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Trip 32 -- Hiiumaa Walk

Day 2: Suuremõisa to Käina via Kassari
Sunday, June 26, 2022

Today: 32376 steps/25.38 km/15.77 mi/4h 38m
Total: 52459 steps/40.95 km/25.45 mi/7h 32m

Through the Hiiumaa branch of the Visit Estonia tourism group, I connected with Douglas Wells, who kindly provided me with the full text of his original Lighthouse Tour booklet.

It's full of legends. Up a side road from Pühalepa Church is a rough pile of rocks affectionately known as Hiiumaa's "Stonehenge." Perhaps they mark the grave of a wealthy sixth-century king, or perhaps they were brought as offerings to God to ensure safe journeys. Another theory is that Baron Ungern-Sternberg had visited Egypt and was trying to imitate the pyramids using round stones.

Nearby is a large boulder brought from Finland by a glacier. According to the lore, it may have been deposited by a giant; such boulders are found all over the island and when there are more than one together, the giants may have been dueling. Hiiumaa means "giants' land" and giants feature heavily in its legends.

I walked along the road with the Suuremõisa alley of alders on my left. For an hour the road was flat and straight; there would be no getting swallowed up by overgrowth today.

The road bent slightly right and then left, and then I turned left onto the road heading south into the Kassari peninsula. Kassari is almost an island of its own and I was unsure whether it should be counted as part of Hiiumaa, but Doug insisted that the land bridges so firmly connect the two that it must be part of the route. Besides, long ago there was a storm, and villagers drinking beer noticed that Kassari was floating away. With teams of oxen and the biggest trees and heaviest rope they could find, they pulled Kassari back in place and anchored it with boulders. If they went to all that trouble, I was going to include it.

Besides, there was much to see on Kassari. The Hiiumaa Museum, one of few points of interest still marked by Doug's original Lighthouse Tour wooden route posts, had a small but interesting display on the history of Hiiumaa with relation to earth, wind, water, and fire. Of note were telegraph messaging equipment and a cable, a door from a plane that crashed on the island, tinned sardines and herring of yore, and a milking machine.

The museum occupied the former steward's house of Kassari manor, and it drove home how strong the feudal system was through the 19th century. Peasants were indebted to the masters and had to perform sufficiently. The manors wielded significant influence over cultural, religious, agricultural, and educational matters.

Nearby a restaurant was open, and I was foolish enough not to have lunch there, waiting instead for the views promised over at Orjaku harbor. I did stop for a dark beer -- refreshing and low in alcohol -- and two small salted fish at Kassari's brewery, but I didn't test the theory that drinking enough beer may make Kassari float away yet again.

The restaurant at Orjaku offered me drinks only and would not be serving food until Thursday. There were no other food options until Käina, an hour ahead. I passed the ringed cylinder of Orjaku's lighthouse and took a short detour along a boardwalk through reeds, and then I headed to Käina.

I am pretty sure that I am the only person to have been in the Lõokese Hotell today, and that includes staff. They sent me a code to open the door and another code to retrieve the key to room 114 from its safe just inside the entrance, along with instructions to fill out the registration paper and put it back in the safe. The hallways were dark -- so dark that it took two tries to figure out that room 114 was down the hall that didn't seem to lead anywhere. There were no cars parked out front.

The room was basic but comfortable enough and had a back door leading out to the pool, which looked inviting. The television set, a curved-screen cathode-ray device from about 1995, received one channel in Estonian and one in Russian, and the vertical hold didn't work.

A few minutes' walk away was the Windtower Experience, a modern Hiiumaa museum in a six-floor metal cage irreverently dubbed the "cheese grater" and containing the Baltics' highest indoor climbing wall. It opened in 2020 and was a decent complement to the more traditional museum on Kassari. The lowest floor told of underwater Hiiumaa, including shipwrecks -- the waters in the northwest and between the island and the mainland are particularly shallow and claimed many vessels. The next floor up allowed guests to sniff and touch plants and animal skins.

Much of the rest dealt with the islanders themselves, notably a section on Hiiumaa humor and the islanders' attitude to the mainlanders.

"A mainland man asks a Hiiu islander about his wall clock. 'Does that clock strike as well?' The islander answers, "Not our own people, it hasn't, but I've no idea how it treats strangers.'"

"Miku Kaarel was dying. His wife kept checking on him. She asked, 'Well, I wonder what this dying feels like?' 'I don't know, it's the first time for me as well,' replied Kaarel."

"A mainland man drank a mug of beer and said, 'That went straight to my head.' A Hiiu islander asked, 'Do you have so much empty space in your head that it can fit a whole mug of beer?'"

These jokes were displayed on a screen that asked me to rate each one. If I found them funny enough, I could perhaps fit in with the islanders.

The idea of the Windtower Experience didn't come out of thin air. Wind is a major feature of the island, and the hardy islanders are used to it. At ferry crossings in high winds, the islanders don't break a sweat, and they can always make out the anxious mainlanders and foreigners.

Nearby are the ruins of Käina's stone church, which dates from around 1500 and was destroyed in World War II by a German pilot who fired down in retaliation against the Soviet sentry who had been shooting at planes out of boredom.

Käina's other hotel should have had a restaurant, but there was even less going on there than at the Lõokese. The only place to get dinner service was at the cafe of the Windtower Experience, which had a pleasant terrace and served me decent beef tartare and honey-glazed duck in a thick red-wine sauce.

Douglas Wells spent his first couple of years on the island in Putkaste, just east of Käina, where his Estonian host had a modern apartment that was decked out with Finnish electronics that he acquired and fixed himself and was totally at odds with the bleak infrastructure the Soviets had left. I took a short stroll there after dinner and found Soviet-style apartment blocks -- perhaps I saw Doug's -- and the Putkaste manor house, which has received far inferior upkeep than its counterpart over at Suuremõisa.

And when I turn the lights out in my room at the Lõokese, all lights will be out at the Lõokese.

Go on to day 3