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Trip 32 -- Hiiumaa Walk

Day 8: Kärdla to Heltermaa
Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Sunday: 35283 steps/28.32 km/17.60 mi/4h 57m
Grand total: 207566 steps/230.20 km/143.04 mi/43h 3m

At the Mamma Mia restaurant just off Kärdla's main square, Øyvind said, "Yesterday I saw you down by the harbor and then at the pub. Today I found you here. If you don't mind my asking, what are you doing here?"

I explained my walking and returned to my Hiiumaa-inspired pizza: local onions, goat cheese, and lamb. I ordered a slice of chocolate cake and gasped at its heft, arousing his attention again.

"Would you like to join us?" He was sitting with two women, Heidi and Frida; they had come from the literature festival. He had presented a reading about the sea; Heidi had read her own poetry. They had arrived just before the 9:00 closing time and, in contrast to the nutritional negligence over at Kork, had been welcomed and offered a full meal and the time to eat it.

I brought my cake over.

Øyvind was from Rangøya, a Norwegian island so tiny one could walk its length in under ten minutes. I found the satellite map and showed it to him.

"That's my house," he said. "And this building next to it is also mine. It's an Airbnb. You are welcome to visit."

His companions were from Finland. "Do you know how I could tell you weren't Finnish?" Heidi asked. "Your hair is too thick."

These were the first people on Hiiumaa with whom I'd had a conversation that ventured beyond my procuring food, dealing with lodging, or entering a museum. Most of my walking had been through forest. It was probably my loneliest Abecedarian Walk to date, I explained.

"So," Øyvind said, "you could have come back after the apocalypse, and you wouldn't know the difference."

I refrained from commenting that my home country's Supreme Court had all but delivered the apocalypse in stages over the past two weeks, and for better or worse the mobile Internet on Hiiumaa had been reliable enough for me to follow it.

"What's your favorite poem?" he asked.

I cited "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which was recited by a friend of mine when we were in Russia in high school. (The false rhyme in the fourth stanza didn't bother me as much then.) I quoted the first few lines as closely as I remembered them.

"What's yours?" Heidi asked.

Øyvind read "Legends," by John Freeman. I perked up as he started, "My father's father rode the rails...."

"That's similar to mine," I said. "A sinister tale set in an icy climate."

"Yours is what made me think of it!" he said.

"You never ask my favorite poem," said Heidi the poet.

"I only ask strangers," Øyvind said. "Most people say they don't know, or they haven't thought about it. But once I met a women dressed all in goth clothing. I asked her, and right away she said, '"The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe.'"

"I was thinking that might be the most common," I said.

The staff at Mamma Mia let us stay until eleven, after which we retired to the pub. We discussed religion: "I wonder whether, as a logical person, I am obligated to be atheist," Øyvind said. "But I leave in my mind a sliver of a possibility of a higher being."

And stereotypes. "The Finns are thought to be the most introverted people," Heidi said.

"What's the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert?" Øyvind said.

"I don't know."

"A Finnish introvert keeps looking down at his shoes," he explained. "A Finnish extrovert keeps looking down at your shoes."

And the joke told by Russians of whom they consider slow-minded Estonians: "Two Estonians are driving down a remote country road. One of them looks out the window and sees a hand at the side of the road. 'Doesn't that look like our friend Jaan's hand?' 'I think it does!' A while later they see a leg by the side of the road. 'That looks like Jaan's leg!' 'You're right!' Later on they see a head. 'I think that looks like Jaan's head!' The other pauses and says, 'You know, I'm starting to get worried about our friend Jaan.'"

When we arrived, at midnight, we were the only ones in the pub. An hour and a half later, the place was full. I recognized some of the youths from the previous night. And a few of the gnats outside.

I left the Tiigi Accommodation at the same time as a guest who was departing in her car. I headed out of town briskly: It was nine; I intended to catch the 2:30 ferry, 27 kilometers away, and there were a couple of things to visit on the way.

I took the main road but soon turned onto a path behind the houses of Kärdla and, soon after that, onto yet another gravel forest road. I paused briefly at the Helmersen Boulders, a group of around 80 large rocks left by a glacier and named for the geologist who studied the area in depth.

A little farther on was a field containing a model of the crater encompassing the meteorite that hit this area 455 million years ago. The actual crater's room contains all of Kärdla. Below the model was a cross-section of rock layers supposedly containing fossils, but my eyes didn't find them.

A few hours in the forest and through farms and alvar fields and I was making the final turn to the Heltermaa port. The signage for the 234-kilometer coastal trail now had the small numbers on the Heltermaa side, counting down, and the large numbers pointing toward Sarve, near where I'd started on day one. I turned onto one last gravel rural road, which I followed for the last half-hour. I caught glimpses of the sea, with horses enjoying the beach, but it was hard to imagine that suddenly I would emerge onto the road and see the port immediately to my left.

The ferry from Rohuküla was just arriving when I reached the port. Most people crossing were doing so by car, and their tickets were checked as they drove through the gates. A few foot passengers were queued up to board, and I joined them. I don't know whether I was supposed to check in at the terminal building, but no one ever looked at my ticket.

I might have stayed outside during the crossing, but I was hungry and knew from the trip over that people queued up for the cafeteria immediately upon boarding, so I did the same. I collected an open-faced herring sandwich and a pork knuckle, roast pork, and cabbage from the by-the-kilo buffet. I added a dark Kassari beer, which really did make Hiiumaa seem as though it were drifting away. As we prepared to disembark, I saw a familiar woman. She smiled at me.

"I've seen you before," I said. It was the woman who left the Tiigi Accommodation at the same time as I.

On the mainland, I had booked into the resort town of Haapsalu for the night. I reached it via a dead-straight bike path for an hour (the former railway line, alas), which brought me to Haapsalu's train station. When built in 1906, it had the longest station platform in northern Europe, at 214 meters. There haven't been trains in years, but a few colorful locomotives are still rusting out back, and there are plans to restore service.

Having examined the locomotives, I walked along the waterfront. Seabirds squawked and watercraft groaned. It was a bright, sparkling afternoon.

By the thinnest of margins, Haapsalu delivered dinner better than Kärdla. I walked along its attractive lanes and by its medieval castle, discovering that the most appealing waterfront cafe was out of its most interesting options, the central bar was closed, and a kind of tapas bar was just shutting down. I came to the giant, rustic building of the Haapsalu Kuursaal, where I had a snack of heart-shaped waffles and cod liver while enjoying the east-facing waterfront view and the company of the two bulldogs at the next table.

The most interesting dinner in town was to be had at my hotel, the Hestia, where, after getting confirmation that it would be all right to have a soak in the hotel's hot tub and arrive just before the last orders were taken, I enjoyed the west-facing waterfront view. I was well-fed -- whitefish and blini, duck with cherries and pomegranate, and they misunderstood my request for only a half-order of blue mussels, but I didn't care -- and they graciously let me stay an hour past the closing time.

Yesterday I took the bus from Haapsalu to Tallinn and then the ferry across to Helsinki. I met up with Timo, whom I'd met at the first-days-of-summer midsummer festival in Tallinn, and he introduced me to Sompasauna.

The community-operated sauna was formerly elsewhere and operated without a permit, but a construction project pushed it to a new location a few desolate blocks from the Kalasatama metro station, and it now exists officially. A pair of giraffe statues, perhaps taken from the zoo, mark the entrance.

It's free to enter and it welcomes people of all ages and genders. It's open around the clock for whoever wants to cut and insert the firewood, and nudity is encouraged but not expected. There was already a crowd when we arrived, so the work of getting the saunas going was already done.

Three sauna buildings operate, with varying temperatures. We started in the coolest, where the rusty but trusty thermometer read 80 degrees Celsius. The crackling fire was in the center of the room, with rocks above to disperse the heat. Benches in two levels on each side accommodated about 16 people comfortably.

The heat was just tolerable and the room was dry. Someone near the fire held a pail of water and a ladle, and every few minutes he spooned some water over the stones -- an action called "throwing the löyly" -- creating steam that raised the temperature briefly. Most people, including me, sat on the upper benches, to catch the most heat. I sat on a towel, in a bathing suit.

After about eight minutes in the sauna, we took a swim in the bay. I thought it would be cold, like the ocean in New England, but it was refreshingly cool. We entered the sauna again, and I tried the hottest building briefly, at 120°C. I lasted a few minutes, longer than I expected to, even when the löyly was thrown. This one had a sign: "If you throw the löyly, you stay in until it fades out." It would be cruel to prank others by causing excessive steam and then running out, leaving them to endure it.

The Sompasauna complex included, opposite the wood-chopping area, an upright piano and a guitar, for anyone who wanted to play. Considering that the piano was under a roof but otherwise open to the elements, it was in reasonably good condition, with all the keys working and the strings close enough to being in tune. The action was a little slow for Mozart and Beethoven (especially the double glissandos in the last movement of the "Waldstein" sonata), but my playing was appreciated.

I went back to the first sauna, which had gone down to a more tolerable 72°C. With each entry I spent more time, and the löyly, which had made me nervous at the outset, started to give me a pleasing, warming tingle down my back whenever it was thrown. I could see making regular visits if I lived in the area, for the sauna and the community: It was a welcoming group.

"Finnish people are known for being quiet, but the younger ones are more outspoken," Timo said, confirming what I'd learned from Heidi and Øyvind.

Indeed, this group was talkative, poking fun at the old stereotype. "Two Finns are sitting in a bar," someone said. "One says, 'Cheers!' And the other says, 'Did we come here to talk or did we come here to drink?'"

For dinner, Timo accompanied me to the Ravintola Kannas for pickled herring and reindeer steak. And that was a lovely way to Finnish the trip.