Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sveiki atvykę į Lietuvą!

Quite often Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are considered as one and the same country and simply called the Baltic states. As we had noticed when we entered Latvia from Estonia, they aren't the same. Entering Lithuania, or Lietuvą as it's officially known, we saw a big change again. Lithuania felt much friendlier somehow. We felt welcome in Lithuania, which is why I called this post: Welcome to Lithuania! Discovering a country without speaking the language is always difficult of course but we were in luck! Just a little bit into Lietuvą we rode onto a campground operated by a very friendly Lithuanian lady that speaks perfect English!

Daiva loves her country, which is always a good start when you want to learn about the country in question. She's a teacher, which probably explains her perfect English. She learned us a lot about Lithuania, what happened during the Russian occupation and how it affected the Lithuanians. She also told us that the history about Lithuania she had learned at school was the Russian version. When the Russians left, a second version of Lithuania's history was taught at schools. Now there is slowly a 3rd version emerging, which is believed to be the real Lithuanian history… Just imagine the consequences of being told that everything you thought was true about your own country turns out to be false… then being learned a second version… followed by a third!

Daiva's mini campground and camper place is about 3 km from the main road, in a small quiet Lithuanian town. A perfect spot to see the real Lithuania, which is quite different from Tallinn for instance. No billboards, no advertising, the local shop doesn't even have any form of sign on its building to let you know it's there. You simply have to know it's there. We noticed a complete lack of vegetables at the shop, which otherwise sells just about everything you need. The reason is that Lithuanians grow their own vegetables. Every house here has a veggie garden. Not having a veggie garden here is simply unheard of.

It's a clear example of the differences between Western and Eastern Europe. People not only grow their own veggies they also cook at home. Lithuania is the first country I've heard of where McDonalds setup shop… and went bankrupt! You have to love Lithuania for that alone! We 'westerners' have all become too reliant on what the shops sell. Here people eat literally from the land. When Daiva cooks a meal, it's made up from whatever it is that she has available herself. And, as we have experienced first hand, it tastes great! She doesn't go to the shop for the weekly groceries, she even makes her own tea from leaves, flowers, bits of apple and honey. It's a tradition and knowledge which has been passed on for generations. A knowledge sadly no longer present in Western Europe.

Lithuania is also home to many small farms. Farms that cannot compete on a global scale and will no doubt have a hard time surviving now that Lithuania has become a part of the European Union. They simply supply people with their own food. No computer controlled huge scale farming here. Instead old and almost prehistoric tractors are working the land, like they have been doing for 60 years or more. Simple and small single or twin cylinder diesels potter away all day long, digging up potatoes, ploughing a field or simply transporting the veggies back to the farmhouse. The farmhouse is also home to just a couple of cows, some sheep or goats and chickens. It's a picture we only know from history books. Here it's daily life and I'm over the moon that we can experience this.

We were also given insight to life in the Lithuanian winter. Temperatures regularly drop to minus 20°C… The houses in Lithuania are no-where near Scandinavian standards for insulation. They have central heating, but it is a central heating system that is mostly heated by wood… Water is heated up by the fire in the kitchen stove, which is then 'pumped' around the house by natural circulation (hot water rising up, cold water going down). The pipes used are huge! Coal was used during the Russian occupation too but is now deemed too expensive. Water heating is also done with wood, as are the saunas. Although most houses have electricity, it is used sparingly as electricity has become very expensive since the Russians and their nuclear power stations have left. The stove you see on the right is an example of wood used for cooking but also to heat up the water for the central heating.

The mushroom harvest, we had some of them too! 
What became clear quite quickly is that Lithu-anians have a lot of practical knowledge. Knowledge that is literally a case of 'necessity being the mother of invention'. There is simply no money here, so people have to make their own things, grown their own food and know where to get what they need in nature. Picking mushrooms for eating for instance is a normal part of life. Everyone has apple trees and grapes as well.

Extracting your own honey with the aid of a hand operated centrifuge. In the foreground is the 'smoker' which is used to keep the bees away while you take the honey out of the beehive.

Daiva's campground is still 'under construction' when we were there. As Lithuania's tourism is still in it's infancy, they don't get a lot of campers yet; and the improvements thus have to be made as funds allow. I like that approach. Don't put yourself in debts to start something up but expand as you go along. She also relies on volunteers a lot. The building materials are expensive and by working with organisations like work-away she gets volunteers doing the work in exchange for free stay and her great food. While we were there an American, who had enough of the rat race and spending culture of most western countries, was building stairs into a barn which will be converted to a proper camp kitchen. It is under construction but at the same time the basic facilities have already been installed: there is a spot to do your washing up, there is a toilet and a shower (which is free to use) and they also have free wifi.

The barn is being converted into a campers kitchen
She's still working during the day at the school and will keep doing that until after the winter as that will pay for the insulation of her house. Next year she will fully rely on the campground and guest accommodation for her income. She has also bought an old derelict farm a few years ago that she is going to renovate, which will be both a summer house for tourists and a campground for groups. As Daiva has lived in the same area for 25 years, she knows where to go and offers guided tours as well. The huge barn that comes with the farm will also be converted to guest accommodation. This lady is near retirement age but has no intention of stopping at all! We enjoyed our stay, and Daiva's company (and her cooking!) so much that we stayed 3 nights. Her mini campground, Pajiesmeniai, can be found at N56 06.511 E24 29.075 and is open all year round.