Arriving….and leaving the alpaca farm in Estonia
Waking to a dusting of snow on the ground we reluctantly decided to forfeit our planned trip to the coast to view the baby seals and we headed back for the mainland. We may not get to see the baby seals but we were going to work with alpacas.
Kai and Kaya have an alpaca farm in the countryside north of Pärnu. As we approached the farm the little groups of alpacas got very excited and telescoped their necks to take a good look at us. Moving as one, they studied us intently while Mia the beautiful German Shepherd greeted us by bouncing around our feet and Kai and Kaya welcomed us and took us indoors out of the biting cold.
Alpacas – inquisitive things
Once the introductions had been completed we went back outside to meet the animals. Alpacas, goats, chickens and sheep would all need caring for and there was a kilometre of fencing that needed erecting because the following week Kai would be travelling to the UK to collect another 3o alpacas.
The alpacas were so funny and so sweet and so very very inquisitive. If there was anything out of the ordinary happening then they had to investigate it. They had the softest thickest coats that Kaya would spin into wool and all had such dear little personalities I knew that I would love working with them. That first evening we settled down over supper and cognac and discussed the plans for the week.
…and curious too
We had found the farm on the Workaway website – both me and S had found volunteer placements through them before so we were fully aware of what to expect. The normal expectation is to work for an average of 24 hours a week in exchange for accomodation and food. In this instance we had a room in the lovely large modern family home. Kaya is Estonian and Kai is from Norway, S is from Finland and I am Welsh but luckily everybody spoke excellent English.
Kaya and Kai
By the following morning the remnants of the flu had caught up with S again and he was destroyed but I was keen to begin working so I set to clearing a bank and a ditch of fallen branches and dead grass. The wind was biting cold and the work quite physical due to working on the slope of the bank but it was satisfying to see the area that I had cleared.
As a treat to myself for my hard work Kai and I went into Pärnu for an evening in a spa. What a wonderful, relaxing and warming experience. There was a swimming pool and jacuzzis, a Finnish sauna and Turkish baths, a hamman and a steam room, a salt sauna, a Japanese bath and a whole array of high pressure massage jets. The salt sauna and the Japanese bath were new to me. You take handfuls of sea salt and scrub your skin before sitting and sweltering in the heat which leaves your skin baby smooth and you simply sit in the Japanese bath – which is an incredibly hot pool of water in which up to 10 people can comfortably sit in a water temperature of 42 degrees.
Returning home to drama number 6 ( maybe I should stop counting these dramas. A drama is an adventure by another name, right?) and there was a bit of a family crisis in Estonia. The long and the short of it was that S and I offered to leave in order to give Kaya and Kai some space, and the next morning we packed our bags and left.
Awww. I love alpacas
We both loved Estonia but it was time to move on. There is something about the air in Estonia which is crisp and clean and unpolluted. The roads go on and on across the flat landscape with very little traffic on them, windmills are dotted around and swathes of forests of birch, juniper and pines break up the huge fields.
one of the many little wooden windmills
Estonia is a forward-thinking, technologically advanced country (they are the geniuses which invented Skype, and EVERYBODY assumes that it is a basic human right to have access to a decent wifi connection), almost all of the younger generation speak excellent English as well as Estonian and Russian and many people also speak Finnish.
An Estonian ‘motorway’
And things get done here. Kai told me that one day the mayor of the town called to visit the alpaca farm and was horrified to find out quite how bumpy and pot-holed the long road out to the area was. The mayor was a firm supporter of any enterprise which could attract tourists and finance to the area and didn’t want people to have a poor impression of Estonia. Within two hours of him leaving the farm, machinery turned up to plane the road surface and fill the holes. No red tape, no haggling. It needed to be done, so it was done.
fish drying in the sun
Dramas have been haunting us on this trip so far and we were now on drama #4. Loading up the van in readiness to leave Tallinn we noticed that its side door had been forced, probably with a screwdriver. Luckily, we had taken most things of value into the hotel with us but bizarely, while the binoculars, a laptop, memory stick and the awesome 9-speaker music system had been ignored, a suitcase of socks was stolen!
our trusty transport
We left Tallinn minus the socks and we drove south along arrow straight roads, music blasting out and the sun warming us. It felt so good to be on the road again. The landscape in this part of Estonia is flat, flat and more flat, with tilled fields stretching far out over the horizon and swathes of green pine and juniper trees bunching together with their roots swilling around in peaty bogs and pools of water. We caught up with a convoy of military vehicles who were swaying and bouncing along the highway, each with a soldier on top and a very large machine gun. Overtaking and picking off each truck one at a time, we eventually arrived at our destination of Haapsalu.
The Jahta Hostel, Haapsalu
S had been here in Haapsalu once before for the AuugustiBluus Music Festival. All that I can say is that it must have been a good festival with much beer because he was convinced that it had taken place on an island! It isn’t on an island but water is everywhere in Haapsalu. It sits on a spit of land which juts out into the bay and is next to a saltwater lagoon. There is also a huge castle bang in the old town center which is where the festival happens but for now, the town was deserted.
We pulled up at our planned hotel – the Jahta Hostel – to find that was also deserted; we were just about to leave when Henri the owner found us. He had been down on the jetty fishing, but he broke off from his activity and welcomed us and showed us into our room. S, who had been suffering from the flu promptly fell into bed and dropped off to sleep for two days while I set off to explore the town.
The castle at Haapsalu
Haapsalu is small and is completely dominated by the massive castle. This morning, half of the current population appeared to be sat along the water’s edge quietly fishing, the other half were in the tiny little cafe. I walked and I found a large graveyard with wrought iron crosses instead of headstones, a lady dressed up in a costume in the little museum and a tall wooden birdwatching structure that swayed alarmingly once I was at the top, but which had great views out over the reed beds and the estuary.
The view over the bay at Haapsalu
We spent a lovely restful couple of days at the Jahta Hostel (click here to read about the history of the hotel and what Henri plans to do with the fish that he caught) and we never tired of the views across the bay. You can feel the clear air rejuvenating you as you breathe deeply and the play of the sunlight on the water changes by the second. One morning I woke early and the water was streaked with blood red, crimson and black streaks as the sun rose above the horizon. It looked solid like thick paint but by the time I had reached for my camera it had altered again.
sunrise over the bay
Eventually it was time to leave and so we set off again, continuing south and to the ferry to take us to Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa. The crossing was smooth and we drove across the island to the only town which is called Kuressaare. En route we paused to take a look at the meteorite crater at Kaali, which was interesting because of how it had been formed but was, at the end of the day, just a large pond of water.
The meteorite crater at Kaali
We found our hostel in Kuressaare which was nothing special apart from Meida the adorable, lovely, wonderful receptionist. The hostel consisted of three available rooms to book within the town’s university halls of residence, although in the summer the whole building is opened up to tourists.
The lovely Meida
And then we had another drama (#5 if you don’t count the flu) when S had a massive toothache which spread to his whole jaw and which necesitated a visit to the dentist at the PolyClinic. A very dour lady dentist agreed to x-ray S’s mouth – once we had got past the language barrier and she realised that he had toothache and was not searching for a solution for alcoholism (by now the combined pain and lack of sleep did give S a slightly haunted look). Massively strong antibiotics were recommended which we bought over the counter without a prescription. Worthy of a mention here is that all of the corridors of the PolyClinic had shoes neatly parked outside each door – where it is polite, necessary and etiquette to remove them before entering.
Leaving the tiny port for Saaremaa
And so S took to his bed again and on a cold, semi-cloudy day I drove the van into town to visit the castle. It was amazing with a magnificent interesting museum inside the very well preserved building. Towers and turrets and interesting exhibitions about the history of Estonia and Saaremaa, the Russian occupation and the very recent re-gaining of independance were all fascinating, but they also coincided with a partial eclipse outside. I took myself out and due to the cloud I was able to watch the eclipse unfold. I may have not had blue skies or a full eclipse but the setting alongside the castle was quite special.
Then the clouds thickened and the blue skies which we had been blessed with so far disappeared and it began to snow.
Read about our lovely little hotel at Haapsalu on the Estonian coast.
We had sunshine filled days in our lemon yellow wooden building on the bay
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