Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 5 – Sunday 2 August

Jēkabpils to Mežezers
26km [161km]; 5 hours 30 minutes
Weather fine

Mežezers [forest lake] is a swimming and skiing resort, depending on the season. Apart from this hotel the resort seems to have fallen into a state of disrepair. The main building has a domed roof – like a missile silo. It is huge, but is literally falling down. And yet the shop off to one side has stacks of ski boots. There are signs warning about the danger of collapse.
In fact it reminds me very much of Gaiziņkalns [Latvia's highest mountain with ski tows to the top where there is a 14-storey tower which is crumbling and must surely soon be pushed down before it collapses]. Mark and I were there last year. Thanks for your comments on the blog Mark. I hope you realised that the first photo on Day 2 was for you – you would have noticed the bulldog between my host at Sventes Ezers, Juris, and his mother in front of their house.
I have taken photos of the ski tow and the water slide to give some idea of the facilities. My photo of the dome doesn't show how dreadful it is so I won't bother with it. Ziedonis mentioned that at some stage Mežezers had been used as a communist youth camp. However, apart from the missile silo, there are no real vibes. There are so many abandoned Soviet-era buildings – typically using stark white bricks.
Today was excellent walking. Māra came to see me off and take photos. I left at 7:40 and had one stop of 15 minutes at about 10:30. Momentum is everything – early start, good pace, short infrequent stops and no days off. Otherwise it would be impossible to achieve long distances. A lightish pack, reasonable accommodation and regular meals help. I have just finished a great fish meal pre-ordered earlier this afternoon with the chef from his oral menu of four possible meals. I have been the only customer so far tonight. The place seems to be run by a staff of 4 or 5 young people. It has had loud music amplified inside and outside all afternoon. I have room No 99 – which seems to be the best of about 15-20 rooms. Huge bed, en-suite, television – I couldn't hope for more.

This morning I walked out of Jēkabpils [or really Krustpils as Juris reminded me – the wrong side of the Daugava]. I chose the hotel because it was on the way out of town. I probably should have walked a little further today and stayed in Jēkabpils proper!
I walked about 5km to clear the town. Then for the next 3 hours I did not see a car on the road and only one person. Even the dogs weren't barking. It was incredibly peaceful. The shorter highway route would have been a disaster. The maps were entirely accurate but with a need for fairly constant attention to keep on track. Sandy roads, rolling farmland and regular patches of forest.
There was a brief period of highway walking as I walked through Plaviņas. I crossed and re-crossed the Daugavpils rail line a few times today. After Plaviņas, there was some uncharacteristically steep country. Again the roads and tracks were minor and deserted. The route finding was subtle but the maps were precise. A very satisfying day.
Tomorrow I must decide whether to walk direct to Ērgļi, basically the last 28km on a fairly main road or take a longer by-way for part of the way. I am feeling pretty weary in the legs, but I will see how I feel in the morning.
This afternoon I finished Steven Carroll's The Gift of Speed. It is the second book in his Glenroy Trilogy. I read the first, The Art of the Engine Driver, in Riga. I brought them over for Selga – she having grown up in Oak Park [the suburb before Glenroy] in the 50s and 60s like Carroll. The last in the series, The Time We Have Taken, won the Miles Franklin award three years ago. I have enjoyed the books – they bring back my memories of growing up in an outer Melbourne suburb [though a southern one]. And yet I have my reservations; the writing is very good but does not really engage me. I seem to hear echoes of Gerard Murnane, another northern Melbourne suburbs author [Watsonia or McLeod] whom I admire.


  1. Dear Graham
    Labu Ceļa Vēju (good road wind!). I love your descriptions. I particularly empathise with your experiences talking only Latvian with those women and the feeling of uncertainty about the nature of the exchange. I also empathise with the feelings about having to backtrack when feeling quite tired already - this must be most frustrating. Despite these difficulties, what wonderfully rich experiences you are having. I'll continue to enjoy reading your daily log. Take care on those short cuts – I'm also known for them in our family – they tend to be more exciting, only less certain. Technically shorter, but frequently take longer ... usually more interesting and beautiful.
    Susan ... and Pēteris

  2. Comment difficulties:
    deep inside Blogger, there is a setting for who is able to add a comment. I just reset it so that it is open to all-comers ...

  3. What a pleasure to hear of your reading material on the trek. I must admit, my attempts to engage with any mentally stimulating books have been futile. My behavioural studies text 'Concepts of the Self' is the most engaging literature I've read in a while.

    I'm glad you've finally had a successful day - early start, good pace and the satisfaction of knowing you're half way! Now you're cruising, with pampering coming your way in Zaube and Cesis. Ignore the fact that you'll have to complete a 45km day...

    Much love X

  4. HI
    You have chosen a beautiful way of travelling, letting You to learn much more of the country.
    I feel urged to send You benevolent greetings being Your new discovered Neighbor from Stokholmas/Glika street. We drank wine yesterday with Anita and some of her german and swedish friends, and talked about You! Take care, I might join You some other time!

  5. Hello Graham, I had no idea you were such a walker and have read your blog with much interest. I await your return and talk in Melbourne to hear more. I have a favour to ask of you on behalf of my dear father…who is from Mazsalaca…Rolands Skoba lived at Pernavas iela 12 in Mazsalaca. Apparently you are to ‘stroll’ past his house. He would love someone to take a photo of you passing by. Any chance of arranging this for him? He would be thrilled…
    Mīļi sveicieni, Rūta

  6. This, my first blog comment; feels very strange - I am not sure what is my real voice. Largely because I am in frequent contact with Graham. But to readers of the blog I say - I am very touched at your responses and comments.

    One thing I have not discussed with Graham is the books I have bought here - and am reading. Starting with Nora Ikstena's 'Amour fou" (can this choice be a reflection of separation anxiety?); Anna Žīgures 'Es stāstu par Latviju'{I talk/tell about Latvia - forgive me Jukka if I have not translated accurately enough)(what a treat that this work can again be obtained, having sold out in first edition far too quickly for me to purchase); and Dace Rukšānes 'Ķīpsalas putni'.(All you readers out there, what do you think of my literary choces!)

    I also took great delight in searching for books for Graham's grandchildren, Beck, April and Dougal - that would give them a feel for Latvian culture or folklore.

    I discovered a number of tranlations of latvian works including 'The Crumpet'- the Latvian version of the Gingerbread man. And, to my delight, I found an Alphabet book illustrated by Margarita Stāraste. Jāna grew up on a diet of Margarita Stāraste (quintessential latvian nature-loving heartfelt illustrations). A few examples of the alphabet: L is for ladybird on a leaf; h is for honey, g is for grass and a game,k is for knitting..... I am further bewildered by the descriptions for X and Y [Mister X and Yeanling"]
    And then there is the substantive english/latvian dictionary published by Avots in 2007 that I held back on purchasing - for the moment. Just loved it, but huge. (E-dictionary is not the same...)

    Signing off from Mezaparks