Destinations Magazine

Lights and Shades Latvia; Blessed Backwardness!

By Pabster @pabloacalvino
Lights and shades Latvia; blessed backwardness!Send to Kindle

A petrol station. I fill up the tank and go to the shop. When I tend my credit card to the cashier, she looks scared and steps back, hiding her hands behind her back, as if I had produced an scorpion. Maybe she has never seen a Mastercard, ‘cos she refuses to take it. I pay cash and leave. They’re mistrustful, these Latvians; most of all in the stations. Once, I had to leave without fueling.

It’s a splendid morning, sunny but not hot thanks to a thin veil of clouds. Twenty one Centigrades. Though September has but begun, fall is already come to this land. Trees start losing their leaves and there are superb landscapes along some of the roads I’m riding: woods and sown fields, fams and grooves, fallow plots and ploughed lands, a pictoresque and varied countryside that beautifies my journey. Sometimes I roll under a slow, playful dropping of yellow leaves that fall all over the road, touch my helmet or whirl around Rosaura’s turbulence. Every now and then a ranch. This part of the country, outdated farming machinery is still used which anywhere else in Europe can only be found inside ethnographic museums; and that all makes Latvia far more appealing to me.

However, I travel these regions withoug really understanding much about anything, because of the language. Not knowing a word, it’s hard to even start knowing what the Baltic societies are up to. They seem to me very Eastern-like, meaning east of the –now fallen– Iron Wall, but I may well be wrong.

Talking about languages, I’m all the time wondering: where do Baltics go with those three rare, minoritary and dissimilar languages of theirs? Estonian–well–that can still do, since, being akin with the Finnish, is thus backed, so to say, by another five million speaers; but… Latvian and Lithuanian? They’re the most arcaic Indoeuropean living tongues on the planet, only spoken by two and three million people respectively, and not even mutually intelligible. Have you ever heard about somebody who studies Latvian, or who knows anyone studying it? Of course you haven’t. Who would? Most of all when, in all the three Estates, everyone understands also Russian, which is very widespread. Who’s going to study–say–Lithuaninan for getting a job there, when he can all the same study Russian and go work all over Asia and Eastern Europe? There’s very little future I’m afraid, if any, for those ‘small’ tongues in this global world. Needless to say, same goes for Basque, Catalonian, Gaelic and many others.

Vieja fábrica en Rezekne

Old factory in Rezekne

With an urban layout opposite than usual (at least in Europe), Rëzekne is a strange city: within, there is a square-lined town with old wooden houses next to their gardens, and a few one-block parks. Despite being in the centre, looks like a rough district; very few people around, almost no shops and no cars. Then, a ring around this part–miraculously untouched by modernization, ‘downtown’ proper has grown, where you find all the commerce and most of the people and cars. I wonder what kind of developement has taken place here.

But this is not my destination for today. I’m going further south. So, I pick the less beaten track, which, besides, goes across the Razna National Park. Then I’ll follow to Kräslava (only 10 km away from Belarus), where I hope to find accommodation.

In some parts of this route, Latvian countryside is strongly captivating: for as far as I can see, often there is not a single evidence of progress; like if, fifty years back, they’d got stalled in time, here. Houses, barns, stables or warehouses are all old wood, usually painted in bright colours, yellow, ochre, brick red, etc., in a naïve attempt for visually making up for sun; the lean little tractors, the outdated winnowing and rusted threshing machines, the hayricks… nothing here seems to give away the new millennium.

I’m now in Kräslava, but I can’t find any of the accommodation places shown on the map, nor even those advertised on the several information boards in town: everything’s closed down, probably years ago. Well, not all: after much searching for it, I find one of them in an ugly, single-storeyed concrete house close to the river. Instead of a neon or even a sign, there is just a notice written on a paper behind the window: Lodging. And anyway i’s was closed. I have no option but keep riding and try better luck in Daugavpils, which is the second most populated city in Latvia.

Ruta del día, de Aluksne a Daugavpils

Today’s route, from Aluksne to Daugavpils

All right, here I am. Finally no casualties today, but it’s been one of the longest rides this journey: 260 km, Rosaura’s odometer says. Daugavpils is a rather big city for this part of Europe. Eight kilometres before arriving, road traffic gets busier. Crossings, dormitory suburbs (quite dull and soulless, by the way, and rough-looking too), traffic lights and a thick web of railroads on the outskirts, all of which makes for a slow traffic. But then, once inside, Daugavpils turns out to be quite fine: wide streets with nice buildings, lots of green, gardens, large backyards and that kind of urban elements that make for a pleasant feeling of space, quite the opposite to an anthill. Then, much of the housing and many other buildings (from 19th century I guess) are fairly designed and even classy. It’s very much like some fine districts of many Polish towns. And, same as Rëzekne, Daugavpils seems to be taken by the Russians: that’s the prevailing language I hear around.

By the way, it’s not so easy to find accommodation here, either: same as in Kräslava, information is outdated. Most of the old hotels don’t any longer exist. Probably global fashions have done with them. Finally I’ve ended up at a Russian’s, financially pirate I’m sure, whose landlord didn’t speak a word of English… nor of Latvian, probably. But we’ve understood each other because the business doesn’t take a lot of talking: here’s the room, how much, that’s ok. No guest registry, no receipt, no nothing. Gimme the money and here’s the key. Besides, when he’s realized I’m travelling by motorbike, he’s found me a pretty safe plece where to store it for the night. People are nice, after all. Even Russians are.

Anyway, despite some previous comments and some modernity, when you scratch a little these Baltic Estates, the enamel flakes off and there shows, underneath, the Eastern Block. Like for instance the main city transport here, besides the tramways, are those typically yellow small buses, so popular in Russia and Ukraine, called mashrutki.

Iglesia ortodoxa en el centro de Daugavpils

St. Alexander Nevsky orthodox church in Daugavpils

What I can’t find anywhere, after much walking around, is no local food restaurants. None at all. Everything here is either a burguer, a kebab place or a pizza parlor. If there is such thing as Latvian food, they must be keeping the recipes very secretly to themselves.

* * *

It’s getting dark. Because I’m now travelling south and the equinox is getting nigh, along the last week or so nights have become much more reasonable, to my great relief. In such countries like this, where windows have no blinds, the long boreal days worsened my insomnia. Now dawn is around seven and dusk around nine, and that’s the way God wants it to be.

Viajar al sur es ganarle terreno a la noche

Travelling south little by little

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