Karula National Park

Around the Fire

Like other places we stayed on our coach trip, the lodgings in Karula National Park consisted of a series of comfortable wooden buildings in a rustic setting. There was a beautiful lake nearby, with a grassy mound next to it where our two cooks were roasting a whole pig over a fire. The word quickly went round the huts that we were wanted on the mound because the cooks were going to put on a show. The show consisted of flambéing the pig in vodka and carving it quickly into portions with piratical strokes of their carving knives. It turned out the pig hadn't been cooked over the fire, which would have taken a good few hours. It was actually smoked and was just being warmed through. It tasted delicious, in any case.

At Karula I had my first sauna. This was a Russian-style sauna, a hut next to the lake with a smoky stove in it. A great blast of heat came out of the door, but the manager explained that it wasn't hot enough yet. I was determined to have one, having missed out on the one at Leigo Farm. Jo Dresner, who had tried saunas before, wanted one too, and Creina also agreed reluctantly to try it. When we got back to the hut later, Jo told the manager it wasn't hot enough, so he sealed it up by putting the removable window back in. He also put some birch twigs (in fact they were small branches, still with the leaves on) in a bowl of water to soak. Eventually we went in, and the heat took my breath away. Creina went in and shot straight out again. Jo sat on the upper bench, and I sat on the lower one (cooler). Jo threw water on the coals, which has the paradoxical effect of making the room hotter. I ran my finger through my hair, and it felt red hot. I was sure it would catch fire at any moment. It hurt to breathe. I tried hitting myself with a birch twig, which was surprisingly not painful, and didn't have any effect whatsoever. Jo said you need to stay in the sauna until the sweat is pouring freely from your body; oddly, it wasn't, but I was sure that was simply because it was evaporating as soon as it reached the surface. I had to leave before I exploded. So after only five minutes, I got out and jumped into the lake. The water was clear and pleasantly warm, even after the effect of the sauna wore off.

Later, as the sun was begining to go down, Creina and I were walking by the side of the lake. Creina wanted to go in, and we couldn't be bothered to go back for swimming costumes so we stripped to our underwear and went in. The water was a bit cooler by now, but still pleasant, and it was a wonderful feeling swimming in the late evening light. It was about half past ten. Later I had to endure the taunts of the company round the fire as I went in search of a towel and tried to slink past them in my underpants.

Next morning, before the coach set off, we visited the nearby village of Lüllemäe.

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