It’s that time of the year again. I’m off on my way to Africa for a third year, this time on the clock. As the Program Director for the Alaska Sudan Medical Project
, I have my work cut out for me for the next several months as we have some vital projects to complete in “the village
” in South Sudan.
I figured I’d fire up the old TripJournal again. I can’t believe it has been 8 years since my first post. Might as well keep her going, as I am sure there will be some noteworthy diversions in this African adventure. Whether they will be welcome adventures: we’ll find out.
I opted for the scenic route to the Dark Star, via the Condor Air direct flight from Anchorage to Frankfurt. After one obligatory night in Frankurt (the only kind), I contemplated a spur-of-the-moment find: a Green Day concert in Berlin (yes that would be cool my friends). After finding out the train from Frankfurt to Berlin was a hefty $150, I decided to stick to my original itinerary: a $35 flight to Tallin, Estonia. Why Estonia?
Through the years of traveling there have been several places that have always popped up in the backpackers circuit: the hot places that you can’t miss. Like Barcelona, or Colombia or Laos, or… the Baltics. Know for being up-and-coming and affordable former Soviet enclave, it looked close enough on a map that a wondering bird might fly by there on it’s way to Africa. Also it’s near Ukraine. I’ll explain that later.
The diversion ended up being a welcome one. As I was warned, Tallin is out of a storybook. Somewhere while walking the streets I overheard a little girl say: “It is like where princes and princesses live.” Indeed it is. Mr. Disney could have drawn this up on his drawing board: wondering cobblestone streets, old taverns, towering church squires, and a jagged Nordic history like it is out of Game of Thrones.
Scrub away any Soviet remants- yes these Finnic people hate the Russians and tore down almost all of that soul-sucking Soviet architecture- and add a hefty dose of technology and you have Tallin. Estonia, in fact, might be the most wired, technologically advanced country in the world. Surely? You ask. Here are some fun facts: 94% of tax returns are done on-line, it was the first country to completely adopt on-line voting, 99% of bank transactions done on-line, you can pay with your state ID card, send money to a friend with a text, and… it is where Skype was invented.
Dammit. Skype was invented here. Combine that with the fact that you literally cannot go 20 feet without coming across a free, high-speed WiFi signal (they take much pride on that) meant that I had no excuse to not work. Having to continue with the duties of a Program Director, I was tied to my laptop most of the time, but I suppose it was not a bad place to be tied.
Not know anyone in Tallin, I decided to do something I have rarely done before, check into the Hospitality Club
. It is an international couch surfing network; those who know me back home know that I have hosted many international travelers on my couch in Anchorage. But I never usually use it when I travel, for some reason.
Not needing a place to stay, I clicked on the “show me around town” option. I got in touch with a girl named Ulane who gave me an impromptu invitation to dinner at her apartment with her and her boyfriend. Ulane owns a Tallin Walking Tour company, and seems to be a typical Estonian girl. She is smart, beautiful, dynamic, well-spoken in English, and very hospitable. She cooked an incredible chicken dinner and served me wine while her boyfriend talked my ear off. I was okay with that.
So Estonia. Who wouldn’t want to stay here? There is always another side to the story: dubious weather with long, dark winters (same latitude as Anchorage, my friend), and that famous Baltic Tiger economy has been faltering lately. The Estonians are a unique people, not Russian or European, they speak a Finno-Hungaric language that only the Finnish, Hungarians and Estonians speak. They don’t see themselves as really Baltic, and their economy is overshadowed by Finland. They seem Russian to you? Don’t ever tell them that. It will be interesting where this place goes in the next 10 years. I’d like to come back and find out. In the summer.
I do know where I am headed: to Kiev. Last stop before Nairobi; going to see an old friend.