Some things are meant to be…
“When I stopped to take a picture of you, I knew you weren’t regular cyclists.”
And it seemed we were meant to meet Erhans. We had cycled into Liepaja with high hopes. After several days camping, we were hot, dirty, tired and ready for a rejuvenating hotel bed. The third biggest community in Latvia would surely be able to offer us a place to stay and an evening off? Tired after 10 days on the road we decided to treat ourselves to a night in a hotel.
We found the hotel district and went to check into the most distinctive; a guilded delight on the city river, stuffed with golden furniture that wouldn’t look out of place in a palace. But it was full. And so were the other twenty hotels we trudged around. Hoteliers seemed astonished we were even contemplating staying in the city.
“No beds for this weekend. Too many people.”
No rooms at the Baltic beach party
As we circled the city wondering if there might be camping anywhere in the next 10 kilometres, Erhans approached with his camera, and his enthusiasm for our bikes. He explained there was a music festival on in the city for the next three days; The Baltic Beach Party.
“Not just the biggest event in Liepaja or even Latvia, the biggest event in the Baltics. They have been planning it for a year or more.”
As he spoke, we realised the low booming noise ever present in the city wasn’t the boom of industry, but the ‘boom boom’ of Dario G, The Bedwetters, Double Headed Eels and dozens of other bands that were in town to entertain tens of thousands of people down on the beach.
After ringing round his friends in the hotel industry to see if he could find us a bed, Erhans came up with the suggestion that we could stay on his floor. He explained he had been on a cycle ride in the north recently, and emerging from the forest bitten half to death by the ubiquitous horsefly, had secured himself a free bed via the ‘couch surfing’ network. He wanted to repay this kindness by offering us some hospitality, and a floor to lay our mattresses.
But a nice welcoming floor
It was a big floor. There was lots of space in Erhans two room apartment. The living room consisted of a wooden floor , a sofa in the corner, a tiny coffee table and a neat Mac computer. Erhans worked in advertising and was planning a late night at the Baltic Beach Party; one of his clients. We didn’t need to go out to the Baltic Beach Party, as Erhans central located apartment was a few hundred yards from the beach and the party was being piped straight in through the window on this hot and sticky night.
Erhans was a charming host and armed us with a map and instructions on the best nightspots and restaurants, while trying to persuade us all to take his own bed instead of the floor on our return. He would be out half the night dancing.
By the time we came in, at midnight, the beach party was a full swing, and Erhans was just going out.
“Thank you again,”I said.
“That’s how the world should work,” shrugged Erhans, snapping on his Baltic Beach party wrist band, and bouncing out into the night.
I felt like one of his parents as I spent half the night trying to sleep amid the house music that blasted in through the open windows, and wondering if he’d come home safely.
It’s not easy finding a place to stay
On a trip like this, finding somewhere to sleep takes up the latter part of each day. It can be a worry when you have three small children. In Latvia it’s especially concerning as many villages and towns either don’t have any hostels or guests houses, or don’t advertise them. Often you have to roll into the village, find someone who speaks English and wheedle out of them the information about which school, club or person might want to make a few Lats by offering tourists a place to stay. But with the tent as a back up plan, we’ve never yet failed to be accommodated.
Usually the kindness of a stranger, or fate seems to have a hand in this. It’s often a question of holding your nerve, Admittedly in Latvia, holding your nerve is harder than some other places. Even the supermarkets look they’ve been closed down for years, and the concrete tower blocks aren’t a welcoming sight when you crawl into a village ready to drop.
The following night we found ourselves in a similar position. Dusk was approaching when we cycled into the small village of Vergale.
“Not exactly the tourist capital of the world'” I said as we stopped outside the village shop, where the young people were all buying their Friday night supply of beer at 36 pence a bottle. We politely said hello to a group of youths. They established where we were from and took a look at the bikes.
“I worked in Scotland, for a famous man called Tom Farmer. Do you know him?” asked a youth. To our puzzled faces the boy explained “He owns Kwik Fit.”
It turned out our friend had been a Kwik Fit fitter. We had to restrain ourselves from doing the dance and singing “You can’t get better then a Kwik Fit fitter !”
Our new friend didn’t know of any accommodation, but his brother might. We had to wait for his brother to come out of the shop, and then for his words to be translated. He did know of something. They had another brother who went to a primary school. Missionaries from Latvia and Oslo were staying at the school and he was sure there would be space for us. He was charged with showing us the way, while the others went off to have their beer.
I tried to make conversation, and established his parents were farmers and the brothers all lived on the farm three kilometres out of town. What did they farm, crops or animals? “Three dogs,” he replied.
As we approached the school, it sounded similar to the Baltic Beach party; music and singing being blasted out of an open window via a PA system.
“Is it music festival” I asked.
“Yes. Jesus music festival.”
One of the missionaries, Agnessi came out to meet us. “We were meant to meet tonight,” she said, echoing Erhans words the night before.
“God has brought you here. We have been praying with people here for three weeks and have cured a blind person and an alcoholic.”
I wondered if there was cure for family cycling in Latvia. It would probably need a lot of prayers.
As we lay in our sleeping bags, camping unconventionally for the second time in two days, we were rocked to sleep by anthems in the night; this time by the popular Latvian tune of “Jesus loves me.”