Lake Svente to Munči
32km [64km]; 7 hours 30 minutes
Fantastic walking for most of the day. The tracks were generally narrow and soft – easy pleasant walking, although, along the Daugava River, in places the sand was too soft and it was like walking along a beach.
The day was in three parts – the walk into Svente from the lake through rolling hills, then through a forest and finally along the river. At Svente, I wanted to buy lunch but the two shops yielded very little. I would have bought the two bananas on offer a week ago, for preference.
I took photos of the local catholic church and the manor house. The latter was a little over-elaborate for my taste; the church, as usual, was the most interesting building in the town.
The forest was extensive. I should not have tried the shortcut. But it was hot and the thought of a shaded walk was seductive. I reckon I was about 500m from the road on the other side of the forest when I turned back. Six kilometres later I was on the other side of the forest, having gone the way I should have in the first place. And this time both maps showed a way [my way] through.
I have been walking quite slowly these two days – about 5.5kph, though the 6km to get to where I should have been took me about 50 minutes. I have been telling myself what a wonderful activity walking is; nine days ago was my last day at work: it had been very stressful, as had been the last week and the last month. Particularly so. And here I was, strolling through Latvia with nothing to worry about. Until I could not find a track through the forest: one that should have been there. There was not only the six kilometres back to where I had been, but the extra hour or so and the additional few kilometres I spent searching for the track that should have been there, but wasn't.
The Daugava walk restored my equilibrium, until I arrived at Munči [a town of perhaps a dozen buildings, though quite spread out. I phoned my host, but her rapid-fire Latvian was too much for me. I could hear a dog barking in the background so I knew I wasn't in the vicinity. I started walking back the way I had come. I told my host that I could see daudz govis [poor spelling and grammar I know, but it took me a while to remember that it should have been the genitive plural, govju. There were an unusually large number of cows in an enclosure. By that stage my host was saying durvis, durvis; kur ir durvis? – where is the door? Durvis, govis – I had always thought they sounded different.
Fortunately, I then saw a young guy on the road. Ludzu I cried. Please! Then I corrected myself, Sakiet ludzu, kur ir naktsmītnes? – 'Excuse me, where is the bed & breakfast?' He looked at me for a moment. Recognising that oral directions were useless, he put down what he was carrying and headed back the way I had just come. 500m later, we arrived. He pointed down the driveway and left. I had been just another passing inconvenience.
Asterija [my host – whose name rhymes with hysteria – my condition by then] was waiting for me. We have had a few more conversations since then. Sometimes, I have tried just nodding. It works for a while but she expects more from me. She gave me a Latvian newspaper to read and a two page questionnaire to complete, in Latvian, from the local tourist authority.
She lives in a century-old house – very similar to Gunta's house near Zaube but unrenovated. She lives in one half, though our paths crossed at dinnertime in the kitchen. She invited me to share a dinner of beans from her garden. A type of broad bean, that went very well with my beef stroganoff. Washed down with kefīrs [a yoghurt-type drink] fresh from the local dairy – where all the cows, that I had tried to use to tell Asterija where I was, actually were.
At dinner, Asterija told me how hard it was to live on her pension [150 lats or AUD500] per month. The Latvian economy is almost an inevitable part of any discussion. Last night though, Jana [my fellow house guest] was insistent that the best things in life don't require money – family, enjoying nature, etc.: it was an uplifting conversation. Asterija with her old, but full-of-character house overlooking the Daugava River, is required to lead a very simple and frugal life. I have already been very lucky with the people I have met on this trip.
As I arrived here, I thought to myself: I have 17 hours to recover before setting off again. Nearly half that time has passed and I must tackle an even larger forest tomorrow. No short cuts!