Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cape Kolka

Day 60 - 10.11.2010

I woke up to a morning that painted Ūši in a totally different light (literally). Ūši is a campsite and a trailer park, and provided only a few cabins but still, I am its only occupant. It's location though, is excellent. Situated at the northern end of the village, it is just a 20 minutes walk to Cape Kolka.

I started on the trail pointed out by the wizened old owner of Ūši (whom I really can't quite get his name) and before long, the sandy beaches came into view. Scattered onto the beaches were many broken seashells, embedded among tiny perculiarly shaped sand moulds, like jagged thorns on the beach. Was it whipped into shape by the wind or the sea, I have no idea, but as I wandered along the coast, I came upon the end of the cape itself.

Cape Kolka, or Kolkasrags, holds a dramatic position on the northwestern edge of Latvia. The tip of the cape, like the tip of an arrow, points to the dividing line between the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea. And as I stand watching, the waves from the gulf and the sea came crashing onto each other from different direction, criss-crossing over each other. Perhaps it was not the right time as the impact was not as dramatic as I thought, but nevertheless, it was an interesting sight!

As I stood watching, a man came wandering by and I nodded and smiled at him.

"Japan? Cina?"

"Singapore!" I replied proudly. ;)

"Singapore!" The man repeated, nodding knowingly.

Although with limited English, it was enough for simple communication. His son was in the shipping industry, and had visited Singapore once, so he knew about Singapore's port status.

I gestured with my hands, moving my hands together to simulate the waves crashing onto one another.

"Nice!" I said lamely.

He started to try to tell me something about Kolka, afterwhich failing, brought me to a section of the beach. With a stick, he started digging furiously and soon, uncovered the face of a granite rock. Inscribed on it
were an outline map of Latvia and the surrounding region. Below the map were the words "Kolka - Cross-point in Europe"!

I did not quite understand what this cross-point referred to, nor the explanations given by my friendly Latvian "guide". As I examined the rock, the man joined his friends and son combing the debris on the beach.

Curious, I wandered nonchalantly by, and again, my impromptu guide offered an explanation.

"Sea gold!"

"Sea gold?" My eyes furrowed, uncomprehending.

He fished into his pocket and produced several orange stones and repeated,

"Sea gold!"

It was another interesting discovery for me, as I have not known of semi-precious stones (presumably) washed ashore from the sea before. As my eyes scanned the tangle of seaweed, twigs and rocks on the beach, he took a piece of the orange stone and handed it to me! What a generous gesture, and I had only just met him! He then called his son over, who offered the English name - Amber. I then realised this is Baltic Amber, which must have certain renown as I saw many shops in Tallin and Riga selling such jewelry and ornaments. I thanked them, and after a while, bade them farewell and continued my walk around the area.

At the edge of the Slitere National Park, Cape Kolka hosts many migratory birds, sometimes as many as 60000, the information guide provided. These birds would feed off small fishes, clams and such. This could explain the many broken shells on the beach. Further away, along the northwestern coast of Latvia, are a number of villages which are easier to access by car. It was a pity I couldn't visit them as these villages are supposedly untouched by time and in fact, are home to a diminishing group of Latvia's ethnic minority known as the Livs. Sadly, it is said that their language and culture is on the brink of extinction and what would eventually remain are just documentation of their existence. Just like the status of Cape Kolka, where at one point in time in ever-evolving Europe, it could have been the middle of Europe (which I guess is what cross-point meant) but is now but a buried piece of information.

It had certainly been quite an interesting visit. While the visitor information centre in the village seems closed, I got myself a "guide". And while the souvenir shops are also closed, I got myself a souvenir too!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Day in Krasnoyarsk

Day 14 - 25.09.2010

I arrived in Krasnoyarsk early morning, and my homestay host greeted me at the train station. Just about 15 hrs away from Irkutsk, it seems that not many travellers on the eastward Trans-Siberian stop at this town, pefering to ride a little more to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.

The main attraction in Krasnoyarsk is Stolby Nature Reserve, where strange rock formations (known incidentally as stolby) in a taiga forest are the main course. So I enquired about getting there via public transport, preparing to go immediately as this was the only full day I had in Krasnoyarsk. Apparently, I have two choices - the main central reserve and a ski resort area. The central reserve is a big area, with lots of walking opportunities and lots of the rock boulders. It is recommended for a full-day trip, and served by bus 37. The ski resort is, well, a ski resort, with a chairlift up the mountain, a restaurant and a recommended good-value cafe. Served by bus 50 and the preferred choice for half-day trips.

By the time I reached town though, it was noon. And so I decided to take bus 50. However, the boy "conductor" on the bus looked like a zombie whose sole purpose is collect money and issue a ticket (ok, that *is* the job of the bus conductor). But when I pointed to a piece of paper with 'Stolby' printed on it and said, "Stolby! Stolby!", he gave a blank expression and carried on its sole purpose. After a while, with the scenes outside not looking like any ski resort, I felt uneasy and asked the boy again. This time, he went to the driver, who gestured and pointed back the way we came. And so I've missed my stop.

By the time I reached my destination, it was close to 2pm. As I walked about and tried to orientate myself, two guys came along and asked if I am going up the mountain. I said yes, and they invited me to walk along. I was wary, but being a Saturday, there are lots of people around and I was put at ease somewhat.

Only the older of the two guys spoke English; Sengey runs some sort of shop in town while Nikita appears to be his assistant. After walking for almost half an hour, we came to some sort of an "entrance" area, with a cafe and some shops. Sengey bought a cup of tea (made out of 10 ingredients, no less!) and gave it to me. I asked how much was it and wanted to pay him, but he replied cheekily, "What? I don't understand!".

I thanked him for the hospitality but some part in me was still very wary.

There are *alot* of people having their day out in Stolby Nature Reserve. After more than an hour of walking, the stolby finally came into view.

"You want climb to the top, ok?" asked Sengey. 

"Sure!" I said, not exactly sure what I am getting into.

Somehow, Nikita had also managed to befriend two girls who wanted to climb the rocks. So five of us began scrambling up the rocks, with Sengey and Nikita leading and showing how and where to step and where to handhold. Some parts were in fact, quite dangerous, but caught in the excitement of it all, fear was a secondary feeling.

But there was no regrets. Atop the stolby, the view is quite magnificent. Right smack in prime autumn season, the scene around us is a sea of yellow. I couldn't stop smiling as I love autumn scenes as much as winter scenes, and this is among the best I've seen. After the photos, we had a mini picnic. Thankfully, I brought some apples and bread to contribute, otherwise, I was beginning to feel embarassed by their hospitality.

The climb down was just as challenging, with some parts requiring ropes to be tied to our waist and almost literally being hoisted down. By the time we came down from the stolby rocks, it was almost 6pm. While the girls left the way they came, Sengey offered to bring me down via another path, showing some other stolby along the way. It was getting dark though, and it seems we were the only ones left.

"One more hour," promised Sengey.

"Would this be some elaborate scheme to rob me?" I wondered as I followed Sengey into the darkening forest path.

I was shown the other stolby with names like 'Granddaughter'. 'Grandfather' and 'Grandmother' (and of course, now I can't identify which is which in my photos), and before long, we were back to the main track back down to my bus stop. As we parted, I remembered something Sengey had said along the way,

"Hope you like our city. We are good people. We like to help people."

His words had hit me somehow. Did he sense my mistrust? He and Nikita had shown nothing but hospitality, and I felt a pang of guilt for the few moments of mistrust I harboured. It is a tricky thing - who to trust and who not to trust during your travels. Is there any way to hone this "sixth sense" I wondered.

I reached back to my homestay at almost 10pm.

"How was your day? Did you go to the ski resort or the central area" My host greeted me.

"Oh! I enjoyed my day in Stolby! The autumn views are fantastic! I took the bus 50 to the ski area."

"Bus 50? That goes to the central reserve!" 

And I realise the only thing I cannot trust is my own memory!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Dream. A Journey

It had been a frantic week. Being highly adept at procrastinating, I left it really late in clearing my room and preparing for my trip. As usual, I get the feeling that I was not properly prepared. While stuffing the infinite packs of clothings/gadgetry into my bulging backpack, I began to feel a confusing blend of feelings - excitement, apprehension, stress, uncertainty - all clamoring about in my poor subconscious mind.

My longest trip was a 2-month long adventure through the Karakoram Highway - a dream I had years ago, since reading about it and admiring wondrously at the pictures in books and online. It was a dream realized 6 years ago but really, humanity would not have progressed if we had stopped at only one dream. And so, I read about the magical Aurora Borealis, the exotic Trans Siberian railway, awe-inspiring Patagonia and even Antartica. And I dream...

Last year, a phenomenon appeared on youtube and on TV. Susan Boyle sang 'I dream a dream' in Britain's Got Talent show, and captured the world's attention. Sure, she sang beautifully, but I think there are more reasons for the phenomenal success. There is of course the stereotypical casting by the public on her appearance vs her performance. But deep down, the public fed on the affirmation that talent and success can come from the common folk, and that they too can attain their dreams. I think there is also a inspiration drawn on how a 50-year old is able to dream her dream and achieve it (and with such a fitting song!). And that our ability to pursue our dreams is not confined by age, but instead by our own discipline, perserverence and persistence. And daring to make the 1st step and try.

Travel dreams can be daunting. For someone who's already into "unclehood", the dream gets harder to fulfill, esp with my photography gears in tow, it is physically and mentally challenging (and of course, monetary challenged as well). But it is time to make my 1st step. This is Day Two of my Journey as I rambled on this blog entry in a Beijing hostel.

It had been a frantic week, punctuated with fitful and listless nights' sleep. But I had a wonderfully restful sleep last night. Perhaps the dreams are no longer in my sleep, but out there somwhere as I pursue it during the day.....