I love getting out amongst nature. Fresh air, plenty of trees, a few birds, and no dickheads to annoy me – bushwalking and camping and all those sorts of things are grouse. So, while in Estonia, there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing the country’s beautest nature reserve, Soomaa National Park. It was an awe-inspiring day in a remote and beautiful place, even if I did end up nearly getting eaten by inbred cannibals.
Soomaa translates to ‘land of bogs’, and is full of wetlands, forests and rivers. It’s an unusual ecosystem, with the strangest thing being the fact that massive floods of four or more metres roll through the park each year when the snow melts. This ‘fifth season’ came early this year – the floods usually hit in April – so I was able to check out the park without having to rent a submarine.
Soomaa is a good 45 minutes out of Parnu, so I got in touch with Aivar from soomaa.com to arrange a lift and the use of a canoe. After he dropped me by the banks of the tranquil Halliste river, I was truly by myself in the middle of nowhere, with only a few shonky-looking hand-built huts and thousands of ghostly trees for company. With five hours to explore this bizarre land, I headed out into the wilderness, along a rickety wooden walkway, hoping no deranged Estonians would leap out of the scrub to rape me.
The meandering three-kilometre track too me up to Soomaa’s famous bog, which is seen as the pride of Estonia. Shit, you know you’re struggling when your country’s pride and joy is a bloody mud pit. As soon as I stepped out of the trees and into the barren wasteland of the bog, the icy wind dropped the temperature 10 degrees, and I was freezing as I set out into the tundra
You know how sometimes you get so cold that you actually feel hot? Yeah, well, ah, that must’ve happened to me, so I stripped off all my clothes and started trotting around the bog like a dickhead. While I was carrying on like a pork chop with my sausage out, a little old bloke with a woolen cap on his head and a big smile on his came out of nowhere and started shouting at me in Estonian. I assumed he was complimenting me on the size of my penis, until he started wiggling his little finger in the air and cackling like a lunatic. I quickly put my clothes back on and left in tears.
The return leg took me through another section of the forest, where signs regularly reminded me of the record heights of past flood waters – some far above my head. I didn’t see or hear too many animals or birds, which was probably a good thing, because I wasn’t really in the mood to get eaten by a wolf.
I spent the afternoon canoeing down the Halliste towards the village of Riisa, a six-kilometre journey that took me past farms, under bridges and through dense thatches of trees. Each time I rounded a corner I was faced by scenery straight out of a fairy tale – glassy water reflected magical trees, all of it under the blanket of endless silence.
It’s possible to complete a 12km paddle, but I chose to start at halfway to have more time to go bushwalking, and I’m glad I did. There’s no point in rushing through Soomaa, so I was glad to be able to take my time floating down this meandering river. It was a relaxing and fairly easy aquatic journey, even though I was by myself, and I managed to make it to the end by the time my wanking spanners dropped off.
Aivar is usually more than happy to pick customers up at the end of their paddle, but he wasn’t able to today, so I was forced to take public transport. My bus trip through Estonia’s countryside was bizarre and confusing, but I’m happy to say that I made it back without being bashed, raped or eaten.
The nearest bus stop for those exploring Soomaa is in the village of Riisa, which is comprised of two weather-beaten huts and a dying dog. After a 20-minute wait I managed to flag down a bus and charm the driver with my mastery of the Estonian language (I managed to say “Parnu”), but he just shook his head and motioned for me to get off. I got off and stood around for a few minutes in confusion, until another bus rocked up from the opposite direction. When the door opened I was surprised to see the same driver. “Parnu?” I asked, and this time he shook his head and I climbed aboard.
The bus didn’t go to Parnu, though. It went to Joesuu, a creepy little village where the driver barked at me in Estonion to get off the bus. Trust me on this one, you don’t wanna go to bloody Joesuu. There’s a boarded-up factory, a bunch of strange unit blocks that look out of place in such a rural setting, a burnt-out car and some of the ugliest locals you could ever have the misfortune to meet. As I wandered around, not knowing where to go or what to do, these hicks watched me with their crossed eyes, while their black tongues flicked from their toothless mouths. I was a long way from home, with no idea how to get out of Hicksville, Estonia.
As the afternoon wore on, the creeps started crowding around me, rubbing their tummies and reaching out at me, as if I was a home-delivered hot meal. The thought crossed my mind that the freaks of Joesuu probably live on the flesh of lost travellers, so I tied up my boots while keeping a keen eye on the Estonians, certain that I’d have to sprint back to Parnu if I was going to make it out of there alive. I was just about to start running when a bus came out of nowhere and pulled up, sending the hungry locals scattering like bugs. When the door opened, wouldn’t you know it, the bus driver was the same bloke as before! I climbed aboard and made it out of there safely, ready to have more adventures…