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Day 1 - Estonia and its borders with Russia and Latvia

by Hugh Wallis [e-mail - hughwallis (at) gmail (dot) com]

All photos on this and connected pages on my website (unless otherwise indicated) are Copyright © Hugh Wallis, 2007 All Rights Reserved - please feel free to ask if you want to use them for anything- I also have the original, full size ones, available on request.

The first order of business was to drive from Tallinn, where I had stayed the night having failed to locate the Kevadpiknik 2007 geocaching "Welcome the Spring" event the night before (a sorry story - see my log), to the ruins of an old Livonian castle on the eastern border of Estonia, at Vasknarva. This is at the point marked GCPJGA (a geocaching waypoint) on the map below. It is right on the Narvaj river that separates Estonia and Russia. You can read a bit about the history of the castle at the geocaching website GCPJGA. This is at the northern end of Lake Peipsi through which the border runs - there are some interesting peculiarities at its southern end as well. I was not having a good geocaching day and failed to find the cache but the visit to the old castle and the border interest were well worthwhile regardless.

Here are a few pictures - as always, click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Part of the castle ruins with the border river in the background. The other side of the river is Russia.
Looking southwards down the river and across to Russia
Estonian border guards patrolling the river.
The guards were friendly enough to wave to me as they passed - this picture is looking northwards.
What I assumed to be a typical sauna in the neighbour's garden  - with a nice view of Russia from the back!

Moving on from here around Lake Peipsi I searched for, and found, another geocache at the point marked GCTCHT on the map. A few pictures here may be of some interest:

As you can see, the road conditions were extremely dirty in this area.
There is still ice on the lake but it is starting to break up and no longer safe to walk on. In the distance is Russia. In winter the border becomes a "land" border - I would guess that it is patrolled by snowmobile, at least on the Estonian side.
No particular border interest here but I found the fact that what appeared to be sand was actually just a thin covering over the snow was interesting (presumably having blown in off the lake over the top of the snow). You can see this clearly from my footprints.

My next stop was the Russian pene-exclave of Dupki.  This is in the Pihka lake region, which is a smaller lake connected to the south end of lake Peipsi. There is a road leading to it from Värska, on which, incidentally, they are building what looks like a tourist hotel. The original road comes to an end by a farmhouse and the border is well marked.

It was disappointing not to be able to go all the way up to the border - elsewhere in Estonia this did not seem to be a problem and I wonder if the signs here are just a legacy of a more restrictive viewpoint and have just not been removed. They look pretty old and worn. I decided not to risk going closer although I suspect I would have been OK.
Here is a closer up view of the rest of the track to the border. The antennas just on the Russian side are interesting. Any thoughts on what they might be for?
Looking round to the right of the previous pictures you can see the border markers along the edge of the field.
This shows the farmer's barn and Dupki in the background across the water. I would expect that, as a village, it has been abandoned now since it has only water access from the rest of Russia.
The farmer's house and (the same) barn, with Russia in the background.
The track leading to the border from a slightly different angle.
Same angle, zoomed in for more detail.

Now it was time to enter Russia without a visa - legally!! The road from Värska to Saatse passes through Russian territory in two places. It is the only way (by road) to get to this village as well as that of Lutepää from the rest of Estonia. You are permitted to travel across Russian territory by car along this road without stopping. Pedestrians are not allowed - the road signs, however, did not indicate that bicycle traffic was prohibited.

As you drive from Värska to Saatse the first piece of Russian territory you have to cross is only about 30m wide. From the above maps you can see that this is the tip of a triangle. You might wonder why they did not simply change the alignment of the road to bypass this. From my observation this would not have been practical since there is a steep incline on the Estonian side of the border.

At any rate, this photograph is the first indication you see of the situation. Notice that here the "No Pedestrians" sign is further away from the Russian territory than the "No Stopping" sign. This is point 1 on the map above

A closer view with the Russian border markers clearly visible
Russian marker 486 and the fence (note the gate in the fence presumably for the use of Russian border guards).
Since I was not allowed to stop I had to take this photo (at the east end of the small piece of Russia) while in motion. You can see on the right hand side a part of the shelter on Russian territory, south west side of the road, which is presumably there for the use of the Russian border guards.
A very short time later, looking in the other direction (i.e. to the north east) this is the Russian border strip.
This photo is now after I have crossed through the Russian territory looking back to the north west along the road.
On my return journey I took this photograph that shows the Russina shelter clearly, behind the border marker.
Before I came here I had wondered what Lutepää was like so, in case others are interested, here are a few photos of that village as I drove on towards Saatse.
 
 
 
 

 After Lutepää there is a much wider piece of Russian territory to cross.

The "No stopping" zone here starts a long distance before you actually enter Russian territory, where the border begins to run right along the road. The no pedestrians zone, however, begins AFTER the no stopping zone in this case for some unexplained reason (so I was able to walk all the way up to the border bythe first Russian marker you see in this picture) Incidentally, from my observation, it would be physically possible to build a bypass road around this piece of Russia - but I would imagine that it is simply not economical to do so.
So this is at point 3 in the map above
Observation tower in the woods
Along to road towards where it enters Russia
Just to prove I was legal!!
Driving past the distant marker from the previous few pictures
On my return journey I took this photo of these buildings that are in Russia on the south west side of the road between point 4 and 3.
Just before point 4 above I slowed almost to a halt in Russian territory to take this picture of the border strip on the eastern side of the road. Just as I had taken it I got a shock when I saw on the other side of the road a Russian Border Guard stumbling out of the woods "adjusting his dress" as they say euphemistically. I decided not to try and engage him in conversation (what would I say anyway? "Do you prefer buttons or zippers?"?) and drove on to Saatse.

The next area I investigated was that around the geocache close to the border and the border crossing after Saatse. This cache is at the point marked GCKKJW on the map above and is probably the closest geocache to the Russian border in the world. I had previously found one called Gladdagh III that I thought was pretty close in Nuijamaa, Finland last September (see also http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.com/~hughwallis/FIRU/)  but this beats it hands down at only 65m.

This is the border, looking to the south west, just 65m from the cache
Looking the other direction (north east)
I walked a bit further to the south west along the border - to the brow of a small rise to see further
Returning to the north east along the border I walked up to where it turns towards the official border crossing point.
The Russian marker at the turning point
Looking along the border strip from the same spot, towards the official crossing point.
I then returned to my car and drove up to the border point. On the Estonian Border Guard website it lists this as being a foot crossing only, and only for Estonian and Russian citizens. It certainly does not look here like a foot crossing only.
And the fact that there are the standard "Welcome to a new country" traffic sign signs further serves to suggest that vehicular traffic can cross here.

Now to attempt the final highlight of the day, an attempt on the (previously un-photographed as far as I know) EELVRU tripoint. But first a few photos of the 6km long queue of trucks waiting to cross into Russia at the Maatsuri/Petseri border crossing.

The queue starts innocently enough
and goes on
and on
and on
and on
and on
and on
until it finally reaches the border crossing

I approached off the E77 just north east of Misso along gradually worsening roads.

The first point of interest is marked on the map as number 1 - it is where a former farm road crossed the river which is now the border of the EU.
This farmhouse backs right onto the border. I'm sure the couple sitting out on their front porch wondered what I was doing driving down the road to nowhere in a car (rather than a 4x4 or a farm vehicle)
The road got worse and worse, with snowy, slushy, muddy sections which made me glad of Volkswagen's advanced traction control. I didn't want to get stuck, so about 1.8km from the tripoint (of which I had marked the approximate location from the map on my GPSr to facilitate finding it) I decided to stop and walk the rest of the way. This is the kind of road conditions that I avoided by doing so (this is about 1km from the tripoint). This is approximately where the wider road (marked with the double lines) turns into the track (marked with the single line) on the map above.
More mud - I could have had fun here with my 6x6 - but I was on a mission and didn't have it here anyway!!
Just a positioning shot at 800m from the target.
The river was on my left - that is Russia the other side - no sign of Russian border markers though. As I approached the target further I had to work my way around partially flooded parts of the trail until I came out of a small thicket and...
BINGO - an Estonian border marker. This is the marker 46+1379 drawn on the sketch on Jan Krogh's web page at http://geosite.jankrogh.com/borders/eelvru/eelvru_map.htm documenting the earlier visit from the Latvian side where, unfortunately, they were prevented from taking photographs by the Latvian border guards. You will find more details of their visit at http://geosite.jankrogh.com/borders/eelvru/eelvru.htm as well.
The other side of the marker looking northwards
And there in the distance is the other marker from that map.
Closer up
Looking back towards the tripoint
Both markers in the picture
Looking across the river into Latvia - there seems to be a well made border road along the river bank.
Looking across the tripoint towards the Russian fence - the Latvian road turned away from the river bank at this point and appeared to run along the border fence away from me - but it was hard to see the details.
As I walked back to the car there was a lot of swampy area on the Estonian side of the river. You can see the Estonian border sign beyond it - the river is behind that and Russia the other side of the river.
A closer view - but still no sign of any Russian border markers.
I got back to where I had turned my car around, making quite a mess of the track as I did so and almost getting stuck in the rut you can see I had made in the centre of the track.

To see my actual (walking) track in context, the following two Latvian maps (where, as you can see, the geo-referencing is slightly off, but not as far off as the Estonian one from earlier!) might be helpful. CAR is where I left the car, 005 and 006 are the two boundary markers. They were recorded as being at N 57°31.090', E 027°21.091' and N 57°31.067', E 027°21.042' respectively

         

And that was the end of day 1 other than the long drive back to my hotel in Riga.

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