26 September 2021

Hiking Lake Pühajärv Trails


11 September 2021 | On this day, I was effortlessly lured to join a South Estonian hike 0n a trail that runs around a lake called Pühajärve in Otepää, Valga County. This happens to be my first ever trip outside Tartu and I am glad I shared this first with the first people (my batchmates from my program) I met here in Estonia.


Otepää is Estonia’s winter capital, but visiting the place during autumn is not a bad idea at all. The trail was exciting as it is, to begin with, offering a mix of adventure (easy walk with a number of resting places), a touch of mystery (as portions of the trail were not very obvious without the aid of an app), and a sense of relaxation (several swimming spots available). It’s a roll of all the good things a nature lover would want – fresh air, peaceful environs, vibrant sights, etc.), to be very modest.


Rendezvous was 0930H at the Bussijam, Tartu’s own version of Alice’s rabbit hole or Harry’s platform 9 ¾ to several destinations outside Tartu, which for some reason are free of charge, if you have the personalized bus card. I got up at 0830H, enough for an hour preparation excluding the ~15-minute walk from where I stay to the station and catch the 0940H trip.


Around an hour of bus travel later, we arrived at the supposed jump-off point in Otepää. From that point, we trekked for around 30 minutes before reaching the actual trail jump-off point near the Otepää Nature Center, with the lake in the background, serenely greeting us in the most welcoming way possible, good weather and all. The hike started at 1118H, an unusual time to commence a hike, from a Filipino hiker's standpoint. This time in the Philippines approaches the hottest of the day, humidity coming in as a factor as well. But since I am at someplace way above the equator, this was simply not the case. We opted for the counterclockwise direction in circumnavigating the lake. The opening trail was basically a paved Kääriku road, well decorated with outstanding views of long grassland stretch on one side and a calm, shy lake on the other. We continued walking for about 15 minutes before taking a wild left turn following a certain Murrametsa Matkarada trail sign.


From a 2-meter-wide road, the trails shifted into a shallow rough path enveloped in multicolored grasses and towering trees. The trails were abundant in resting places, wooden bridges, and a variety of plants and mushrooms along the way. I met a handful of families, venturing out in the woodland, doing educational walks I would say – parents instructing kids about the rich flora of the trails, stressing reminders not to touch the mushrooms. So much for eavesdropping, I continued with the hike to catch up with my hike-mates since I have been the sweeper mostly.


After 3.5km of lakeside and forest indulgence in the Murrametsa trail, we ascended to the Kurevere paved road, a portion of the Otepää-Kääriku road we abandoned earlier. The hike continued passing by several campsites such as RMK Kiigemäe lõkkekoht and the Koolirand campfire for occasional stops to take our lunch and snacks, respectively. Finally, we ended up in Pühajärve rand after 14 km and nearly 3 hours of walking. After almost 2 years of lockdowns and travel restrictions I endured in the Philippines, this was the closest I have been to a body of water. Ironically, I did not go for a swim nor indulged for a dip. I was practically sold to seeing the very shores of this holy lake blessed by Dalai Lama 3 decades ago, and the mere thought of finally being free, in all sense of that word.


About half an hour later, we decided to walk back to the bus stop to catch the 1810H bus bound to Tartu. While several accounts claim that the trail spans around 12-14 km, my distance counter registered a staggering 16-km upon reaching the jump-off. Then another hour of bus trip capped off this historic first of hopefully many more Estonian hikes. Aside from the ~ 50 photos to solidify another set of Euro-memories, one of my greatest takeaways from the trails was that I was able to get to know more about these people I will be spending the next 12-24 months with – from their hobbies and interests back in their respective home countries, a wide range of intricate narratives of their winding journeys to finding their ways to this place, and a grand exchange of stories about culture, food, music, among other things.