Rain has been falling most of the morning, turning what yesterday was a dusty track into something closer to a Scottish salmon river. For the first time on our journey through Europe the track was not on the gps, and perhaps because of that, or because we were tired, we got lost.
Well, not truly lost, as the track was clearly shown on the paper map and it was going in the right direction, but it was not exactly the road that we wanted to be on. This was supposed to be an easy day, ending in an evening away from the close attention of mosquitoes. Not like the last four days of wild camping. We were supposed to be staying in a motel that is now 15k back down the road. It was going to be a bit of a treat that did not include more kilometers on this dusty and rough track. But, they had chosen the summer to close and refurbish it, hadn’t they. So, there at a stroke went our easy day and all the accommodation for 100k.
There should be a campground not far up ahead. But most of our day had been spent biking on these rough roads, and we were worn out. This little error in navigation had left Esther close to tears. As so often, when things are so low they are just about to take an unexpected and wonderful turn for the better. Standing at the side of the road were a group of people. Long story short, we ended up staying with them and could not have been happier if they had given us the winning numbers for the next lottery and even a bonus ball or two.
We had set out from Orissaare to retrace our route along the north coast of Saaremaa towards Leisi, within minutes of pressing ‘ publish ‘, on the last blog. In the first 10k or so, by the side of the road is an elegant example of an Estonian bus stop. More ‘ country cottage ‘, than mass transit infrastructure, these are a common site. This one had a mail box, a post box and a board featuring a notice for a lost dog. We were having a good day, that is for sure.
We turn left towards Kaali and it gets better still. We have the wind pushing us along through a pleasant landscape of old meadows and scattered farms. It was not always quite so tranquil. Four thousand years ago would have been a poor moment to be anywhere near here, as a meteorite the weight of a house moving at 20k per second hit the ground. It is the last meteorite to have hit the Earth in a populated area, and made its way into Finnish mythology and the writing of the Greeks. It left quite a hole.
We pick up highway 10, the main road across the island, and do a quick 12k towards Kuressaare. Even 8k away from this tourist spot, the camp price is high enough to make us ask a second time, just to check there was no mistake. We have had a run of excellent and very cheap sites, and this comes as a bit of a shock. Oh well. Next morning, with a blue sky and fluffy clouds, we ride into Kuressaare to take a look at the Russian Church and the fine Castle. Very nice indeed.
We follow the coast road north-east towards Puha. The farming is becoming a little more intensive this side of the island, with fields dotted with bright golden big bales. It still has a unhurried feel to it, with room for quiet corners in which to grow reed for thatching. The light is starting to fade and shadows are creeping longer as we ride into the evening. We had a late start, and we have now lost 2 hours in day length from our rides in the white nights of the north a month ago. We wild camp, just before the causeway to Muhu after picking up water at a cottage.
Early next morning we start to roll over the bridge. No wind, and a million mosquitos mean that we have started without breakfast. The little island of Muhu, is refered to as the welcome matt for Saaremaa, which I doubt they like too much. We keep our heads down and head for the ferry back to mainland Estonia and the town of Karuse.
There, we find a church with a Pagan cross in the Kinski churchyard. Big black clouds are starting to come together behind he trees. They will come to nothing, but the next time I look, they fill the horizon. We make a dash for the town of Lihula and take cover in the museum come cultural centre. It is a wonderful building, but clearly in need of 1,000 years of DIY and an infinite supply of filler and sandpaper. There is not one locked door in the place, and eventually we find a member of staff on he second floor.
We have ridden by two camps back along the road without knowing it. Not a single sign between them, and now we need another campground plus, as a matter of some urgency, it must have a shower. It is just 5k away we are told, so off we pedal. So why, almost an hour later, are we still not set up and making tea? The very good reason is that the sign for the campground is small, inconspicuous and 200m down a track with a no entry sign. We now have four maps, none of which agree over where campgrounds are to be found. There is no shower and we spend a sticky evening trying to sit in the best spot to avoid the insects whilst eating a fine omelet.
Hot and more humid than it should be early on an August morning, we sit eating porridge whilst the tent is drying from the dewy night. We are heading on the main road towards the rather large town of Parnu when we come across a cafe not mentioned in any of the 5 maps that we are now carrying. A second sign and there it is and remarkably, it is open for business. The couple running it are Russian speaking but they have their young son on hand for English translation. We sit and watch Russian television, which appears to be about women, guns and cars and possibly in that order. Esther drags up her ‘ Schoolgirl Russian ‘ for a conversation about what we are doing and throws in a bit of German. I am not sure that they are not on the maps because they are Russian, the thought did cross our minds.
We start out along the 10 again, but in the half hour we were eating, it has got busier. We change our plans when a minor road for Pärnu-Jaagupi comes up. It looks far more like our kind of road. Fields are being harvested of Barley and stubble is doted with new round bales. There is even a tractor working to gather in the bales and things look purposeful and industrious. Forest of Birch and Oak comes and goes as we settle into the rhythm of the ride. Then the tarmac runs out.
There are small wooden homes spaced out along the road. Some are neat and well maintained , but others are shabby and look to be skulking into the forest. You have to remember that -25’c for extended periods is common in winter here. It is hard to imagine the lives that are being lived behind the dusty widows and faded lace. Estonia, according to world health figures has the lowest male life expectancy in Europe. There is an age range here that had brutally hard lives under communism and the abrupt rush to the western free market has not done them many favours. They are ending their days young.
It has been mostly dry here and now the roads are baking under a hot sun. The occasional truck that does pass is heralded well up the road by a big plume of dust, forcing us to stop and take cover as it nears. It is remote country, which makes the old guy on a bike who is wearing an England football top even more out of place. It is a great opportunity for a portrait, but I know I will stumble through the communication and so let the moment pass. I regret it for a day and a half.
Up ahead there is a 300 bed motel, and we will get a rest, some food and a shower. What could possibly go wrong?