Mazsalaca to Estonian border
31km [385km]; 6 hours 30 minutes
I have walked up Latvia! It was such a relief to reach the border and know that I could finally stop walking. I have had enough, for the moment. Though, today was a good day’s walking with good surfaces, interesting terrain and a reasonably moderate distance.
To start, I just followed the road the hotel was on, out to Blankas. A bitumen road but very quiet.
The next section was one of the best – a narrow compressed sandy track about 2-3m wide, with some farmland but generally through forest which the sun had difficulty penetrating. I saw no-one to speak to. The farming looked prosperous – large numbers of round hay bales. As the road narrowed and the forest became enclosing, the houses ceased. The track became boggy and if the summer had not been dry, it is likely that the track would have been impassable. This was the ‘connecting’ section of the road – traffic would come in at either end, but it looked like none had passed the entire length for some time.
Eventually, I came to a habitation and the track went right through the middle – house on one side and sheds and barns alternating. And a dog, fortunately chained, which raised the alarm. But the chance of anyone reaching that settlement must have been so remote that no-one investigated why the dog was barking so loudly. I hurried on, but heard the dog for some minutes more. I was lucky today – I came across two large dogs which were roaming free. The first time, the owner called the dog off and the second, I had a harrowing 100m or so before I had passed outside the dog’s territory and it let me be.
At Vērsis, I had morning tea and then strode out on a smallish road across the fields. Again no traffic and pleasant walking. At Ipiķi, where Gunta’s mother’s family comes from, there were only 8 more kilometres to the border. I quickened my pace. With 5km to go, a bus stopped and the driver asked if I wanted a lift. With 2km to go, Jānis phoned to see whether I had made it. And just before the last corner, Anita turned up with Gunārs and Ilze who had driven to Mazsalaca for the last afternoon’s performance at the European Latvian Summer School.
Last year, when I finished there were local and national television and a national newspaper present. This year there were representatives of the international press – Gunārs and Ilze run a largely electronic newspaper, usually out of Melbourne, but for the last few weeks, out of the UK and Latvia. We had the obligatory photo shoot at the border signs and the marker signifying the northernmost point in Latvia.
I then accepted a lift back to Mazsalaca to see Lija’s school performance – excellent singing and folk dancing and presentations.
I started writing this blog whilst having dinner in the kafejnīca in Mazsalaca. I was interrupted when the young guy who had come into the bar for a drink wanted to chat with me. ‘Where are you from – Finland?’ ‘No, Australia’. ‘Australia! I don’t believe you’ etc., etc. He had been holding hands with the young waitress but she had gone off to some other duties. Atis (for that was his name) told me that he and Baiba had been going out for two years and they loved each other very much. I asked him when the kaza would be. He looked puzzled, and Gunta explained later that kāzas was actually the Latvian word for wedding, but that kaza meant goat.
Gunta drove me and Lija halfway home to Līgatne where Ziedonis had travelled from Riga to pick us up. Lija is not well – the suspected swine flu (which it was not), but whatever it was, has lingered. Anita stayed at Mazsalaca for the party and will get a lift back later tonight. As Gunta drove back, I realised how far I had walked – and that was only during the last 3½ days. I am very pleased with the achievement, and with the experiences I have had. I will try and reflect more on that tomorrow. It is great to be back in Riga although, already the walk seems a little remote or unreal. I am left with a blister, sore feet and ... much, much more.
And already people are asking me about next year. I have decided that next year I would like to do something really challenging - taking the night train from Riga to Moscow!
Here is a bit of an email just received from Jāna:
I've thoroughly enjoyed following dad's blog and I can't wait for it to be printed out so I can re-read it (and all the comments). Thank you dad for being so diligent and especially the photos that complement each entry - I go back every now and again to see if Juris has added any more.
Today I'm booking tickets for myself, Salt and Dan to the fundraiser of the year. Yesterday at the funeral, many people mentioned dad's walk. It was a combination of "I didn't know he was such a walker" "His blog is so interesting" "I hope he is able to visit my relative" and "Of course his breakfast fundraiser will be sold out!". Ruta Šķoba was particularly animated, Mammuka told me all about mum and Lija's meeting before EVS (and the shopping) and she was the one urging me to get on top of tickets and numerous other latvian school parents expressed their interest or fascination with the walk.