Herding Cows By Moonlight
Life feels good.
It becomes hard to convey. Good is a weak adjective. Exhilarating, intoxicating, maybe?
Rather than failing with words any further, I will continue sharing my journey.
After jam and banana sandwiches we climbed trees. There is no point to climbing a tree other than the simple pleasure that it elicits during the process. If you think that you are too old for climbing trees, you are wrong. Go and climb a tree. Or go for a walk in the rain. Childish pleasures are some of the most natural and the most gratifying. We often forget about them in our busy worlds as we live our busy lives.
I did fall out of tree when I climbed too high because I stood on a branch that couldn’t hold my weight. I caught myself using my left arm and my chin. The grazes on the inside of my arm have almost healed and I still have my tongue. It wasn’t in-between my teeth, otherwise I might have bitten it off. I prefer to keep my tongue in my mouth and in one piece.
When hitching, choosing the right road to hitch from is very important. From the beach, we walked at length, during which time we had to shuffle across a narrow ledge above a road, a great distance below. With backpacks on, you grip the railing tighter than normal. Falling would have been ill advised. After the struggle, we reached a road where we stood for over an hour without joy before being told that we were in the wrong place. Walking another great distance, we picked up a lift from the right place in under five minutes. It was Mr coincidence. He had a beard and was very friendly. A few days before, we had been couch surfing in Riga and two Spanish girls were meant to be staying with our host on the day we were leaving. By chance, they met somebody with the same name and through a case of mistaken identity, they went to stay with this other person instead. They did call by to say hello and we met them briefly. Recognising them by their description and the fact that they were cycling through the Baltics, it turned out that these two girls had then couch surfed with the beardy guy who picked us up. The world is small. It seemed smaller still when he had to turn off a small side road and dropped us on the main road alongside two other hitchhikers; it was the two guys we had spent the previous night with on the beach. We said hi and arranged to meet in Lithuania at Hitch Gathering 2012. They were taking a different route from us, so it became a competition to see who would be picked up first. Fortunately (for me), we won.
We were picked up by an amazing lady. She is one of my most favourite rides of this trip. She pulled up with a car full of objects and a six month old baby in the back. It took several minutes to load all the toys and belongings into the back so that we could sit in the car. When this was done, I found out that she had only just taken her driving test two weeks previous and she was also wearing braces. She was still doing a lot of new things in her life. She had spent time hitching through Europe, even blagging a boat from Greece to Italy and then spent a great time hitching alone in Mexico. There she met her husband. She was resuming work as a Spanish tour guide in Latvia and would be taking her six month old son on the road for a week as she took tourists around the country. She had a child, but her life had continued and she was smiling. Everything about this girl exuded ‘can do.’ If you believe it, anything is possible. People like this give me faith in the world and excitement for the future.
She is a perfect example that you stop living only when you choose to.
A man and a son picked us up. The dad spoke Russian and the son spoke English. He was eleven years old, translated our conversations, and then added us on Facebook.
In one car, a lady had a hyperactive five year old son. They gave us spring water to drink that they had been collecting, then I had a gun-dinosaur fight with the child. Gun-dinosaur fights require only growls and roars, not language. When I tired of this, he showed me all of his army men, one by one, until I started to drop them on the floor, unable to hold so many of them. Some of them were Soviet metal figures that were of superior quality to modern toys, apparently.
Some people like animals. Some do not. I very much like animals. I stayed with a girl who loved rats. After some cold beers in a rock bar, we all sat on the sofa bed as her three rats ran all over it. And us. They would jump onto our clothes and run up onto our shoulders, then back down again. They recoignised her. She explained how smart they were and how she was teaching them to do tricks. They were incredibly friendly and really had learnt to stand up on two feet to get food, and how to pass through hoops. They are only young now, but I would like to see how far their skills can develop one day. I once read an article about a monkey that had been taught sign language and a parrot that had learnt to speak using a small vocabulary of key words. Animals are more intelligent than we give them credit for.
Sometimes you get a strong desire for a certain type of food. I felt this for croissants, so in the morning, I bought croissants and we ate them with jam. If you feel a strong craving for a certain type of food when you are female, you might be pregnant. I am not.
The highest pub ceiling in the world, as certified by the Guiness Book of Records is the Gunpowder Cellar in Tartu. It has a ceiling that is 11m high. I drank a beer in the garden of the pub. Inside it is very high. Close to this pub is a bridge that is nicknamed Angel Bridge due to some error in translation. If you make a wish and can cross the bridge without touching the sides while your eyes are closed, the wish should come true. My bag touched the sides as I crossed it, so I am not sure if it counts. There is another bridge with an arch, across which students walk once they have graduated. Our host had graduated, but never crossed the arch of the bridge. Together, three of us crossed it without problem. At the top, you had a nice view of the city. We later found out that the police have been watching the bridge intently and if you are caught crossing over the arch, you can get into lots of trouble and receive a fine. As with all of life, when you do something wrong, the simplest solution is don’t get caught.
Fun fact. Skype was invented by an Estonian.
An outdoorsy guy who works with youths picked us up and reminded me of a website I once found, ghettohikes. On this website, the guy takes urban kids on hikes and posts some of the things that they say. My personal favourite is, “Is rabbits eatable? Or do you just got to cuddle the f*** out of them?”
The last bus from Valmiera leaves at 8pm. At 7, we were still 40km away on an empty road. Maybe it was the sad face, or maybe it was just luck, but a lovely lady stopped for us and cruised us onto our destination. She spoke of her daughter and told us how positive she was (and is) on her life. How she improved herself because of it. Her daughter used to stop her from smoking and after her death, she started to smoke again, only to have the ash tray break in front of her. A sign from her daughter she said. She didn’t smoke anymore and remembered her daughter not with sadness, but with happiness. By the memories of her parents, she would never grow old or become a cause for sadness. She will forever be preserved as a young woman, full of life, who remains with them.
Cities are fun for a bit. But after a little while, I can’t deal with them anymore. I am a country person by birth and deep within me.
I was pleased to be driven far from the town to spend the night in a rural house. We were staying with a family that consisted of three daughters and two sons, as well as the grandmother. The two youngest daughters were only six and nine years old and both wonderful. They had beautiful smiles and bounced off the walls like little bundles of energy. They swung from a pull up bar on the roof and played football with me throughout the house before the football was confiscated. Pre-dinner, we cruised at breakneck speeds along a dirt track to find a lake where we swam as dark closed in on us.
After a dinner that the family had grown and prepared themselves, we had to move the cows under moonlight. Every month, the cows must be moved from one field to another to give the land a break. As the fields were separated by a couple of hundred metres of road, it had to be done at night. They synchronised it with the full moon so that it was possible to get a vague idea of what was going on and where exactly the cows were standing. I was handed a cow on a rope and told to follow. Cows are strong! First it stood on my foot and I lost my flip-flop. One shoed, I tried to force it down the road as it successfully pushed me into the bushes when cars passed. I took to running and the cow ran with me all the way to the field. Happy to have the cows safely in the field, we walked back to find my shoe, only to realise that the electric fence hadn’t been activated and the cows had escaped from the other side of the field. We ran through knee high grass, soaking our clothes until we found the cows at the forest and rounded them back towards the correct field like dogs rounding up sheep. Cows can move quickly when they want to and you have to be ready to react.
When in the country, take advantage. Offered beds, we turned them down for the barn. Five of us (two hitchers, three daughters) took a torch out to the barn, spread sheets and spent the night sleeping in the hay. First we made monsters on the ceiling with flashlights (another way to overcome language barriers). I woke up in a hay hole with an Irishman one side of me and a nine year old Lithuanian girl the other, completely overheated. In the morning I played football with the two youngest girls and realised that despite my teaching experiences, I think that I quite like children. And these ones seemed to quite like me. It might be the fact that I was playing football and being chased through the fields, rather than giving them homework followed by detention when the homework wasn’t done. Either way, they were great.
Lunch included mountains of homemade cheese. It was beyond delicious and as we left the house, the mum gave us a huge wheel of cheese. It’s deliciousness ensured that it didn’t last too long. Homegrown vegetables and jams accompanied the food, amongst many other delights. One day I would like to live like this.
The family had honey that they had taken from a friends hive. Bees are very important. I like bees.
I was sad to leave. Unfortunately I couldn’t take the kids with me but I let them hold the sign for a while.
I have now herded cows by night, under moonlight, in Lithuania.
Life is… good… really really good.