circumbalticum – Special: Vilsandi Trail

Vilsandi is a small island in the west of Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia. The Baltic Sea is very shallow here and between Vilsandi and Saaremaa there are a few small, reed-covered islands. There is an official hiking trail that leads from Saaremaa over the small islands to Vilsandi. There is an RMK campsite at the starting point. These are official campsites of the Estonian Forestry Administration, usually with an outhouse, a fireplace and a table with two benches. If there is room, you can even park your camper there. But it’s too hot for a longer stay: 30°C and hardly any shade. So we decide to walk a bit along the hiking trail. We pack our photo equipment into our backpacks, put on our bathing suits and walk to the first sign: The hiking trail is closed because of the deepened boat passage. A few metres further on there is a second sign that says, somewhat relativisingly, that the path is difficult and may only be walked on at your own risk. Since we can both swim and the water is clear and transparent, we take the risk and start walking.

The passage to the first island is well knee-deep, the water is wonderfully clear and reasonably cool. We make a note of the spot for a possible swim to cool off. The crossing of the island drags on. The path is mostly under water, but very shallow, very warm and a bit musty. Then comes the crossing to the second island. It leads over a deeper water channel – the boat passage. To be on the safe side, we leave our equipment on a large stone and wade off. The water is almost up to our chests and the stones at the bottom are overgrown with algae and extremely slippery. While exploring the next island, the strap of my Adilette breaks. I only have one left and the stones on the bottom are sharp-edged and hard. Continuing the expedition is out of the question – especially since the second Adilette also gives up the ghost during a quick check. At least we can take a refreshing swim in the boat channel. The water is so deep in places that we can no longer stand. A real experience after the last beaches, where the water only reached up to our bellies, even after almost endless wading.

At the boat channel is probably the most unusual traffic sign I have seen so far.

The way back becomes a real test for me: barefoot I have to balance over the sharp and slippery stones. As soon as the water is knee-deep, I crawl like a crocodile, but on the island the water is warm and musty and the ground is covered with stinking mud, so I prefer to walk upright. Eventually we make it. I can put on my shoes again and fly over the path with the drone before we continue our journey. The tour was a real adventure and the path probably the most unusual hiking trail I have ever walked.

The sadness about my Adiletten dampens the mood a little. They have served me faithfully for 20 years, as slippers and allowed me to cross torrents – in the Alps as well as in Norway. In the meantime, I bought a pair of Nike bathing shoes. Ugly (okay, that’s a matter of taste) and far too tight – they’ll probably still stretch. I hope so. They will probably never be able to replace my faithful Adiletten…

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