The walk hadn’t happened the previous week as I came down with a bad case of that classic Latvian sickness, PPDS (Post-Panama depression syndrome), which meant that staying in bed binge watching tv series seemed a better idea. Rejuvenated, I was ready to hit the road again yesterday.
It almost didn’t happen. My laptop stopped working, the same problem I’ve had before with it refusing to boot after windows updates. The hard drive which contains my system image is with my friend, who is out of Riga until Friday. Luckily, I have my old super slow laptop as a backup, so I can still get my internet fix. I spent quite a while messing about with the newer laptop trying to get it to work, with the result that I forgot the time and next thing I knew it was 09:37, with the bus due to leave in 13 minutes. I grabbed my stuff and dashed like a maniac to the bus station. Getting there, my heart sank to see a huge queue for tickets, as I knew that I’d miss the bus if I waited. I decided to go directly to the bus and see if I could pay there. Luckily, I could. The time was 09:49, I’d made this by the skin of my teeth.
So, it was back to the previous week’s final destination: Salacgriva.
Salacgriva: one of the greatest places I can imagine. Where the sun shines brightest.
Salacgriva: the undiscovered pearl of Latvia.
Salacgriva, where, ummm, the whirls of snow are the strongest.
Salacgriva, the centre of the universe.
No, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m just quoting verbatim from the official blurb outside the tourist info place.
I know it’s the job of people who write these to big up their place, but come on? Do it within reason! It’s a pleasant enough small fishing town, say that and leave it at that.
I needed a coffee kick to wake me up for the walk ahead. Kambize looked promising and didn’t disappoint. Welcoming exterior
and nice naval-themed interior, where I was the sole customer.
The only disappointment was that, even though I was speaking Latvian, she kept speaking English. When it came time to pay, I asked, in Latvian, how much. “One sixteen” she responded. Thinking that an odd price, I duly handed over the correct amount, which she told me wasn’t correct. “Sešpadsmit vai sešdesmit?” (16 or 60?) I asked, smiling smugly at her mistake.
I didn’t stay too long in Salacgriva after that, the last two buses back to Riga leave at 16:45 and 18:45, which doesn’t give so much time for dithering around.
I hit the beach, with the intention of following it to Vitrupe. There were a few more people about, but it was still dead. I don’t get it? The weather was perfect. 23 degrees, blue skies and sunshine. Why don’t more Latvians take advantage of that?
There was a makeshift beach bar (the yellow tent) in the pic above, with the barman blasting out crap techno tunes for his own amusement, as there were no customers. I soon left the three other beachgoers behind and continued on, with me and the seabirds the only living things around.
Walking started to become more difficult, with small wet patches left by the tide which I had to walk across. Luckily, they were small enough to paddle across.
At one point I got cut off by a small stream.
Determined to stay on the coast, I followed it inland a bit until it became narrow enough to jump over. But my luck soon ran out.
My heart sank as I looked ahead and saw a bit which looked too deep for my boots. Swim or double back and lose 1.5km? I’d no towel with me, so the options weren’t appealing. In the end, I took my boots off and waded across, with the water coming up to my knees. The main problem was the rocks which murdered my feet. On the other side, I still wasn’t sure that I’d made the right decision as the terrain had become difficult. A mix of long grass and rocky, seaweedy mush.
I battled on but walking became a struggle and I started looking for a way to make it back to the main road, but there wasn’t one. Just a tangle of undergrowth in the forest which looked even worse and the sounds from the road were distant. I decided to tough it out. I came to a clearing later where there was a house, but just as I headed in that direction, an evil-looking dog (my least favorite pet) came out and started barking at me. Not fancying that fight, I had to continue.
Eventually, I rounded a bend and saw a joyous sight. A woman sunbathing. I doubted she’d swam round the coast so there had to be a path nearby. I was going to ask her, but her dog bounced up and started barking at me. Seriously, are dogs nature’s most annoying animals?
“Dogs. Low creatures which howl and whine at the sound of a strange footstep.”
Barlow’s words in Salem’s lot. A vampire has never spoken truer words!
I hunted for the path myself and found it near the solitary gravestone for a Valdis Celmins.
Joy! After padding through long grass and over rocks and seaweed for an hour, at last I had a relatively easy walk. Sticking to forest paths, I soon made it to Svetciems.
A small enough place, but this had been the intended destination the previous week.
It was deserted. Even the manor house was uninhabited and up for sale.
Even with the lack of people, there were still strict rules.
The sign advised me to take only nice photos, my fear of the photo police meant I complied with that one. I also didn’t give any autographs, not that there was anyone to give them to in any case. Here’s one of the nice photos, the eponymous river.
I was able to hit the beach again after this. Again, it was mostly deserted. I think at this point, I’d seen one person, a solitary cyclist, in the previous 2 hours. But I soon started to see more people and the views from the forest path were nice.
More people meant I was getting closer to my final destination.
And here it was, the Vitrupe, the Vitr river.
The bus stop was close by, but there was still a while until the 1652 came along. My feet still felt ok so I decided to continue a bit down the road. Eventually, however, the path stopped and there were just crash barriers near a fast moving highway.
I decided to walk along the grassy bit and follow this along, in the hope of finding a path later, but it deepened into an overgrown ditch and ended with an opening for a small channel, fed by a suspicious looking pipe. A sewage pipe? I wasn’t sure. I briefly considered trying to jump over it, but soon decided that the consequences of failure could be… shitty. I also wasn’t sure how far the next bus stop was.
This left me with a dilemma. The Vitrupe bus stop was 40 minutes behind me. I really didn’t fancy padding back that way, again losing 80 minutes of walking in the process.
I’d passed a hotel shortly before so decided to return to that, have a kvass and ask.
There were 2 tables occupied by a total of 6 people there. Despite this, the waitress huffed and panted around as though this were the most tiring thing in the world. She frequently passed me bringing food. Again, wouldn’t it be easier to just give me the menu first? I was there nearly 15 minutes before I got it and more time waiting to order. In the end I got this
Trout with potatoes and salad with chili lemon sauce and two 300ml kvass for 10 euro. The benefits of being outside Riga are that the prices are much less. Sadly, the food wasn’t up to scratch. The fish was tasteless, the vegetables had seen better days and the chili sauce had obviously been toned down for local palates to the extent that I questioned whether there was even any chili in it. To add to the fun, the waitress told me I “was crazy” for having walked there from Salacgriva. What a sweety!
She did at least tell me that the bus stop was only 500 metres away, but that I’d have to brave the road to get there. On this, at least she was right. I dozed at the bus stop (Dzeni) for an hour until the last bus came.
Google maps says I’ve done 30km so far, as the crow flies. By my reckoning, I’ve done a bit over 40. I’m now a quarter of the way to Vecaki at the end of Riga, so progress is being made. The next stage involves the dilemma of whether to stick to the main road or risk going to the coast, which might involve impassable bits and difficulty returning to the main road. To be continued.