Day 6: Tuesday 18th August
The run of good weather has broken at last as we awake to clouds and a downpour. It’s a shame but you have to take the rough with the smooth. Another early start, 08.00. We dump the grey water down the bank alongside the country road not far from where we camped – no harm to anyone.
In Kalinovo, a small town on the 16 in Poland, we find a small petrol station with a water tap on show and we stop and ask if we can fill up. The Polish proprietor is very friendly and moves other vehicles out of our way. The find was lucky as we had used three quarters of the previous tank-full in just two days. We give the bloke in the petrol station a beer and a pack of fruit tea as thanks – smiles and farewells.
We lose the time advantage as we enter a new time zone in Lithuania. We drive straight through the booths and worry that we should have bought a vignette - but live dangerously is our motto on this trip!
Not far into Lithuania and we stop at a petrol station to see if there are signs about vignettes – none spotted. It has a huge parking area at the rear and I take the opportunity to sneak down a grassy wooded slope at the back end to dig a hole and dump the cassette waste. Others had been there before me using a slightly more natural process of waste disposal! Were the toilets just too far away? (Or were they as grim as many in this part of the world – squatters and rarely cleaned?)
The weather brightens as the morning progresses and we move further east but the day is punctuated by heavy showers. We decide to have a break from driving and pull off the main road into a small village with an old church and a village green populated by large recently carved wooden totem poles – though these are of religious figures.
Lithuania seems generally poorer than Poland. Houses and villages along the way are not as well tended, presenting a grey hotchpotch of single-storey dwellings with steep corrugated iron roofs. Occasionally a roof will be painted bright red to cheer things up. Trees and crosses everywhere. The roads are not too bad but are spoilt by ruts much of the time. A strong westerly wind affects us a bit as we cross the plains towards Latvia and we cross the border without noticing it.
About 100km east of Riga we pick up a young Finnish hitchhiker on his way home at the end of a round-Europe tour. He has good English and we share experiences. He aims to be a graphic designer and is to start college to gain a qualification. We drop him at the turn for the beach resort of Jurmala, about 25km short of Riga, at a big intersection so he should be OK.
As we enter Jurmala we are going too fast to understand what all the signs and pay-booths are for on the side of the road. They seem to be selling ‘passes’. Before you know it we are driving past no-entry signs with something else written in Latvian but there’s plenty of traffic going through so we just follow on. We guess later that it must have been a car tax that everyone entering the area is required to pay and the no-entry signs may have been for HGVs as there are none on the roads now. There are no signs in English to explain … and there can’t be that many British tourists that speak Latvian!
We can find no sign of a Jurmala resort centre nor the sea, which is separated from us by dense woods, but we follow signs for a campsite that we eventually locate in the trees near the beach. We investigate but with full and empty tanks we feel no compulsion to use the site. A restaurant proves to have little of interest and instead we pootle around a bit until we find a street in Ragaciems that takes us down to an undeveloped part of the beach – with a nice sloping hard standing just behind some trees right on the back of the beach. That’s lucky – and by this time it is dusk so we decide to make it do. A slope is always good, as long as not too steep, as it obviates the need to use our ramps to level the van up – and that allows for a quick getaway should that prove necessary!
HP cooks: tinned salmon with fried onions, courgettes, tagliatelle and double cream. A glass of Pinot Grigio and all is well with the world – until there’s a knock on the door, that is! It’s 11pm and we’re halfway through Scrabble. It’s a chap in a navy blue jumper with some sort of insignia on it. He conveys to us that it is ‘nie parkeren’ where we are and we must move on. H tries a few words of Russian but it is to no avail – although at one point it does seem to be hinted that a payment of 50 lats (£70) would solve the problem. I explain we have no lats so he says that we must go – which we do, after packing things away. Good job we were not yet in our beds! We guess that a local near the beach must have made a phone call – or is this a regular stopover that he checks every night?
We retrace our tracks back down the main road but in the rain and darkness we can now see no sign (literally) of the campsite we looked at earlier. Perhaps we can park behind the shop at the petrol station? ‘Yes, of course’, says the woman on counter duty – so that’s it, problem solved and we get quite a good night’s sleep too. Still no campsite fees paid!