Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Day 22 - Past Nigrande to Priekule

39km (679km) - 9 hours 40 minutes - weather fine

What an amazing day! I visited a Soviet missile site near Embute. The site was decommissioned a few years after Latvia obtained its independence in 1991.
I approached the day with great anticipation. I had seen tourist information which promoted the site. It appears on my map as 'bij PSRS armijas rakesu baze' (former USSR army rocket base). It was a total detour of 8km, but I was not going to miss the opportunity.
I approached by a minor gravel road through the forest. At an intersection the road material became heavy bitumen. An avenue of trees led to 2 gateposts and the remains of a guardhouse. As I walked further in, there were many piles of rubble (mainly concrete and bricks) beside the roadway where buildings of some sort had been demolished. I tried to imagine the rubble as missile bunkers, but it was difficult.
The forest was all around. I was sure that I recalled photos of bunkers. However, time was pressing and I couldn't stray too far off the road and into the forest.
I was very disappointed, but tried to be positive about the emotions that had been evoked by the anticipation of the visit to the site. I decided that I would walk to the end of the road marked on the map for the base.
Something mysterious had happened to the camera on my mobile; as I tried to take a photo, there was a message that the free memory on my mobile was critically low and I must delete material immediately. I was trying to do this as I walked further down the road.

Then suddenly, in front of me were the domed tops of 3 bunkers. Just like the photo I had seen in the tourist guide. As I walked over towards the first bunker, a car pulled up - a Lada (virtually the only car in Latvia until after independence).
The person who got out of the car was a Russian. He was the only person I saw at the base until, about an hour later as I was leaving, another car drove in.

He told me he had worked at the base between 1964 and 1967 and that he was a journalist from Leningrad (though later he wrote 'S. Peterburg').
In the midst of all this, Juris phoned back to give me advice about the memory problem with my phone. I gave Juris fairly short shrift as I thought my new friend might disappear.
We spent about an hour walking over the area containing the 3 bunkers. I have no Russian, he had next to no English or Latvian. He wrote things in the dirt (the dates he had worked there), we exchanged information on pieces of paper (name, blog, email), we gestured, he spoke Russian very insistently, I nodded and spoke back in Latvian and English.
We climbed on top of the domes - there were round holes, surprisingly small - not even 2 metres across. One bunker had water to about 3m below the top. I thought that if I fell, or was pushed, into the bunker I could never get out.
My friend, Vladimir, had a torch and battery pack. He showed me a narrow hole where you could squeeze down underground. I took off my pack and followed him down. The room was about 3m square. Vladimir turned his torch on and moved into the next room. I started having second thoughts and came back above ground. Later, I regretted not having discarded my head torch from the equipment I carry with me, as Vladimir's torch produced only a very weak light.
Back at his car, Vladimir showed me material he had downloaded from the internet showing the location of missile sites in the Baltic States. Most seemed to have 3 missiles.
Vladimir had been touring around some of the sites. Later, as he drove past me, he stopped and wrote down the name of an internet site which apparently contains photos of the sites - 'Martin Trolle'.
It was with some regret that I left, though with considerable satisfaction that the visit had proved so successful. The 1962 Cuban missile crises was a time when I personally was fearful that there would be a nuclear war. Missile silos are perhaps the single most potent image of the Cold War.
I walked to Embute, which I had been told was renowned for its natural beauty. I stopped to read the information board about the Bishop's Castle, the ruins of which were on the hill above. Throughout Latvia, there is very informative material displayed with text in Latvian, Russian and English.

Reinis, the parks officer, came to speak to me (in English) to tell me about the wonders of the area. I climbed the hill to look at the castle ruins and another hill to look at church ruins.
It was nearly 3pm and there was still 16km to Priekule. I put my foot down and, at some stage, I checked my speed against the km markers. Usually, I walk a km in 10 1/2 minutes. Today, over 4kms, the first two each took 9 1/2 minutes and the next two, only 9 minutes each.
I was starting on the next km when I needed to make a decision about which road to take. A car stopped (one of 3 or 4 today), and I had a discussion (in English) with the driver about the merits of turning left or going straight on. Straight on was 7km and left was 5km but a much poorer road. I turned left. The road deteriorated into a track mostly underwater. At about 5:45pm, I managed to arrive at my accommodation for tonight - a private home with a separate building for guests.
The saimnieks (host) spoke fast Latvian. He told me I would be having dinner with an Australian woman married to a Latvian, and I must be ready by 6:30.
Usually it takes a couple of hours to unwind before I think about much else particularly after a full day like today.
I had a shower - but had to use the one in his home as the guests' bathroom was being worked on. The saimnieks was pushing me, reminding me of the dinner arrangement.
All this is leading up to my explanation as to why I have committed a cardinal sin and broken the first (and probably only) rule of cross-country walking - never accept a lift in a car.
I came back from the shower and was almost ready when the saimnieks sent an English speaker in to hurry me up and to say that my lift to dinner was waiting. It was the saimnieks himself who was the driver. I hopped into the car without thinking, and he drove me less than a km to my dinner destination. As we pulled up I realised my grievous error.
Earlier today, I had been thinking of just this issue as I knew that the accommodation was about 1km from the centre of town where the map showed there was a kafejnica.
Anyway, dinner was with the Dicmani. Imants was born in Priekule but came to Australia in 1950 - his family was on a Soviet list for deportation to Siberia. Imants is married to Glenys, an Australian. The have been coming to Latvia for the Australian winter for the last 12 years. They now live in an old library which they bought and renovated (it is one of the few buildings to have survived the war). The rest of the year they live in Adelaide. For the first couple of years when they came to Latvia, they had stayed in my present accommodation.
When Anna made the booking she apparently told the saimnieks that I must be fed and I did not eat meat. He had passed on the problem, which he assumed was peculiar to Australians, to Glenys. I had a very large meal of zuccini slices and vegetables and very pleasant conversation, in English.
I insisted that I walk home which created further problems for Glenys as she was to also provide breakfast. Rather than give it to the saimnieks when he came to pick me up they had to drive it around themselves. Thank you Glenys and Imants, and Anna.
I had planned to leave at 7am. Anita asked me to give an arrival time at the coast so that the media can arrange their schedule. I may have to wait for the shops to open tomorrow morning, at probably 8am, so I can carry water and food for lunch. That might make 5pm difficult to achieve. For now, and it is late, I should, however, go to bed.


Anonymous said...

Go Graham Go! What a magnificent achievement so far!

Mark said...

nearly there...