Gunta’s (near Zaube) to Cēsis
50 +4km (275km) – 9 hours 50 minutes
Jānis and I walked 100km today – 50km each. It was tremendous to have company and we talked almost non-stop until rendered speechless by exhaustion over the last 2km or so. It was relentless walking; we had a couple of 10-minute stops but otherwise kept up a steady pace. The walking was varied and interesting. We had about 500 metres on the 4-lane Pleskava Highway (Editor’s note: only because this was a steep hill leading down to a bridge – definitely not a 4-lane highway elsewhere beyond Sigulda!); but the rest was generally on minor country roads and occasional forest tracks.
There was relatively little traffic and little need to concentrate on much more than our chatting. We spoke about Jānis’ current passion for archery (recently he was number 3 in Latvia) and his shared sheep-farming activities with his brother Matīss at Straupe. They have 66 sheep, not all of which have names yet. They have used their technical skills recently to re-roof a section of the 100-metre long farm shed on the property. Jānis explained, with a diagram drawn in the road gravel, how he and Matīss had erected the framework for the roof structure without the use of a crane.
Jānis had a year at college in America and has excellent English. We also talked about family matters. Anita’s father and Jānis’ grandfather were brothers separated after the war by the need for Anita’s father to leave Latvia because he had been conscripted to fight against the Soviet Union. Jānis has a very strong sense of family and established a close bond with second cousin Mark when Mark was in Latvia for the first time last year.
Selga and Juris and Juris’ Canadian niece, Laura, met us about 5km out of Cēsis and then walked out to meet us to guide us to their home. They met us outside Latvia’s Borstal or youth offender facility – a grim place.
Selga went to meet Anita who had caught the bus from Riga and the reporter, Agita, and photographer, Māris, from the Cēsis local paper Druva arrived. I put my pack back on and walked up and down the street outside until Māris was satisfied. The interview with Agita took about one and a half hours. Anita, Jānis and occasionally Selga, Juris and Laura sat in. Agita had very good English – she is 20 and the language education in Latvia seems to produce excellent results.
Agita asked the usual probing questions – Why do it? etc. And with a combination of Latvian and English, I was able to give perhaps more reasonable responses. She asked what I carried and I showed her the contents of my pack; including the current book I am reading – Anne Frank’s, The Diary of a Young Girl, which she had also read. I told her that the next book I intended to read was by her namesake – Agita Christie.
After the interview, I was allowed a quick shower. Matīss & Oksana's sister Olga arrived to pick up Jānis and I walked with Anita and Juris to the local hospital.
Juris’ Aunt Laima, who lives in Melbourne, had been visiting Selga and Juris. Last week, a couple of days before she was due to fly home, she slipped and broke her hip and, on Monday was plated up in an operation at the Cēsis Hospital. Laima is an old friend; she is one of the senior members of Anita’s sorority, and a keen follower of my blogs.
Of course we had to visit, although because of the inflexible (solitary) rule of cross-country walking; under no circumstances whilst engaging in the activity must you enter a motor vehicle, we had to walk the 2km to the hospital and the 2km back home. Laima was sitting up on the edge of her bed and seemed in very good spirits, particularly after we turned up. Laima, I hope your recovery is speedy and complete and I am very sorry you will not be at the Hilton on the 23rd.
We walked home close to the old town and I am glad that I had the chance to do a little sightseeing. I visited Cēsis on my first visit to Latvia in 1987, but had not been back since. Tomorrow, Selga will be walking with me and she can show me a little more of the town as we walk through. We will also be crossing the Gauja River – the longest river in Latvia, though the Daugava (which flows in from Belarus) is a longer river.
Last night, Gunta looked after us very well. I now have clean clothes – 7 days was a little long with only a few changes. We were fed well both last night and this morning and whilst I wrote last night’s blog, Jānis and Gunta had time for a god-motherly talk. I am looking forward to being back in Riga with Gunta and Ziedonis on Sunday. Then just 10 days before we head for home and so many people to see before we do.
But tonight, I am enjoying the hospitality of Selga and Juris, and Anita’s company. I have written this blog on a real computer with a full-size keyboard and Juris took away my mobile office and downloaded my photos and the video I recorded by mistake (intending a photo) of pilgrims on their way to the Catholic cathedral in Aglona. You can hear them calling to Jānis and me to join them (Editor’s note: closer listeners will hear one of the pilgrims responding ‘but he is walking across Latvia!’). Their calls fell on deaf ears. Today’s church photo is, in the interests of ecumenical balance, of the Orthodox church at Nītaure.