Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hitchhiking competition, Day 4

We woke up very early, in order to make it to the first ferry across back to the mainland. We set off towards the harbor - which was considerably further than we initially thought and as such, we ended up actually running in order to catch it. But we did, and then enjoyed the well-deserved cup of coffee on the ferry.

We also ran across the same pair of our competitors we met on the Saaremaa ferry. Since all of us were still fairly tired, we mostly sat in silence. Before docking, I managed to find us a ride to the next crossroads. The driver (who worked in biofuels) dropped us to the crossing towards Lihula. 

We found another hitchhiker there before us. We greeted her and then walked past her and settled a bit further. We had to wait for quite a while. 

We were eventually picked up by a group of  Czech tourists. They were in a hurry to get to the Saaremaa ferry, but nevertheless took us to one of the points - a Bishop's fort from the medieval times in Koluvere.

They told us they had been to Kunda the day before, and told us what it meant in Czech. Supposedly, it was a popular tourist attraction for Czechs for that reason.

They put us off near the gas station where the road led from Lihula back to Pärnu - crossroads where we had been just the day before. Since we had skipped breakfast and the traffic was slow, I went inside to get a hot dog for T., and quite soon after she had finished it, we were picked up and driven all the way to central Pärnu.

Our next destination was reachable by public inner city transport, so we bought bus tickets and then had  hamburger while waiting. Bus came soon enough and we got on board.

We had no clue where to get off, but T. asked a few locals in the bus and they helped gladly. From the  stop it was still about a kilometers walk in the hot sun to get to our destination - a fish ladder for the Sindy dam, next to the fishery.

On arriving, we found another pair ahead of us just ready to leave... and then when climbing to the ladder itself to take a picture, found a local TV celebrity (Vladislav Koržets) interviewing the head of the fishery. Inconsiderate as we were, we just walked through their background to get what we came for.

We then took a bus back to the edge of Pärnu, heading south. There was another couple there already, so we again walked past them and started hitchiking. They were picked up in a matter of 15 minutes but we were not so lucky. Cars kept whizzing by, not giving us the slightest attention. Eventually, another couple showed up and settled behind us - and then got picked up before we did. After 3 days on the road, emotions were soaring and that made us furious. Thankfully, we were also picked up soon after.

The driver drove us only a few kilometers, though. He explained that he used to hitchhike a lot and made a promise that when he got a car, he would always pick up other hitchhikers when he saw them. That said, he said he had now driven for 5+ years but despite that we were the first he had picked up in the period.

After he dropped us off, we again had to wait a while. Eventually, we were picked up by the same car that had first picked up the people behind us (thus making us mad). Nevertheless, since he was now giving us a ride, and actually took us past the couple he had picked up before, we calmed down consierably. He took us to about halfway where we needed, where the road turned towards Viljandi.

There was a 7 km stretch of road repairs in the direction we were heading, which made hitchhiking there near impossible. We therefore had to walk past all of it, to a small truck stop, by which time we were near dying of thirst (or at least it felt like it). We restocked on our water supplies and then put our thumbs up again.

We got picked up by a van with a trailer full of bicycles, and in getting in we found one hitchhiker already waiting for us there, who was on her way to Riga. They dropped us off next to the settlement where we needed to go.

Due to the imprecision of the map in specifying where the checkpoint was, we took the scenic route to the monument, walking 3 km where 1 would have sufficed, being pretty exhausted from the heat by the end.

We now had to find our way out of the settlement. After walking into a dead end and deciding not to listen to a drunk man walking by, we saw a car coming and asked for a ride out of town. The lady was nice enough to take us to the highway, again next to the gas station.

We now had two options -  try the main highway or go for the more direct side route. Since the local lady said that the direct route was also used often enough, we opted for that, and were indeed picked up by a car heading for Viljandi.

We were now heading for the finish line at 90 km/h, hoping to gather one more checkpoint that was practically on the way. The driver was indeed nice enough to take the 200-m detour to stop off at the Allikukivi caves (which really weren't much to look at, despite what T. remmembered from her youth), and we still arrived in Viljandi with ample time to spare.

In the end, we got the 4-th place, with just 0.5 pt separating us from the third and 1.5 pts from the second place. By that time we had been in around 50 cars and driven around 1500 km. We were dead tired, but quite content with 4 days of very active vacationing.

Addendum: After the award ceremony, we decided to head back to Pärnu. As all the buses had already left, we decided to try hitchhiking again. This time we failed, however, as there was practically no traffic heading towards Pärnu. Eventually we decided to set up the tent on the field by the side of the road, just a few km from Viljandi. We were both very dissapointed with the turn of events, but morning coffee in the bus station the next day mostly cleared that out.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hitchhiking competition, Day 3

This is a guest post by T.

Day three. We woke up at my parents place in Pärnu. I was so grateful for getting to sleep in my own bed and getting a shower after two days in wild (and the morning coffee!), but arriving there late had been a little awkward, though. My parents hadn’t met M before, and my mom didn’t even know I was in a hitchhiking competition. She doesn’t agree with hitchhiking. Therefore, I was really glad at how calm she took it and how friendly she was. Everything went well, and we got to sleep for quite long.

Or at least until 8 o’clock or something.

We stood at Pärnu’s limits, with a sign “Edasi!” (“Forward!”, sounding like a slogan). One car took us to Audru, a nearby village. There, we painted on a bigger sign “Saaremaa”, which was our next destination. Since I was bored of us telling the same story about our hitchhiking competition to all the drivers, I told M that we should make up something instead. We decided to introduce ourselves to the next driver as a brother and sister driving to visit our grandma. We put together our characters: he would be a builder, I’d work at a supermarket and go to trade school studying to be a shop assistant (yeah, they actually teach it at schools). When the next car picked us up, we didn’t have a good chance on introducing ourselves that way, though. In this car, a woman was driving and a man sat in the front. They told us they were heading to Lihula. The man had work there. I asked what they did for living. The woman told: “He is a music teacher, don’t you recognize your own teacher?” I, indeed, hadn’t. I hadn’t seen the face of the man before, but it turned out it was my middle school teacher, who had left for work in Iceland, but apparently got back and didn’t find a satisfying job in Pärnu, so decided to take a job in Lihula. I was really glad that we hadn’t told them more than that we were going to visit our grandma, because the named teacher knows my parents, and probably knows that I have no brothers. The rest of the drive he told us stories about Iceland’s school system.

From Lihula we got to Virtsu, the ferry port, with a car of a woman who apologized for the dog hair and mess she had in her car. I didn’t mind, though. Compared to standing at the back of the roadworker’s paint-stenched van, it was nice and comfy. She took us to our next destination, which was off the road, a tavern named “Mutionu”. It looked as if it had been built in an old cellar. She then took us directly to the ferry station as well, which was nice of her.

The ferry drove from Virtsu to Muhu in half an hour. Muhu is a smaller island, connected to the bigger, Saaremaa, with a bridge. On Muhu we had two places we had to see, and on Saaremaa, there were three. We decided to take all the points on Muhu and then see if we had time for Saaremaa, as we planned to go with the last ferry to Hiiumaa. For our plan to work, we needed to get to Tupenurme village on Muhu. We met another competing couple in the ferry, who told they had already found someone that would drive them away from port. One of us had to talk to people as well, to ask where they’re going and if they’d take us with. I left that for M, as I was too much a coward to talk to strangers like that. He got us a ride to 5 km from our destination. They dropped us off right next to a supermarket. The place was such that every car that would drive out of the parking lot would fill us with false hopes. We stood there for long, it seemed, but I guess it wasn’t more than 15 minutes. What made it awful was the really hot weather, and our warm clothes. A car finally picked us up. We took a picture at the village sign and, after changing our clothes in the forest in the anthill, hitchhiked right back. I don’t remember the people that picked us up there too well any more.

Somehow we got to the next village, Koguva. It was a tourist trap: there was a map of hundred places where movies were made during last century, and some of the places were there as well. We only saw the map and the parking lot, but the village contained at least four housings for tourists, a museum, a nice beach and some workshops for making... something... We hitchhiked back on a car of the museum director, who told us more about the village. I was a little sorry we didn’t get to see more there.

We headed to Kuressaare, the only town on the island, after that. It surprised me how far away it was: 70 km. I had thought the island was smaller. It seemed that our good luck continued, as we hadn’t stood there five minutes when we were picked up again. It was a young guy wearing sweatpants in a fancy-looking car. You’d assume people who look like this would be narrow minded and act on a certain stereotype, but after an hour in his car, we realized our prejudice was not justified. He listened to reggae and seemed quite intelligent and open-minded. A reminder of how looks can be deceiving. Just like those two guys heading to pick mushrooms the day before...

We calculated that we’d still have time to take at least one out of three points in Saaremaa, even though they were far away from civilization.One was in a nature resort, another was on northern coast. When we stood at the crossroads, it seemed more cars were heading to the nature resort, so we tried our luck with that, writing “Viidumäe” on a sign. Not long after that, we were picked up. A car with a young couple on front and a drunk woman at back. She was scary, she pulled the map out of my hands as I tried to calculate our way. Thankfully, they didn’t take us long, though, just 15 km.

The next car stopped for us just minutes later. It was a family with two little children, so first they had to make room for us. The mother would take one of the children to sit on her lap. They told us they had seen us on the crossroads before, and drove past thinking “We can’t take them, we don’t have room with two children,” then reconsidered and thought they could make us room, drove back and didn’t find us, since we were picked up already. As they headed back to home, they drove past us once more. Lucky us! And the young family was quite interesting as well: the woman originated from South Africa, and the guy had dreadlocks just like M. Hippies, we thought.

They took us to the nature reserve, waited until we climbed the watching tower, and drove us back to the main road as well.

We didn’t run out of luck after this nice family either. With two cars, we got to the crossroads heading to the north coast. It seemed that we had time to take yet another point in the middle of nowhere, since there was lots of time before the ferry and we had met only nice and friendly people with every other car picking us up. We hadn’t waited for fifteen minutes when a car took us from Tõlli to Tagaranna (both really small villages). In Tagaranna, there was a memorial for the victims of the sinking of the ship “Estonia”. We also found a statue of an old man smoking a pipe there, which was one of our “moving points”.

We walked on the beach, looking for statue, with a young Finnish couple. As it was nowhere in sight, we decided to run in opposite directions along the coast. I found it first, and then had to wait for M to run back to me with the camera to take the picture.

The couple then took us to ferry port. They had a kid with them who listened to Moomin tales in finnish on the back seat. They told us they were tired of driving around the Estonia already, and the kid even didn’t come out of the car when parents went to look the coast. The woman picked some weird flowers from the forest, saying it’s for medicine. I wish I had known the name of the plant (I study biology, you know). The family seemed almost as interesting as the hippies from South Africa for me. The woman worked with handicapped people and told us she’s a vegetarian because of the way the animals are treated. It irritated me a little that she tried to push it on her children as well, but I didn’t say anything. I tried to leave as good an impression on them as I could, since I was really grateful for being picked up at such an abandoned place and taken right to the port, while I had thought we’d have to drive back to Kuressaare before heading to the port, since the traffic is low there. We had been so lucky that day!

We even had time to eat burgers before the ferry (yeah I’m guilty for M eating meat...) and climb an adventure trail we found next to the shop. We walked about 2 km to the port, and wondered about the things at the road the whole time: a fence built in the forest, ending at a strange place, with no obvious purpose, a field of strange plants, between them growing poppy’s, a nut tree and a cherry tree. There were also some strawberries beside the road, of which I couldn’t get enough of.

The ferry trip from Saaremaa to Hiiumaa took one and a half hour. We had time to drink coffee, check where other couples were heading (one had just missed the last ferry we were on), and again, ask strangers where they were heading and if they took us with them. Again, I left that for M. He talked to almost everyone before finally found us two people who were heading to Kärdla, but, since the girl had been on the hitchhiking competition on a previous year, agreed on taking us to two other places we needed to head to on Hiiumaa. One was Külaküla küla, a village which’s name is, in translation, Villagevillage. The other was yet another monument.

 After the monument, the couple told us we should see the Eiffel tower of Hiiumaa as well: a huge tower built by a crazy, but brilliant local. Not only was there a tower in his yard, he had made a whole theme park with nitty comments everywhere. Some pictures:

After the Eiffel tower, we decided to once more try our crazy luck, and hitchhike to the south part of the island to take two more points and head to the first ferry in the morning. We were, indeed, lucky again. A car picked us up and took us to Suuremõisa, even though the driver originally wanted to go only half the way there. The map told us there was two places of accommodation there, but what we found out was that one was being renovated and the other only accepted cash, which we had run out of. We still got to find our checkpoint, “an outhouse with interesting design”:

We started walking towards the port in dark after that, as there was supposed to be another place of accommodation. Margus would’ve been ok with us staying in tent again, but I didn’t like the idea at all, since we hadn’t still figured out how to put up the tent, there were lots of mosquitoes and there wasn’t a good place to put up our tent. We had this crazy idea of walking 10 km to the last checkpoint in Hiiumaa, but since we were too tired, gave it up. A car drove past us when we were heading to port. They picked us up: two locals heading home. When they heard of our hitchhiking competition and how we looked for a place to stay in night, they offered us to stay in their home (right as we were about to go into the hotel). So, we got to sleep in a bed again. Crazy luck, and those locals in Hiiumaa are really friendly!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hitchhiking competition, Day 2

We woke up next morning at 7.30 after 6 and a half hours of sleep. T. had slept well, which I hope was because I was curled around her, keeping her both warm and protected from the wind. I had not been so lucky, however, being half-awake most of the night and having rain drip on my nose for most of that time. Despite that, I actually felt pretty fresh waking up and had no problem packing our stuff and getting going.

Our first objective was to go to the cross that we had missed the night before by just a few hundred meters. As it was now light outside, we decided to go for a more direct path going along a grassy path along a field of wheat. The cross was about 2 km away, and was truly beautiful, being by far the nicest looking monument we came across during the whole trip.

We then walked back to the highway and set back westwards. The first car dropped us to the Kohtla-Järve crossroads that we had been dropped to the night before. From there, we were picked up by an emergency rescue worker heading for work, who dropped us off right next to our next checkpoint.

We now had a 100m climb ahead of us, as the next checkpoint was the peak of the Kiviõli ash mountain. The road up the mountain was pretty steep and slippery, which was not easy for T. who had  fairly slippery footwear. Nevertheless, we managed to haul ourselves and our bags up the mountain and then got to enjoy our breakfast (bread with canned tuna) along with a truly magnificent view.

We then climbed down but then had a dilemma in front of us. Our next point was quite a way away, and there were two ways of getting there - a more direct route, which seemed less used but started right at the base of the mountain, and the more used route that required we somehow get back to the highway.

After trying to get a ride at the base, it quickly became clear that this was not a feasible choice (due to the low volume of traffic passing by). We therefore headed to the nearby gas station, got our morning coffe and then started asking people if they would drop us to the highway. Eventually, one lady took us on board and dropped us off on the highway, about a third of the way to where we needed to get. She explained she was actually heading to where we needed to get, but was working and had to make a few stops on the way, promising to give us a ride if we failed to get one before.

We were now near a gas station by the highway. We asked all the cars stopping for gas if they could take us further, and in half an hour, we were on our way again. When in the car, we again realized we had about three equally valid possibilities, as our next stop was Kunda on the north coast.

We probably chose the worst of them - opting for the direct route from Rakvere (as opposed to the route from Tallinn or the route from Narva), which was probably the least used of the three, seeing only one car every 10 minutes. The third car did stop, but only took us 3 km further, landing us literally in the middle of nowhere.  From there, we had to walk 2 km before we came to another car willing to take us on board. That driver was very nice to us, however, going a few km out of his way to drop us exactly at the crossing near Kunda we needed to get to.

Our next checkpoint was actually in a small village called Rutja 15 km west of Kunda. However, we got lucky, being picked up by two guys (väga stereotüüpsed rullnokad) heading there to go pick mushrooms. They dropped us off in the settlement, where we now started hunting for locals to ask them where the checkpoint was - because this was one of the strangest (and cutest) checkpoints listed, namely a tombstone for a border guard dog Djoma, who had given 22 years of faithful service. Thankfully, the locals knew where it was and gladly told us which fence we had to hop over in order to get there. And behold, there it was, right in the corner of the yard.

We now got a ride back to the Kunda crossroads and from there quickly got another car heading for Tallinn. The driver was russian, but his first question was if we were in the competition. We answered in affirmative and then tried to figure out where we were actually trying to head next. After some deliberation we realized we had actually forgot to consider one fairly obvious choice that was supposed to be just along the highway, and decided to try for that. We asked to be dropped off near Kuusalu.

Again, we had to ask the locals to find what we were looking for - a burger stand made famous in the Estonian short movie "Tulnukas" (link, Part VI, 8:48). This time, their answers were quite surprising, however - namely, all 3 people we asked said that the place had been destroyed and now contained a grocery store. Not to be deterred, we just took a picture of the said store.

We then had to walk all the way back to the highway, and since it was about time for lunch we decided to have burgers in honor of the burger stand that had not been there. Yes - I am no longer a vegetarian, having given it up about a month ago. However, this was my first burger in 8 years - something definitely worthy of celebration.

We then went to the gas station and soon got a ride with two young russian guys heading towards Narva. We were now heading for Palmse, so we asked to be dropped off where the road turned towards Viitna. The road there was being repaired, so one lane was closed and there were two roadworkres with a car painting a turn sign on the closed lane. We walked past them and continued walking, as Viitna was just 2 km away.

Half the way there, we notice the roadworkers van approaching behind us. To our surprise, they actually stop and offer us a ride - first only to Viitna, but after they had their lunch, they turn towards us again and offer to drive us all the way to Palmse, to the piles of rock called Famine stones gathered by peasants during a famine a few hundred years ago.

Roadworkers then give us a ride back to the highway and drop us at the crossroads towards Tapa. Our next checkpoint was Tapa-Loobu roadsign (both place names, but translating to "Kill - Cancel"). We knew where both settlements were, but we had no idea where the sign was located. Neither did the driver who first picked us up. Despite our vigilance, we did not see the sign, which left us at a dilemma when we were dropped us off at a crossing. We consulted our maps and realized we should be near, but since we had no idea where to look exactly, we were considering abandoning the point and continuing to the next one.

At one point, T. decided to walk a bit further to check the roadsign further on for how far we are from the nearest settlement. She got 10 paces before she began laughing and called me over. We then had our picture taken with what we saw:

We then set towards Kadrina, and again had a stroke of luck. As the traffic seemed slow, T. headed to the woods to pick berries, and emerged from there along with a woman who had been picking mushrooms, and whose car was on the side of the road. We quickly asked where she was heading, and she replied "Home, to Kadrina". She gladly took us on board and even drove us a bit outside the settlement to the actual checkpoint - the statue of a wooden fist.

She then drove us back and left us at the crossroads towards Paide. We quickly got a ride again. The next 70 km stretch was spent talking to the driver, who was a cattle inseminator for the two counties we were passing through. There were two checkpoints near the road we were driving, and the driver briefly considered driving through one, but then remembered he was in a hurry and was already running late for an appointment. As we were making good progress, we decided to skip the two and just continue onward.

We were again dropped next to the checkpoint, which was a statue of a Hitchhiker, allegedly made by a young artist who later committed suicide by setting himself on fire at just age 26.

The irony of having just visited the statue of a Hitchhiker was that we had now run out of luck. Our original idea of heading for the last Saaremaa ferry was soon replaced by just a desire to get T. home to Pärnu as car after car after car passed by without picking us up, and the two that did both took us just 15 km. Sun was setting and we were on the side of the road from Paide to Pärnu with one car driving by every 15 minutes, always at around 100 km/h. We got so desperate we wrote "Please" on one of the papers we had and started showing that. At one point, I knelt down on the pavement with the said sign as one car was nearing. Didn't help.

As the sun was setting, a fire truck drove by us at 100 km/h. It too, did not pick us up. Initially at least, as after about a minute, we saw the same car approach from the other direction and stop just where we were standing. We heartily thanked the driver for coming back for us and climbed aboard.

The car was manned only by the driver, who said it was a spare car and he was driving it to Are cross where he was to switch cars. T. lit up when she heared that, and then explained that Are cross was on Tallinn-Pärnu highway and only 20 km from Pärnu, so there was a real chance we would actually be able to get to Pärnu for the night. Until then, however, we still had about 60 km in the fire truck.

When at the crossing, it was dark already, and there were no streetlights around, so we had to hitchhike in darkness. Using our flashlights and reflectors, we managed to make ourselves visible and were quite soon picked up by two young men for Poland who asked us in Russian if we could direct them to a hotel for the night. In my limited Russian, I answered in affirmative and we climbed into the backseat with all our stuff.

They asked us if we were brother and sister, and I said no. They then asked if we were... well something I did not understand, so I asked for clarification. They then resorted to body language, in what is universally accepted as the sign for sexual intercourse. T. blushed while I answered in affirmative yet again. We showed them a hotel in central Pärnu, grabbed our stuff and then walked back to the edge of the city where T. lived.

Finally - a warm bed to rest in for the night. Something both of us badly wanted. Also - a shower, which was something I wanted even slightly more, considering how hot the weather had been. Thankfully, we got both :)