When we were still in Kolka, we received a message from Aldis in Rīga that made us very happy: His friends, who have a summer cottage South of Kolka – on the side of the Baltic Sea – would receive us to spend Midsummer with them! This holiday in the Baltics is as important, if not more, as Christmas, and having to spend it on our own would be really sad. There were still some days until June 23rd, so we started our descent along the Baltic coast.
Day 51 started with heavy rain. We had just reached the observation tower of Cape Kolka, when it began. Luckily, the tower had a good roof, so we could enjoy the view until it stopped raining.
On our walk along the beach, it was easy to notice that we were now at the open sea – there was much more movement of the sea and more waves. Unfortunately, we also noticed a huge grey cloud building up in front of us and when we heard the first thunder, we realized that we were the tallest objects on the beach. The forest to our left provided better shelter, so we walked there until we reached the next village.
The villages we were passing were all ancient fisher villages from the Livonian people. Although there are very few Livonians left, they are doing their best to preserve their language and culture. Nowadays, the villages still look like in old days and all signs are written in Livonian and Latvian language. The roads connecting the villages could only be used by SUVs, which was good for us, because there were rarely any cars coming our way.
We spent the night in the same village to which we would return two days later for Midsummer. On that day, we slept in our tent on a cute little camping site. We cooked our dinner on the campfire and even had some warm tea, thanks to the pot we bought in Rīga.
The disadvantage of the camping were the mosquitos; they didn’t bother us in the evening because of the campfire, but in the morning, they were all back and brought their little ones with them. We had never thought that baby mosquitos could be such a hassle!
We did most of our walking on the beach that day, but when we wanted some different scenery, we changed to forest trails. At one point, we reached a public campsite. We knew those from Estonia, but this was the first one we found in Latvia. Close to a river, it had a fire place and picknick table for each camp. It was a pretty good place to stay, so at first we set up the tent for an afternoon rest, but ended up spending the night.
There were only two problems: It had rained during the day, so all the firewood was wet, and we hadn’t passed by any shop, so our provisions were coming to an end. Solution? With a lot of patience and using every method we could think of, we managed to make a nice campfire. As for the provisions, we just ate up everything and hoped for the best on the next day.
We still had energy bars for emergencies which we ate for breakfast, and headed off for the next town on day 53. To get there, we had to cross the same river that provided us with fresh water on our campsite. There were two places where we could cross it: The main road, which would mean a detour of about 4 km; or a footbridge, about 2 km away. It’s obvious what we chose. And this is how we got to experience the most adventurous part of our trip by far:
We were quite happy to have solid ground under our feet again and after a beautiful hike on the beach, we reached Miķeļtornis.
A number of German tourists walking around confirmed that there was lodging available, but we couldn’t find any shop. When we saw a camping site with a restaurant, we decided to solve the food issue in steps; first have lunch and then think about the next hours. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t offer lunch that day, just coffee and cake. While we were devouring our cake as if there was no tomorrow, the attendant came back and asked if we wanted some salad. Of course we did! She had noticed our disappointment when she informed us that the kitchen was closed and decided to prepare the salad herself – it was really good!
In the meantime, we managed to contact Uve and Silvija, our hosts for Midsummer, and luckily they were arriving on that afternoon and would have us one day earlier. Even better, the only bus from Miķeļtornis to Mazirbe, the village closest to our hosts’ place, was leaving in an hour, time enough to finish our lunch and get to the bus stop. In Mazirbe, we could do some grocery shopping before Silvija picked us up. Now the holiday feeling became much more intense with lots of people doing their last-minute purchases. Especially beer was going really well.
Silvija and Uve were amazing hosts. One of the first things they said was: “Stay as long as you like” and soon afterwards “Here is the washing machine”. They really know what backpackers need! We had some beers and smoked fish from the village with them on the terrace of their beautiful house, before the mosquitos forced us back inside.
Midsummer day started with a calm breakfast with our hosts and two guests who had just flown in from Australia to be in Latvia for the celebrations. Like on Christmas day, the day was spent with preparations for the evening feast, while watching (or listening to) the festive tv programs. Latvia is the country of folk music and folk dance, so we got to see a huge array of beautiful traditional costumes, thousands of flower wreaths adorning the womens’ heads and oak leave wreaths on the mens’ heads. Moiken helped preparing the traditional pīrāgi, while José joined the other men in the traditional beer drinking.
When all the guests had arrived – all of them were Australian-Latvians – Uve prepared delicious salmon filets on the coal-heated hot plate, which was served together with a huge choice of salads, salty pastries and vegetables.
When we couldn’t eat anymore, each of us grabbed a bottle of beer and we walked a few hundred meters to the beach, where the whole village was already gathering. Some families lit an enormous bonfire, others put up a huge torch, girls with flower wreaths were singing Jāņi songs and everybody was enjoying being outside on this pleasant evening. We were told that we had been lucky, quite often it is rainy and cold on Midsummer eve. Here are some impressions of Midsummer night, note that the pictures were taken between 11 PM and midnight:
The following day was grey and rainy, perfect for spending the day in the house and recovering from the festivities. We had the great pleasure of chatting with Silvija and Uve for hours and learning so much about life in Latvia and the Latvian diaspora.
Both of them grew up in Australia, after their parents had to leave Latvia in 1945. In Australia alone, there were around 25,000 Latvians living until recently. In North America, there are about 100,000 Latvians from different waves of emigration and in total, approximately 300,000 Latvians live abroad – 15% of the 2 Million Latvians living in their country! Latvians do an incredible job in maintaining their culture abroad; in their country of residence, they organize summer camps for Latvian youth (our friends got to travel all over Australia, as the camps were organized in a different Australian town each year), have choirs and folk dance groups, and even Latvian schools (on Midsummer night, we met a former teacher of the Latvian school in the German city of Münster). After Latvia became independent in 1991, many of them decided to return to their homeland – knowledgeable in the language and the traditions, even though they have never lived in Latvia before.
We ended the day eating the leftovers of the holiday dinner, which would have fed the same amount of people, and preparing our gear for getting back on the road – that is, the beach – again.