Saturday, 27 September 2008

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Anita has the last word ...

Hello to you, who have faithfully followed the blog to its inevitable conclusion – and to those who have more recently joined Graham’s journey! The story is not quite over!

You may be interested, maybe not too surprised, that Graham, in his not inconsiderably weary physical state upon completion of the walk, did not betray one skerrick of his exhaustion to the welcoming committee! I well understand that there is a psycho-physical explanation for this phenomenon. Nonetheless, his articulate turn of phrase and sense of humour when interviewed by the TV and newspaper crews pricked my eyes, broadened my smile and warmed my inconspicuously, incrementally expanding chest!

[When approached by the TV Dzintare crew he took initiative and asked in Latvian, pointing to his map, „Am I in Liepaja?”. When he was assured of his location, he was asked something like, how he felt being in Liepaja, to which he responded, „I think Liepaja is the best city in Latvia”]

There are a number of interesting behind-the-scenes stories relating to the grand welcome at Liepaja planned by Ziedonis. Ziedonis, for some considerable time, had put his heart and soul into the welcome project. He had prepared a detailed spreadsheet of all the tasks involved, a time-frame and designated persons to carry out the tasks [those persons being himself, Gunta and me]. The plans were various. They included firing off-shore ‘pistoles’ [I think this was fireworks rather than gun salute!] at the southern mols; [He was confident he could obtain licence from the local authorities, to avoid possible military repercussions!]; the preparing of an official finish banner; notifying local print and TV; and flying the flags of both nations – Australia and Latvia. We had discussions about Ziedonis having spotted a convenient structure on the mols that would lend itself to rigging ropes up which the flags could be raised. He eventually settled on hand-held flag poles. Ziedonis was also concerned about Graham’s possible physical state and was prepared to arrange for a vehicle permit to drive onto the beach so he would not have to walk the 500 metres or so to the car. Being a former liepajnieks [from Liepaja] and currently being invovled in work projects in the area, he had contacts in all possible necessary directions. The issue of accommodation was also a live one. Would Graham prefer to immediately make the three hour return journey to Riga and sleep in his own bed or have access to rest facilities immediately in Liepaja before making the trip home the following day. This matter alone took a number of twists and turns before an ultimate decision to stay in Liepaja.

The flags were a key feature of Ziedonis’ grand plan. Securing the Latvian flag was easy, as my nephew Mark had bequeathed a Latvian flag to our household as a parting gift. Oz flag? Not as straightforward. This was my task, well overdue by the time I seriously turned my mind to it, according to Ziedonis’ spreadsheet. Two days before heading off to Liepaja to meet Graham, I thought I would send a phone message to an Australian Latvian to see if one of the Australian flags used in the song festival procession was available. Inadvertently, in my haste, I sent a blank text to a local friend, Janis Krumins, at the Occupation Museum in Riga. He immediately responded to my contact and, on the off-chance I asked him whether he had any idea where I might source an Australian flag. He told me he had one under his desk at work belonging to Australia’s Honorary Consul to Latvia, Janis Sala. A phone call to the Consul and a trip to the Occupation Museum and I had the flag in hand within an hour.

As finish time approached, Ziedonis and I were in increasingly frequent contact about ‘The Project’. Ziedonis reported in on discussions with local media, the issues involved in arranging flag poles and arrival times that needed to be synchronised with the local press [try telling someone who has just walked 750 kms without a rest day that he must be at the mols at precisely 1300 hours!]. During the final 15km stretch along the beach form Bernati I reported to Ziedonis regularly as I recognised possible landmarks – the first windfarm mill, the first beach guard station, the sports stadium. Ziedonis’ friends from Liepaja, Ilgvars and Velta, helped Ziedonis fine-tune the event. Ever-smiling, loving Gunta stood firm against the wind, filled champagne glass at the ready. Velta made a moving contribution in presenting Graham with a small flag with the Liepaja coat-of-arms. It is also a heart-warming coincidence that Graham was welcomed by persons who bear the names of my deceased parents – Velta and Ziedonis. These names are not particularly common names in my generation.

Flags blew strong in the wind and an Australian bubbly bubbled to Graham’s lips as he stood victorious on the southern Liepaja mols!! A great and necessary conclusion to Graham’s great „walkacrosslatvia2008”! [If Ziedonis ever decides he has had his fill of the building industry, I would highly recommend him for a career in event management!]

Graham has expressed his gratitude for those who supported him and without whom his challenging project could not have been realised. I also thank everyone for their interest and support. Graham’s big walk has added an unusual and particularly meaningful dimension to our long sojourn in Latvia. I have found this incredibly moving.

Thank you Graham.


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Summary and thanks

A few days on and the walk is becoming a distant memory. The weather in Riga has been very changeable and I keep thinking how lucky I was to avoid rainy weather. Day 23 from Priekule to Bernati was the only consistently wet day, although by the evening, that day was fine and mild and at Bernati we were treated to a stunning sunset. Perhaps the walk might have gone differently if I had needed to walk through days of rainy weather with wet clothes.

From the Russian border in the east to the coastline of the Baltic Sea in the west was a total of 734kms and took 23 days. I averaged 32kms each day and 7.5 hours of walking at 4.29kms per hour. The walk finished in Liepaja – 24 days, a total of 750kms (an average of 31kms each day and 7.25 hours of walking at 4.28kms per hour).

I was accompanied on 8 of the 24 days, as follows:
Days 1 - 4, by Ziedonis,
Days 8 & 9, by Mark,
Day 19, by Janis, and
Day 24, by Anita, Lija and Selga.

I stayed with friends for 4 nights:
Day 9, near Inesi with Esmeralda Ermale
Day 11, near Zaube with Gunta Apsite
Day 16, at ‘Billites’ near Iecava with Anna Zigure
Day 19, near Zebrus Lake with Nita Apsite and Janis Apsitis.

On the other nights I stayed in a range of accommodation:
Day 1, at ‘Melderi’ on Lake Nirza at Nirza (cottage)
Day 2, at ‘Pie Raznas’ at Kaunata (cottage)
Day 3, at ‘Osmany’ on Lake Raznas at Dvarci (self-contained rooms)
Day 4, at ‘Kaleji’ at Kozori near Rezekne (fisherman’s cottage)
Day 5, at ‘Lacu leja’ at Jaunvilani (hotel)
Day 6, at the Arodvidusskola at Barkava (school accommodation)
Day 7, at ‘Rudzons’ at Madona (hotel)
Day 8, at ‘Vestiena’ at Vestiena (older hotel)
Day 10, at ‘Indrani’ near Skujene (cottage)
Day 12, at ‘Licmuiza’ at Licupe (manor house)
Day 13, at ‘Ritarasas’, Lobes Krogs, near Ledmane (hotel)
Day 14, at ‘Pukkalnini’ near Kegums (self-contained room in house)
Day 15, at ‘Slokas’ near Vecumnieki (cottage)
Day 17, at Hotel Jelgava at Jelgava (hotel)
Day 18, at Hotel Dobele at Dobele (hotel)
Day 20, at ‘Krustkalni’ near Saldus (self-contained room in house)
Day 21, at ‘Ginas’ near Nigrande (cottage)
Day 22, at ‘Musumajas’ at Priekule (self-contained room in house)
Day 23, at ‘Vizuli’ at Bernati (self-contained room in house)
Day 24, at Hotel Fontaine Royal at Liepaja (hotel).

To plan the walk, I used the 1:200,000 maps in Latvijas autoceļu atlants (a very comprehensive book of road maps). On the walk, I used the maps ripped out of that book, including the larger scale maps for the towns. I also used 1:50,000 topographical maps for virtually all the walk (28 in all). A companion book to the road maps, Latvijas Celvedis, provided information about accommodation options. The books and maps were purchased from Jana Seta, the last dozen or so by Nita for the last few days walking. I brought most of the equipment I used from Australia. There are excellent outdoor shops at 17 Miera iela and 155 Brivibas iela, where I also purchased gear.

The blog was an integral part of the walk. Ian Edwards advised me about the mobile office I would need and available blog sites. Peteris Darzins stirred me into action by linking the walk to his geography classes at the Latvian school in Melbourne. His students made me think more carefully about what I was doing, and why I was doing it, both when I spoke to them before leaving Melbourne and in the questions they posed for me during the trip. I struggled with the technology. I was eventually connected to the internet and the first blog was really just a test run. Michael Axtens in Geelong made that happen. And then, from the Day 1 blog, Juris Benkis took over and did a remarkable job to keep the communications flowing. At times he operated from his home computer in Riga, at other times when he was in the country at Cesis. Mostly, at Cesis, Juris achieved what he did from a similar mobile office as mine, at other times he sat outside the Cesis library and used their wireless connection with his laptop. I would never have written so much, or taken as many photos, if I had not been confident they would, within hours, be on the net. Juris also provided great encouragement over the whole period of the trip and I am very grateful to him.

I received a good deal of encouragement both before I left and through the comments on the blog. This was a life-line. Sometimes I heard about it in phonecalls with Anita, and at other times I was able to read the comments directly. So thanks to Ian Edwards, Des Cowley, Andrejs Lanskis, Kate McMillan, Caroline Dawes, Maree Kennedy, Philippa Kelly, Meryl Sexton, Peteris Darzins, Lija Anderson, Jana Anderson, Anita Anderson, Michael Axtens, Rosemary and Reece Barker, Colin and Sue Wilson, Brigita Strode, Mark Bormanis, Juris Benkis, Andis and Rudite Berzins, Janis Apsitis, Jacqui Hansen, Lita Krumina, Clare Ashby, Toms Darzins, Bob and Carole Boyd, Viktorija and Andrejs Macens, Janis Balodis, Linda Ozers and Janis Cecins, Litsa Pavlou, Christina Finch, Anita Apele, Sarmite Pujena, Sally Farrar, Peteris Klavins, Ross Howie, Paul Santamaria, Juris Rungis, Janis Vejins, Michael Rozenes, John Brauns, Ilze and Gunars Nagels, Mara Bormanis, and Marija Perejma.

The Latvian print media took an interest in the project:
Diena, 29 July 2008, page 17 – Laura Supstika: ‘Ar kajam pa Latviju’.
Zemgales Zinas, 14 August 2008 – Linda Lindenbauma: ‘Kajam pari visai Latvijai’ ( (
Bauskas Dzive, 18 August 2008, page 6 – Aina Usca: ‘Melburnas tiesnesis solo cauri Latvijai’ (
Saldus Zeme, 19 August 2008, page 8 – Ieva Vilmane: ‘Pari visai Latvijai dodas ar kajam’.
Latvijas Avize, 23 August 2008, page 7 – Sarmite Pujena: ‘Kajam skerso Latviju’.
Kurzemes Vards, 27 August 2008 – Kristīne Pastore: ‘Australiesa Greima milestibas celojums’ (
The news report on Latvian national television, on 22 August 2008, has already been posted on the blog. The news report on Liepaja television, on 21 August 2008, will be published on the blog when the promised electronic copy is received.

Gunta and Ziedonis have provided tremendous support throughout. They were very concerned for me and tried to reduce the risks I faced. Ziedonis arranged all of the early accommodation. He drove long distances on a number of occasions to check up on me and to deliver Anita and others to our meeting points. Ziedonis also planned the welcome at Liepaja. Anna encouraged my tentative plans for the walk and during the walk itself, arranged much of the later accommodation (and food) and the media coverage. Janis told me a couple of days before I set out, that if I ever got into trouble to give him a ring and he would be there within 2 or 3 hours. I didn’t need to take him up on the offer, but it was a comforting thought. The hospitality shown by Esmeralda, Gunta, Anna, Janis and Nita was critically important – it allowed me to recover and recharge both physically and mentally.

Lija, Janite and Anita have all provided great encouragement and support. Jana’s blog comments were always a highlight. Lija made comments, she walked on the last day and she popped up at Billites. I was also very pleased I could see her final concert at Licupe and stay the night there. Anita visited at Pasiene, Madona, Inesi, Zaube, Licupe, Billites and Bernati and we were in daily phone contact. The walk was always a ‘traka’ idea and Anita supported me all the way. I would not have walked past the first couple of days otherwise.

And finally my thanks to all the people I met on my journey. Vladimir from St Petersburg was an exceptional contact. But there were many others – Glenys and Imants in Priekule, the shopkeeper in the tiny settlement near Mali, the two young girls, Iluta and Amanda, at Remte, the 3 journalists and their camera crews who met us at Liepaja (particularly Laura from Liepaja television) and the many people along the way who asked me where I was going and couldn’t believe my response. I have had an amazing opportunity to see a lot of Latvia and to meet many different people. I very much appreciate the experiences I have had and all those who made it possible.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Day 23 plus one - Bernati to Liepaja

16km (750km) - 3 hours 30 minutes - weather fine

The welcome at Liepaja was overwhelming, and was largely orchestrated by Ziedonis.
Anita, Lija, Selga and I walked along the beach from Bernati. We could see Liepaja in the distance - it is Latvia's third largest city, and Ziedonis' birthplace.

I was extremely sluggish - having completed the primary objective it was difficult to get motivated this morning. Fortunately, the early rain had been blown away by the famous local winds.
As we approached Liepaja, Anita kept in touch with Ziedonis by phone - we had to arrive at about 1pm. Our objective was the south mols - a breakwater stretching hundreds of metres into the sea and part of a system protecting the entrance to the harbour.

About 800m before the mols, we encounted the 'media pack' - Laura and her crew from Liepaja's TV news, Selga and hers from Panorama (the current affairs programme from Latvia's national television) and Sarmite from Latvijas Avize (a national newspaper).
Laura inerviewed me, in Latvian, though with Anita close by to prompt me. Then Selga spoke with me and then with Anita and Lija. I was pretty hyped up and my Latvian became much freer and more coherent.

We then continued our walk for the very last stretch. On the mols we saw a number of people and the Australian and the Latvian flags blowing in the strong wind. Gunta and Ziedonis were there. Ziedonis was holding the Australian flag and his friend, Ilgvars, the Latvian flag. Gunta gave me a collection of amber pieces that she had, on an earlier occasion, collected from the Liepaja beach. Ilgvars' wife, Velta, had a small Liepaja flag for me.
Laura and the Liepaja television crew were there to record the final stages of the walk. Gunta provided the obligatory champagne and I completed an interview with Sarmite and chatted further with Laura, although this time in English.

Then it was time to walk out on to the mols. The wind was up and the waves were crashing over the pathway. We walked the 400m to the end of the wider section. Beyond that it was impossible.
All was done. We returned to the cars, and this time I willingly accepted a lift to the hotel where we will stay before returning to Riga tomorrow morning.
What has been achieved? The realisation of an idea that has given me a much greater connection with Anita's heartland. It was something that has captured people's imagination and so many have willingly helped to bring it to a successful end.
I am extremely grateful to all who assisted both in Australia and in Latvia and for all the support I received. Although the most common word used to describe my project was traks (mad), it was said in the kindest possible way.
To my blog readers, the opportunity to pass on my observations and thoughts has been very important to me. I might have emptied my mind of all work-related stresses by the physical exertion, but I have needed my nightly intellectual stimulation. To know that you have been following my journey has been important and I have greatly enjoyed reading your comments.
Every time I have accessed the blog I have cringed a little at the opening statement. What was meant as simply a statement of my 'proposal', sounds more like a confident declaration of my intention.
The blog only really has interest because when it is read, there is the element of uncertainty - will I make it or not? Some have said that they had no doubt I would. But it is not as simple as that. Physically, the possibilities of something going wrong were great. I had no health issues of any consequence and no accidents or injuries. Apart from 'the blister'. I got sick of writing about it. For the last week, it has been in decline and not any sort of problem.
The mental element of walking over a long period is more difficult. I have had some tough times but the company on the walk, the contact with Anita, the girls and our friends, and the brief conversations with the Latvians (and at least one Russian) I met on the walk have helped keep me going.
And now that it is over, I can return to walking sensible distances each day. This may not be my final contribution to this blog, but I certainly won't be describing what I saw on my daily walk.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Day 23 - Priekule to Bernati

55km (734km) - 14 hours - weather wet, later fine

I have walked across Latvia from east to west. Apart from 16km to Liepaja, tomorrow morning, the walk is complete. I am very tired tonight and am finding it difficult to formulate any meaningful reaction.
Today was a very long day and over the last 4 days I have completed 175kms and travelled over more than one third of Latvia's breadth.
I had hoped to start early, but needed supplies. I arrived at the shop next to the market at 7:45. I waited till 8 when it opened.

I then walked through the town, noting the church, the castle, the gate and the manor.
It started to drizzle but I didn't put my jacket on till I was already quite wet.
I walked the 23km to Barta. I was wet through - my top from condensation from my jacket and my shorts, boots and socks because they were uncovered. I decided I needed a change of clothes. I was looking for a bus shelter when I spied an open ended barn. I carefully changed my clothes and ate some lunch. It was 12:45pm.
The next stretch was to Nica - about 20km which took till about 5pm. It only stopped raining about half an hour before. At Nica, I had an early dinner. Anita, Lija, Gunta, Ziedonis and Selga arrived and I set off for the final 12km to Bernati.

By the time I reached the Baltic Sea, the others were already on the beach waiting for me. We walked alongside the water's edge for about 4km to ensure we reached the most western point.
The weather had improved dramatically, and it was still and not cold. We met a journalist (Kristine) and photographer (Egons) from the Kurzeme Vards.

They completed the interview on the beach whilst be waited for the sunset. There was a big red ball but little else to give me much confidence about tomorrow.
After the interview, we visited the equivalent marker to the one we saw near the start of the walk. And then to our accommodation where, at 9:30pm, we were served a second dinner. I happily tucked into the food.
Tomorrow, Anita, Lija and Selga will walk with me to Liepaja. We will probably walk along the beach.
I have fallen asleep a few times whilst writing this. I will leave any further thoughts till tomorrow night.