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About Latvia 2014

Dear followers!

You will be soon able to follow me on my new project, starting on 1st September 2015.

I will cross again this wonderfull country but in a different way and with a new purpose.

Discover this new exiting adventure here:

http://latvianstroll.blogspot.fr/

28/03/2014

Media coverage

I had the chance to have a great media coverage during all my trip, from the begining in Liepaja, with announcements on local radios, untill after my trip was finished.

I hereby wish to greatly thank all the journalists I had the pleasure to talk to.




TV interview by TV-Kurzeme

video



Regularly during the trip, I have been interviewed by newspaper. This greatly helped me since many people were recognising me and were almost "expecting me"!

In Preili, I have been interviewed by LNT, the first Latvian private chanel. I was on the evening news, which are watched in all the country. Here is the link to the video:

http://www.lnt.lv/video/#/video/0361711
 






And here, some of the internet pages about me:

http://www.latviesi.com/raksti/francu-fotografs-ar-kajam-plano-menesa-laika-skersot-latvijas-teritoriju




 http://www.liepajniekiem.lv/tv-kurzeme/sizeti/francuzis-kajam-skersos-latviju-109659

 http://www.liepajniekiem.lv/atslegvards/stefans-sudjers




http://www.tvnet.lv/zinas/latvija/498450-francu_fotografs_kurs_naksno_latvijas_mezos_ir_aizkustinats_par_latviesu_labestibu


http://www.apollo.lv/zinas/francuzis-plano-menesa-laika-kajam-skersot-latviju/635532








http://ru.focus.lv/life/turizm/francuzskiy-fotograf-v-fevrale-namerevaetsya-peshkom-peresech-latviyu


http://bnn-news.com/french-photographer-cross-latvias-territory-foot-february-109529





27/03/2014

The End

I had to leave early for the last day. I had to meet journalists from Rezekne television at 3PM. First going to the border and then come back to meet them 6 km back to the village of Pasiene.

The days were clearly getting longer now, sun was rising before 8AM and setting down after 6PM. The sun was out early too, but it was quite chill this morning. The house is by a lake, a quite big one. I went to the shore to enjoy the sun rising.





The road indicated by the GPS simply did not exist. I have been looking carefully for trace of old passage but nothing. The point indicated was leading to impassable bushes. I decided to cross straight in the forest that was 50 meters away. The forest was a new forest, young birch trees placed in rows. The ground was still frozen and the grass frosted.





There was a nice pathway going down the hill, I decided to follow it. It end up on a shore where were lying a lot of trunks. This was de facto not done by men. The stumps were not cut clean like with a chainsaw, one could clearly notice the mark of teeth made by beavers




The lake was frozen and still covered by a thick layer of ice. There was no other signs of beaver's presence, no visible constructions on water.




But I noticed on snow a big foot print, very specific, a moose print. Moose are very big animals, the size of a horse and are very aggressive. They can attack you without warning and kill you with a powerful hoof strike.


I was hoping to see many on my way, but this was the only sign of moose I saw.

As it was frozen, I decided to walk on ice, got used to it now, and I must say that it was giving me some thrills all the time.




After the lake, I had to climb a hill, and pass over through swamps. It was made very easy because the swamps were frozen too. I just had to make my way through high reeds.

After a while, I reached a crossroad with 2 houses. It was the road to Pasiene.

Pasiene is another very nice village. It is located 12km south of Zilupe. Zulupe is a middle size town and a direct way to Riga by train. It is also a border passage to Russia.




Pasiene has a very beautiful church, kept in very well conditions. It seems that the church has been recently refurbished. It can be seen from far, and the sun was adding to its splendour.





The village has only one shop on the main road. There are plenty wooden houses but soviet building bars too.







The end of my trip was still 6km from there. The goal of my trip was to reach the western point of Latvian territory to the eastern point. I was now very close.


I took the road that was going there. I first had to cross a nice forest, followed by small hamlets and scattered cottages.


The road was going along the border at a distance of 600 metres. From far, I noticed a patrol watchtower. I was expecting to meet border guards.

Walking near the border is subject to permission. Before I left Riga to Liepaja, I had to get this special form. It is just an authorisation to walk by the border area for a specified time. I had it very easily. The officer who handed it to me was even pleased about my trip there.

To reach the very eastern point, I had to leave the road and go through field until I saw the physical border line.

The border is materialised by a sandy path with two concrete cones, one white and purple for Latvia, the other red and green for Russia. The border is between those to cones.



Here I am in Russia.

I put a step behind this pole just to say that I have been in Russia. Of course this move was illegal, but the Russian guards in the watchtower didn't shoot me, so that was fine!

At this very point my trip ended. I reached the eastern point after 653km walking through this wonderful country.

I was very surprised not to be stopped by borders guards. Remember that a lot of smuggling is taking place there. There is no doubt that from the tower the guards had spotted me. But I didn't see anyone.
It is only on my way back that a van stopped at me and controlled me.


The guard took a look at my passport and to the authorisation, took some note in a carnet and told me that he saw me there at the border. In fact, they already knew I was coming there, so nothing to worry about.

He asked me where I was going now. As I had to meet those journalist for a TV interview in Pasiene, I told him so. He then kindly proposed to drive me there. On the way, he stopped to pick up 5 other guards that were patrolling the border. We talked and they dropped me at the meeting point.

The interview took an hour, it was very pleasant talk. I am still surprised and very pleased by the media coverage I had, the interest shown for  my little expedition in this surprising country.

This is how ended my trip.

After the interview, they drove me to Rezekne. I stayed there overnight and in the morning I took a bus back to Riga. I stayed in Riga 4 more days, time to see my friends there, to see an exhibition about World War I, to meet journalist from newspaper Diena for a last interview, and to enjoy the charms of my lovely Riga!

The End


23/03/2014

the pensioners

I left Rundeni at 1PM. The distance remaining to the end is now short, and I don't want it to finish to soon. So, I'm taking my time.

On the map, today will be mainly on secondary sandy ways. The weather was of course on my side too. Sunny, and a temperature of 8°C! Damn, that looks like spring is already there.


I took the road going to just right after the church. The road was surrounded by lovely old cottages,
but I soon realised that many of them where empty

As I was walking, I passed a van that was stopped on side of the road. A blue van with no windows. Several men were gathered by the side door of the van, throwing furtive looks around. It was obvious that some irregular business was then taking place there.

Remember that the borders of Russia, Belarus and Lithuania are within a stone's throw, a perfect place for all kind of smuggling and other contraband market; vodka, cigarettes and anything you can get cheaper on black market. I just saluted them and passed my way.

I was heading to Vecslabada. Two choices were there offered to me: a road by the north, the shortest, and one more south and longer.

Vecslabada is located between two large lakes, on a thin band of land going straight between the lakes.  I took the longest one for this one was entering the city by crossing between the waters, as you may see on the map here

It is hard to say if it is a big village or a city. It has all the infrastructure of a city, with a big city hall, schools and cultural centre, but the charm of a village, with its sandy roads and small, colourful wooden houses. This place is very beautiful. 



At the exit of the town are the remains of what might have been a huge factory in soviet time or a kolkhoze, a collective farm. Now it is just empty and collapsing.






After I left Vecslabada, as it was not yet late, I decided to walk another 8 to 10 km before looking for  place to stay. 

The scenery was somehow extraordinary. At some place, it was all looking like the south of France, a mix of French Riviera country side (arrière pays Nicois) and Corsica's "maquis". Scattered pin trees bathed in warm orange sun setting, isolated on a dark sandy beige ground. The warmth of the sun beams were increasing the feeling of being there.

At some other parts, I had the souvenirs of the reef valley in Morocco, in north of the city of Fés, with hills covered by long yellowish herbs, flattened by the wind, with a sun burn impression. Of course, the temperature didn't fool me long, I was in Latvia.

Approaching a quite sized lake, the GPS wanted me to take a road that was going north and coming back south to reach the other bank of the lake, where I had spotted some houses in the map, my potential stop.
As the forest surrounding the lake seemed to call me, I decided to cut through the trees. Again, I found there a totally preserved forest, unspoiled by man and it's machinery.


The ground was still frozen, icy and snowy. It would have been probably faster to go by the road, but again, time was on my side, and the pleasure to walk in that forest was great.

When I got round the lake, I saw by far a red roof. This was the closest house indicated on the map, and I felt it was the place I had to go.

It might sounds strange, but everywhere I have been, any places I have stayed at, I had the feeling that "this is the place". Sometimes, I was walking to places with the feeling that "this place is not for me", and each time I got a refusal at those places. The same feeling with people.







This house was at the end of a grass way. There were two other building, a barn and a shed. As soon as I passed the barn, I noticed an old woman nourishing the cows.


She didn't feel scared of me but rather astonished. When I told her I was French she was even more surprised and delighted. I was the first French to walk on her land!

She is 83 years old, and as so, pensioner. But she told me that she still has to work hard in the farm to have enough to sustain a decent life.

This is the case of many pensioners in Latvia. If you question them, most of old people will tell you there nostalgia of soviet time. Not for its glorious enlightenment and democratic state, but simply because at that time, old people had something to eat and a roof until they pass away.

Nowadays, pension are very low and most of old pensioners fall short of basic needs. Despite a reform was set into motion in 1995 and then in 2004, the situation is still critical for most.


in 2004, Latvia has no official poverty line or basic poverty line that could apply to its population and be accepted as the sort of critical minimum applied in other European countries. Under normal circumstances, the underprivileged can be seen as those whose monthly income per household is below the basic minimum wage. In 2006, the official minimum wage was EUR 130 or 76% of the minimum subsistence wage. This hardship is endured by 19% of the population. As an example, in France you are considered poor if your monthly incomes fall under 900€!!!

On November 2005, the Cabinet of Ministers defined a new state-guaranteedminimum income (GMI) level, which was to be increased from EUR 30.17 in 2005 toEUR 34.48 in 2006. The amendments adopted provided for an increase in the incomelevel for families or persons living alone and whose income does not exceed EUR34.48 per person a month. According to statistical data, around 150,000 people,  6.5% of the total population fall in this group. There is no data provided onthe age groups of those being forced to beg for help from the state to receivethe miserable sum of just over EUR 34 per month.

On 17 June 2006, the national news agency LETA reported that according to datafrom the State Social Insurance Agency(VSAA), 405,900 old age pensioners, or 86% of the total, receive pensionsthat are below the minimum subsistence wage. In other words, of the 471,200 people provided with old age pensions by the VSAA, only 14% receive a pensionthat exceeds the minimum subsistence level of the population as defined by the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. In fact, the lowest pension paid in 2006was only 43.14% of the minimum subsistence wage.

Those figures are from 2006. What about today?

The "crisis" that stroke the world in 2008 strongly hit Latvia too. The government took harsh measures but the minimum salary kept increasing and it is now 320€/month for 2014.

Nevertheless, minimum pension amount paid is, depending on years of contribution, between 71€ and 109€ (800€ in France), three time inferior to minimum salary.

Taking into consideration that leaving in a remote place and facing considerably cold and long winters increase to cost of living, it is quite impossible to survive with so few money.



Tomorrow is the last day, the finishing line!