A few years ago I thought that the purest form of travel involved showing up somewhere with no knowledge of a place whatsoever. I figured that if I hadn't read anything about a new country or city I could experience it completely objectively. In some ways I was right, in most ways I was wrong.
4 days after landing in Helsinki, I took a massive ferry to Tallin, Estonia. I had used my host Pia's computer to arrange some couch-surfing hosts in Estonia. They were to meet me at the dock, I would be the lost looking tall American who dressed funny.
-my hosts Kadri and Andre
Kadri and Andre rolled up in a shiny new BMW, quickly spotted me, and before I knew it we were flying through the Estonian countryside, blasting drum and bass music. The first thing they asked me was if I knew how to scuba dive. I didn't at that point. Well, it turned out we were on our way to go scuba diving.
-Estonian countryside, not what you think of when you think SCUBA.
Kadri and Andre and their friend group have a habit of doing some community service every weekend. Unlike the US where such behavior is usually driven and organized by the church, people in Estonia all just genuinely seem to want to make their country better (and it shows).
On this particular day they were hauling out trash from the sea by scuba diving down and finding it on the bottom of the ocean.
Like a beach clean-up we would have in California, but 100 times more involved and strenuous.
-they pulled that all out of the sea
Apparently Kadri and Andre love scuba diving in the Baltic to look at old sunken Soviet relics like boats and planes. I sat up on a platform as they went scuba diving and trash-collecting. Then, as soon as we got back in the car, they asked me if I liked dogs? Of course I like dogs, I said, and with that we were off to volunteer at a local animal shelter.
We met some friends at a grocery store and all bought a couple bags of dog food to donate. The shelter, just outside of Tallinn (Estonia's capital) was the nicest animal shelter I have seen to this day. It reminded me a nordic hotel.
Just to recap: I got off the boat, went straight to a secluded countryside beach to help with an underwater cleanup operation, then went straight to an animal shelter to help feed and walk the dogs. Whenever anyone asks me why someone would want to use couch-surfing.org, I understand their apprehension, but think back to days like these. Days that would never happen in a million years if I were to simply show up in a new city or country, go to a hostel, and see the sites with all the other foreign travelers.
-Estonian puppy #2
I ended up staying in Tallinn and Estonia in general much longer than I had planned--because it was awesome. Part 2 to follow soonish.