A Dumb and Dumber moment – starring us
Trip Start Mar 28, 2010
140Trip End May 31, 2011
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We chose to venture to the lesser explored Saaremaa Island to get a taste of Estonian island life, a culture we’d heard was the true 'old Estonia’. With the total island population of under 36,000 spread over an area 3.5 times the size of Calgary, we were pretty certain the term ‘rural’ would generally be an understatement. The main town (and our home base for the duration of our visit), Kuressaare, lays claim to almost half the island’s inhabitants but as we found soon after arrival, despite its size it retains its village-like appeal. Finding our hostel proved to be easier than we’d anticipated and thanks to the kindness of strangers (i.e. - the hostel’s neighbour who phoned the hostel owner to let him know we’d arrived so could he please come let us in?) we were settled without much hassle
We spent our first day exploring town, wandering the parks and alley-like streets and getting lost in the maritime-rich residential areas. The town’s centrepiece is the aptly-named Kuressaare Castle, a 13th century fortress founded to protect the Island’s trading interests – we found it remains impressive in its sheer size and impression against its surroundings. The town’s sea-front and harbour provided us with a tranquil environment to absorb the sounds and smells of the Island as well as watch local kids learning the art of solo sailing. Before heading home for the evening, we stopped in for a few Le Coq’s (the local beer) at Kuressaare’s windmill tavern.
As Kuressaare itself is on the small side, we decided to take the next two days and explore the Island by scooter. Our first day on the road was a pleasant one, with sunny skies and a steady breeze defying the morning rain
Our second day threatened to be less pleasant from the start with the skies blanketed by ominous clouds and a temperature much cooler than the day before. Despite the look of the weather, we opted to go ahead with our plan to see the north end of the Island and hit the road again with our trusty steed. Once out of town, the deserted roads again met us though this day we were treated to the occasional small cluster of homes and visions of rural Estonians farming the land. Our planned route took us along bucolic roads, passing first the Kaali meteorite crater (Europe’s largest meteor crater, estimated to be close to 3000 years old) then the Angla Windmills (a collection of five raised wooden windmills, authentic though no longer functional). With the sky clearing, we decided to first stop in the almost-coastal town of Leisi for lunch and gas before deciding our next leg of the adventure. Leisi turned out to be a village rather than a town and while they had lunch, they were lacking in gasoline – turns out the only place on the Island to fuel up is either in Kuressaare (40km south) or Orissaare (30km east). Given we weren’t keen to head for home after only three hours on the road, we opted to skirt along the coast and head for the eastern option. The north shore, we discovered, varied little from the south one we’d discovered the day before, being hugged by plenty of rural farmland and thick pine forests
Once in Orissaare and gassed up, we decided to sit for a warm-up tea before continuing on to Kuressaare via the scenic south route. Our spidey-senses must have been tingling as not ten minutes after sitting down with our hot cups, the once-clear-and-sunny skies darkened and a chilly rain began to fall. Initially this did not bother us as our experience thus far with the Island’s weather systems led us to believe the storm would soon blow over... however, after over an hour and a half of staring out at the torrential downpour and with daylight dwindling, we began to consider the fact we may not be making it home for the evening after all. Luckily, a break in the weather came and we took the shaky opportunity to make run for it, opting for the main highway rather than the side roads. The first few kilometres of the fifty we were to cover, though cold, were manageable. Sadly, as we rounded our first major curve we spotted an cloudy mist on the road ahead and within minutes we were hit with heavy rain and wind. Though we had the option of returning to Orissaare, both of us are pretty stubborn and were set on making it back to our hostel so we pressed on. Despite our best efforts to shelter ourselves from the elements in our water-proof rain jackets and aerodynamic positioning, we soon pulled our waterlogged-selves to the side of the road to beef-up our defences – why we hadn’t done it earlier, before the rain, is a mystery
Our scooter days marked the end of our time on the Island as we packed up and headed back to the mainland the following morning. Despite how miserable our return trip was, we were ultimately glad we made it when we did since we awoke to more steady rain the morning of our departure – how heartbroken we would have been had we taken the gamble of staying overnight in Orissaare, only to find our situation no better in the morning. The adventure reinforced something we’d felt from the start – this is a land of hearty people, who ultimately are in the hands of Mother Nature, who have been for centuries and wouldn’t want it any other way. Many people would see it as a flat, windy, unexciting place... we saw it as beautiful in its desolation and exciting in its ever-changing nature. The Island had us from the start – in many ways, it still does.