Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Day 7 – Tuesday 4 August

Ērgļi to Gunta's [near Zaube]
29km [221km]; 6 hours 30 minutes
Weather fine

Where to start today? So much to say. Thanks to all my readers and commentators. I have reached Gunta's place. After cleaning up I read all the comments. I could spend hours responding.
Tomorrow I will have company on the long slog to Cēsis. Jānis is coming to Gunta's tonight after work. This is very appropriate as Gunta is Jānis' krustmāte [godmother]. Jānis is an architect. His father, Mārcis [Anita's cousin] and mother, Nita, are also architects. Jānis' brother, Matīss, is a civil engineer. He and his girlfriend, Oksana, will pick up Jānis from Cēsis tomorrow night.
I haven't seen Jānis since we competed in the World Rogaining Championships in September last year. Jānis and I had a great event and we completed about 85km in the 24 hours. If anyone is up to doing 50km first up [as we plan to do tomorrow], it is Jānis. I am very much looking forward to seeing Jānis tonight and Matīss and Oksana tomorrow.
It was neck and neck who would get to Zaube first. As it was, Gunta reached the turnoff from the main road as I was approaching from the other direction. I had decided that I should take the opportunity to visit Gunta's neighbours Astra and Uldis – they are about a km or so on the other side of the creek from Gunta's.
Five years ago, I stayed here for a few days with Gunta whilst Anita was at an ELJA [European Latvian Youth] congress. Gunta and Ziedonis had secured an old Soviet army map of the surrounding area, and with this, I was to do some 'rogaining'.
I set off expectantly each day but soon found that the maps [though only 50 years old] were well out of date. One day I found my way near to Astra's and Uldis' house but the track on the map just petered out. I asked for help and spent an hour or so talking with them. I remember that Astra was making butter in a large bowl. She still milks 4 cows by hand and keeps them penned inside for the 6 winter months.

Today, Astra was outside when I arrived and though surprised to have a visitor immediately placed me and was extremely welcoming. She had been baking for Uldis and two labourers who were out in the fields working. Astra fed me up – all the ingredients home-grown or produced. It was a glorious day today and their stone house surrounded by mature oaks, lush green fields and birch forest looked like paradise. I know the reality involves enormous effort. Astra and Uldis are in their seventies. Astra had been a doctor. She has helped restore Uldis to good health after he was kicked in the ribs by their horse a few weeks ago.

On the way back to Gunta's, I ran into the two workmen who were constructing traditional hay-stacks on wooden stands. They directed me to where Uldis was working on the tractor and we had a brief chat. Five years ago, Uldis and his 10-year-old grandson Reinis had shown me the path marked on the Soviet map – it was completely overgrown and unrecognisable as a track, and yet we came out exactly where the map showed.
Astra and Uldis are wonderful people and I am so glad I had time today to catch up again though we have passed on some news through Gunta over the intervening years.
I left late this morning. I had been told that breakfast could not be earlier than 8am because of the other 'man' who was staying there. I heard him come in last night, with his companion. He tried my door handle as he passed and when I yelled out, he muttered something in Russian. The walls were thin and when I was later woken by noises from their room, I was doubtful that I would see them at breakfast; and so it was.
I had about 4 lati left last night. I thought I wouldn't need much more money till tonight [when I knew Anita was sending some down with Gunta]. So last night I decided to buy a couple of necessities for today – water and bananas, etc. – to save time this morning. After that I was down to 2 lati and a few santīmi.
I had thought that breakfast was included in the price of the room. I found I was wrong soon after I finished my omelette – 2 lati 60 santīmi. I excused myself and said I would get the money from my room. 'Labi' [good], she said without smiling. I went to my room and checked Gunta's notes on my accommodation schedule – breakfast, 1-2 lati extra. I had 2 lati 4 santīmi [56 santīmi or about $A1:50 short. I went downstairs, 'I only have 2 lati 4 santīmi, I will go to the bank'. 'Labi'; no smiles. I put on my pack and walked to the bank – one km, and I passed the turnoff to the station on the way. And back again with the money. 'Labi', and perhaps a half smile.
I was back at the Ērgļi station at about 9am. The line closed about four years ago and Ērgļi had been the last stop. It will never reopen. The line has wooden sleepers which have deteriorated and there are some bridges that would need replacing.
I walked about 14km along the track to Līčupe. I then went into the town to photograph the muiža (manor house) where Lija had been on camp last year. Then a few km along the dusty road before rejoining the railway line for about 6 more km. Then about 8km to Gunta's via the neighbours.

The rail track walking was not as bad as I expected. In places the gravel was 3 or 4 cms below the top of the sleepers. They are also an inconvenient distance apart for comfortable striding. Sometimes I walked between the rails, sometimes outside them or on the gravel shoulder; overall I made reasonable time. The track was level and mostly shaded from quite a strong sun today. From Līčupe to Gunta's I reversed the route I took last year.
Anita has phoned to say that Rudīte and Andis [our good friends from Adelaide] had just seen me on TV, being interviewed and then walking away from the camera into the distance, focusing finally on my feet as I plod on. Anita is now on a mission to get a copy. She has phoned again – the news item is on the net and Anita is pleased with it.
Have just finished dinner with Gunta and Jānis. We are being well looked after by Gunta. We will try to leave by 7am tomorrow. After the first 15km, we will leave the busier road and will then be travelling on minor, quieter roads. Apparently storms are forecast in the afternoon.
I see from the latest blog comment that Anita and I are writing in tandem. Thanks again to Jāna for her daily update and the news of Lija's suspected swine flu [the local version is mežacūku (wild boar) flu]. And the Swedish Latvian contingent – it will be great to see Atis again [16 or so years ago was the last time. Kristīne was very small], and Matīss [I'm sure we did get an e-mail, or perhaps it was one from Sandra]. Matīss was taking the mickey, but Caroline has blown my cover – posing as a cross-country walker. Work will survive without us, though yesterday I sent an e-mail to Caroline at work because I suspected that, although she is also on holidays, she will drop in at work now and then. I had finished Ruth Rendell before leaving Singapore. Thanks for your remarks, Con; hope you take time away from your work for the important things. Arnis and Māra and Linda and Jānis are 3x3 friends; good to know you are travelling with me. John, glad you caught up with Anita. I will be staying at Mujāņi [west of Kocēni] on Thursday night; perhaps we can catch up then.
Juris is hassling me so I will finish. Tomorrow night, I hope to be blogging from the Bench household in Cēsis.


  1. It is so great to finally see a photo of Astra! I must meet her too! Finally. Gunta expressed concern (for me)that you were currently envelopped by women desirous of you. I said I was used to you being surrounded by women who appreciated you...
    I must have another click of the clip before I retire!

  2. Hi Graham,

    it has taken me a while to catch up with your journey (I've had a few writing deadlines to meet)and now you are more than half done. Remiss of me after insisting that you must blog on as you slog on, though it seems that the walking if not actually easier seems more assured and satisfying - at least in your blog. Your writing also seems to be informed by last years experience so what is next year's plan? I'd agree with you about Steven Carroll though he is much better suited to prose than drama. He was initially a playwright but that detachment or remoteness works less well on stage than on the page. You're looking good on the tele.
    Janis Balodis

  3. Anita & Graham,
    we will do our utmost to find you in Latvia Saturday or Sunday, in Mazsalaca or Cesis or Riga, but please give me a telephone number where I can reach you!!!!