake and of the hut. I read my book and just had a zen time indoors and laying in the front of the fireplace.
One guy called Tanel walked in. He was taking a small detour from Rakvere and was on the way back to Tallinn. He is an agile development and scrum coach. We talked about travelling and books we read. He also dipped in the lake and later he warmed his body up by sitting back against the warm wall of the stove. It was raining and the wind was so strong and cold it made being outside impossible. Later the sun came out and the wind calmed down. I ate my dinner outdoors. I was like a proper omnivore, like a bear, and ate a lot of blueberries for dinner. I went swimming in the sunset. I went to sleep at 10PM.
It was very zen to just sit and watch the flames
Wednesday, August 04
It was exactly a month ago when I started my journey. The morning was nice and sunny, no wind as such. I went to swim in the lake for the last time and later let the sun dry my body. I packed my stuff and walked to the parking lot and loaded everything on my bike.
Kaja made an omelette for me and revieled the story of Päts bakery
I rode on the gravel roads to the main road and headed to Rakvere. I rode to the outskirts of Rakvere and stopped at a cafe and bakery called Päts. First I ordered coffee and pastries. I sat outside and worked.
All of a sudden a lady turned to me and asked if there was anything else I would like to have. I said that actually I was eager to have an omelette. She replied that we have eggs, bacon and other ingredients and of course she would cook the omelette for me although there was no omelet in the menu. It turned out that she was the owner of this place, Kaja, who 9 years ago started this small bakery.
The heritage goes all the way to Tamsalu where her parents baked the bread for the community. I was very delighted with this extra treatment and I got some more coffee and lemonade as well. Soon Gunnar arrived on motorbike. Gunnar is a pastor in the Baptist church called Karmel, but I asked him to meet me because he has a significant interest in motorbikes and old Soviet cars. He also knew Kaja and half of the people in the queue in Päts. We thanked Kaja for additional presents too and rode to Karmel church.
Gunnar in the brand new main hall of Karmen church
Karmel has been a congregation where I have seen rather exceptional Sunday services in the past years. Old songs from old song books are combined with more pop-rock songs for youth, both groups of people are singing and both seem to be satisfied. But currently the focus has been on building a new church building. Gunnar shared how church people themselves have donated most of the money, because they believe that this church should be opened to city people more than it used to. There is a café planned and during the Rakvere’s café days they opened a pop-up café and people were enjoying the café and the new modern building. One terrace is opened towards the future composer Arvo Pärt concert hall and music centre. The whole church building itself is a miracle and gives a lot of joy to the congregation. It will serve the city and will be a part of the community. To build another church was not an option, but as a community centre, it made perfect sense to the people in the church. But to be honest, the building is just half way and more work is ahead, but as the roof and the perimeter are sealed, it is already possible to do Sunday’s services indoors.
This yard is howing off with Ural motorbike, yellow Pobeda and Moskvitch Kombi, all in mint condition
We drove a bit further to Gunnar’s mother's place and he showed his motorbike with a side carriage and an old Moskvitch. He made an interesting point. Gunnar seemed to pick and choose hobbies based on whether he could do these with family or not. For example the Ural motorbike is for riding with his 5 years old son and he had even put a Volvo foldable seat with seatbelt into the side carriage so that his boy would be safe during the ride. I thanked Gunnar for his time and rode a bit further to the Rakvere hospital area and had another massage that I booked a few days ago.
Rannus and Pikats eating together
After that I rode to Vaala mall and sat for an hour in a café and worked and wrote. I bought BBQ stuff and drinks for the night with the Pikat family in Pajusti. I arrived to Pajusti at 5.15PM. I have known both Madis and Irina since 1999 or somewhere in this era. We prepared the BBQ and first went to the sauna that has a blue wall. Madis preferred non-alcoholic beer. We talked about different topics including the recent trip and hiking in Switzerland. Madis is genuinely obsessed with the Swiss Alps.
Soon Mirjam and Jaanika arrived and we ate together outside and enjoyed a mildly warm or rather chill summer night. Mirjam ran away with Joosep and Mona-Lisa and Mona-Lisa’s friend. Eventually they were watching a movie together. Madis’ dog Frida got some leftovers and was happy to finish off any eatable stuff. We talked until midnight and me and Jaanika were accommodated in one of the many bedrooms of this huge house. Mirjam joined the girls room.
Irina and rooster named Ülo
Thursday, August 05
Madis left early before 8AM and I woke up at 9.30AM. Irina was also up and was in the kitchen. We talked and ate omelette and drank coffee. The omelette of course was made of local eggs. Paying a visit to the chicken and the rooster Ülo are part of the morning therapeutic exercise for Irina. She often lies down on her beach chair, drinking coffee and watching the chicken.
Mirjam and Jaanika showed up at 11AM. We went to hug the chicken and Mirjam and Joosep had a lot of fun with the dog Frida. We thanked Irina, I left the motorbike there and we drove by Volvo to Võsu on the Baltic sea shore.
Mirjam used the long stretches wisely
We walked on the beach and Mirjam climbed and played on the playground near the beach. After an hour we went to eat at the O tavern where we have eaten before. The weather was nice and sunny, but not necessarily warm. We enjoyed Võsu and drove out the settlement from the other side and noticed more nice restaurants - next time we will visit these too.
We drove to the south through the more hilly countryside and saw a lot of harvesting of the crops. We drove to the Porkuni lake.
Some say that one of the islands there is slowly drifting from one side to another. I didn’t see any islands nor movement of them. Mirjam went to swim and I sat there with her on the edge of the wooden boat bridge. We ended our tour back in Pajusti at 7PM. Madis saw us again and we thanked him as well for hosting us. Jaanika and Mirjam went back to Tallinn.
I drove to Vihula manor and further to the sea shore and to the Mustoja river campsite. I saw a lady there with 2 dogs. I hesitated for a couple of minutes, because my initial plan was to go to the beach and set up a tent there. But I walked towards her and said good evening. That was not a usual entry, because Estonians usually do not say hi to strangers.
It turned out she was Anja and she was from Sweden and working in the embassy in Tallinn. She has lived and worked previously in Chisinau in Moldova as a political attaché. Dogs were really suspicious and one tried seriously to bite me from my heel. These dogs were taken from the Moldovan shelter and that itself might explain their behaviour. She has 3 teenage children in Tallinn or in Canada. I offered Päts beer and karask. Karask is bread with cottage cheese inside in plain words, but of course it is more complicated. Later we drank tea and enjoyed the fire. We talked about travelling and about Moldova and Odessa. I have been both in Moldova quite many times and once in Odessa with my family. I went to sleep at 11PM. It was quite cold in the beginning.
My last camping site in Mustoja in Lahemaa
Friday, August 06
I woke up at 8am and crawled out of my tent. It was a lovely summer morning and I walked to the beach nearby and swam in the river Mustoja, actually at the point where the river meets the sea. There were no people around. What a beautiful spot and a piece of Estonia. I walked back through the pine forest and saw the Swedish lady Anja with the suspicious dogs. She asked whether I would like to have coffee and porridge. We had breakfast and chatted until 2pm on many different topics including narrow-minded Christians, complicated relationships and life with teenagers.
Mustoja enters to the Baltic sea
Another cooling swim or rather sitting in the shallow river between the stones
I packed my stuff on my bike for the last time. Eventually I made peace with dogs by giving them a bribe in the form of the bread. Just before jumping into my driving gear I decided to have another cooling swim or rather sitting in the shallow river between the stones. I thanked Anja and drove on the small roads of Lahemaa.
The final stretch of my journey was on the boring motorway, but the speed was good and I entered Tallinn at 3.30PM. I bought 2 white roses for my girls and ended my journey at 4pm in front of the house. It was a long long voyage.
The sunflowers seads that we used for feeeding piggens found their way into these beautiful flowers in August under our windows, amazing.
My journey has ended, Mirjam was very happy.
I found it much easier to explain the purpose of this journey by just saying that men need to do something in the mid-age crisis. Some lads are buying a convertible car or a yacht, some start looking for younger ladies. But I guess we can’t escape from the feeling and reality that half of our life is done and what I would like to do with the rest of it. Am I happy in my current settings? It could be that these questions are egocentric, but eventually vital questions that might have brutal consequences. I have countered many people wrestling with the same questions. These people also need to figure out what to do. Are they willing to make changes and put some effort in their current relationships or are they just too tired and do not care anymore and want to release themselves. No easy solutions. But I also saw couples who somehow have managed to make it work and seemed very happy. I guess we all need to find a way and take responsibility for our doings and misdoings.
Riding a motorbike gave me this extra sensorium of smells, wind and rain. It was so pleasant to smell the freshly cut trees on the edge of the trail or flowers right after the rain on a tiny road. The extreme smell of shit hit my nose when the field was fertilised with cow’s or pig’s shit. During most of my journey I witnessed harvesting and the smell and the dust of the harvester cut the grain sometimes right next to me on the field. Most of my trip I was lucky to have a super hot and rainless summer and only last week I got some rain. Estonia is relatively tiny and therefore I didn’t have long stretches of riding and it was exactly the point - to see Estonia in a small phase.
On this trip I didn’t have much equipment for cooking my own meals. Actually I don’t have the kit for that and therefore I decided to seek for breakfast and morning coffee elsewhere like I’m used to in India. Only in the high mountains we have had all the equipment for cooking our meals, because there are no alternatives really. But as I’m not sitting in my camp and cooking it actually saves a significant amount of time and I’m more exposed to new contacts. I do remember one hike that I did with Markus and Mati in Saaremaa where we set the rules that we can’t buy food, can eat only whatever nature provides and can’t have a tent nor sleeping bag. Well, that was a bit of an extreme hike where we understood how much time preparing food and eating actually consumes.
I had a plan to visit places that I have chosen and which are not that touristy. Perhaps it is worth staying longer in Viljandi and in Tartu where I basically just had a café stop. Also I didn’t go to the Otepää area at all, which is also very beautiful and exciting to visit. I guess I missed some points that I had previously planned to go to, but in general I was able to see most of the planned places in 5 weeks. This journey proved that Estonia is not so tiny after all - 2900KM was the total length of my ride, amazing! I think I burned 150 litres of gasoline too.
I was lucky to see so many fabulous individuals that make a difference in their community. They are like lighthouses for people around them, perhaps they do not even know that. Some of them are entrepreneurs and provide livelihood for the community. Some of them are active in the social sphere and help people to get their shit together. Some people influence the whole Estonia or the world with their work. Many of the people I met bring joy with their music. Some of them are just good neighbours and just good people. And they were kind to me too. I had long meaningful conversations and I was able to observe their everyday life.
I suppose I need to consider myself a lucky husband, because my wife is not jealous and let me go for this loop for 5 weeks. These 3 meetings in Haapsalu, Hiiumaa and Rakvere with my family were really nice. I can’t randevou like this when I am in India or elsewhere. I would like to have a similar ride with Mirjam in the near future.
I hope this blog or book was a fun and eventful reading and perhaps as a direct result might trigger a desire to discover Estonia in a similar fashion. Some might argue that they don’t have time for 5 weeks. Time is the asset that is given to all of us equally. I think when you really want to do a similar ride, you will find the means for doing that.
I need to thank all the amazing people I met along the way and spent quality time with. Of course I thank my wife who let me go for this kind of journey in the first place and edited my English texts to made them more readable. Maybe one day I might plan a similar trip in Finland or elsewhere in Europe.