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,
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!